By Choo Li Ann
Photos by Andy Paul
Up and ready by 7.30am on 27 Oct, we met at Kuala Lumpur Sentral to convoy to Skudai, stopping along the way for breakfast and refreshments. After a quick check-in and lunch, we were geared for what lay ahead – saving seagrass and seahorses at Sg Pulai! Warmly greeted by Mr Choo Chee Kuang, the project leader for the SOS (Save our Seahorses) programme, he gave us a quick briefing and slide show before we headed for the pier.
Bright sunshine and calm waters blessed our boat journey as we arrived at Pulau Merambong at low tide for a quick tour of the island. Mr Choo proved his expertise by providing on-the-go commentaries on everything we encountered. Ranging from mangrove trees, sea cucumbers and sea squirts, to hairy crabs, spongy anemones and living corals, bizarre yet fascinating creatures abound for us city slickers to discover!
Then off we went to the Sungai Pulai estuary, where the seagrass beds were located. Mr Choo and his assistant Sharifah then briefed us on the correct procedures in collecting the required data. Split into groups of five, we completed the tasks at hand.
We also learnt that dugongs grazed in the area and left peculiar patterns on the seagrass beds that resembled lawnmower tracks! Time flew by and soon after dusk, we were summoned back to the boats. Though we failed to find the elusive seahorse, a treasure trove of other marine creatures were found – a multi-coloured sea pen, sea snails, sea cucumbers, a huge hermit crab and a rare alligator pipefish, which was photographed by Andy to Mr Choo’s delight.
The next day, we were up bright and early for Kukup National Park. Our guide Ismail took us on a walking trail of the island as he explained the island’s various mangrove species and the importance of mangrove swamps – which acts as a filter to trap debris and shelter smaller marine life from the elements. We strained our necks and eyes, spotting mudskippers, mangrove crabs, snails, clams and even two venomous pit vipers! The walk across the hanging bridge and the climb up the 65-feet high watchtower were nerve-wracking but worth the sweeping views of the island’s lush surroundings.
Based on the collected data, Mr Choo concluded that seagrass cover dropped by 24% since last July. Degradation of seagrass meadows and mangrove swamps were evident, which could have a domino effect and impact the entire marine ecosystem. Thus, Mr Choo’s ongoing study and research on the largest seagrass bed in Peninsular Malaysia plays an important role in raising awareness for the preservation of this precious environment.
Lastly, kudos to Hui-Min and Margaret Schumacher for ‘leading’ the team on this memorable journey of discovery and Mr Choo for spearheading this worthy cause for conservation. With greater awareness, let’s hope that the plight of the seagrass beds will not fall on deaf ears and Sg Pulai’s green carpet can remain to thrive for many generations to come.