In a series of workshops on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea (SCS) starting from 1990, several Technical Working Groups (TWG) were formed, each dealing with specific topics that needed to be addressed to promote the spirit of collaboration and co-operation between countries fringing, and laying claims to the South China Sea. Amongst this was the Marine Scientific Research TWG, which aims to encourage joint biodiversity research and data sharing between scientists working in the region (see Djalal, 2000)
Responding to this, the Raffles Museum organised a Workshop on Biodiversity Assesssment of the South China Sea in 1997 under the aegis of MSR TWG and brought together experts on the marine flora and fauna of SCS, This exercise culminated in RBZ supplement number 8, on the Biodiversity of the South China Sea.
The 1997 workshop also proposed a multi-lateral expedition in the South China Sea in uncontested waters and in 2002, Exercise Anambas was born. Hosted and prepared by Singapore and Indonesia, the eight day expedition aboard the Baruna Jaya 8, the research vessel of Research Center of Oceanography of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences saw 29 scientists from ASEAN, China and Taiwan come together to explore the marine biodiversity of Anambas and Natunas Islands. The expedition was a resounding success with the discovery of several species new to science.
Ten years on, the Raffles Museum, with the support of the Singapore Government is once again host to another programme of the MSR TWG. The Workshop on Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity held from the 31st of July 2012 to the 4th of August 2012 brought together 28 experts from 16 countries in ASEAN, China and beyond, in a bid to bring everyone up to date with new research, data and checklists of various marine taxonomic groups in the South China Sea. The workshop also presented to participants the rare opportunity for networking and socialising in between serious discussions and presentations. We hope that through the workshop, many new collaborations and joint efforts to study the rich marine biodiversity of the South China Sea will be forged in the years to come!
Click HERE to download the workshop programme.
To start the workshop, we organised an opening dinner where the experts can get to know each other before the actual programme! It was a good time of fellowship where new acquaintances were made and old friends were reunited.
During the workshop, country representatives from each ASEAN nation was invited to give an overview of marine biodiversity research in the South China Sea domain. Regional and international experts were also asked to give a taxon report for the region. Informal discussions took place during the well-needed tea breaks!
On the last day of the workshop, the experts were brought to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve for a short excursion. Local guides (Oi Yee, Ivan, Jocelyne and Meryl) brought them around and showed them the rich biodiversity still existing on our island.
In the afternoon, scientists who opted to head to the Tropical Marine Science Institute on St John’s Island was hosted by Dr Tan Koh Siang. The research techniques used by the institute was shared with them.
Scientists who chose to stay behind in RMBR headed on to do what they do best … examine the specimens in our collections! Guide Ivan Kwan managed to snap some pictures of them doing just that, to view his post, please click HERE.
It is intended that this workshop will strengthen ties in the South China Sea region between scientists and scientific institutions, lay a foundation for information and database sharing and stimulate scientific collaborations.
Ms Neo Mei Lin, a participant in the workshop also posted about the event! To read her post, please click HERE.
To view more photos from the workshop, please click HERE.
Scientists call for access to S. China Sea
Researchers face hurdles studying marine species in disputed waters
By Grace Chua
Even if South-east Asia’s politicians cannot agree on who owns which islands in the South China Sea, its scientists, at least, are working together.
Last week, some 40 scientists from eight ASEAN nations, China and Hong Kong, and other international experts, met here for a workshop on the South China Sea’s marine life.
The workshop, organized by Singapore’s Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and sponsored by the Singapore Government, was the group’s fourth formal meeting.
The first, in 1997, results in a multinational expedition in 2002 to the Indonesian Anambas and Natuna islands, during which new species were discovered by scientists.
Studying the region’s marine life is vital for its countries to prepare for the impact of climate change, to conserve coral reefs and to keep its fishing grounds sustainable, said Professor Peter Ng, museum director and chair of the workshop held at the National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge Guild House.
The South China Sea has its own unusual marine biodiversity, he said, as sea-level changes in past Ice Ages meant there were isolated pockets where new species could evolve.
But now the region is threatened by climate change, development, overfishing and pollution.
“Even in non-contested areas, whatever goes wrong can affect us because the seas are connected,” he said.
“What we know right now is just scratching the surface.”
One obstacle is access, he explained. Islands such as the Spratlys are hotly contested because they affect national boundaries.
Although they are rich in oil and gas deposits, and are good fishing grounds, claimant nations do not allow other countries’ scientists in.
Even researchers from neutral countries face a diplomatic minefield, Prof Ng said.
When it comes to asking for permission to research islands whose ownership is in dispute, for example, “whomever we ask, we’re in trouble”, he said.
Joint expeditions such as the Anambas venture and a series of bilateral ones by Vietnam and the Philippines are one way around the problem, said Vietnamese researcher Vo Si Tuan of the Institute of Oceanography, who added that high-level agreements are necessary for such work.
The bilateral expeditions between 1996 and 2007, for example, stemmed from a meeting between Philippines president Fidel Ramos and Vietnamses president Le Duc Anh in 1994, Dr Vo said.
At the workshop last week, checklists of species records were updated with new research. Ms Youna Lyons, a legal scholar from the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore, proposed a master database, open to all, that mapped the distribution of various species of corals and other animals.
Scientists at the workshop raised the idea of another multilateral expedition, especially to contested islands, or piggybacking on existing bilateral ones.
“The fact that it’s been done before with Anambas means it can be done again,” Prof Ng said.
“If scientists can cooperate, it may be symbolic – let’s put aside our difference and get things done.
“We need to open up these places to more experts going in, not just from Asean but also from around the world.”