Feb 28, 2009

WWF-Malaysia supports call for seagrass protection

WWF 23 Jan 09
We refer to the article by Mr. Mah Hong Seng “Seagrass of great value” (The Star, Jan 1, 2009) and the response from the Department of Fisheries Malaysia (DoFM) (The Star, Jan 21, 2009).

We fully support the call by Mr. Mah Hong Seng for the proper management and protection of the seagrass at the Merambong site. We are also very happy to note that DoFM has taken this very seriously and recognizes the importance of seagrass as essential food for threatened marine animals. We hope that DoFM will also proactively take the lead in pushing for better management and protection of other marine ecosystems for fish resources and other endangered marine animals.

Coastal habitats are not given enough attention and protection. Examples of some coastal habitats that warrant protections are coastal mudflats which are important for cockle culture e.g. the Kuala Selangor mudflats. The Kilim-Kisap Mangrove forest, the largest in Langkawi, is slowly losing its mangrove stretches to aquaculture. Some of the islands around Langkawi have good coral cover but no protection. Coastal and marine habitats in Sabah are similarly under threat and in need of greater protection, particularly in Kudat-Banggi and Semporna areas.

Overall, not only are many of the natural habitats and marine ecosystems degraded or destroyed but fish stocks have also declined substantially. In some areas the declines have been as high as 95%. Today less than 0.5% of Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters are gazetted as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and these cover mainly offshore islands. WWF-Malaysia would like to see a much higher percentage of the EEZ covered by MPAs to enable fish stocks recovery from the current overfished status.

DoFM must be proactive in taking new measures to sustainably manage our fish resources. In this respect, we strongly urge DoFM to consider Ecosystem Based Management of Fisheries (EBMF) as an alternative management tool. EBMF is a management tool that involves all interested parties such as stakeholders, managers and decision makers in the consultation, planning and execution phases of any management undertaking. WWF-Malaysia is willing and prepared to cooperate with DoFM in seeing to the adoption of EBMF as a management tool.

From: Dato' Dr. Dionysius S.K. Sharma D.P.M.P., Executive Director/CEO, WWF-Malaysia

Feb 26, 2009

Seagrass fungus a promising cancer drug?

Having Scoured the Ocean for Cancer Drugs, Nereus Aims to Prove Its Concept Works
Luke Timmerman, www.xconomy.com 26 Feb 09;

Off the coast of the Bahamas, in sea grass more than a half-mile deep, San Diego-based Nereus Pharmaceuticals found a fungus that may be the key ingredient for an innovative new cancer drug. This will be a key year for gathering evidence that will either support or debunk the idea.

I got the download on Nereus last week in a conversation with co-founder and CEO Kobi Sethna and Charles White, the company’s chief business officer. Nereus has raised a whopping $125 million in venture capital in almost a decade of business, from big name investors like Roche Venture Fund, Alta Partners, and San Diego-based Forward Ventures, among others, so I figured it was worth taking a look.

The company is built on the idea that many of the biggest pharmaceutical breakthroughs, like penicillin, come from natural microbes. The bulk of these fungi and bacteria that led to drugs come from land, but, of course, Mother Nature has plenty of more biodiversity in the ocean. After years of sailing expeditions that trawled up potential drug candidates in hot and cold water, shallow and deep, from the Pacific and the Atlantic, Nereus has looked at hundreds of candidates for treating autoimmune disease and cancer—and now has settled on two lead horses against cancer that it thinks have a real shot. So the sailing expeditions are over, and now it’s time to push through the hard, unpredictable slog of clinical trials to see if these drugs really work in people.

“In this business, you’ve got to be focused. It’s the name of the game,” Sethna says. “We’ve morphed into an oncology company.”

So what does Nereus have to show for all that investment? The lead candidate (the one found off the coast of the Bahamas) is called NPI-2358. It’s a small-molecule drug synthesized in the lab to be similar in structure to a unique fungus it found in the ocean. This drug is designed to be a “vascular disrupting agent” to tumors. It’s made to attack existing blood vessels in tumors, unlike big-name cancer drugs like Genentech’s bevacizumab (Avastin) or Pfizer’s sunitinib (Sutent) that are meant to block the formation of new blood vessels to tumors, White says.

The reason the Nereus drug is still alive in the clinic is that it showed a long-lasting, potent ability to disrupt tumor blood flow, without causing the heart damage that has plagued other vascular-disrupting drugs in the class, White says. The first clinical trials supported further testing, confirming the drug wasn’t harming the heart while shrinking tumors at least partially for about three-fourths of patients when given in combination with Sanofi-Aventis’ docetaxel (Taxotere).

This molecule is in competition with Waltham, MA-based Oxigene’s OXi4503, which is in early clinical trials, and about “five or six others” still in animal testing, White says. The advantage he sees with the Nereus drug is that it appears to enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy, without adding on any new layers of toxic side effects, as often happens with chemo cocktails. The drug is currently being tested against lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in the U.S.

The second drug, called NPI-0052, requires a little more science explanation. It’s a proteasome inhibitor, derived again from an ocean bacteria called an actinomycete. It’s meant to be a second-generation drug following behind the success of Takeda Pharmaceutical’s bortezomib (Velcade). Drugs in this class are meant to disable the action of enzymes that normally clean up debris in cells. When this ability is disrupted, proteins build up in the tumor cells, sending them into a self-destruct mode called apoptosis. The Nereus drug is thought to block more of the proteasome sites on cells, providing a more effective shutdown, White says. Early trials also suggest the Nereus drug doesn’t cause nerve damage in the hands and feet that limits usage of the Takeda rival, and may work in patients who resist the other treatment. “We don’t get the side effect issue that limits Velcade. Our safety profile is far better,” White says.

That’s a bold thing to say about a competitor that exceeded $1 billion in sales last year, especially when his company’s contender is still in the first of three phases of clinical trials. Nereus, with 25 to 30 employees, has no drugs on the market. By the end of this year, the company expects to have data on its first drug— NPI-2358. —from a trial of 154 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer. Like many companies, Nereus hopes to capture the attention of the leading lights in cancer research at the top two industry conferences of the year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology in late May/early June and the American Society of Hematology in December.

Whatever data is revealed at those meetings will go a long way toward determining if Nereus really can sink or swim (sorry for the ocean pun, but couldn’t resist.) Even in the recession, we’ve seen signs lately in Boston (Vertex Pharmaceuticals) and in Seattle (Seattle Genetics) that companies that can deliver stellar clinical trial results can still be rewarded with financing or partnerships to take them through the most expensive, final phase of development to win FDA approval. Nereus can only hope its data turns out according to plan, and that investors or partners will still be in the mood to finance of its progression to the ultimate proving ground in development—Phase III clinical trials.

“We can’t do anything until we prove these products deliver the kind of data that we’re looking for,” Sethna says.

Feb 25, 2009

Bahrain's seagrass and dugongs possible World Heritage Marine Site

Heritage hope for new sites
Rebecca Torr Gulf Daily News 25 Feb 09;

A MARINE ecosystem that stretches across Bahrain and other GCC countries could be nominated as a World Heritage Site.

Particular marine areas in the east of Bahrain have the potential to be part of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Marine Site because of their sea grass and dugong (sea cow) population, said a heritage expert.

"Bahrain's sea grass and dugongs could be a possibility for a World Heritage Marine Site," Culture and Information Ministry adviser for natural heritage Dr Saeed Al Khuzaie told the GDN.

"But it will be part of a large area because the population of dugongs are also from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and maybe even the UAE.

"There are no boarders on ecosystems. We think of large areas to be considered as World Heritage Marine Sites."

He said Bahrain had other sites such as oyster beds that could be consider as world heritage, but they would qualify as cultural heritage sites rather than marine.

"To be selected as a World Heritage Site, it has to be unique," said Dr Al Khuzaie.

"For example, if it is a coral reef, compared to all other reefs in the world, it will have to show it is globally unique - it must have what we call 'Outstanding Universal Value'.

"To be on the list is a worldwide recognition that you are protecting a site not only for national interest but also for global interest - for humanity.

"For example, Qal'at Al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is a World Heritage Site because it is the only capital in the world for the Dilmun civilisation."

Dr Al Khuzaie said for the Gulf area that supports sea grass and dugongs to become a World Heritage Marine Site, it would require co-operation between countries.

"The Gulf must work together to research this special feature. We must prepare the file jointly," he said.

"The site has to be unique, natural phenomenon and not replicated in other places."

Dr Al Khuzaie was speaking on the sidelines of the opening of the three-day workshop on the global marine heritage site selection and world heritage and marine protected areas in the Gulf and Red Sea.

"The workshop will have an outcome that will discuss the recommendations for sites in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf," said Dr Al Khuzaie.

Bahrain is one of 21 countries to be elected onto the Unesco World Heritage Committee.

Since Bahrain was elected in October 2007, it has been working with various regions of the world to help in the preservation and promotion of cultural and natural heritage.

"To be a member, you need to have a programme on how you will contribute - this is one of the obligations of being in the committee," explained Dr Al Khuzaie.

"We are assisting Sudan and providing them international expertise to help them prepare a nomination file for their marine sites."

The workshop is held under the patronage of Southern Governor and Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife president Shaikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa at the Novotel Al Dana Resort Bahrain.

It is organised by the Culture and Information Ministry, Unesco and the public commission.

The event brings together International Union for Conservation of Nature - World Commission on Protected Area (IUCN-WCPA) marine regional co-ordinators, international experts, individuals and authorities.

Almost 200 of the 878 World Heritage Sites are listed for their natural values and 37 are protected for their marine biodiversity values.

Marine sites are also considered an area of potential for future nominations of World Heritage properties in the Arab region.

Several such initiatives are currently under discussion in the region.

The results of the workshop are expected to accelerate the recognition of marine protected areas and other related initiatives at global and regional levels.

A report on the workshop will be published and presented to the Unesco World Heritage Committee to assist in the future targeting of marine activities by Unesco and IUCN.

Feb 24, 2009

Last Labrador monitoring: seagrass has turned brown!

The Seagrass Angels Danielle, Jolyn, Xinyi made their last trip to Labrador to check out the seagrasses there.
Alas, they discovered that many of the Thalassia had turned brown!

Read all about their trip on their labrador blog.

Feb 14, 2009

Labrador: last monitoring

The Labrador Angels just did their last monitoring of the seagrasses there. Unfortunately they have some sad news to report:

Compared to our last few trips, however, we have very bad news! The seagrass meadow, especially the Thalassia Hemprichii that is closer to the shore were almost completely black and rough with white patches, we have no idea why that is the case.

Read more on their Labrador blog.

See also Kok Sheng's entry about his recent trip there on his wonderful creations blog.

More blog entries about Labrador.

Feb 10, 2009

A bad week for dwindling dugong population in Thailand

Phuket Gazette 7 Feb 09;
CAPE PANWA, PHUKET: A top marine mammal researcher is drawing up a national action plan for conserving the country’s dwindling population of dugong, three of which were found dead this week.

“We have a national action plan for dugong and seagrass in Thailand to conserve the seagrass habitat, reduce mortality, continue monitoring numbers and study behavior,” said Kanjana Adulyanukosol of the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC).

Miss Kanjana was quoted by the state-run Thai News Agency earlier this week saying the dugong faced extinction locally within 20 or 30 years if the government does not take urgent action to protect seagrass beds, their natural habitat.

About 200 dugong remain in waters along the Andaman Coast, she said.

Setting up the action plan would lead the way to Thailand signing an international memorandum of understanding (MOU) on dugong conservation, which has already been signed by 42 countries.

“The MOU was established by the Australian government after meetings held in Thailand in 2005 and 2006. Then in 2007 there was a meeting for the first signings in Abu Dhabi, followed by another meeting in Bali in 2008,” she said.

Thailand has not signed the MOU because it has to do more to co-ordinate the efforts of the six government agencies involved, including the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Fisheries and Marine Transport departments and the Foreign Ministry.

“I think Thailand is going to sign the memorandum very soon,” she said.

Coastal development and sedimentation is the main long-term threat to seagrass beds, she said.

"However, for an individual dugong the greatest threat is from human activities and various kinds of fishing gear,” she explained.

“This has been a very bad week for us. We got one dead dugong from Satun on the first of February, then two on February 3: one each from Trang and Krabi,” she said.

An examination of the first two carcasses revealed that the dugong had thick blubber – indicating that they were healthy at the time of death.

“The second one was still fresh. There were no traces of outside trauma and the pericardium was full of liquid, which indicates a sudden death, possibly from shock. So we guess that it went into sudden shock and died, probably drowning from fishing activity,” she said.

Overall seven dugong deaths have been reported to the PMBC, she said.

More media reports on the wildsingapore news blog.

Eelgrass Beds Receding From Chesapeake Bay Waters

WKTR 10 Feb 09;

Eelgrass beds in the Chesapeake Bay serve as a haven for crabs and other marine life but have been receding in recent years.

Marine scientists say they may never come back

In 2005, Tom Powers of Poquoson, Virginia, saw the 30-acre eelgrass bed he crabbed in disappear.

The bed at Hunt's Point and thousands of other acres of eelgrass vanished when water temperatures climbed beyond normal in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Temperatures peaked temporarily between 2.5 and 3 degrees above normal during the summer of 2005.

Scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science fear that more eelgrass beds will disappear.

Intense efforts to replant eelgrass seedings and scatter eelgrass seed in Maryland waters have failed.

Feb 8, 2009

Pulau Semakau (7 Feb 09)

A small happy team headed out yesterday to check out the vast seagrass meadows on Pulau Semakau.Although these meadows lie next to our landfill and near major petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom, the shore is still very much alive!The meadows are vast and the team is spread out over more than a kilometre. The Labrador Angels are with us doing the last transect of Site 3 and they are already getting started. While the team doing Site 2 is settling into their site. Meanwhile, the team doing the furthest site is still walking out to their Site 1!Our 50m transect tapes look so puny in this vast meadow!At Site 3, Shufen points out the sediments have disappeared as we can't even peg down the tape. So we wind it around the stake instead. We also notice lots of sponges have started growing in the monitoring site. Is the seagrass moving? Has the sediment base changed? This is why we need to monitor our meadows!
Shufen shares with Joe and Ivan how the Serrated riboon seagrasses (Cymodocea serrulata) at Pulau Semakau are long and may be mistaken for Tape seagrasses! And the Needle seagrasses (Halodule sp.) here can be broad and tape-like. Ah, those sneaky seagrasses make monitoring at Semakau a challenge.
The Tape seagrasses (Enhalus acoroides) are blooming! The little white specks are the male flowers, while the female flowers are huge (relative to the male flowers) and have three ribbed petals that fall off after a day.This female flower seems to have just opened, and I noticed these structures in the middle of the flower that I didn't see before. Hmmm? What are these? So much more to learn about our seagrasses!Here's a closer look.

Here's the Team before we headed through the mossie-infested forest. We stay quite far from the forested area to put on our field gear.And sort out the equipment and get a quick briefing from Siti.
Some of us get a quick lie down :-)
Today Marcus is busy working on documenting TeamSeagrass for the Semakau Book project.We finally get a group photo of the Team IN seagrass! We take the time to head for the 'path of death' in the middle of the seagrass meadows used for the intertidal walks, and line up for a group photo. We usually take the group photo out of the seagrass as we don't like to trample our precious meadows.During the monitoring, Marcus gets some shots of the Team in action. Here is Joe our Seagrass Poster Boy!After the monitoring, we have a quick look at this gorgeous shore which also has kilometres of reefs! The tide wasn't very low and turned quickly. But we all managed to see lots of amazing marine life.A trip to Pulau Semakau is also an opportunity to get the seedlings (properly called propagules) of the rare Rhizophora stylosa for a replanting effort by NParks. Today, we got quite a lot of good seedlings! Soon, these will be new trees growing on our other shores!
We were so fortunate to be joined by Prof Leo Tan on our trip. Prof has played a lead and key role in many marine and environmental issues for decades. So it was a great opportunity for the young ones to meet him. As always, he so generously shared of his experiences and had many encouraging words for us. I hope he was also encouraged to meet the Labrador Angels, the young ladies who have been monitoring the seagrasses at Labrador and thus continue the legendary work he started there.

Thanks to every one who came for the trips, especially those who answered the last-minute call for extra hands: Andy, Gloria, Joe, Marcus, Charmaine, Sam, Hannah, Kevin, Adeline, Timothy, Nor Aishah, Jocelyne, Kenerf, Justin, Si Hui, Ivan, Jinwen, Alvin, Jerald. And from Nparks, Yangchen, Siti and Shufen. Thanks especially to the site team leads: Andy and Hannah, Jerald and Ivan, Kevin and Nor Aishah.

More blog posts about this trip

Feb 7, 2009

Seven dugongs dead in 6 months in Thailand

Seven dugongs had been found dead during the past six months in Thailand's Andaman coastal waters. The causes of death are varied. The latest case is a five-year-old dugong weighing 122 kilogrammes which was found dead at a beach in Trang. According an autopsy, the dugong died of shock when it was caught in the nets of a fishing trawler.
Marine mammal academic Kanchana Adulyanukosol said that there are now only about 200 dugongs left in Thai-Andaman waters and urged the Thai government to protect them.

Currently, Ms. Kanchana said, a master plan to conserve sea cows and seagrass, which was its main diet, was drafted, but has yet been submitted to the Cabinet.

It was believed that if the scheme is implemented, it will help, in a certain extent, to preserve the sea cow population, she said.

Public awareness activities to realise the importance and seriousness of the dugongs' problems is necessary were also recommended, she said.

Full media article on wildsingapore news.

Related links