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Singapore's Biggest Scale Marine Biodiversity Expedition Uncovers New Records and Rediscoveries for Singapore

23 Oct 2012

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Last updated on 16 July 2021

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