Saturday, August 13, 2011

Exciting plans for the Mega Marine Survey!

Today, we learnt more about discoveries at the Survey. And exciting new activities such as more 'exotic' locations to survey and opportunities to help in the laboratory. Volunteers will also be needed in the upcoming surveys of the seabed, reefs (SCUBA and low tide reef walks) and workshops of international experts.
Mr Wong Tuan Wah on behalf of NParks National Biodiversity Centre kicked off the Dialogue Session with volunteers of the Survey this Saturday morning.

This was followed by a fascinating presentation by Dr Tan Koh Siang of the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) who outlined many of the amazing life we have found in the last months of mudflat surveys!
For example, we have found a goby that is new to science, possibly a new genus and species! This was found at Lim Chu Kang.
Also these strange anemones which we also found at Lim Chu Kang. Prof Daphne Fautin, world authority on sea anemones who recently conducted a workshop in Singapore under the Survey, is in the midst of studying this more closely. To be more certain of the identity of an animal, often we need more than one specimen as there are natural variations among animals.
Even something that looks common like a snapping shrimp remains unidentified as we need to have an expert look at the specimen more closely.
Out on the mudflats, icky worms may look alike.  But they look so different when they are all cleaned up in the lab, and viewed through a microscope! Indeed, details of hairs, tendrils and other tiny bits need to be preserved and studied for proper identification of these worms. This is why we need to take specimens of these worms.
Among them were some strange worms like the Bamboo worm. It's important to collect worms unbroken for proper identification. This is hard to do in the field! So bravo to the volunteers for successfully collecting so many worms properly.
Other special animals highlighted in the talk included the octopus found, and the mantis shrimp lost, at Pulau Ubin. Dr Tan explains that while we may need to collect animals for identification, we do not collect animals that are readily identified in the field, such as horseshoe crabs and large common molluscs. Animals that are collected will be stored with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research where they will be available for study by current and future researchers from Singapore and around the world. These painstakingly collected and prepared specimens of Singapore's biodiversity will continue to add to our understanding and protection of our natural heritage for many decades to come!

The Survey, Dr Tan highlighted, has shown that every mudflat we visit is different, although they may look and feel (and smell) the same! It also shows that we never know what to find until we look. Since November 2010, the Survey has covered 31 sites in 15 location. In addition to the surveys done with volunteers, the TMSI team also surveyed some additional sites on their own.
There are plans to revisit some of these sites with volunteers, AND to visit more areas in future including Labrador/Pasir Panjang, the Southern Islands live firing islands, Western Catchment, Simpang, Pulau Punggol, Pulau Ketam and Pulau Tekong.

So far, the target has been to gather qualitative data, i.e., to answer the question "What lifeforms can be found here?". We have yet to consider answering quantitative questions like "How common are they?". The Survey may consider gathering quantitative data for selected sites and for specific animals. It's not possible to count everything!
Seine net surveys are hard work!
So far, the Survey has used sieves to sample buried animals larger than 1-2mm. The TMSI team has also done surveys by seine net. In future, we may sample for tinier animals that live among the sediment grains that are smaller than 1mm! Called meiofauna, they sure look fascinating, through a microscope! Thus the sorting of these teeny tiny critters will have to done in the lab!
So one of the upcoming volunteer opportunities are to help in lab sessions! Volunteers can help sort out the many many samples already collected (only 10% has been sorted out so far!). Help is needed to sort out invertebrates, fishes and meiofauna. Each lab session will last about 2-3 hours. If there is interest, volunteers can also learn to help in specimen preparation. For example, to identify worms, their tiny hairs have to be prepared. For snails, their teeth.

The plans are to hold lab session at TMSI at St. John's Island on these dates and times (to be confirmed)
Time: 0900-1300hrs, depart Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal 0845hrs
5 volunteers on weekdays and up to 10 volunteers on weekends.

Dates (to be confirmed)
5 Sep (Mon), 30 Sep (Fri)
8 Oct (Sat), 29 Oct (Sat)
19 Nov (Sat), 25 Nov (Sat)

Looking well ahead, in 2012 to 2014, part II of the Survey will include sampling of the seabed within Singapore Port Limits using a scientific research vessel. Volunteers can also help onboard the vessel as well as at the laboratory in sorting and identifying animals.

Also in 2012-2014, part III of the Survey will involve sampling of intertidal and subtidal reefs in Singapore Strait via SCUBA supplemented by reef walks during low tide. Volunteers are needed both in and out of water for sampling invertebrates and fish.

There are also plans to hold two international workshops where local and international experts will be invited to work on Singapore's marine life for 3 weeks. Volunteers will also be needed to help these experts look for marine life and to process the finds. The plan is to hold a Johor Strait workshop in October 2012 and a Singapore Strait workshop in May 2013.

Here's my photos of all of Dr Tan's slides (apologies for the poor photo quality).
After the exciting session the volunteers enjoyed a lovely lunch prepared by NParks! It was great to catch up with everyone, and to learn about the plans ahead for the Survey.

Registered volunteers, look out for details from Jonathan about these activities via our mailing list!

To join us, register your interest in this form and you'll be invited to join the mailing list to receive updates on the Survey and sign up for Survey activities.

Also check out our FAQs for more about the Survey.

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