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ASEAN Biodiversity Heroes

Prof. Suchana Chavanich

Groundbreaking scientist bridges gap between the science community and society

For Professor Dr. Suchana Chavanich, building a legacy of scientific discoveries is only half the journey. To ensure real-world impact, she recognizes that scientists also have to effectively communicate their work and messages in a language that the public would easily understand. 

What makes Dr. Chavanich exceptional is her impressive skill as a science communicator – the ability to translate daunting scientific terms so they would become relevant and accessible to a broader audience. Throughout her 20 years of experience as a marine biodiversity expert, researcher, and teacher, she has become a role model to other scientists in terms of increasing the reach and understanding of studies outside their community.

Because of her ability to effectively translate scientific knowledge to laymen’s terms, Dr. Chavanich has been invited by regional and international groups to work on educational materials about biodiversity targeting non-scientists. For instance, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (USA) has requested her help in developing a booklet on biodiversity for the public and policy makers. She has also become part of a committee in The Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia that will publish a booklet and statement for policy options about biodiversity and climate change. 

In addition, she has been invited multiple times as a speaker to raise awareness on biodiversity conservation at seminars, conventions, and high-profile events such as TEDx talks. Dr. Chavanich has also used her scientific knowledge in public service as a science communicator for environmental issues in TV and radio programs, as well as an author of several books and articles.

As a marine biodiversity expert and a professor in the Department of Marine Science at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand), Dr. Chavanich has delivered significant research work, as well as valuable contributions in the science community. She has a broad base of ecological research interests focusing on biodiversity, conservation, and restoration of marine ecosystems particular on coral reefs and impact of climate change and marine debris on marine ecosystems. Dr. Chavanich and her research group is considered to be the first group that successfully developed technique of mass culture of corals using sexual propagation for coral restoration in Thailand. Her body of scientific work includes the discoveries of new species of soft corals and nudibranchs. 

Dr. Chavanich has also made her mark as one of the first two Thai scientists to join with the Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition for an Antarctic researcher collaboration between China and Thailand. She is also considered to be Thailand’s first female scientist to go diving in the South Pole. In 2018, was considered to be one of two Thai scientists who conquered diving in both the North and South Poles.

Her research work on marine biodiversity and conservation on both tropical and polar regions has significantly advanced the understanding of conservation in a changing environment. It has inspired and empowered the youth and adults in Thailand and other countries on the importance and value of biodiversity on earth for conservation and sustainable use.

Considered to be highly influential in the science community, she has fostered collaborations between scientists in the regions and beyond on the issues of marine biodiversity and conservation. Dr. Chavanich is the Project Leader of Coral Reef Conservation (former named Coastal Marine Biodiversity and Conservation) in the Western Pacific under the UNESCO/IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific and serves as a Thailand Reef Check Coordinator (Headquarter in California, USA). Her roles include teaching and stimulating local communities to protect and monitor coral reef health using ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions. 

Dr. Chavanich’s affiliations with the local communities in Thailand go deeper and involves her passion for scuba diving. For years, she has been actively promoting marine biodiversity and conservation knowledge by teaching local children, dive shop operators, and diving instructors in coastal areas. Because of her work, one of her study sites, Sameasan, Chonburi Province, has been recognized for best practices for improved coral conservation in the area. 

For over two decades, Dr. Chavanich has dedicated her life trying to make a difference in marine biodiversity protection and conservation as a teacher, researcher, and scuba diving instructor. Her outstanding work and contributions have earned her peer recognition and national and international citations. In 2017, she received the N.K. Panikkar Medal award from UNESCO-IOC in recognition of her work in capacity building in marine science issues at regional and national levels for capacity development in marine science. She has also been named as one of Thailand’s 100 Future list, which celebrates people who have made positive contributions for the country.

Throughout her career, Dr. Chavanich has also been given the UNESCO-L’OREAL Award For Women in Science, Thailand (2008), Outstanding Scientist Award from UNESCO-IOC/WESTPAC (2014), Explorer Award from National Geographic Magazine (2018), One of 17 Asia Power Women of Inspiration, selected by Her World Magazine (2015), One of the 100 Most Inspiring People in Thailand for 2013, selected by the In Residence in (2013), and Outstanding Teacher Award at the University Level, The Science Society of Thailand Under the Patronage of His Majesty the King (2020).

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