Marine Science R&D Programme


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(Photo: Huang Danwei and Tropical Marine Science Institute)

The national Marine Science Research and Development (R&D) Programme (MSRDP) will integrate R&D in tropical marine science and promote active engagement of industry in the drive towards environmental and marine sustainability. It seeks to advance marine science research in Singapore by leveraging Singapore’s location in a region with rich marine biodiversity, to develop nationally relevant R&D and to build capabilities that would address the strategic needs of Singapore in the future.

MSRDP is launched in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS). To implement MSRDP successfully, NUS will work closely with partners in our R&D ecosystem, including the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The MSRDP will be led by Programme Director Professor Peter Ng Kee Lin from the Department of Biological Sciences at the NUS Faculty of Science. Prof Ng is also Head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and former Director of the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS.

The programme will leverage Singapore’s only offshore marine research facility, the St. John’s Island National Marine Laboratory (SJINML), whenever possible. SJINML has been Singapore’s key facility for inter-disciplinary marine research for 15 years, and was designated by NRF to become a National Research Infrastructure in March 2016.

Research Themes

Three research themes and one enabling technology theme for MSRDP were identified through discussions with academics, government agencies, stakeholders and industry players. These are:

  • Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity
    The Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity research theme seeks to understand and protect the marine ecosystems. MEB will lay the foundation for management and conservation of marine species and habitats, and provide the knowledge base to support proactive and strategic management decisions that will have to be made in years ahead.

  • Environment Impact and Monitoring
    The Environment Impact and Monitoring research theme aims to develop real-time monitoring techniques that are robust, sophisticated and time-sensitive, to capture ecosystem changes. This enables dynamic environmental impact assessments, which are evolving beyond simpler species-based or physical parameter-driven assessments, towards more sophisticated methods and predictive modelling that capture ecosystem changes. This will lead to more informed decisions and enable longer-term planning for development projects.

  • Coastal Ecological Engineering
    The Coastal Ecological Engineering research theme aims to rehabilitate and restore native biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, as coastal development works which modified or replaced Singapore coastlines may have disturbed our coastal ecosystems. It plans to develop solutions to mitigate and “soften” the impact of urban development works, such as designing coastal structures in novel ways to reduce wastage and increase biodiversity.

  • Marine Technology and Platforms
    The Marine Technology and Platforms theme, is about enabling technologies that connect the three research themes and create value. It encompasses the development of high-value novel materials, new processes and services such as integrated dynamic databases, novel marine-based tools, and facilitation of spin-off technologies and translational research.

Awarded Projects

A call for projects under MSRDP was launched in October 2015, and thirty white papers were received when the call closed. An international evaluation panel recommended awards to seven projects based on their quality and relevance to Singapore. The seven projects are: 

  1. Adaptation and resilience of coral reefs to environmental change in Singapore by Assistant Professor Huang Danwei from NUS’ Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science;

  2. Understanding the viral composition of phytoplankton blooms in Singapore coastal waters by Associate Professor Federico Lauro from the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Asian School of the Environment and Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering;

  3. Genomic and metabolomic approach to the discovery of functional metabolites from marine actinomycetes by Dr Tan Lik Tong from the National Institute of Education;

  4. Physical and biogeochemical effects of sediment transport on coral reefs by Associate Professor Nathalie Goodkin from NTU’s Asian School of the Environment and Earth Observatory of Singapore;

  5. Ecologically engineering Singapore’s seawalls to enhance biodiversity by Assistant Professor Peter Todd from NUS’ Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science;

  6. Tropical model marine organisms for experimental marine science by Dr Serena Teo, Senior Research Fellow from NUS’ Tropical Marine Science Institute and St. John's Island National Marine Laboratory; and

  7. A cross-discipline user-focused data management platform for data collected under MSRDP by Dr Sin Tsai Min from NUS’ Tropical Marine Science Institute.

Training and Research Opportunities 

NRF will invest $25 million over five years in the MSRDP. The programme targets to augment local talent development in marine science research by training research scientists, engineers, and PhD students in the field. There will also be internships and collaborative partnerships with industry for technology development and applications. 

The MSRDP is open to all publicly-funded researchers in Singapore, and could include partners who are international experts. 30 white-papers were received when the call for marine science projects was first launched, which led eventually to 16 formal proposals that are being evaluated. Successful proposals are expected to be awarded later in 2016. 

Some projects aligned with national initiatives will be pursued in collaboration with agencies like Housing & Development Board and National Parks Board, for example, to “soften” and improve our coastlines and better manage our coral reefs. There will also be an outreach component whereby the outcomes of the research will be shared with the public.


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