Seahorse monitoring trip

By Wong Ee Lynn

In defiance of the floods in Johor, 15 MNS members, including our Marine SIG Co-coordinator Hui Min, made a trip to the Pulai River Estuary to volunteer with Save Our Seahorses (SOS) on the weekend of 22nd – 23rd December, 2007.

On Saturday, we made a trip to the Kukup Island National Park, which was gazetted as a national park in 1997 due to its research and eco-tourism potential.

We identified lesser adjutant storks, whimbrels, white-throated kingfishers, brahminy kites, white-bellied sea eagles, giant mudskippers, blue-spotted mudskippers, mangrove crabs, fiddler crabs and molluscs such as ‘lokan’, ‘kupang’ and ‘siput sedut’.

The boatman then took us to a floating fish farm not far from the shore, where visitors could view archer fish, giant starfish, jellyfish, oysters and other marine life.

We spotted a lesser adjutant stork on the beach. A wild boar made a sudden appearance, but the stork was unfazed. The boar ambled back into the thick foliage, leaving the unflappable stork alone.

We ended Saturday on a high note with a sumptuous seafood dinner in Kukup town.

The weather still held up on Sunday morning as we made our way to SK Tg. Kupang. The Green Living SIG conducted outreach activities and games with the schoolchildren. A very dedicated schoolteacher, Cikgu Bakhtiar, who had worked with marine biologist Choo Chee Kuang of SOS Malaysia on numerous occasions, had managed to corral 16 children to participate in the environmental education session despite it being the school holidays.

After lunch, we assembled at the SOS Research Centre to be briefed on our duties. We then left for the Pendas jetty, armed with our data collection tools. The film crew and host of 8TV’s ‘Step Forward’ joined us on the boats to document SOS’s activities.

We stopped at Pulau Merambong, an uninhabited island. Soft corals, sea cucumbers of prodigious size, mudskippers, fiddler crabs, and other marine and coastal life forms populated the island.

Soon it was low tide and our boatmen took us to the seagrass bed in the Sungai Pulai Estuary, where we were to commence work. We (TV host and crew excluded) were divided into 4 teams to start the search for seahorses and pipefish. There were many distractions in the form of thorny sea slugs, sea cucumbers, tube anemone, carpet anemone, marine snails, giant starfish, sea squirts, sea pens and other marine fauna.

Altogether, the team caught, tagged and released three Spotted Seahorses (Hippocampus kuda) and three Alligator Pipefish (Syngnatoides biaculeatus) on Sunday, 23rd December. The tagging was done via subcutaneous injection of elastomer. Besides that, two baby seahorses were removed for genetic studies from a pregnant male seahorse’s pouch using a pipette.

We returned to the Research Centre to clean our dive boots and equipment. Before parting, we had group photos taken and received T-shirts from SOS Malaysia as mementoes of our weekend stint with them.

Our weekend with SOS had enriched and educated us immeasurably and had heightened our appreciation of our vulnerable marine ecosystem.

For more information, please visit http://www.sosmalaysia.org and sign the petition to save the Pulai River Estuary from unsustainable industrial activity and port development.

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