New marine climate science programme in S'pore to call for proposals in November

Mangroves are considered a nature-based solution to help mankind mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As a small island nation surrounded by the sea, Singapore is vulnerable to changes in the realm of the blue as the world warms.

Sea level rise brought about by the melting of land ice, for instance, is a major threat for the low-lying country.

A warming ocean could also result in more frequent harmful algae blooms, which could kill fish in kelongs here and affect the Republic's food security.

But Singapore is taking steps to better understand how climate change could impact the marine environment, with the Government launching a call for research proposals under the new Marine Climate Change Science programme in November.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said during a marine science symposium on Thursday (Sept 16): "We will study the impact of climate change on our marine ecosystems, such as rising sea levels, increasing sea surface temperatures and extreme storm events, and how we can overcome these challenges in a sustainable manner, such as by using nature-based solutions to protect our coasts against rising sea levels."

Mangroves, for example, are habitats that stand where the sea meets land, and are considered a nature-based solution to help mankind mitigate and adapt to the changing climate.

Mangrove trees have complex root systems that enable them to trap sediment from the tides as they ebb and flow, and allow them to keep pace with sea level rise if the rate of increase is not too rapid.

These habitats also have the ability to store large amounts of carbon in the mud - keeping it from entering the atmosphere and trapping more heat on the planet.

The $25 million Marine Climate Change Science programme, first announced in March, is led by the National Parks Board and involves Government agencies, research institutes and industry partners.

The November grant call for the new programme comes as the Marine Science Research and Development Programme, an initiative launched in 2016, draws to a close.

The earlier programme, also funded to the tune of $25 million, was helmed by the National Research Foundation and had a broader scope, funding research into various topics.

Thirty-three initiatives were funded under the earlier programme, with research projects on various topics such as biodiversity, including horseshoe crabs and coral reefs, as well as the marine microbial world.

Mr Lee cited one project under the earlier programme by National University of Singapore (NUS) Professor Peter Todd on special tiles that can be installed on existing seawalls to host native species and boost the resilience of the overall marine ecosystem.

NUS will work with the Housing Board to install more than 3,000 of these "green" seawall tiles around Pulau Tekong to enhance its coastal marine biodiversity, said Mr Lee.

Another project by Nanyang Technological University Professor Federico Lauro and biotech firm Oxford Nanopore Technologies involved the development of a rapid and accurate method to characterise phytoplankton or algal blooms in Singapore.

"Algal blooms pose a health risk to beach visitors as well as marine life, and can also seriously impact our fish farmers," said Mr Lee.

The Marine Science Research and Development Programme was led by Professor Peter Ng, a crab expert who heads the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS.

Thanking Prof Ng for his efforts and mentorship, Mr Lee said: "His efforts helped to foster a strong spirit of close collaboration throughout the research community."

The Marine Climate Change Science programme has a more focused scope on combating climate change.

The oceans cover more than 70 per cent of the planet's surface. The bounty in their depths helps to feed mankind through fisheries, while the weird and wonderful creatures that swim in the seas help spark the imagination.

But the oceans are also crucial in helping to regulate the global climate - absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans spew into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned.

Ocean chemistry and circulation patterns help bring the carbon deep into the oceans, locking it away from the atmosphere and preventing more carbon dioxide from trapping more heat.

At Thursday's event, Mr Lee said marine science research is particularly important for Singapore, which has to balance the conservation of its rich marine habitats with its shipping hub status.

The event was attended by marine science researchers, representatives from the marine industry and government officials.

Mr Lee said the Republic also has to deal with problems such as marine pollution with its neighbours.

"We have a strong responsibility to protect our coastal and marine habitats, and the research community plays an instrumental role in this," he said.

"With your help, we can more accurately model and predict environmental changes across a range of scientific and geographical considerations which in turn helps us to develop better ways of safeguarding our marine environment and biodiversity."

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