Monday, June 3, 2013

Phytoplankton, cnidarians and crinoids: Mini-talks at the Southern Expedition

One of the highlights of the Expedition is to hear from the experts during the all too-short talks at the end of the day.
For her talk on "Incredible Cnidarians", being the world authority on sea anemones, Prof Daphne Fautin, University of Kansas, USA of course started with these wonderful colourful animals. In his talk, Prof Charles Messing gave a quick and simple guide to some feather stars commonly seen in Singapore.

Prof Daphne covered a lot in a short time about Cnidarians. But one of the important messages from her talk was that identifying sea anemones requires a closer look at some tiny parts of the sea anemone like its stingers, as well as its internal body structures. But once we know what the sea anemone is, there is no longer a need to collect specimens. Indeed, Prof Daphne has been emphasising this for all our collection trips.
The first talk was about Benthic harmful algal bloom species assemblages in the reefs of Sampadi Island, Malaysia by Mr Tan Toh Hii, University of Malaysia Sarawak.  I learnt that while phytoplankton forms the base of the marine food chain, some of these tiny organisms can poison people. Annually about 50,000 people may be affected by Ciguatera fish poisoning. I was astonished to learn that this poison is 'stored' in body fat and will re-emerge to cause illness if a person loses weight.
Of course, I was excited to learn that many species of phytoplankton were found by Mr Tan's team during the Survey. And among them, there were 34 new records for Singapore.
I was fascinated by the talk on "An introduction to identification of living Crinoidea" by Prof Charles Messing Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA. As with most other creatures, identifying feather stars requires a closer look at tiny structures that may frustrate even authorities such as Prof Charles.
Here is Prof Charles pointing out some of the important details that need to be looked at when trying to sort out feather stars. He also gave us a glimpse into sea lilies, found in deeper water, and other feather stars found elsewhere. As well as a whirlwind tour of marine history which somehow involved feather stars.
Most exciting,  however, was Prof Charles' quick and simple guide to some feather stars commonly seen in Singapore. Here's some of his slides. Click on the image for a larger view.

There will be more evening talks over the next three days. So exciting!

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