Boosting our marine sustainability efforts

28 Nov 2016. NUS marine researchers are boosting local marine research and sustainability efforts to cope with emerging challenges brought about by climate change and urbanisation.

Prof Peter TODD and Prof HUANG Danwei from the Department of Biological Sciences, NUS are strengthening our marine science research capabilities as part of the Marine Science Research and Development Programme funded by the Singapore National Research Foundation. Prof Todd is creating “green” seawalls on Singapore’s coastlines to enhance native marine biodiversity and improve ecosystem resilience to coastal development. Prof Huang is integrating historical and modern-day approaches to uncover the mechanisms coral reefs use to cope with urbanisation and deploy them as real-time biological monitors of ecosystem change.


Ecologically engineered seawalls to enhance biodiversity

Coastal urban development and climate change-associated threats have resulted in an increase in the construction of hard defences such as seawalls. These are generally rock or concrete structures emplaced along the shoreline to guard against coastal erosion and flooding. They are usually steep and do not function as surrogates for the natural habitats which they replace, resulting in the loss of ecosystem services and resilience.

Prof Todd is enhancing the native biodiversity on coastal defences in Singapore using ecological engineering principles. The research will develop future-ready "green" seawalls that can host a diverse array of native species with positive effects on neighbouring habitats, contributing to an overall increase in ecosystem resilience. These sustainable infrastructure designs will improve aesthetics, provide more green space, and ultimately lead to a more liveable city.

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Figure shows biomoss tiles used in performing large-scale field experiments. [Image credit: Lynette LOKE]


Adaptation and resilience of coral reefs to environmental change

Coral reefs around the world are facing dramatic declines due to many environmental stressors. Despite these impacts, Singapore’s reefs have managed to persist, with over 200 species of reef-building corals and about 200 species of fish documented on local reefs.

Prof Huang will be integrating historical and modern-day approaches to uncover the mechanisms reefs employ to cope with urbanisation. This is the first for a reef system. The research will reconstruct the genealogical and environmental history of Singapore’s reefs over the last few centuries by profiling coral communities (living and fossil) and their connections between populations. It will also cover the response of corals to various contemporary stress factors, focusing on the changes due to land reclamation and seabed dredging, which have led to losses of more than 60% of the original reef area and up to 37% of coral species. This research will reveal how coral reefs in local waters have continued to survive despite being in one of the most urbanised marine environments in the world.

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Figure of reef flat at Cyrene Reefs showing large corals with the highly urbanised Singapore coastline in the horizon. [Image credit: Huang Danwei]