If you knew about the giant clam like Dr Neo Mei Lin, you'd love it too

It was around two years ago that I was introduced to the giant clam. Well, not exactly (and not face-to-face – I wish I did). :)

I discovered a lot about this amazing bivalve (which can grow up to a metre long) through Dr Neo Mei Lin, who I interviewed and wrote about for Smile magazine. She won an award (and has received a lot of recognition since) for her groundbreaking research on the giant clam and her marine conservation efforts.

Dr Neo was already doing good work for the giant clam back then

Seriously, though, Dr Neo’s passion for her work is inspiring. Her enthusiasm is infectious, too. After listening to her and reading about her, I bet you’ll care about the giant clam and all other marine life even more.

Speaking of listening to Dr Neo…

I was looking at a few of my articles the other day, saw the one on Dr Neo, and thought it would be a good idea to reconnect with her and find out what she’s been up to.

She’s been up to a lot, as it turns out. I was excited to learn that she did a TED talk in Vancouver last year. That means she was able to spread her message to more people and on a different scale, which is great.

She got back to me!

Dr Neo is a marine ecologist and scientist from Singapore who works as a Research Fellow at the Tropical Marine Science Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and at St John's Island National Marine Laboratory.

I asked her if I could have new quotes and details about her as an update to the article above, and here it is (yay!).


Dr Neo Mei Lin and her fight to protect the giant clam 

As an expert on the giant clam and marine conservation, there have been many memorable moments in Dr Neo Mei Lin’s career. One of them happened in Vancouver last year.

“My TED talk experience was my major highlight in 2017, as I had the opportunity to speak about my favourite marine animal – the giant clam – on a global platform. Even more exciting is my TED talk went online with less than a million views today,” she relates.

Photo by Ryan Lash / TED

“The experience was truly humbling and enriching, as I’ve learnt skills on being a better presenter: be it my presentation slides or presentation style,” she adds. “I’ve received relatively positive feedback about my talk, and since then have had many people come forth to commend my efforts in communicating science.”

Back home in Singapore, Dr Neo is busier than ever. In fact, 2018 has been particularly exciting and interesting for the marine ecologist and scientist.

“This year is really special for the coral reef community, as we celebrate the 3rd International Year of the Reef as declared by the Coral Reef Initiative,” she says.

“My friends and I started a platform called Celebrating Singapore Shores to promote awareness of marine life in Singapore shores, as well as take the opportunity to bring together the people in our blue community and communicate their work to a wider audience.” She’s also been mentoring interns to help carry out this mission.

Dr Neo has branched out into other things too. “Besides volunteering, my research scope has slowly expanded to include other cool marine animals such as sea urchins, tube worms, and not forgetting the giant clam! On the giant clam, I am now co-mentoring students on their research projects in the Philippines and Malaysia.”

The giant clam amazes once again

Through Dr Neo, you’ll realise how important the giant clam is in helping to maintain the coral reefs and supporting other marine life – and how over-harvesting them and digging them up hurts the marine ecosystem.

But there’s more to the giant clam than that. “I’ve learnt many new interesting science about others working on the giant clam,” she recounts.

“For example, a study showed how the giant clam could help predict future typhoon events, while another study showed how one of the giant clam species used acid to create its own home!

“I am genuinely heartened to see new science coming up to highlight the ecological importance of the giant clam to reef ecosystems; but at the same time, the trends of human impact remain damaging to natural clam populations,” she stresses.

It's about time to step in

How can we help? “Science is important, but caring and taking action are key to protecting the species better. For example, giant clams are popular in the aquarium trade, and hobbyists can do more by ensuring that their clams are sustainably grown and sourced,” suggests Dr Neo.

“As before, I continue to use the giant clam to highlight the challenges facing our oceans today,” she emphasises. “What is more important to me is that the public gains a better understanding of a small character on the coral reefs, and then appreciate the greater need to conserve coral reefs for our own well-being.”

Let’s not wait for the giant clam’s dire situation to escalate even further. Now that we are aware of it and know more, we can support Dr Neo and get the word around.

“In the past year, I’ve learnt that many of our environmental issues are not well-understood by the public because they cannot relate to the issues directly,” she admits.

“Only when they understand the gravity of problems will they start to care and act. The public is a powerful group that can make a big difference, if they choose to do so.”

The giant clam says hello

And we should answer with a hello and thank you. :)

Like them, there are marine species we do not readily see that need our attention.

“The giant clam may not be cuddly or cute like dolphins and whales, but what struck me about them is how they are guardians of the reefs, silently sitting and ‘watching’ over their homes,” asserts Dr Neo.

“As I learn more about the role they play on reefs, my appreciation for them grows and it makes me more determined to do my best to highlight them on reefs.” As we all should.

For more on Dr Neo, click here and here.