Monitoring Biodiversity in the Verde Island Passage

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The ocean has been a source of livelihood, scientific discoveries, and wonder for numerous generations. However, pressures from unrestricted human activities is posing a continued threat to the delicate ecological network. Understanding the interconnection between the ecosystem, the thousands of species living within it, and human activities can further efforts towards, ultimately, preserving this finite resource.

Last May 19 to June 4, De La Salle University and its partner institutions retrieved 30 Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), which were deployed in 2012 at the Verde Island Passage.

Situated between the provinces of Batangas, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon, the Verde Island Passage spans more than 1.14 million hectares and is deemed as the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity in the world. The passage is home to 1,736 species of marine species and has one of the largest concentrations of coral in the world.

The ARMS units used in the three year underwater study are meant to aid in the understanding of coral reef building in the marine ecosystem, mimic complex coral reef structures, and allow organisms to thrive in the makeshift reef.

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The ARMS Project team (Top L-R): Aaron Heartmann, Shannon Boyle, Max Sudnovsky, Mark Little, Rusty Brainard, Chris Meyer, & Aji Wahyu (Middle L-R): Jeanette Clark, Emma Ransome, Molly Timmers, Criselda Castor, Patrick Cordillo, & Yuli Syamsuni (Bottom L-R): Karen Perez, Sarahmae Buen, Lea Avilla, Andrianus Sembiring, Don Dumale, Marivene Santos, & Aleta Nunez.

DLSU’s partner institutions include the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Philippine National Museum of Natural History, the University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), the American government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Smithsonian Institute, United States Agency International Development (USAID), and the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC).

Using Anilao, Batangas as a center of operations, the retrieval team, composed of representatives from each of the partner institutions, retrieved one to four ARMS units per day. The units were disassembled and photographed with water and organism samples present in individual units delivered to DLSU’s Molecular Biology Unit for laboratory processing.

Headed by Dr. Ma. Carmen Ablan-Lagman of the biology department, extensive laboratory work consisting of decantation of sediment samples, DNA extractions, and metabolomics processing were applied to the collected material with the Philippine National Museum responsible for curating the collection of the sessile and motile samples for preservation and addition to the marine database of the Philippines. Tissues samples were also sent to the Smithsonian Institution for the further analysis.

The ARMS project is organized by the United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Smithsonian Institute, and the United States Agency International Development (USAID).


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