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IOC Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC)

Advancing knowledge and cooperation for a healthy ocean and prosperous society

WESTPAC Scientists Step up Efforts in Taxonomy

QINGDAO – Scientists gathered recently in Qingdao, China on December 1, 2016, aiming to boost national and regional capacity for species identification, with the genetic method called “DNA Barcoding”.

This gathering marked the inception of the 2nd phase of the WESTPAC implemented DRMREEF-II project entitled “Enhance the Capacity for Species Identification and Genetic Analysis on Marine Organisms in the Coral Reef Ecosystems in the Western Pacific”.

In attendance at the workshop were seven institutes from six countries involved this project: Indonesian Institute of Science (Indonesia), Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia), Mindanao State University (Philippines), Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (Republic of Korea), Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Phuket Marine Biological Center (Thailand), and Institute of Oceanography (Vietnam).

Principal Investigator, Youn-Ho Lee from KIOST highlighted the accomplishments over the project first phase, and increasing demands of participating institutes to develop their capacity for using the genetic method for species identification.

“The results constitute a valuable component in the efforts to document and preserve the marine biodiversity,” he said.

“Compilation of taxonomy works is very challenging especially in the absence of a qualified taxonomist,” said Aileen Tan Shau Hwai, a Professor at the School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“The focus on DNA barcoding is indeed a useful tool especially for rapidly assigning unidentified specimens to known species,” she said.

“DNA barcoding effort for marine conservation and management in the Philippines still remains low, but the DRMREEF project is of great help because it targets the establishment of a database of classical taxonomy and DNA barcoding of 400 species in the Philippines and 2,000 species in Southeast Asia,” said Ephrime B. Metillo, a Professor at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.

“This project definitely serves as a catalyst for improving ‘taxonomic impediment’ in the region with the molecular technique providing a complementary tool to classic taxonomy” Wenxi Zhu, Head of the WESTPAC Office, said at the workshop.

He further stressed that “how decision-makers decide where to establish protected areas if they don’t know what is being protected? how can regulators identify and combat harmful invasive species if they cannot distinguish them from native species? Taxonomy provides basic understanding about the components of biodiversity which is necessary for effective decision-making about conservation and sustainable use, and ecosystem response to environmental change such as ocean acidification and climate change.”

With intensive and extensive discussions, an action plan was agreed upon for the second phase with enhanced efforts in integrating capacity building into research. A series of trainings will be organized at both regional and national level. The regional one will be conducted at the IOC Regional Training and Research Center on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health (RTRC-MarBEST) in 2017, and trainings at the national level will be initially organized at this phase at the WESTPAC Ocean Acidification pilot sites, respectively in Thailand and Vietnam in late 2017 and early 2018 in order to monitor the ecological impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs. The training will include the hands-on exercises on sample collection, DNA extraction, data analysis with data to be inputted to the national inventories of marine organisms living in the coral reef ecosystem and a pilot WESTPAC Biodiversity Portal Site.

For more information, please contact Wenxi Zhu at