Diving into coastal ecology

Tia (second from right) and a group of JCU students scuba diving.

Supplied by Tia Ngo Nguyen.

Personnel Image

Written By

Mykala Wright


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

7 July 2023

Shell-ebrating your bachelor's abroad

Late last year, JCU Bachelor of Marine Science student Tia Ngo Nguyen had the opportunity to study abroad as part of her degree. Tia, along with a group of other students, travelled to Thailand and got hands-on experience exploring local fisheries, coastal habitats and coral reefs.

The trip saw 40 undergraduate and postgraduate students from JCU Singapore and JCU Townsville spend 10 days taking classes in and exploring as part of JCU’s subject.

“I recently graduated from JCU, and I feel like my time studying in Thailand was the perfect way to end my Bachelor’s degree,” Tia says. “It gave me the opportunity to view marine science through a different lens and it allowed me to connect with my peers from both the Australian and Singapore campus.”

While overseas, students learnt about the impacts of overtourism and urban development on Phuket’s coastal systems, and conducted fieldwork that involved snorkeling, diving and kayaking.

“The subject was a perfect balance of theory and practical elements. Over the 10 days, we had classroom-based learning that was walking distance to beautiful beaches lined with forest in Sirinat National Park. And the fieldwork component allowed us to explore a variety of marine environments around Phuket,” Tia says.

“We collected data on invertebrates in mangrove ecosystems, studied coral and reef fish assemblages, and surveyed beaches for marine debris. We also visited a commercial fishery and a local, small-scale fishery; it was great to get a taste of different data collection methods, and it was interesting to see how fisheries function in Thailand compared to the practices that I’ve learnt about in Australia.”

Tia says her time in Phuket increased her appreciation of Southeast Asian culture and gave her an understanding of marine ecology in a global context.

“If it wasn’t for this subject, I never would have fallen in love with Thailand. It was never at the top of my travel list. But now that I’ve been there and experienced the culture, the food, the beautiful people, and the marine life, I definitely want to go back,” she says. “This experience has given me invaluable insight and allowed me to look at marine science from an international perspective.”

Tia (front and centre) and a group of fellow students on a scuba diving trip.

Supplied by Tia Ngo Nguyen.

Loving the tropical lifestyle

Growing up by the beach, Tia has always had a love for the water. It wasn鈥檛 until her gap year in Africa, where she learnt to scuba dive, that she decided to turn her passion for marine conservation into a career.

“After I completed Year 12, I took a year off from studying and I travelled to Mozambique in southeastern Africa. I volunteered on marine research projects that focused on the conservation of whale sharks, manta rays and coastal ecosystems, and I learnt how to scuba dive. Those experiences really solidified my passion for the marine environment,” she says.

“I decided I wanted to study marine science. I’m originally from Sydney, but I moved to North Queensland to study at JCU because it’s number one in the world for Marine and Freshwater Biology.”

JCU Marine Science Student, Tia Ngo Nguyen

Before moving, Tia had never visited the tropical regions of Australia. Now, she is loving the laid-back lifestyle.

“Before I relocated, I didn’t do a tour of JCU or Townsville. To be honest, I thought Townsville was above Cairns, I knew very little about this part of the country; I just took a leap, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made,” she says.

“Now, I’ve had the chance to explore North Queensland. I’ve been up to Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, and down to the Whitsundays. I can drive 20 minutes and be at Alligator Creek for a beautiful swim or a hike, or I can go in the opposite direction and visit Frosty Mango or Crystal Creek. To have all of this on my doorstep has been a huge highlight of my time here.”

Tia and three other students posing under a JCU marquee at an event.
JCU student Tia at her graduation. She is posing in front of a JCU sign, holding a large bouquet of flowers.
Left: Tia (third from left) while working as a JCU Student Ambassador. Right: Tia at her university graduation. Supplied by Tia Ngo Nguyen.

Experience has no substitute

As well as living in the Tropics and her trip to Thailand, Tia says she has countless other highlights from her time at JCU.

“The opportunities at JCU are endless."

JCU Marine Science Student, Tia Ngo Nguyen

"Throughout my degree, I’ve been able to volunteer with JCU’s Minke Whale Project (MWP), (AIMS) and JCU’s Turtle Research Centre, The Caraplace,” she says.

“During the MWP I had the opportunity to spend three weeks on the Ribbon Reefs collecting data on these elusive whales that people don’t really know much about. And then I had a few subjects where I got to get field experience at the Orpheus Island Research Station, which was very exciting. You always hear about Orpheus and see the incredible images online; it was a privilege to be able to go there and study.”

While at JCU, Tia took advantage of opportunities to form friendships and create important networks.

“During our first year of uni a group of friends and I started the . We initially started it because we knew that not every person who studies Marine at JCU has the ability to dive – either for health reasons or financially. So, it was another avenue to connect like-minded people who are interested in the marine environment,” she says.

“And we organised a range of social and networking events through that. We went camping on Magnetic Island, had a pub crawl, ran information nights with lecturers and people in the industry, and we had our first ever Marine Ball in 2021, which was very exciting. It’s been amazing to see connections being formed as this community has grown over the past few years.”

Since graduating at the start of the year, Tia has landed a role with JCU’s Laboratory and Technical Support Team. Prior to that, she worked for Tangaroa Blue – an NGO committed to the prevention and removal of marine debris nationally, which she heard about through the JCU Marine Society.

“I’ve also worked as a JCU Student Ambassador, which involves representing JCU at events and engaging with prospective students. I’m passionate about marine science and JCU, so it was and is easy for me to share that passion with others,” she says.

“I’m really grateful for the experiences I’ve had during my time at university, and I look forward to supporting students on their own academic journeys in my new role.”

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