By ESTHER AU YONG
IN FUTURE, visitors to Underwater World Singapore may be able to see beautiful corals that it has reared, and learn about the coral reproductive stages without getting wet. It hopes to rear juvenile corals and put these marine animals on display as part of its public-education programme.
Its assistant curator, Mr Roy Yeo, 32, said: "We hope to also be able to raise the public's awareness that Singapore's waters (are) rich in biodiversity and that we should do our part in preserving it."
In the long run, Underwater World Singapore hopes to conduct coral-breeding programmes, re-introduce corals into the wild and play a role in future coral-reef restoration here.
Representatives from Underwater World Singapore, including Mr Yeo, are among 18 scientists and researchers learning coral-rearing and reproduction techniques at a workshop being held in Singapore and South-east Asia for the first time.
The participants come from all over the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in the United States and the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands.
In the eight-day workshop, which ends today, they went on dive trips off Raffles Lighthouse on Singapore's southern coast to see coral spawning - the release of bundles of egg and sperm into the sea by corals.
They also collected these bundles for their breeding programmes and research.
The workshop was scheduled to coincide with the yearly mass coral spawning here, first documented only in 2002.
The parcels of egg and sperm float to the surface, where fertilisation occurs if they mix.
A microscopic larva then forms and settles on a hard surface, like a rock. It transforms into a sedentary coral polyp, which multiplies to form a colony. Only one in thousands of eggs completes this process, with the rest being eaten by fish and other marine life.
Participants also attended lectures on coral-conservation issues and laboratory sessions on sexual coral-reproduction techniques at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Tropical Marine Science Institute's field station on St John's Island.
Mr Yeo said learning these techniques will raise the chances of coral-larva survival in specially designed and monitored aquarium environments.
The workshop was organised by NUS and Sexual Coral Reproduction (Secore), a non-profit network of public aquariums and coral scientists with expertise in coral-reef conservation.
It was funded by the Building with Nature programme, an applied-research programme initiated by the Dutch dredging industry, and administered by EcoShape, a foundation set up to coordinate over 15 partner institutes in the programme.
Visiting scientists and researchers were impressed by the coral spawning they saw here.
Mr Michael Laterveer, 46, of the Rotterdam Zoo, said that during his dives, he managed to see "multiple species of coral spawn over several nights, which was amazing".
Dr James Guest, 38, of the NUS, who was the first person to document coral spawning here and has studied it for the past eight years, said this bodes well for Singapore.
He said: "The number of coral species here that reproduce at around the same time is as high as on other Indo-Pacific reefs, like the Great Barrier Reef... "(This shows) how rich Singapore's natural heritage is. Diverse, functional and fascinating coral reefs, that people would normally associate only with countries like Australia, occur right on our doorstep."
For more my paper stories click here.