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One of the most important tools in understanding the biology and environment of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean is a bank.
This particular institution, the Pacific Marine Specimen Bank (PMSB), has been slowly building its revenue of research currency – muscle, organ and bone samples, stomach contents, photographs, and radiographic images – since 2000.
It also collects samples from other large, oceanic species such as marlin and swordfish that are also economically valuable.The PMSB is managed by scientists in the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC). The datasets held in the bank help the scientists understand the world of tuna. Their knowledge forms part of SPC’s annual assessments of the state of health of tuna populations. In turn, the assessments are used to manage tuna fishing in the region.
Analysis of the specimens held in the bank also helps scientists understand how the climate crisis is influencing changes in the location of tuna and changes in their diet.
Specimen banks are important because they throw light on our understanding of current situations – and because scientists in the future can use the same samples to find answers to new questions or to ask the same questions using new techniques or research tools.
Four of the scientists involved in PMSB explained the difficulties of managing the specimen bank in the latest Fisheries Newsletter published by SPC.
One of the challenges the staff of PMSB face is ensuring that samples, which are collected all over the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, are kept in prime condition until they get to a permanent storage facility. Part of the scientists’ work is to prepare some samples to make it easier to transport them to analysis laboratories outside New Caledonia.
Much care goes into getting, storing, and transporting samples so they can be used for immediate research and analysis, and also in many years’ time.
This usually means that they have to be kept cold enough. Many samples can be kept at –20°C; however, those used in genetic analysis must be kept at –80°C. Freezers of the second kind are difficult to come by, and expensive to run.
Other tissue must be preserved in formalin and then transferred into ethanol.
The nine cubic metres of freezer space at the laboratory at SPC in Noumea is now too small to contain the growing collection. Although there are plans to enlarge it, research partners are also helping to house pieces of the collection in other parts of the region.
And SPC has funded the purchase of freezers in the main fishing ports in the region to that samples can be stored safely until they are transferred to their final destination.
In April, the PMSB contained nearly 120,000 samples collected from 34,000 specimens. Some national observer programs have participated in collecting samples for the bank since 2002.
Note: post updated 6 July 2020 to correct a spelling error.