Marine Conservation for the Next Generation

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Monday, June 8, 2020 - 00:00
  • Australia Awards
  • Philippines

Australia Awards alumnus Dr. Rene Abesamis led a multidisciplinary research on how marine protected areas can help restore coral reef biodiversity and productivity. He was recently recognised for his contributions to Philippine and global marine science.

Dr. Rene Abesamis remembers the first time he saw the beauty and abundance of life underwater. As a child, he did not expect that a hobby that brought him so much joy would turn into a career as a marine biologist.


Dr. Abesamis received his Master in Tropical Marine Ecology and Fish Biology and PhD in Marine Biology from James Cook University in 2011. James Cook University is one of the most sought after educational institutions for coral reef ecology. As a proud Australia Awards scholar, Dr. Abesamis shares how he went back to the Philippines after his postgraduate studies in Australia to uncover solutions to the constant declining fish population in our oceans. His Australian education provided him with tools, international links, and training to further his research. ”Because the university in Australia was a leader in the field, that opened doors to so much international collaboration all over the world.”


A Solid Foundation of Maritime Education


Dr. Abesamis believes that the Philippines is one of the best places to be a marine biologist because the country is the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. He conducted his research on Apo Island in Dauin, Negros Oriental, which is not only rich in marine life, but also a source of livelihood among people living in nearby coastal communities. His research focused on how marine protected areas can be an effective tool in restoring coral reef biodiversity, and in rebuilding and sustaining fisheries in the Philippines, which have been declining for decades.  


This research was initiated by his two life-long mentors: Philippine national scientist Dr. Angel Alcala from Siliman University and Professor Gary Russ from James Cook University. Alcala is known as the father of marine protected areas, while Professor Gary Russ is Dr. Alcala’s research partner and was Dr. Abesamis’ supervisor while he was in Australia. Both of these marine biologists motivated him to continue the work they started on Apo Island in the 1970s and 80s.


These purposeful collaborations paved the way for further research breakthroughs. With support from international collaborators that included top Filipino and international scientists, Dr. Abesamis successfully led a multidisciplinary research project on the movement patterns of coral reef fishes. This was key in determining the best size, spacing, and location of marine reserves to maximise the benefits of biodiversity conservation and fisheries management.  


The impact of Dr. Abesamis’ work is echoed not just locally but also globally. His published works on how marine protected areas can help restore coral reef biodiversity and productivity have aided his fellow marine scientists, students, and enthusiasts across the globe. Dr. Abesamis’ research findings have received international exposure and are now being modelled by other experts in the field.


Making a difference


Dr. Abesamis believes that his role as a scientist is to make information easily digestible for everyone – whether experts in the field, decision makers or coastal communities. “Communicating my research findings helps leaders come up with responsible decisions for their natural resources because they understand the repercussions of their actions,” he said.


He empowers communities by seeking their involvement and support. To this day, Dr. Abesamis gives presentations on the relevance of preserving our coral reefs. Because of his efforts, communities are able to understand that local conservation activities not only create a big impact today, but can also positively affect future generations.



Dr. Rene Abesamis was awarded the 2019 Australian Alumni Excellence in Innovation Award for his contributions to Philippine and global marine science. His work focused on how marine protected areas can help restore coral reef biodiversity and productivity. He is currently a research officer and an adjunct faculty member at Siliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management in Dumaguete City, Philippines.


Photo credit: Francisco Guerrero

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