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Wed 22 Nov 2006
Expedition Santo 2006 - Straits Times report
Category : research
"Expedition Santo 2006: Global Biodiversity Survey from sea bottom to ridge crests" - Tan Heok Hui, Tan Swee Hee, Jose Christopher Mendoza and Peter Ng participated in the Santos 2006 expedition in September 2006.
In late October, they were interviewed by the local broadsheet, The Straits Times and an article appeared a couple of weeks later. I inserted photos Swee Hee sent me and Li Ling obligingly sent me her photo of a living robber crab (not from this expedition)."NUS staff help unearth 10 new crab species."
By Jessica Lim. The Straits Times, 10 Nov 2006.
The four were part of global team which combed Pacific islands in major expedition.
CHILLI crab eaters need not apply. Four National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers did. Crab lovers in the academic sense, they joined a global research team which spent six weeks scouring the seabeds off Vanuatu, a pristine group of islands in the South Pacific. The team braved 6m swells to dredge buckets of debris from depths of up to 300m, eel bites and 12-hour days sifting through debris using tweezers.Creatures found in South Pacific seabeds
The result: About 650 species of crabs were unearthed with at least 10 species new to science waiting to be sorted, named and photographed. The 80-strong research group from 22 countries can lay claim to being the largest marine biodiversity expedition in modern times. New species found included a furry crab with red-tipped claws, and five types of box crabs which have special shell-cutting teeth.
The islands - such as Espiritu Santo, which is the largest in the Vanuatu chain - are home to many unique species not found elsewhere. "The islands are not well explored, and they have a wide variety of pristine habitats," said Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS, who was on the trip.
Up to 30 million species of organisms remain undiscovered and about 1,800 new species are discovered each year. The crabs found on the recent trip will reach Singapore in the next two months. They will then be identified and catalogued. The results will be presented to the Vanuatu government to help it decide which parts of the islands it wants to conserve.
Marine species are known to be of value to pharmaceutical researchers. For example, copper-based blood from the horseshoe crab is purified and made into test kits to detect small amounts of bacteria. Identifying species also helps point out the poisonous ones. Expedition member Tan Heok Hui, a researcher at Raffles Museum, said: "People catch poisonous crabs and eat them unknowingly. The poison attacks the nervous system and can lead to death within a day."
NUS contributed $30,000 towards the 1.2 million euros (S$2.4 million) project. The team has been on two other similar large-scale expeditions and uncovered more than 2,000 species so far.
Asked if he eats crabs, NUS researcher and team member Tan Swee Hee said he has been allergic to them since 1990. "I have killed too many crabs in my lifetime, and this is payback. I can't eat them!"
Copyright © 2006 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.
Crabby long legs is cave dweller
Photo by J. C. Mendoza
The Discoplax longipes (long legs in Latin) is a land crab that can grow up to half a metre in leg span. Like most other land crabs, it has sensory hairs on its legs which it uses to 'taste' chemicals in the air, directing it to food. The nocturnal crab is commonly found in caves near the coast, but returns to the water periodically to re-wet its gills and lay eggs.Hermit's a feisty food thief
Photo by Koh Li Ling, from Christmas Island, September 2006.
For food, this 2.5kg hermit crab scales coconut trees, cuts the fruits down with its claws and pries them open to get to the fleshy bits. The world's largest arthropod, it can grow up to 35cm in width, inclusive of its pincers. Commonly referred to as the robber crab, it is known to creep into villagers' homes to steal food and attack people with its claws. The species is a delicacy in the islands of Vanuatu.
Photo by J. C. Mendoza
|Tiny sand lover is easy to miss|
Can you spot its pincers? Embedding itself in the soggy sands on the seashore is the sand grain crab.
This species is just 2mm or 3mm larger than a grain of sand.
It survives on organic matter like algae which it picks up using its small pincers.