Dr Jillian Ooi started out as an environmental social scientist but shifted to studying marine plants because she was intrigued by how ecosystems work. She completed her PhD in Seagrass Biogeography on an Endeavour International Postgraduate Scholarship at the University of Western Australia. Under the supervision of Professor Gary Kendrick and the late Dr Kimberly Van Niel, Jillian studied the spatial patterns and ecology of subtidal seagrass meadows in the Johor islands, where she fell irrevocably under the spell of these undervalued but important ecosystems. Her master’s project was about the effects of disturbance on seaweed communities.
Jillian’s research consists of 3 themes: (1) assessing ecosystem functions of seagrass, in particular how they function as habitats and feeding grounds for fish and megafauna, (2) developing spatial distribution models for seagrass species in Southeast Asia that will enable us to predict where to find them, and (3) developing effective restoration methods for seagrass and coral reefs. Her work has contributed to the proposed gazettement of eight new marine park islands in Johor (2017), one dugong sanctuary in Johor (2017), and strengthened protection for the Tioman Marine Park (2007). Jillian enjoys working with local communities and has initiated and supported the growth of community-based seagrass conservation in the Sungai Johor and Sungai Pulai estuaries by building local capacity for seagrass monitoring and mapping.
In 2015, Jillian was awarded the Komai Fellowship to study the satoumi approach to seagrass restoration in Japan. In 2022, she was one of six researchers from around the world awarded the Pew Marine Fellowship to develop methods to accelerate seagrass root development for better ecosystem restoration and to raise public awareness about seagrass ecosystems in Malaysia by using the cultural arts approach. Jillian will be working with Malaysian performing arts practitioners to create new music for environmental conservation.
When she is not underwater watching grass grow, Jillian is the Artistic Director and Music Director of Rhythm in Bronze, an award-winning contemporary gamelan ensemble based in Kuala Lumpur. Founded in 1997, Rhythm in Bronze is known for its pioneering efforts in showcasing the Malay gamelan as its main medium of musical expression. Jillian’s music direction and compositions for the gamelan have won awards and/or received nominations at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, which celebrates outstanding performances in music, dance, theatre and musical theatre in Malaysia. She considers the Sea her main source of musical inspiration.