Kimberly was a fearless person, full of life, adventurous and strong. I was lucky enough to have her as my PhD supervisor, together with Gary Kendrick at the University of Western Australia. Together, they were remarkably kind mentors for one such as myself, seeking my footing in academia in a foreign country.
For my friends who met her during our field trips to Pulau Tinggi, it is with great sadness to let you know that Kimberly passed away on 21st January 2019. I have photos of her on my laptop that I have been gazing at in the past few days. I have strong memories of her. Happy ones; funny ones.
She was a trooper during my field trips to Pulau Tinggi. Even when covered in sandfly and bedbug bites out in our little village homestay, she never complained. She’d just snuggle down deeper into her hammock with her book, while scratching furiously.
The island enchanted her and she threw herself completely into our work there; dragging the towed camera for hours each day, and knocking in my seagrass burial pots that she insisted had to be as randomly placed as possible, in as much as how true randomness was ever even possible (don't get her started about random number generators!). She helped us set up those crazy networks of 3 m x 3 m quadrats, counted seagrass shoots every evening, and stuck in a load of sediment plates in the meadow.
Kimberly was a relentless scholar, always thinking about the next paper, next project, next big eureka moment. During a field trip in Moreton Bay in 2011, she’d curl up in bed every night with her headlamp on, writing and revising manuscripts while I unabashedly crawled into bed and into oblivion.
Back at UWA, she’d frequently amble into Renae Hovey’s office - also my hang-out spot - with a chirpy “Hellooooo!” and together, we’d go grab a coffee out at Broadway before work. I recall some of our conversations during those walks; about turmeric being a super herb and how she’d sneak it into dishes for her husband, Tom; about how she loved gardening, and her plans for her vegetable plot at home; about her PhD Bible being Chambers and Hastie’s Statistical Modeling in S. She’d caress it adoringly against her face to impress me with the depth of her feelings for that tome. She was hilarious, that Kimberly.
Towards the end of my PhD, when all I would do was pound away on the laptop in a feverish haze, she’d turn up at my house to check on me. Once, she baked me a lemon cake. “You’re not eating well. You’ve got to stay healthy while writing”, she said, and she made me eat it in front of her, almost as if she didn’t trust that I’d do it after she left.
And finally, on my thesis submission day, she walked me over to the Scholarships Office to do the deed, and then laughingly endured my endless rounds of foolish celebratory photos. So many warm memories.
Thank you, Kimberly.
At the whisper of dawn and the turn of the tide on Pulau Tinggi, we will celebrate you.
It has been 7 months since I was stationed on Rawa Island in Johor. Living on an island has always been my dream. Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, a city crowded with cars, made me sick of the traffic jams and fast pace of lifestyle. Now, my dream came true! Thanks to Orca Scuba and Rawa Island Resort for making this happen!
My office for the past 7 months
But hey, I am not here for a vacation. Let’s move on to the working part – Project SURI.
The ‘Sea Urchin Rawa Investigation’ (Project SURI) is a project run by Team Sea Habitats from the University of Malaya, in collaboration with Rawa Island Resort and Orca Scuba. Under this project, observational studies and experimental studies are conducted on-site to understand the ecology of the sea urchin such as its population distribution, its role in the marine ecosystem, and its behaviour. This project is closely related to my Master’s thesis at the University of Malaya, titled “The distribution and movement patterns of sea urchins in tropical habitats”.
Urchins commonly found on Rawa’s reef. (left) Echinothrix calamaris; (right) Diadema satosum.
Tagging the sea urchins
To study the movement patterns of sea urchins, I am using the “Tag and Track” method, which involves attaching a fishing hook and a wooden cork as a marker to the urchins. To tag the urchins was easier than I thought. Imagine the sea urchin as a big ball of needles, handle it like how you handle the needle: gentle and slow. No need to be afraid of them because they don’t really poke or shoot you with spines, unless you are the one who starts the fight.
(left) A tagged Diadema setosum; (right) Diver tagging the sea urchin.
In the daytime, sea urchins don’t usually move much. But after I tagged them, they feel threatened and seek protection, as they start to move toward coral crevices or to hide underneath rocks. I go back into the water every 4 hours to record their positions, until the 24-hours cycle is completed. For now, the first set of 24-hours movement patterns study has been completed. I am still in the middle of analysing data from that tagging event, but here are some interesting observations I would like to share with you guys.
Threatened urchin seeks comfort from friends?
During my tagging practice, I noticed that tagged urchins tended to move closer to another urchin if there was no shelter available for them. When they get in touch with each other, their spines will move faster than normal, like they are communicating! Are they trying to warn the others? Or are they seeking for help? Sea urchins, like all Echinoderms, have no brain, hence it will be interesting to find out how they convey and receive messages.
Sea urchins have different personalities?
Within the 24-hours, there were urchins that travelled up to 30 meters, but there were also those that stayed in the same spot, not moving at all. Since all tagged urchins were in the same area, I assumed they receive the same predation and foraging pressures, which did not provide an explanation for their different behaviour. Could different sea urchins have different personalities? Maybe, some of them are the adventurous type that like to explore their surroundings, while others just prefer to stay in the shelter to be safe.
Exhausted divers after the 24-hour survey.
There are so many unsolved questions about this mysterious creature. With this project, I hope we can understand more about the urchin because science is gradually revealing them to play a role in maintaining the stability of marine ecosystems and in boosting coral reef resilience. Who knows, this underappreciated creature could be a hidden gem, and its potential to protect and rescue our reefs is waiting to be unleashed!
Mok Man Ying
Team Sea Habitats
The eastern islands of Johor are super special to us! It was here that we first started studying subtidal seagrass in 2005. Since then, we've found ourselves drawn back again and again, always finding something new and curious about the seagrass and coral reefs of this relatively quiet cluster of islands. Most of our postgraduate students were plunged into their first field experience with Team Sea Habitats in this very spot. They survived! And have fallen equally in love with the marine life here.
The state of Johor is blessed, indeed, to have what I'm sure is the largest expanse of subtidal seagrass in Peninsular Malaysia. What makes these meadows even more special is that they lie right next to the equally beautiful and untouched coral reefs that fringe the islands. Today, the area has been rebranded into the Taman Laut Sultan Iskandar, with the Johor monarch himself being especially keen on keeping the area protected.
It'd be a shame to keep this special place all to ourselves, though, so here's a link to an old blog post I wrote for the World Seagrass Association in 2012. I describe the fun times we had settling into the routine of studying the seagrass of Pulau Tinggi, one of the larger islands in the vicinity. Here's to many more years in the exquisite seagrass playgrounds of Johor!
SeagrassHopper, Team Sea Habitats