Can’t stop

So I made this blog entry below and saved it as a draft the day before the SST students were due to return from their marine conservation trip with The Dorsal Effect…little did I expect the turn of events since the initial blog post (everything did not go off without a hitch actually) and how a volcano can wreak such havoc and keep the group in Lombok for 7 more unintended days of stay. The days since this blog post up until the group’s return late the night before, proved harrowing, stressful and stretching for me as I felt as if The Dorsal Effect was going to fall apart before my very eyes with the students’ and teachers’ bad experience of being stranded there for longer than they should.

But, I must say I was really humbled and definitely awed by the dedication of the trip leaders and the immense support that Lik from X-Trekkers provided in those day of inability to come back home, helping the students to learn valuable lessons in the those extra days as well. As I Skyped in on the second extra day’s night reflection session, Wei Yuet addressed the group and gave the group and me a very valuable lesson in life, that we cannot control everything even though we live in a Singapore where everything must usually move like clockwork, and that we can never underestimate the powers of nature.

I cried a lot each extra day the Lombok airport remained closed and by the time I got to the airport on Thursday the following week where the group finally made their way back via Bali, I was feeling so guilty for the whole thing I was just apologizing to every parent and spouse who showed up to pick up their precious dear ones and broke down when Lik exited the baggage pick up area first. What really threw me off was that some of the parents still thanked me for their child’s experience and the students’ spirits were definitely high and I think I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and magical group. They broke me, they really did, in a good way. Sure, there were unforeseen circumstances, but do I want more students to get to experience this? Yes, I think I definitely do, and this keep me living and breathing – the magic of hearing how these little marine conservationists are delving deeper into the very issues that I feel deeply for, and thinking about being more responsible global citizens for a more environmentally sustainable world with deep respect and awareness for nature, the oceans and wildlife. Thank you so so much, Hoe Teck, and SST, for believing in the value of this program first last year and chose to continue with it this year, I have been fired up, inspired and moved by your takeaways from the trip.

Here is more details about their trip:

and here is the initial blog post I made a week ago:


I like Miley Cyrus. I really do. In spite of the disdain some people may have towards her, she champions many beliefs and causes I hold dear, and she doesn’t give a shit about what others think. That is definitely something I would like to pick up from her, not giving a shit about the haters and keep doing what is right. I love her for her compassion for animals and her choice to go vegan, to adopt and not shop for pets, to speak up for the homeless and the LGBTs. And I have We Can’t Stop on repeat on my playlist. The title itself drives me forward alongside some things that have happened and which moved me tonight.


Thanks (or no thanks) to the volcanic ash, I wasn’t able to join the School of Science and Technology group of students in Lombok this week for their marine conservation trip with The Dorsal Effect. But thanks to technology, I was able to Skype in with the group 2 nights of their 4 nightly reflections and it moved me deeply what I heard from the students, the teachers, and my beloved trip leaders who added so much value to the sharings and reflection sessions. Tonight, the students reflected on their boat trip and as they each ended their individual sharing with a question, the very same questions I keep asking myself over and over again, somehow hearing it from all these junior conservationists fires me up all over again. This journey has felt long as I trudge into the 3rd year of The Dorsal Effect’s existence of keeping afloat. My blog posts have dwindled as I get weary in the fight. When I feel smaller and smaller in this fight and frustrated at how slow change can be. As I start to doubt over and over if I am even making a difference the right way.


But when schools with amazing teachers like SST show up and light the path, and have such great faith and belief in me by coming back again for another run of a marine conservation trip 2nd year running, I know I can’t stop, as Miley says. The program for the students went on without a hitch in spite of Mt Rinjani’s spews, that’s proof enough that I can’t stop. When the students speak with conviction about what can be done to inspire and wake people up from being indifferent to the environmental ills of the world and the urgency to conserve what little we have left, I know we can’t stop. Each life moved has a potential multiplier to move more lives to want to live more responsibly, to have more awareness of the impact we create with our every actions, to make conservation and compassion for nature and animals more and more mainstream.


I have been very very very lucky in meeting amazing people like Nikola, Ruby and Wei Yuet and have them be able to come on the trip with SST as trip leaders who added such magical value to the students in different ways. Complementing one another with expertise in their different fields of marine biology, anthropology, responsible and ethical tourism as well as environmental studies and photography, they added such value to the trip bringing forth deeper thought to the table for the students to question and reflect on. Their deep convictions in conservation evident in the way they speak to the students and I just wish I could keep them forever. I guess the fact that I relentlessly keep meeting good people and angels along the way in this journey is probably proof enough that I cannot stop in the vision for The Dorsal Effect, no matter how frustrating it can be.


I want to continue to light the path, to keep the vision of ending shark hunting alive, to inspire in more and more youths and tourists alike, the need to respect nature and champion conservation through responsible ecotourism of The Dorsal Effect. Conservation needs to be mainstream and without the restricting label of conservation itself. And we can’t stop trying to make that happen. Let’s go, SST, you have inspired and fired me up to want to keep prospecting to as many schools as we can.

What do we dream? We dream no more shark markets in the world, just once shark hunters educating the rest of the world about responsible tourism. We dream bigger portions of the oceans being marine sanctuaries. We dream more and more young people being responsible for the oceans and nature. We dream a world where everyone can swim free with sharks in the oceans. And we will do everything we can to make this dream a reality.

NUS Tembusu College and TDE

Being in Lombok always evokes a sense of need to blog again. After a few heartbreaking posts, I am glad this is a high spirited one. So the NUS Tembusu College students initiated, plannned and executed a most ambitious but inspiring multi stop trip to Indonesia as a part of their animal of the year (Komodo dragon) inaugural conservation and learning science trip.

I had the honour of being a part of their journey with The Dorsal Effect as they made Lombok the second stop of their 4-part Indonesia journey. I had been in close contact with some of these students a few months back already when they started planning and to actually see this trip happen after their many months of tireless work, I was truly impressed to see how it panned out.

The Steer Indonesia group of NUS Tembusu College students had a truly powerful team of which each and every single person had a role to play and stepped up to play it well throughout the course of the trip. Their seriousness and sense of focus to the trip progress was definitely heartening and it brought a sense of hope that these young lives were taking action and making ambitious plans for a meaningful trip while still staying grounded and humble.

You know technology is not wasted on the young when I see how the students carefully navigated a drone so well with such calmness and good thought through parts of the boat trip. Not only was it fun to be a part of the drone captures, it was somehow moving too, in a cute way to see hope in these youths as they dared to break boundaries and try new challenges.

On the boat trip itself, I was impressed at how the students went out of their comfort zone and went snorkelling in spite of whether they were comfortable in the water or could see without their glasses, or it was their first time at it or not. They were quietly resilient and brave in many ways and I couldn’t help falling in love with this bunch indeed!

I must say I was particularly impressed with the head of the group who primarily came up with the idea of the trip, KJ. With my interactions with him, he struck me as a really focussed, ambitious yet grounded, far sighted, detail oriented, steadfast and humble leader indeed and his drive and wanting to push for more and beyond his boundaries and possibilities really inspired me to press on in my quest too. He was resolute in decision making and never left once lost his cool yet struck great rapport with the rest of the group, responding to feedback swiftly.
Was really really grateful for Naomi’s help on this trip too and I can hope that her with her love for shark and animals as well as marine sciences background, would love to go on helping out with The Dorsal Effect!

Definitely heartening moments when I saw that the group had listened to what I said at the pre trip briefing and brought their own utensils and lunchboxes for the trip, initiated trash pick up at the beaches, shared and gave feedback honestly and constructively at the night reflection session and asked questions aplenty on the boat trip and at the shark market itself. I will work on making the conservation and educational element of the trip stronger, guys, thank you.
Thank you NUS Tembusu College Steer team and Naomi, there is never a dull moment on the boat trip no matter how many times I am on it, thanks to the diversity of the group and the inspiration all of you bring me. I am always learning and always looking at the issue in different perspectives thanks to all the precious exchanges, experiences and interactions. When I saw how the shark auction people seemed more nervous with your documentation team’s filming, Tembusu College, I am also heartened when we found out that their nervousness came from the fact that rays were caught even though it has been banned now and that shark prices have been falling so they were afraid more cameras and filming will only lead to more drop in prices. This story needs to be told over and over again and I hope they never fear the falling of shark prices anymore because there are better, more ethical and sustainable alternatives provided to them through The Dorsal Effect!

If we are not part of the solution, we are already part of the problem. Let’s press on in the vision now.

The Dorsal Effect hopes to convert the livelihoods of shark fisherman through eco-tourism. By getting the shark fishermen to take tourists out on snorkelling and beach hopping boat trips, we can support shark conservation through conversion. Over time, we also hope to expand into up-cycling of the trash picked up on the trips, as well as coral reef protection and shark tagging and adoption measures. We offer sustainable travel experiences and packages for corporates to help raise awareness of marine conservation and environmental responsibility. We also offer snorkelling day trips in Bali and Lombok for tourists looking to experience the reef and its diversity in an alternative way.

Essential eye opening day trip

Essential eye opening day trip that brings together incredible snorkelling and trekking experiences with insights into fishing culture in Lombok and the plight of sharks…which you’re helping to save by joining the tour!

SG50 Kathy-20Xu

PULSE Speaks to Kathy Xu

kathy 1

After a memorable encounter with a whale shark and volunteering with Shark Savers Singapore, Kathy Xu, 31, founder of The Dorsel Effect, decided she wanted to do something more so that future generations could still see sharks alive rather than from picture books.

What sparked your interest in shark conservation work?

I have always been interested in the environment as a child. I can’t really pinpoint it to one particular moment. My weekends were spent mainly at the public library and that exposed me to a plethora of books. I grew up wanting to be an environmentalist. The turning point for me was a holiday in Australia in 2011 where I swam with a whale shark off the Ningaloo Reef. The experience was surreal and beyond amazing.

I loved how the tour operators were very strict about us keeping our distance from the whale shark and let the marine scientists conduct their observations first before we went into the water. The level of respect for the oceans and marine creatures in their natural habitats of the tour operators inspired me to run my eco tours as strictly and responsibly as them too. We offer snorkeling and marine conservation boat trips based in Lombok as an alternative source of livelihood for shark fishermen.

You left your job as a schoolteacher to work on The Dorsal Effect in 2013. How has the journey been so far?

It has been difficult, though not without little milestones. I do get my moments of cynicism and despair, wondering if I am making any impact at all. But it is the moments of seeing the fishermen excited about picking trash off the reefs while snorkeling or free diving on the trip with the boat trippers and having the boat trippers feedback about how much more they have learnt about sharks and the marine ecosystem after the trip — that makes the difficult financial situation, the toughness of implementing new things, worth the while.

What keeps you going?

Being in the ocean every single time, be it snorkeling or diving. That sense of awe, fear, respect and love for the oceans, wanting more and more people to experience this amazing experience without disrupting it. That beauty keeps me going.

What does success mean to you?

Being able to play a part, big or small, in making the oceans more thriving and beautiful and spreading a wide awareness in people to be responsible travellers who respect the oceans and understand that their impact on the planet can be a good one.

How do you sustain your passion?

When you are convicted to a cause, you never, ever, ever give up… You just keep going and going and going amidst the heartbreak, tears, joy and beautiful moments.

What’s your vision for The Dorsal Effect?

I used to think it was to convert as many shark markets in the world as possible, but over time, I think the real vision for The Dorsal Effect would be that there wouldn’t be a need for it to even exist because sharks are no longer in danger of extinction and that everyone travels responsibly with respect for the oceans and nature. kathy-xu

Not many of us would quit our full time jobs and plunge headlong into advocating for a social cause. Meet Kathy Xu, a former schoolteacher who loved encouraging her students to do good deeds. After a life-changing experience in 2011 where she swam alongside a whale shark, she was so mesmerized by its beauty that she decided to lead by example.

Kathy, this week’s happy being, founded The Dorsal Effect, an eco­tourism business based in Lombok, Indonesia that conserves sharks by providing an alternative livelihood to shark fishermen who previously hunted them. Her journey thus far has been riddled with challenges, but Kathy is determined to plough on. 
UNSAID catches up with Kathy about taking the path less travelled and the fulfilment it gives her.