Rich Ross

Burdened with glorious purpose

Steinhart Aquarists head to the Philippines

From TONMO

The 212,000 gallon reeftank will soon be getting new additions - photo by Tim Wong


Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences have launched the most comprehensive scientific survey effort ever conducted in the Philippines, documenting both terrestrial and marine life forms from the tops of the highest mountains to the depths of the sea. They will be joined by colleagues from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, the Philippines National Museum and the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, as well as by a team of Academy educators who will work to share the expedition’s findings with local community and conservation groups. The expedition, which will conclude with a symposium at the University of the Philippines on June 8, is funded by a generous gift from Margaret and Will Hearst.

“The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth,” says Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition. “Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we expect to find dozens of new species as we survey the country’s reefs, rainforests, and even the ocean floor. The species lists and distribution maps that we create during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival.”

The expedition’s shallow water team will conduct most of their research off the coast of Batangas Province on Luzon Island, in an area called the Verde Island Passage. Past research by scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and other institutions has suggested that this area is the “center of the center of marine biodiversity,” home to more documented species than any other marine habitat on Earth. However, many new species remain to be discovered—Academy scientists regularly find at least one new species on every dive in this area. During the expedition, the participating scientists will conduct side-by-side surveys of marine protected areas and non-protected areas to help the government determine how successful their current conservation plans are at fostering biodiversity.

“The expedition’s results will help our government better promote integrated coastal resource management,” said Malcom Sarmiento, Director of the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “The data they collect will also help us decide if and where to establish new sanctuaries.”

Of particular interest to the reefkeeping community will be the Steinhart Aquariums additions to the expedition. From May 10 through May 26 2011 Bart Shepherd, Richard Ross and Matt Wandell will survey and document the dive sites that served as the inspiration for the Steinhart Aquarium’s 212,000 gallon Philippine Coral Reef exhibit. They will also will responsibly collect coral, cephalopods and other invertebrates for captive propagation, research and display at our Golden Gate Park facility. As the the only public aquarium permitted to collect stony corals in the Philippines, the three are excited to obtain these unique species for study, captive culture research, and to display for visitors. California Academy of Sciences staff and our Filipino colleagues are able to support aquarium trade needs with minimal impact. Look for new additions to the Coral Reef and Rainforest exhibits.

For more information, please see http://www.calacademy.org/science/hearst/


Coral fragments collected in PI by Steinhart biologists in 2009 have grown to more than twice what is pictured here. In 2011, more coral will be collected for culture, display and sharing with other institutions.