LMRT Trip Jan 31st – Feb 3rd

It’s been about eight months since LMRT’s last trip to Koh Seh. This is because the weather condition of the last half of 2018 disabled us to do our underwater surveys. 

Despite the wait, the water condition was still bad, meaning we couldn’t see well at our reef deployment site and couldn’t proceed on our survey. However, we got to see our block and its current condition. Unfortunately, our structure changed its shape due to, hypothetically, illegal trawling. One-third of the block was buried in silt, and one of our three cubes, placed in the middle, was under the triangular blocks. Beyond that, the triangular cluster was cut off a couple months ago. Apparently, we weren’t very satisfied with that. Nonetheless, we realized that’s science; it’s not always perfect and we can learn from failures. To account for the problem and make use of it, we have a plan to deploy the same structure, without three cubes in the middle, at a similar site to compare the effectiveness of the new structure to the old structure. 

  • Preparing to go into the water for the first time in eight months

Being the Youngest Attendee at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress

From the 24th to the 29th of June, I attended the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5) in Kuching, Malaysia. It was the first time for me to attend an international and professional conference. This was an opportunity to explore marine conservation across the world as young conservationists, as well as allow the world to know what Cambodia is doing in term of marine conservation, particularly the Liger Marine Research Team. 

Initially, it was intimidating to be in the same area with hundreds of scientists, conservationists and Ph.D. students from across the world. However, once we got to talk to them a little, they seemed to be very open and wanted to talk to us more about what we do. It was amazing to meet people from different backgrounds working towards the same goal.

Meeting Dr. Andrew Thaler while he was at the Make for the Planet Workshop

The conference consisted of many sessions and presentations about many topics ranging from marine protected areas to marine mammals to technology in conservation. I was mostly drawn to the presentation regarding marine protected areas (MPAs).  The Sustainable Development Goal and Aichi target have the intention to have at least 10% of our ocean protected by 2020. This topic is becoming more important than ever in Cambodia. We now have two newly established MFMAs (a type of MPA), and more are in the plan.  This is why it is important for us to know where the world is in term of MPAs and how we can contribute to achieving this global goal. 

Presenting at the poster session

Besides learning from those presenters, we got the opportunity to inform more experienced conservationists about the work we are doing in Cambodia. We had a poster presentation on our monitoring of the artificial reef, which is part of the MPA in Koh Seh. It was delightful to get so many compliments about our project from very experienced people that we admire. 

I found this opportunity really worthwhile because we got to make many connections with people that can help us with our projects. In addition, I felt that I’ve projected a little more voice for Cambodia ocean so that more people across the world know about it. I think it is very significant to have events like this where people from different cultures and backgrounds can share their work and walk closer together to achieve one common goal: to “make marine science matter.”

2017/2018 Yearly Reflection

My Journey as a Young Conservationist

“The only impossible journey is the one you never begin,” Anthony Robbin

One day before the summer of 2017, my science teacher came into the meeting room, wearing a snorkeling mask and fins — not something someone would do every day. We gave her a bizarre look and knew she was up to something. She explained about an opportunity given by Liger and MCC (Marine Conservation Cambodia) and that the students selected would involve in a long-term marine science project; I knew it was for me.

But one thing halted my excitement: we would be learning to dive. The idea of breathing underwater haunted me like how a fish would feel emerging into the land. It’s unnatural for any human beings to stay underwater and it’s even more abnormal for me. I don’t have a swim gene and couldn’t expect how I would feel while diving.

Anyhow, I knew that my passion for science is greater than my fear of diving.

I neglected my ineptitude in swimming and decided to apply. I was chosen to be one of the eight students involving in the first-ever Liger research team. That was a dream come true.

Before any work is put into the research, I dedicated my time in the summer holiday to learn about diving — spending a few hours each day learning about Boyle’s law, effective breathing pattern and etc. Things that struck me most was the possible injuries we can get underwater: sinus squeeze, mask squeeze, ear squeeze, and lung squeeze. I was terrified of diving already and those things just worsen my fright.

On the 28th of September 2017, the three-year adventure for the Liger Marine Research Team (LMRT) began. We traveled for three hours from Liger to the small port of Kep and continued on the MCC boat to Koh Seh. The wild, one-hour boat ride took me to a place I’ve never seen with people I barely knew.  

After having a welcoming and delicious dinner, Liger, MCC staffs, and volunteers got to introduce ourselves to each other. There were people of all ages, from 18 year-olds to 30-year olds, people from different places and people with different backgrounds. That’s when I figured out we are the youngest and some of the few Cambodians there who would be working on marine research.

The next morning, we had our first dive lesson! Assembling the gears was a puzzle; my hands were shaking while putting the tank, the regulator and buoyancy compensator together. Carrying the massive equipments behind my back, I entered the water and followed my dive instructor. We then descended, and all I could see was the figure of people that dove with me. The water wasn’t that clear and I had to focus on what the instructor was doing. When I had to learn to clear my mask, the instructor introduced water into my mask and I couldn’t blow it out. I choked and instinctively came out of the water. That was one panicked moment. The rest of the dive went well, but it was still very difficult. Anyways, the “panic attack” stopped after a few dives. The next three days were packed with diving courses. It usually takes weeks or months to be a certified diver, but for us, 14 to 16 year-olds, only took four days to complete the course and be certified.

Besides learning to dive, we need to understand the methodology for doing underwater surveys because that’s a great part of our study. The MCC experts walked us through the process and even guided us through a practice survey underwater.

After all the training, we were able to deploy our artificial reef. Our hope for the artificial reef is for it to replenish the species that’s been lost due to illegal fishing activities and stop trawling which will prevent the excessive destruction of organisms.

The block is minuscule in comparison to the immensity of the ocean, but only one month after deployment, we could see our progress. We noticed plenty more fish and species on our second survey than we did during our first survey. We saw zero catfish on our baseline survey and we saw 50 of those the next survey. The progress that has been made in such as short period of time is significant — imagine decades after deployment.

I’m imagining the work we’re doing could lead to restoring the quality of our ocean. I’m imagining our ocean can be like Cabo Pulmo in Mexico: the vast abundance of biodiversity and clear water. This might not happen very soon, but it’s not impossible. We began the journey, so it’s possible.

What I learned more clearly from this experience is that perfection or accomplishment doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and practice. We can think of it as a mango. We can’t pick a green mango from a tree and expect it to be sweet and juicy; it takes more time for the mango to be ripen and gain excellent taste. If we want to see the change, the accomplishment, we have to be patient and know that the effort we put in is worth the change we’ll see in the coming future.


LMRT Trip May 24th – 29th

We were back on Koh Seh, probably for the last time of 2018. It was sad to think about that because I’ll miss diving, the work we did and the friendly people there. Anyways, we cherished every moment we had and be as productive as we can during this trip.

Because illegal and destructing fishing continues to happen, sediments in the ocean stirred up and caused bad visibility. This meant we couldn’t do the reef survey to monitor our artificial reef. However, we knew that it continues to restore organisms in the ocean!

To substitute for doing our underwater survey, we kept ourselves busy with other work. One of the work was making another cluster (fish aggregation device).

We also helped out with an official dolphin survey, since we were trained during the last trip. It was another new experience and made us realized we are not only there for doing reef surveys. 

We also used our time there to prepare for the conference we’ll be attending at the end of June. We got the privilege to attend the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress in Kuching, Malaysia! There will be conservationists and marine biologists from all around the world coming to one place to discuss marine conservation. We believe we’ll be the youngest attendees there! We put all our effort into getting ready to represent Cambodia’s ocean, Liger and ourselves at the conference.

LMRT Trip April 5th – 8th

We didn’t need to wait too long to see the impact made by our artificial reef! We went back to Koh Seh to check on our block and couldn’t believe what we saw. In just a month, the structure restored numerous species and more fish abundance. On average, the number of species increased from 6 to 17 species. For many of those species, the abundance increased dramatically. In particular, catfish didn’t appear in our baseline survey but during the first survey we did on this trip, we saw 50 catfish! We also brought down some rocks to put along our transect line; this is because the more things we put down there, the more chance coral will grow there. In addition to doing surveys, we also made a cluster. This time it’s bigger and took more effort from more people.

My highlight of the trip was seeing a really big trevally or jack! I’ve never seen a fish that big in real life before and I will never forget that moment.

LMRT Trip March 8th – 13th

There were so many exciting things happened during this trip. First of all, this was one of our longest trips, so we accomplished a lot this time. 

One of the activities the team did was making concrete blocks that will be used as anti-trawling artificial reefs. These blocks are there to destroy any trawling nets, and to act as marine organism habitats. MCC will eventually deploy 47 artificial reefs as part of the Marine Fishery Management Area (MFMA). This is a conservation project proposed by MCC that’s recently signed by the government. 

MFMA map (click on the image to know more about MFMA)


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Pouring cement into the mold to create blocks
Carving in our names after the blocks are a little bit dry

Another accomplishment was completing a cluster. That is a triangular bamboo shelter with ropes dangling into the water. This object is an alternative to the plastic buoys that are used to mark the location of the artificial reefs, while also providing a nursery for fish. In order to make this, we learned to tie some special knots and use strengths to ensure that those knots are secured. 

Tying the bamboo as part of the triangular cluster
A finished knot
The finished cluster

Every time we went to the island, we always do beach cleaning. This time we did a few beach cleans, and we figured out a way to make it more fun! We separated the waste into categories and one of those was “pretty things.” We took those things to create art projects. So not only we made the beach looks more pleasant, but we also make the island looks more beautiful with art pieces. An example of projects was decorating stairs with colorful bottle caps using cement.

Bottle cap stairs

We did those activities when we are free from doing our baseline survey. The baseline survey is what we’re going to compare our future data with. The survey site is the site for one of the 47 artificial reef structure. We did three replicates for the three survey: fish, invertebrates, and substrate.  I did the fish surveys. There weren’t that many organisms to record in the baseline survey. In the future, we would see more organisms as the artificial blocks do their job as habitat. We recorded that data we collected each night after each survey. 

Logging the data into the computer

The most exciting thing: deploy the first artificial reef structure of the MFMA! The team from MCC assisted us in this process. We took their big boat to our site and they worked with passion both on the surface and underwater to put the blocks together. This is the reef that LMRT will monitor for the rest of our project. Now, there are not a lot of life in the area and it would be amazing to see the impact these blocks will make in the future. 

MCC men dropping the blocks into the water
Excited for the blocks to be deployed!
Jumping into the water to see how they set up the blocks

This is weekend on the Island made me realize it takes more than knowing how to dive and conduct surveys to accomplish our goal. It takes a whole group of passionate and persistent people to share with each other the knowledge we have and work together to accomplish small things that build up to a big change.

Debriefing after a long weekend




LMRT Trip December 7th – 10th

This is the last trip of 2017! As I mentioned before, diving is less scary and more relaxing. During this trip, we practiced being neutrally buoyant and swimming in a proper position. One thing I’ve done better this time is consuming air. I used to breathe 100 bar of air in 30 minutes, but now I can breathe the same amount of air in about 45 minutes. 

I actually did a real survey for my last dive of the year! I did an invertebrate survey, which means counting organisms like urchins, gastropods and etc. There were not much to see since I wasn’t able to look into crevices and under corals and that’s what I need to work on to be successful at doing the survey. One fascinating thing I saw was a nudibranch. I saw the one that looks the same to that in the morning of the same day; it might be the same one.

Doing a survey is really fun because I have the chance to see many organisms closely and it feels good to be able to identify them!

An example of how a nudibranch looks like; this is not the one I saw while doing the survey
Before leaving the island for Phnom Penh



LMRT Trip November 16th – 19th

On this particular trip, we focused on doing the survey underwater. For the next three years, we’ll be doing underwater surveys, identifying species, for our projects. A key to doing survey underwater is being as slow as possible. We need to swim a speed of 5 meters every 3 minutes. It’s relaxing, but it’s not easy! Swimming at this speed is not typical and we need to focus on everything around us, making sure we see everything. I was too fast the first time we practiced doing it, but by the time I did my last dive of the month, I did a lot better, both with speed and my swimming position.  

Besides diving, I also snorkel when I had free time. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was struggling with snorkeling and now I’m a diver! Now, I don’t even have to think intensely when snorkeling. 

The more I dive, the less scary diving is to me. I’m imagining back to when I first dive two months ago and it seemed so scary to me. I thought of it as a very intense activity. Now, I’m always excited to go underwater with the equipment on my body and ready to explore the underwater world!

We got really lucky this time to see many seahorses
While snorkeling, the spine of this spiky guy, diadema urchin, poked into my knee!


LMRT Trip October 26th to 29th

On this trip, I felt a lot less pressure, since we have less to do than the previous one. We did a few dives to solidify our skill underwater. One of the skills that many people struggled with and the most important skill is being neutral buoyant underwater. Another skill we focused on during this trip was navigation skill. Navigating underwater is totally different from doing it on land. It’s easier to recognize landmark on land than underwater. So being able to read the compass underwater is a crucial skill. 

As a marine researcher of Cambodia, it’s essential that we can identify species in our ocean. Later on, as the project progress, we will need to take surveys and keep track of the population of fish and other species. To make sure we can identify fish properly, we studied the species and took identification quizzes. 


LMRT Trip September 28th – 3rd of October

Liger has its first long-term science research team, Liger Marine Research Team, and I’m one of its members. We will be doing long-term marine research that includes surveying marine life underwater. To do that, we need to be certified divers. On October, I became one of the youngest certified open water divers in the world! I couldn’t believe that myself because I wasn’t a person who is passionate about being in the water.

In the next three years, starting this month, our team travels to Koh Seh in Kep to study about the ocean. During the first trip, we did a lot of underwater courses and dives in order to get us certified. It was really hard for me because I needed to put so much energy into doing activities on this trip. There were many times that I heard certified divers said they took months to become certified. I and my teammates only took a week to become certified! I’m extremely proud of that!

I’m looking forward to further research the marine ecosystem in Cambodia and involve in protecting our ocean.