From ocean foam to fray: A story of coral reefs, turtles and biosensors

First off I want to say: Happy new year everyone! 2018 has finished with a bang for me! It all started with a little lateral flow device with an interesting pink plus on it….what a lucky luck and amazing news that was! A pink cross… in Switserland :-). I have to say, those consumer friendly diagnostic devices definitely come in handy from time to time :-). Yep, Switserland was an amazing time and very soon after that trip the end of 2018 dawned on us. Since 2018 was such a great year we wanted 2018 to go out with a bang and decided to celebrate the change somewhere warm, affordable and “oceany”.

And well, there seems to be one country in particular that cannot be overlooked if those 3 requirements are on your list…. Can you guess it? I will give some hints:

1: It’s always warm there

2: The Ocean is amazing (and warm)

3: Nightlife is great (and sticky from the heat)

4: There is still supposed to be living coral (although the increasing temperature is trying its best to stop that ridiculously beautiful animal to survive)

5: It has 7000 islands…one of them rated as the most beautifull in the world…

6: Its one of the last hideouts of the coconut crab…

7: Wale shark swim there…..

Okok I will kill the suspense…. We went to the Philippines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wauw wauw wauw! Such an amazing place. Already in Manilla we were overwhelmed by the people’s friendliness! And so easy to communicate as well. This is probably the effect of having over 180 languages in the country (Philippinos speak English between each other sometimes to understand each other). In any case, it was handy for us. We started the trip by taking a trip to Busuanga, a remote island of the Palawan archipelago. Here we enjoyed crystal white beaches, cold beer, and, most importantly, completely empty islands with amazing, live coral gardens. Now I have always enjoyed snorkelling very much, but over here it was extra special! Especially since I could share this experience with Sparrow for the first time!. Before he was still too young to snorkel but now he can follow! So we went everywhere :-). Together we saw Parrot fish, Banner fish, Puffer fish (I thought of extracting some tetrodotoxin but in the end decided against it), Lion fish, Sea snakes, Crabs, Star fish and, most amazingly, barracuda, jack fish, one manta ray and several green turtles! Especially the turtles were super to see and we loved swimming around with them!

Sparrow playing on a Bangka (Boat) With other kids on a beach of Busuanga

The green turtle we swam with and some of the amazing coral we saw…


Free Diving with Sparrow for the first time!


So that was a great mission accomplished! Next on the program were the beautiful jungles. To access those we found that the best was to rent a scooter and drive of onto rough roads and explore by ourselves. Luckily all went good for us, although I must say that the suspension of the scooter might have suffered severly….



The Jungle…

Ok, what else about the Phillies, so the people, ocean and forests are all amazing! The only problem was the food… unfortunately rice for lunch, breakfast and dinner…. Often with nothing more than some sizzling pork… I do not know why but it seems that vegetables are very, very expensive over there (sometimes even more costly than in Ireland). I wonder why that is…. If anyone has an idea let me know please. Although, to be fair, sometimes we got lucky and found amazing restaurants to enjoy our dinner. One of these places was a local restaurant in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where they had Tamilok on the menu. Tamilok is a kind of wood worm. Traditionally this animal is eaten raw, with some lemon. Since I like to try new things I ordered a portion, closed my eyes, and went for it… I must say, in retrospect, not bad at all! A bit slimy with a woody aftertaste and a prominent “oceany” bite to it. Maybe it is best compared with oysters although it is quite different…


Dim Sum and wood worms…. Jammie 🙂

Okey, so that were the holidays. I just want to end with a small movie expressing my general opinion about the Philippine experience compressed into 10 seconds. (A sort of mega synopsis 🙂



Unfortunately the holidays ended at a certain point…. And at that point, we got stuck in Hong Kong due to strikes in Germany… Hmmm it was sooo frustrating to have to spend an entire night in a 4 star hotel in Hong Kong, paid by the air company, only to wonder the streets there aimlessly for an entire day and leave the next night refreshed for Germany… Those darn strikes all the time…

But this is all over now and normal life has come knocking on my door. Back in NI and at work. Luckily work isn’t boring at all as a Marie Curie ESR. Indeed, one of the best things in this project, if you ask me, is the possibility to collaborate with others and do interdisciplinary research. One such project has recently bore fruit! I am very happy, and proud, to announce that the sensor platform that I created together with Aris, Javier, Jack and Philana has been accepted for publication in Biosensors and Bioelectronics and will soon be online! Let’s hope it will proof useful for other researchers and sensor enthusiasts so that it may help boost sensor development and commercialisation!

Okey I believe that is it for now folks…

More information on the Platform and other interesting collaboration developments here in Belfast will follow in the next blog!

Hasta La Pasta



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