Staff Spotlight: Tom Dallison

Head of Science


Tom is responsible for the management and development of all scientific outputs from active conservation sites in the SE Asia region. Responsibilities also including attracting external funding sources to support project actions and future development. Tom holds a BSc in Marine and Freshwater Biology (First Class Hons.) and an MSc in Tropical Marine Biology (Distinction), with interests and focus tailored to the monitoring, management, and remediation of coral reef subsistence fisheries.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Through my job and training, I am lucky enough to travel to many places around the world and dive some amazing reefs, meeting incredible people off the tourist trail. As such, I have lots of memories of places and people that come to mind; however, the two that stand above the rest are when I was able to work alongside the Bajo community in Southeast Sulawesi, monitoring their fishery catches, joining them on their spearfishing trips and being welcomed into their home to try an abundance of new delicacies.

The second memory is from the Philippines where, whilst out snorkeling, on one of my trips to Coral Cay's Philippines base, out of the blue, I was joined by a sub-adult Mola mola or sunfish. It was an incredible experience and after speaking with the local staff, was the first one spotted for over 10 years, which, given my appalling luck when it comes to spotting marine fauna, was incredibly lucky!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

For me, the biggest change has been the personal realisation of the impact of organisations who ensure that stakeholders and the local user group are at the centre of their conservation efforts, alongside the natural world. By seeing the transfer of conservation efforts into real-time solutions that empower and enable stakeholders to take action against environmental threats whilst safeguarding food security, you build a greater appreciation for the necessity of the natural world to large proportions for the human populous.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The most inspiring experience/story from those that I have worked with whilst at Coral Cay Conservation were students from the charity Deptherapy. I provided basic ecological sampling training, through SCUBA, to 7 UK military veterans (suffering from a range of physical and mental health challenges including bilateral amputees, spinal injuries and PTSD) in the Red Sea, Egypt.

The course lasted a week and being able to watch each member of the course become inspired by the marine world, as their knowledge of key processes and behavioural traits grew, whilst overcoming the physical challenges often associated with not only SCUBA diving, but also the collection of ecological data was a fulfilling and inspiring experience.

The course provided each member with essential skills in fish, invertebrate and substrate identification, as well as quadrat and transect work (which can be a challenge if you use your arms to propel yourself in the water column, or if you only have one arm!). Each student then utilized their respective training to conduct ecological assessments on a sunken warship in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia.

The training and resulting outputs from the Red Sea and Chuuk Lagoon really demonstrated that conservation efforts, taking action against environmental threats, or advocating a more sustainable world, are not exclusive efforts and that anyone and everyone is able to help to protect the natural world.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Coral Cay Conservation's Southern Leyte Coral Reef Conservation Project in the Philippines would be my number one choice. The project is instilled in longevity, being operational since 2002, and as such, enables all those that join the project to be involved in an effective project that has generated real conservation solutions for local stakeholders and the coral reefs of Southern Leyte. Each student that joins the project is able to contribute directly to the amelioration of the marine environment through our survey protocols that provide critical biophysical data to villages for the establishment of various Marine Spatial Management practices. Furthermore, students are involved in the community outreach elements of the project, allowing them to raise awareness amongst communities and inspire current and future generations to conserve natural resources, promoting sustainability.

Additionally, our house reef has between 45-50% coral cover and is one of the most beautiful reefs I have ever had the fortune to snorkel and dive so that in its own right, is worth the venture to Southern Leyte!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

What I believe sets Coral Cay Conservation above the rest is our personable approach to students and ensuring their efforts whilst on a project are realised. We pride ourselves on not being a holiday destination, in a sense that we are undertaking true conservation efforts, protecting marine resources and striving for sustainability, and if a student joins us, they are expected to become an essential component of our efforts. By ensuring students are so central to our approach, we can ensure that their efforts contribute to conservation actions in real-time.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Whilst high operating standards, safety and customer service are critical components of any company such as Coral Cay Conservation, I believe for us, the biggest factor in being successful in ensuring that we continue to drive forward our mission to provide resources to help sustain livelihoods and to alleviate poverty through the protection of coral reefs and associated systems.