Mar 29, 2009

First Seagrass-Watch newsletter for 2009

The first edition for 2009 marks an awesome new layout!
The first article by Len McKenzie and Richard Unsworth is about the role our seagrass meadows play in sequestering carbon! The article ends by highlighting the importance of stewardship of seagrasses (that's what TeamSeagrass does!) in raising awareness of and protecting seagrass meadows and how these can offset our carbon footprints.
Read also about how seagrass is attracting tourists in Broome (Western Australia), but how groups are campaigning against the eradication of seagrass at tourist resorts in the Maldives.
There is also an article on a survey examining seagrass condition from the uplifting of Nias island (Indonesia) after the earthquakes and tsunamis in 2004 and 2005.Alas, the situation is not good for Nias.

You'll also find our regular updates from groups in Torres Strait, Townsville and the Great Sandy Strait.
And of course, Singapore and TeamSeagrass!Siti as usual, shares about our wacky adventures, at low tide and on the high seas!There's also an awesome article about Sawfish! Ah, I guess there ARE scarier things than stingrays and stonefish in seagrasses.

Go read the Seagrass-Watch News Issue 36 March 2009 on the Seagrass-Watch website (download the PDF).

Chek Jawa (29 Mar 09)

Our first sunrise monitoring for the year, and Chek Jawa is glorious!It was tough getting into the swing of the 4am wake up call, but it was worth it!

Today we were joined by students from Duke University led by Dr Mike Orbach. They are here as part of programme to study how the city state of Singapore functions.Siti gave a brief outline about TeamSeagrass and our work before we headed out for the shore.Another first for today was the unfurling of the new TeamSeagrass banner designed by Siti. This will be posted up at Chek Jawa, Pulau Semakau and other places where the Team is at work. So everyone can find out more about us and how to join us!We clamber down the ladder at the pontoon at the end of the boardwalk. I am increasingly having problems fitting in between the narrow ladder top. Sigh.And then we're off to get the monitoring done.

I was with the Duke University team, so I didn't get to share in what the rest of the Team did and found. But I'm sure they'll blog about this soon.

The grasses were certainly doing well. It was very nice to see in particular, lush growths of Fern seagrasses (Halophila spinulosa) and Smooth ribbon seagrasses (Cymodocea rotundata). The Sickle seagrasses (Thalassia hemprichi) were also doing well. Of course, there were loads of Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis) and Needle seagrasses (Halodule sp.). Siti shared more about Chek Jawa's seagrass meadows and the work of TeamSeagrass with the Duke University team.

I shared with the Duke University students about the mass deaths that occured in 2007 following massive flooding. Among those that suffered mass deaths were echinoderms. So it was good to see the echinoderms doing well on Chek Jawa.

Just as we started, Adelle found a Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus) is the seagrass area! The little nocturnal sand stars (Astropecten sp.) were still zipping about in the pools, about ready to burrow into the sand for the day. Also getting ready to sleep were several large brittlestars (Subclass Ophiuroidea).We also saw lots of sand dollars (Arachnoides placenta). The sea cucumbers were doing well with many Ball sea cucumbers (Phyllophorus sp.), some smooth sea cucumbers.
It was great to see MANY Garlic bread sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra) and relatively large ones they were, as these animals were among those affected by the mass deaths. And as we headed to the middle of the lagoon, the students found some Common sea stars (Archaster typicus), some of which were mating! Hopefully, these sea stars will multiply and again, become very common on Chek Jawa.

We also saw many carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) including some on the sand bar! That's great to see as many of these anemones were affected by the 2007 mass deaths. As it was still early and cool, many peacock anemones (Order Ceriantharia) in various colours remained unfurled, and we also saw some sea pens (Order Pennatulacea). Annabelle also showed them the strange 'strawberry' sea anemone that is common on Chek Jawa and Changi but which has yet to be identified. We also saw some jellyfishes!

A strange snail we saw was this moon-snail like creature.It looked like a moon snail with a very large body. But the body was hard, and the snail did not seem to be able to retract completely into its shell.
The shell was rather flat and was covered with tiny spiralling ridges. I have no idea what it is. The students saw several of these, burrowing in the sand.

We also saw several Noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) and their egg cases, and the students found one actually in the process of laying her egg case! These large snails were also affected by the mass deaths so it was nice to encounter many of them.

Other molluscs that made their presence felt were cephalopods. The students came across this bunch of squid/cuttlefish egg capsules.
And later on, Andy shared with us this cuttlefish with a white band between its eyes and a row of glittering spots around its fins.It rapidly changed colours as it cruised about in the pool.Sam found this strange thing which was tubeworm out of its tube. One of the students shared that it might be Family Chaetopteridae. She added that these were rarely seen out of the tube. We wonder what might have caused the worm to stick out.
Indeed, from the Family Chaetopteridae page on the A Guide To Singapore Polychaetes by Lim Yun Ping, the National University of Singapore, there is the above drawing of the worm. Sure looks like what we saw! There sure were a lot of tubeworms on Chek Jawa today. Even at the Southern sand bar.

We also heard all kinds of birds from the shores. From waders to kingfishers, and the melodious Straw-headed bulbul. A special treat was to see a large clan of Jungle fowl wander out to the shore to feed: cockerels, hens and little ones too! Thanks to Adelle for pointing them out to us.

All too soon, the tide turned rapidly and TeamSeagrass and the students headed back.
We take a quick look at more stuff, which will soon be blogged about I'm sure.Since it was a glorious blue-sky morning, and it was still very early (not even 10am), we went on a little tour of the mangrove boardwalk. Kindly led by Marcus Ng, Ivan and Andy who guide with the Naked Hermit Crabs. I heard that hornbills were sighted! Thank you to these gallant and able guides for introducing TeamSeagrass and Duke University to the Chek Jawa mangroves. While they were hard at work, Siti, Wei Ling and I had a quick look at the mangroves on our own.

It was a great pleasure to have Duke University with us today. We thank Ubin NParks and Adelle for support on the trip. We certainly enjoyed having guests learn about our seagrasses and our shores, and we hope they enjoyed the trip. The students are blogging their trip to Singapore at Urban Tropical Ecology 2009. So look out for their report about our trip!

Thanks also to the site leaders for helping to set things up and get things done during the montoring: Adelle, Andy, Michell, Suizlyn, Hannah, Charmaine, Sam, Kenerf.

Thanks also to all in TeamSeagrass for coming for the monitoring and washing up afterwards: Jocelyn, Richard, Jinwen, Suryati, Marcus, Ivan, Gerry, Yoke Xi, Sean, Justin.

And of course Siti and Wei Ling who make all this possible!

Hope to see more of the Team at the next monitoring session and especially the upcoming Seagrass Workshop!

More blog posts about this trip

Another dugong dies in waters off Johor

New Straits Times 29 Mar 09;

PASIR GUDANG: Dugong deaths in the waters off Johor are occurring again.

Two of the marine herbivores, which are listed as protected species and considered a part of Johor's heritage, have been found dead over a span of a week.
Since the much-publicised death of a baby dugong named Si Tenang in 1999, no less than 12 dugong carcasses had been found in Johor waters till 2004.

On Friday, a male dugong, weighing about 300kg, was found floating in the waters off a village in Tanjung Langsat about 5pm.

Fisherman, Aris Abu Bakar, 46, at first thought the three-metre mammal was a bunch of plastic bags.

"I was shocked to discover it was a dugong.

"In my 30 years as a fisherman, this is the first time I have come across a dugong."

Aris, who informed the state Fisheries Department, said there were wounds on the dugong's belly.

On Tuesday, a dead dugong, also weighing 300kg, was found floating near the Sungai Pok Besar jetty in Gelang Patah.

A Fisheries Department spokesman said the waters off Johor were abundant with benthic seagrass, which was the main diet of the dugongs.

The dugongs' migratory path stretches from Sungai Johor, along the coastline eastwards and cuts across to the inland shore of Pulau Sibu, where rich meadows of seagrass are found.

Mar 23, 2009

Thai fishermen call on government to save the dugong

Methee Moungkaew, The Nation 23 Mar 09;
Trang's fishermen have asked the government to strictly control the illegal dugong trade after they found many foreign mariners hunting the animals and smuggling them out to Singapore for Bt50,000 each, villager leader IsmaAnn Ben SaArd said.

The illegal hunt is being carried out by foreign fishermen especially from Satun province. They throw bombs into cairns or near coral reefs, with the resulting explosion thowing up many fish, he added.

IsmaAnn explained that some wayward local fishermen have pointed out the area to foreign fishermen.

25 killed in a month

Moreover, they also use seine and large fishing nets to hunt stingray and other kinds of fish two kilometers from

the coast. They use a local fishhook called "Rawai" to hunt dugong, killing more than 25 of the creatures during the past month alone.

Trang authorities have announced that Rawai is an illegal piece of fishing equipment for it endangers dugong and sea turtles.

He said each dugong commands a price of Bt50,000 on the black market, with its bones and teeth going for Bt30,000. Singapore is the biggest market for this trade. The country uses the dead dugong to produce medicine and amulets.

Mar 9, 2009

Cyrene Reef (9 Mar 09)

A few hours to go before the TeamSeagrass trip to Cyrene Reef today, and the prognosis for the weather is bleak.On the NEA webpage of rain locations, a giant mass of wetness enveloped the entire island. And on other weather websites, the Mother of All Clouds stretched from Sumatra to Johor. This doesn't look good.

But for TeamSeagrass, the mantra is "When it's low, We GO!". So long as there's no high winds or lightning, which there wasn't.
Melvin was ready, we were ready, the tide was low. And so what if needly hard little drops of water were relentlessly falling from the sky? Hah! we say. The tricky landing is as usual, done with great style and safety, thanks to Melvin.And in no time, the Team was ashore, equipment all laid out and ready for action.I joined Leon and Joe at Site 2, the further site. At the next transect was Shawn Lum, who kindly not only made the time to join us on the trip, but also did monitoring as we were down a few hands. Wei Ling and Kok Sheng are with him at Transect 1. Meanwhile Marcus and Dawn are doing Transect 3.Alas, on the way to our site, we noticed a lot of the seagrasses had black portions. Much like what the Seagrass Angels saw at Labrador. Were the seagrasses burnt by the very hot weather recently?

All to soon, the monitoring was done and we were off to explore this fantastic reef in the middle of a triangle made up of our world class container port at Pasir Panjang, and the petrochemical plants at Pulau Bukom and Jurong Island. Despite this, Cyrene Reef has not only vast living seagrass meadows, but also living reefs! With large hard and soft corals. Here's more about Cyrene Reefs.The reefs shelter creatures such as this brightly coloured Mosaic reef crab (Lophozozymus pictor). It is Singapore's most toxic crab and should not be eaten!Marcus spotted this well camouflaged Leaf slug (Elysia ornata)!
And of course, Cyrene Reef is home to countless Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus).

The others also saw the Pentaceraster sea stars (Pentaceraster mammilatus). As well as a strange sea cucumber, an odd snail, a very long ribbon worm, a Snaky anemone (Macrodactyla doreensis) and other animals. Read more about them on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog.

Sadly, we came across several soft corals that appear recently broken off their hard mounts. Recently, because they seemed otherwise unharmed and still alive.
Soft corals grow on hard surfaces such as coral rubble. So it is not natural to see them upside down like this.Here are several others also seen loose and upside down.

Other disturbing encounters included many fish traps on the lush shores.Two men came on their sampan to check on their fish traps.Aside from the fish traps, Cyrene is also next to a project involving massive dredging, laying of "small rocks" for some sort of communications or supply line between Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom. That seems to be the dredger in the background. Cyrene Reefs is also near the humungous reclamation project to build a new container terminal near Labrador Nature Reserve.

As the tide turned, the weather eased to a mizzle (miserable drizzle).
It was time to go home.
The Chair marks the departure point. And as we wait for Melvin to brave the now high waves to reach the shore, we find some novel uses for it.It's great for a short snooze.The Chair helps us figure out where to start the queue.Is handy for those of us who decide to be Queen of the Shore for the Moment. Meanwhile, Sam is scooping up a batch of seaweed to crown the Queen. Her Majesty didn't quite take to the idea.But the main purpose of the Chair is to help us landlubbers clamber back up to the boat. I again did the Dugong Dive to get into the boat. Is a lot easier than trying to be ladylike and step in.And of course, for those left behind for the next boat pick up (IF all goes well and IF the boat comes back), the Chair is a handy place to have a seat while waiting.

All wet from splashing around getting back into the boat, it was freezing on the way home.
Even though Shawn, ever the gentleman, offered to shield Siti from the wind, it still bites.Joe and Dawn are more cheerful about it.Charmaine is almost unrecognisable in her full body and full face jacket.Cyrene Reef is an amazing shore and we shall be back in a few months for our regular monitoring. Let's hope we have better weather then.

Thank you to all who came for the monitoring: Shawn, Sam, Kenerf, Marcus Ng, Sijie, Dawn, Charmaine, Nor Aishah, Leon, Joe, Kok Sheng and Chee Kong. And of course Siti and Wei Ling for taking care of all the equipment (we always forget that they do all the washing up! Thank you ladies!), and of course Melvin for the miraculous landing and evacuation as usual.

Other posts about this trip