Feb 4, 2014

Of mud and seed banks: Adventures with Seagrass-Watch, 2nd - 3rd Feb 2014.

So this is a totally belated post btw, I was supposed to do it, but all the thesis writing made it very difficult to face a computer and type stuff, so I put it off for as long as I could until it just got ridiculous, so here goes.

Len and Rudi from Seagass-Watch HQ visited us over the CNY weekend and OF COURSE we had to go seagrass adventuring. The aim of the trip was to collect some samples for nutrient analyses, genetic studies and to do a preliminary seed bank study.

Fortunately, the tides are evening tides, which means that we could sleep in after the CNY feasting and festivities before heading out to Chek Jawa on Sunday, 2nd Feb. Once we were there, Sam, Nor Aishah and I set out collecting samples for genetic analyses. There were some curious members of the public out and about and we had to tell them what we were doing. Good thing we have that research permit!

After that, Rudi showed us how to do seed bank sampling. It's a relatively simple method, using very simple tools, namely a PVC pipe and a kitchen sieve. The idea is to get about 10cm of sediment in the corer and sieve out the sediments and look for seeds. Here's Sam showing us how it's done:
Using the Corer (PVC pipe with cap) to sample ~10cm o sediment.
Sieving sediment away with a sieve (no! yes, really).
Checking for H. uninervis seeds.
Unfortunately, we were not able to find any whole seeds :( Even after Len and Rudi tried (we thought maybe we were just blind!). Len and Rudi did however, find some seed coats from seeds that have already germinated, so we know that our seagrasses are having sexy times, although maybe, not often enough. If this sounds familiar, well... 
It wasn't just us! The seeds wouldn't appear even for Len and Rudi!
The meadow was also full of dugong feeding trails!!! There were so many and they criss-crossed all over the meadow.
Those are some hungry dugongs!
The next day, we went to the Mandai Mangroves to look for Halophila beccarii, which is a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list. As I'm not familiar with Mandai mangroves, having been there like, twice in my life, we enlisted the help of a friend from NUS who did a study in the area, and she showed us how to get into the area safely. Do NOT try this by yourself especially if you don't have a research permit because you COULD be arrested (like for realz).

We found H. beccarii quite quickly, and set about collecting samples. Collecting genetic samples means collecting parts of the plant that yields the best DNA when extracted and this tends to be the "new or growing" bits, like the meristem, growing tips or young shoots.
Mangroves are relatively unfamiliar territory for us seagrass peeps who are used to firmer sediment, so there was a bit of getting stuck - especially for me. I put it down to a biomass issue, but it's fortunate that this was nowhere near as bad as what I experienced in the mangrove forests in Thailand.
Ugh what's this squishy stuff?
Skip ahead skip ahead! Don't stay too long in one place or you'll sink!
Mission accomplished! Now to get outta here.
After awhile though, I found relatively firmer sediment in the exposed river bed and I decided to just stay there and do what I do best - that is, I point and stuff and make people do things.
Not the happiest camper.
"There's some seagrass there to your right"
After enough exploring, we made our way back out. Those of us with long legs trudged ahead:
While some of us opted for a more melodramatic exit:
The fields are aliiiveeeee... with the sound of muuuuuusiiicccc

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