#BeSmart – An insight to the seafood industry

Next blog post by IYOR intern, Talia Wong; her thoughts on overfishing and the seafood industry:

Hi everyone, can you believe it’s March already? February flew by in a blur! Hope everyone enjoyed themselves over the festive month.

In this leg of the BRASS series (#BeSmart), we’ll be talking about the global seafood industry – our overdependence and exploitation of it.

Our seafood demand

Seafood is the most highly traded food internationally. In 2014, global supply of fishes, crustaceans and molluscs from wild capture fisheries and aquaculture reached a record high of 20 kg per person. In Singapore, we consume 22 kg of seafood per person in 2017 and our main import comes from China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Tipping the balance

We have taken so much from the oceans that its ecological integrity has been severely damaged. And these are 5 main drivers that strip the ocean of its life:

  1. Poor governance
  2. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU)
  3. Consumer demand
  4. Lack of scientific knowledge
  5. Difficulty in regulating flags of convenience i.e. flag-hopping

These drivers are connected to each other and its effects are accumulative. Poor governance coupled with consumer demand are pushing stock levels beyond maximum sustainable yield. Poor governance comes in the form of weak fishing regulations and environmental enforcement laws. As a result, IUU is rampant, particularly in Southeast Asia where IUU is a billion-dollar thriving industry. It is especially pronounced in the Gulf of Thailand where the overall catch per unit effort had plummeted by 86% since 1966, making the Gulf of Thailand the most overfished region on the planet.

Furthermore, with a lack of research within the Southeast Asian region, it is difficult to estimate regional stock and thus, inform the development of sound exploitation management models and geographically specific policies against IUU.

Flag-hopping is commonly undertaken by illicit industrial trawlers. After vessel registration at countries with simple, inexpensive and weak fishing regulations, these ships have multiple flags which they regularly change so to circumvent scrutiny and tracking by the authorities.

What is IUU fishing?

IUU fishing includes any of the following actions:

  • Operating in another state’s territorial waters without an access agreement (poaching)
  • Falsifying catch documents
  • Using illegal methods or gear i.e. cyanide poisoning, trawling, blast/explosives
  • Harvesting protected species i.e. shark finning, whaling
  • Fishing in restricted zones
  • Contravening closed-area or closed-season stipulations
  • Transshipping at sea to avoid landing a haul in the same country where it was fished

IUU has led to overfishing, bycatch and subsequent environmental impacts that are squandering our natural resources. This is worrying since marine life, unlike terrestrial life, is harder to quantify due to the vast nature of the ocean and the mobility of marine life. Not much is known about the exact amount of seafood we have in our oceans or how much time we have before the next target specie goes extinct. IUU has also forced subsistence or artisanal fishermen into this industry as their daily catch is no longer enough to put food on the table for their families.

A new study revealed that Hong Kong’s seafood consumption is three times the global average and ranks second in terms of per capita consumption of seafood in Asia. (Photo: Dickson Lee, SCMP)
A new study revealed that Hong Kong’s seafood consumption is three times the global average and ranks second in terms of per capita consumption of seafood in Asia. (Photo: Dickson Lee, SCMP)

Consequences of IUU and Overfishing

A substantial reduction of target species population triggers a ripple effect that alters marine food webs, marine ecosystems and ultimately undermines the productive capacity of fisheries. This is especially so for marine life which are long-lived, experience slower maturity growth and have lower reproduction rates such as the bluefin tuna, the Atlantic sea scallop and more, making it hard for the population to recover.  

A symptom of our excessive fishing is shown through changing seafood consumption patterns whereby seafood that was once considered undesirable and unpalatable is now in high demand. Fish fillers and fish sticks originally made from cod has been replaced by haddock, redfish and now by the Pacific pollock as the fish population plummets beyond recovery every time. In a span of less than 20 years (1800-1830), the Atlantic halibut population (‘America’s favourite whitefish’) collapsed and has not recovered. Until 1930s, Atlantic bluefin tuna were discarded as trash fish; but today, they sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The demand and expansion of fishing fleets during the 1980s, particularly bottom-trawlers devastated benthic communities, removing predators and competitors of the jellyfish. The seafood market has adapted to this change and now harvests over 250,000 tonnes of jellyfish annually.

Bottom-trawling indiscriminately captures and wipes out everything in its path, leaving behind a barren and devastated seabed. (Photo: TheCompassionateRoad)
Bottom-trawling indiscriminately captures and wipes out everything in its path,
leaving behind a barren and devastated seabed. (Photo: TheCompassionateRoad)

As fisheries collapse, our taste buds adapt to these changes by shifting focus to another target species where we continue this trend of stock depletion.

Half of the world’s oceans are being fished industrially. (Photo: The Guardian)
Half of the world’s oceans are being fished industrially. (Photo: The Guardian)

Like plastics, with technological advancements, fishing fleets can travel further out to the most remote places like the high seas to fish for a depleting fish stock or to capture a new target specie. Satellite data can be used to detect fish hotspots. Consequently, marine life gradually has almost nowhere to hide.

Then, what are we doing about this bleak situation? All is not lost. There are ongoing efforts from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the support of the public, scientists and governments are working together to raise awareness and slow down the fishing rampage. However, whether these efforts are enough to reverse a longstanding industry is another matter.

Till next time.

P/S: The Dorsal Effect firmly believes in saying no to seafood consumption and have not served seafood on any of our boat trips. We do acknowledge that seafood is a valuable protein source especially for this region. As such, while we advocate on saying no seafood consumption (go vegetarian!), we understand that it is difficult to accomplish for the region’s poorer counterparts. However, urbanites have the capacity to decide to forego seafood and this is where our individual actions will make an impact on the global seafood industry.




Chalk, Peter. “Illegal Fishing In Southeast Asia: A Multibillion-Dollar Trade With Catastrophic Consequences | The Strategist”. The Strategist, 2017, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/illegal-fishing-southeast-asia-multibillion-dollar-trade-catastrophic-consequences/. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.


Edwards, Jacquie et al. “SPC Women In Fisheries Information Bulletin #8: Making The Best Of The Pest That Clogs The Nets”. Secretariat Of The Pacific Community, 2008, https://spccfpstore1.blob.core.windows.net/digitallibrary-docs/files/f2/f28b7c709b41632e653d3c3a9770cb87.pdf?sv=2015-12-11&sr=b&sig=PjOopPqDnIhPPtpTzOJnIrCur62WNyOFIe5XYcK0XNs%3D&se=2018-08-24T09%3A35%3A28Z&sp=r&rscc=public%2C%20max-age%3D864000%2C%20max-stale%3D86400&rsct=application%2Fpdf&rscd=inline%3B%20filename%3D%22WIF8.pdf%22. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


Farmery, Anna K et al. “Consuming Sustainable Seafood: Guidelines, Recommendations And Realities”. Public Health Nutrition, 2018, pp. 1-12. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.1017/s1368980017003895. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


Halpern, Benjamin S. et al. “A Global Map Of Human Impact On Marine Ecosystems”. Science, vol 319, no. 5865, 2008, pp. 948-952. American Association For The Advancement Of Science (AAAS), doi:10.1126/science.1149345. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


“Illegal Fishing Methods”. SEAFDC, 1993, https://repository.seafdec.org.ph/bitstream/handle/10862/2568/AFNv11n04-05p08.pdf?sequence=1. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.


Jacquet, Jennifer L., and Daniel Pauly. “The Rise Of Seafood Awareness Campaigns In An Era Of Collapsing Fisheries”. Marine Policy, vol 31, no. 3, 2007, pp. 308-313. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2006.09.003. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


Kurlansky, Mark. Cod : A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World. Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, pp. 1-294.


Meere, Frank. Fishing For Development: A Joint Session Of The COFI, DAC, FAO And WB Of Policy Coherence In Development Of Fisheries And Aquaculture – The Challenge Of Combatting IUU Fishing. Sustainable Fisheries Management, 2014, https://www.oecd.org/tad/events/Session_4_Point_1_Frank_Meere_re_IUU.pdf. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.


Neslen, Arthur. “EU Threatens Thailand With Trade Ban Over Illegal Fishing”. The Guardian, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/21/eu-threatens-thailand-with-trade-ban-over-illegal-fishing. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.


Ng, Yupina. “Hongkongers Appetite For Reef Fish ‘Unsustainable’, Study Shows”. South China Morning Post, 2018, http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2131609/hongkongers-appetite-reef-fish-unsustainable-study. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


Pauly, Daniel et al. “Fishing Down Marine Food Webs”. Http://Umanitoba.Ca/Institutes/Natural_Resources/Pdf/Pauly_Fishing_Down_Marine_Food_Webs.Pdf, 1998, http://umanitoba.ca/institutes/natural_resources/pdf/pauly_fishing_down_marine_food_webs.pdf. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


“Putting An End To ‘Flag Hopping’, A Guarantee Against Illegal Fishing”. Derecho Marítimo Y Transporte – San Simón & Duch, 2014, http://www.lsansimon.com/en/putting-an-end-to-flag-hopping-a-guarantee-against-illegal-fishing/. Accessed 4 Mar 2018.


“Singapore Seafood Report 2017”. Gain.Fas.Usda.Gov, 2017, https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Seafood%20Report%202017_Singapore_Singapore_11-6-2017.pdf. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


Smith, M. D. et al. “Sustainability And Global Seafood”. Science, vol 327, no. 5967, 2010, pp. 784-786. American Association For The Advancement Of Science (AAAS), doi:10.1126/science.1185345. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


The State Of World Fisheries And Aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2009, pp. 1-176, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i0250e.pdf. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.


The State Of World Fisheries And Aquaculture: Contributing To Food Security And Nutrition For All. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016, pp. 1-190, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf. Accessed 25 Feb 2018.

Biodegradable plastic signifies false hope for threatened Mediterranean seagrass community

A blog post on seagrass by our IYOR intern, Talia Wong. Enjoy!:

4_Seagrass_taken from Time Magazine

At a 100,000 year old, Posidonia oceania meadow is one of the oldest things on Earth and it has been reported that they are also one of the most important carbon sinks in the area. Unfortunately, like Cymodocea nodosa, this species is also highly threatened. (Photo: Time Magazine)

Not a solution but creation of biodegradable plastic is an inventive step in trying to “reduce” our plastic footprint.

Plastic pollution, the bane of the 21st century. Today, an unprecedented amount of plastics accumulates and drifts in the world’s oceans. With countless disturbing images of turtles, seals and other marine creatures photographed caught in plastic trash and beaches filled with plastic bottles now etched into our minds, some countries are scrambling to be rid of this marine hazard by banning and replacing it with biodegradable plastic. So far, Vanuatu, is the only South Pacific nation in the world that officially bans the consumption of plastics.

While marine creatures are receiving much media attention due to their charismatic public appeal, little is known about the effects of plastics on the seagrass community.

Not the most exciting, cute or annoying species on the planet, majority of the world’s population have hardly heard of seagrass. Sometimes even classifying them as the marine macroalgae, “seaweed”.

Seagrass has been understudied and undervalued. It turns out that they exist in many parts of the world! Seagrasses are found in shallow coastal waters and estuaries across the world’s ocean floor (except Antarctica). These communities live either as a single specie community or coexist with other species of seagrass communities.

It is easy to dismiss a flourishing seagrass meadow as a useless and unimportant patch of grass. Sadly, this is the unavoidable and tragic reality of life when there is limited knowledge and exposure about the topic.

A vibrant and lush seagrass meadow not only maintains marine biodiversity by serving as a nursery for most juvenile reef fishes, it regulates coastal water quality, serves as coastal defence and storm buffers and plays a fundamental role in structuring communities – just to name a few.

Unfortunately, many species today face an uncertain future.

With the trickle-down effect of climate change such as ocean acidification, warmer waters, sea level rise (which will affect the amount of light reaching the seabed) and local stressors such as point source pollution, eutrophication and trawling activities to deal with, these clonal marine flowering plants are helpless against these pressures.

And, to make matters worse, plastic trash comprise a major component of marine litter. It has been reported that for every hectare along the Italian coat, 14 conventional bag fragments can be found lying near seagrass meadows.

Thankfully, our ability to create and innovate has not failed us. We can proudly proclaim that biodegradable plastic now exists although its use is not as ubiquitous (yet).

These bags are made from renewable raw materials like corn starch, cellulose or biosynthesized materials. Being denser, these bags will only remain at the sea surface for 10 to 25 minutes before sinking to the bottom of the ocean unlike conventional plastics which remain suspended near the surface for a longer time.  

Whilst on the ocean floor, these new bags supposedly degrade into water, carbon dioxide, methane and biomass when it interacts with microbial organisms. Such a scenario paints a rosy picture for humanity. It would mean one less anthropogenic hassle to deal with from the list of urgent issues to tackle. It would allow us to focus our attention on other pressing matters like limiting global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.  

However, a new study published in the journal of Science and Total Environment in July 2017 by biologists from the University of Pisa noted that these new generation bags are not as degradable as they were made out to be. While these bags have been validated and certified as compostable and biodegradable, they were tested in non-marine environment settings and are so not telling of their actual ability to disintegrate in the ocean.  

What made this outdoor study different was its use of natural marine sediment (silica sand) and constant flowing seawater to recreate the marine environment. The study examined the bag’s degradation rate under those conditions and brought in common Mediterranean seagrass species, Cymodocea nodosa and Zostera noltei to understand the bag-seagrass interaction.

Biodegradable bags (made of vegetable oil and corn starch) and cellulose filter paper (control) were cut up in small, standard sized pieces and buried in silica sand to mimic the seabed for the first experiment. And for the second experiment, standard sized biodegradable bags are placed in 3 types of setups consisting of 1 specie, 2 same species and 2 different species respectively.

After 6 months of sediment exposure, the bag pieces recorded negligible degradation while the control cellulose filter paper underwent substantial degradation. The bag showed initial signs of surface disintegration (cracks and holes) when studied under a microscope and displayed notable discolouration from white to pink and yellow. Nonetheless, the bag retained 85% of its initial weight whereas the filter paper lost 60% of its initial weight.

It was noted that the presence of the bags altered the seabed geochemistry. Temperature and oxygen concentration of the sediment were lower than before as the bags acted as a barrier against gas and heat exchange between the seawater and the sediment.

Consequently, the seabed acts as a sink for bioplastics. It becomes more apparent in temperate waters where water temperature is lower and less conducive for decomposition.

And, of course, we have forgotten about the seagrass community (yet again).

The presence of seagrass counteracts these changes.

The Mediterranean seagrass species reverse the geochemistry changes of the sediment. Its natural metabolic activities raise sediment temperature. And for species like Z. noltei, it releases oxygen into the ground to establish more favourable seabed conditions for root growth and to protect itself against any nearby reduced phytotoxic compounds.

In relation to plant growth and plant-plant interaction, the results of the study conclude that the bag increases competition for space and resources between specie(s), both in monospecific and mixed meadows. So, the presence of the biodegradable bag introduces yet another local stressor to the seagrass.

Consequently, the presence of these bags on the seabed acts just like highways cutting through terrestrial forests causing spatial fragmentation within the seagrass community. Like the terrestrial setting, fragmenting the seagrass ecosystem leads to habitat destruction and isolation leading to the formation of discontinuities within the original seagrass area. These discontinuities hinder genetic flow and reduce diversity and thus, weaken the resilience of the seagrass community to future disturbances.

Even as these biodegradable bags become the plastics of the near future, to end off on a positive note, they hold potential for future success.

In these outdoor stimulations, the controlled natural environment was sufficiently microbial active to degrade the cellulose and starch materials. This potentially suggests that marine environment itself already holds an important key to success. Furthermore, given the differential degradation rates of the filter paper and the bag pieces, the actual rate of bio-plastic deterioration really depends on the composition of the bag and its local context. Granted that the experiments conducted tried to emulate the real marine environment, the lack of wave abrasion and amount of ultraviolet radiation cannot be replicated.

For now, biodegradable plastics offers us a dim light amidst despair as it paves the way for better innovations. And as this new study shines more light onto the interface between bioplastics, sea grass and sediment bed, it creates more opportunities for further research into the long-term impacts of biodegradable plastics and the deterioration success of different types of bag compositions.

Regardless of this technological breakthrough, our plastic problem cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten.

Let us all keep in mind that plastics – biodegradable or not – are not natural entities that belong to the marine world and we should do our best to keep them out of it.


Balestri, Elena et al. “Biodegradable Plastic Bags On The Seafloor: A Future Threat For Seagrass Meadows?.” Science of The Total Environment 605-606 (2017): 755-763.


Next blog post by our IYOR intern, Talia Wong, on marine trash:

4_Blogpost1_Cover photo

In the summer of 2017, I was fortunate enough to intern at Marine Conservation Cambodia where I learnt more about the marine life surrounding near the island of Koh Seh, specifically on seahorses. Concurrently, we were doing beach clean-ups every few days. In our bags were the usual culprits like wood planks, toys, lighters, rubber bands and slippers, glass bottles, plastic containers, caps and cutlery … But as Southeast Asia boasts one of the strongest fishing industries in the world, it came as no surprise when we found loads of fishing float hooks, fish and crab cages (big ones that weigh at least 7kg!), nets all which broke away from their fishers. What stunned (and honestly, scared) me the most was the medical trash we found such as syringes – some with needles still attached – forgive my ignorance, it was my first time picking them up during a beach clean-up.

Most of the rubbish picked up had Vietnamese wordings on them. And this magnifies the scale of trash further. The reason why I brought this up wasn’t to finger point someone but to show how trash is borderless and it is more imperative for administrations to work together.

Simply conducting beach clean ups daily or every week is not enough and in the long run, ineffective. And, utilising debris skimmer boats is costly with engines that require constant maintenance and skills to power. These boats do not tackle the root of the problem as well.


Marine trash is anything that is man-made and doesn’t belong to the ocean. It can be intentionally dumped or unintentionally leaked into water bodies which then flows into our oceans. Catastrophic events i.e. tsunami, hurricanes or floods can carry out large amounts of it into the ocean. This waste includes glass, metals, paper, textiles, wood (although there is natural debris), rubber and plastics and it ranges from micrometres to metres in size.

Marine trash ends up either along coastlines or accumulates and circulates in the centre of gyres due to current patterns. Currently, there are 5 known gyres where debris accumulates with the North Pacific Ocean gyre, also known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ being the most well-known due to its size.

This floating dock carried an ecosystem of non-native, invasive species from the Western to the Eastern Pacific coast. (Photo: NY Times)
This floating dock carried an ecosystem of non-native, invasive species from the Western
to the Eastern Pacific coast. (Photo: NY Times)



Since its introduction in the late 1800s, plastic has become so intimately interwoven into our everyday lives and has led to the flourishing of economies and societies. Yet, as much as we depend on them, we toss them out more easily. In doing so, we upset the balance of the marine ecosystem.

A shocking amount of plastics completely covering parts of the Caribbean Sea. (Photo: Caroline Power Photography)
A shocking amount of plastics completely covering parts of the Caribbean Sea.
(Photo: Caroline Power Photography)

Plastic accounts for the most abundant material collected as marine trash and this poses severe consequences for marine life. At the end of 2017, a viral photo of a lone seahorse holding onto a discarded cotton swab for dear life depicted the grim reality of our plastic pollution.

Photo: Justin Hofman, National Geographic Wildlife Photographer of 2017
Photo: Justin Hofman, National Geographic Wildlife Photographer of 2017

Common interactions between marine life and trash consist of entanglement and ingestion which often lead to external or internal injury and ultimately, death. Floating debris could bring invasive species into the new site and potentially upset the existing ecosystem balance. Debris found on the seafloor have also been proven to interfere with light penetration and the exchange of oxygen.

Last but not the least, it gets personal. Through bioaccumulation and biomagnification of toxic additives found in plastic, marine life who have successfully consumed the plastic and are caught by fishermen could mean that the toxins end up on our plates and basically into our bodies. And for all the fishers and sailors out there, marine trash are navigational hazards and can possibly sink their boats.

At the start, I mentioned about all the medical trash that comes in waves and it’s true not just at Cambodia. During the late 80s, there was an environmental disaster known as “The Great Syringe Tide” over in the United States. Fearing injury, beaches along the Atlantic coast were closed and tourism took a dip.


Well, we all know what I’m going to say next. And instead of sounding like a broken record – which I hope that hasn’t been the case so far – why not start by ditching those single-use items and invest in something durable. For example, rather than using disposable straws, purchase bamboo or metal straw or better yet, go without a straw and drink right out of the cup/glass!

On a larger scale, coastal cities play a vital role in developing proper waste management systems as their growing numbers already places high pressure on the environment. Improper and irresponsible waste disposal is a stressor which we can minimize. It also reduces the possibilities of them getting swept out by retreating tsunami or storm surges into the ocean.

Today, innovative solutions that deals with our ever-increasing plastic waste are popping up. One of them involves the construction of roads using waste plastic. Since plastic is very durable, it fits seamlessly into the idea of constructing roads that will last and are not as vulnerable to cracks and potholes.

With our oceans slowly suffocating and dying, the increasing awareness and knowledge on marine trash has created and sustained a greater movement towards minimizing our plastic consumption. Be it by national governments or in schools, we deserve a pat on our back. And unless we want plastic on our plates, as individuals, we should work towards reducing our plastic footprint.

You can check out this awesome documentary: A Plastic Ocean

And here’s the extent of the plastic pollution in the Caribbean Sea.

Till next time!

References journal articles

Axelsson, Charles, and Erik van Sebille. “Prevention Through Policy: Urban Macroplastic Leakages To The Marine Environment During Extreme Rainfall Events.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol 124, no. 1, 2017, pp. 211-227. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.07.024.

Cozar, A. et al. “Plastic Debris In The Open Ocean.” Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, vol 111, no. 28, 2014, pp. 10239-10244. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1314705111.

Green, Dannielle Senga et al. “Impacts Of Discarded Plastic Bags On Marine Assemblages And Ecosystem Functioning.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol 49, no. 9, 2015, pp. 5380-5389. American Chemical Society (ACS), doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b00277.

Law, Kara Lavender. “Plastics In The Marine Environment.” Annual Review Of Marine Science, vol 9, no. 1, 2017, pp. 205-229. Annual Reviews, doi:10.1146/annurev-marine-010816-060409.

Löhr, Ansje et al. “Solutions For Global Marine Litter Pollution.” Current Opinion In Environmental Sustainability, vol 28, 2017, pp. 90-99. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2017.08.009.

Rahul Prakash, K. V. et al. “Automatic Trash Removal System In Water Bodies.” International Journal Of Engineering Science And Computing (IJESC), vol 7, no. 4, 2017, pp. 6674-6678. International Journal Of Engineering Science And Computing (IJESC), http://ijesc.org/upload/b632055f7e58189ac3f2bd04ddc5347f.Automatic%20Trash%20Removal%20System%20in%20Water%20Bodies.pdf.

Rochman, Chelsea M. et al. “The Ecological Impacts Of Marine Debris: Unraveling The Demonstrated Evidence From What Is Perceived.” Ecology, vol 97, no. 2, 2016, pp. 302-312. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1890/14-2070.1.

Uneputty, Prulley, and S.M. Evans. “The Impact Of Plastic Debris On The Biota Of Tidal Flats In Ambon Bay (Eastern Indonesia).” Marine Environmental Research, vol 44, no. 3, 1997, pp. 233-242. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/s0141-1136(97)00002-0.

Williams, Shawn. “Trophic Transfer Of Microplastics In The Marine Food Web.” 2017, pp. 1-28. Researchgate, doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.30917.96489.

Xanthos, Dirk, and Tony R. Walker. “International Policies To Reduce Plastic Marine Pollution From Single-Use Plastics (Plastic Bags And Microbeads): A Review.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol 118, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 17-26. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.02.048.

Tips on being a responsible traveller

Next blog post on responsible travelling with regards to marine life, by IYOR intern, Talia Wong:

By now, you’ve probably seen our social media post regarding the general guidelines and code of conduct for being a responsible traveller as developed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics.

If you haven’t, click here and it’ll redirect you to it!

Many of us probably love getting away from this urban pressure cooker life and “de-stress” by travelling to nearby and distant tropical paradises with white sand beaches and pristine waters i.e. Bintan, Bali, Phuket, Krabi, Boracay, Hawaii … the list goes on. And when we’re there, we’ll probably be doing some island hopping i.e. around Thailand’s famous James Bond islands and Phi Phi islands and of course, snorkelling  – I mean, the water is so blue, there’s so many fishes and an alive reef beneath, what are you waiting for?! Climb down the ladder or jump straight off the boat into the water!

In all that excitement, here’s some things we should remember before taking that jump:

  • Use reef-safe sunscreen
Photo taken from TheManual
Photo taken from TheManual


Bet you didn’t know that there are some chemicals i.e. oxybenzone in sunscreen that accelerates coral bleaching and slows net coral growth! I didn’t too, until this research paper came out. According to this 2015 study, up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs areas annually. And in an ever more polluted ocean, if we can reduce or remove any stressor that affects reef survival, we should. Good news is, Hawaii might become the first state in the world to ban sunscreens with oxybenzone in it! Switching up your sunscreen is as easy and fuss-free as snapping your fingers. Here are a few reef-friendly sunscreens you can look out for the next time you make an online/offline purchase, don’t say I never say:

Badger (we use this for The Dorsal Effect’s boat trips! 🙂 )


All Good

Mama Kuleana


P/S: You don’t have to go ham on your SPF. SPF30 (blocks out 97% UVB rays; no sunscreen can block out 100%) is the minimum recommended from the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Do not step on the coral reefs
Photo taken from AllHawaiiNews
Photo taken from AllHawaiiNews


Most of the established coral reef system we see today take thousands and hundreds of thousands of years to grow and establish its size we see today. Massive corals typically have growth rates of 0.3 to 2 cm per year and branching corals grow up to 10 cm per year. Carelessly stepping or resting on them because you’re tired means destroying a living organism that’s been around way longer than humanity and the home and feeding ground of the fishes you see around you!

  • Do not touch or disturb any marine animals
Photo taken from BookYourDive
Photo taken from BookYourDive


Maybe it’s the first time you or your child see a lone starfish on the beach. Yes, I know they’re cute– go closer, take a photo with it. But please refrain from picking them up! Mishandling can hurt or even kill them i.e. taking them out of the water for too long or accidentally dropping them. Remember that they are living things too so please respect their personal space. Also, who knows you might chance upon poisonous species while snorkelling?

  • Feed the fish

(Guilty as charged… I wish someone told me this earlier!)

Photo taken from a TripAdvisor Review
Photo taken from a TripAdvisor Review


What’s wrong with giving them some bread or fish food? A-ha, you’re mistaken! While well-intentioned, you’re feeding them the wrong food. Feeding them un-natural food disrupts their natural feeding cycle. Reef fishes live and survive on the algae that grows on the reef. Fishes graze and keep reefs healthy by eating up the excess algae and prevents it from suffocating the coral.

  • Do not pick up shells
Photo taken from Care2
Photo taken from Care2

I used to do this all the time (ack!) because who can resist such pretty and delicate looking shells?? Guess what, these empty shells you pick up are potential homes or hiding place for crabs and other animals. So, think twice before picking up a shell just cause it’s aesthetically pleasing to you.

  • Do not litter i.e. plastic cutlery, bags, cigarette butts
Photo from Paul Kennedy, Getty; taken from National Geographic.
Photo from Paul Kennedy, Getty; taken from National Geographic.


Plastic and cigarette butts are very harmful to the marine environment. They can be viewed as food which the marine animals consume and eventually cause their starvation if they keep consuming litter. Plastic can also strangle and cause their death. Remember not to carelessly toss your cigarette butts into the ocean and not to bring single-use plastics the next time you’re out island hopping!


Travellers, keep in mind these are the places you paid specifically to visit! Paying a little more for a reef friendly sunscreen and giving a little more attention to your surroundings and your behaviour goes a long way in preserving the pristine natural environment.



“Corals – How Do Coral Reefs Form?.” Corals, 2017, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/corals/coral04_reefs.html.

“How Coral Reefs Grow | Coral Reef Alliance.” Coral.Org, 2017, https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/how-coral-reefs-grow/.

Orenstein, Peggy. “Opinion | Is Your Sunscreen Poisoning The Ocean?.” Nytimes.Com, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/sunscreen-poisoning-ocean-reef.html.

Yuhas, Alan. “Slathering On Sunscreen At The Beach? It May Be Destroying Coral Reefs.” The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/28/sunscreen-damage-coral-research-oxybenzone.

#BeResponsible – “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.”

Blog post by IYOR2018 intern, Talia Wong:

Today we’ll be kicking off the series with #BeResponsible.

We’ll be talking about Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism and how The Dorsal Effect as an eco-based travel agency fits into it.

First, we’ll be revealing the defining traits of Ecotourism & Responsible Tourism, identifying their commonalities and differences.


The terms Ecotourism and Responsible Tourism have been used interchangeably, especially by tourist operators, mainly because the boundaries between these two terms are rather blurred since they are based on similar concepts such as soft tourism, ecodevelopment, appropriate tourism, sustainable tourism etc.

Ecotourism taps onto the appeal of the local natural, ‘undisturbed’ ecological environment with the emphasis on maximizing community benefits and minimizing environmental damage through an environmentally responsible behaviour. Fundamentally, ecotourism is still a form of tourism which aims to have its tourists leaving satisfied with the whole experience.

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Responsible Tourism has to do with the impacts of tourism on both the physical environment and social well-being of the local community. As such, Ecotourism is enveloped in this broader Responsible Tourism concept.

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Social engagement generally takes place due to an internal conviction related to socially based motivations. For example, if you’re an animal lover, you’ll be more inclined to donate money to an animal care foundation or more likely to volunteer at SPCA shelters. This is the same for tourism. By engaging the values of the tourist, we can enable change in their behaviour through physical work, social interaction or even financial compensation for environmental footprints.

Unfortunately, while the knowledge of an environmentally responsible behaviour comes from greater awareness and the possession of environmental knowledge, it does not often translate very well into the appropriate actions. This is particularly so during vacations when making a compromise between personal pleasure and environmental protection is difficult. (“We’re on holiday, why should we care?”)

For us, we believe that being environmentally responsible need not be confined to the eco site. In fact, such behaviour crosses into both the public and private sphere be it in an activist movement or just a pro-environmental habit you picked up along the way. It does not necessarily have to effect immediate and large-scale changes, it can be something personal and small if it is consistently performed that it becomes an automatic action.


Tourist numbers per trip are kept low
Tourist numbers per trip are kept low


Here at The Dorsal Effect, we have adopted a responsible ecotravel approach. The foundation of our ecotourism is based on the physical environment and the support of local shark fishers. With the help of YALE-NUS and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we were able to conduct coral surveys and identify potential attraction sites. Tourists are not left out of the equation (cue, environmentally responsible behaviour) as they too play an important part in maintaining the site and sharing their experiences after.
Of course, we note that becoming environmentally responsible does not take place overnight. As an ecotravel agency, we seek to spark curiosity among tourists who come along on our trips which can then potentially pave the way for more responsible environmental behaviour in time to come.

Building a biorock together with Gili Eco Trust and ISS
Building a biorock together with Gili Eco Trust and ISS


The Dorsal Effect currently organizes 2 types of eco-trips – one catered for the public and the other for students.  The former itinerary involves a visit to the Tanjung Luar shark market and boat snorkelling trips which usually takes up 1-2 days and is usually part of the tourists’ larger holiday itinerary. The latter itinerary has more of an “eco-fieldtrip” experience with students not only visit the shark market and go on snorkelling trips but are also being taught to build bio rocks, collect beach trash, visit the local schools at Tanjung Luar and more.

The Dorsal Effect intends to focus more on students and has collaborated with YALE-NUS, ISS International School (ISS) and Singapore Management University (SMU) since starting the business.

In hopes of enabling pro-environmental practices, The Dorsal Effect wants to reach out to more schools and engage young minds who possibly hold future leadership positions.

For the school trips with YALE-NUS, ISS International School and Singapore Management University (SMU), we conducted a post-trip survey to identify areas we excel at and areas we can improve on.

There were three main takeaways from the eco-fieldtrips.

Firstly, a positive experience can influence attitudes and influence environmentally responsible behaviour. All students found the eco-trip to be enjoyable, meaningful and educational with 97% intending to commit to some form of action after the eco-fieldtrip with 56% intending to reduce their single-use plastic usage and 10% reducing their seafood consumption.


When asked about the direct influence The Dorsal Effect had on them regarding shark fin consumption, 80% agreed to avoid eating shark’s fin for the rest of their life.


Besides, the multi-sensory experience experienced through snorkelling, visits to the shark market, involving stakeholders, end-of-day debriefings and reflections offers a chance for the student to be more involved and connected to the Lombok situation and shark fin trade. Students have suggested for a longer eco-trip duration conducted under more informal settings to improve the experience. A student from ISS mentioned that she came “to do things not to listen in a classroom setting”.  After all, students and tourists, in particular, are voluntary learners. Long hours of sitting and lecture-style educational programmes are ineffective and not meaningful.

Lastly, the survey also sheds light on the potential emergence of a different kind of service learning trip that interacts with the marine environment and coastal communities.


“need for conservation is as much a human issue as … the survival of our planet”

As tourism in Lombok is still in its initial stages, it is more vital for the Indonesian government or the local government to make a conscientious effort to publicly manage assets, regulate operations and prioritise sustainable practices. For example, the government can support initiatives to reduce transport pollution and protecting eco-sites.

A suggested poster of things to do and what to avoid for the locals
A suggested poster of things to do and what to avoid for the locals


We have seen in recent times that with other fishers or locals seeing value in joining this new trade, many of them do so carelessly and irresponsibly, risk damaging the fragile marine environment. Examples of irresponsible behaviour include dropping anchors onto corals, unregulated tourist numbers at sites, littering, feeding fishes at snorkel sites, not informing tourists to refrain from touching, harassing marine life and picking shells without a care for the natural environment. Not only does it damage the environment, it risks the option of a viable alternative livelihood from the finning trade.

Moreover, research has shown that by publicly involving the government, tourists are more likely to be open and trusting to the idea of ecotourism which can favour the further development of responsible ecotourism.

For many of us, “travel(ling) more” is up there on our 2018 resolution list. However, there is frequently little mention about travelling more responsibly despite soaring literacy rates and environmental degradation being the talk of the town.

So, we urge you, why not make 2018 your year of responsible travel?

Till next time, we hope you enjoyed this entry (:


Björk, Peter. “Ecotourism From A Conceptual Perspective, An Extended Definition Of A Unique Tourism Form.” International Journal Of Tourism Research, vol 2, no. 3, 2000, pp. 189-202. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1002/(sici)1522-1970(200005/06)2:3<189::aid-jtr195>3.3.co;2-k.

Chiu, Yen-Ting Helena et al. “Environmentally Responsible Behavior In Ecotourism: Antecedents And Implications.” Tourism Management, vol 40, 2014, pp. 321-329. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2013.06.013.

Diallo, Mbaye Fall et al. “Responsible Tourist Behaviour: The Role Of Social Engagement.” Recherche Et Applications En Marketing (English Edition), vol 30, no. 3, 2015, pp. 85-104. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/2051570715594134.

Fennell, David A. Ecotourism :Third Edition. 3rd ed., New York, NY: Routledge, 2008,.

Gagnon, Éric et al. “Donner Du Sens. Trajectoires De Bénévoles Et Communautés Morales.” Lien Social Et Politiques, no. 51, 2004, pp. 49-57. Consortium Erudit, doi:10.7202/008869ar.

Poudel, Surya, and Gyan P. Nyaupane. “Understanding Environmentally Responsible Behaviour Of Ecotourists: The Reasoned Action Approach.” Tourism Planning & Development, vol 14, no. 3, 2016, pp. 337-352. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/21568316.2016.1221851.

Rigall-I-Torrent, Ricard. “Sustainable Development In Tourism Municipalities: The Role Of Public Goods.” Tourism Management, vol 29, no. 5, 2008, pp. 883-897. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2007.10.004.

Stern, Paul C. “New Environmental Theories: Toward A Coherent Theory Of Environmentally Significant Behavior.” Journal Of Social Issues, vol 56, no. 3, 2000, pp. 407-424. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00175.

Yu, Chia-Pin (Simon) et al. “Measuring Residents’ Attitudes Toward Sustainable Tourism: A Reexamination Of The Sustainable Tourism Attitude Scale.” Journal Of Travel Research, vol 50, no. 1, 2012, pp. 57-63. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/0047287509353189.

Ziegler, Jackie et al. “But Are Tourists Satisfied? Importance-Performance Analysis Of The Whale Shark Tourism Industry On Isla Holbox, Mexico.” Tourism Management, vol 33, no. 3, 2012, pp. 692-701. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.08.004.


Earthfest2018 x TDE

The Dorsal Effect will be partaking in Earthfest2018!

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Visit us at our booth and enjoy a day out with your family and friends. It’s going to be a awesome time eating and witnessing a future we can all look forward to. All you need to do is click here and you’ll have the ticket.   

Now, you must be wondering what EarthFest is all about. Here’s what we know!


At EarthFest, it offers us a glimpse into what our future could look like with the backing of science, a little innovation and an open mind – it’s not about giving things up! It prides itself as a low-waste festival that uses biodegradable & compostable cutlery sets and utilizes technology to distribute information!

Catered to people across age groups, gender and background, there is something for everyone. Sit back and enjoy live performances or walk around and look at the yummy spread of plant-based international food fair and local sustainable businesses! Participate in their hands-on workshops or take a break and listen to guest speakers.

Located at Marina Barrage which was awarded the Green Mark Platinum Infrastructure Award, the top award at BCA awards, it is one of the most beautiful sustainable buildings in Singapore and it is the perfect place to host EarthFest 2018! Its green roof is made of 100% recycled plastics & eco-friendly drainage cells and double-glazed glass panels reduced heat penetration and minimized the need for air conditioning system. Moreover, the Solar Park alone generates enough energy to power 180 average households in Singapore … and more!

So, what are you waiting for?

Join us on January 14 (Sunday) and be a part of EarthFest 2018 (:

Official Message from EarthFest:

EarthFest is having it’s third edition on January 14, 2018!  Just like the first two, it has been designed to be sustainable, fun, and inspirational for all ages!  Featuring a food fair of delicious international and new age planet-friendly foods, a Farmer’s Market of local businesses with more sustainable products, an eco-carnival of engaging low carbon games, as well as other various opportunities like talks, screenings, etc.  We will have over 120 stalls this year and expand into a third floor.  There will be something for everyone and all interests – all packaged in one of the most sustainable and beautiful venues in the world: Marina Barrage!


Highlights and additions to the festival this year include:

  • New bands on stage, including local artist Christiane Mikaela
  • Our first hybrid food truck will be part of the food fair
  • New talks and workshops curated by Green is the New Black!
  • PitchFest by Awesome Foundation – win $1000 for your sustainable project
  • NEA Exposition on Climate Change + Waste
  • Screening of Landfill Harmonic by Singapore Eco Film Festival
  • Singapore Really Really Free Market
  • Exhibition of the Green Warriors by The Wedge Asia
  • WWF Eco-School exhibitions
  • Bookswap hosted by Secondsguru
  • Used cooking oil collection for biodiesel production by Alpha Bio Fuels
  • Try e-schooter sharing by Popscoot


Are we really serious about sustainability?  This is how we’ll stand apart: Our food fair will use 100% compostable material – and we’ll actually compost it!  The food is all planet-friendly requiring less water, land, and food inputs to produce while still being delicious and healthy (and from some of Singapore most highly rated restaurants!)  We’ll feature only reusable bags and no pamphlets can be handed out – they have to do digital distribution!  And all that haze we’ve been breathing in?  Well that’s due to palm oil – so it’s banned at EarthFest!  More than that we’re the first comprehensive sustainability festival that unites many organisations and businesses together at once.  You’ll have access to information on fair trade, buying local, organic, responsible investing, planet-friendly and healthy food, transportation, biodegradable & non-toxic options, overfishing, waste, electricity usage, water and much, much more!  Most importantly, we’ll inspire you with the effective ways you can make changes to really make a sustainable and modern future possible!


Excited?  We are and hope you are too!  We hope to see you on February January 14, 2018 from 11 am to 4:30 pm for EarthFest!  The limited tickets are FREE and available at http://bit.ly/EarthFest2018  You can also see all the businesses that will be there by visiting http://earthfestsingapore.com!  This is a community-based event – so if there is something YOU want to contribute or run, let us know and we’ll try to find a way to make it happen! Thanks to Singapore Press Holdings for being a sponsor this year!


Hope that we’ll be seeing you guys there!

TDE Background info recap

As we usher in the new year, we have our darling IYOR2018 intern, Talia Wong, with her second post giving a little bit of a recap on what TDE has done thus far:

The Dorsal Effect

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From giving talks on shark conservation in schools, executing The Dorsal Effect’s eco-business plan, giving pitches to obtain funding for The Dorsal Effect’s operations, collaborating with tertiary institutions i.e. NUS Tembusu College Steer team for reef surveys, organizing and embarking on the largest excursion with ISS international school and engaging the young, local community in Lombok in January and October in 2017; The Dorsal Effect has come a long way since its early days


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Indonesia, a maritime nation, home to at least 17,000 islands and rich marine environments and resources. Indonesia records the highest number of shark species of 111 out of 174 found within Southeast Asian region. For centuries, coastal communities have relied heavily on fishing to provide food, employment and income.

However, with the surging demand for shark fins in Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China since the 1970s, it provided local fishers another avenue of income and a tempting lucrative opportunity for foreign fishers and businesses to earn the big buck. It comes as no surprise that Indonesia is the number 1 shark-catching country in the world, accounting 13% of total globally reported sharks caught in 2011.


IMG_20171024_103132 IMG_20171024_103005

Type in “Tanjung Luar Fishery” into the Google search bar and you’ll be surprised to find how this isolated local community, geographically located on the eastern coast of Pulau Lombok in the province of West Nusa Tenggara is one of the busiest shark and ray fishing and trading port of the region. Unlike the other ports in Indonesia where sharks are often caught as bycatch, sharks at Tanjung Luar are intentionally hunted and caught.

Accompanied with grotesque, graphic images and news headliners exclaiming declining stocks, illegal fishing of endangered species and an uphill battle to stop shark fishing … Tanjung Luar fish market is a place where no shark – juvenile or adult, endangered, threatened or listed as “no-catch” i.e. thresher sharks by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – is spared from the onslaught. Kathy witnessed remorseless businessmen circling and inspecting the fins of shark carcasses around 2 metres in length before negotiating a price. Thereafter, the equally desensitised fisherman hacked off and weighed the fins of the dead shark. With the fins highly prized by the international market, 1kg of fin could cost USD600, an exorbitantly inflated price relative to the rest of the carcass which costs USD 1.50 per kilo.

It was not long ago when sharks were mainly caught mainly in central and western regions of Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zones. Unfortunately, declining stocks and increasing pressure to meet demands have driven fishermen to fish elsewhere, shifting the “geographical catch frontier” to the eastern seas of Indonesia.

The booming shark industry at Tanjung Luar directly employs fishermen and boat operators; additionally, employment further extends to the fish processing, transportation, marketing and other supporting sectors i.e. boat building, fish gear manufacturing industries. On a good shark fishing season in 2013, captains could earn Rp 20 million (around SGD 2000) a month and the rest of the crew of about 4-5 will receive their portion from another Rp20 million. Evidently, moving away from the fin trade at Tanjung Luar through the implementation of shark fishing bans and changing existing livelihood is unlikely and challenging respectively.

While a National Plan of Action (NPOA) for shark conservation has been developed for Indonesia for 2015-2019, compliance and enforcement on the ground is a whole other ballgame and despite being in place for 2 years, it has not been proven to be effective.

Nonetheless, ground-up initiatives spearheaded by non-governmental organisations such as The Dorsal Effect, Gili Shark Conservation are gaining traction with greater international recognition and support systems. For instance, the international organisation, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), has been compiling data on shark species in Lombok waters.


boat on marengke reef_AH_photography

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What The Dorsal Effect seeks to achieve requires a readiness from shark fishermen to embrace Lombok’s natural wonders along with the ability to match and perhaps offer a more stable and at least an equivalent amount of income to replace their existing shark fishing income source. With the informed participation of a ground up movement, it will be the first step to making a change here at Tanjung Luar. Already, the tides are gradually starting to turn for this apex marine predator.

Currently, The Dorsal Effect is offering a sustainable and alternate way of life that lets local communities at Tanjung Luar stay connected to the ocean without destroying and destabilizing the ecosystem through responsible ecotourism. This is in line with the Ministry of Tourism’s plans to reform the tourism industry to become the key cornerstone of the country’s economy. Surrounded by beautiful crystal blue waters and ample marine environments, Tanjung Luar shows so much potential in attracting tourists.

With hope and perseverance, gears are moving for the shark community and call it far-fetch, but everyone here at The Dorsal Effect are holding on to the hope that our children will be able to see these graceful, silent predators.


Ali, Ahmad, and Annie Pek Khiok Lim. Field Guide To Sharks Of The Southeast Asian Region. Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), 2012,.

Lack, Mary, and Glenn Sant. The Future Of Sharks: A Review Of Action And Inaction. TRAFFIC International (Cambridge, UK) & Pew Environment Group (Washington, D.C.), 2011, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2011/01/27/the-future-of-sharks-a-review-of-action-and-inaction.

“Ministry Plans To Turn Tourism Into Indonesia’s Leading Sector | Jakarta Globe.” Jakarta Globe, 2017, http://jakartaglobe.id/news/ministry-plans-to-turn-tourism-into-indonesias-leading-sector/.

Pet, J. S. et al. (Field Report) Part 2: Lombok. Chemonics International & People & Nature Consulting International, 2012, pp. 81-100,.

“STATUS OF DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF NATIONAL PLANS OF ACTION (NPOA) FOR SHARKS AND SEABIRDS AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FAO GUIDELINES TO REDUCE MARINE TURTLE MORTALITY IN FISHING OPERATIONS | IOTC.” Iotc.Org, 2016, http://iotc.org/science/table-progress-implementing-npoa-sharks-npoa-seabirds-and-fao-guidelines-reduce-sea-turtle-mortality.

Tull, Malcolm. “The History Of Shark Fishing In Indonesia.” Historical Perspectives Of Fisheries Exploitation In The Indo-Pacific, vol 12, 2014, pp. 63-81. Springer Netherlands, doi:10.1007/978-94-017-8727-7_4.

It is the holidays, where are you heading off to this time?

As 2018 approaches, TDE is very lucky and excited to have a new IYOR2018 intern, Talia Wong, to help us with a series of articles and posts for the next 3 months! Thank you Ria, Wild Singapore and the rest of the IYOR2018 team for making this possible! Here’s Talia’s very first post of the series:

It is the holidays, where are you heading off to this time?

Short getaways and long-haul travels are increasingly turning into an everyday conversation starter among people today. Almost every day, it seems like at least one person we know or heard or seen on social media is packing up and going overseas – be it for business or leisure. A few days ago, Changi Airport celebrated their new record of 60 million passengers received, a 10 million rise from 5 years ago. Built to accommodate a progressively mobile generation, Singapore has already braced itself for more international arrivals and domestic departures with the recent opening of Terminal 4 in late October this year.   

Along with the advancement of transport technology and the Internet, people have become more digitally connected and mobile. A booking is just a screen tap away. This is particularly so for the millennials born in the early 1980s to early 2000s who currently make up 1.8 billion of the world’s population, the largest and youngest generation with disposable income. Now that more people are digitally savvy, educated and mobile, many of them are on the search for enriching, soul stirring personal experiences that speaks to their values and interests which are usually found overseas.

Consequently, we see the rise of niche tourism sectors such as ecotourism, voluntourism, adventure tourism, photographic tourism and the list goes on.  

Travelling has become a part and parcel of our lives and a privilege many of us feel entitled to. However, we often fail to note what goes on behind picture perfect postcard visuals circulated by travel agencies, hotels and more significantly today, travel influencers on social media. We are left desiring and consuming more of what is shown to us that we forget how damaging the tourism sector can be environmentally and socially.  

Over the next 3 months, we will be covering a 4-part series also known as BRASS: be responsible, be aware, be smart and be sensitive. Each theme will run the course of 3 weeks here at The Dorsal Effect.  2_Photo2

We start off the series with the tourism sector and how it ties in with The Dorsal Effect’s aims with responsible ecotourism and then linking it to the issue of trash and pollution which comes along with irresponsible behaviour. After which, the topic of consumerism will be broken down into 2 segments on the supply and demand side: (i) sustainable seafood industry (ii) consumers. Lastly, we should not and did not forget about the local community and how they play a vital role in filling the gaps of responsible tourism.

We hope that you’re looking forward to digestible, information-packed and engaging articles that we’ll be sharing on our socials.

And as Kathy puts it, “(A)wareness should be empowering and not disillusioning.

Till then!


Neo, Elizabeth. “Changi Airport Hits Record 60 Million Passengers In 2017.” Channel Newsasia, 2017, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/changi-airport-hits-record-60-million-passengers-in-2017-9507022.

TAN, AUDREY. “‘Voluntours’ Growing In Popularity In Singapore.” The Straits Times, 2017, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/voluntours-growing-in-popularity-in-singapore.

“Young And Ready To Travel (And Shop).” Nielsen.Com, 2017, https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/nielsenglobal/eu/docs/reports/nielsen-millennial-traveler-study-jan-2017.pdf.


ISS return trip to Lombok

It was a return trip with the ISS International School Singapore students on the IB program Grade 11 students for their group 4 project, this October, and it proved emotionally rewarding for me indeed, on so many fronts.

I loved seeing how the teachers buy in to the message of the trip was very possible and encouraging, with a great bunch of teachers who came on this trip and who felt passionately against single use plastics that they would help reinforce the message and point out to students when they depend too much on single use plastics indeed. The support was heartening and one could really see how much the teachers were invested in the conservation message of the trip indeed.

After the first day of visiting the shark market and the shark processing plant, the students did some reflecting on the day and it was insightful to see how affected they were by seeing the whole industry first hand, while still getting to know the human aspect of the issue through their time interviewing the fishermen on the island where most of them lived on. I guess listening in on the insightful reflections that exhibited critical thinking by the students got me really interested in the IB program (a very holistic developmental education program that gets students to ask questions than take in whatever is fed to them).


I was very very lucky indeed, to have had the support of fine trip facilitators namely, Matt, who was a retired teacher of ISS and who came on the trip last year with the previous batch as a teacher then; Bryan, a marine scientist who added much value to the shark processing plant, sharing important shark biology information with the students as well as helping them students with the snorkelling and data collection. Can’t forget Sheryl, another marine science trained facilitator who connected and bonded well with the students and guided them so expertly through the collection of shark landings data at the fish market, not forgetting taking amazing care of her group during the data collection snorkelling too. Couldn’t have made the trip possible without such dedicated crew that had great expertise and were super strong swimmers! I really learnt so much from the 3 of them indeed too, about data collection for coral health and fish species density counting, considering how I don’t have an academic background in marine science! Thank you Matt, Bryan and Sheryl!

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I personally enjoyed the trash audit activity with the students the most. As we were doing beach clean up along the shores of a secluded beach, it was interesting to hear the students making observations that the beach looked so clean but we still amassed so many bags of trash, as well as how they noticed that some of the straws they picked (or tried to pick) were already disintegrating as exclaimed that fishes eat these when they are in the ocean and humans end up eating the fish with the ingested plastics too. Without the first hand experience of counting the types of trash that we pick, the lesson on the harms of single use plastic could hardly be more entrenched.


And the end of the whole trip, I was really touched when the students came forward during the last night’s reflection session to specifically thank each and every one of the teachers and facilitators on the trip and I think it really struck me when the kids shared about how thankful they were to Bryan for teaching them to snorkel properly and for Sheryl in taking time to have dinner together with the students, as well as to Matt for travelling all the way from USA to be a facilitator on their trip and gide them through the activities. I really appreciated the openness by students to one another of different nationalities and cultures and how they were really open to and respectedone another’s views. That is truly the value of having an education in an international school. Was also super grateful for Juli and his Nara Lingua team for their invaluable help in translation especially for fishermen interviews, the team really put themselves out there and went above and beyond to help the students and bonded with them as well.


The departure at the airport back in Singapore was definitely emotional for me too. It was epiphanic when the teachers individually shared deeply about how the trip made them think deeper about issues and what impacted them as well. Thank you ISS, for being such a wonderful bunch that inspires me to keep going with the school trips. no matter how hard it is to get more schools into the buy in. It has been rewarding and fulfilling taking you on a marine conservation trip with The Dorsal Effect!


ISS – Our Biggest and Most Traditional Group Yet

In January 2017 The Dorsal Effect took over 50 grade 11 students (the largest group we’ve ever had!) from ISS International School to Lombok Indonesia.

The group is a wonderful mix of backgrounds – including Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Korean – many of whom come from traditional families where consumption of shark is the norm.

This is what they experienced over four days…

Insight to the shark trade

We start with a trip to Tanjung Luar fish market. January sees the lowest shark landings of the year, but eight sharks were landed on one morning giving the students great insight.


Reactions are mixed among the students – there is awe, shock, and sadness.

The students must collect data as part of their trip, and after the friendly fishermen give us permission to do so, we start surveying – getting the species, sex, and length of the sharks.



There is one particularly rounded shark, and one of the locals confirms our fear as he pulls out her babies – to the gasps of students and teachers.


We then head to the processing plant, where the students experience what the sharks are reduced to: cartilage, skin, fins, satay and teeth. The smell of the plant is overwhelming; maggots eat away at rotting shark flesh and flies swarm the area – but the workers are warm, welcoming and full of smiles.


To give context to their experience, the students then receive a lecture from the Wildlife Conservation Society of Indonesia who have been monitoring the shark landings for over two years.

“I learned that shark hunting leads to unbalanced marine ecosystems…”

Learning how to do underwater surveys

This is what The Dorsal Effect is all about – shark fishermen using their boats to take guests snorkelling instead of hunting sharks (such as Bayu, pictured below!).



The students jump into the sea to get data on coral health, creature abundance, and threats to the reefs for their project.

Some students aren’t that confident in the water, and others have never snorkelled before. Put this with trying to learn underwater survey techniques (with monsoon weather!) and it’s a pretty steep learning curve! Kudos to everyone for sticking with it.

“It’s really hard for me to tell one thing that I was most impressed [by] but if I had to mention it would be snorkelling because the experience made me like the ocean.”



Engaging with the local students

This is always a big hit with our guests – visiting Tanjung Luar high school for interactions with the local students. The students engage in some favourite games (like tug of war!), and also share their new knowledge about coral reefs with the local students. While the local students are connected with the oceans (many of their fathers are shark fishermen), most have not learnt about or seen corals, as snorkelling is expensive.



We then took 8 local students for their first snorkelling experience. Like most children on Lombok, they are very confident swimmers – but it was the first time they used a mask to see what was beneath the waves.


The ISS students and the local students then did a beach clean up together. It was a special moment seeing students from different backgrounds coming together to act against pollution.



The ISS teachers commented how ‘alive’ many of their students became. It seems interacting with the local students really sparked something inside them!

“I’ve learned that we can communicate with people who speak a different language from us.”

Visiting Gili Trawangan

The students set off to the glamorous island of Gili Trawangan, to build their own bio-rock with Delphine of Gili Eco Trust. Bio-rocks, made of metal, are placed on the sea floor and serve as a platform for coral to grow on. Electricity is pumped through them, which accelerates coral growth.

Our society is edging toward a more sedentary existence, so it was great to see students with their gloves on, working physically hard to bend the metal into shape! Over the two days, the students make a large bio-rock in the shape of “ISS”.

“I’ve learnt the damaged we have done to our marine ecosystem such as shark hunting and severe plastic pollution, I’ve also learned ways to protect [it] like building bio rock.”


After this, they learnt about the darker side of tourism. They first survey shops for shark tooth necklaces, most of which come from Tanjung Luar. They then visited a turtle ‘sanctuary’, where baby turtles are kept in dirty, shallow tanks. The shallow water means they cannot dive which stunts lung development, while the act of buying turtles from poachers is apparently perpetuating poaching. The students learnt the importance of questioning tourist attractions that use animals.


The trip comes to an end…

It was a pleasure hosting students that are so rooted to their traditional culture, and giving many their first insight to marine conservation. We hope that we have ‘planted the first seed’, which will inspire change – if not now, then at some point down the road.

When asked if they will commit to saying no to shark fin soup, 30% of respondents said ‘no’, and 70% said they weren’t sure, ‘maybe’, or ‘yes’:

“I would say yes but there will be some point in my life where I have to social wise.”

“It is impossible to avoid it in my family it is a great deal in my culture.”

“I would never eat shark fin soup and would try and reduce plastic waste and in general be more mindful about the environment.

“I would not eat or buy any shark product.”

“…I’ll try to raise awareness by telling what I experienced to my friends in Japan and parents.


(all photos copyright of International School Singapore and Agus Harianto)

(blog post written by Naomi Clark-Shen)

All materials used for research and data collection on the trip as well as some of the snorkel gear and life vests sponsored by:

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