21 June 2011

Sea Anemone Workshop 2011: "The Sea Anemone Public Lecture" by Dr Daphne

Singapore has awesome sea anemones! Dr Daphne shares fascinating insights during her Sea Anemone Public Lecture today.
I also learnt more about the REAL (and somewhat tragic) story of Nemo.

First, the amazing news of MORE than 50 sea anemone species in Singapore! In his introduction, Dr Tan Swee Hee said before Dr Daphne started studying our anemones, we expected perhaps 10-20 sea anemone species. This goes to show just how important it is to look more closely at our marine biodiversity. This workshop is part of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore, which aims to do just that!
The most fascinating part of her lecture, for me, was when Dr Daphne revealed the truths behind the story of Nemo. She did it step by step. With some astonishing and often sad truths that are quite different from the picture painted in the story. Prior to that, she also shared about the many beautiful sea anemones that are host to many different kinds of anemonefishes.
Did Mom and Dad have 100 babies? Well, it is true that there is usually a 'Mom' and 'Dad' anemonefish in a single anemone.
This breeding pair usually lays MORE than 100 eggs. More like several hundred eggs!
Was Mom and her 99 babies eaten by a barracuda? The truth is groupers are more likely predators of anemonefishes.
Did Dad care for Nemo after his Mom and siblings were eaten? While it is true that Dad looks after the EGGS, these hatch into tiny tiny larval fish which disperse into the water and join the bazillions of plankton in the sea. So Dad (and Mom) don't know their kids and don't look after them.
Dr Daphne then explains how anemonefishes can change their gender! There may be several anemonefishes in an anemone. The biggest one is the breeding female, while the next biggest one is the breeding male. The rest are of descending sizes and all are males. If the female should die, the breeding male becomes a female! And the next largest fish becomes the breeding male, and all the other fishes can grow a little larger, leaving space for the tiniest fish 'slot' for a new larval fish to settle into the anemone. For this system to work, Dr Daphne reveals, the sea anemone must live for a 100 years or more!
This astonishing truth about Nemo's 'Mom' and 'Dad' unravels the story quite a bit.
The other sad truth is that anemonefishes are easy to catch. Nemo didn't have to swim far away to get caught.
If anemonefishes leave the protection of their host anemone, they are soon eaten. So Dad could not have made the journey to save Nemo.
If Dad did so, then this is his likely fate. Oh dear! How traumatic!
After sharing how anemonefishes can live safely in anemones that actually eat other fishes, Dr Daphne highlights the true tragedy behind the surge in keeping anemonefishes in aquariums following the popularity of the Nemo movie. Most large host anemones cannot be bred in captivity. Those in aquariums have been taken from the wild. This REMOVES homes for wild anemonefishes. Anemonefishes in an aquarium can live without anemones so long as there are no predators, and anemonefishes can be bred in captivity. We should really leave anemones (and in my opinion all other marine life) in the sea where they belong.
With that and other thought-provoking insights, Dr Daphne ends her lecture with more fascinating facts about Singapore's anemones. Singapore has more anemone species than the entire west coast of North America which is hundreds of kilometers long and is very well studied. Although the tropical intertidal is believed to be poor in organisms, this is not the case in Singapore. Dr Daphne believes this is because most of our low spring tides happen before sunrise and after sunset so the shore is not cooked to death in the hot tropical sun (wow, so we should be glad for sleep-depriving field trips!). Singapore lies between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, so our shores is home to species found in both.
After the inspiring talk, it was a great pleasure to present Dr Daphne with a special memento of Singapore. Sea anemones specially made by hand by the very talented Chay Hoon, as Dr Tan Swee Hee announces.
And presented by Dr Tan Koh Siang. Dr Daphne seems happy with the gifts and remarks that the anemones are labeled! Indeed, she has taught us to label all our specimens so that the full information remains available for future study.
Here's a closer look at the anemones. Thanks to Chay Hoon for preparing the gifts on behalf of the Anemone Army and others who have benefited so much from Dr Daphne.
Earlier before the talk, I snuck up to join Dr Daphne and the Workshop participants on a tour of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research collection led by Joelle.
We also had a quick look at the Burgundy Anemones from Punggol that were happily at home in the museum tank. Dr Daphne is still puzzling out this one out. WOW!
Just before the talk started, Ivan was powering up his laptop to live tweet the lecture! While behind him, Andy was setting up two cameras to videotape the entire lecture. The talk was very well attended with probably more than 100 people in the room. There was also a lively QandA after the talk.
Here's Andy's video clip of Dr Daphne's lecture!
The talk has already inspired many people! Debby of the Hantu Bloggers has just posted about the sea anemones of Pulau Hantu. One volunteer guide remarked on facebook that he would share what he has learnt in his tours. Kok Sheng has also uploaded screen shots of Dr Daphne's talk on flickr. Jeffery Low also posted about the talk. And there was a great article about our sea anemones in the Straits Times, thank you Grace!

After the talk, Prof Leo Tan kindly hosted dinner for the Workshop participants. Where we shared even more anemone stories. It was sad to see the end of the Workshop, but so much has been accomplished and yet more still needs to be done. It only means that Dr Daphne must come back to Singapore again!

Dr Daphne will stay on for a while more and we hope to take her out to more shores! So the anemone hunt continues!

The Sea Anemone Workshop is jointly organised by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the Tropical Marine Science Institute in conjunction with the National Parks Board, National Biodiversity Centre and their Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore.


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