Creatures of the deep through the eyes of Dr Bertrand Richer De Forges


Pre-talk prep and introductions!

Last friday, the second of the Wallace Lectures Series was held at the Botanic Gardens! This time, the distinguished speaker was Dr Bertrand Richer de Forges on “Marine Biodiversity: Known and Unknown”.
All who attended discovered the amazing creatures of the deep through the eyes of Dr Richer de Forges and his remarkable work on deep-sea creatures.

Now for some snapshots from the talk!

There were so many wonderful and eye-catching pictures during the talk, it was hard to keep up!

One of the slides depicting slow metabolic and growth rate of deep-sea creatures as compared to that of a 53 year-old Homo sapien!

A Darth Vader look alike, the giant isopod shows that gigantism is common for deep-sea creatures. The picture on the right shows one that is 350mm in size!

The blobfish as depicted in Men in Black III! There must be only a handful of people in the world who can claim they’ve discovered a creature so weird that it was depicted in a movie as an alien, and Dr Richer de Forges is one of them!

To view more photographs from the talk, please click HERE.
Photo credit: Ms Toh Chay Hoon

Dr Bertrand Richer de Forges was also featured in an article in The Straits Times for his help for the upcoming comprehensive survey to be held in Singapore!

Click on image to download pdf.

Biodiversity expert on board S’pore marine expedition

He is helping local researchers to conduct largest and most extensive marine survey here to date

By Grace Chua

On a recent trip to the cinema to watch the new sci-fi movie Men In Black 3, Dr Bertrand Richer de Forges, a marine biologist, saw a blob-shaped alien on screen.

“I caught that animal,” he exclaimed.

It was a blobfish, a gelatinous creature with a perpetually gloomy expression that lives at ocean depths of more than 600m. Dr Richer de Forges found one during a 2003 expedition in the south-west Pacific Ocean.

The French-born biodiversity expert, known for his work in discovering new ecosystems, is normally based in Nouméa, New Caledonia.

He is in Singapore until early November on a Shell programme. He is helping Singapore researchers conduct the largest, most extensive marine survey expedition here to date, part of the three-year Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey that began in 2010.

Dr Richer de Forges advised on the equipment needed and how to put it together, and where and how to trawl, said Dr Tan Koh Siang – head of the Tropical Marine Science Institute’s marine biology lab – who is in charge of the expedition.

The aim of the expedition is to sample a wide range of habitats – rocky, muddy or sandy, sloping or flat – which harbor different forms of life. A few hours of successful trawling can unearth enough creatures for months, if not years of lab work, Dr Tan added.

Dr Richer de Forges has spent most of his 40-year career studying the “aliens” that live more than 200m below the surface, much deeper than ordinary divers can go.

He was born in Limoges, the land-locked heart of France, better known for its porcelain than its access to the sea, and studied at the Pierre – and-Marie-Curie University and Museum of Natural History.

He then studied crabs in the remote Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean in 1973, before doing the same in Tahiti and Mauritania.

In 1984, he moved to the French territory of New Caledonia, near Australia, to join the French Institute of Research for Development, a public research institute.

There, he embarked on expeditions around the Pacific, dropping small trawl nets overboard, then winching them up to collect and catalogue seabed life.

Last Friday, Dr Richer de Forges gave a talk on deep-sea marine biodiversity at the Botanic Gardens as part of a programme sponsored by Shell Singapore.

He explained that the ocean is 3.8km deep on average, and life below 200m is very different from life on the surface. Because of the low temperature, high pressure and scarcity of light and food, many deep-sea creatures have adapted in a special way to help them survive.

For example, many creatures give off bioluminescent glow in order to catch food and find mates in the dark. Others, such as some corals and sponges, live for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years, their metabolic rate slowed to a crawl to survive on very little food.

Next year, scientists here plan to trawl the Singapore Deeps, a 200m-deep channel soured by ancient currents off the Southern Islands, and Dr Richer de Forges will be back to help out.

“Humans live on only 29 per cent of the planet; 71 per cent is ocean,” he said.

The marine expert, who retired in 2008, pointed out: “There’s not real retirement for a marine biologist, we have so many things to do.”

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