26 May 2013

Why do we need to kill the animals? and Day 6.5 of the Southern Expedition

I spotted one seahorse and Ivan spotted three! But we don't collect them as we know what they are: Tiger-tailed seahorses (Hippocampus comes).
Here's also a little more about animal collection during the Survey, why and  how it is done. And how this helps us better protect our richest shores.

Although it may be alarming to see us with so many specimens to be preserved, we are quite selective. Primarily because we don't want to kill unnecessarily and also because there is only limited time and space. The Comprehensive Biodiversity Survey of Singapore aims to be just that: comprehensive, and to understand the diversity of biological marine life.

Prof Daphne is glad to see one of our Alicia sea anemones. Sea anemones cannot be identified from photographs alone. We need to look at tiny internal parts (here's an explanation by Prof Daphne during her previous visit to Singapore) which requires preserving the animal. This is true of almost every animal and even plant for a sure identification. But Prof Daphne only takes a few specimens and she firmly reminds everyone NOT to take specimens of large sea anemones that are already well known to us. There are many scientists like Prof Daphne who are working hard to come up with ways to identify animals WITHOUT having to kill them. But to get to this point, we first need to photograph them while alive and correlate it with studies of killed samples. This is being done extensively at the Mega Marine Survey.
I'm so relieved to find the Neon sea anemone for Prof Daphne. We have yet to identify this anemone so we need to take a sample. For a confirmed ID, we usually need to take at least 5 specimens. Just as with humans, there can be wide variations in colour, form and other features within the same species.
Prof Daphne gets on her knees to have a closer look at the sea anemone.
She is the expert at removing a delicate sea anemone from a humungous rock by carefully and slowly chipping away with a chisel and hammer. It takes a lot of effort to remove a specimen. Collection is NOT wanton or thoughtless. And specimens are deeply appreciated by scientists and volunteers.
I found the concentration of Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) nearby! Similar to what I saw in Mar 2013 and Aug 2012. Regular surveys are important in giving a better sense of our how shores are doing over time.
There was also a huge Cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae). Prof Daphne spotted another smaller one earlier on. Beting Bemban Besar is quite starry!
Yen-ling's team at Big Sisters Island collected a sampling of intertidal feather stars. Are these different from those the divers found? Different from those found in deeper waters from the dredge? Do the same animals need different habitats for their life cyles? Will these animals be affected by reclamation or development of any of these habitats? Questions like these can only be answered by sampling and the sacrifice of a few animals. The answers not only help us understand these animals but also provide stronger arguments for the conservation of our marine ecosystems.
Philip used the 'yabby pump' and found this banded mantis shrimp which I have never seen before on our Southern shores. It is very difficult to know that these animals exist on our shores without such an effort. And impossible to identify these animals from a photograph alone. Every additional specimen helps to add to the understanding of the true richness and value of each shore.
Photo by Ivan Kwan.
It's 2.30am and Iffah is STILL cheerfully at work. She seems to always take the night shift at the preservation station! It takes a long long time to  preserve the animals because we try to make sure the animals are relaxed and anaesthesized before they are preserved. The killing is done as gently as possible.
Dr Arthur is winding down for the day and he shows me this odd looking crustacean. He asks me to guess what it is. My brain is not fully loaded at this hour in the morning!
Here's his photo uploaded to facebook as 'quiz of the day'. Visit the link to find out what it is! This animal was collected in a dredge survey and we would never know it existed if we did not take a sample of the bottom of our seabed.
Photo by Dr Arthur Anker
Today is the first time we are having such a large group of scientists, staff and volunteers heading out for three pre-dawn trips! The dining room is crowded at 3am!
Today, I tried to give a safety briefing to all the first timers on the shore. Using the Southern Shores guidesheet as I usually do for TeamSeagrass field trips. Perhaps it was very early in the morning, but no one laughed at my jokes. Sigh.
We're heading out in two boats to Terumbu Bemban and Beting Bemban Besar with Alex and Jumari of Summit Marine. Yen-Ling leads another team to Big Sisters Island.
It's a full moon and we can see the Terumbu Bemban team hard at work as we survey Beting Bemban Besar. Our last trip here was in Mar 2013 for a recce.
Beting Bemban Besar is one of our largest submerged reefs, with Terumbu Bemban lies just next to it.
As we are about to leave, we hear shouts from the Terumbu Bemban team just across the narrow channel. They have found a Giant clam! Hurray! We just take the GPS location of the clam and leave it where it is. These clams will be monitored by Giant Clam Girl (Neo Mei Lin) who is doing important work to try to restore the Giant clam population in Singapore.
Photo by Ivan Kwan.
As soon as we get back to the boat, we sort out the animals and put all the fishes into a big bucket of fresh seawater. In the backgrond, the Terumbu Bemban team is heading back to their boat. The collected sample is a tiny tiny fraction of what is out on the shore. The impact of collection, if properly and thoughtfully done, is not damaging in the long term as the ecosystem can recover rapidly. The Mega Marine Survey is being done for the first time in Singapore's history, and probably the last time for a long while. Without the Survey we would not have a good understanding of our shores and it will be that much more difficult to protect our shores.
Along the way home, the team of scientists studying plankton do several stops to take samples.
Data is taken of the location of the sampling.
We stop four times to collect samples along the way. Plankton is the life blood of marine ecosystems. They include teeny tiny larvae that grow up to the fishes, sea stars, snails etc. As well as critters that remain small and form the base of food chains from the bottom of the sea to the mangroves. Studying them gives us an important idea of the health of our waters and marine biodiversity.
Photo by Ivan Kwan.
I'm so glad Ivan is with us today as he is diligently tweeting all about our day and our finds. Check out tweets by participants using the hashtag for the Survey  #MegaMarine. These are consolidated on the Mega Marine Survey blog.
When we arrive, everyone is mobilised quickly take care of all the animals: labelling, photographing, taking tissue samples for cryogenic preservation and preserving them. We take care of all the animals before we wash up all the gear. Looking after ourselves come last.
Prof Peter takes the opportunity to teach and share with the volunteers and staff the significance of the various animals collected. These field trips are an important way science students and ordinary people can learn from experts like him and how we can build up a stronger community that  understands and protects our shores.
As we were leaving, we bumped into Dr Kevin Tilbrook, an expert on bryozoans who has just joined the Expedition.
I'll be back once again at Base Camp later this evening. Tomorrow is a huge day. Another predawn trip, followed by a visit by Minister Tan Chuan Jin who will be joining a dive survey. So exciting!

During the Expedition, I will try to post live updates on twitter as well as to facebook and the Mega Marine Survey facebook page. These will get less frequent as I start to do field work. I'm not very good at the smart phone in the field, and also, phone connections are not always strong enough to post regularly. So also check out tweets by participants using the hashtag for the Survey  #MegaMarine. These are consolidated on the Mega Marine Survey blog.

Volunteer sign up for the Southern Expedition are already closed due to limited places and early logistical arrangements needed for participation.

But no worries, you CAN still join the Survey! Lots of surveys will continue after the Expedition, just at a less frenzied rate. There will be lots of other opportunities for volunteers to participate in dredging, field surveys as well as laboratory sessions. To join the Mega Marine Survey, 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. Also check out the FAQs for more about the Survey.

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