Secrets of the deep: Scientists from NUS, Indonesia set sail to explore marine life in West Java

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 23 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — It is not your typical “cruise”, but that is what one professor is calling it.

On Friday (March 23), a team of 30 researchers and support crew from Singapore and Indonesia set off on a quest to find out what crabs, prawns, fishes and other marine life dwell in the seas off western and southern Java.

Over 14 days on board the Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII, the team will use dredges, beam trawls and other gadgets to sample the range of organisms at depths of 500m to 2,000m in the largely unexplored waters.

The average depth of the ocean is about 3,800m but based on the researchers’ experience, depths of 500m to 2,000m display the greatest biodiversity.

The route that researchers will take for the South Java Deep-Sea Biodiversity Expedition 2018, from March 23 to April 5, 2018. Photo: NUS

Led by Professor Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu, senior research scientist at the Research Centre for Oceanography of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, this will be the first deep-sea biodiversity expedition that Singapore and Indonesia are organising together.

Departing from Muara Baru in Jakarta, they will sail anti-clockwise towards Cilacap in southern Java and back, returning to land on April 5.

The “cruise” — as Prof Ng dubbed the expedition — will also mark the first time the scientists will provide daily updates to their colleagues in Singapore on interesting creatures hauled up, if Wi-Fi on the vessel permits.

“The science will come first, but if (Iffah Iesa, a team member) sees a really cool fish, she’ll take pictures and get scientists on board to give her snippets, and she’ll write it up to send to you,” Prof Ng told reporters last week. “I think it’s important that the public knows what (we’re) doing, why (we’re doing) it.”

The two-week expedition will cost more than S$400,000, which will be shared by both sides.

Prof Ng rubbished the notion that there is no life to be found in the deep sea, which has been called no man’s land.

Past expeditions elsewhere have unearthed sea cockroaches resembling Darth Vader, bloated oil-filled fishes with poorly developed eyes as well as spectacularly coloured lobsters, he said.

During a deep-sea expedition in central Philippines organised by the Philippines, France, Taiwan and Singapore in 2005, for instance, researchers found more than 1,500 species of crabs, shrimps and lobsters, and more than 150 of these were new to science, Prof Ng said.

LONG LIFE

“Deep-sea animals generally have a long life because of the high pressure and cold temperatures. Most of the animals generally live five to 10 times longer than things in shallow waters,” he said.

Deep-sea expeditions have traditionally been organised by the French, Americans, Australians, and English, and Prof Ng said that the experience would stand Singapore and Indonesia in good stead.

In 2015, Ocean Mineral Singapore, a unit of Singapore conglomerate Keppel Corporation, signed a 15-year contract with the International Seabed Authority to explore how metal-rich rocks could be harvested in an area in the Pacific Ocean about 80 times the size of Singapore.

Prof Ng noted: “More and more organisations are starting to look at deep sea as a resource for fisheries, for oil, gas, mining and so on… How do you use it in a sustainable way?”

While the researchers will collect animal specimens during their journey, there will be “limited damage” to the environment, Prof Ng said. There is no other way, he added, to obtain definitive data needed to confirm that a species is rare or new to science, for example.

On why the team is not sending a submersible down into the deep sea, he explained that it would have been expensive and they would only be able to sample a small area. These vessels are good for detailed studies, but not for a first-cut study of a largely unknown area.

The team, which includes other members from Singapore such as fish scientist Dr Tan Heok Hui and the Tropical Marine Science Institute’s Dr Tan Koh Siang, plan to survey 29 sites during the fortnight.

The sea creatures collected will be sorted, photographed, preserved and labelled on the vessel, and some will be kept alive for short periods in chilled tanks so they can be observed, studied and filmed.

Thereafter, the scientists expect to take about two years to study the samples and plan to share the results at a special workshop in Indonesia in 2020.

The project is part of RISING50, a celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia.


NUS researchers embark on first deep sea expedition in West Java
Cheryl Goh Channel NewsAsia 23 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: It’s not quite 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but close.

A team of Singapore and Indonesia scientists are venturing into the deep unknown of the West Java sea, where their goal is to uncover the vast array of marine life that, till now, has been unexplored.

This first-of-its-kind 14-day expedition from Friday (Mar 23) till Apr 5 takes place on board the Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII, which will carry a team of 30 researchers and support staff from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

The vessel will depart from Muara Baru, Jakarta in Indonesia, where the scientists will spend the next two weeks working in the vicinity of the Sunda Strait Trough off Cilacap, digging deep into the dredges to take samples from the seabed.

Based on the team’s experience, the depth of 500m to 2,000m usually displays the greatest diversity with the most interesting species, but the scientists also have a particular wish list they hope to document, ranging from crabs and prawns, shells, fish, urchins and even worms.

Each day, the research team plans to conduct sampling at three to four sites, covering a total of 29 sites. Each sampling exercise will take at least three to four hours to complete due to the depths involved and the time it takes to deploy the equipment.

Important biological samples will be sorted, photographed, preserved and labelled on board the research vessel. Some will even be kept alive for short periods in special, chilled aquariums so that they can be observed, studied and filmed.

Head of the NUS’ Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and one of the expedition leaders, Professor Peter Ng, said there is a wealth of biodiversity waiting to be uncovered.

"People always forget that the deep sea holds a huge number of different species of animals, many of them new to science, that we don't even know they are there," he said. "So I think it's important to find out what are the kinds of animals living there, what are the species there, and this increase of knowledge will be very good as far as the conservation, use of resources in the future is concerned."

Prof Ng also recounted past expeditions, which had “unearthed bizarre Darth Vader-like sea cockroaches, bloated oil-filled fishes with poorly developed eyes, eerie wraith-like crabs as well as spectacularly-coloured lobsters.”

Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu, who is the chief scientist for the Indonesian team, said: “This deep-sea expedition will reveal the diversity of demersal organisms on the southwestern part of Java Island, the area where almost no exploration has ever been conducted. It will certainly incite a strong maritime spirit among young Indonesian scientists participating in the expedition to go forth and seek the many interesting animals that live in the deep waters of their country.”

The expedition is also significant because it has been 15 years in the making, and is the first time Singapore and Indonesia are teaming up on such a large-scale quest. Prof Ng said an immense amount of preparation and forward planning has taken place.

“So typically, we will plan for logistics, what we need. To feed 30 scientists on board, not counting the crew, the water, the equipment they need, the photographic equipment, and out at sea, you cannot replenish your supplies, you cannot just call somebody and somebody delivers, no such thing," he said.

"You plan for worst case scenario, medical accidents, what do you do? So a lot of planning has to take place when you do a deep sea expedition out in open sea to ensure the risks are the minimum, the science can be maximised, and the results are useful for scientists to come.”

At the end of the expedition, the samples collected will be studied by scientists from both countries. This is anticipated to take up to two years, and the results will be shared and discussed with the world at a workshop to be held in Indonesia in 2020.

The output will then be collated and published in the Museum’s science-citation journal, The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Source: CNA/ng


Indonesia, Singapore lead deep-sea expedition to West Java
Team will give daily dredging updates in effort to discover new species
Samantha Boh Straits Times 23 Mar 18;

A team of explorers set off on a pioneering deep-sea expedition yesterday afternoon, hoping for a glimpse of an area where no man has ventured.

Over the next 14 days, they will sail from Jakarta to the Sunda Strait and waters off the Indonesian port of Cilacap. Off the southern coast of West Java, they will mine the rich seascape for living treasures living 500m to 2km under the sea, at 29 separate sites.

Led by Professor Peter Ng from Singapore and Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu from Indonesia, the multinational team of 30 researchers, scientists and support staff will give daily updates of the dredging - a first for any expedition - as they scour through depths that hold the greatest diversity of animals.

Their focus will be on crabs, prawns, shells, sponges, jellyfish, worms, starfish, urchins and fishes.

They hope to discover new species in a bid to expand on existing knowledge of the Earth's biodiversity.

But with countries looking to deep-sea activities such as deep-sea mining to meet their mineral demands, such research is also crucial in providing information that will ensure such activities are carried out without severely damaging the environment, according to Prof Ng, head of the National University of Singapore's Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Singapore is among nations poised to venture into deep-sea mining, with a unit of rig builder Keppel Corporation, Ocean Mineral Singapore, securing a 15-year contract in 2015 to explore how metal-rich rocks can be harvested from the bottom of the Pacific.

"As we progress into the deep sea to use its resources, there is increased pressure to understand the deep sea," Prof Ng said. "You need to know what is there."

He said that the team will also hone skills to allow them to conduct deep-sea environmental impact studies.

This is the first time Singapore and Indonesia have organised a deep-sea biodiversity expedition together, reaffirming the strong diplomatic ties between the two nations, he added.

The team was met with much fanfare yesterday morning at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, as the voyage was officially launched. Among those present were Indonesia's Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education H. Mohamad Nasir and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

The expedition, the largest to be organised by South-east Asian scientists, will cost both countries about $400,000 in total.

The team is sailing on the Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII, and will collect samples at three or four sites each day. Each sampling exercise will last at least three or four hours.

Once the animals are brought on board, they will be photographed, preserved and labelled. Some will be kept in special chilled aquariums for short periods, so they can be observed and filmed.

Past expeditions have been rewarded richly. One in central Philippines organised by the Philippines, France, Taiwan and Singapore in 2005, for instance, yielded more than 1,500 species of crabs, shrimps and lobsters, 150 of which were new to science.

"You want the eureka moment, the discovery that you have seen something that has been on Earth for millions of years but no one has realised it," said Prof Ng.

Dr Rahayu, senior research scientist at the Research Centre for Oceanography of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said: "This deep-sea expedition will reveal the diversity of demersal organisms on the south-western part of Java island, an area where almost no exploration has ever been conducted." Demersal organisms are those which live close to the seabed.

Prof Ng admitted that there will be some damage to the environment as the animals are being taken from their homes.

"But since this area has not been sampled before, we decided the damage is acceptable, and it is minimal. You have to take those risks," he said. "We are not defending it, we are explaining it."

After the expedition, the samples will be studied, and the findings will be shared and discussed at a workshop slated to be held in Indonesia in 2020, and later published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

Creatures of the deep sea

Deep sea carrier crab (Homologenus exilis)
This crab was discovered on an expedition to Tungsha Islands in the South China Sea in 2015 by Professor Peter Ng and French marine biologist Bertrand Richer de Forges. PHOTO: PETER NG

Saudade six-legged crab (Hexaplax saudade)
This crab is found in various parts of the South China Sea, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. It was discovered by Professor Peter Ng and Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu, who named it in 2014. It has large glowing red eyes, and unlike other crabs, has six instead of eight legs.PHOTO: PETER NG

Blind lobster (Polycheles typhlops)
This lobster was collected by scientists during an expedition to the Philippine Sea, east of Luzon Island. This species is known to inhabit areas near coral banks on soft muddy substrates. PHOTO: CHAN TIN-YAM

Giant sea cockroach (Bathynomus kensleyi)
A Darth Vader lookalike, this Isopod was caught during an expedition to the Bohol Sea in the central Philippines. They live close to the seabed, between depths of 300m and 2.5km. PHOTO: PETER NG


NUS and RCO-LIPI scientists embark on deep-sea biodiversity expedition in West Java
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE EurekAlert 23 Mar 18;


A team of 30 researchers and support staff led by scientists from Singapore and Indonesia will embark on a 14-day scientific expedition to study deep-sea marine life in the area off the southern coast of West Java. Through the "South Java Deep-Sea Biodiversity Expedition 2018", this is the first time that a concerted deep-sea biological exploration will be conducted in this largely unexplored part of Indonesian seas.

This unprecedented project is a reflection of the bold and collaborative spirit embodied in RISING50 -- a celebration of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia. This joint initiative reaffirms the depth and diversity of the long-standing collaboration between the academic and scientific communities of Singapore and Indonesia.

The research team will depart Muara Baru, Jakarta in Indonesia, on 23 March 2018 and return on 5 April 2018. Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII will be used to sample the seabed at depths between 500 metres and 2,000 metres from the vicinity of the Sunda Strait Trough off Cilacap. Based on the team's experience, the depth of 500 metres to 2,000 metres usually displays the greatest diversity with the most interesting species.

The expedition will be led by Professor Peter Ng, Head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu, Senior Research Scientist at the Research Center for Oceanography (RCO) of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

"This is the culmination of 15 years of discussions and explorations of possibilities," said Prof Ng, chief scientist for the Singapore team. "This is the first time that Singapore and Indonesia are organising a deep-sea biodiversity expedition together and we are all very excited to find out what animals are present in an area that is practically unexplored by any biologist. There is certainly a wealth of biodiversity still to be discovered - much of it poorly known and new to science. We cannot conserve what we do not know."

Dr Rahayu, who is the chief scientist for the Indonesian team, adds, "This deep-sea expedition will reveal the diversity of demersal organisms on the southwestern part of Java Island, the area where almost no exploration has ever conducted. It will certainly incite a strong maritime spirit among young Indonesian scientists participating in the expedition to go forth and seek the many interesting animals that live in the deep-waters of their country!"

The NUS research team comprises scientists from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the Tropical Marine Science Institute, together with researchers from the Research Center for Oceanography of Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

The Voyage

Over the 14-day expedition, scientists plan to collect numerous samples of deep-sea marine creatures which are hard to obtain and rarely accessible, from depths up to 2,000 metres with various equipment. The expedition will focus on a variety of organisms -- Crustacea (crabs and prawns), Mollusca (shells), Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (jellyfish), Polychaeta (worms), Echinodermata (starfish and urchins), and fishes.

Prof Ng and Dr Rahayu have participated in many deep-sea expeditions in the region and they have also been involved in the discoveries of hundreds of new and rare species of deep-sea crustaceans. As the area that the team is visiting has hardly been surveyed over the centuries, they are expecting many interesting new records and rare animals, as well as new species.

Prof Ng recounted, "Our past expeditions had unearth bizarre Darth Vader like sea cockroaches, bloated oil-filled fishes with poorly developed eyes, eerie wraith-like crabs as well as spectacularly coloured lobsters. For example, during a deep sea expedition in central Philippines organised by Philippines, France, Taiwan and Singapore in 2005, we found over 1,500 species of crabs, shrimps and lobsters of all kinds, with over 150 of them new to science!"

Scientists to survey 29 sites in 14 days

This latest expedition will involve the use of various deep-sea sampling methods for qualitative and quantitative determination of benthic biodiversity. These will include dredges and beam trawls as well as a box core and a multicorer to sample the animal life in mud. Each day, the research team plans to conduct sampling at three to four sites, covering a total of 29 sites. Each sampling exercise will take at least 3 to 4 hours to complete due to the depths involved and the time it takes to deploy the equipment. Important biological samples will be sorted out, photographed, preserved and labelled on board the research vessel. Some will even be kept alive for short periods in special chilled aquariums so that they can be observed, studied and filmed.

At the end of the expedition, the samples collected will be studied by scientists from both countries. This is anticipated to take up to two years and the results will be shared and discussed with the world at a special workshop that will be held in Indonesia in 2020. The outputs will then be collated and published in the museum's science-citation journal, The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

For more information about the expedition, please visit: https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/


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