New research projects to study algae blooms, how coral reefs adapt to environmental change

Corals at the Cyrene Reefs in south-western Singapore.
Corals at the Cyrene Reefs in south-western Singapore. PHOTO: TROPICAL MARINE SCIENCE INSTITUTE

SINGAPORE - The National Research Foundation (NRF) has awarded seven new research projects under a $25 million programme to look into areas such as the resilience of coral reefs and algae blooms.

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is chairman of the NRF, during the official opening of the St John's Island National Marine Laboratory on Monday (Nov 28).

The seven research projects, worth $13 million, were selected based on their quality and relevance to Singapore. In total, 30 research proposals were received by NRF since the call for projects was launched in October last year.

The $25 million five-year marine research and development programme announced earlier this year, will help to build up new knowledge and develop a new generation of marine scientists and researchers, said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

"As a low-lying island, global warming and the rise in sea levels and temperatures can pose huge challenges to our marine ecosystems," said Mr Teo.

"It is important for Singapore to build up a good understanding of tropical marine science and our marine environment."

Among the projects include one which will look into the composition of algal blooms in Singapore coastal waters. Led by Associate Professor Federico Lauro, associate chairman of the Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment, the project aims to understand how algae blooms rise and subsequently subside in tropical marine waters.

Monthly water samples will be collected from five sites with different oceanographic conditions before their DNA is sequenced.

The project could help to develop new tools that will be able to better predict the occurrence of algal blooms.

Another project by Assistant Professor Huang Danwei from the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences hopes to understand how coral reefs in Singapore have survived in one of the most urbanised habitats in the world.

Programme director of the Marine Science Research and Development Programme, Professor Peter Ng, said that the seven projects have gone through rigorous screening by local and international scientists, and are an "excellent kick-off" for the programme.

"Singapore is an island nation surrounded by the sea and a good part of our future will depend on it in one way or another," said Prof Ng, who is also head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"It is imperative to have a strong marine science anchor to ensure that we are ready for the many challenges to come."

During the event on Monday, DPM Teo added that the marine laboratory on St John's Island will be upgraded with new equipment to support emerging research areas. The lab, which was launched in 2002 as an NUS research facility, is now open to all researchers in Singapore and international partners.