Chris's Story

This article is one from 15 different Papua New Guinean scientists taken from the manuscript of the new Grade 9 Science Outcomes textbook prior to the design and editing processes currently being undertaken at Pearson Education Australia. This is Chris’s story. I hope all the parents, teachers and students read and enjoy it. More scientists’ stories will appear here during the next few months.

This photograph is of Chris working in the forest at night.

Brian Robertson

Chris's Photo

My name is Chris Dahl. I am currently employed as acting Director and a research supervisor with the New Guinea Binatang Research Center based in Madang, Papua New Guinea. I come from Riwo village in Madang and was born on Sept 16, 1975, the same day that Papua New Guinea was –born’ as a country. Like most children in the village, I would wake up early in the morning and prepare for the 15km walk to Alexishafen Primary School.

In 1990, I was accepted at Tusbab High School and completed Grade 10 in 1993. I needed funds to buy graduation clothes so I got a part time job with the Christensen Research Institute (CRI), which was close to my village. I enjoyed the work and from then on decided to be a scientist. After graduation from Tusbab I went back to see the Director of CRI, Larry Orsak and he gave me a job trapping butterflies and moths. Meanwhile my study continued during years 11 and 12 through the Centre of Distance Education at the Madang Matriculation Studies Centre. All this time my love of working and studying nature was growing.

My job is always exciting for me particularly the research part because you first need to design the research, decide on the protocols (the methods) and travel to field sites to collect your data. This involves interacting with the local landowners, the community and village assistants. My job involves exploring our beautiful natural forest areas, studying the ecology, the distributional pattern and biology of frogs, learning how local people live traditionally and learning about their hunting practices, and their lifestyles. Occasionally I have the great thrill of discovering a species of animal completely new to science.

The job is important because the results of my studies are essential for publication in overseas science journals and for the conservation of our Papua New Guinean biodiversity. We are one of the countries in the world that has a greater biodiversity than just about anywhere else. Data important for knowing how future changes might affect forest structure and how we might develop good conservation management plans are essential. This is required so that we can conserve our biodiversity for future generations. Not many people want to spend months in the remote areas of PNG with no access roads, and with only limited food supplies to complete the patrol but I love it.

I have also studied marine biology particularly the coral reefs around Madang province. The Madang lagoon contains some of the best coral reef system and species of fish and marine organisms found anywhere in the world. In 1997 I took a scuba diving course to become a certified scuba diver and later that year attended a reef-monitoring course at the Motupore Research Centre in Port Moresby. Monitoring coral reefs underwater is like surveying the forest. You notice how much life is destroyed when corals are ruined by destructive illegal dynamite fishing, careless anchoring of canoes, boats and recreational activities such as scuba diving.

After CRI closed in 1999, I worked with the New Guinea Binatang Research Centre. In 2000 I applied and was accepted to UPNG to study science, majoring in biology including entomology, ecology, vertebrate and invertebrate biology, ethno-biology, taxonomy and cell biology. I graduated in 2003 but continued on to do an honours degree.

I was lucky to receive financial support from Conservation International to continue studies and received training during this time from frog expert Steve Richards, from the South Australian Museum; who was my Honours supervisor. In 2004, I surveyed frogs on Mt Michael in the Eastern Highlands province and Mt Elimbari in Chimbu and we found many species that were endangered because of habitat loss.

Identifying frog species in the field is a very tricky business. It involves tracking frog calls from tiny frogs, some even as small as 12 mm long! The task is made more difficult because different species look the same and the only way to tell them apart is by their call. I was successful however and now have a new frog species with “my” name. The scientific name of this frog is Litoria chrisdahli. It is a green tree frog.

I also have the opportunity to travel beyond PNG occasionally and learn more about how I can be more efficient at what I do and this is very exciting. In September 2005 I travelled to Panama, in South America and to the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota to learn more about research methods in connection with plant and animal collections.

I hope my career might eventually take me into teaching and always to becoming a more experienced and skilled research scientist.

When I am relaxing I enjoy gardening, playing soccer, reading and writing.

You can learn all about where I work by going to our web site at