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Author/Editor: N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore.


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Fri 12 Nov 2004

"Marine life bounty off Philippines"

Category : news

The Panglao project is reported in the Straits Times today, giving clue to why the museum has had many crustacean visitors recently. The Raffles Museum is the crustacean specimen centre for sorting and taxonomic work.

"Marine life bounty off Philippines - S'pore experts in team which finds 1,200 species; dozens are new." By Chang Ai-lien, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2004 [pdf].

An international team of researchers, including Singapore experts, have discovered 1,200 species of prawns, crabs and lobsters, several dozen of which are new, during a recent discovery trip to the Philippines.

'Nothing of this scale has ever been done in this part of the world before,' said Associate Professor Peter Ng, the director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore.

'The number of new species uncovered will change the perception of marine biodiversity in the Philippines and the region,' he added.

The Panglao Marine Biodiversity Project 2004 took place over six hectic weeks ending in July, with 70 scientists from all over the world arriving ready to dive, dredge and trawl for maritime bounty. The project was headed by French researcher Philippe Bouchet, a senior professor at the National Museum of Natural History in France, in cooperation with Dr Danilo Largo, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Carlos, Cebu, and Prof Ng. It was sponsored by multinational energy company Total.

The focus on coral reefs was because they are the biologically richest ecosystems on earth. Of the 275,000 marine species recorded so far, one-third of the close to 200,000 found living in tropical seas call the reefs home. And the global inventory of marine biodiversity is far from complete, with about 1,800 new species discovered every year.

The southern island of Panglao was chosen because it contains a wide variety of species, living in many diverse environments. Said Prof Ng: 'The number we found is staggering, especially in a relatively small area. It just boggles the mind to imagine what the many other islands of the Philippines hold, or the island-rich archipelagoes like Indonesia, for that matter.' He has so far discovered among the specimens 16 new species of crabs, 12 new species of hermit crabs, several new lobsters, about two dozen new shrimps and 15 new mantis shrimps.

Another expedition member, Dr Tan Swee Hee, explained how the specimens were collected. 'We made use of local expertise, getting fishermen to set nets and traps on reef walls and using boats to dredge areas up to 100m deep,' said the curator of crustacea at the Raffles Museum. At the same time, divers vacuumed the sea bed and brushed coral reefs to get at tiny creatures living within. 'We used all available methods, working day and night for six weeks. 'The material came in almost non-stop. The sheer intensity was amazing,' he said.

Researchers at the museum are still sifting through the contents they brought home - 14 drums full of crustaceans, added the third Singapore member, NUS PhD student Joelle Lai.

The collection did not disappoint. About 1,200 different species of crabs and shrimps were collected around Panglao - a phenomenal number considering that Japan has only about 1,600 different species in total, said Prof Ng.

Among the creatures were numerous newly discovered animals, mainly tiny slugs, shrimps, or crabs just a few millimetres in size. The bigger specimens included a crab that was so well camouflaged it looked like an ordinary rock. This extensive collection is now being studied by experts from more than a dozen different countries.

Posted at 8:50AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,