Saving the world, one seahorse at a time

By Aimi Fahmi
Photos by Lim Eng Hoo

The day started early on June 17th, even before dawn. Our volunteer group consisted of 16 people. While we drove in a convoy from Skudai to the Pendas jetty, it drizzled. The SOS project leader (Mr. Choo Chee Kuang), a postgraduate student collecting samples (Cik Sharifah), a local teacher/volunteer (Encik Bakthiar) and two boatmen joined us at the jetty.

By 7.30am, the group had been divided into two boats and headed out as it continued to rain. Everyone was already soaked as we made our way to the seagrass bed, passing right under the Second Link Bridge. There were few qualms about going through with this, but we still did not head back to shore.

As we got nearer to the seagrass bed, which looked like a very small green island at low tide, our spirits rose. We got into the water and started combing the area for marine life. The group was divided into teams of four to start the search for seahorses. However, before that, Mr. Choo rebriefed the group and started handing out plastic pipes with plastic bags attached to the end.

Every team had their own area to cover. My team started by walking over to the fringe of the seagrass bed and trudged carefully parallel to another team at about the same distance to make sure we had covered as much area as we could before the tide came in – we only had about an hour or so. By then, the rain had reduced to a very light drizzle.

We started scanning for signs of life amongst the masses of seagrasses. In the hour or so we were there, we found a total of five Spotted Seahorses (Hippocampus kuda, see photo), two Alligator Pipefish (Syngnatoides biaculeatus), at least one friend of Spongebob, i.e. Patrick the Starfish and more than a few sea cucumbers. The masters of finding hidden marine life were actually one of the boatmen and Encik Bakhtiar.

One of the seahorses was a non-pregnant male. Three were tagged for the first time and those that were found with tags were released right away. Both pipefish found have not been tagged before. One was a pregnant male and the other was a juvenile.

As the tide came in, and pretty quickly at that, each of the tagged creatures was released. Then, the group, totally drenched, headed back to the jetty. By then, the clouds withdrew to make way for the sun, and that made the boat ride back starkly different from our first ride. Going along the strait, with Johor to our left and Singapore to our right, one cannot fathom, how with all the growth and development on either side, nature can still hold its fort and survive. Our little way of lending a helping hand is by saving one seahorse at a time.

Two of the participants have posted their photos online:
Lim Eng Hoo: /divemuster/MNSTripSOSVolunteer Program

Hoe Pek Ch’ng: /wkr5212/MNSSOSTrip17Jun07