There is no question now that the Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot. That is, it is one of the world’s biologically richest countries with a significant share of endemic species.
No bigger than a Philippine centavo.
By Jaymee T. Gamil
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26-Jun-2011
A recent expedition of international and local scientists yielded previously undocumented wildlife species, both in land and water, and even along the shorelines. After more than a month documenting wildlife in Luzon’s mountains and waters, 31 scientists from the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) and 12 local counterparts from the University of the Philippines, among others, presented the expedition’s initial findings in a symposium at UP Diliman recently. The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition is the first expedition to study simultaneously marine and terrestrial habitats in the Philippines. It covered, beginning on April 26, Lake Taal, Anilao and the Verde Island Passage in Batangas, and the mountains of Makiling in Laguna, Banahaw in Quezon, Malarayat in Batangas and Isarog in Bicol.
Unknown and undocumented
They said that diving the shallow waters of Batangas alone yielded wildlife either unknown to the scientists or previously undocumented in the Philippines. "We saw at least 30 new species of barnacles; more than 50 new species of nudibranchs (sea slugs); 45 sea urchins and sand dollars, six of which have never been recorded in the Philippines, one or two probably new; one new species of eel; and one new pipe fish,” reported Terrence Gosliner, the CAS dean of Science and Research Collections and leader of the expedition’s shallow water team. Added Richard Mooi, CAS curator of invertebrate zoology who joined the expedition’s deep water team: “We found 500 [wildlife] species in eight days, while trawling the deep sea. Some species we couldn’t yet identify on the ship, but 75 to 100 species are brand new and have never been seen before.”
200 species of worms
“We found 200 species of worms, and I won’t be surprised if 40 to 50 turned out to be new to science. We collected 150 crustacean species, somewhere around 18 to 20 may be new to science. There were so many different kinds of starfish, there are undoubtedly new species, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 species which I collected,” Mooi said. “We collected 50 different fish families, 74 genre, identified 94 species. We need better facilities to determine what the others are,” said David Catania, senior collection manager of the CAS Department of Ichthyology, who was with the expedition’s deep sea team. Gosliner expressed amazement that after 20 years of studies on the Philippine coral reef triangle, of which the Verde Island Passage is a part, “we still keep finding new things. This included soft corals, hair-like urchins, cat sharks and predatory worms not previously known to the Philippines.
Two marine creatures were confirmed to be new species: a polychaete (marine worm) that spreads sperm as it swims, and a flat, minute starfish, no bigger than a centavo, which lives exclusively on wood. The scientists didn’t even need to look far to make exotic discoveries. One unknown species of sea urchin was simply plucked from the waters off a resort. “Mooi was trying to find a common sea urchin, picked it up and he realized he never saw it before. Serendipity plays a large role in what we do. There are so many treasures that can be found here,” Gosliner said. Catania, in collecting fish specimens, also employed a simple “tried and true” method: visiting the local fish market. “We brought back 30 specimens, 29 additional species for our records,” he said.