Tuesday, March 6, 2012

First Marine Biodiversity Expedition (6 Mar 2012)

The Mega Marine Survey's first Expedition kicked off this morning! A small team are gathered at Celestial Resort, Pulau Ubin for this momentous event.
Here, the leading members of the Expedition are scrutinising the navigation maps to plot our first dredging exercise. So what is an Expedition all about?

Prof Peter Ng shared more about what happened at a Real Expedition at Pangalo in 2005. With lots of detailed slides on all the awesome stuff that needs to get done. Logistics, equipment, processing specimens, photographing them, synchronising data and a recent addition, taking tissue samples and freezing them.
Prof Peter also shared all kinds of methods deployed during an Expedition to get samples. From the amazing 'Yabby Pump' to ingenious traps, 'vacuuming' and dredging the sea floor! Wow, that sure sound exciting though complicated.
Prof Peter also reminded us how the Mega Marine Survey arose out of the Singapore Blue Plan submitted by International Year of the Reef 2008 Singapore Organising Committee which represents the Singapore marine community. The Blue Plan which was eventually submitted and accepted by the government. In particular, Minister Mah Bow Tan supported one of the Blue Plan's proposals, which was to have a comprehensive survey of our marine biodiversity.

Then Dr Tan Koh Siang explains that we are going to do for the next three days. Today is the first of a “mini” expedition (5-9 Mar 2012). This first expedition, based at Pulau Ubin, is meant for us to test out techniques, nail down certain issues and basically prepare ourselves for the next expedition. The Real Expedition will be in October and also focus on Singapore's Northern shores. The third Expedition will focus on habitats found in the Singapore straits and will be conducted in 2013.
Here's some of the cool stuff we will be doing over the next four days.
And it will be the first time we are dredging for the Mega Marine Survey! Dr Tan shows us some of the sites we are planning to do around Pulau Ubin.
The Expedition requires all kinds of equipment, which are neatly stacked all around the big hall. There are containers of all sizes and shapes, tables set up with microscopes and specialty cameras, chemicals, booties, shovels, nets, buckets, tweezers and lots lots more. But the most intriguing for me was the liquid nitrogen and stuff for the cryo-tissue processes where tissues will be frozen and archived! There's also cool stuff in the dredger corner.

Dr Tan shows us some of the equipment we will be using for the dredging.
And we have a cool foldable boat!! Here's what it looks like all folded up.
And in a few minutes, it's a boat!!
But the MOST important equipment is the Coffee-Maker with COFFEE. Thank you Joelle!
Before we head out, Prof Peter shows us how to use the 'Yabby Pump'.
Then it was time for all of us to head off in different directions. While some of us went dredging, others were busy setting up the sorting station and recceing for the next spot to survey. And I joined the mudflat survey! We did a patch of super soft mud near Outward Bound Singapore.
Bryan get right down to it! We spend quite a bit of time there and got all kinds of interesting specimens.
But we got very muddy! Bryan of course wins!
Here's the Mud Squad back at Celestial Lodge, and we didn't even get to use the 'Yabby Pumps' as the mud was way too soft.
The best way to clean up was to wash in the sea near the jetty! Here, there were all kinds of marine life too!
After washing up, I saw two Hornbills right next to the rooms at the Resort, eating the ripe fruits on the palm trees! Wow!
We got back and the Sorting team were already well set up and sorting away!
Here's a look at some of the colourful crabs that JC Mendoza and the mudflat team got.
This is a special crab that even Prof Peter was pleased with.
It's good to have experts on site to tell us how best to deal with the specimens. Special ones need to be photographed alive, tissues preserved and everything has to be properly labelled and tagged.
With all the equipment at hand, it was easy for the experts to have a closer look at special animals.
Meanwhile, Dr Betrand Richer de Forges and the dredging  team have just come back with a whole load of stuff from the bottom of the Johor Straits. What have we found? The sorting team get to work.
Wow, fishes, crabs, feather stars, brittle stars, sea stars, sea urchins, clams, sponges, and a whole lot more strange and weird animals!
It's hard and tedious work sorting everything out!
All too soon, it was time for the day-trip team to take the last boat back to the mainland. Before I left, Dr Tan Heok Hui was busy taking Real Science Photos with the awesome photo set up. While Helen was baiting the traps that would be set by the volunteers who are staying overnight.
It was an exhausting but exciting day. I'll join them again tomorrow for a day and catch up with the night work they have done!

Come join the Mega Marine Survey to help us learn more about our shores!

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