Supporting marine conservation in Singapore

TMSI researchers are leading two projects to monitor and conserve Singapore’s coastal and marine habitats

The Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) at NUS is working with the National Parks Board on two projects to monitor and conserve Singapore’s coastal and marine habitats and the biodiversity within them.

This was announced at the launch of Singapore’s first turtle hatchery at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park on 29 September, which was graced by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development.

One of the projects, led by TMSI Senior Engineer Mr Koay Teong Beng as Principal Investigator, focuses on underwater acoustic monitoring of dolphins, while studying the feasibility of the approach to monitor other marine megafauna such as dugongs and sharks in Singapore waters. These large animals play a key ecological role as apex predators at the top of their food chain, or as habitat modifiers. They also serve as good indicators of the health of their respective habitats.

However, there is insufficient baseline data on aspects such as local populations, visiting patterns and foraging habits to formulate conservation policies and approaches. This is because the monitoring of megafauna currently relies largely on laborious visual sightings which are opportunistic, patchy and constrained by daylight and good weather even in the clearest waters.

“Acoustic waves are capable of travelling long distances underwater, allowing us to monitor and detect the presence of these marine creatures beyond distances possible using only vision-based techniques, especially in the turbid waters in local context,” said Mr Koay.

Dr Jani Tanzil, Senior Research Fellow at TMSI is the Principal Investigator for the second project — developing an adaptive framework for assessing risk of environmental stress on the health and resilience of Singapore’s coral reefs, an important ecosystem that supports diverse marine life. These stressors include deteriorating seawater quality due to increased sediment loading, and acute rises in temperature due to the El Niño climate phenomenon. There is increasing evidence that the timing and interaction of co-occurring stressors are key in determining the impact on ecosystems. As such, next-generation environmental assessments will need to consider dynamic response curves that account for the state of ecosystems recovering from pre-existing disturbances.

“Through this project, our team hopes to build tools from an energetics approach to determine one-off and cumulative stressors on corals, as key engineers of coral reef ecosystems. The tools will then be integrated into a framework for risk assessment to develop suitable monitoring and mitigation strategies,” said Dr Tanzil.