8 Aug 2012

Road Trip Johor- In search of Seahorses (S.O.S)

(Continuing from the first part of our trip where we visited Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary)

We woke very early in the morning, 5am!, and headed out to the S.O.S center to learn about seahorse conservation. The children were really excited to be up at such a time. As we left our cheap hotel, we were greeted by the joyful chirping of flocks of birds already up before us. :)

The journey to the S.O.S center took us through some very narrow kampung roads, and it's best if you have the GPS coordinates before heading to the place Or best is to stay at the center which has 2 tiny rooms the day before your trip (If you have a 630am session like we did.)

We were very fortunate indeed to find that Mr. Choo Chee Kuang  (who's currently working on his PhD), would be our guide and teacher for the day. He's currently a lecturer at University of Malaysia Terengganu, and is an expert on seahorses.

 Because it was only 6am when we got there, they served us with jam and chocolate sandwiches and drinks of milo before Mr. Choo began a one hour talk about conservation, seahorses and the Pulai River Estuary. We learned how the numbers of seahorses in the area has dropped drastically since Project Iskandar began. Where they used to find up to 20-30 seahorses, now it's common to find only about 5.

The above is found at their center. The species that you'll find at the Pulai River is the Spotted seahorse, which is the brown one seen in this picture. Males are usually brown, and females yellowish.

Threats to the seagrass beds where seahorses live.
S.O.S center
After the very informative briefing, we drove to the jetty nearby and got ready to head out towards the Merambong area. Exciting indeed and great to be out on a really cool breezy morning. :)

We got to watch sunrise, and the children commented "Wow, look, it's turning from dark to light!" Shows how "often" they get up before sunrise!

Sunrise at the jetty

The journey out by speedboat towards the Merambong took about 15 minutes, and of course, we all love fast boat rides. :) From where we were,  we could see Project Iskandar, the linkway to Singapore, and basically we were then between Singapore and Johor.

Finally, smack in the middle of the ocean, the boats slowed down....and we saw beds of seagrass. Here the water is shallow, and the boatmen had to row the boats to a spot where it was save for us to get off.

At the first sight of seagrass all of us went "WOW!!!" and excitement swelled when we spotted a greyish, spotted kinda squid, pink sea cucumbers and so on. We stepped out of the boat, very carefully at first, after all, nobody's ever taken us out to the middle of the ocean and said "Now get off the boat! "

Mr. Choo did another round of briefing, on how to gently hold a seahorse if we spotted one. Basically our duty for the day was to scan the seagrass bed for seahorses and pipe fish. So off we went. It wasn't 5 minutes into the trip when one of the fathers spotted a seahorse, and 10 minutes later, he spotted 2 pipe fish. I regret to say I don't have a picture of the pipefish, which according to Mr. Choo, was a rare species last seen 7 years ago!

Apart from the seahorses, we spotted a vast diversity of life there such as the ones below. Can you identify them?  S.O.S was very generous, in that they gave us each a copy of their very lovely book which contains pictures and names of species found in this particular place.

Left column: Thorny Sea Cucumber, Carpet Anemone, Swimming anemone. Middle column: King Horseshoe Crab mating, Thumbs-up Sea Squirt. Right: Sea Cucumber, Noble Volute.

The children were also very amazed by the starfish found here. On the bottom right is a Knobbly Sea Star which was really big, almost as long as my arm. It can grow up to 30cm.
Clockwise from upper left: Biscuit Sea Star, Brittle Star, Knobbly Sea Star, and ??

Can you spot the seahorse in this picture below?

Just above the pipe.

Well, here's the handsome male. And looking at his pouch, you can tell he's pregnant. Wouldn't it be lovely if human males carried the baby like seahorses do? :)

 Mr. Choo talked more about seahorses, measured them and showed us how, where, why a seahorse is tagged.

All the children fought to hold the seahorse...haha....but I guess, they all just wanted to feel it.

After all the tagging and measurements of seahorses and pipefish were taken, they were released back into the ocean, and we had to step away in opposite direction so as not to step on these creatures.

Since it was Jo's birthday, we all sang Happy birthday to her right there on that bed of seagrass, and she was given the honour of releasing a particular seahorse back to sea. What a special birthday treat it was for her. :)

The above is Jo, gently talking to the seahorse before releasing it. Later at home, she showed me how it swam, and she's still talking about the experience till now.

All in all, it was certainly a very special and unforgettable trip. This has inspired both my children Nel and Jo even more about the importance and need for conservation. Much thanks to Mr. Choo who greatly inspired the whole group, and who so patiently and generously shared knowledge with us.

If you'd like to join one of S.O.S activities, you'll need to check their webpage at http://www.sosmalaysia.org/home.html There is an age limit, if I remember correctly, best to call them to find out. You'll have to check with the schedule as trips depend on tide and weather.
Mr Choo Chee Kuang passed away in June 2013. He is deeply missed. 
@poundthegarlic.blogspot.com 2012



Mini Mocha said...

This is an amazing trip, I would love to do something like that. Soooo much learning and fun going on.

gail said...

I can always tell Jo by the tilt of her head!

What a wonderful education you are giving your children.

Divoo said...

what a great trip! you all go on the most unusual and interesting trips, and i love reading about them and also gaining some general knowledge! like, i didn't know that the male seahorses get pregnant! what a fact! love to see you all so close to the nature and your kids learning some great lessons!

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