A Coral Researcher Who Doesn’t Dive

Ms Jasmin Saw doing her research in the RMBR Library

Have you ever met a coral researcher who doesn’t dive? Meet Ms Jasmin Saw from the University Teknologi Petronas in Malaysia who is here in RMBR from the 2nd of July to the 20th of July, studying our coral specimens! She has a degree in Environmental Science and Management and is currently doing her phD in coral conservation.

What got her interested in coral research, besides her supervisor’s encouragement, is that she loves that what she studies is related to her degree and “alive” in a sense that what she does will eventually help the environment at large.

Bringing it back to the title, how is it that she doesn’t need to dive? This is because Jasmin does her research on fossil corals!

Now what exactly are fossil corals? Fossil corals are corals that have been fossillised in layers of rock after many years. Jasmin is currently studying the fossil corals from the Plio-Pleistocene period (< 5 million years old). According to her, since organisms take a long time to evolve, 5 millions years is considered recent. Therefore, it is possible to correctly identify a fossil coral by matching certain characteristics with newer coral specimens.

She finds the fossil corals in quarries located within oil palm plantations. The quarries are about 20-30 metres deep and filled with limestone. Limestones are composed of skeletal fragments from marine organisms like corals. When asked how dangerous it is to venture down into such deep quarries, she mentions that it is not the physicality of her work that has risks, but rather, the secluded localities of the quarries that is dangerous.

She recalls that once, the quarry was so secluded that the whole team of researchers (international researchers with her as the only local researcher) had to be escorted by the police to the quarry and throughout the entire duration of their work because the police were afraid that they might be abducted.

Despite the exciting nature of her work, she says that she is looking forward to the next phase of her research, where diving is required to see the recent geographical distribution of the coral reefs so that an estimation of the geographical distribution of the past can be made.


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