Feb 20, 2011

Pulau Semakau (19 Feb 11)

A huge team heads out to Pulau Semakau to do our first monitoring trip there for the year!
On this trip, we are joined by many others who will be working on the marine life and mangroves on Semakau.

We arrived at the NEA jetty to see huge dark clouds draped over the shore where we will be monitoring. Oh dear. But we still go ahead.
The forest track to the shore is usually swarming with bazillions of blood-thirsty mosquitos, and sloshy slippery mud. So we are all well wrapped up to protect ourselves without having to resort to mosquito repellent, which is toxic to marine life. But the dry weather has made the track nice and hard, and there seems to be very few mosquitos. Hurray!
A quick moment to sort ourselves out and we head out to for our monitoring sites. Siti is leading a special team to retrieve the loggers that we set up some days earlier.
Andy helps to put back one of the stakes that had been lost at Site 2.
Then a few of us head out to the furthest site, Site 1. Thanks to Andy and Li Lian, we found the stakes in the rather deep water as the tide was still a little high. By the time we laid out the line, the sky turned blue and the sun came out!
The seagrasses at Site 1 are rather sparse, so it's a great introduction to monitoring for first timers.
Here, there is mostly Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) and it's nice to see long blades of them. During our visit to Cyrene Reef the day before, much of the Tape seagrass there have broken off and are very short.
Due to the very small Team that finally turned up, Li Lian and I did two transects! Near one of our points, we saw a very large sea cucumber!
I call this the 'Garlic bread' sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra) because it's about the same shape and size as a loaf of garlic bread, complete with dark bars that resembles slices on the loaf! It is listed as Vulnerable in Singapore.
Almost a year ago, Robin of NParks kindly sent me a link to a wonderful paper about the important role of this sea cucumber in seagrass meadows: The ecological role of Holothuria scabra (Echinodermata: Holothuroidea) within subtropical seagrass beds by Svea-Mara Wolkenhauer et al. I'm ashamed to say I failed to do a post about this paper. Fortunately, on the awesome Echinoblog, Chris M had done a fabulous post about this study. The study found that seagrasses suffer without these sea cucumbers! Chri M puts it very well by saying:
So, what is it about sea cucumbers that makes sea grass beds THAT much more productive when cukes are around??

By ingesting all that sediment and sand and burying itself in the sediment, this kicks up all of the good organic food into the water and can knock loose food & nutrients that would be usable by the seagrass bed and other nearby plants and organisms.

Seagrass beds might also be taking advantage of sea cucumber "ammonium excretions" (which some humans would call "pee" but I would not) into the local ecosystem., thus feeding the surrounding plants and animals.
It started to drizzle a bit while we were monitoring, even though the sun was out. So we enjoyed an awesome rainbow!
Pulau Semakau lies next to the Live Firing area comprising Pulau Senang, Pulau Pawai and Pulau Sudong. So it was not surprising to hear the sudden boom and see a puff of smoke as explosions took place on Pulau Senang.
After our monitoring, we had a quick look around at the shore as we headed back. Besides seagrasses, Pulau Semakau also has awesome reefs!
There are some nice corals here!
And we even saw a seahorse! I didn't manage to take a nice photo of it, but I'm sure one of the team members will soon share better photos.
We were such a large group because we were joined by many other people doing work on Pulau Semakau.

Siti led a team comprising Regi, Eva, Thorsten and Jerome to collect loggers (sorry I missed taking a photo of them at work). We were also joined by a team checking for invasive gobies at Pulau Semakau, led by Chun Keat and included Elsa, Rick, Magendran and Ariff. Fortunately, they didn't find any of these gobies at Semakau. What is an invasive species and why is it important to look out for them? More in this post.
Shufen led a team which included Chua JC, 'Niko', Kevin and Kwan Siong to check out the mangroves of Semakau. Here they are cleaning up the Critically Endangered Api-api jambu (Avicennia marina) of abandoned fishing nets and lines entwined on it. They also had a look at the Critically Endangered Pink-eyed pong pong tree (Cerbera manghas), there are several on Pulau Semakau!
Wow, we sure got a lot of work done!

Many thanks to NEA for giving us a super fast ride in on the super fast new van, and a much appreciated ride back out again.

Also thanks to Wei Ling who took care of our logistics arrangements even though she couldn't be with us. And Shufen for organising the boat transport!

Of course, we couldn't have done the monitoring without these team members on the trip: Marcus, Yen-ling, Vanitha, Andy, Kok Sheng, Nor Aishah, Joycelyne, Wen Xin, Sucan Sutanto, Mabel, Siti Nurbaya, Liu Ching, Karen and Wei Siang.

More photos and stories by these team members
  • Jocyelyne on facebook.
  • Kok Sheng with lots of knobbly sea stars, special cockle and other sightings.
  • Ria a look at a driftnet near Site 1 and coral bleaching.

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