3 Minute Thesis

2:59 … 58 … 57 … as soon as the clock starts every word counts. Three Minute Thesis or 3MT was originally developed at the University of Queensland in Australia and now has spread throughout the world. This competition challenges participants from any discipline to present their entire thesis in under 3 minutes. No props or costumes. A single powerpoint slide with no animations. And the objective of conveying your project to a generalist audience in just 3 minutes.

In November 2016, I won first place in College of Charleston’s 3MT competition for my project entitled, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Community-Based Management of the Crown-of-Thorns Seastar (Acanthaster planci) in Romblon, Philippines.” Next month, I will be traveling to Annapolis, Maryland to enter in the National 3MT Competition.

Check out my video above for a sneak preview of my talk. And please feel free to comment with suggestions, feedback or encouragement.

My official thesis defense, an hour long presentation with questions, at the College of Charleston.
My official Master of Science degree.

Unfortunately, COTs cannot be eaten (their backs are covered in venomous spines) and using them for compost would require the labor-intensive task of transporting heavy loads of dead, decaying COTs to farmland, which is unrealistic when cow poop can serve the same purpose and is already there. The easiest solution was simply to bury the COTs in the sand as soon as we reached shore.

Another option for eradication in places with access to scuba diving is injection with vinegar which paralyzes the COT and causes it to decay in 24-72 hours. Or if you live in Australia a COT-fighting robot may already be patrolling your reefs. Without a robot or scuba gear in the municipalities of Romblon, Philippines we opted for the by hand method, which allowed fisherfolk to pick up two sticks from the side of the road and then hop in the water to start collecting COTs.

Below you can watch my training video on how to remove COTs with footage I took using my GoPro during our removals.

At the root of the problem

Take a look at the long branching root in the photo above. This root belongs to a mangrove tree. Underwater it serves as an important habitat for juvenile fish and a substrate for algae, sponges and barnacles to grow on. Above water mangroves are a foundation for coastline protection.

Our launching point

Visiting the mangroves is a bit like entering a natural maze. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong way from the get go. The park guide smiled at me as he knowingly asked if it was my first visit to Bonaire’s Mangrove Center. After a quick reorientation I set off in my kayak and navigated the narrow, tranquil passages of this mangrove forest.


The mangrove forest was breathtaking above water, but below water there seemed to be a different story. Sedimentation, or the accumulation of small particles, was readily apparent. The water was murky and all nearby marine life was covered in a thin layer of fine sediment.

How did Bonaire’s beautiful mangrove habitat become this degraded? The root of the problem is donkeys and goats or so I was told. When Europeans first came to Bonaire they brought with them donkeys for transporting goods and goats for livestock production. However as vehicles replaced the donkeys, these animals were allowed to roam free. Today it is easy to spot a wild donkey on Bonaire. However donkeys and goats are both grazers. As these animals feed on plants and grasses more terrestrial soil becomes exposed. Then when it rains, this soil can be carried into the ocean, causing an increase in sedimentation, particularly in coastal areas like this mangrove habitat.


While donkeys and goats may be part of the problem, I’m not yet convinced that they are the only ones to blame. If I had to guess, I’d bet that my own species poses the greater threat. While we don’t graze the grasses, our tendency towards cutting down trees and building seawalls or waterfront houses seem like an equally likely cause of sediment production.

Local donkey enthusiasts have tried to solve this problem by creating a “Donkey Sanctuary,” a safe place for donkeys to live out their lives where their grazing patterns can be properly managed.

Bonaire donkeys

Fortunately, for us humans the donkeys have not yet retaliated with gated “Human Sanctuaries,” but we should still try to keep our actions in check so that the beautiful mangrove forests remain healthy.

Should I bring a camera?

Sometimes it seems like the best moments happen when we are unprepared. When we forget our camera or when our phone dies. Earlier today I was snorkeling and a baby green sea turtle swam pace for pace next to me with a beautiful blue ocean backdrop and perfect lighting as if teasing me for being unprepared.

Do you think you are more aware of your surroundings with or without a camera?

Perhaps I would have missed the baby sea turtle today if I had brought my GoPro. Instead of looking around maybe I would have been photographing an anemone on the seafloor at that exact moment. However, sometimes simply having a camera inspires funny and goofy moments for no other purpose than to take a picture. Working on Bonaire with a coral reef in my backyard it is relatively easy to create a beautiful photo, but I have to thank my co-workers for the entertaining memories that go with them.

Biking with CIEE interns Maddie Emms and Martijn

We rode our bikes to “1000 Steps” a famous snorkel spot on Bonaire with rocky stairs and cliff jumping.

In the water at “1000 Steps” with Maddie Emms

The following two photos were definitely camera-inspired. The next time you are taking a group photo I challenge you to play “Lion Face, Lemon Face”. Repeat this saying several times back-to-back for a series of hilarious photos.

Luckily, the CIEE Admin Team shared our sense of humor. Otherwise the 2017 version of our Staff Handbook would probably contain an amendment: You should not look like a lion or a lemon for your staff photo.