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Malaysian Ecologist Jillian Ooi Receives US$150,000 Pew Grant To Save Local Seagrass Meadows

Malaysian Ecologist Jillian Ooi Receives US$150,000 Pew Grant To Save Local Seagrass Meadows

Jillian chose seagrass as her subject matter because the vital part of the marine ecosystem has been declining in Malaysia.

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Malaysian ecologist, Jillian Ooi Lean Sim from Universiti Malaya (UM), has been selected as a 2022 recipient of the Pew fellowship in marine conservation.

The senior lecturer at UM joins five other fellows from India, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States as part of this year’s fellowship cohort.

The 2022 cohort’s project will join a global community of nearly 200 experts involved in vital ocean conservation work globally.

Ooi will receive US$150,000 (RM630,900) from the Pew Charitable Trusts to study the growth and best methods to restore seagrass meadows and raise awareness of its importance.

According to The Star, Ooi is one of the few seagrass ecologists in Malaysia. She chose to study seagrass because it was underappreciated, and it’s a vital part of the marine ecosystem.

I felt that seagrasses are sort of a powerhouse with many ecosystem functions but it is really underappreciated compared to coral reefs and mangroves.

Malaysian ecologist Jillian Ooi Lean Sim.

What is seagrass?

Credit: WCS

Ooi, who has studied seagrass since 2015, said seagrass is different from seaweeds. Seagrass is just like our grass fields on land with leaves, flowers, fruits and roots. Seaweeds do not have fruits or flowers.

As it stands, the seagrass meadows in Malaysia are declining rapidly. It could be found along the entire Malaysian coast, but it was now mostly found along the shores of Johor, Sabah and Sarawak.

The decline is due to land reclamation, coastal development and water pollution.

Considering how much Malaysians love seafood, we should be very concerned about seagrass destruction.

Malaysian ecologist Jillian Ooi Lean Sim told The Star.

Seagrass acts as a nursing ground for juvenile fish and crustaceans. It’s also a feeding ground for sea creatures such as dugongs and turtles.

Seagrass meadows are also the lungs of the ocean because it produces oxygen for all sea life. In addition, it helps to clean bacteria and pollutants from sea waters.

Her plan to raise conservation awareness

In addition to her study, Ooi plans to raise awareness of conservation through a performing arts piece with visual and musical elements featuring a gamelan.

Ooi is a gamelan player herself and is an artistic director for the Rhythm in Bronze, an all-women gamelan ensemble.

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