2015 in review

Confession time: this article is actually back-dated. I wrote this post in February 2016 instead of December 2015. I wish I had another reason aside from “I was busy!” but I don’t. HUHU. Anyway, I still wrote it because 2015 was still a year worth remembering, regardless of how outdated this post is 😛

Environmental Work
See that map below? Those are all the municipalities I visited for work in 2015! The red markers are January to mid-July, while the blue markers are mid-July to December.

2015 pearrl map_edit

The numbers: 122 barangays in 18 municipalities in 14 provinces. I’ve traveled for fieldwork before but 2015 was my first time to do it regularly. The most tiring trip was the Cawayan, Masbate-Babatngon, Leyte-Kawayan, Biliran run in November. Although the Tawi-tawi trip was almost as long, our travels were pretty straightforward: fly Manila-Zamboanga-Tawi-tawi, stay on the ship, stay in the hostel, then fly Tawi-tawi-Zamboanga-Manila. Traveling Masbate-Leyte-Biliran was nuts:

* Fly Manila-Cebu
* Van from Cebu City to Bogo City (3 hours)
* Roro from Bogo City to Cawayan (12 mn trip, arrival at 6am)
* Cawayan fieldwork
* Roro from Cawayan to Bogo City (12nn trip, arrival at 6pm)
* Van from Bogo City to Cebu City (3 hours)
* Overnight in Cebu City
* Roro from Cebu City to Palompon, Leyte (10pm trip, arrival at 2am)
* Van from Palompon to Tacloban City (2 hours)
* Babatngon fieldwork with Tacloban as our base
* Travel from Tacloban City to Kawayan, Biliran (2.5 hours)
* Kawayan fieldwork with Almeria as our base
* Travel from Kawayan, Biliran to Tacloban City (2.5 hours)
* Fly Tacloban-Manila

Why all the land trips? Because we were lugging about 200 kilos worth of gear, including dive gear, compressor, dive tanks, focus group discussion materials, interviews, and the personal luggage of 12 people.

pearrl team pic

Each fieldwork stop truly deserves it’s own blog entry, which I will do as soon as I get the time. Which reminds me: I still have pending entries for Cambodia, Alaska, Orlando, and Japan 🙁

Last sunset in Biliran. We go back to Tacloban tomorrow then back to Manila! #fieldworkdiaries #Biliran #sunset

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

Writing Work
I got to attend the Biodiversity Reporting 101 workshop!

biodiversity reporting 101 poster

I found it interesting because it was a workshop geared towards writers who don’t have a science background, as opposed to scientists who don’t have a writing background. I was the only science graduate in the room, with another guy taking up Forestry before shifting to communication. My main takeaway from the event was that we need better science education! It blew my mind that one of the teams (the participants were split into different teams for an activity on pitching a story based on a photograph) thought that Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi), or birds in general, get pregnant. For the record, they don’t. The Asian Center for Biodiversity and US Embassy Manila (the sponsor for the event, under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) said that were thinking of sending two journalists to the Turtle Islands to wrote a story about the area. Considering that I haven’t written a biodiversity-related article in a while because of fieldwork and other things, I’m not holding my breath that they’ll choose me.

This is how I spend my days off. #biodiversity101 #sciencewriting

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

I attended my first celebrity press conference! I got to attend the press conferences for Paul Bettany and Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei in Game of Thrones) last APCC. I was supposed to go to Colton Haynes’ press con too but I was late (ugh Manila traffic) and they wouldn’t let me into the room anymore. Huhu. But still! I got to ask Paul a question! I was so happy about that. My press badge (sponsored by GMA News Online) also got me a front-row seat to Paul, Nathalie, and Colton’s panels. I still find it funny that a teen heartthrob drew in more people versus a BAFTA-nominated actor.

01 Paul Bettany presscon_resized

05 Colton Haynes panel end_resized

I wrote an article about a year in the life of a marine biologist! Truthfully, I was planning on releasing this as just a post on this blog but my SciTech editor (thanks TJ!) said that he was interested in publishing it and convinced me to give him the piece instead. I don’t have the exact statistics but TJ said that the article got good traction within the circle of scientists he moved in, so I’m happy about that. My friends and coworkers also shared it so that’s additional mileage 😛

Personal stuff
We got engaged this year 🙂 Wedding is in March 2016!

We went to Hong Kong! This ties in to the getting engaged part. Went to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Science Museum, Victoria Harbor (again), the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and on a pink dolphin (Sousa chinensis)-watching trip with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd. Downside: we visited in February and it was HELLA COLD. Like 16 degrees Celsius cold. The clothes I brought weren’t warm enough (though the lightweight Uniqlo thermal shirts from the Alaska trip helped immensely), I sniffled the whole time, and my skin cracked. Huhu.

pink dolphin Sousa chinensis_smaller

I joined the DC Comics All-Star Fun Run! Granted, I only ran 3km but that’s still an achievement over 0km 😛

I co-organized NexCon 2! More info and photos here and here. Bigger, better, and more work than NexCon 1. We’re getting ready for NexCon 3 (April 2-3, 2016 at Function Room 5, SMX MOA) and we promise EVEN MOAR FUN!

I watched Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady the Musical with my officemate Jem as part of the ensemble! Plus Markki Stroem as Leading Man. Because Markki is love.


Book signing with Kevin Kwan! His China-Rich series is a pleasure to read. Also helps that I’ve been to Singapore and Hong Kong so I’m kinda familiar with the areas he mentions in the stories.

kevin kwan signatures

Watched Rak of Aegis with my sister and friend Joyce. Super extra bonus: a photo with Markki! He was there because a lot of the KPANLL cast were in Rak of Aegis too. He was so nice!



CARLY RAE JEPSEN!!! I love Carly Rae. I just love her. And her album E*MO*TION is fantastic and criminally underappreciated. It was so great to see her in concert. We bought Upper Box tickets but because of slower than expected ticket sales, we were moved down to Lower Box. Sad for Carly, good for us, I guess? Still sad that Adrian wasn’t able to go because of work. Shared the concert with Kubi and Rima instead. Kubi and I managed to convert Rima into a follower. Yes!

carlyraejepsen manila

Got to present my research at the 13th National Symposium on Marine Science 😀 Previous experience really does keep you from being nervous. Our lab spent most of our PAMS 13 time manning the Secretariat booth. Definitely an experience to remember. And yay bonding time with labmates and Haribon friends. But because we were manning the Secretariat, I only got to watch maybe 2-3 presentations. Ah well.

pams team

As our reward for manning the Secretariat booth, we got to go to Lake Sebu after the conference and before going to Glan for fieldwork. Got to try the highest zipline in South East Asia, plus see the T’nalak weaving center and T’boli museum.

tnalak weaving center

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS!!! Homaygad I’ve been waiting for this since 1997 <3 TFA was a fantastic way to close out the year 😀

03 TFA3 - RL and 501st by Lawrence Aliwalas and Milchy Pe

While 2015 was certainly a great year, I’m looking forward to 2016 being an even better one 😀

So what does a marine biologist do, exactly?

A typical conversation with someone I just met:

New Person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a marine biologist.”
New Person: “That’s so cool! So what do you do exactly?”
That question always stumps me for a moment or two. How does one condense one’s job/career into one sentence? In the end, I usually go with “I go diving and count fish”, which doesn’t really help all that much. After six months of relatively intensive fieldwork, I now have enough visual aids to answer that question with! (Thank you to my awesome teammates for the photos. Whee!)
So, what does a marine biologist do, exactly? In my case, being a marine biologist involves:
Diving and counting fish using fish visual census. We then use the census data to estimate the total fish biomass in the area. We also use the list of fish species found to see if the area is overfished or not. Still learning to identify my fish but I’m getting there. The Philippines has over 1,800 species of marine fish so cut me some slack 😛 Photo by Jem Baldisimo
fish visual census

Continue reading “So what does a marine biologist do, exactly?”

2014 in review

The year 2014 was a particularly big year for me – even bigger than 2013 and so big that I barely got to write about it! The irony pains me because I absolutely love writing but writing for fun (AKA this blog) takes up time and effort that I could be using to write for my job. Anyway, this just means that I need better time management skills.

What went down in 2014:

I learned how to surf! Well, maybe learned is too strong a word. Maybe tried out is more appropriate. Haha. My friends and I went to San Juan, La Union and I climbed onto a surfboard for the first time. I finally caught my first wave by the morning of the second day and limited my falls by the morning of the third. Thank you so much Lea and team for your energy and patience! This 2015 means more regular trips to legitimately learn how to surf.

04 April 03_small

Continue reading “2014 in review”

Remembering Australia (part 1/?)

I’m finally getting around to organizing the photos from my trips these past few years in preparation for finally getting them printed in their respective photo books. The process is both time-consuming and rewarding. The one I’m working on now is for a trip to Australia in 2010, where my friend and co-worker Rima and I attended a conference in Townsville, went on a post-conference field trip to Cairns, then flew back to Sydney for some R&R. It wasn’t my first time in Australia (visited Sydney and the Gold Coast in 2005) but it was my first trip abroad with a friend instead of family.

Our itinerary was pretty packed:

Day 01 – Manila-Singapore, layover in Singapore, leave Singapore in the evening
Day 02 – arrive in Sydney in the morning, transfer to Townsville, conference meet-and-greet
Day 03 – conference proper, dinner at The Cultural Centre
Day 04 – off-site session (I got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef!), dinner at the hotel banquet hall
Day 05 – conference proper, dinner at the the Billabong Sanctuary
Day 06 – conference proper, farewell dinner
Day 07 – post-conference trip to the Cardwell Bush Telegraph Heritage Centre and the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway on our way up to Cairns
Day 08 – snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver Cruises
Day 09 – Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Day 10 – fly to Sydney, visit the Sydney Aquarium
Day 11 – the Sydney Opera House (of course!), the Sydney Fish Market, and The Rocks
Day 12 – Wild Life Sydney (it was still Sydney Wildlife World when we visited), Sydney Tower, Manly, and Darling Harbour
Day 13 – fly back to Manila via Singapore. Awww 🙁

Day 01: Singapore

Rima gave me free reign over our entire itinerary (MWAHAHAH!) so I chose the Singapore Airlines flight with an 8-hour layover in Singapore before proceeding to Sydney. Why the heck would anyone choose to have a long layover? Because Changi Airport is freaking awesome, that’s why 😛

  • They offer free city tours to folks with layovers of 5 hours or more (my main reason for wanting the long stay).
  • They have a bajilion duty free shops and restaurants.
  • They have shower areas! And free Wi-Fi! And free computer stations! (I got to shower and change before the Singapore-Sydney leg.)
  • They have a butterfly garden, movie theaters, and super comfy couches. And a giant slide. Did I mention the giant slide?


Day 02 – Townsville!

What do you do for a living?

My co-workers and I posted “We’re Hiring!!!” notes on our Facebook accounts to help recruit two more Environmental Officers to join our team here in El Nido. Practically all the comments are in the same vein – “Wow this sounds like a dream job!”, “Wow Palawan!”, and “Wow, nice job to get away from the city!”. Now, I’m not saying that they’re wrong exactly. It just seems like people have a romanticized idea of what it is that I do for a living, especially since I only post the good stuff where we snorkel, dive, hike, kayak, interact with scientists, and produce nature videos. Like any other job, there will be good days where we get to do all the fun stuff and bad days where we just want to quit and go home.

Things to remember about applying for a job like this:

1. A degree or background in the natural sciences is a must.

Our boss, Rima, Kring, and myself all have BS Biology degrees from the University of the Philippines-Diliman (biased much? LOL). This was intentional because part of the job description is being the resident “environmental expert” for the guests and staff. I’ve had people ask me to identify a snake based only on the vaguest of descriptions (black, long, and with a pointed head), not realizing that the Philippines is home to hundreds of species of snake. Concerned staff wanted the resident doctor (for humans!) and I to look after a large water monitor lizard that had bloody scratches on its belly.Yes, we really went to Cove 2 and Doc Raymond really brought his rolling medical kit even though we couldn’t do anything for the lizard. People expect you to know why jellyfish abound during a certain time of the year and the name of the bird they heard singing. My co-workers and I don’t know everything of course, but you have to be at least two steps above the non-science person.

2. You must be able to handle long bouts of loneliness.

You are on a literal island, separated from your friends and family for weeks at a time. Unless you adapt, make new friends, or maybe hook up with a fellow staff member, you will get lonely at times. And hooking up with another staff member has its own pros and cons. We stockpile DVDs of movies and TV shows whenever we’re in Manila. On our days off, we go out every single day and try to meet up with as many people as we can. I finish one novel a week when I’m here. I did more work on my masters thesis in the past two weeks than my past month in Manila because there’s really nothing else to do (erm, this would be a good thing I think?).

3. You will meet people from all walks of life and everyone will have something to say. You may not necessarily agree with them, but you will have to be non-judgmental.

4. You will have to do things above and beyond what’s officially included in the job description simply because there’s no one else to do it.

In my short time here, I’ve had to learn how to us Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Soundbooth, and Premiere Pro, Windows Movie Maker, and Microsoft Publisher to produce videos, short stories, placemats, coloring books, guidebooks, calendars, and other collateral that are not normally within the skill set of a Biology major. EOs also get recruited to host the company Christmas parties. Apparently, EOs don’t move up the corporate ladder – they move across.

Those four things said, I really like my job. Depending on what’s happening when you ask me (e.g. seeing a hawksbill sea turtle while snorkeling in Miniloc), I’d even say that I love my job. This post is intended to temper expectations, not discourage. If you still feel that this is the job for you, then go for it! See you in El Nido 🙂