FEATURE – CRYSTLE WEE
Grab your scuba gear and dive into Crystle Wee's (Theatre '12) marine conservation journey with us. She's about to graduate with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies (Biology) with a minor in Aquatic Ecology at NUS. Her work is exciting and global, from working on dolphin cognition in Hong Kong, to participating in a major conservation conference in the US.
Freshly Pressed: Hi Crystle! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Where are you now?
Crystle Wee: On my way to meet Marsha for some Maggie Goreng hahaha
FP: Can you tell us more about the work you do?
C: Currently, I'm working part-time in the Tropical Marina Science Institute as a student assistant, in a team of incredibly funny people that study corals in Singapore...YES THERE ARE CORALS IN SINGAPORE! You can find out a bit about my research here. In August, I will be starting my internship at the Banyan Tree Marine Lab in Maldives to help out with conservation and outreach activities as well as work on another coral research project there.
FP: That's awesome. When did you first discover your passion in marine biology and how did it lead you to this point?
C: I grew up like most 6-year-old girls being fascinated by dolphins, except I never outgrew it. Now in addition to dolphins I love corals, sharks, sea slugs and pretty much everything in the ocean.
FP: How was your time at NUS and the residential college like?
C: NUS started off really difficult for me, I have to admit, but I really valued what I was learning. My course is quite interdisciplinary, so I had modules in ecology, engineering, law, geography, economics, chemistry...even calculus (those of you who know me will know that math is my nemesis). But my classmates were so inspirational and all had different environmental interests. One of them wanted to shape public policy in climate change, another was interested in improving recycling programs, another helped film wildlife documentaries, and the list goes on. There's a quote by Margaret Mead that I fully agree with "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." I hope that my classmates and I really do end up making a positive change to the environment in the near future.
FP: What are some of your favorite experiences while in the field?
C: Sooo many! Rowing a boat out in Vietnam to look for a critically endangered primate, the Delacour's langur, working with Dumisa, an Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin to learn about dolphin cognition in Hong Kong, running around Chinese gardens with a pair of binoculars looking for birds for my avian biology class, freediving for marine surveys in the Philippines...I could go on forever!
FP: What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
C: Last year, I led a team of ASEAN youths at an Oceans workshop/competition to create a proposal for the installation of mooring buoys to protect coral reefs. We won and went to Washington, D.c. to take part in the global Our Oceans conference as part of the youth delegate. Going to the US and seeing youths from all around the world doing amazing things was really heartening, and convinced me that we are really never too young to take a stand and make a difference.
Over the past year, I've been doing research on coral reefs in Singapore. My research focuses on the kinds of animals that can be found in coral nurseries, so that we can hopefully better rehabilitate corals in degraded reefs. It's been a wild experience (haha) because I needed to SCUBA dive and monitor my corals over 5 months, identify more than 600 marine animals, and write a report that was more than 70 pages long. The project is my baby and probably my proudest achievement so far.
FP: How does volunteering and activism factor into your education or work?
C: It's definitely a big thing and I spend pockets of my free time volunteering for different projects. I helped out with the BES drongos, a group of students that conducts free guided tours of Macritchie to raise awareness about the Cross Island Line and help Singaporeans appreciate their own native biodiversity. During my time in Tembusu, I also set up an anti-sharks fins photo campaign and participated in a forum discussion to raise awareness about shark conservation. Also, I volunteered for a project called Reef Alert where I scuba dived to do fish and coral surveys in Malapascua, Philippines for the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project. This was my first time seeing sharks in the wild and one of the most life-changing experiences I've had.
FP: What was it like deciding to pursue marine biology after SOTA?
C: I definitely confused a lot of people who think that SOTA students can't go into science or other non-art fields at first, but I'd like to think that my education in SOTA really gave me a different perspective from everyone else in my course. My background in Theatre was extremely useful in that it made me an effective communicator, taught me how to empathise and look at problems from multiple angles and it reminds me how beautiful humanity is and what we live for. Someone told me once that science and engineering are fields that help us improve the way we live, but what we really live for is beauty, love and art.
FP: Ok. Here is the important question. What would you say is your favorite animal video?
C: I spend waaaaaaaay too much time gushing over animal videos haha but my favourite ones have got to be this video about nudibranchs (coolest slugs ever) stealing superpowers from a portuguese man o' war, and also this video where you can see octopuses and squids as masters of disguise. I've also currently got this song stuck in my head: Reggae shark!
FP: Thanks for chatting with us Crystle! Any closing comments?
C: I know it's kinda corny and said too much but it's true...everyone has a part to play to help the oceans and you can do it in the simplest ways. Be kind to the earth, bring reusable items around (I always carry with me my own water bottle, a set of cutlery, a reusable straw and a reusable bag), eat less meat, take public transport, support eco-friendly businesses and choose sustainable seafood. I also make it a habit to pick up trash for at least a minute each time I go to the beach :) Every tiny drop makes a mighty ocean.