Apr 24, 2008

Sentosa (24 Apr 08)

Yes, Sentosa has seagrasses! And a small team of dedicated seagrassers were out this morning to do a quick check-up on one of Sentosa's last remaining natural shores.

We were a little late starting off, so we rushed out to get the job done as the tide was already starting to come in. And I entirely forgot to take photos of the team in action...sigh.

The seagrasses were doing quite well with very VERY long Tape seagrass that required doubling up the ruler to measure, and tiny Spoon seagrasses.

After the work is done, we have a quick look around at the shore.

Our corals are expected to mass spawn tonight or over the next few days. So we had a very close look at the hard corals on the shores to see if they were up to any hanky panky. More about what we saw on the wildfilms blog.

Unfortunately, our little expedition is cut short as a storm front develops right before our eyes!
and we hurry back before the heavens opened up.Thanks to all who came for the early morning, rescheduled trip, despite having to rush back to work afterwards: Kenerf, Ley Kun, Vyna, Wilson and of course Shufen and Siti were there too!

Singapore Polytechnic G-Pop @ SP (22 April 2008)

Team Seagrass joined other organizations such as ACRES and the Singapore Environmental Council, among many others, in the Singapore Polytechnic G-Pop @ SP event. Organised by the Singapore Polytechnic Environment Club (SPENV), it was an event to celebrate Earth Day and to promote Green initiatives.

It started with a mere trickle of visitors. Sam and Helen commented that I was like a ‘pasar malam auntie’ trying to entice visitors to come and look at our booth. However, the momentum of the crowd soon gathered when the primary school children came, bringing along their sense of curiosity and enthusiasm, to learn more about saving the earth.

Team Seagrass volunteers came armed with our arsenal of posters, pamphlets, monitoring equipment, games and exhibits. Kindly loaned by the Raffles Museum of Diversity Research, the exhibits of a horseshoe crab, a baby dugong, seahorses, a swimming crab and a sand dollar proved to be a crowd-puller.

But nothing reels them in like the baby dugong exhibit. Many visitors to the booth were just incredulous we even have dugongs coming in to our shores.

The Team Seagrass volunteers seized upon the opportunity to tell our visitors about the relationship between these animals and seagrass colonies, whether as a source of food or habitat. We also had an exhibit of live seagrass specimens and seaweed, dug up by Siti earlier in the morning, to show our visitors the differences between the two.

It was astounding to many visitors the sheer variety of marine life found amongst the seagrass meadows.

Freebies and games were the perennial fail-safe method to draw the crowds in too. Our match-and-win game, where students pick a cartoon drawing from a container and try to find its name from our posters and pamphlets, was a winner. Students kept coming back to play, in order to win the full set of 3 stickers. We hope, through this, the students become more aware of the types of seagrass present in our shores, as well as the marine life that it supports.

Those who came were entertained by the rhapsody of songs, rap and pledges, performed by the primary school children. Not to be outdone, one of the vendors also put up a song to promote the vegetarian lifestyle.

It was heartening to see so many people caring about the environment. We hope outreach events like this one create an impact to bring about greater improvements in how we treat the Earth.

Thanks to all who contributed to the Team Seagrass effort in the G-Pop @ SP event: Sam, Sijie, Gaytri, Helen, Vyna and Nor Aishah. Special mention goes to Chay Hoon for the super cute drawings used for the game; Weiling and Robin for transport of the specimens; Siti and Ria for their guidance leading up to this event!

Apr 13, 2008

Chek Jawa (12 April 2008)

Chek Jawa has always had a reputation as a treasure trove that supports a rich variety of life on its shores. And yesterday, it was no different.

Except this time, other than marine life, Chek Jawa also played host to another species – the homo sapiens! The boardwalk and shores came alive with the sights and sounds of families with children in tow, nature guides, a gaggle of school children, who are all eager to experience the wonder that Chek Jawa beholds.

One itches to join in the fun but nevertheless, the committed Team Seagrass directed their attention to the immediate task at hand to monitor the development of the seagrass.

In fact, the day marked a new beginning. Here we see the team doing the new transect at House No. 1 for Halophila beccarii. The first step in laying out the tape required plodding through 50m of soft sand, which at times threatens to pull you under, as evidenced by the deep imprints left in the sand.

With the tape laid out, the rest of the team came over to the end of the tape to start doing their readings from the 50m mark. Sam looked suspiciously like he was on the wrong side of the tape. Hmm...BUSTED! =)

At every 5m interval, the team will record their readings and jot them down on the monitoring sheet. Other than seagrass, sometimes one comes across the odd hermit crab or two. Now, whatever did these two Team Seagrassers see in their transect squares?

The sand looks sparse of seagrass but a closer look revealed the good ol’ halophila ovalis...

as well as the Halophila beccarii species.

Over at Site 1, we weren’t doing too badly either, encountering the cymodocea rotundata and the halophila ovalis species in our transect squares.

With the monitoring done, it was then time to comb the shores to discover what lies beneath the vast patches of green.

Trying to look for anemone shrimps under the carpet anemone with the dive steel pointer earned me a stern rebuke from the snapping shrimp hiding underneath. But not all the marine animals were as indignant at being spotted. The other Team Seagrassers spotted sea urchins, various species of sea stars, sea hares, sea pens and a riot of other marine life.

The searing heat from the sun soon threatened to scorch us into oblivion. Everyone’s taking a well-deserved rest at the jetty, waiting for the boats. Jerald was probably contemplating a hard day’s work...or maybe wondering where the missing peg was!

Siti’s shepherding her team into the boat. It’s back to mainland folks!

Many thanks to all who came for the monitoring session: Andy, Chay Hoon, Dawn, Gaytri, Hannah, June, Kah Chine, Kenerf, Marcus, Michell, Mizuki, Nor Aishah, Sam, Shufen, Si Jie, Siti, Suizlyn, Vyna, Weiling, Jerald, Collin, Bellinda, Kevin and Ria!

Apr 10, 2008

Cyrene Reef (10 April 2008)

Still bleary-eyed near the crack of dawn, Team Seagrass met at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club to take a boat down to the Cyrene Reef.

Upon reaching Cyrene reef though, the last traces of the Sandman’s dust instantly evaporated upon hearing the loudhailer coming from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s boat. “Keep away from the area! It is very dangerous and you might drown!”

Still, despite the undoubtedly menacing warning, the intrepid Team Seagrassers nevertheless made it safely on the sandbar without incident. Here is Wei Ling, leading those who were doing Site 2 to the pole markers.

Whoever said “it’s the journey, not the destination that counts” is a wise man. Even before getting to the pole markers, we were already rewarded with sights of marine life that the seagrass meadows support! We came across at least 2 carpet anemones that had shrimps shyly peeking out under it.

There was also a jellyfish bobbing happily among the seagrasses. Wei Ling was chided by Shu Fen for stepping on white sea urchins. But little wonder - the baby white sea urchin on the right was covered with seaweed – it was really tough to spot!

Gaytri and I got started on monitoring, pegging in at the marker pole and laid out the tape, only to realise...we had no monitoring sheet! The day was saved with Chay Hoon’s slate and the data was recorded on it.

Our transect line unveiled some surprises. We had a seagrass flower at our 50m line and came across a knobbly sea star. Gaytri also spotted these pair of slugs, and we had no idea what it was until Si Jie confirmed that it was a pair of nudibranch! I have never seen them so huge before so these were two real big smoking mamas of the nudibranch species, each about 15cm long!

Plenty of sea stars were out today; we have some knobblys as well as the common sea stars.

We saw this marine worm furiously trying to dig its way in back into its hole after being spotted, and plenty of synaptid sea cucumbers and crabs. One shrimp was playing peek-a-boo from under the mermaid’s fan seaweed.

Si Jie hollered for us to come over when he spotted a nudibranch. It turned out to be the rare melibe nudibranch! Chay Hoon considers this as the Holy Grail of nudibranch, and it was paparazzi galore as other Team Seagrassers take shots of it.
The surprises were not yet over as the day yielded some seahorses. The one on the left is a tigertail seahorse while the picture on the right shows a pregnant papa. One never hears those two words to describe homo sapiens but for the seahorses, during courtship, the female seahorse deposits the eggs into the male seahorses’ pouch. The male then releases sperm, fertilizing the eggs that are safely inside. Some species have gotten their reproduction methods right, I reckon.
All too soon, we headed back to the boat. One never counts on getting the pants dry even when one is leaving Cyrene, because as you can see from Marcus’ fabulous back view, the waters are knee deep and currents around Cyrene are strong. All part of the fun, we say.

Many thanks to Ria and the NParks “garang” girls (you should see how Siti bellowed to the MPA people on the boat at the start of the trip!) Siti, Shu Fen and Wei Ling for making the trip possible. And the Team Seagrassers who helped out: Sijie, Chay Hoon, Kok Sheng, Gaytri, Marcus, Jerald, Robin and Vyna – agreed unanimously that it was one fantastic session!

More about the trip
A round of all special finds on the nature scouter blog
Sightings of NEW sea stars on the wonderful creations blog
Marvellous Melibe a video clip of it swimming! on the colourful clouds blog
Other happenings on the wildfilms blog

Tuas with Schering Plough Updates (9 Apr 08)

After putting on their Phua Chu Kang boots, the team from Schering-Plough were good to go with our extremely cute collapsible transect squares!

As we were randomly placing our transect squares on various spots on the shore, we saw plenty of snails, as well as a few species of crabs, including the flower and hairy crab species.

Along the way, almost camouflaged in the sand, was this marine worm. While none too pretty, it is nevertheless new to many of us.

There were plenty of snails in our transects, as well as hermit crabs. We almost didn’t spot these pair of moon snails as they were half buried in the sand, but a pair of keen eyes unearthed these beauties.

The observant Martin spotted this mystery creature. No one could quite figure out what it was – maybe one of the Team Seagrassers reading this can help us out.

Plenty of these sea cucumbers on the shore today at Tuas.

A pity that the team from Schering-Plough had to go in soon after the monitoring was done to start their work day. They missed this vibrant red cake sea star (doesn’t it look like a cuddly cushion with embroidery at its edges?), a couple of file fishes, sea cucumbers and many more crabs!

But hey, there will always be more to see the next time around!

Apr 9, 2008

Tuas with Schering Plough (9 Apr 08)

Another bright and early morning today, this time at Tuas with TeamSeagrass volunteers from Schering Plough.

Led by the ever energetic Sheryl, the team got a quick briefing.It was a tad early in the morning, but the team still valiantly gave a hearty hello for the group photo.Meanwhile, I headed off to check out the beacon area, the first time in more than a year. More about what I saw on the wildfilms blog.

Vyna and Andy came by to help out the teams. Hopefully Vyna will upload more photos of what the team did and saw.

I thought the volunteers would head to where I was so we could share this marvelous shore with them. But alas, they had to go back to work and I missed saying goodbye to them.

Thanks to all Schering Plough volunteers for helping out today: Sheryl Tay, Yeo, Lay Tin, Tanabalan Umah Mageswari, Teoh Cheng Hoe, Evelyn Ong, Richard Ng, Ong Lay Har, Chan Yuet Leng.

And to Vyna and Andy for coming by to support the effort.

Tomorrow, another trip to a fabulous shore to check out the seagrasses there!

Apr 8, 2008

Siti and Shufen check out seagrasses at the Museum

From Sijie's post on the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research news blog.

There sure is a lot to find out about our seagrasses!

Lots of monitoring trips coming up as the morning super low spring tide start!

Apr 1, 2008

Siti shares the passion for nature

Our very own Siti is featured in the Straits Times Recruit section, talking about the importance of nature conservation.

Passionate about Nature
Raymond Poon, Straits Times Recruit 29 Mar 08

Nature lover Siti Maryam wants to spread the conservation message so that more people will join the effort to protect the environment

Ms Siti Maryam had her heart set on studying marine biology, but the degree was not offered here.

She would have to go overseas to pursue her passion. Her interest in marine biology was sparked after she attended a United Nations Conference commemorating the International Day of the Ocean 1998 during her junior college days.

Her parents were not keen on the idea of her going abroad. Ms Siti was adamant, though. She says: "I did my research and selected a few universities. I told my parents that I was not going to change my mind."

It was either doing what she wanted or not study further. Her parents eventually relented, provided Ms Siti pove her desire to study the subject.

So, she took two years off after junior college to do just that, helping at watchgroup Nature Society, putting up conservation exhibitions and reading up on marine life. In 2002, she left for Australia to pursue her degree.

Watching trends

Returning in 2006, Ms Siti looked for a job and also set up a volunteer group TeamSeagrass with a partner. Its role is to monitor the seagrass habitats around Singapore, which are important indicators of coastal change.

Seagrasses -- flowering sea plants -- are a very important coastal habitat because they are a nursery for animals like fish, crabs and prawns. "A lot of marine life have some stage in their life cycle where they depend on seagrasses, " explains Ms Siti.

Her volunteer work is now part of her job scope. As TeamSeagrass worked closely with NParks, Ms Siti, now 26, learned of an opening there and joined them in June last year.

As a senior biodiversity officer at the Biodiversity Centre, she studies seagrass and mangrove habitats. Monitoring the health of these habitats is long-term work as it involves establishing trends, which require time frames of at least three years, she says.

For example, just because seagrass is dying does not mean something has adversely affected its environment. Instead, it could be part of the natural seasonal cycle of growth and decay.

In mangrove swamps, she monitors signs like tree height, condition of tree leaves and populations of mangrove residents like birds, snails and crabs.

Taking ownership

She hope more people will join the conservation effort as the major threats to nature are man-made.

One big problem is marine litter. Says Ms Siti: "It gets really bad for mangroves because they are in sheltered areas, so all this rubbish gets trapped there and it smothers the animals."

Poaching is another big issue. "We see people in little boats go to seagrass areas and put traps there," she says, "since seagrasses are home to edible kinds of small fish."

Poachers also put coral reefs like the one at Sentosa under threat. "These people come in the darkness of the night when you can't really be sending your rangers to patrol the area," she says.

But it is not so much about catching these people as it is about making them aware of how their actions impact the environment. Public education plays an important role here. She says: "When you have things like photo exhibitions, they go, 'Oh wow, where is this animal, where can you find it?'

"Because a lot of these things are very colourful, it attracts people. Once you get them hooked, you can start spreading the message."

The public walks at Chek Jawa also draw a lot of participants. "A lot of the questions they ask tend to be about whether something can be eaten or not," says Ms Siti, wryly.

"But they know it's out there and they see for themselves how beautiful it is. And it instills a sense of ownership in people."

Ria's comment: There's a photo of Siti with the article. She is taking a shot of a Pagoda plant in the forest with her underwater camera...poor Siti was probably made to pose for this shot. I took the liberty to post instead, photos of Siti doing the stuff she loves on the sea shore.

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