Sep 27, 2007

Tuas with Schering Plough (27 Sep 07)

With Sheryl and Helen in the lead, the staff of Schering Plough were back out on the shores off Tuas to monitor the seagrasses.
Despite the threatening weather (it always seems to threaten when we are out at Tuas), the valiant ladies pressed on with the tasks at hand.
Here is Helen, Jennifer and Elena.

And Sheryl, Kayne and Michelle.

There seemed to be a lot of sand on the shore today and we had to look a bit to find the grassy patches. Oh dear.

I wandered off to talk to these other ladies who were out on the shores.
I couldn't really find out what they were doing and where they were from. Something to do with a project for NYAA. They promised to come for my talk on Saturday, so perhaps I'll catch up with them again then.

Soon, the Schering Plough team were done and everyone had a look at the shores.The shores were really doing well! There were large healthy carpet anemones.

Of course with tiny transparent anemone shrimps on them!

The sponges were doing well, with large and colourful clumps dotting the area.Further out among the coral rubble were pretty clumps of soft corals and various animals that is to typical of the shore at Tuas. It's like an underwater garden!
They formed delicate pastel bouquets.

And among them, we spotted two different kinds of sea cucumbers!One of the NYAA ladies spotted a sea star!
It's a Cake sea star (Anthenea aspera) which isn't really obvious until you have a look at the underside. These sea stars come in various sizes and colours and patterns, so the underside is the best way to be sure.

On the underside are all kinds of stuff.A row of tube feet emerge from the groove along the centre of each of the short arms. And all over the underside are these oval shaped structures that are typical of the Cake sea star.

Alas, just as we were starting to enjoy the exploration, the weather really turned bad. A vast swathe of ominous dark clouds rolled in, the wind blew and we could almost feel the lightning building up. So we hastily packed up and rushed back to the safety of the Schering Plough facilities.

We shall just have to wait until the next monitoring to see more of this wonderful Tuas shore.

Sep 23, 2007

TeamSeagrass Orientation/Get-Together

Everyone was in a celebratory mood yesterday as TeamSeagrass held its FIRST EVER Get-Together/Orientation session!
The day started early afternoon with volunteers coming to NParks Biodiversity Centre to do some preparations for the event. Some came to doll up the otherwise boring multi-function hall into a seagrass themed room.

Others (mostly the guys) were busy with checking our equipments and doing a stock check on what we have. Not surprisingly, we've got some spoilt quadrats, measuring tapes, etc. but what most amused us was this compass that well, didn't quite tell directions. Here you see Ria staring at the big gaping hole where the arrow used to be.

The door gifts for this event were also wonderful and could very well serve as a "starter kit" for our new volunteers. They include stickers, posters, bookmarks, information sheets about all things seagrass and marine life on our shores.

At around 3pm, more volunteers and new timers had arrived and everyone is already getting to know each other. There were many new faces and they came from all walks of life. It was heartening to think that all these people would be united in the name of seagrass! Regular volunteers also took the opportunity to catch up with each other from their busy schedules.

Shortly after the arrival of our pink diva Siti, the event started with a series of interesting presentation by some of our regular volunteers. First up was Marcus who had been all around our shores with his trusty camera and taking photos that show us another side of our little island. He posts his pictures and stories on his blog: Budak Blog

Tidechaser and Naked Hermit Crab Roy also shared with us his stories of what goes on other than the squares and lines for a TeamSeagrass transect. Little did we know that so much preparation was needed before we could head out and look at our grassy friends!
Be sure to read more about Roy and his adventures on his Tidechaser Blog and the stories of the various trips with the Naked Hermit Crabs on the Naked Hermit Crabs Blog

The other speakers include Kok Sheng who shared with us his findings on his project which aimed to monitor the situation at Chek Jawa after the mass death incident earlier this January. Andy also showed us some threats to our shores and one particularly amusing story he shared was that this poacher ran into Ria and some volunteers at Sentosa one morning and after being told off by them, he went to another side of Sentosa and ran into Siti! Talk about getting what you deserve!

After the sharing session by our volunteers, the TeamSeagrass Orientation finally began. It started off with Siti giving us a whole introduction to TeamSeagrass, Seagrass Watch, the methods and biology behind these surveys. It started to get a little sleepy somewhere in the middle as people are getting hungry but we pulled through. Much to our surprise, Siti didn't mention much about the algaes so a shoutout to our new volunteers here:
Seagrasses are NOT ALGAE!!

The presentation segment of the day's programme ended with none other than Ria giving her safety briefing about what to do and what not to do on our shores. Let's hope we all keep these advices in mind as they were gained from really really real (and painful) experiences.

Before we head off for the barbeque, we presented tokens of appreciation to 2 of our beloved volunteers for their dedication and contribution to the team. These unsung heroes were Sharphooter Marcus and Thrashinator Andy. They were both presented with signed copies of Singapore's Splendour written by nature enthusiast Dr. Chua.

And..... finally it was time for the barbeque! Everyone headed out to the open space outside the NParks office to dig in the glorious food. What's more, to compensate for the carbon we are releasing into the air, we used ceramic plates rather than plastic ones to be more environmentally friendly.

We had a wonderful chef who did the barbequeing at first and after he left, the volunteers decided to take things into their own hands....

Which ended up with cooked food as such:

The barbeque was also a wonderful opportunity for volunteers new and old to share their stories and experiences. Besides this would be the last time we could have a party here as the NParks are about to move to a new place near NUS Law Faculty.

Being such environmentally friendly people, we recycled the empty drink cans instead of throwing them away.

We partied till around 9pm when the volunteers shuddered at the call for someone to finish the remaining food. After that, we packed up and ended this day of fun on a really joyous note (look, even Dionne is smiling when packing up).

Thank you!

Ria adds: What a wonderful account of a great event!

Thank you Dickson for taking care of the photo-taking and the blog entry!

All this would not have been possible without the presence and support of the 30 seagrassers (old and new) who turned up for the evening. It was great catching up with everybody.

With special thanks for the kind contributions these Team members ...

Marcus, Ron, Kok Sheng, Mr Lim and the seagrass angels, Andy: for giving the talks. I learnt a lot from all of them!

Gaytri: for making the fabulous banner (which we intend to take on all our trips), managing the decor and manning the reception desk. Gaytri together with Dionne, Kevin and Hannah also instantly created seagrasses for our decor.

Chay Hoon, Dickson, Sijie, Andy: for coming earlier to prepare for the event and check through the equipment for repairs and losses.

Wei Ling, Robin, Shufen and Kevin: for taking care of the BBQ, the drinks and doing all the preparations for the event.

Siti and Shufen for putting together the great seagrass guide! And Kevin laminated everything so quickly too.

Ley Kun for bringing cutlery, the wonderful salad and cake.

And some other kind soul brought curry puffs too!

NParks for providing the fabulous venue, the great seashores and coral reef posters as door gifts and to Mr Wong and Nigel for coming by for the event.

Dr Chua Ee Kiam for contributing two copies of "Singapore Splendours" as our tokens of appreciation to the most outstanding volunteers: Marcus and Andy!

SeagrassWatch also provided door gifts of all-new bookmarks with seagrassy views. Many of them from our very own shores!!

All of you made it a truly special event.

Thank you once again, everyone, for being there!

More about the party!
Shared on the Seagrass Angels' Labrador blog

Sep 9, 2007

Does monitoring make a difference?

At TeamSeagrass, we take regular measurements such as the percentage of area covered by seagrass, the different types of seagrass found and the length of the blades. Does such data make a difference?

Yes! Here's a story of how monitoring helped better understand and thus hopefully protect a shore...

Naples News 8 Sep 07
Drought reawakens ailing Southwest Florida estuaries
By Julio Ochoa

What a difference a year — and a drought — makes for local estuaries.

A year ago, thousands of gallons of water flowed down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee.

A year ago, persistent blooms of red tide killed scores of fish in local waters. A year ago, seagrass beds in local estuaries were thinning out and dying off because sunlight couldn’t penetrate the murky waters.

Then, the drought hit.

It’s been nearly a year since officials released damaging amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee.

One of the longest lingering red tide blooms in Southwest Florida’s recent history vanished by March. Seagrass beds are coming back strong and the fish are following.

“In this case it seems like it’s starting to bounce back,” said Rick Bartleson, a research scientist for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“Estuaries in general are resilient. This means that we didn’t kill it and that it’s got a chance to come back.”

The improvements are good for business, said Capt. Dave Lanier, owner of Hickory Island Fish Company, a bait wholesaler and charter fishing operation.

Last year, Lanier had to go a few miles offshore to trap pinfish, which he sells to local bait shops. Red tide had killed much of the pinfish stock in Estero Bay. This year, the bait has been all over the flats, he said.

“Let’s see, no releases from Lake Okeechobee, no red tide and no (brown) water,” Lanier said. “Hmmmm, could there be a connection?”

In an estuary, everything is connected, scientists say.

Game fish feed on bait fish. Bait fish and juvenile gamefish seek shelter in seagrass beds and feed on invertebrates that grow on the grass’ blades. And the grass needs the right mixture of saltwater and lots of sunlight to grow.

Large volumes of murky water released from Lake Okeechobee flood local estuaries, blocking out sunlight. The local basin also contributes to the problem with polluted runoff flowing directly into estuaries, instead of being filtered through the natural process.

Freshwater and lack of sunlight causes seagrass beds to thin out or even die off in some areas.

Department of Environmental Protection scientists working for the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve noticed significant decreases in seagrass coverage a couple of years ago.

The scientists monitor the same five sites in Estero Bay every year. Within a square meter, they measure the percentage of area covered by seagrass, the different types of seagrass found and the length of the blades.

The scientists still are conducting their research, but they are finding signs of improvement, especially compared to two years ago, said Stephanie Erickson, an environmental specialist for the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

“A majority of what we’re seeing this year is not only an increase in the percent coverage but in the length of the blades,” Erickson said. “It’s thicker.”

Two years ago, Erickson may have found between 5 and 25 percent coverage in an area; now she is finding between 50 and 75 percent. A few grass beds have even grown, covering more territory, she said.

Scientists for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation also have seen improvements in the areas they monitor around Sanibel, Pine Island Sound and the Caloosahatchee River, Bartleson said.

“We’re seeing more grass in monitoring sites,” he said. “It looks like areas that have been hit hard are starting to come back.”

The hardest-hit area of them all — the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River — has improved the most, Bartleson said. But Bartleson warned that the area isn’t in the clear yet.

Scientists still are finding globs of algae stuck
to some of the area’s seagrass, Erickson said. A recent outbreak of an algae called Trichodesmium, which dies water brown, means red tide may not be far behind, Bartleson said.

And a good drenching from a tropical storm or hurricane could foster the need to open Lake Okeechobee’s flood gates once again, he said.

“We don’t know when the next time we’ll get the dark water,” Bartleson said.