Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What has the Mega Marine Survey found so far?

What has the Mega Marine Survey found? Since it started, over thirty new records have been found from Singapore and the region, including the Laternula, a species of lantern shells which may have bioactive compounds and chemicals that can aid medical science.
Volunteers busy sorting through finds at the Northern Expedition.

Six species have been identified as possibly new to science, including a new species of small goby, nicknamed "Zee", found in the mudflats off Lim Chu Kang. Another five species have been rediscovered, including a species of a large coastal catfish which was last seen in Singapore waters over 100 years ago.

Here's the full NParks media release of the latest finds at the Survey.

Singapore's biggest scale marine biodiversity expedition uncovers new records and rediscoveries for Singapore
NParks Media Release 23 Oct 12;

Singapore, 23 October 2012 - Singapore's biggest scale marine biodiversity expedition is currently being conducted in the Johor Straits. Lasting for three weeks, the expedition started on 15 Oct 2012, and involves 150 local scientists, conservation officers and volunteers from 15 to 60 years of age. A team of 20 renowned scientists from ten countries is also participating in the expedition to help collect and study specimens from Singapore's estuarine and seabed habitats. Since it began on 15 October, about 1000 specimens have been collected, including five new records and two rediscoveries for Singapore.

Singapore's marine biodiversity expedition

The expedition involves gathering samples of marine fauna on a daily basis using a variety of collecting methods, including traps and specialised equipment such as dredges, epibenthic sleds and otter trawls. Some 29 dredging and intertidal survey trips have been carried out since the start of the expedition, including two night surveys. Twelve more surveys are planned until the expedition ends on 2 Nov 2012. Specimens collected will be preserved, identified and curated in the National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR). For more details of the expedition programme, please refer to Annex A.

Aiding our local scientists to collect and identify specimens is a group of 20 scientists from ten countries. These internationally renowned scientists are experts in their own field of study, with interests ranging from marine algae, hermit crabs, copepods, sponges, anemones and molluscs. Many of the scientists have seen the possibilities during their previous visits, and they are here again in anticipation of making exciting new discoveries. The 13 local scientists involved in this expedition include Prof Peter Ng, Dr Tan Koh Siang and Mr Lim Swee Cheng, Singapore's foremost experts in the study of crabs, molluscs and sponges respectively. For a list of local and international scientists involved in the expedition, please refer to Annex B.

Prof Peter Ng, Director of NUS' RMBR and Tropical Marine Science Institute, said, "Singapore's seas are extremely rich in marine life. While we know our seagrasses, corals and fish life are exuberant, much less is known about the many other important species living in the waters. How many species are there in our mangroves, reefs and benthic habitats? Which parts of Singapore have especially high numbers of species and are local biodiversity hotspots? This mega marine expedition will help us document this rich fauna, and allow us to have a comprehensive understanding of the diversity of animals living in our northern shores."

Strong support from local and international community for Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey

The expedition is part of Singapore's first Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS), which is a national initiative to take stock of our marine ecosystem, species diversity and distribution. Launched in 2010, the CMBS was initially projected to last for only three years; in view of the diversity and volume of specimens collected, as well as the many species being discovered, it has been extended to five.

The CMBS has received widespread support from the local and international community. More than $800,000 has been raised so far through corporate sponsorships to NUS and NParks' Garden City Fund, a registered charity and IPC. Organisations which have contributed to the CMBS so far include Asia Pacific Breweries, Care-for-Nature Trust Fund, Shell Companies in Singapore and the Air Liquide Group. For a list of sponsors, please refer to Annex C.

Some 270 local volunteers have also contributed in various aspects of the CMBS, including photography, outdoor field sampling and collection, specimen processing, database support as well as organising outreach programmes.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, Deputy CEO of NParks and Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, said, "We are very heartened by the tremendous response from the community for the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey. Apart from the generous support from our corporate sponsors, we are also blessed to have hundreds of volunteers and a team of international experts who are contributing their time and expertise to deepen our knowledge of Singapore's marine heritage. This is an encouraging sign that the community is taking ownership of this initiative, which will ultimately result in a more sustainable City in a Garden."

Rare discoveries from Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey

Some 7,000 specimens were collected in the first phase of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey, which included 50 trips to intertidal mudflat habitats. These habitats included Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Lim Chu Kang and Mandai.

Due to the number and complex taxonomy, about a quarter of these specimens have been identified. Representing over 300 species, these organisms include many rare or new worms, sea anemones and crustaceans.

There are still some 5,000 specimens that will soon be identified by scientists. The mudflat surveys and identification of specimens will continue, and they are targeted to be completed by March 2013.

In May this year, the CMBS began its second phase - sampling the seabed of Singapore's waters. The participants are expected to find interesting organisms not previously recorded in Singapore. The seabed survey is expected to end in April 2015.

Since the start of the CMBS, over thirty new records have been found from Singapore and the region, including the Laternula, a species of lantern shells which may have bioactive compounds and chemicals that can aid medical science. Six species have been identified as possibly new to science, including a new species of small goby, nicknamed "Zee", found in the mudflats off Lim Chu Kang. Another five species have been rediscovered, including a species of a large coastal catfish which was last seen in Singapore waters over 100 years ago. Please refer to Annex D (below) for more details.

Next phases of Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey

NParks plans to conduct coral reef surveys in 2013. There are also plans for deep sea surveys, to sample the seabed fauna in areas which are deeper than 80m. CMBS findings are updated on the website:

NParks will also continue to engage the community in long-term monitoring of key marine habitats to keep track of biological trends, and raise awareness of our marine heritage through outreach programmes.

Appendix D: List of six species possibly new to science

1. Forcepia vansoesti. Family: Coelosphaeridae
This remarkable new species of sponge was recently named from the Southern Islands. Characterised by its strange forceps-like spicules, the secies was described by Mr Lim Swee Cheng and Dr Tan Koh Siang with a Dutch collaborator in 2012.

2. Diogenes sp. Hermit crab. Family: Diogenidae
This small hermit crab has been found in dredges done in the Southern Islands.

3. Parasesarma sp. (Orange-clawed Sesarma)
This is not a rare species found in many coastal mangroves, and has been misidentified as Parasesarma lenzi for many years. The old misidentifications will be re-evaluated with fresh material, and the species will be described in the months ahead.

4. Palaemon sp. (Shore shrimp)
Nondescript and small in size (20 mm length), this relatively common intertidal rocky shore shrimp has generally been called “Palaemon serrifer”. However, it is genetically very different from real Palaemon serrifer from East Asia, and work is now in progress to determine if this is a new species.

5. “Zee” (Unknown Mangrove Goby)
Gobies are among the most diverse groups of fishes in the seas, and many new species still await discovery. This new species of small goby (about 20 mm in length) almost certainly belongs to a new genus perhaps related to Drombus and was found in the mudflats off Lim Chu Kang.

6. “Bill” (Unknown Sea Anemone)
This is an unnamed species of sea anemone that is probably new to science. Nicknamed “Bill”, this species has a distinctively warty appearance to its central stalk. It is relatively common in some muddy areas of Singapore’s northern shores, where it can be found burrowing into the mud with only its tentacles showing.

List of new records for Singapore

From marine expedition:

1. Berthelinia sp.
A green, sap-sucking marine slug Berthelinia, which has a unique, hinged shell like a clam, was found amongst marine algae last week by Dr Kathe Jensen from the Zoologisk Museum in Denmark, who has studied similar animals around the world for many decades.

2. Laternula sp. (Subtidal Lantern Shell) Family: Laternulidae
These lantern shells are typically found in intertidal habitats. The discovery of another species has revealed the startling diversity of these biomedically important animals in Singapore.

3. Paranursia abbreviata. (Plate Crab) Family: Leucosiidae
This tiny plate like crab was found in good numbers in dredging operations along the north shore of Singapore. Known from several places in the Indian Ocean and Pacific, this small species is typically found in soft bottoms in near-mangrove areas.

Polychaeta (marine worms):

4. Sternaspidae
A new record for Singapore

5. Gyptis sp.
A new record of genus in Singapore

From previous surveys:

There are 18 new records of polychaetes (marine worms). For example, there is the Leonnates cf. crinitus (Mangrove worm), which is a new polychaete worm record for Singapore. Among the most important but least celebrated members of the mangrove community, polychaete worms are found in abundance in muddy habitats, and this has been found at the northern region of Singapore. A similar-looking species has been discovered from Queensland 20 years ago, so this record is likely to be the first outside Australia.

Nucula sp. Family Nuculidae and Nuculana Family: Nuculanidae
Not recorded from Singapore waters before, their presence here suggests deeper water dredges are important if we are to better understand the fauna in these habitats.

Arius gagora and Netuma bilineata. (Coastal Catfishes) Family: Ariidae
often voracious predators of small animals in coastal and mangrove habitats, and are sometimes caught for food.

Jaydia sp. (Cardinal Fish) Family: Apogonidae
Cardinal fishes are common in coastal waters and while their diversity is relatively high and well studied, the fauna locally remains understudied.

Callionymus erythraeus. (Small-head dragonet) Family: Callionymidae
Dragonets are small fishes living on sand and mudflats and there are several species here.

Aequorea pencilis Family Aequoridae;
Diphyses bojani Family Diphyidae;
Chrysaora chinensis Family Pelagiidae;
Aurelia aurita Family Ulmaridae; and
Netrostoma dumokuroa Family Cepheidae
These five new jellyfish species were recently discovered and published. There is much to know and discover about the jellyfish fauna in Singapore.

Notopus dorsipes (Spotted frog crab)
Discovered on one of the local beaches near Changi, this Frog Crab (size about 30 mm) is notable because members of this family (Raninidae) are very rarely reported in continental Southeast Asia. This characteristic species is known from Japan, China, Taiwan, Philippines and Australia

Heteropilumnus sasekumari (Sase’s hairy crab)
This 1cm-wide mangrove crab has been found in two locations in Singapore. It has previously only been reported from Malaysia and Australia.

Leptosynanceia asteroblepa (Mangrove stonefish)
Stonefishes are named after their mottled brown hue and behaviour - they usually sit immobile, resembling a stone in both form and colour. Lest predators think they are easy meat, they are armed with an impressive battery of venom-tipped spines, which cause excruciating pain should one be careless enough to get stung. While many people are familiar with the reef stonefish Synanceja horrida, the mangrove stonefish is less well known. Surprisingly, it has never been recorded in Singapore waters before.

List of five rediscoveries in Singapore

From marine expedition:

1. Pseudosesarma bocourti. (Digger Crab) Family: Sesarmidae
This characteristic crab with purple claws that are flattened-like spades was last seen in Singapore from the Seletar area over 50 years ago. This is a species which likes swampy areas behind mangroves, even though it is a marine species with larvae that must return to the sea.

2. Labuanium politum (Nipah Crab) Family Sesarmidae.
In 1994, local carcinologist Peter Ng predicted that this rarely seen tree-climbing crab would be found in Singapore as there remained some patches of the Nipah Palm in Ubin. Although it has been subsequently listed in some lists of crabs from Singapore because of this “prediction”, the crab has actually never been “confirmed” as present. In October 2012, during the main marine expedition, researchers finally found healthy populations of Labuanium in the extant patches of Nipah Palm in Ubin. The crab is in fact an obligate dweller among the Nipah Palms, feeding on the leaves. Extremely agile, they can climb up to 20 metres high, and when disturbed or threatened, they leap off the leaves into the mangroves.

From previous surveys:

1. Hemiarius sona. Family: Ariidae
This relatively large coastal catfish was last seen in Singapore waters over 100 years ago.

2. Zebrida adamsii. (Zebra crab) Family: Pilumnidae
The characteristically patterned zebra crab has not been seen in Singapore since the early 1960s. Repeated surveys in the 1990s failed to find the crab, and the rediscovery of this strange crab in 2012 from the Southern Islands provided excellent news that the species is still around here.

3. Lingula anatina. (Brachiopoda)
This so-called lamp-shell used to be common in Singapore, but it has not been seen for some 40 years. Its rediscovery shows that the species is still holding its ground in the northern shores.

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