Sg Pulai estuary and Kukup National Park

Dates: Aug 22-23 (Sat-Sun)
Cost: RM190 (members)/ RM260 (non-members, includes 1 year membership). Places are limited, first come & paid first served!

Join us in our next trip to the Sungai Pulai Estuary to volunteer with Save Our Seahorses (SOS). This time, we will participate in the Merambong rocky shores and reef survey, at the uninhabited island of Pulau Merambong. We’ll also visit the Kukup National Park. A seafood dinner in Kukup will be provided. Travel is by carpool, costs to be borne by each individual. This package covers:

(1) 1-night stay in a boutique hotel (Sat night)
(2) 2 meals (Sat seafood dinner & Sun breakfast)
(3) Merambong rocky shores and reef survey costs (boat transfer + guide fees)
(4) Kukup National Park costs (entrance ticket + guide + boat)

Booking: By Friday, 24 July = pay RM 100
Confirm: By Friday, 31 July = pay full sum (RM190 or RM260)
Contact: Khor Hui Min 017-881 7714, khor.hm@gmail.com

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Sg Pulai estuary and Kukup National Park

Dates: Oct 17-18 (Sat-Sun):
Cost: RM190 (members)/ RM260 (non-members, includes 1 year membership). Places are limited, first come & paid first served!

Join us in our next trip to the Sungai Pulai Estuary to volunteer with Save Our Seahorses (SOS). This time, we will participate in the Merambong rocky shores and reef survey, at the uninhabited island of Pulau Merambong. We’ll also visit the Kukup National Park. A seafood lunch in Kukup will be provided. Travel is by carpool, costs to be borne by each individual. This package covers:

(1) 1-night stay in a boutique hotel (Sat night)
(2) 2 meals (Sun breakfast & Sun seafood lunch)
(3) Merambong rocky shores and reef survey costs (boat transfer + guide fees)
(4) Kukup National Park costs (entrance ticket + guide + boat)

Booking: By Friday, 18 September = pay RM 100
Confirm: By Friday, 2 October = pay full sum (RM190 or RM260)
Contact: Khor Hui Min 017-881 7714, khor.hm@gmail.com

An SOS Trip to Remember

By Malini Madiyazhagan
Photo by Lim Kar Mern

My seahorse trip to Johor from 2-3 Aug 2008 was a memorable experience shared with 13 others. All had different reasons for joining the trip in the first place. Most of us were curious as to what takes place at a Seahorse Conservation Programme conducted by Save Our Seahorses (SOS), while others were regular volunteers. But all of us shared the same excitement and curiosity when the journey began at the KL Sentral Monorail station on an early Saturday morning.

We arrived in Johor in the mid-afternoon and had a quick bite before beginning the programme for the day – a visit to the Kukup National Park. The ride there was rather eventful as we missed a turn to our destination and as a result, turned up late at the briefing centre. We called it distraction by ‘pasar malam’. Although we missed the briefing, we managed to make it to the guided tour through the national park, which took us on a walk across a suspension bridge placed strategically over the Snake River, a growing anticipation that we would bump into wild boars (which did not materialise, unfortunately, to the dismay of this writer) and a brief educational discourse on mangrove wildlife by the Kukup National Park officer. The day ended with a seafood dinner and the need for a shower and sleep for all concerned.

Sunday started bright and early for us. Sleepy-eyed and slightly sleep-deprived, we headed to the Pendas jetty to catch the boat to the Pulai River Estuary to begin our volunteer duties. When we arrived at the seagrass meadow, we were most stunned by the fact that Malaysia was on our right, and Singapore was on our left, and we were literally walking in the sea in the middle.

We were divided into teams and set off on our hunt for Hippocampus kuda. This writer’s team was very lucky the first time around as one of our members managed to find 2 seahorses (a pair) within a matter of minutes. All in all, our entire group collectively managed to find 5 seahorses and 2 pipefish that day.

The next agenda on the itinerary was a visit to Pulau Merambong, where a clean-up session of the beach was planned, with complimentary rambutans for our efforts to tidy up the beach the best we could. A group photo was called for, and all of us gave our biggest smiles amidst a sea of bin bags that contained, amongst other things, a helmet and a tyre.

GroupatMerambong_LimKarMern

Rubbish collected at Pulau Merambong – Lim Kar Mern

Our trip ended with a gathering at Old Town White Coffee for lunch before the lot of us made our respective ways homeward towards the daily routine that awaited us in the week ahead. Without a doubt, the 14 of us certainly did leave Kukup as a time to remember. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us make it back to Kukup for another round of the Seahorse Volunteer Survey at the Pulai River Estuary and the wonders beneath the water’s surface.

The seagrass meadow ‘twix two lands

Article & photos by Chew Ming Yee
A magical first-hand experience of a seagrass meadow.

Photo4_6_4smThe outing to a seagrass meadow between Malaysia and Singapore was so welcomed by members that it was quickly fully booked. Yoke Mui and I only managed to join because two members pulled out at the very last minute. We all received, in PDF format, the “SOS Volunteers Handbook” written by Mr. Choo, seahorse rights activist, just before the trip. As I browsed through the brief yet informative pages, I was surprised by the seagrass diversity recorded. That kick-started my curiosity and soon, emails were flying between Hui Min, our dear organiser, Mr. Choo, and myself, an ignorant member.

If you do not already know, seagrass is a flowering plant. No, you won’t see big red flowers if you go snorkelling in a seagrass meadow; seagrass is not trying to attract any fish to pollinate its flowers. Instead, the tide does the job for it.

What about fruit dispersal, you may ask. Would any fish or squid gobble up the seeds then excrete them somewhere else? Please take a look at the prickly fruit of the most common seagrass here − Enhalus acoroides.

It won’t be getting any help from any passing pelagic fishes for long distance delivery to a new underwater lawn somewhere else in the world. I read that when the seagrass’ capsule finally releases the seeds, the seeds will just float around and let chance decide where they are going to settle for a new life. Generally, no seagrass species can colonise new turf like ‘lalang’.

When I came to know that this patch of meadow is under threat from intensive coastal development, I felt pretty blue.

“You must see it before it is gone.” That’s what was told to me by a friend, who had visited the place and did a cover story for a local Chinese environmental magazine. But that didn’t prepare me for the sheer beauty of this unique habitat.

We had the most uncooperative weather. It rained on our marine biologist, Zimi’s, Kancil almost all the way. When the tide was finally low enough for us to survey the area without having to worry about drowning, the sun had already begun to set. Although the rain had stopped, the water had been churned into a rather milky ‘horlicks tarik’. Anyway, upon arrival, everyone stepped out of the boat enthusiastically and listened to the briefing conducted by the SOS programme coordinator.

We were taught how to scan for seahorses that were hiding near the base of seagrass plants, how to lift them up gently, how to place them in the plastic bag filled with seawater and how to plunge the pipe where the bag is attached into the seabed at exactly where each seahorse is found. Yes, he meant that literally. Seahorses are a very homely fish. It is unethical if we forced them to move house carelessly. I read that it affects their territorial behaviour and therefore their livelihood.

Standing in ankle- to knee-deep water, we saw Malaysia on our right, Singapore to our left and the Second Link Causeway behind us. A 2km long seagrass bed stretched beneath our dive booties in the Straits of Tebrau. And the sky above slowly lost its warm colours and faded into night. A million lights shone from the shores of both countries.

No seahorse for the day, the SOS team apologised. We rode home in the cool night air with heavy hearts. Not because we didn’t see the cute yellow seahorse called Hippocampus kuda. But rather, it was because none of us knew if the next generation of Malaysians would be able to walk on the seagrass meadow as we did, looking for the seahorse in its natural home, rather than in the traditional medicine shop or an aquarium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little-known Pygmy seahorses

By Khor Hui Min

PAAug8Hippocampus bargibanti copy

Hippocampus bargibanti – Tan Chun Hong

The cute and colourful pygmy seahorse has a short snout, rounded knob-like coronet and irregular bulbous tubercles on the body. It has a rounded spine above each eye and on each cheek.

These elusive creatures have only been discovered and named in the last decade. No more than 2.4cm in length, pygmy seahorses are masters of camouflage – their body colouration and ornamentation matches exactly with their gorgonian hosts, and the body tubercles look very similar to the polyps of the gorgonian. The uniqueness of these seahorses has attracted vast attention from divers and they are highly valued by the diving industry.

 

 

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Hippocampus bargibanti – Yeong Yee Ling

We were fortunate to be able to invite Yeong Yee Ling, who is currently conducting a study on pygmy seahorses at the islands of Sabah, to give a talk on these elusive creatures at the Malaysian International Dive Expo 2008 (MIDE 2008) at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) on 4 July (Friday).

 

Yeong’s talk started a little after 5pm and was attended by 12 visitors, some of whom were also fellow graduates from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. A total of 7 seahorse species were found in Malaysian waters, and Yeong’s talk focused on 2 pygmy seahorse species – Hippocampus bargibanti (pictured above and left) and H. denise (pictured below, right).

PAAug8Hippocampus denise copy

Hippocampus denise – Elingyeong

 

According to her, anecdotal evidence claimed that one sea fan with a colony of pygmy seahorses had been frequented by some 100 divers per day in Sabah. Such disturbances, caused especially by photographers who take close up snapshots with intense flashlights, could adversely impact the species currently listed as “Data Deficient” by the IUCN. Several sightings of the pygmy seahorses at a few islands in Sabah were reported, but virtually nothing is known about the population status and possible threats. There are also no policies in place for their protection.

So, the next time you dive and see a pygmy seahorse, please remember these recommendations:
1.Do Not touch the pygmy seahorse or attempt to collect it for your own purposes.
2.Do Not manipulate the pygmy seahorse’s position in order to take nice photos.
3.Do Not use any flashlight when taking close up photos of the pygmy seahorse.
4.Do Not attempt to take close up photos of the pygmies if your buoyancy is poor.
5.Do Not touch the seafan or destroy any part of the seafan.
6.Do Not transfer or relocate the pygmy seahorse or seafan to another location
7.Do take note of the corals around you
8.Do be careful around the pygmy seahorses and don’t disturb them in any way.

 

Of lawns, cows & horses – a talk by Jillian Ooi

By Serina Rahman
Photo by Khatijah Abdullah

Khatijah Abdullah-We were surprised at the amazing turnout for the talk, including 23 students from Sek. Men. Seri Putri

Surprise turnout including 23 students from Seri Putri Secondary School

With a title like that, who would guess that we were actually about to embark on a journey through fields of watery green – exploring marine meadows of seagrass chock full of weird and wonderful critters, a world so vital to the entire marine ecosystem that losing it would be a worse fate than losing our coral reefs?

So, we were enlightened by Jillian Ooi, University Malaya lecturer and passionate seagrass scientist. To many of us, it was an alien flora – isn’t seagrass the same as seaweed? Apparently not. The former has fruit, roots and flowers – and are the favourite food of dugongs. What an honour for this humble plant of the sea. And yes, they are plants.

Seagrasses are the link between mangroves and coral reefs. Their importance to the marine world varies from being a nursery and breeding ground for juvenile marine fauna to ensuring shoreline stability and protection. Economically, all local fisheries depend on the seagrass; as without it, fish numbers rapidly decline and catch volumes fall dramatically.

Interestingly, seagrass also has mythical and cultural value. It was the fruit of a humble seagrass that so entranced a pregnant maiden that she did not realise that the tide was rising – until she was enveloped by the water and transformed into a dugong.

Seagrass meadows are also host to the ever popular seahorse and its cousins the pipefish. Its fields are thriving habitats that coastal communities depend on for snails (gonggong), sea cucumbers and other nutritious foods.

Yet, in spite of its importance and value, many of us don’t realise that Malaysia has vast seagrass beds (in both East & West Malaysia) that lie unprotected and constantly threatened by development. Not enough research has been done to even document and identify the expanse of seagrass that our country is blessed with. And sadly, before we can get round to doing that research, we may lose it all.

Globally, seagrass is declining at a rate of 2-5% every year. In Malaysia, our seagrass beds are in steep decline due to pollution, badly planned land development, changes in water hydrodynamics and trawling, just to name a few.

With a vastly underestimated area of just 3.15 square kilometres of seagrass in Peninsular Malaysia (this figure is highly conservative as too many places have yet to be adequately surveyed) – our seagrass meadows are worth at least RM20,951,910 a year (calculations are based solely on its value as raw material and for nutrient cycling). Given that so many more variables could be added in to the calculation (e.g. waste management, biological control, habitat, food production, climate regulation, genetic resources, recreation, etc.), the actual worth of our seagrass savannahs is set to blow the mind.

It was a revelation for many of us. We left in awe and with a touch of sorrow – we need to get to work NOW to protect these little-understood areas. Spread the word, join an MNS/SOS trip to the seagrass fields of Johor – help us with Seagrass Watch and tell others about it. It’s the only way we can come together to save these species – and with it, all marine life as we know it.

 

Local communities in seahorse conservation

By Khor Hui Min & Mohala Santharamohana
Photo by Mohala Santharamohana

We and fellow conservationists in Save Our Seahorses (SOS) are alarmed at the pessimistic outlook for the watery “grasslands” and the diverse flora and fauna, including seahorses, which co-exist or depend on them for their continued survival.

Unfortunately, seagrass meadows, once abundant, are slowly being decimated by coastal developments along seashores worldwide. This in turn, has led to the decline in threatened species living in the seagrass meadows, or which depend on them during part of their life cycles. In the Philippines alone, the seahorse population declined by 70% from 1985 to 1995. In Malaysia, the loss of seagrass meadows, which are nurseries for fish fry, has led to dwindling fish catch. According to villagers at Pendas, Johor, a fisherman could make an average of RM100 a day twenty years ago. Today, they are lucky to make that amount in a week.

SMohala-SOS Project Leader Choo with his students_assistants at Kg. Simpang Arang

SOS Project Leader Choo with his student assistants at Kampung Simpang Arang

Recognising the need for increasing effort in awareness and education among people about seagrass meadows and seahorses, besides other unique creatures that live therein, Marine SIG has committed itself to long-term conservation and protection of seagrass meadows in Malaysia, especially the threatened 40-hectare seagrass bed at the Sungai Pulai Estuary area in Johor.

We are happy to support and collaborate with SOS in the ABN-AMRO conservation project at the Sungai Pulai Estuary. The recent 24-25 November trip was indeed satisfying, because we had two seagrass survey workshops for the locals over the weekend. The workshop on 24 November was organised for the Pendas community, while the workshop on 25 November was organised for the Seletar community at Kg. Simpang Arang a little further away.

In this way, local communities become more aware of scientific data collection methods and gain more knowledge about their marine heritage. We are also thankful to the 15 MNS volunteers who participated in the workshops and seagrass surveys, including 5 who came all the way from Penang!

To date, not much is known about seahorses due to a lack of research data. The bigger species are estimated to live from 3-5 years while smaller ones, a year. What’s alarming is the future of seahorses is increasingly uncertain. Apart from contending with its natural predators such as rays, skates, crabs and tuna, seahorses are fast losing their homes.

You can play your part to preserve this intriguing animal. For example, never buy seahorse souvenirs and never attempt to raise a seahorse in a home aquarium. You could also volunteer with SOS. To sign up, log on to http://www.sosmalaysia.org. Alternatively, you could always e-mail us at khorhmin@yahoo.co.uk to know more.

The experience of wading in ankle, knee or chest high waters is one you will never forget. You will also add new skills to your repertoire, such as laying transect lines and assessing quadrants to identify seagrass species. So, we hope to see you out there at the seagrass meadows doing your part for conservation some time soon!