She’s wild about conserving sharks and rays, Parenting & Education and learning News & Top Tales

As a young female, maritime researcher and conservationist Naomi Clark-Shen remembers staying afraid of what lurked in the dim, chilly depths of the ocean. Her spouse and children would normally drive up from Singapore to Malaysian islands these types of as Tioman and Rawa for snorkelling holidays, and although they would snorkel really far out, she would typically continue being in incredibly shallow waters.

“I have a incredibly vivid creativity and I would scare myself by pondering about big sharks and other predators coming out of the deep. At times, I was even worried of becoming in the deep end of swimming swimming pools!” the 30-yr-aged recalls.

All that transformed when Ms Clark-Shen turned 14 and viewed “the most awesome show on Nationwide Geographic about sharks”. From then on, she was hooked. “My interest in sharks turned my fear of the ocean into curiosity.”

At 17, she received her scuba diving licence and a year later on, she headed to the United Kingdom to go after an undergraduate degree in animal behaviour at College of Exeter and a master’s in maritime science at Plymouth College. On graduation, she became a freelance conservation consultant, working on a wide variety of assignments in conservation (largely marine) as nicely as material production and producing for organisations this kind of as the Earth Wide Fund for Character and Animal Worries Research & Training in Singapore.

In 2017, she initiated an independent undertaking with a friend to survey the sharks and rays observed at Singapore’s fishery ports. Following a few a long time of the exact same surveys at the similar fishery ports, she acquired a deep fascination in blackspot sharks and blue-noticed maskrays or stingrays. The blackspot shark (carcharhinus sealei) is a little shark species that hardly ever grows outside of 90cm extensive, although the blue-spotted maskrays (neotrygon spp) is a compact stingray species that does not expand over 40cm in width.

“When we have been doing our surveys at Singapore’s fishery ports, both turned up in really substantial volumes. Then we heard from retailers and suppliers that their quantities have truly dwindled around the yrs,” Ms Clark-Shen states.

This obtaining anxious her, so she began to assume about what she could do to help save them, these types of as with more in-depth knowledge about their daily life heritage – from how extended they stay and the age at which they access maturity to how lots of youthful they have and whether or not they give beginning seasonally.

She explains: “These solutions are crucial for conservation. For case in point, if an animal will take a extensive time to access maturity, creates very couple of young, and only provides delivery when every single several a long time, they are pretty vulnerable to fisheries and their populations can plummet if fishing stress proceeds.

“On the other hand, if an animal reaches maturity immediately and provides several young all over the year, they are more resilient to fisheries, and fishing tactics may just need some tweaks to preserve their populations stable.”

Going deep

To choose her exploration to the upcoming amount, Ms Clark-Shen determined to go after a Medical professional of Philosophy (PhD) in maritime science concentrating on the daily life history of blackspot sharks and blue-spotted maskrays at the Singapore campus of James Cook dinner College (JCU). Selecting JCU was a no-brainer as the establishment is a globe leader in shark and ray science.

She suggests: “I knew that the mentorship, abilities and connections at JCU would be best-degree. Just before joining the programme, I had collaborated with Dr Neil Hutchinson and Dr Andrew Chin, equally professors at JCU, and I thought they would make very good supervisors. They encouraged me to do a PhD.”

The individual strategy she is using in her PhD study – existence-record evaluation for sharks and rays – is also not recognized to other universities in Singapore. Ms Clark-Shen, who does not think in killing animals for analysis, says her supplier functions with industrial fisheries to source her with sharks and rays each and every month. She conducts standard dissections to look at if they have been carrying any infants, evaluate the maturity of their gonads and to get rid of vertebrae to ascertain their age.

Other laboratory procedures she employs include a DNA investigation to verify the maritime species and a diet evaluation to see what they try to eat.

Ms Clark-Shen’s investigate is slicing-edge as she is making novel science about the blackspot shark and blue-spotted maskrays that have not been effectively-researched. “Generally, more compact shark and ray species get missed simply because they are not as ‘sexy’ as the even larger kinds,” she suggests.

By shedding light-weight on the existence background of these species, she hopes to assist fisheries supervisors and conservationists recognize how susceptible they are to fishery pressures, and to devise appropriate administration measures to aid them.

“For case in point, if we uncover that a person of the species only offers start seasonally, it’s possible fishermen can release animals again into the sea during that particular period,” she points out.

Lifetime on campus

Ms Clark-Shen admits that existence as a PhD university student took some getting employed to.

She elaborates: “You want to get utilised to the actuality that you will be functioning mostly alone on your study subject matter for the upcoming a few to 4 several years. There were times at the beginning when I felt a little bit isolated. Of class, I have gotten employed to the rhythms of the research and discovered a assistance network on campus considering that then.

“I’m quite joyful and loving the total encounter. For the reason that the investigate is yours on your own, you can be impartial in how you strategy the work, adapt to troubles and construction your program each 7 days.”


Ms Clark-Shen is experiencing her PhD expertise as she enjoys taking possession of her have investigation, and getting unbiased in how she strategies her get the job done. Picture: TED CHEN

Her supervisor has also struck a incredibly very good balance with her. “He trusts me to get on with items by myself but is always there when I have to have him, no matter whether all through or exterior our weekly conferences. He is easy-heading, but cracks the whip when essential. For illustration, he place his foot down and insisted I study DNA investigation, a new approach I was hesitant about. He also picks up on when I’m pressured and always manages to reassure me. The relationship is much more of a pleasant mentorship than a instructor-pupil 1.”

Ms Clark-Shen feels that the exclusive skill set she is being equipped with and the demanding technique to investigate and greater know-how will help progress her occupation. She currently feels more self-confident in this industry of operate.

Her goals after her PhD are centred on continuing to support animals. As an animal welfare advocate, she wants to examine a connection among marine conservation and marine animal welfare. She is also contemplating writing children’s publications on conservation.

Her suggestions to all those looking at carrying out a PhD is: “Wait right until you come across one thing you’re actually passionate about and want to shell out the subsequent 3 to 4 decades (and past) specialising in.

“Don’t hurry into one after your undergraduate diploma either. Work for a spell or possibly even do a master’s initially. These encounters help to construct character, so you will be much more self-assured and capable when using on a PhD.”

The Medical professional of Philosophy (PhD) at JCU is open to individuals on the lookout to specialize in various fields of study, which include training, social sciences, video game layout, banking and finance, tourism, psychology, aquaculture, and marine ecology.