New $25m programme for marine science research and development in Singapore

Singapore’s one and only offshore marine science research facility is now open to all marine scientists here, in a move that will pave the way for more research in this field.
Audrey Tan Straits Times 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE - The Republic is blessed with a good location that makes it one of the world's top transshipment hubs, but it is not taking providence for granted.

The Government is starting a new marine science research and development programme, pumping in $25 million over the next five years to spur research into how Singapore can better cope with emerging challenges such as climate change, heavy shipping and urbanisation.

This was announced on Thursday (June 30) morning by the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is collaborating with the National University of Singapore for the programme.

Although they may not look it, the waters around Singapore are home to a surprising amount of marine life. The island state is located at the intersection of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, within the Coral Triangle - an area considered to be the world's richest treasure trove of marine life.

More than 250 species of hard corals - representing more than 30 per cent of hard coral species found around the world - have been recorded in Singapore's waters. In addition, it has 12 of the 23 species of seagrasses in the Indo-Pacific region, about 200 species of sponges and over 100 species of reef fish, according to data from the National Parks Board.

With so much biodiversity, scientific research will enable Singapore to make full and more intense use of its sea space to increase its blue economy while maintaining its sustainability, says marine conservation veteran Chou Loke Ming, who has been studying corals at TMSI for more than 30 years.

"Alongside the launch of the programme, NRF also on Thursday announced that Singapore’s one and only offshore marine research facility on St John’s Island – located south of Singapore – will be opened up to all marine science researchers here." About 16 marine science research proposals are currently being evaluated and successful ones are expected to be awarded in late 2016.

There are four main research thrusts under the programme: the study of marine ecosystems and biodiversity, environment impact and monitoring, coastal ecological engineering and marine technology and platforms.

The latter hopes to examine ways in which humankind can benefit from nature, in the form of the discovery of new organisms for novel research and the discovery of high value materials. The programme could increase the number of research projects in this area, although such work is already ongoing.

Take, for example, the work done by Dr Tan Lik Tong, a lecturer from the natural sciences and science education academic group at the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) National Institute of Education. He is studying cyanobacteria - marine organisms associated with the harmful algae blooms that have caused mass fish deaths in Singapore.

But his studies have shown that they are also a treasure trove of useful compounds. He told The Straits Times that a number of cyanobacterial compounds have undergone clinical trials for the treatment of human cancers in the United States.

For example, a synthetic molecule based on the chemical structure of a marine cyanobacterial compound known as dolastatin 10 has been developed, and is currently being used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma. This refers to a a type of cancer originating from white blood cells.

"These marine cyanobacteria therefore represent great new organisms for novel research and discovery of high value materials," he said.

But beyond the synthesis of useful compounds, marine science is also important to Singapore in other ways. This is especially since the Republic is an island nation surrounded by water.

Prof Ng, a crab expert, told The Straits Times: "We use the water for navigation, for our port, even for desalination of sea water. We reclaim for land needs, we use it for recreation - a host of purposes. We share the seaways with many countries.

"How can we not know more about it? How can we manage it better, more sustainably, if we do not understand it well?"

National lab dives deeper into sea research
National Research Foundation launches new $25m, five-year marine study programme
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Jul 16;

Singapore's only offshore marine research facility is now open to all marine scientists here, in a move that will pave the way for more sea research .

Previously, the laboratory, on St John's Island, was used largely by scientists from the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI).

In March, it was designated a National Research Infrastructure. This means that all marine researchers here will have access to it, although it will continue to be operated by NUS.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) announced this yesterday, alongside the launch of a new $25-million, five-year marine research and development programme. It is collaborating with NUS on the programme, which will be helmed by Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and former director of the TMSI.

He told The Straits Times: "We are an island nation after all, and we cannot ignore or be complacent about our marine environment, its inhabitants and ecosystem, and what we do with it and to it."

Science could provide solutions to emerging challenges to the marine environment, such as climate change, urbanisation and heavy shipping.

NUS veteran marine biologist Chou Loke Ming said: "Marine science is a strategic research area... (considering that) maritime trade has contributed to Singapore's economic growth."

The new programme could raise the number of research projects in this area.

Already, a team at the TMSI is studying how marine pests brought in by passing ships can be better controlled and managed.

When invasive marine species such as barnacles and tube worms attach themselves to vessels, they can reduce speeds by more than 10 per cent, owing to drag, and raise fuel consumption of ships.

Sixteen research proposals are being evaluated under the programme, and successful ones are expected to be awarded grants later this year.

Mr George Loh, the NRF's director of programmes, said: "Many of the current marine science research projects are undertaken as and when agencies or companies feel there is a need to be addressed, such as the impact to the corals due to urbanisation works along our coastlines."

But the new programme could spur basic marine research. This is crucial, as there is still much to learn about Singapore's native marine biodiversity, Mr Loh said.

For marine scientists, having access to a facility with direct and immediate access to sea water is critical and many welcomed the move to open up the St John's Island Marine Laboratory.

Dr Tan Lik Tong, a lecturer from the natural sciences and science education academic group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, said the national lab could also increase collaborations between scientists from different institutions.

The NRF said it will support the upgrading of the marine laboratory at a cost of $9.5 million over three years.

This includes the cost of restructuring labs, increasing aquaria capacity and raising laboratory bench spaces.

New facilities, such as aquaria that allow users to control seawater environment such as temperature and salinity, will also be built over the next one to two years, said Dr Serena Teo, the lab's facility director.

The sea around Singapore is home to a surprising amount of marine life. More than 250 species of hard corals - a third of those found worldwide - have been recorded in Singapore's waters.

In addition, it has 12 of the 23 species of seagrass in the Indo-Pacific region, about 200 species of sponge and over 100 species of reef fish, according to data from the National Parks Board.


A $25 million, five-year national programme dedicated to marine science research has been launched by National Research Foundation in collaboration with National University of Singapore. Audrey Tan reports on some marine science research in Singapore and why it is important.

Giving marine pests the slip
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Jul 16;

The Asian green mussel, or kupang in Malay, is a delicacy enjoyed in this region, but in places like America they are considered pests.

The original birthplace of these creatures is the Indo-Pacific region, where Singapore is located.

But now they have crossed the Pacific through South America to Florida by "hitchhiking" on the hulls of ships or ballast tanks, which are filled or emptied of seawater to keep a ship stable.

The kupang is a hardy mussel that can withstand a range of temperatures and salinity. It attaches to hard surfaces, forming clumps in places such as on seawater intake pipes and vessels. Such undesirable marine growth on man-made surfaces is known as biofouling.

These clumps reduce vessel speeds by more than 10 per cent owing to drag, and increase fuel consumption of ships when they power up to overcome it.

The Asian green mussel, like other marine pests, can also damage engines and propellers and upset native ecosystems.

Singapore, like many coastal cities with urban harbours, is vulnerable to such invasions, which could hurt its status as the world's top transhipment hub.

Already, another mussel species, Mytilopsis sallei, or the false zebra mussel - an invasive marine pest from the Caribbean - has established itself on Singapore's concrete walls and monsoon drains.

Dr Serena Teo, deputy director for research at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute, leads a biofouling research team that has been studying, since 2002, the biology of marine pests such as barnacles and tubeworms.

Among other things, they investigate how these creatures respond and adhere to materials, as well as how these biologically active materials may affect the environment.

In the past 10 years, Dr Teo and her team - together with chemists from NUS and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research - have developed new environmentally safe anti-fouling additives and materials, which prevent marine pests from latching on to vessels.

This work has resulted in several patents and findings that are useful for the marine industry.

Said Dr Teo: "It is internationally recognised that fouling in tropics, especially in Asia, is very aggressive. This is not unexpected as tropical Asia has the highest marine biodiversity in the world.''

She added: "With the expertise in our research institutions and local industry, we have an unprecedented opportunity to expedite the development of new anti-fouling technology."

Her ongoing work illustrates the importance of marine science research in Singapore, a field that will get a boost from a $25 million, five-year programme announced yesterday.

This marine science research and development programme, launched by the National Research Foundation with NUS, will include research into emerging environmental challenges such as climate change and urbanisation.


Learning more about an enigmatic creature
Audrey Tan Straits Times 1 Jul 16;

Corals have earned widespread attention for their beauty and important role in the marine ecosystem, but little is known about their cousins, the sea anemones.

Graduate student Nicholas Yap is on a mission to change that with his research.

The 32-year-old is working on setting up a baseline of sea anemones in Singapore, by identifying and documenting the flimsy creatures often seen jiving and jamming to underwater currents.

"They are quite common in Singapore but, more often than not, we don't know what they are," said Mr Yap, the only sea anemone researcher in Singapore.

The National Geographic puts the number of sea anemone species found in the world's oceans at more than 1,000. But in Singapore, only 27 species have been successfully identified, Mr Yap said.

One of the latest discoveries is a warty sea anemone found burrowing in the mudflats of Lim Chu Kang mangroves in 2012. Scientists have nicknamed it Bill because it does not match the identity of any known sea anemones, and so may be new to science.

"They form many symbiotic relationships with algae and different animals, yet we don't know about their role in the ecosystem, and how they contribute to it," said Mr Yap.

Like their coral cousins, sea anemones have algae living in them which, in turn, provide the anemone with nourishment.

Similarly, they also bleach - or expel this algae - when stressed. But how bleached anemones impact the ecosystem is not well understood.

Considering their abundance in marine habitats, understanding how they contribute to the ecosystem is important as it will help with decisions on marine conservation, said Mr Yap.

As veteran marine biologist Chou Loke Ming from the NUS' Tropical Marine Science Institute put it: "Every species has a role in the environment in its interaction with other species and the environment.

"If we don't know where they fit into the ecological puzzle, then we risk throwing them out of the equation we are trying to solve."

The study of these creatures could also have an impact on the medical sector, said Mr Yap. "Anemones have venom-containing stingers which could be extracted to do medical research and may pave the way for the discovery of a new drug."

Similarly, biodiversity research done as part of a new $25 million marine science research and development programme could yield new organisms for novel research and the discovery of valuable materials. The five-year programme was announced yesterday by the National Research Foundaton (NRF) and NUS.

NRF's director of programmes George Loh said: "Singapore is strategically located at the intersection of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, and is within the Coral Triangle. This creates uniquely rich marine biodiversity off Singapore that is not well understood, and presents unprecedented opportunities to study our complex marine ecosystem and its many organisms."

PLACE IN THE ENVIRONMENT

Every species has a role in the environment in its interaction with other species and the environment.

If we don't know where they fit into the ecological puzzle, then we risk throwing them out of the equation we are trying to solve.

VETERAN MARINE BIOLOGIST CHOU LOKE MING, from the NUS' Tropical Marine Science Institute.

No comments:

Post a Comment