Apr 23, 2014

Cyrene Reef (19 April, 2014)

Our first Cyrene Reef started off early at Marina @ Keppel Bay, and the Team tries to get adjusted to morning trips again. Thank god for the long Good Friday-Easter Sunday weekend!

Despite the early hour, everyone turned up on time and we left promptly at 6am. After a quick boat ride on Alex's boat, we reached the waters off Pasir Panjang Port and disembarked onto Cyrene. We spotted quite a few purple jellyfishes on the dinghy ride over to the reef (a bloom?) but everyone managed to arrive sting-free.

Siti showing a surprising amount of enthusiasm for an early morning trip while Johannes clearly has different priorities

The best thing about early morning trips is that you get to catch the sunrise. Photos courtesy of Rachel and Mei Lin.

After a quick mandatory Team photograph, everyone set off to their transects to get to work. We did not have the GPS with us, so it was a good thing we were still able to locate the stakes at Site 2, which is quite a distance away from the drop-off point. 

Cyrene Reef boasts one of the most diverse seagrass meadows in Singapore, and it is not unusual to get up to five species within a quadrat! Some of them, like Cymodocea rotundata, C. serrulata and Thalassia hemprichii, look superficially similar, which means that we have to make sure we ID the species carefully at each quadrat. It also makes it more difficult to estimate the species composition. 

Siti and Nor Aishah hard at work. Note that Siti is carrying rations (in the form of Tostitos), to ensure that everyone is well-fed during the survey. Talk about volunteer welfare! Photo courtesy of Mei Lin.

As with the past trip to Chek Jawa, some of the leaves showed signs of blackening. Could this be due to the overexposure to heat and sunlight during the long drought?

Blackened tips on the leaves of the seagrass. Photo courtesy of Mei Lin.

Thankfully, our hard work is often rewarded by the wonderful diversity of species that can be found on the reef.

A knobbly seastar enjoying a soak in an empty patch at the end of our transect. Photo courtesy of Rachel.

Just another piece of seaweed? Look closely! Its an octopus demonstrating an excellent example of mimicry. Photo courtesy of Mei Lin.

Here's the same octopus not trying to be something else. Photo courtesy of Johannes.

A blue spotted stingray hiding among the seagrass. Photo courtesy of Juin Bin.

There were also plenty of common seastars busy getting it on! Photo courtesy of Johannes.

A huge anemone! Photo courtesy of Mei Lin.

Commensal  shrimps on another anemone. Photo courtesy of Johannes.

After a quick walk around Cyrene, it was time to head home. Thanks for a great trip Mei Lin, Siti, Nor Aishah, Johnson, Johannes, Juin Bin, Michelle and Rachel!

Photo courtesy of Johannes.

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Mar 3, 2014

Chek Jawa, 1st Mach 2014

Second monitoring trip for 2014 and TeamSeagrass heads to Chek Jawa. It's looking to be another HOT day as the Team boarded the boat to Pulau Ubin.

We had a large group of newbies and some old-bees who had forgotten how to monitor; so we decided today will be a teaching session, where we take it slow and emphasize the finer points of monitoring. After we sorted the old-bees, newbies and stalwarts into groups (this always takes waaay too much time, maybe we need a TeamSeagrass sorting hat?), I did the briefing and we headed out to shore to do the seagrass ID session.

Siti giving the briefing.

Heading out on the boardwalk - there were many visitors around and we didn't want to give the wrong idea by climbing down the "side-route". Also, just like any other group that is allowed access to Chek Jawa, TeamSeagrass had to apply for a permit to carry out our quarterly monitoring.

A quick seagrass ID session and we are off! :)

The inter-tidal elves have been up to mischief because this is the second day that we've found the stakes marking our transect start points missing. At CJ1, only one stake was left standing and from what I hear, there was some trouble locating CJ2 as well. In situations like this, we are relieved to have our trusty GPS to tell us where our sites are. After a quick introduction on how to set up the site (transect lines 2 and 3 were missing from CJ1), we started the monitoring.

I had Loius and Erine in my group, both of whom were relatively new, but enthusiastic and responsive, which is great. It always sucks when you ask a question only to be met with silence; although if I had been given a dollar every time it happens, I think I'd be pretty rich. I did the first 4 or 5 quadrats with Erine and Louis, making sure to emphasize the importance of checking their estimates against the percent cover standards sheets, how to include only seagrasses that have their "footprint" in the quadrat to prevent overestimation, and how to estimate relative species composition. I also taught them how to use the epiphyte cover matrix, which really helps take the guesswork and brain sprain out of estimating epiphyte cover.
Using the Epi-Matrix to estimate epiphyte cover on seagrass leaves. Its much easier and more accurate to use this matrix because its a standard that's being used across all seagrass monitoring sites.

Using the percent cover standards sheets allows us to calibrate our percent cover estimates against the same set of standards used at other Seagrass-Watch monitoring sites worldwide. This makes the data we collect more reliable and comparable to data collected using the same methods at other sites.
After the 5th quadrat, I decided to take a step back and let my team practice what I've just taught them. I think they did pretty well. The method designed by Seagrass-Watch is meant to be simple and easily replicated, which is what makes it such an ideal method to be used by citizen science groups like ourselves.
Erine and Louis monitoring seagrass like pros :)

 Looking around, I see the other two transect groups led by Nor Aishah and Rachel hard at work too, which makes my inner dictator happy.
Rachel with new volunteers Christine and Wan Yi at CJ site 1 transect 1.

Nor Aishah with Jocelyn (another one!) and Ivan at CJ1T2.
All in all, it was a pretty good day, the Cymodocea rotundata (ribbon seagrass) meadow between the boardwalk and at CJ1 looked to be in pretty good shape despite the heat and sun (which by the way, decided to go play behind some clouds and the wind picked up which made for AWESOME monitoring weather). Although, some of the seagrass on the fully exposed sand mounds looked a little worse for wear - likely from dessication at low tide and over-exposure to direct sunlight.

Blackened Halophila ovalis (spoon seagrass) likely from overexposure to sunlight coupled with drying out from being exposed during an afternoon low tide.
More examples of stress - seagrasses looking bleached. Direct exposure to sunlight at low tide can cause stress to the plant and chlorophyll to break down.
After wrapping up, we managed to have a bit of a walk about and spotted some cool critters chillaxing in the wetter parts of the meadow, like a sea pen, some cool sea cukes (that's cucumbers), and noble volutes laying eggs. Chek Jawa always has a surprise or two up its sleeve :)

We activated Ivan and he went into guide mode, telling the newer volunteers about the fun critters we saw :)
And of course, we saw lots of dugong feeding trails, but it never seems to happen IN our site :( Although, one has to wonder if the trails were really from dugongs or just hungry TeamSeagrass volunteers! ;)
Dugong feeding trail? Or was Pei Yan feeling peckish? ;)
That's all for now folks, till our next monitoring trip, TeamSeagrass, signing out! :)

For more on yesterday's monitoring, check out Mei Lin's blog

Mar 1, 2014

Pulau Semakau (28 February 2014)

2014 marks TeamSeagrass's 8th year in monitoring! Woo hoo! Our very first monitoring trip brings us to Pulau Semakau. It is also unfortunately our last trip to Pulau Semakau for the next year or so, as NEA is starting works on the construction of Phase 2's cells to accommodate future waste disposal.

Nevertheless, we managed to gather a team of 20 volunteers - firstly a BIG THANK YOU for coming to join us, especially since it is a weekday. With the recent hot dry spells, we urged our volunteers to protect themselves and hydrate! We also conducted our usual briefing in the NEA building prior to departure onto the seashore...
Captain Siti briefing everyone

Attentive volunteers

Upon arrival, I was pleased to find out that the tides were much lower than the expected tides! The flats were exposed to the very reef-edge! This made our monitoring smooth and easy too (especially with the photography of quadrats). While it was particularly sunny, we were blessed that the clouds came over to shelter us from the sun.

Volunteers in pairs, working together to gather data

How are the seagrasses on Pulau Semakau? Sadly, it appears to have deteriorated even further since the previous monitoring. In my transect, almost half the quadrats had no seagrass cover at all; algae cover appears to be very low, if not zero in most quadrats too... What is happening to our seagrasses??

5m mark - 5%
Apart from the low (or zero) seagrass cover, many volunteers have commented that the canopy of grasses were very low (~1.5cm). :( The cropped seagrass syndrome has been observed on another monitored reef, Cyrene but to a lesser extent.

25m mark - 0%

45m mark - 5%

Thankfully, the residents of the seagrass meadows appear to be doing well for themselves! These knobblie seastars are one of the largest seastars found in Singapore - while they used to be found amongst the seagrasses, these animals appeared to have moved nearer towards the reef edge. Could they tell us what's happening to this meadow?

Knobbly seastar (Protoreaster nodosus)

Always entertaining everyone with their 'arm' stands

I was really proud of myself for finding this small giant clam! Yes, this is a GIANT CLAM - the smallest known species, Tridacna crocea. This species can grow up to 15cm in length, and this one here is ~4.5cm - a long way more to go! It is heartening for me to see new individuals (and possibly newer recruits) onto our local reefs. I'm happy to share this young clam with all the volunteers.

Tridacna crocea

Another rare guest on the shore - the horseshoe crab (possibly the coastal species?).

Horseshoe crab

Sean and friends also followed a friendly octopus around for a while! Check out his photo album for more cool photographs!

Friendly octopus - Shared on Sean Yap's Facebook

Volunteers having a look around

Prelude to sunset

To wrap up the day, we took a group photo behind (alas!) the mangrove tree spot... Many thanks to all the volunteers who took time out to join us today and we hoped you had enjoyed it! Next up - Chek Jawa!

Smile everyone! Credits to Marcus Ng.

Special thank you to our guests: Ross Coleman and Becki Morris from the University of Sydney! They work on rocky shores and seawalls - boy, they were so excited when they spotted one! Here's a photo of them looking around! :)

Seawall troopers!

Feb 4, 2014

Of mud and seed banks: Adventures with Seagrass-Watch, 2nd - 3rd Feb 2014.

So this is a totally belated post btw, I was supposed to do it, but all the thesis writing made it very difficult to face a computer and type stuff, so I put it off for as long as I could until it just got ridiculous, so here goes.

Len and Rudi from Seagass-Watch HQ visited us over the CNY weekend and OF COURSE we had to go seagrass adventuring. The aim of the trip was to collect some samples for nutrient analyses, genetic studies and to do a preliminary seed bank study.

Fortunately, the tides are evening tides, which means that we could sleep in after the CNY feasting and festivities before heading out to Chek Jawa on Sunday, 2nd Feb. Once we were there, Sam, Nor Aishah and I set out collecting samples for genetic analyses. There were some curious members of the public out and about and we had to tell them what we were doing. Good thing we have that research permit!

After that, Rudi showed us how to do seed bank sampling. It's a relatively simple method, using very simple tools, namely a PVC pipe and a kitchen sieve. The idea is to get about 10cm of sediment in the corer and sieve out the sediments and look for seeds. Here's Sam showing us how it's done:
Using the Corer (PVC pipe with cap) to sample ~10cm o sediment.
Sieving sediment away with a sieve (no! yes, really).
Checking for H. uninervis seeds.
Unfortunately, we were not able to find any whole seeds :( Even after Len and Rudi tried (we thought maybe we were just blind!). Len and Rudi did however, find some seed coats from seeds that have already germinated, so we know that our seagrasses are having sexy times, although maybe, not often enough. If this sounds familiar, well... 
It wasn't just us! The seeds wouldn't appear even for Len and Rudi!
The meadow was also full of dugong feeding trails!!! There were so many and they criss-crossed all over the meadow.
Those are some hungry dugongs!
The next day, we went to the Mandai Mangroves to look for Halophila beccarii, which is a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list. As I'm not familiar with Mandai mangroves, having been there like, twice in my life, we enlisted the help of a friend from NUS who did a study in the area, and she showed us how to get into the area safely. Do NOT try this by yourself especially if you don't have a research permit because you COULD be arrested (like for realz).

We found H. beccarii quite quickly, and set about collecting samples. Collecting genetic samples means collecting parts of the plant that yields the best DNA when extracted and this tends to be the "new or growing" bits, like the meristem, growing tips or young shoots.
Mangroves are relatively unfamiliar territory for us seagrass peeps who are used to firmer sediment, so there was a bit of getting stuck - especially for me. I put it down to a biomass issue, but it's fortunate that this was nowhere near as bad as what I experienced in the mangrove forests in Thailand.
Ugh what's this squishy stuff?
Skip ahead skip ahead! Don't stay too long in one place or you'll sink!
Mission accomplished! Now to get outta here.
After awhile though, I found relatively firmer sediment in the exposed river bed and I decided to just stay there and do what I do best - that is, I point and stuff and make people do things.
Not the happiest camper.
"There's some seagrass there to your right"
After enough exploring, we made our way back out. Those of us with long legs trudged ahead:
While some of us opted for a more melodramatic exit:
The fields are aliiiveeeee... with the sound of muuuuuusiiicccc