Aug 30, 2008

Mating manatees cause stir in river

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had this kind of sightings for our dugongs?

Carl Mario Nudi Bradenton Herald 30 Aug 08;

Manatees doing what comes naturally caused a stir early Thursday evening as a herd of the lumbering marine mammals were seen mating near the Green Bridge.

The wild splashing of a group of five to 10 large males trying to get beneath a single reluctant female in the shallow waters of the river bank can be disconcerting to an untrained observer.

From late spring to early fall, the female manatee is in her peak reproductive period, and that's when large number of male - or bull - manatees flock to the female for a sort of free-for-all spectacle.
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"We sometimes get calls because people think the animals are stranded," said Andy Garrett, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "And it sometimes happens as the tide goes out."

That was what happened at about 6 p.m. Thursday near the Riverside Drive boat ramp at Regatta Point.

Palmetto Police Department officers were called to help direct traffic.

Garrett said the tide went out and the animals were in shallower water than usual, but a biologist was on hand to keep them wet for about two hours until the tide came in again.

Although the manatees in the Manatee River were not in immediate danger, Garret said there are times when manatees do get stranded on sand bars and in the shallows of rivers and bays.

"People should call our marine wildlife alert line when they see any manatee in trouble," he said.

The biologist also said people should not get in the way of love and go into the water when a male herd is trying to mate with a female.

Male manatees can reach 1,000 pounds in weight, while the female can grow to more than 1,500.

"The males get focused and it could be dangerous," Garrett said. "You could get trapped underwater with one of those heavy animals on top of you."

He also said humans thinking they are helping could disrupt the mating process. With the low reproduction rate of manatees, that would not be beneficial for the species.

The Danish revival of seagrass thatching

(Note: Zostera marina is actually a seagrass and not a seaweed, here's a wikipedia entry on Zostera and about Zostera carpricorni on the seagrasss watch website. )

The Danish revival of seaweed seagrass thatching
Paul Miles, Financial Times 30 Aug 08;

In Denmark, on the island of Læsø, off the east coast of North Jutland, are houses with seaweed roofs, some of which have survived for as long as 300 years.

The seaweed, or eelgrass (Zostera marina), grows up to two metres or more long. It was collected from the seashore by horse and cart and, once dried, bundled and twisted into thick ropes that were then woven through a home’s rafters to form a roof a metre thick.

Over the centuries, the eelgrass roofs became misshapen and formed a habitat for wildflowers, with sedums and grasses sprouting on their surface. Today, only 20 of the houses survive.

A fungal disease wiped out much of the eelgrass in the 1920s and, perhaps due to changing sea currents, the beds have still not recovered around Laesø. The island’s residents have also started thatching their roofs with straw instead; it lasts only a few decades but is less labour intensive.

In its heyday, creating an eelgrass roof involved the labour of at least 40 women, while the men were out at sea. Henning Johansen, who is reviving the art of seaweed thatching, has estimated that it takes 300kg to thatch just 1 sq m of roof. Once complete, the roof’s ridge is covered with squares of turf to weigh it down. As rain permeates the layers of dried seaweed, it causes them to “glue together”, becoming watertight.

Johansen says that not only is a seaweed roof fire-resistant, it is also possible to walk on one without damaging it, which was important to the residents of the island centuries ago. They would regularly stand atop their homes with a telescope, looking out across the flat, then-treeless island for ships caught in storms. The main source of wood for the interiors of the houses came from shipwrecks.

Near the island’s main town of Byrum is Museumsgården, a fine, 350-year-old courtyard farmhouse that has been preserved. It has panelled walls from shipwrecks and recycled heavy oak timber flooring. The foundation is a layer of stones from the seashore, upon which timbers have been placed directly. Interior walls that aren’t made of salvaged wood are clay mixed with seaweed and covered with a lime wash.

Today, the island has been reforested and residents can no longer see the sea from their rooftops. Unfortunately, according to Johansen, reforestation might have been a factor in the demise of the seaweed roofs. In the 17th and 18th centuries, once the small island had been deforested, the air would have been full of sea salt, inhibiting the growth of plants on the roofs. Now, many houses are surrounded by trees, protecting them from salt-laden winds. Grass and other plants take root easily in the seaweed roofs, which eventually rot and have to be removed.

Over time, Johansen hopes to replace some of the existing roofs with new seaweed ones, rather than straw. He imports bales of dried eelgrass from 300km away in the southern Baltic and will soon start to make the first seaweed roof for over a century at a cost of £100,000 to its owner.

One tradition he will change, however, is the inclusion of a cow’s head or a cat inside the roof for good luck. “It was important for the cat to be alive when it was put there,” he says.

Aug 12, 2008

Labrador monitoring (3 Aug)

The young seagrassers were out early in the morning for another monitoring session with the long-suffering Mr Lim.

Among their interesting finds was this female swimming crab.
They commented ...

Too bad Mr Lim didn’t elaborate on how he knew it was a female crab and not a male! We shall ask him next time (: What’s scary is how once it is on the sand, it camouflages itself so well that we wonder how many millions of crabs we could have stepped on whenever we walk around on the seagrass patch!

Read all about their trip on their labrador blog

More about TeamSeagrass at Reef Celebrations

Here's more photos of how the TeamSeagrass booth got set up...A few days earlier, on Cyrene Reef, the specimens of these seagrasses were gently collected. Vyna shared on her Can you Sea Me blog this photo of Collin expertly collecting the specimens.
Just before the Launch on 8 Aug, Siti did a different kind of gardening at the Botanics, with saltwater and funny grasses.With some help from Collin, seawater is gently poured into the exhibit.Tada!
Add a spotlight and everything is perfect!
Here's a closer look at the tank.And a REAL closer look by Chay Hoon (of course), who spots a tiny sea anemone on the seagrass blade!

After the exhibition, the seagrasses were returned to the sea at Labrador.

Aug 10, 2008

TeamSeagrass at Reef Celebrations!

TeamSeagrass worked very hard at Reef Celebrations to share about our seagrasses with the many visitors who came by.The tank of living seagrasses from Cyrene Reef was a real conversation starter.Warranting a closer look.Of course there were lots of other interesting things to look at too, such guessing the kinds of animals found in our seagrass meadows.Here's some visitors taking a look at those animals.
We had a lot of young visitors today! Which was a real treat.
And of course, Shufen shared about our "Green, Mean, Photosynthesizing Machines" in her very entertaining and informative talk about seagrasses.

What a fabulous day we had at the Reef Celebrations!

Thanks to all who helped at the TeamSeagrass booth: Siti Nurbaya, Gaytri, Anuj, Helen, Wenny, Hannah and Edwin.

More blog entries about the day!

Aug 4, 2008

Cyrene Reefs (4 Aug 08)

Sunrise and the Team is back on the shores, this time at Cyrene Reefs!Michelle (in red) is back on the Team again, and today we are privileged to have Shobana (in green) of the Straits Times to see the Team at work.Also with us is Sam the Straits Times photographer, who wasted no time in taking photos of Cyrene. As well as Weizhen, also with the Straits Times.While the team set up the transect lines, I brought the Straits Times team for a quick look around before we met up with Siti.Siti explained how monitoring is done. She also explained how monitoring helps us better understand the cycles in seagrass growth, and indirectly also understand the general health of the shores.
Michelle and Nor Aishah are in the next transect line, taking a real close look at the many species of seagrasses on Cyrene. It's amazing to have this rich seagrass meadow right next to a major shipping lane and the industrial installations on Pulau Bukom in the background.Andy and Collin are hard at work at the next transect. The rest are much further away, working on the second site on this vast shore.
These seagrass meadows are right in the middle of Singapore's busy container port!
Studies by the Star Trackers indicate that Cyrene's seagrass meadows are an important nursery for countless baby Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus). So far, this has not been encountered on any other shore in Singapore.

We had lots of interesting sightings of marine creatures today.Michelle and Nor Aishah found this Nepanthia sp. sea star.And we had another encounter with 'Blondie' the pale sea star which might be a new record. But we're not sure and will have to wait for the experts to visit Cyrene and have a look at it.Shufen also finds a smaller star that is different from the usual Knobbly sea star (at right). Is this star a juvenile Pentaceraster mammilatus? The Team found a larger specimen of this species in May, and it was confirmed as a new record for Singapore.

More about the many other creatures seen on the wildfilms blog.
Cyrene's seagrass meadows are important not only for marine creatures, but also shorebirds such as this heron.Terns also rest on Cyrene in between fishing forays in the surrounding waters.As the tide comes in we head back across the immense sandy areas pockmarked with sand dollars, Common sea stars and busy burrowing crabs.Shobana and Andy take some time before departure to flatten an abandoned fish trap.
Which is hauled back with us so that it no longer harms marine life on Cyrene Reefs.

More about Cyrene Reefs.

Thanks to everyone who came today: Andy, Collin, Helen, Jerald, Michelle, Nor Aishah, Vyna, and of course Siti, Shufen and Wei Ling for looking after us. And a special thanks to the Straits Times team: Shobana, Weizhen and Sam for being such great sports and great company on the shores.

During this trip, TeamSeagrass also gathered some live seagrasses. Vyna shares more about this and other sighting on her can you sea me blog.

These seagrasses from Cyrene will be part of the TeamSeagrass exhibit at the Reef Celebrations this Saturday 9 Aug National Day. Come and have a look at our very own seagrasses without getting your feet wet! More about the Reef Celebrations.

Aug 3, 2008

Semakau (3 Aug 08)

4am and intrepid TeamSeagrass members were gathered to monitor at Pulau Semakau. The team was rather lean but eager to see this vast seagrass meadows in the wee hours of the morning. We started work at first light. Here is Chay Hoon and Shin Yin at their transect.And Andy and Marcus Tay with Robin at theirs. I was with Shin Yee. We were doing the furthest site which is a very looooong hike through bug infested mangroves. As usual, Robin and Andy help me make sure the line is laid out straight. And today, for the first time, I got it right at first try! Yay!
Shin Yee spots a very long synaptid sea cucumber right next to the line!Today, many of the sites Shin Yee and I did was chock full of algae. But we got to see four species anyway: Enhalus acoroides, Halodule sp., Thalassia hemprichii and Cymodocea serrulata. Towards the end of our line, it got very sparse.And there was even one transect with only ONE bunch of seagrass. We're not sure why this is so. Could be the seagrass patch is 'moving' as there are vast areas of Semakau without any seagrasses. This is why it's important to monitor our seagrasses. So we can keep track of what's happening to these wonderful meadows.

Collin our seahorse specialist, was also with us to look for seahorses in the seagrass meadows, but alas, the seine net didn't work too well as the meadows were full of hard corals that snagged the net.
All too soon, we were done with monitoring. And the sun was just rising!
We spent the rest of the dawn low tide having a quick look at this marvellous reef. Here is Chay Hoon showing Semakau to Shin Yee and Shin Yin. We had a really fantastic day out today and saw lots of amazing marine life. For me, the highlight was this lively Tomato clown anemonefish in its Bulb-tentacle anemone home! Here's more about some of the stuff I saw today.
As the tide came in, we washed up ourselves and the gear. Andy is bringing back the beacon on a yellow stick that was found on the shore. The beacon is solar powered and lights up in the dark and shuts off automatically when it gets light. We think it came off from a boat.

We get into the brand new NEA bus driven by the very kind Mr Yew. He not only drove us to the site this morning, thus saving us a 2km hike there, but also offered to bring us on a land tour to see the rest of the Semakau landfill after our monitoring. We had a brief introduction to how the landfill was built and operated, and the importance of reducing our waste so as to conserve landfill space and thus our beautiful reefs and shores.
Here's the very energetic team at the Southernmost point of Singapore (that ordinary people can visit), with Raffles Lighthouse (the real Southernmost point of Singapore) in the background.

That was a really great day out!

Thanks to Michelle and Suizlyn who did a fantastic job of making sure we got there and back without loss of life or limb. The ladies also did this really awesome sign up sheet with the TeamSeagrass logo and all. We have decided that this shall be our Official Sign up Sheet from now on! Thanks Michelle and Suizlyn!

Thanks also to the rest of the team for making the trip possible. We had lots of new team members today and with the help of the veterans, everyone picked up the processes quickly and we had a smooth and fun trip!

Thank you to all of you: Andy, Anuj, Ayesha, Chay Hoon, Hannah, Leon, Marcus Tay, Nor Aishah, Chin Yee, Shin Yee, Shin Yin, Siti Nurbaya, Vyna, Yi Xin and of course our field coordinators for the trip: Michelle and Suizlyn and the NParks folks who tirelessly take care of all us and battle for boats: Shufen, Wei Ling, Siti and Robin.

TeamSeagrass is now gearing up for a fantastic Reef Celebration on 9 Aug at the Botanic Gardens. We're going to share about our adventures in the exciting talk about our "Green, Mean, Photosynthesizing Machines" and have exhibits of live seagrasses as well as posters of our seagrass meadows. Everyone is invited! Please come, bring your friends and family. There's lots of other reefy things going as well. More details.

See you then!

More shared about this Semakau trip: