Our latest expedition to the Philippines is a continuation of more than a century of Academy research in and around this nation of some 7,000 islands. Focusing exclusively on marine habitats near the apex of the Coral Triangle, a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and aquatic biologists will spend seven weeks in the first half of 2014 assessing and documenting the region's biodiversity—exploring dive sites and depths not yet studied.
New discoveries to be made
As species-rich as the Verde Island Passage region is thought to be, it's still largely unexplored. At the same time, the area is also under threat from overfishing, pollution, and climate change. The primary mission of this and near-future expeditions is to document the biodiversity here and to work with local people and governments to quickly establish conservation guidelines that will help protect these creatures and their habitats.
Knowing what's there is half the battle
We've learned a lot about the factors that contribute to marine biodiversity (from geological stability to deep currents that deliver nutrients), but our understanding of biodiversity itself—especially in mega-diverse areas like the Coral Triangle—is still in its infancy. Philippine coral reefs stands to revolutionize our thinking about marine biodiversity, but only if we, in collaboration with the Philippine people and government, move quickly to document and protect it.
Not all interesting dives are deep
June 6, 2014
After making a couple of general collections on shallow reefs—and doing some targeted collecting of particular species for population level studies in Calatagan—the “Fish Team” spent two hours snorkeling in shallow water (1 to 3 feet deep), checking out seagrass beds and mangrove areas for potential collecting sites. Cameras are usually left behind on the collecting trips themselves, so an outing like this provides a perfect opportunity for taking photos—just as Don Dumale (Ichthyologist at the Philippine National Museum) is shown doing here.
In sandy patches there were an abundance of gobies (Cryptocentrus sp., see photo below) sharing burrows with Alpheid shrimp; the goby stands watch while the shrimp excavates and maintains the burrow. Banded sea snakes were also with us; these cobra relatives are quite venomous and curious, but thankfully, not aggressive.
The very distinctive chocolate-chip starfish (Protoreaster nodosus) was present in the seagrass beds. There were also clusters of Diadema urchins with long needle-like spines that can easily pierce glove or wetsuit. Seeking refuge among the spines, much like an anemonefish does with its host’s tentacles, small scribbled rabbitfish (Siganus spinus) stayed safely out of reach.
Not all of the fishes and invertebrates are as easily seen. The bristle-tailed filefish (Acreichthys tomentosus) blends in beautifully with the seagrass; on sand in the photo below, you can see it more easily. The mangroves were shallower still—less than a foot deep in some places (and we weren’t even close to low tide). These areas in particular presented an unusual underwater landscape. To navigate the forest of vertical shoots, I used the well-worn foot trails that are exposed at low tide.
—Dave Catania, Senior Collections Manager, Ichthyology
Clockwise from top left: A mangroves-eye view; a goby in its burrow; a bristle-tailed filefish; a striped puffer (Arothron manilensis).
Admission to the California Academy of Sciences includes access to all museum and aquarium exhibits, including the rainforest, the planetarium, and the living roof.
At 25-feet-deep—and holding 212,000 gallons of water—the Academy’s Philippine Coral Reef exhibit is one of the deepest indoor displays of live corals in the world.
The Academy remains committed to supporting victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013. If you'd like to join us in supporting those affected by the storm, please consider making a donation to one of the following organizations: