May 25, 2008

What is the value of seagrasses?

Sea grass too valuable to barter
By Ed Killer, TCPalm website

It's called CS/HB 7059. I call it Bad Idea 7059.

CS/HB 7059 contains a last second added-on amendment that allows for the creation of sea grass mitigation banks on state lands. Developers (including state and county governments) building marinas or dredging channels could destroy healthy sea grass and purchase credits towards sea grass mitigation banks.

This smells like that week-old slime grass that washes up on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon every May. There is no way this would work the way it was likely designed on paper by a lobbyist for an industry or company that has something to gain from it.

Sea grass beds are vital to the ebb and flow of marine life. And that makes sea grass beds vital to the ebb and flow of economic life in coastal Florida.

How important are they? I could go on and on about sea grass importance and a few of you would read every word. But to reach a broader audience, let me put sea grass in terms of dollars first by looking at red mangroves.

According to a publication about mangroves produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the value of commercial fisheries dependent upon red mangroves in the Indian River Lagoon is $10.6 million. The sport fishery dependent upon those same habitat-supplying plants is $28 million.

Then consider that mangroves only exist in the southern half of Florida's peninsula whereas sea grasses are everywhere. Add in that almost every fish that swims in coastal Florida waters starts out its life in a sea grass bed somewhere.

Also consider that red mangroves were estimated to cover 554,000 acres in Florida in 1989 compared to an estimated 2 million acres of sea grass.

That certainly multiplies its dollar value.

Now for the science part. Dr. Grant Gilmore of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc. in Vero Beach has been studying sea grass in the Indian River Lagoon since his arrival here in 1974. Then, one pull of his 50-foot long seine net on the grass beds near the House of Refuge gathered 56 different species of marine life. According to his research, one acre of sea grass in this part of the IRL then supported an average of 1,531.81 fish.

"We need to take care of every square yard of sea grass," Gilmore told the Rivers Coalition last July. "We have a lot to lose."

May 22, 2008

Animals are important to seagrasses too!

Nitrogen Loss In Seagrass Fields Is Retained By Animals And Microorganisms In Ecosystem
ScienceDaily 22 May 08;

The nitrogen cycle plays a major role in seagrass fields. Dutch researcher Arie Vonk studied the nitrogen dynamics of seagrasses in Indonesia. He discovered that the interaction between seagrasses, animals and microorganisms results in an efficient nitrogen cycle in tropical seagrass fields. Consequently the nitrogen lost from seagrasses is still retained.

Seagrass fields are coastal ecosystems with important functions for coastal stability and fish populations. The collection and grazing of seagrass leaves is the most important nitrogen flow in these fields. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for organisms and the production of seagrass leaves requires large quantities of nitrogen. However, the leaf has a short lifespan and as it dies off, little of the nitrogen is retained by the plant. Leaf loss therefore also means considerable nitrogen loss for the plant.

Animal species that live amongst the seagrass can influence the export and dynamics of seagrass leaves. The most important grazers of seagrass fields are sea urchins, shrimps and fish. Shrimps, for example, retain nutrients by collecting the leaf material. Their holes can therefore form an important source of nutrients that can once again become available for uptake by seagrasses.

Human influences

Coastal floors can be stabilised by the extensive root systems of the seagrass fields. Seagrass fields also function as a hiding place and breeding ground for many vertebrate and invertebrate animal species. Due to an increasing human pressure on the coastal system, many seagrass fields are disappearing worldwide. The increasing pressure is noticeable by the increase in nutrients and sediment in the water and the widespread exploitation of the ecosystems.

The research results are interesting for managers and conservationists of tropical coastal areas. Seagrass fields are important ecosystems for the fishing industry and therefore for food supplies. In addition to this, seagrass fields ensure stabilisation of the coast, an important characteristic in view of rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

May 17, 2008

'Snot a flatworm, it's a new jellyfish

TeamSeagrass note: Here's what you MAY find if you look closely at seagrasses!

by Gabrielle Dunlevy, National Nine News 16 May 08;

It looks like snot, it's the size of a grain of rice, and it's taking the marine science world by storm.

A new jellyfish species has been discovered inside the seahorse exhibit at the Reef HQ aquarium in Townsville, in north Queensland.

Scientist Dr Lisa Gershwin said she found the species by accident.

The expert in marine stingers said she was delighted at the find, because it was unlike anything she had ever seen.

The jellyfish, of the family Coeloplana, has its mouth on its underside and its anus wrapped around its brain.

It looks more like a flatworm than a jellyfish, and moves by gliding along the seagrass.

Dr Gershwin said the species was an evolutionary "dead end".

"It's lost the ability to sting, it's lost the ability to swim, it's not a very good jellyfish, as far as jellyfish go," she told AAP.

Dr Gershwin said it was the 159th species she had found, and would be named after Dr Russell Reichelt, chief executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"This particular one, I think is really, really special," she said.

"The typical non-science person thinks of science as happening in sterile labs far away, in a university or a hospital by people in white lab coats and latex gloves.

"This really brings it home that science is all around us and happens in our own backyards."

The jellyfish will be studied further before it is described and submitted to a peer reviewed journal.

May 13, 2008

Seagrass-Watch Bulletin: Dugong Feeding Trails Galore!

March 2008 marked Seagrass-Watch’s 10th year!
Happy Anniversary Seagrass-Watch!

And the latest issue of the Seagrass-Watch Bulletin features "Dugong trails galore!"

Here's an extract...

You may not see them, even though they are as big as a cow. But if you look closely during low tide you may find evidence of their feeding. We're referring of course to dugongs. The large herbivourous marine mammal which lives in the tropical waters of Australia. This year, their grazing trails are more obvious, leaving a bigger imprint on the seagrass meadows of the Far North.

Often referred to as 'sea cows' (their diet consists mainly of seagrass), dugongs feed by digging furrows in the sea-floor with their snouts and uprooting seagrass.

Seagrass-Watch scientists have reported a higher than usual occurrence of Dugong Feeding Trails (DFT) at a number of Seagrass-Watch and Reef Water Quality Protection Program (RWQPP) monitoring sites across the Far North.

So next time you are wandering across the seagrass meadows, keep a look out for those DFTs! Healthy seagrass = Healthy dugongs!

Here in Singapore, dugong feeding trails have also been sighted on Chek Jawa!So we too at TeamSeagrass should keep a look out for these trails!

The Cyrene Sea Star that TeamSeagrass found is also featured in this edition of the Bulletin!

Visit the Seagrass-Watch website for more Bulletin articles.

May 10, 2008

Pulau Semakau (10 May 08)

TeamSeagrass is out in full force for an early morning departure to Pulau Semakau with a team of nearly 30 people!

Among them were three first timers. Here is Chay Hoon introducing the process to them. Sijie and Kok Sheng also help to take them under their wing.

Alas, as we approached Pulau Semakau, it started to drizzle, then to rain, then to pour. Upon arrival, we huddled in the NEA lobby for a briefing session.

As the wet weather lightened, Shufen and Siti in bright yellow and orange happily led the team out to the monitoring site.
Pulau Semakau is the location of our only landfill where all the rubbish produced in Singapore is deposited. It was created by enclosing a portion of the sea with a very long sea wall which includes part of Pulau Semakau.

Today we were very early, so the bus that usually takes us to the start point wasn't operating yet. So we had to hike the 1.2 kilometres to the start point.Siti is obviously very proud of the intrepid team who gamely set off in the drizzle.

It often surprises people to learn that next to our landfill are marvellous living reefs, mangroves and seagrass meadows!

When we arrived on the natural shores of Pulau Semakau, the rain had stopped.Here's the team doing Site 3 gamely splashing through the receeding tide, on shores teeming with sponges.I joined the team doing Site 1 today, the furthest site. Sigh. Another hike of another 1km or so.

Here they are setting up. In the background is Pulau Bukom, the location of some of our petrochemical refineries. The seagrass meadows of Semakau are vast, spanning kilometres!

All too soon, the monitoring is completed.Here is Kok Sheng and Yok taking their last readings.

The rain helped keep the weather cool, so the long walk and work on the shores was quite pleasant.

With some time before the tide came in, we headed off to explore some of the shore.

Kok Sheng and I headed for the rocks near Site 1 to look for the cryptic sea stars that hide there. And almost immediately, we find lots!Here is the rather polygonal sea star on the right corner. It is rather well camouflaged and has very short arms. The large flesh coloured blob next to it is a flatworm.

The sea star doesn't really look like a sea star until you look at the underside, when the 5 part symmetry of the animal becomes obvious. There are grooves under each of the five arms and the mouth is in the centre.More about this rarely seen sea star on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog.

The seagrass meadows are homes to all kinds of animals. Many are well camouflaged, such as this scorpion fish (Family Scorpaenidae).And tiny octopuses are sometimes also seen, especially near coral rubble.More about the animals seen on Semakau today, including possibly a new sea anemone sighting and a monitor lizard soaking in the water! on Sijie's nature scouter blog. And lots of corals and sting ray and other sightings on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog.

Robin and I, soon joined by Kok Sheng and Yok, explored the northern most tip of Semakau. From here, we could see the NEA transfer station where we first landed this morning, and the little lump of an island in the distance, Pulau Jong. This area is very nice with sandy bottomed coral rubble very clear of sediments, and lots of seagrasses too! Hopefully we can explore this area more thoroughly the next time we visit.

Also with us today was a team from NParks checking out the mangroves. And they found lots of special mangrove trees and plants too!

All too soon it was time to go home. On the boat, we take a photo of the Labrador team comprising the long-suffering Mr Lim, the three Seagrass Angels from RGS, with Shufen and Siti. The three young ladies have 'graduated' from Labrador monitoring and this is their first session with TeamSeagrass. They said they enjoyed the trip! We hope they can continue to join us in our upcoming sessions.

Meanwhile the rest are comparing photos of their many exciting sightings today.We got back famished and proceeded to hijack a large portion of the foodcourt as we replenished.What a great way to end a great day!

Thank you to Jerald for being Field Coordinator and making sure we all got there and back in one piece despite the wet weather. To all those who helped in cleaning and checking the equipment. And of course to everyone who came to do the monitoring. Bravo!

May 3, 2008

TeamSeagrass star find in the news!

The sea star discovered on Cyrene Reef during our teamseagrass monitoring session is in the news today!

A new star for Singapore
Discovery of large five-rayed sea star adds to marine biodiversity here
David J.W. Lane , Robin Ngiam & Ivan Tan, Straits Times 3 May 08

SINGAPORE has a new star to call its own.

This large five-rayed sea star is not new to science, but it is a new and spectacular addition to Singapore's already substantial inventory of living stars.

Lacking a common name but known in the marine science world as Pentaceraster mammillatus, it is in the same family as the more familiar cushion star and the knobbly sea star, which are still quite common on Singapore's remaining reefs.

The 'mammillatus' part of the name refers to the rows of nipple-like protuberances that cover the surface of the animal and give it a studded or armoured appearance.

The sea star was first sighted early last month on a seagrass monitoring trip at Cyrene reef, run by volunteer group TeamSeagrass and staff from the National Biodiversity Reference Centre of the National Parks Board (NParks).

Fast forward to a week ago: Armed with a permit, an enthusiastic search party made up of staff and students from the National University of Singapore's Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NParks and others - including visiting regional echinoderm specialist David Lane - set out for a dawn low-tide walk on Cyrene reef.

A rare and exciting find

THE discovery of this attractive species, one of about a dozen of its kind in the Indo-Pacific, is in some respects a remarkable surprise, given its large size and the fact that sea stars and their relatives had been intensively surveyed and studied throughout the 1990s by a team of NUS and Belgian marine scientists.

Another surprise is that this star was previously known to exist only in the western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, so its presence in Singapore waters represents a considerable range increase.

Full article on the wildsingapore news blog

Learn more about Cyrene Reef!
Learn more about Singapore's sea stars

May 2, 2008

Labrador Angels move on ...

Their Labrador project has come to an end, but the ladies continue with seagrasses as they join TeamSeagrass!
They'll be joining us at our Semakau monitoring next week, together with their long-suffering teacher, Mr Lim. So let's give them all a good halo-phila welcome!

Meanwhile, the Labrador project will continue with a new team to cover two aspects of seagrasses there! Bravo to the intrepid Mr Lim!

Read more about it on the Labrador Park blog.

May 1, 2008

Dugong Ambassadors at Chek Jawa (1 May 08)

Today was a fabulous gathering of folks from the Naked Hermit Crabs, TeamSeagrass and more at Joseph Lai's amazing Dugong Ambassadors at Chek Jawa! This May Day outreach is also to celebrate International Year of the Reef. Here are some of the volunteers on the way to Ubin, checking out Siti's spiffy new educational materials fresh out from International Seagrass-Watch.The event involves the homeschool families. Here is the ever gentlemanly Andy making sure everyone gets on the jetty safely. It is also sponsored by Intel and their volunteers also turned up for the event.

The event started off with a very quick tour of the Chek Jawa boardwalk. TeamSeagrass members helped out.
Siti shared about mangrove trees.
Andy shared about the critters in the mangroves.While Marcus enthralls with stories of civet cat poo ... in white circle.

Of course, what is the event without dugongs!Where do these come from? Well, as I explained to those who asked, Australia has the largest number of dugongs and there are also dugongs in ... (at this point I would usually get cuffed on the head). Sigh. These fibreglass dugongs come from Ubin Lagoon Resort, now renamed to Kampong Ubin.

It's almost impossible to resist a photo with the dugongs.Shortly, we gathered for an inspiring launch by Joseph Lai.And immediately went on to the three simultaneous events!

First, there were designated Dugong Ambassadors who would set up at stations throughout Chek Jawa to explain to visitors about dugongs.Here's Joe explaining how to be a Dugong Ambassador.
And here's a very effective team of Dugong Ambassadors delighting a visitor with more information about dugongs!

While a homeschool family shared at House No. 1 and the Dugongs.Siti, November and young friend formed the Ambassadors who shared about seagrasses.They did a great job until Prof Teh Tiong Sa and Dr Raju turned up.Here's Siti, Prof Teh, Dr Raju, Dr Chua Ee Kiam and friend.

The ladies got distracted by Dr Raju's very manly super-Trimble.This is a way cool thing that can do not only x-y coordinates but also z coordinates. You have to be a shore researcher or geography person or just plain crazy about GIS to know why this is a Big Deal.

The ladies abandoned their young colleague to manage the seagrasses all on his own (tsk, tsk).Other simultaneous events included Beach Cleanup.And kids painting a mural at House No. 1 the Chek Jawa Visitor Centre.As well as general art expressions. Here's some of the masterpieces.Intel provided a fabulous lunch. Not only getting it but also hauling it all the way to Chek Jawa.Now all is well with Siti, as long as there is food. Especially banana muffins.

And all too soon, we had a group photo and it was time to go home.What a fabulous event and a great opportunity to raise awareness about dugongs, seagrasses and Chek Jawa!

More about the trip on the wildfilms blog

If you'd like to learn more about seagrasses and our shores, come for these upcoming talks!

3 May (Sat): Secret Shores of Singapore by Ria Tan
2pm at the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens

6 May (Tue): Seagrasses are not just for dugongs by Siti Maryam
11am at the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens