News: University of Malaya marine biologist awarded prestigious Pew Fellowship 2014 to study dugong ecology

Dr. Louisa Shobini Ponnampalam, PhD, is the first Malaysian to receive the prestigious Pew Fellowship for marine conservation.
Dr. Louisa Shobini Ponnampalam, PhD, is the first Malaysian to receive the prestigious Pew Fellowship for marine conservation.

Dr. Louisa Shobini Ponnampalam, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Malaya, has received the prestigious Pew Fellowship to study the impact of rapid, large-scale development in the coastal areas of Peninsula Malaysia on dugong ecology. She is the first Malaysian to be awarded this competitive international grant for marine conservation, a testament to her capabilities and contributions as a scientist and marine conservationist. 

Local marine conservation research is challenged by limited funding – local funding bodies are more likely to award to biotechnology and medical research, while international conservation-based grants are highly competitive and short-termed. A research project conducted by Dr. Louisa and her team in 2010 had identified an unprotected area around the Johor east coast islands to be an area of congregation for dugongs, but her research effort could not be continued due to a lack of funding.

This project will now be revived with the Pew Fellowship. Under this fellowship, Dr. Louisa will be awarded a total USD150,000 over a duration of 3 years. Her research project will use a combination of visual and acoustic methods, as well as sea grass mapping and contaminant analyses to better understand the distribution and ecology of the dugongs. This multi-pronged approach in studying dugong ecology will enable her research  team to make comprehensive and evidence-based recommendations for the protection of the critical sea grass habitats.

In addition to that, Dr. Louisa plays multiple roles in the conservation effort of dugong ecology in Malaysia. As an academician, she leads three different research projects : one on dolphin ecology and conservation in Langkawi, one on dolphin ecology and conservation in Matang (Perak) and the other on dugong ecology and conservation in the Johor east coast islands.She also splits  her time between ecological data collection, data analysis, report and manuscript writing, as well as mentoring a doctoral student. Apart from her academic commitments, Dr. Louisa is also the co-founder of MareCet Research Organization, a non-governmental organization (NGO), where her scientific research findings are adapted for dissemination among the general public, in order to increase public awareness on marine conservation efforts.


  1. Dr. Louisa’s talk at the [email protected] on November 6, 2013 – “Whales, Dolphins and What the Sea is Saying
  2. Dr. Louisa’s interview by the BFM radio station on April 4, 2014 – “Keeping Dugong Alive
  3. Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation – The Pew Charitable Trusts Website
  4. MareCet Research Organization – Official Website