It’s been a while since the last blog post, partially because I have been travelling a lot these last weeks. The main reason is because I have been busy finishing up the last of my fieldwork. I have been on the road for fieldwork for more than a year now, and collected all the data I needed for writing up my thesis. As I am writing this, I once again realise I am more than halfway through my PhD, it has gone so much faster than I could have imagined when I started at the end of 2014.
So far I’ve had a great time during my PhD. It is exhilarating to dream up a project, work hard for it and then actually get to do the project as well. Over the last 18 months I have visited and dived some absolutely amazing places, from the cold Swan River in Perth to amazing coral reefs in Raja Ampat and Komodo, to world class muck diving in Dauin and Lembeh. On those dives I have seen more critters than I would’ve dared to hope and also finally got to see some elusive ones I had never seen before. Finding species like Rhinopias, Hairy shrimp, Wunderpus, etc made the work even more rewarding than it already was.
The most rewarding part of doing this PhD though is learning a lot of new things. Some of them were really practical, like how to write a grant proposal or how to organise a long-term fieldwork session. Luckily I also got valuable insights in what I am actually studying. I have gotten a good understanding of soft sediment ecosystems, have gained insights of the social aspects of dive tourism, played around with biofluorescence, got to observe diver behaviour, and so much more. I will learn even more when I actually start analysing the bulk of the data, which is why I am very much looking forward to the next year and a half.
Some general trends that are already very clear, most importantly that there still is so much that we don’t know. The soft sediment ecosystems (=sand areas) I work on are a lot more diverse and full of life than what is currently assumed. We hardly know anything about the species that have evolved to live in these environments. We don’t know how long they live, how the communicate, how they reproduce, if they are threatened or not, … What we do know is that they are very important for local communities who can make a living of these ecosystems, either through tourism, fishing, or other means.
Which brings me to the people who have been crucial to this project. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with a lot of great people. During the last two years I have also felt how the dive industry is not always just about making money. While for some it might be just about dollars, most people sincerely care about the environment they work in and want to protect it. I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped me with fieldwork. Notably Luke for being a splendid science hobbit, Dragos and his family for giving me a place to crash in Philippines, and Anne-Sophie and Fabien from Safari Bali for getting me on multiple liveaboard trips in Indonesia. The list of divecentres that helped me out is extensive, a massive thank you to these guys as well: Atlantis Philippines, Atmosphere, Azure, Black Sand Dive Retreat, Critters@Lembeh & Lembeh Resort, Froggies, Geko Dive Bali, Nomad Divers Bangka, Safari Bali, Scuba Seraya, Sea Explorers Philippines.
The next half of this PhD will be mostly spent at my desk, analysing data and writing up results. But I do have a few things planned to prevent myself from getting bored. I am writing this blog from Hawaii, where I will be attending the International Coral Reef Symposium, the world’s largest conference of marine biologists that do work on coral reefs. During the next week more than 2000 coral reef scientists will be presenting their research, networking, and discussing the future of coral reef research. I am joining the madness to present the results of my biofluorescence research. An update of the conference will be posted on the blog in a few days!