Nov 30, 2007

Killer driftnets removed from Berlayar Creek, Labrador

Just a few hours earlier at around 9pm, a small group of Naked Hermit Crabs, Wildfilms crew and friend made time to catch a short not-so-low tide to get rid of driftnets at Belayar Creek.
The little creek next to Labrador, just opposite Sentosa, where the bright lights shine on reclamation work for the Integrated Resort. The manly members were out in deeper waters dealing with a massive tangle of nets.
Meanwhile, the ladies were seriously dealing with a net that had an anchoring tyre well embedded in the sand.
A lot of digging and dragging was involved.But it's no problem for the tough gals!

Meanwhile, the guys make three trips dragging up portions of the mega mess.

It's tough trying to drag nets equal to your body weight across rocks and on soft mud.

And there just SO MUCH of it. Closer examination shows there are several very long nets abandoned out there in a huge tangle. Andy rightly called it the Mother of All Driftnets.

Why are abandoned nets a problem?

Because they continuously kill as long as they are there. Animals such as horseshoe crabs and crabs get entangled and die a miserable death. Fishes too. If they get loose and drift into the sea, they may entangle dolphins, sea turtles and dugongs, which are air-breathing animals and will drown if they can't reach the surface.

The guys rescued one trapped horseshoe crab, a very large one, probably a female because of her size. But there were several in the net that were already dead.

The team only managed to take out one third of the mess before the tide turned.
After dragging the nets off the flats, there was still the tricky bit of getting them up the sea wall. Fortunately, Michelle brought a long rope!

Some tying up and a quick pull, the nets were hauled right up to the shore where they could no longer harm sea creatures.

The team took out piles of nets that were bigger than them! Thank you Cynthia, Andy, Robert and Michelle.

We will come back with a bigger team to drag out the rest of the mess at the next series of low tides.

The mega driftnets were first spotted and reported on the reddot blog
More about Berlayar Creek during a recent visit on the ashira blog and discovery blog.

You CAN make a difference! Come join us as we remove the rest of the diftnets, or join the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Nov 26, 2007

Our shores: living classrooms

What a lovely surprise today! A school outing on Changi!
It was Grace and Dionne from CreativeKids with a group from RI.
Grace and Dionne run shore workshops and are excellent at introducing not only the shores, but also how to treat the shores with respect. Before they headed out for the shore, the students were asked to examine the debris on the shores and think about the impact of rubbish on marine life.

Then they went out to gently explore the shores.

As always, Changi seldom disappoints.
They found two seahorses! The one above was a smaller one I found later on. Changi's gorgeous seagrass meadows are excellent homes for these harmless fishes (yes, seahorses are fishes) that sadly are often overcollected.

Other fishes seen included filefishes, butterflyfishes, scorpionfishes, flatfishes. And this large Lined eeltail catfish (Plotosus lineatus).
Alas, the poor creature looked like it had been injured.Perhaps by an abandoned fishing line? Grace and Dionne had the boys pull out and remove many of the lines found on the shores. That's good!

For some reason, today I came across a few squids and cuttlefishes. Even though it was daylight.The tiny Pygmy squid on the left doesn't get any bigger than this. While this little Bottletail squid is often half buried in the sand. It was startled out of hiding, turned a bright orange and still had sand over its large eyes.

Rushing out with the tide was this large cuttlefish.I only managed a blurry photo of it before it zoomed away into deeper water.

There were also lots of echinoderms today! Sand stars and sand dollars were here and there.And tiny tiny Thorny sea cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis) nestled among the seagrasses and seaweeds. Half buried were the less commonly seen Warty sea cucumber (Cercodemas anceps). What a delight to see these animals, which we hadn't seen for a long while especially since the big flood early this year which wiped out many animals on Chek Jawa. Kok Sheng is doing a study of the recovery at Chek Jawa and just announced the first sighting of the Common sea star (Archaster typicus) there since the flood!

There was also this unknown sea cucumber which we've also been seeing a lot of at Chek Jawa.The underside has long rows and is less boring than the sand-coloured upperside.

There were also many Pencil sea urchins (Prionocidaris bispinosus). While there were MANY big White sea urchins (Salmacis sp.) But the Black sea urchins (Temnopleurus sp.) were not seen.

Everywhere among the seagrasses and seaweeds were these little spirals of eggs. What could they be? Probably slugs! The slug lovers would hope so. Perhaps on our next trip they would have hatched and we would see lots of slugs (which we didn't today).

It was also heartening to see lots of large Carpet anemones. The one above is a Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni), distinguished by the fringe of long-short tentacles on the border of the disk.

There were also lots of tiny carpet anemones, which Dr Daphne earlier taught us may be the Tapetum carpet anemone (Stichodactyla tapetum) and not baby carpet anemones! And the seagrass was dotted with Swimming anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichi), which really do swim.

The long sausage like thing may be mistaken for a sea cucumber, but is actually a sea anemone that somehow unearthed itself. On the right is a photo of what it looks like when its buried.

All too soon, the tide turned and it was time for all of us to go home. I found out that this trip was part of a camp where the students learnt more about the biodiversity of our shores, and also some of the threats to them and how they can make a difference to conserve them.

Nature outings teach more than facts. They naturally result in empathy and a more caring attitude.

Our shores are amazing living classrooms. There is so much to explore and learn! All for free.

The only thing that is needed is to treat the shores with respect.

Our mainland shores like Changi and Labrador are particularly precious because they are are easier for students to access. The shores in the North (like Changi) are very different from those in the South (like Labrador). With these two shores, students can get an introduction to a good range of tropical shores.

Here are some old photos of students on Labrador...

You can just see the excitement and wonder that our shores inspire. If only for this reason, we should treasure and preserve our mainland shores.

Nov 25, 2007

Updates on large concrete slabs on Labrador shore

The Straits Times has reported on the issue today: Nature lovers fear coral project will cause damage, But NParks says it is not true that artificial reef structures harm the environment by Shobana Kesava, Straits Times 26 Nov 07;

Some excerpts from the report...

National Parks Board (NParks) spokesman George Tay said: 'The project is not harming the environment, since the artificial reef and garden sit on the sea floor, away from the natural coral reef zone of the nature reserve.'

Asked about the structures on the shore, their creator, a volunteer on the SP team, Mr Charles Rowe, said that was where the team has been building them since March last year. When completed, they are moved out to sea.

Captain Frederick Francis, who heads the SP volunteer team, confirmed that the team had been asked by NParks to remove the structures from the beach. He maintained that the structures were not damaging marine life, and that sea grasses and algae can be seen growing on the beach.

Professor Leo Tan, former chief of NParks, said, while those trying to do good for the environment should not be discouraged, experiments should be monitored more closely, with NParks, scientists and sociologists working with them.

Prof Tan, himself a marine biologist, said: 'The only way to find the right technique to regenerate corals is to conduct experiments like this, but the project's methodology has to be made clear and follow-through must go on for up to 10 years before we know if an experiment is a success.

'Projects should not just be praised at the outset and forgotten.'

Here are some further updates on what was seen on the shores following the earlier post about large debris on Labrador.

I had raised the issue about the concrete slabs on Labrador to Singapore Polytechnic on 30 Oct. More than a week later, the slabs were still on the shore.

Seen on Labrador's intertidal shore on 11 Nov 07 (Sun) :
One large triangular slab (about 2.5m on each side) near the high shore.

And two large rectangular slabs (about 2m x 6m) at the low-water mark near the jetty legs, but not under the jetty. One of the two rectangular slabs was under water even at moderate low tide. All three slabs appeared to comprise of PVC pipes with plastic sheeting attached to the pipes with cable ties and ropes, and a layer of concrete between the pipes.

Are these rectangular slabs the "two larger moulds to build it" mentioned in the ST article of 26 Nov?

So the seacils (the triangular slabs) were built on the intertidal? This zone of the intertidal is generally only exposed for a 1-2 hours for super low spring tide that happens only 3-4 days a month. And this low tide is usually not during daylight. It seems a rather odd place to "build" seacils.

The ST article mentions that "that was where the team has been building them since March last year. When completed, they are moved out to sea." So after the seacils are built on the intertidal, these large and heavy structures are moved out to sea over the lower reef flats and the reef crest to a subtidal area? How was this done without dragging the large heavy structure over seagrasses and corals already on the shore?

And if the rectangular slabs are where the seacils were built, why was a seacil left on the high shore near the entrance to the beach since early this year?
Here is a wide view of the two rectangular slabs (left side of the photo, under the jetty), with the location of the triangular slab in circled in white near the entrance to the shore.

Seen on 25 Nov 07 (Sun): The same three slabs were still there. But some had the PVC pipes removed.

This is what the triangular slab looked like on 11 Nov (Sun).
And what it looked like on 25 Nov (Sun).
The PVC pipes on the edges of and across the slab had been removed by cutting away the ropes and cable ties. The concrete slab and its component parts remained on the shore.

Without the PVC edges, the slab is starting to disintegrate.
As the component parts of the slab break off, these will soon litter the shore.
Pieces of string will entangle animals and plants. Plastic sheeting will envelope animals and plants. Heavy chunks, as they move up and down with the tides and the waves, will rub away at the seagrasses and other marine life on the shore.

One of the rectangular slabs also had its PVC pipes removed from the edges and centre by cutting away the cable ties and ropes.
But the concrete slab remained on the shore.
Again, the components could be seen: plastic sheeting, netting and various bits of rope and ties.
The rectangular slab furthest away from the shore still had its PVC pipes.
The rectangular slabs are right next to a large patch of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii).
Sickle seagrass is relatively rare, even on the famous seagrass meadow at Chek Jawa.
Labrador has the largest Sickle seagrass patch on the mainland.

According to the ST article: "Captain Frederick Francis maintained that the structures were not damaging marine life, and that sea grasses and algae can be seen growing on the beach."

Seagrasses cannot grow UNDER the slabs. Does the presence of seagrasses on the shore mean that there has been no damage to the shore? What is the current seagrass cover compared to the period BEFORE the slabs were put in place? Does the study team have data to show that seagrass cover has not been affected?

Other debris seen on the shore on 25 Nov 07 (Sun)
Long lengths of PVC pipes loose on the shore. Moving up and down with the tides and the waves.And the signboard for an experiment, that previously was seen nailed up on the jetty. Now lying on the shore.

Labrador shore is currently under severe stress from the massive construction going right on the shore.
There has recently also been several landslides on the shore.
It's a pity that the struggling marine life also has to cope with large slabs of concrete that will soon start to fragment and abrade the shore.

And just as we were leaving, we saw the piles of PVC pipes left lying right at the gate to Labrador shore.As the sign says, Labrador is the ONLY mainland shore accessible for various uses.

Those who are environmentally aware will surely agree that everyone who uses Labrador shore should abide with the spirit of the NParks sign and do their part to conserve the shore.

Updates on interaction with Singapore Polytechnic on the issue:

On 30 Oct, I sent an email to Singapore Polytechnic Corp Comms informing them that I had posted photos of large debris on Labrador and asking two questions:

(a) Are the equipment depicted in my photos related to any projects by Singapore Polytechnic?

(b) What steps have been put in place to ensure that Cpt Francis' project as outlined in the ST article does not result in damage to Labrador? (Undersea garden takes root S'pore Poly team creates marine site off Labrador for corals to regrow by Shobana Kesava Straits Times 29 Oct 07)

On 7 Nov, Singapore Polytechnic suggested a meeting to discuss the issue. I replied that I would only attend if I was not required to agree to non-disclosure of the meeting's discussions.

On 21 Nov, when I asked about the meeting, I was informed that it was decided not to have the meeting and that the issues I raised had been addressed in the interview by Straits Times with Cpt Francis.

On 21 Nov, I also offered to give Singapore Polytechnic a free public talk about our shores to SP staff and students. I was informed that I would first have to submit my presentation materials for submission to SP management to review. I have offered them a CD of the entire presentation. I am currently awaiting their response to this offer.

On 26 Nov, I also emailed Singapore Polytechnic about the issues mentioned in this blog entry.

Share your thoughts?
If you have thoughts or questions about the issue that you would like to raise with Singapore Polytechnic, the person I have been communicating with on this is Kenny Chua Kenny has been very helpful and nice so please be gentle in your comments. You might also want to send it to the Singapore Poly feedback form on their website (although it didn't work when I tried using it for my first submission).

MORE details
Large versions of all photos of these slabs have been posted to flickr.
More about the Labrador marine life you could see in the past.
See also photos of Labrador marine life during happier times.

Also discussed on these forums
clubsnap forum
sgscuba forum (login required)
fins online forum
the singapore daily
NUS facebook

Other posts about the issue
Labrador Park seashore enviroment ... with CONCRETE?!! on the justindive blog
Is the Labrador talk really that cheap?
another view of someone who attended Cpt Francis' briefing on the justindive blog

Other points of view
Talk is cheap! on the moment in time blog
The Seacil reef of blog ignorance on the(new)mediaslut e-zine

Links to more
Artificial Reef Revitalises Marine Life by Kwang Wei TJAN and Lay Leng TAN on the Innovation Magazine website: Singapore researchers and volunteers lay down artificial reefs to create thriving marine ecosystems.

Nov 14, 2007

Sand dollar suprise on ECP

just last week we were cycling along East Coast Beach when we saw relatively low tide and plenty of little horrors (kids) running up and down the beach. Curiosity ordered us to check it out, and lo and behold, the beach was CROWDED with sand dollars! More pics and description here on Liana's blog