Feb 24, 2007

Chek Jawa (24 Feb 07) Our First Monitoring!

A glorious sunny blue-sky morning on Chek Jawa for our very first Real Monitoring session!

After an early morning start, we are divided into two teams. Here's Team A all raring to go, although it looks like Siti is stifling a yawn? :-)Team B had to walk a longer bit out to the northern bar. But they certainly are bright and awake!Everyone quickly got down to monitoring and it was soon done!

We spent the rest of the low tide exploring Chek Jawa.

It was Slug Season! There were zillions of Hairy sea hares (Bursatella leachii)!! It was almost impossible to walk without squashing them, so we had to be VERY careful. In some places, they gathered in writhing masses.The hairy sea hare (left) has delicate blue spots and seems to be seasonal. I've seen them in huge numbers for a few weeks and never again for the rest of the year. There was also another kind of sea hare (right) that was smooth. Still not really sure what this is, but I've seen this also on our Southern shores.The weirdest Find of the Day was this Unidentified Worm.At first glance, I thought it was a very large peanut worm. But a closer look clearly shows that it wasn't one. It had this strange spoon-like structure at one end.

When I got home, quickly flipped through my invertebrate bible and lo and behold! It's probably an echiuran or spoon worm. A spoon worm has a spoon-thing, called a protomium, is found in front of the mouth and is not retractible. The protomium can extend up to 10 times its retracted length, in some species, reaching 2m long! In most, the protomium is used to gather edible bits from the surface.

Many live in U-shaped burrows in shallow water, others in rock or coral crevices. Apparently, echiurans may be important food for some fishes. In a study of Leopard sharks off California, large, meaty spoon worms were found to be their favourite food.

Here's a drawing of a burrowing echiuran called the Landlord worm found in the U.S. east coast (Taken from Barnes' Invertebrate Zoology). Apparently, its burrow is so comfy that tiny clams and crabs quickly settle in with the worm.

I wonder what our spoonworm does? Lots more to find out about our shores!

Today, TeamSeagrass had a special treat as Dr Dan and his students from Duke University joined us. Dr Chua Ee Kiam was also with us, fresh from completing his new book about our shores: Singapore's Splendours: Life on the Edge which was presented to Dr Dan and team.Ron kena arrowed to guide them again. He introduced Chek Jawa, and one of the students picked up Ron's chopstick approach from our last trip to Sisters Island with Dr Dan and gang. Dr Dan pointed out mating hermit crabs and other interesting happenings on the shores.Ron managed to show them a few carpet sea anemones and several species of sea cucumbers that survived the recent mass deaths. Dr Dan also did a thorough check on the shore and shared his insights on his all-new 'Dr Dan in Singapore' blog in an entry entitled: Will Chek Jawa Rebound?

The Duke students documented the entire trip; from the bumboat, to the van, and all the habitats on Chek Jawa! They have also set up a blog about their Singapore stay: Duke students in Singapore. There's interesting comments there about durians, NEWater and other quirky Singapore things. They've called themselves the Ais Kachang gang!

After the trip, everyone lent a hand washing up the metres and metres of tape. It was done in a few minutes! This is a great help as otherwise, poor Shufen and Weiling have to spend hours washing up all the tape. Andy suggested we use a bucket next time to save water. A great idea!

Famished, we hopped back to Changi and hunkered down to lunch. Everyone introduced the students to some Lunar New Year raw-fish and chilli crab!

More photos and stories about our day out on the wildfilms blog by Cynthia (who was literally left holding the bags as the rest of the wildfilms crew were arrowed for other jobs today. Apologies once again Cynthia).

More about the hit-and-'Ron' fish on Ron's tidechaser blog as well as more about his time with Dr Dan and gang. And Dickson shares his encounters on the blue heaven blog. While Mr Budak shares a more poignant view of Chek Jawa on his budak blog

The day before, some of us went down to reset the monitoring markers.Siti, Wei Ling and Shufen worriedly examined the rather sad state of the Ribbon seagrass (Cymodocea rotundata). These seagrasses are now rather skinny and sparse, following the recent mass deaths.

But we found lots of the special tiny rare seagrass (Halophila beccarii) near the Team A monitoring zone! No need to hike all the way to the north to find them! (Sorry Len and Rudi, for making you trudge all the way there during your last trip).You can see here, how tiny these special seagrasses are, compared to the more commonly encountered Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis).

What a fabulous monitoring session we had!

Thank you Team Seagrassers: Andy, Jingkai, May Yee, Dickson, Faizah, Helen, Marcus, Vyna, Paula, Sheryl, Tze Chien, Sijie, Chay Hoon and Annabelle.

And Dr Dan and friends for coming along for the trip and making it extra special.

And Ron for guiding Dr Dan; Alvin and Cynthia for filming us; Dr Chua for photographing us and Mark from Ubin NParks for looking after us. Colin came to help with the pre-monitoring set up even though he had twisted his ankle, while Kevin took leave to help. And Wilson helped on monitoring day.

Thank you everyone! Couldn't have done it without all of you.

Looking forward to the next monitoring trip! Sign up for upcoming trips on the TeamSeagrass database!

Feb 11, 2007

Square and Highly Strung

No, we're not talking about team members (although some of us ARE highly strung :-)

We're talking about our lovely seagrass transect squares. Due to the overwhelming response of volunteers, we could line up lots of trips ahead. Thus, we need lots more of these lovingly handcrafted pieces of equipment.A few volunteers gathered on 10 Feb (Sat) to work some magic on these mundane things.

While half of us were human clamps, the other half did the hard work.

CK (above), James and Kevin did the manly task of drilling the umpteen tiny holes. If a few extra holes got accidentally drilled into the furniture, we decided we would blame it on termites. James got so much into drilling that he offered to drill ventilation holes in the chairs.Then everyone got busy with the strings. Which wasn't as straightforward as it first appeared. There was much fiddling around as to (a) how to get the strings through the tiny holes? (b) what kind of knots to use? (c) who's got the scissors already?!With good company and many swift hands, the bare squares were soon nicely strung up.Shufen reminded everyone to make sure the strings were taut. To which I added "It's the taut that counts!" to groans all round. Shufen quickly added that the men should NOT make them too taut, as she discovered they tended to pull the strings so taut that the squares became rather rhomboid.

Within a little more than an hour, we got a nice stack of new transect squares! All ready for our many upcoming trips with the very many enthusiastic volunteers! Just remember to treat those squares with care. They sure take a lot of effort to make.

Thanks to everyone who came to help Kevin, Dickson, Anil, Gaytri, Kah Chine, Lai Mun and especially James and CK who brought along impressive tools and much needed crafting skills.

Feb 8, 2007

Seagrassers of the World!

Wow, TeamSeagrass is featured several times in the Jan-Feb 2007 gallery of the Seagrass Watch International website!

Go visit the website and see some of the TeamSeagrass blog stories and photos reproduced for everyone to share in our adventures ... cool!

Here's what some other Seagrassers elsewhere in the world were up to while we were mucking around on our seagrass meadows...

On Green Island, Queensland, they perservered through heavy rain and less than ideal tides (sigh, we know what that's like too).

On Shelly Beach, Queensland, they did monitoring at 3am! In torrential rain! Wow!

One day, we shall try that too on our shores. The morning part lah, not the torrential rain.

Fiji must be seagrass heaven!
Look at that lovely seagrass in that lovely water!

Feb 4, 2007

Semakau: Stuff of dreams and then some...

Pulau Semakau. Better known as our nation's landfill but home to a vast meadow of seagrass, stretching over 2km in length.When we at Team Seagrass think of Pulau Semakau, its with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension. Eagerness because it never fails to fascinate us - Semakau is never run-of-the-mill - and apprehension because one can never hope to cover the whole shore during the short span of a low tide. A trip to Semakau leaves one exhausted but aching for more; we're always wishing we had just a little more time to walk that little bit more.

To get to Pulau Semakau, we take a boat from West Coast Pier. Never happy just twiddling our thumbs, Team Seagrass gets right to work on the boat labelling the aluminium stakes that are to mark our transect points at the three (yes, THREE) sites at Semakau.
Many hands make for light work, so Cheng Puay, Shufen, Wei Ling, Robin, Andy and CK chipped in with the labelling.

The water was still pretty high when we got to Semakau, but undeterred, we jumped right in, or rather, climbed down a ladder off the boat into the cool waters of Pulau Semakau.
(This picture is from Swee Cheng, who was one of the first to get off the boat in search of his sponges)

After a good many 'Ohhhh man! The water is cold!'s we waded across the flat in search of drier place.
And then, calamity struck. Nor Aishah felt something heavy fall on her foot. Initially, we thought it was nothing because there wasn't a hole in her bootie, but then she started feeling faint and her lips turned blue, never a good sign folks! Seemingly intact bootie aside, there was indeed, a hole in her foot. Ouchie! After much deliberation, we boiled it down to a sting ray and after a good dose of 'Stingoes(TM)' to the hole, I applied a pressure bandage.This demonstrates beautifully, the wonders of having a first aid kit and first aider on hand. They're even trained to provide "reassurance and support" to the victim and fashion a way to keep a swollen foot elevated from ordinary objects like waterproof dive bags! Here I am, 'reassuring' Nor Aishah that she's (probably) not going to cark it.It of course helps that the victim is not screaming her head off and completely freaking out. Nor Aishah seemed to be taking the hole in her foot pretty well and even assured us that she'll be ok to sit around till we're done setting up transect points.

In hindsight I think she was just delirious ;) She was attracting the attention of all sorts of venomous creatures that day, including this Dog-faced watersnake. Apparently this one is apparently only mildly venomous.But like I said, Semakau is HUGE and time and tide doesn't wait for no man, woman or Team Seagrass, so after giving Nor Aishah an emergency whistle with the instructions "blow if you're being attacked/feel faint/are dying", we set off to set up our three sites.The plan was to set up one site and leave a few people to do the monitoring while we set up the other two sites. Here, we've set up PS-site 2 and Helen, Cheng Puay and Siti Nurbaya start monitoring the seagrasses.Semakau has a whole host of seagrasses, all of which look similar to Enhalus acoroides because they grow SO BIG! The one in the picture above is Cymodocea serrulata. Note the v-shaped leaf scar which is the defining feature for this species according to "Seagrasses of the Indo-West Pacific" and how the leaf blades fan out instead of growing straight out.

The order of the day was hammering the tagged stakes in...
(Shufen prays I don't decapitate her by accident)

Laying out the transect tapes...
And recording the GPS reading of transect start and end points for future reference. Here, Wei Ling records the GPS reading at the start point...
While Shufen and CK make the end-point readings
Andy does his version of a beach clean-up called "ridding Semakau of fish-traps"
Some of the old drift nets however, are really big and have pretty much become part of the landscape. The one on the left is overrun with algae, while the one on the right seems to be newly laid down.Special finds of the day include Ria's Dardanus hermit crab. She disturbed it trying to feed on a Noble volute. It escaped by leaving its shell!And this Enhalus fruit which has split open, which puts an end to the mystery of 'how Enhalus acoroides spread its seeds'. Shufen and I were very excited by this.
Some might say that when one gets overly excited by splitting fruits of seagrasses, its time to get out more. But seriously, how do you get more 'out' than this?
And clearly, despite having to battle things that can injure and incapacitate you, cold amphibious landings, being stuck thigh deep in soft mud and trudging up and down a 2km stretch of seagrasses, we're still a smiley bunch :)
Hope to see you guys at Semakau soon! :)

PS from Ria: Swee Cheng shares his photos of the fascinating sponges on Semakau and will add the IDs and other wacky inside stories (literally) about sponge spicules and stuff. Thanks Swee Cheng!

Feb 2, 2007

Tuas with Schering Plough (1 Feb 07)

How exciting to finally meet all the volunteers from Schering Plough! Here we are, all ready to check out the Tuas shore...After an Indoor Orientation session at the very swank SP boardroom, we were shortly outdoors for the Field Orientation session!

And what a fascinating shore Tuas is! With lots of little green Spoon Seagrass (Halophila ovalis) and even a clump of long Tape Seagrass (Enhalus acoroides).Because the Tuas shore is narrow, a different method is being used to monitor it. This involves randomly 'tossing' transects like boomerangs :-) Well, something like that. Siti explains it better than me.

The Tuas shore is right next to reclaimed land but is alive with a wide variety of marine life. The tide was too high to go to the best parts (which are near the Merawang beacon). So we didn't get to check out the corals and sea fans there.But even on the high shore there was plenty to see.

We were very relieved to see LOTS of healthy carpet anemones in their usual shades of blue, green and purple. I even spotted one shy anemone shrimp just before is disappeared under the anemone. We also came across a skeleton of a strange sand dollar that we've never seen before. Hmmm...will try to find out more about it.

I'm so glad Tuas is very much alive. There was certainly none of the mass death that we saw at Chek Jawa a few weeks ago.

After the monitoring, everyone explored the shore, with Semakau guides Tiong Chin and Helen doing a little tour."Do you want to see a Giant Onch?" Tiong Chin shouts from a distance, insisting that it was most definitely larger than 2cm. Grumpily (as I usually am in the field), I shouted something rude about how I was unlikely to be impressed by his onch no matter how big it was. But when I got there, lo and behold, it was Giant indeed! About 8cm long, covered with spotted pimples, and very onch-like.After letting it settle for a while in a pool of water, it became clear that it was a nudibranch of some sort. Typical nudibranch gills emerged out its back (the bunch of brown 'finger-like' things on the right), and a tiny pair of rhinophores on its head. Wildfilms have seen these odd fugly nudis before: at Tuas, and also at Sentosa. But we still haven't figured out what they are, yet.

Dickson found it! Bravo! Dickson has also posted photos and stories on his blue heaven blog

Tiong Chin also showed everyone a horseshoe crab, sea pen and all kinds of other marvels. Here's his photos.

We're glad to have met the team at SP and look forward to more sessions at Tuas!

Thanks to Sheryl and Helen from SP who put together all the arrangements and prepared everything for all of us. Thanks also to TeamSeagrass volunteers who came introduce SP volunteers to the processes: Nor Aishah, Kok Sheng, Sijie, Dickson and Tiong Chin.

Happy World Wetlands Day 2007

Hi Seagrassers!

Team Seagrass would like to take this opportunity to wish all our volunteers a Happy World Wetlands Day!

This year's theme is "Fish for Tomorrow" in recognition of the importance of wetlands to:

- the needs of the one billion people who rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein;

- the state of the world's fisheries where 75% of commercially important marine and most inland water fish stocks are either currently overfished or being fished at their biological limit, and where the effects of unsustainable aquaculture practices on wetland ecosystems are of growing concern;

- the important role that inland and coastal wetlands play in supporting fish and fisheries at all levels, from large-scale, commercial fisheries to subsistence fishers, and from wild, capture fisheries to farmed fish; the critical role that coastal wetlands play as spawning and nursery areas for many marine species; and the urgent need for effective management of fisheries and the wetland ecosystems that support them;

- the adoption in November 2005 by the Ramsar Convention of a resolution and annexed guidelines on the conservation, production and sustainable use of fisheries which commits the 153 Contracting Parties to the Convention to playing their role in establishing and maintaining sustainable fisheries in wetlands.
(Taken from http://www.ramsar.org/wwd/7/wwd2007_index.htm)

So please take a moment to reflect on the importance of wetlands (including seagrass meadows) in our lives and the significance of the body of information you're contributing to in better understanding our marine ecosystem by participating in Team Seagrass.

Have a wonderful day!

PS. From Ria: To commemorate this Day, I've started a compilation of seagrass media articles.
Sadly, there's an article today about how an algae bloom is killing seagrasses in the U.S.
Algiers Beach becomes Algae Beach
By Kevin Lollar News-Press.com 2 Feb 07