Biologist and taxonomist Yves Samyn has been responsible for the invertebrate collections since 2012. From an early age, he knew that he wanted to be a marine biologist. “I went snorkelling in coral reefs on holidays with my parents and was immediately fascinated by the underwater fauna. It was only natural that I would go on to study biology.”

Yves Samyn, conservator of the invertebrates collection

This love of tropical marine fauna persisted: for his Masters thesis, at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, he travelled to Kenyan coral reefs to study the reproduction of two species of sea urchin. “It struck me that there were many groups that were barely described, so I decided to tackle one of the neglected groups: the sea cucumbers.” His doctorate was also on this group of animals, this time on species from the Indian Ocean. Here, they more rare: on the Belgian and Dutch coast there are only a handful of recorded species.

African researchers determining species
Taxonomy Worldwide

Yves joined the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in 2004, as head of the GTI (Global Taxonomy Initiative) National Focal Point. This global initiative has been gathering and promoting taxonomic knowledge since 1998, to enable authorities to make informed decisions on the protection of species and ecosystems. “Developing countries also need more expertise at home to do taxonomic work and manage collections well”, says Yves. He edits the journal Abc Taxa to make this knowledge available to everyone.

Yves Samyn taking notes on a sea cucumber species while diving

Today, Yves mainly conducts research on the specimens in “his” collections, and he can never get enough of his beloved sea cucumbers. “Some species are overfished, because in Asia they are sold in huge numbers as delicacies or aphrodisiacs. Using our rich collection, we have recently provided concise descriptions of these species and mapped their ranges in a book published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). We hope that fisheries and the public sector will now be better able to recognise these species and to manage catches more sustainably.”

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