Students get their feet wet on Ocean Sampling Day

AS A former Italian national sailor, Associate Professor Federico Lauro has long been fascinated by the sea and still explores its depths - albeit as an academic.

Yesterday, Prof Lauro, who is with the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), led 11 other researchers and 18 students at the Ocean Sampling Day event. It was the second time NTU was taking part in this initiative.

This year, students joined the researchers for the first time as part of a "citizen science" approach, to collect marine samples. Said Prof Lauro: "I chose to involve students because they are the next generation of stewards for ocean health."

The annual global campaign involves people collecting samples at more than 190 sites simultaneously across the world.

It aims to collect data on the world's oceans, such as the creatures that live in them, water temperatures and salinity, and microbial diversity. This cumulative sample data will be made available to the public and enable researchers to better study a greater range of topics, such as climate change.

Yesterday, the participants gathered samples from the Singapore Strait and the shores of Kusu Island, St John's Island, Pasir Ris beach, Raffles Marina and Changi beach.

In all, they collected 70 litres of water in buckets before pumping it through a microfilter to collect tiny organisms called microbes. There are up to a million such organisms in 1mm of sea water. The microbes will then be frozen and stored, before their DNA is studied.

These organisms are crucial to human beings, said Prof Lauro, as half of the oxygen in the air that humans breathe comes from microbes in the ocean.

Ms Deborah Loke, 20, one of the student participants, said: "We should care about the oceans because they are an indicator of what we do on land - our urban development affects the oceans as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Students get their feet wet on Ocean Sampling Day'. Subscribe