October 2012
Contents / home
Peek into the real world of science
Honeybush research as a career
Quantum leap for Limpopo learner
National schools debates
Biotech at KZN Science Centre
SAASTA Annual Highlights Report
Mozambique exhibition
Science supports a dream
SAASTA hosts Critical Thinkers' Session
SAEON scientist responds to tragedy
Meet SAASTA's Moloko Matlala
iThemba LABS advances knowledge
SA Agulhas II momentous voyage
New guide for marine biodiversity
Youth Symposium
ZooClub wins gold at Eskom Expo
CARA clinics hook anglers
Skelton a Distinguished Old Rhodian
Mars may have "oceans" of water
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

A new guide for improving our knowledge of marine biodiversity

In October last year I joined the SAEON Egagasini team, primarily to assist with research and practical hands-on work needed in developing an offshore invertebrate identification guide.

The SAEON Egagasini Node, in collaboration with the Departments of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), is developing the guide to assist in the correct identification of common marine invertebrate species that occur in the demersal research trawl surveys.

During the annual demersal research survey, SAEON Intern Lauren Abrahams was responsible for the weighing and identification of all invertebrate species caught during trawls.
SAEON, DEA and DAFF are collaborating on a long-term monitoring programme to record all marine invertebrate species collected as part of the annual demersal research trawl surveys.

Prior to 2007, very few invertebrate species captured and landed during the demersal research surveys were recorded. SAEON, DEA and DAFF are working together towards implementation of a long-term monitoring programme to record and monitor all marine invertebrate species as part of the annual demersal research trawl surveys. Maintaining a long-term record of such information spanning the vast area covered by the annual surveys, will be of great value in gaining better knowledge of offshore marine biodiversity in South Africa.

I have primarily been assisting the project leader, Dr Lara Atkinson, with a wide range of tasks required in the compilation of the guide. Such tasks included conducting internet research on the taxonomy of specimens collected and consulting various identification guides available on marine invertebrates of Southern Africa. I have assisted in verifying scientific names of the specimens and compiling photographic and descriptive components for the guide. At times this proved to be challenging, but also exciting each time we found another clue that brought us closer to correctly identifying a specimen.

I spent hours looking through many different identification guides. Writing the detailed taxonomic descriptions was often complicated, but it has been enjoyable and absorbing work that proved to be very rewarding, especially when we finally discovered the correct name for a specimen.

Adding to the marine invertebrate reference collection

I regularly accessed the marine invertebrate reference collection housed at the South African Iziko Museum to verify the identification of specimens collected during the surveys. Through our collections, we have been able to accession several newly identified specimens and contribute additional material to the museum where there was previously poor representation. Working at the museum was always exciting, and although it was easy to get carried away with all the queries we had, we always seemed to come away with valuable information to improve the guide.

SAEON Egagasini's Lauren Abrahams (left), Catherine Browne (centre) and Dr Charles von der Meden with their exhibit at the Sea Point Research Aquarium during International Biodiversity Day.
Lauren accessed the marine invertebrate reference collection housed at the South African Iziko Museum to verify the identification of specimens collected during the surveys.

The use of local and international expert taxonomists to confirm problematic specimens has been an important component to ensure accurate information is captured in the guide. Specimens have been sent to local and international taxonomists, which required substantial research into ensuring that the appropriate packaging protocols were followed for transport of such specimens.

I experienced many frustrations in finding a way to send specimens, especially internationally, due to the nature of the specimens and the preservatives. Few courier companies are familiar with transporting research specimens that have been preserved in formalin and/or ethanol, and trying to explain that "I would like a quote to send preserved starfish to America so that experts there can tell me what they are called" can be rather challenging.

Participating in the annual demersal survey

As part of the Offshore Invertebrate Identification Guide project, I also participated in the annual demersal research survey conducted by DAFF to collect invertebrate specimens. During this survey I was responsible for the enumeration, weighing and identification of all invertebrate species caught during trawls. I was also required to keep careful photographic records of representative invertebrates from each trawl and appropriately label and preserve any specimens that had not previously been recorded or were needed for taxonomic verification.

Any new species recorded were then added into the guide with their correct identification, description and photograph. Spending time at sea is always rewarding and exciting, especially in getting first-hand experience in applying the identification guide and having to deal with all kinds of unexpected situations along the way. It was exciting finding species that were not yet included in the guide, and bringing them back to the office to investigate further.

My time at sea was a good learning experience, especially being responsible for the project during that time, which was daunting at first, but I embraced the opportunity to gain such experience.

By Lauren Abrahams, Intern, SAEON