Discovering Marine Biology


Our planet Reviewed at Madang Festival, Papua New Guinea by Juliette Gorson and Mande Holford

     Saturday, November 24th, 2012, was a day of celebration in Madang, Papua New Guinea. Clans from the coastal and mountain regions of Papua New Guinea gathered on the Madang soccer field to showcase their traditional heritage in a vibrant display of colorful paint and decorative plant leaves, feathers and shells. The international expedition to PNG, Our Planet Reviewed, was invited to participate in the Madang Festival. Mande and Juliette led thirteen scientists and eight PNG students from the expedition to set up a booth (which looked like a hut) that included activities for local Madang children and adults to learn about our expedition, the importance of biodiversity, and see some of the marine animals we’ve collected so far. Our booth had four stations: (1) A microscope station that allowed locals to use tweezers to pick up micromollusks and explore the intricate bodies of starfish, sand dollars, and cone snails. (2) A drawing station where children made watercolored and pencil drawings of their favorite organisms. (3) A literature station of books about our expedition, previous campaigns to Santo, and the marine fauna of the Indo Pacific. And (4) a sieving station that helped explain the process we use to sieve different sediments to find macro samples.

     More than 300 children and adults visited our booth to learn about the expedition, ask questions, and play games with the scientists and students. The drawing station was a particularly special attraction as local Madang children under the guidance of natural history artist, Mali Mori, and University of PNG student, Grace Nugi, drew strikingly accurate images of mollusks and crustaceans collected from Rempi and the Madang Harbor. At the microscope station, adults and children were instructed on how to properly use a microscope, using both eyes, to view the diversity of micromollusks found in a sand fraction from Tab Island. It was a treat for the locals, who are familiar with some of the larger marine animals, to get a “closer” look at smaller sand dwelling organisms. MNHN PhD student LeeAnn Galindo had a captivated audience of children with her throughout most of the day as she played the “Who want to be a Scientist?” game of identifying a sea slug to genus and species level using a live Plakobranchus Sp. specimen and dichotomous key ID books. Plakobranchus Sp. is from the family Plakobranchidae. These sea slugs feed on green algae and sequester live chloroplasts in the parapodia tissue int he center of their bodies. Visitors to our booth were excited to learn fun animal facts about Plakobranchus Sp. and that starfish “throw up” their stomachs in order to consume their food. When certain words or concepts were lost in translation from English to Pisin, the local PNG language, our local PNG students Clemetine Sesega and Elaine Aquila quickly jumped in to clear the language barrier.

     When not in the booth, scientists and students explored the Madang festival to learn about some of PNG’s traditions. One of the most fascinating aspects of the festival was the distinctive and varying outfits worn by the tribal clans. Each village paraded into the festival with a tribal dance and chant that left us in awe. Other attractions included the climbing of a greased pole to obtain prized and multiple other booths that contained information about Madang, baked goods/food, jewelry, and clothing. Madang festival 2012 was an exciting opportunity for our researchers to mingle with locals and experience Madang, PNG in a unique way.

Holford Laboratory at CUNY Hunter College