SES Elodie Sandford Explorer for 2019 by Catherine Kim


I am excited to announce I have been selected as the Scientific Exploration Society’s Elodie Sanford Explorer Awardee for Amateur Photography! Elodie Sanford was an avid photographer, explorer, and honorary Vice President of the SES. It is an honor to continue on her legacy as a pioneer with a purpose investigating Tara bandu in Timor-Leste.


I focused my PhD research on the coral reef ecology of Timor-Leste. It became apparent that the cultural, socio-economic, and environmental aspects of society were very much intertwined. On my second field trip, I learned that my site on Atauro Island had been designated as a locally managed marine area (LMMA) just weeks before through Tara bandu, or customary law. This meant that no fishing was allowed on the protected reef and as a visitor, I had to pay a small fee to SCUBA dive for my research. Although I was focusing on the corals for my surveys, it looked “fishier” than I had remembered! There were these large schools of fish I did not recall seeing previously, however, it had been almost 18 months since my last dive here.

Fish SCUBA diving off Beloi Barrier Reef on Atauro Island Timor-Leste.

I am very excited to be returning to Timor-Leste to learn more about the communities involved in marine conservation efforts. Thank you to the Scientific Exploration Society and the friends and family of Elodie Sanford! Stay tuned to learn more about my adventures!

Australian Marine Science Association Conference 2017 by Catherine Kim

Conferences are one of the currencies of science.  To an outsider it might be difficult to see their importance, but they are really one of the best ways to see what work is ongoing in your field, promote your own work, drink lots of coffee, network, and have an all-around good time.

Great coffee provided by the Port of Darwin.  Much appreciated!

Great coffee provided by the Port of Darwin.  Much appreciated!

Last week, I attended the Australian Marine Science Association conference in Darwin and presented an oral presentation and a PEP (short) talk.  Six months ago, tagging on a conference at the end of my field work seemed like a good idea since I would layover in Darwin from Dili, Timor-Leste en route to Brisbane anyhow.  Things always go slower though and field work is always busy and despite best intentions the law of conferences means you are always scraping together your presentation right til the very end.  Of course, both of my presentations were on the first day...

At the closing conference gala, I was more shocked than anyone when I won the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Best Pep Talk.  Thankfully, I had spent a whole day on my 5 minute presentation and it does feel good to be recognized!

I'm a winner! Best talk and PEP talk award sponsored by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation. L to R: Dr. Carolyn Stewardson (FRDC), Samantha Nowland, myself, and Dr. Will Figueira (AMSA President).

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of topics and variety of organizations (CSIRO, AIMS, universities, indigenous rangers) within the marine realm that the conference encompassed.  There were talks on genetics of mud microbiota, kelp ecology, seagrasses, marine management of dugongs, and more.  There was also a lot of emphasis on indigenous management as 85% of northern Australia are managed by indigenous communities which was very encouraging.  All of the research that is undertaken in the north (cue Game of Thrones references) is heavily dependent on local knowledge and the rangers that patrol the area as it is extremely remote with turbid waters and lots of bitey and stingy creatures.  A new term I learned was ‘paticipatory mapping’ where the local knowledge – marine habitats, fishing grounds, currents etc. - is outlined on maps and then digitized to collate the local knowledge and inform management because there is so little data collected in these remote areas.

Dr. Alastair Hobday's plenary on making predictions on timescales relevant to industry aka not 2100.

‘Developing the North’ was also a theme as it is the gateway to Asia and very much underdeveloped.  I was surprised to learn that the Port of Darwin has been leased for 99 years by a Chinese company which says a lot about the future of Darwin.  Despite the north’s remoteness, a survey of the Kimberley coast demonstrated that there are still significant numbers (1000s!) of people who visit the area during the tourist season.  These are mostly due to cruises from Broome to Darwin and 4WDriving, but a single boat ramp was measured to peaks at 45 boats per day during the high season!

In conclusion, although piggy backing conferences to the end of fieldwork was not the smartest idea I am very glad I managed to put together at least one good presentation.  AMSA was a great meeting and I would love to come back another year!

The closing gala at the Botanical Gardens in Darwin with co-workers.  I hope my wedding is this nice.  Thanks AMSA!

Best Beach in Dili by Catherine Kim

Sometimes field work is not so bad.

Cristo Rei, the best beach in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Cristo Rei is one of my four research site in Timor-Leste and also a popular beach destination.  Jesus approved - see statue.  On a hot day, how could you not want to get into these blue waters!

In Timorese beach culture, Sunday seems to be the day everyone heads to the beach.  Most people have work and school on Saturdays which leaves Sunday afternoons following church as the primary beach time.  A few hundred people populated the beach on Sunday and we almost had the place to ourselves the day before.

Ready to go diving.

Post-Bleaching Surveys in Timor-Leste by Catherine Kim

Coral surveys back in Timor-Leste. Photo: F Ryan

A year and a half ago, I did my first coral health surveys in Timor-Leste for my PhD research.  Since then, it has been a big year for coral reefs with the largest global coral bleaching event in history in 2016.  Coral bleaching is caused by stressful environmental conditions, like high ocean water temperatures, that cause the tiny algae living in coral tissue to be expelled.  This results in white or ‘bleached’ looking corals.  This is important because the algae and coral form a symbiotic partnership where the coral provides a home for the algae and, in return, the algae provides food for the coral.  Corals can regain their algae and recover or, if the corals are bleached for too long, can die.  In some areas like the Great Barrier Reef and Hawai‘i, the coral mortality due to bleaching was well-documented, but many countries lack the ability to regularly monitor their reefs.

Timor-Leste is the newest member state of the Coral Triangle, the epicenter of marine biodiversity with over 600 species of corals.  The Coral Triangle encompasses 30% of coral reefs globally; however, little is known about how this area was affected by the mass bleaching event through 2016.  With funding from the Estate of Winifred Violet Scott, I just finished resurveying my sites in Timor-Leste and collecting the temperature loggers I deployed on the reef in November 2015.  The sites look similar to my first surveys a year-and-a-half ago.  This is promising news as it indicates that Timorese reefs may not be as susceptible to climatic changes such as ocean warming that threaten reefs worldwide.  However, there are a myriad of other threats such as pollution and overfishing that affect these reefs, but eliminating coral bleaching as a major threat for Timorese reefs gives hope that reefs here can thrive and continue to support the people who rely on them with proper management.