Scientific activities

CREPSUM targets 4 key emergent scientific issues to realize healthy and sustainable ecosystems in SEA:

  1. Marine biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics

  2. Marine Pollution

  3. Physical Oceanography and modelling

  4. Social-ecological systems


  1. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics


The impacts of anthropogenic forcing on biodiversity are distinct in SEA marine ecosystems, a hot spot of marine biodiversity in the world. Many species become extinct before they are recorded. Despite their importance, the status and trend of biodiversity and the food-web structure are studied only in limited regions in SEA. It is labor-intensive and time-consuming work to comprehend biodiversity. However, the situation is now changing through the advancement of molecular techniques for species identification, i.e., metagenomics of environmental DNA (eDNA) by means of high-throughput DNA sequencers and open data-bases of DNA. A DNA database need to be enhanced. The results obtained from taxonomical studies should be published as field guides and/or printed and mobile/digital picture books for supporting scientific and citizen science activities as well as enhancing DNA data-bases.

In SEA, processes and mechanisms of ecosystem change are severely understudied due to high biodiversity and complex food-web structure, lack of funding, and limited specialists. Without the knowledge, it is hard to develop a strategy for conservation and management of marine ecosystems, including fisheries management, marine spatial planning, restoration of degraded ecosystems, and countermeasures of global warming. Understanding the process and mechanisms of ecosystem change under natural and anthropogenic perturbations is the priority of SEA marine ecosystem study in the Anthropocene. To overcome this situation, it is important to invest human resources in Intensive Observation Sites (INOSs) in each member country and/or specific ecosystem, such as coral reef, seagrass bed, sandy beach, etc.

Observation and experimental equipment, skills, and human resources are to be fully added to the campaign under the international collaboration. The overview of the end-to-end ecosystem with physical and chemical characteristics of the INOSs could be a benchmark of marine ecosystem studies in SEA, and the experience of interdisciplinary and international collaboration, including both best-practice and obstacles, could be transferred to field campaigns in other INOSs. It should be noted that the preparation of documentary and logistic support for the scientists of each country is in accordance with the laws and rules of scientific observation and biological sampling in international collaboration.



1.1         Conduct an inventory of biodiversity in SEA by means of eDNA and a morphological taxonomy.

1.2         Enhance the DNA database.

1.3         Increase the capacity to use the eDNA technique and other new technology as well as morphological taxonomy.

1.4         Establish Intensive Observation Sites (INOSs) to comprehensively understand the ecosystem structure, process, and mechanisms of change. Share the obtained results and best practice for interdisciplinary and international collaboration, as well as difficulties, between INOSs. 

1.5         Disseminate scientific results from the INOSs campaign to support citizen science and educational activities through a website, field guides, printed and digital books


2. Marine Pollution

Marine chemical pollution by human activities is one of the most serious problems in SEA marine ecosystems. In particular, eutrophication caused by industrial, agricultural and residential waste induces hypoxia and harmful algal blooms (HABs) which degrade marine ecosystem services with wide societal impacts including human health. Eutrophication also degrades coral reef ecosystems and induce jellyfish bloom that impacts fishery production, power plant operation, and tourism. Plastic pollution is becoming a global concern, and SEA is a major source of plastic debris in the world.

To understand the status of eutrophication and hypoxia and to improve water quality in the coastal SEA, it is essential to monitor water quality and nutrient dynamics, as well as the impact on marine ecosystems. Numerical modelling is useful in understanding the mechanisms of hypoxia and its propagation.

SEA is a major contributor to marine plastic pollution. Initiatives to examine the present status (e.g., concentration, size of the plastic, sources) and the impacts of marine plastic pollution on marine ecosystems are growing. The other concern about plastic pollution is the influence of chemicals (e.g., PCB) absorbed from plastic by marine organisms and ecosystems. We need to evaluate not only the direct impact of feeding microplastic but also the indirect impact through absorbed chemicals. New techniques such as transcriptomic analysis and RNA sequencing could be applied to identify pollution makers and gene and metabolic responses to chemical pollutants.



2.1         Investigate mechanisms that give rise to hypoxia by coupling with field observations and ocean circulation model.

2.2         Promote the study of biology and ecology of HAB species, especially taxonomy, and physiology

2.3         Develop a basic technique for early warning system of hypoxia and HABs by means of easy detection techniques of HAB species, monitoring, and mathematical models.

2.4         Enhance monitoring of macro- and microplastic pollution and exchange the information as part of the on-going scheme of international collaboration.

2.5         Develop chemical pollution markers of plastic debris using model organisms, and investigate the direct (e.g. feeding, entanglement) and indirect (e.g., absorbed chemicals) impacts of plastic pollution on marine organisms and ecosystems.

2.6         Establish international network to enhance educational and capacity building activities for marine chemical pollution issues. 


3.           Physical Oceanography and modelling

In marine ecosystems, dissolved and particulate matters, including plankton, are advected and diffused by ocean currents. Understanding physical process is essential to reproduce the past and to forecast the future of marine ecosystem issues, such as eutrophication, hypoxia, HABs, plastic pollution, and recruitment of fish larvae. Physical circulation models coupled with an ecosystem model or particle tracking model are key tools for understanding local and regional dispersion/expansion of emerging issues. At the same time, physical oceanographic observation is essential to develop and validate the model, and data-assimilation based on monitoring can reproduce realistic ocean physical phenomena. It is expected to develop regional oceanographic models at INOSs, to understand the dynamics of marine ecosystems and the mechanisms of change. The physical oceanographic models will accelerate the accumulation of knowledge obtained from different disciplinary sciences. Enhancement of the capacity to develop and/or utilize physical oceanographic models is also essential because the number of mathematical modelers are insufficient to examine the physical processes of important marine ecosystems in the SEA.



3.1         Develop high-resolution physical oceanographic models with chemical and biological components for each key area of eutrophication, hypoxia, and plastic pollution.

3.2         Develop a monitoring system for physical oceanographic properties and undertake interdisciplinary observation for data assimilation of the model.

3.3         Enhance capacity to develop and use physical oceanographic models through training courses and educational visits in institutes with advanced modeling capabilities.


4.           Social-ecological systems

To reach the goal of the Ocean Decade and SDG14, we need to change our society and encourage people to use marine ecosystems in sustainable ways. To achieve these changes in SEA, understanding the social/economic/legal background of marine sectors in each country is one of the most important prerequisites.

To solve social-ecological issues, the collaborative research of scientists and stakeholders (co-design, co-research and co-delivery) is an effective approach. Several conditions are important for effective collaborative research: 1) the social literacy of marine ecosystems, such as ecosystem services, ecosystem structure, mechanism of change, resiliency and vulnerability, and 2) effective outreach so that scientific knowledge is shared with decision makers, stakeholders and the general public.

Because ecological and social systems are both inherently fluctuating, and our knowledge of these systems is still limited, an adaptive approach (or so-called PDCA cycle) is indispensable. Citizens can participate in monitoring and data collection activities, as well as the interpretation of scientific knowledge for adaptive management. Citizen science is an effective approach to collect data, enhance scientific literacy, and increase social participation as part of the collaborative research and to achieve SDG 14.



4.1         Enhance understanding about the social background (legal, economic, cultural, etc.) of Southeast Asian countries’ marine sectors.

4.2         Develop effective marine science outreach, and enhance the scientific literacy of society.

4.3         Facilitate citizen science for data-collection, monitoring, and the interpretation of marine science for society