Jan 21, 2009

Malaysian department recognises importance of seagrass

The Star 21 Jan 09;
WE refer to the letter “Seagrass site of great value” (The Star, Jan 1) by Mah Hong Seng on his suggestion to the Department of Fisheries to gazette the Merambong seagrass site located close to Sungai Pulai (Gelang Patah), Johor.

The department has jointly with the Malaysian National Seagrass Committee published a book entitled National Seagrass Report Of Malaysia.

The report is the outcome of a project collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Program-GEF conducted during 2003-2006.

About 30ha of seagrass are estimated at the Merambong site. We fully agree that the seagrass ecosystem is a very important habitat for many commercially important species of fishes, shrimps and shellfish.

In fact, seagrass is recognised as essential food for dugongs, sea horses and sea turtles.

At the moment, the seagrass is partly protected in marine parks, state parks, fisheries protected areas (i.e. Pulau Talang Talang, Sarawak), mangrove forest reserves and also a Ramsar site (i.e. Sungai Pulai).

The department fully supported the idea of gazetting these areas as marine protected areas. Apart from encouraging the development of the fishing and aquaculture industry, the department will always be aware of the responsibility to protect ecosystems that support the fisheries sector.

Halijah Mat Sin,
Public Relations Officer,
For the Director-General, Department of Fisheries Malaysia.

Jan 19, 2009

Baby manatee deaths are baffling to Florida state authorities

A record number of baby manatees were found dead last year, despite strenuous public and private efforts to restore a species that ranks with the panther and alligator as a symbol of wild Florida.

State wildlife officers recovered 101 infant manatee carcasses in 2008, up from 59 the previous year. The young manatees died from a variety of natural causes — although decomposition was too far advanced to tell what killed many of them — and no one knows the reason for the sudden increase or whether it indicates any new threat to the species.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which tracks manatee deaths, says the high number may simply be a result of more manatee births or more success in finding carcasses. But The Save the Manatee Club said it could be an indirect result of boat strikes, habitat loss and other threats that have shortened the endangered mammals' life spans, reducing the number of experienced mothers bearing calves.
From Carcasses of babies are up dramatically; explanation a mystery
David Fleshler, South Florida Sun-Sentinel 18 Jan 09;
Full article also on the wildsingapore news blog.

Jan 17, 2009

Volve Race marine outreach (16 Jan 09)

TeamSeagrass spent a very windy day at 1degree15 Marina at Sentosa for the Volvo Race special Scouts' marine outreach programme.With lots of posters and even our monitoring gear, the TeamSeagrass booth seems to fascinate the visitors.
TeamSeagrass shared about our wonderful seagrass meadows and what ordinary people can do for them.
Thanks to Kok Sheng who collected the seagrass specimens on our last trip to Pulau Semakau, we had a nice tank of live seagrasses.This came in handy for showing features like the fact that they are flowering plants, as Siti Nurbaya explains here.And Wei Ling also puts the tank to great use to point out features. Later on, Siti had a great idea of asking the Scouts to match the seagrasses in the tank to the photos on our species poster! The visitors are great at it!
Siti is great with the kids, who enthusiastically clamour to answer her questions.One gives really wacky answers to the delight of his friends.
Marcus Tay rushed in from his earlier appointment just so that he could help out at the event.
We get loads and loads of scouts of all colours and sizes who are really keen to learn about our seagrasses.And this group from Bartley are very keen to join us on our trips!This fantastic opportunity to share about seagrasses is all thanks to Tan Sijie, who looks so snazzy in his Scouts uniform, don't you think? He worked very hard to put the show together and I think it was a great success in reaching out to a wide range of people.
He even arranged for us to have lunch and free ice-cream! Here's the team taking a short, well-deserved break in a long day of selling seagrasses.

Thanks to Kok Sheng for the seagrasses, Colin for setting up the tank, Siti Nurbaya, Marcus Tay and of course Siti and Wei Ling for being there to share about seagrasses.

More about the event

Jan 15, 2009

First look at data on our seagrasses!

Seagrass-Watch HQ has been busy over the New Year updating web pages for each of the monitoring regions with the latest available data.

Here's a peek at the trends on Chek Jawa. There's data too for Pulau Semakau.
As well as write ups about other features of our shores.

Visit the Seagrass-Watch website pages on Singapore to have a look at what all the hard work has revealed about our shores!

Tagging seahorses

UK conservationists are concerned about the long-term survival of seahorses because the creatures live among coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, which are among the most threatened habitats on the planet.
To tag seahorses, a UK team has developed a Visible Implant Fluorescent Elastomer (VIFE), a fluorescent polymer that is biologically compatible with seahorses. The liquid is injected under the skin in a position unique to each seahorse, allowing the team to identify individuals.

Read more about this on the BBC website.

Magical seagrass meadows of Johor

Vast seagrass meadows lie in Johor opposite our Tuas monitoring site!
Recently, the Malayan Nature Society, Selangor Branch visited their shores. Here's an account of a magical first experience of a seagrass meadow and a Save our Seahorses trip to remember.

Jan 14, 2009

Sentosa (12 Jan 09)

Hello to everyone... I'm new to Team Seagrass although I have been blogging about some of my fieldtrips on my personal blog: Psychedelic Nature. So I apologised for not having many photos of the seagrass this time!

My second seagrass monitoring site was at Sentosa. This area is mainly rocky and harbours several other habitats, including seagrass patch. I learnt that we are monitoring this seagrass bed for a good reason: to see if there would be an eventual habitat shift with new niches. So it's very important for us to do the monitoring here regularly. The two main seagrasses observed at Sentosa were Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis) and Tape seagrasses (Enhalus acoroides).

When we first arrived, the tides were not low at all! We had to wait for another hour or so before the tide receded a little for us to tread through the murky waters. The seagrass beds are mainly found on the sandy areas, which is also our main monitoring site. I noticed that some seagrass patches could be found further down the coral rubble area too.

The epi-cover on the tape seagrass seemed much higher than those I have seen at Chek Jawa. Check out this photo with a soft coral and some tape seagrass beside it. Most of the upper parts of the leaf blade is covered with almost 80% epiphytes.

It was a random sampling of transects and I had paired up with Jocelyn and Travis to finish our task. After that, it was some exploration. Some animals that were spotted - Blue spotted ray, Giant reef worm, Red egg crab, Hairy crab, Sea Spiders. I did up a short post on Sentosa on my blog too.

It was a nice and cosy trip with a small group of us. Thanks to all who came even though it was a working or schooling weekday: Jocelyn, Timothy, and Siti's sister. Special thanks to Travis, a shore visitor who lent a helping hand to both Jocelyn and I during our monitoring. And special thanks to Siti who guided us throughout the monitoring.

Jan 13, 2009

Seagrass risk in Queensland

Research centre reveals seagrass risk
ABC News 13 Jan 09;

Scientists say long-term monitoring has identified three high risk areas for seagrass - two of them in far north Queensland.

The Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) says seagrass in Trinity Bay in Cairns, the Hinchinbrook Channel and in Cleveland Bay, near Townsville, is under considerable pressure.

RRRC chief executive Sheridan Morris says urban and agricultural run-off is having a big impact on these areas - which are important breeding grounds for numerous marine species.

She says the seagrasses are expected to recover, but they are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

"When water temperatures - particularly in shallow areas - rise above 43 degrees Celsius, we know the seagrasses will just die," Ms Morris said.

"Even when it rises to around 40 [degrees] - which it can do in these shallow areas - it puts the seagrass under a lot of pressure."

Jan 10, 2009

Chek Jawa (10 Jan 09)

Our first monitoring session for 2009! And a small team head off for Chek Jawa on a breezy day.Thanks to the team leaders getting things together, and everyone being punctual, we had a smooth journey to Chek Jawa.

There was much 'discussion', which started days before the trip, about who should go to the far shore! It finally got amicably settled. I joined the team going for the long trek to the Northern sand bar. The high shores are covered in a green carpet of Sea lettuce seaweeds (Ulva sp.) today!It was really windy, but it made for a pleasant cool day.And the work got done very quickly.Most of Chek Jawa is covered with the pretty Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis) and short slim Needle seagrasses (Halodule sp.). In her transect, Chay Hoon found a really tiny sea anemone attached to a blade of Spoon seagrass! Here's her photo of this wee little nem.
I made a quick round of the Northern sand bar, specifically to see how the special Beccari's seagrass (Halophila beccarii) was doing. There were only a few patches of these tiny but tough seagrasses. Shufen checked the patch nearer the boardwalk and they too were being overgrown by the more abundant Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis). Does the small Beccari's seagrass do better when there is an influx of freshwater? Hmm...there's still a lot we need to find out about our seagrasses.It was nice to see the patch of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) doing well. And one of the transects even had readings of this seagrass which is not very common on Chek Jawa.

Elsewhere, the Smooth ribbon seagrass (Cymodocea rotundata) patch near the boardwalk seems to have spread out to cover a larger area.

Shufen and Siti also found flowering Spoon seagrasses. Here's Kok Sheng's photo of the flower!

But what was most delightful was the luxuriant and broad expanses of the beautiful Fern seagrasses (Halophila spinulosa). Siti and the other volunteers tried out their underwater cameras to take photos of this beautiful seagrass.Here's Siti's effort with my little Olympus camera. Thanks to Sijie and Siti, I know realise there is a special setting on this camera for underwater shots! Yay!
These lovely seagrasses were found all around the seaward edge of the shore right up to the boardwalk! And the meadows were dotted with Carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) and other animals.

We found various creatures, but the most amazing was Kok Sheng's find of a special sea star!As usual, this prompted a huddle of papparazi.But Shufen and Siti are more alert to sneakier photographers who are photographing the photographers.

Thanks to all who came for the monitoring session: Alex, Andy, Joe, Kok Sheng, Marcus Ng, Marcus Tay, Mei Lin, Jiang Han, Steve, Chay Hoon, Nor Aishah, Sijie, Yikang, Zhichun and Kevin. Special thanks to Kok Sheng, Chay Hoon, Sijie and Nor Aishah for being team leads and to Andy and Marcus Tay for taking charge of the equipment.

Read more about our encounters and adventures on these other blog posts.

Jan 1, 2009

Johor seagrass site of great value

The Star 1 Jan 09;
JOHOR is endowed with amazing biodiversity and has much to offer everyone, be it the tourist, naturalist or researcher.

It has the Panti bird sanctuary, the fabled Mt Ledang, Endau Rompin, several beautiful islands and now the amazing Merambong sea grass located close to the estuary of Sungai Pulai (Gelang Patah), which is the biggest in Malaysia and boasts a rich assortment of biota, including the sea cow or dugong and sea horse (hippocampus). These are species vulnerable to extinction.

The sea grass beds are the nursery of many fishes, shrimps and shellfish, which provide a perfect natural sanctuary for them to thrive and grow.

But sadly, we Malaysians only know about migration of birds when there is so much of migratory fishes plying between the Malacca Straits and the Riau Archipelago which we are ignorant of. This is unpublished research which needs to be pursued further.

I sincerely urge the Fisheries Department to play a proactive role in conserving this valuable site along with the neighbouring sea grasses and work with Taman Laut and other statutory bodies to gazette this site.

They have a good overview of the sea grass community, having done several similar studies in the South China Sea.

Presently, it is perceived that the Fisheries Department is only interested in commercial farming and aqua culture.

Its role is supposed to be much wider and diverse. A balance is imperative as this would be vital to long-term conservation and promulgation efforts.

Without preservation of such habitats, we would not have enough of fish, which is a source of valuable protein.

I strongly urge the Fisheries Department to act fast before our natural resources are depleted beyond sustainability.

Besides the gazetting of the valuable sea grass, more research and crucial work need to be undertaken on habitat preservation and fish migration in collaboration with our universities and also our Asean partner nations which has a stake in this migratory flow of fishes.

Understanding their flow cycle and habitats would assist us in conserving their nurseries more professionally.

Perhaps the Fisheries Department should immediately take an inventory of the area and determine the extent of pollution where these sea grasses are located and establish buffer zones in view of the rapid development of the adjacent areas earmarked for industrial development.

An integrated plan is needed to integrate the coral reefs of Pulau Merambong, the mangroves and sea grass holistically as they form a vital ecosystem in the conservation process.

The future of this rich biodiversity legacy and living heritage (sea grass meadows) of Johor needs urgent attention, more so as this area is close to the Iskandar Development region.

Perhaps the Iskandar Develop­ment authorities should also take an interest in this area as it is part of the natural green lungs of this integrated development region and will be scrutinised by the investors on how much we really care for our environment.

Kuala Lumpur.