Monday, October 8, 2012

Training for the Northern Expedition

Volunteers are getting trained for the Northern Expedition which starts next week!
Three batches of Specialist Volunteers got detailed briefings on what we can expect and how the Expedition will be conducted.

I attended the Sunday session where Yen-Ling spent some time sharing more about the bewildering variety of animals that we might encounter. Explaining the features that distinguish them and how we might find out what they are.

Why do we need to kill the animals during the Survey? 
This is a question that is often asked by participants. Yen-Ling shares more about the importance of collecting and preserving specimens during the Survey.

Photos are usually not sufficient to identify species with certainty. Often small or internal features must be closely studied, sometimes after dissection and looking at tiny features with powerful microscopes. For example, sea anemones: here's more about how sea anemones are identified.

All specimens collected during all aspects of the Survey will be kept at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore's natural history museum. A well preserved specimen can last for decades and contributes to a vital archive of biodiversity in Singapore. These specimens are also invaluable for scientific study here and around the world.

Some specimens are particularly precious because they are the animals used to descibe a new species. Called a Type Specimen, this particular specimen will be vital as scientists all around the world will study it to compare with known species as well as newly discovered animals. More about how scientists determined that a fish found during the Survey is a new species.
A specimen of a well known species is also important, to vouch for the existence of the animals on our shores. Also, to document the variation within the same species (slightly different shapes, colours and other features), as well as to show where they were found in Singapore. Here's more about the ethical issues regarding the collection of specimens.
Yen-Ling and Joo Yong then give us a demonstration of how to properly preserve some typical animals. Fishes are particularly tricky. And also how to safely handle the chemicals involved.
She then goes on to show how to deal with the many many different kinds of animals, each requiring different techniques and methods so as to preserve them for future study.
There were lots of interesting specimens on display with details on what they are and how they are to be preserved. Some are tiny! And their identifying parts tinier still.
Yen-Ling also goes through the well thought out workflow for managing the data collection on the specimens that we will find during the Expedition.
Yen-Ling stressed the importance of labeling the specimens meticulously and ensuring that they go through the workflow methodically and that all data is collected properly for all the specimens.
Preservation chemicals usually leach the colours of the animals and soft animals lose their shape. Thus, live animals will be photographed to capture these important features. This process is quite painstaking as the animals have to be cleaned and positioned carefully so that all the important features are documented and proper equipment used to take the best possible photo of these animals.
Saturday, Dr Tan Heok Hui spoke to Specialist Volunteers on how to take proper scientific photos. It takes patience and care to get great specimen photos. Here's details of his talk that I attended in June.
Photo by Lee Bee Yan
Nowadays, genetic studies are very important in learning more about biodiversity, identifying special molecules that can have amazing applications and lots more. So for the Expedition, the specialist Cyropreservation team will be working hard to collect samples of every kind of animal that we find. These tissues will also be kept at the natural history museum for future study.
Safety is a key concern at the Expedition. Kwan Siong also gave us a thorough run down of the programme and SOPs. Everything has been well thought out to cover all major contingencies. Safety briefings, having experienced volunteers keep an eye out for the newer ones and everyone doing their part should help us have a safe Expedition.
We also learn more about the 15 scientists who will be participating at the Expedition! From fishes to marine mites, brittle stars to slugs, sea anemones to bacteria! Local and global, it will be a thrill to learn from all of them.
On Saturday, there was training for more batches of Special Volunteers too.
Photo by Loh Kok Sheng
Looks like we are all ready for the Expedition! Can't wait to find out more about our marine biodiversity!

Here's an earlier post about the October Northern Expedition which runs from 15 Oct to 2 Nov with full presentation slids.

More details on the Expedition are available to registered volunteers at the Mega Marine Survey yahoo groups 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.

More about the Survey and our FAQs.

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