Shape Your Future with Mei Lin Neo, the Giant Clam Girl

Mei Lin Neo is a marine ecologist, a science communicator conducting her research work at the St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory.

She is a recipient of the World Future Foundation Ph.D. Prize in 2014, the L’Oréal For Women in Science National Fellowship in 2015, and the NUS Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2017.

All of this became possible thanks to her passion for the natural world and the chance encounter with what has since become her favourite marine animal and main subject of study, the Giant Clam.

In the picture: a Giant Clam(Tridacna sp.). Credit: Janette M Anderson [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Her commitment to the safeguarding of endangered giant clams has led to the creation of two restocking programs in Singapore, with the aim of raising baby clams to bring them back onto the reefs.

I had the chance to talk with Mei Lin and try to learn more about her and how she is shaping her future in light of current issues.
And here is the full interview.

You have a PhD in marine ecology and are particularly involved in educating people about the importance of marine ecosystems.
What inspired you to choose this path?

Mei Lin Neo: Growing up, I’ve always had a fondness for the natural world, thus I developed a strong desire to protect this fragile Nature so that I may continue to enjoy its beauty. Initially, I wanted to be an educator so that I can influence the young ones to become responsible guardians of Nature. But I stumbled upon the path of becoming a marine biologist that gave me opportunities to solve real-world problems. Hand in hand, I have come to a full circle where my job allows me to solve environmental problems through research and educate people through science communication.

You are passionate about a surprising animal: the Giant Clam.
Do you remember how this passion came to you ? Can you tell us more about your experience with this animal?

MLN: My passion for giant clam was serendipitous. Unlike most marine biologists, I didn’t choose to study the giant clam – it just fell into my lap. I thought that it’ll be an easy project because I could follow existing procedures, but this turned out to be a disastrous assumption! One experiment after another, I couldn’t keep the larvae (babies) of giant clam alive. I was disheartened, yet I also refuse to give up. The tiny giant clams fought hard against the odds to grow up and become a big giant clam. That’s when I decided to dedicate my career to champion for their conservation globally.

In the picture: a Giant Clam and researchers during a field study. Credits: Marcus Ng. ,via meilin5giantclam.wordpress.com

As a doctor of marine ecology, you probably spent a lot of time in the field, it must be a pretty adventurous life.
Are there any anecdotes that especially affected you (positively or negatively) during your field experiences ?

MLN: My fondest memory (but very dangerous!) of field work was when my colleagues and I got stuck on a reef during an intertidal (i.e. the zone of the shore between the high-water mark and low-water mark) survey. Many things went wrong for this survey: the giant clams were difficult to relocate, tides were rising too quickly, and there was heavy rain. We were in waist-deep waters but couldn’t exit the waters because the boat cannot pick us up. So many thoughts ran through my head, and I was most worried that my tall friend would become a human lightning rod! Looking back, it taught me to respect and not undermine the power of nature and its elements in my work.

Your professional achievements have earned you many awards such as the NUS Outstanding Young Alumni Award en 2017.
What have been the greatest successes of your life so far ? What inspires you today ?

MLN: The greatest success of my life is showing the world that my individual’s efforts have exerted changes in my community and society. I strongly believe in making contributions, no matter how small it may be, as that small effort will make a difference. And this is my way in giving back to Nature. My peers involved in environmental work inspire me to do my best, as they show me that we are not powerless but key in pushing small changes into something bigger for the environment. I feel proud and humbled to be working alongside them on the ground to drive impact.

In relation to our Shape Your Future video series, I would like to ask you one more question, in fact the one to top them all and to guide all of us:

How do you shape your future?

 


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