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Mon 13 Jun 2005
"New sea creatures found off Philippines"
Category : research
"New sea creatures found off Philippines." By Chang Ai-Lien, 13 Jun 2005. S'porean trio part of global research team dredging ocean depths.
Among them are three Singaporean crustacean experts, who in 10 days last month on a Filipino research vessel, unearthed several hundred species of prawns, crabs, lobsters and fish from the mud.
The precious finds were dredged from depths of 100m to 2,300m in the Bohol and Sulu seas off the island of Panglao, in the southern Philippines. The area is famed for having a wide variety of species living in many diverse environments.
There were blood red lobsters with sapphire eggs and deep-sea fish which exploded from the pressure change they experienced on reaching the surface. There were also at least 12 species new to science, and many more which have not been sighted for decades.
'You really don't know what to expect from the piles of mud which doesn't look like it holds anything,' said one of the Singapore trio, Ms Joelle Lai. She is a research student at the National University of Singapore's biological sciences department. 'But a tiny piece of wood or coconut husk could be the home of a shrimp or crab.'
She and about 20 researchers worked day and night sieving through tonnes of mud hauled up in a net the size of a small room. Sometimes, they had as many as nine loads a day to explore.
The 60,000 euro (S$122,880) project was funded by France's Foreign Ministry and National Museum of Natural History, and the NUS Science Faculty. The boat was provided by the Filipino authorities.
This is the second time the Singaporean trio has made the trip to Panglao. Last year, they were part of another international team which found 1,200 species of prawns, crabs and lobsters, several dozen of which were new, in the same area.
The difference was that the earlier expedition concentrated on coral reefs, and stopped at depths of 100m. Associate Professor Peter Ng, the director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS, who was also on the trip, said: 'Most of the creatures we found this time are very different from those from the earlier trip, even though we were virtually next door to where we were before, only deeper.' Large reserves of prawns were found to be living in the deep, a potential resource for fisheries.
Throughout, the researchers worked on board with four armed escorts, all Navy Seals, keeping a lookout for them. They were provided by the local authorities to guard against possible attacks from the militant Abu Sayyaf group, which is based in the area.
But the biggest problems were large rocks and debris on the sea bed. Expedition member Tan Swee Hee, the museum's curator of crustacea, said on five occasions the wooden beams in front of the nets snagged on something in the deep and broke. But it could have been worse, he said. The thick steel cables hauling up the catch could have snapped and whipped against those waiting onboard, or badly damaged their boat.
Prof Ng said: 'The expedition has given us a complete picture of the marine biodiversity of the area. 'This is the first time we're getting such a detailed archive, with some of the creatures being photographed live for the first time.'
But the global inventory of marine biodiversity is far from complete. About 1,800 new species are discovered on such trips every year, and around 275,000 have been recorded so far.
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