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.

Tetun in Timor-Leste by Catherine Kim

Bondia. Diak a lae?

My foray into Tetun, the local language of Timor-Leste.  The former 27th province of Indonesia was previously a Portuguese colony for 300 years; hence, Tetun is the local language for the entire country that is heavily influenced by Portuguese.  It is a creole of the different dialects spoken in the districts with Portuguese loan words.  For instance, commonly used greetings are derived directly from Portuguese: bondia, botardi, bonoiti – good morning, good afternoon, and good evening.  Other words are obviously from Portuguese, say ‘restaurate,’ but more slang Portuguese is not so obvious to an English speaker.  For instance, “tenki” means “must” as in “Hau tenki practika Tetun” (I must practice Tetun) which is also commonly used in Portugal.

Dili Institute of Technology - my school for 1 week of Tetun.

Dili Institute of Technology - my school for 1 week of Tetun.

It was only a week and, in comparison to many languages, Tetun is easy to learn.  There is no conjugation required for verbs, there is no verb “to be,” and the Portuguese influence means there are some recognizable words for an English speaker.  However, despite these features, it is still require some intensive practice to master.  One of the last days, my classmate gave me a ride and the driver was local.  I quickly ran through my newly learned Tetun: Hau hosi Amerika. I hau hela Australia. Hau koalia Tetun uitoan. (Translation: I am from America and I live in Australia.  I speak a little Tetun.)  And after that it was back to broken words and sign language.

Notes! The joy of being back in school.

Notes! The joy of being back in school.

It was still worth it.  I was the odd duck in the class as most people who study Tetun are going to be living in Timor-Leste for a year or two, not visiting for a few weeks.  Even though I am far from fluent, speaking basic phrases is helpful and I feel people appreciate the effort.  Some of the staff at the accommodation will try and teach me a few words here and there and I view that as-as much acceptance as I will ever deserve.

Say No to Plastic by Catherine Kim




Today is World Environment Day.  People often ask me how I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist.  I don't really have a good answer other than I always knew I loved the ocean.

Unfortunately,  there are a lot of issues facing the environment and the oceans are no exception.  The list is long, depressing, and daunting it is hard to believe an individual can really make a difference in reversing some of these effects.  Little things like remembering your reusable shopping bags at the store can mae a difference in our oceans.  I have been tricked by plastic bags underwater.  I get excited because they look like jellyfish, but upon swimming closer realize that it's plastic.

I make and effort to reduce my plastic waste - I use a reusable water bottle, I bring a mug with me to get coffee, I attempt to not get straws when ordering drinks - but I am still guilty of generating plastic waste.

Last month, I was on a field trip surveying the reefs of Tun Mustapha Park off the north coast of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo with WWF Malaysia.  It was a very local trip.  Case and point our boat:

Our sturdy vessel for the three weeks of field work.

On a boat, you are living are living in a mesocosm of the world: limited space and limited resources.  Generally, tourist liveaboard boats have reverse osmosis systems or water coolers for drinking.  We had 1700 gallons of fresh water on the boat and which was used by 20 people in about 5 days, partly because we used the freshwater to flush the toilets...  The two blue containers at the back of the boat were added halfway through the trip because we were using the fresh water too quickly.  That did not even include the drinking water.  We had boxes and boxes of bottled water that were our only source of potable water.  Culturally, drinking bottled water seemed to be the norm in Malaysia.  The tap water seemed perfectly potable though and to my surprise, most of the bottled water was only bottled tap water!  I never buy bottled water; even when traveling I make a concerted effort to avoid bottled water.  Faced with a very basic boat though, I was at a loss.  I accepted that it was okay because there was no other way.

Steaming out of Kudat, it was a beautiful day.  The sun shining high in the sky, billowy luminescent clouds shining all around, the ocean breeze hitting your face, and then a current of plastic bottles gliding back to town.  It was stunning.  This boat had arguably the most conservation minded people in the region aboard and yet we were contributing as much to the problem as everyone else.  It bothered me, yet I was reliant on the bottled water like everyone on the boat.




What is a marine biologist to do?  In these cases, I try to think of what people, society did before the invention of X technology.  How did ships carry freshwater with them pre-plastic?  It must have been barrels..?  If the water got dirty there really is no other choice when stuck in a salt water dessert. 

There can always be improvement.  In planning field work where I know we might rely soley on bottled water for drinking, planning ahead and asking whether there are other solutions to supplying enough drinking water for a trip would be worth the trouble for my conscience.  In the case above, I imagine we could have brought a water cooler with the five gallon jugs which would have been much less waste than the 1.5 liter bottles.  It would be more work, but all I have to do is close my eyes and picture the stream of glinting plastic water bottles gliding across the water toward me and the effort would be worth it.

Sydney by Catherine Kim

Holiday snaps in Sydney