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Nature conservationists focus on seagrass to preserve eco-system

By Noor Mohd Aziz, Channel NewsAsia
24 March 2007

SINGAPORE: There is a new conservation buzz in town, and it is all about seagrass.

It is pure unbridled passion for nature conservation that has brought a group of nearly 30 volunteers together on a hot Saturday afternoon.

They are attending a workshop on documenting and collecting specimens of seagrass.

For the uninitiated - seagrass is a flowering marine plant.

Found mostly around Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin, it acts as a buffer between the coral grove and the mangrove swamp.

It is also found at the Pulau Semakau landfill - where they provide food for marine animals - and act as a nestling ground for small fish.

"Seagrass help support our biodiversity and they help support our fish and prawn and other animals," says Dr Len McKenzie, Principal Scientist and Seagrass-Watch Programme Leader.

"They are also supporting our endangered species like dugong and turtle which certainly pass through the waters of Singapore as they move between Malaysia and Indonesia. So it is very important that Singapore retain some of these green pockets of Seagrass, if you like, to ensure the sustainability of our ocean, sustainability of our fisheries and sustainability of our endangered species," Dr McKenzie continues.

This humble seagrass has also put Singapore on the world map.

Nearly one-sixth of all seagrass species is found in Singapore - including half of all species in the Indo-Pacific region.

"That's the area stretching all the way from India all the way to the North America, and South America. So it is an important component of global bio-diversity," says Dr Nigel Goh, Head (Marine), NParks.

The volunteers are up early the next morning to take a trip to Pulau Semakau to see firsthand, the seagrass habitat.

Says Siti Maryam Yaakub, Team Seagrass Coordinator, "Team Seagrass covers a new niche in the local conservation scene because the past 5-10 years or so since Chek Jawa had been put on deferment, you actually have a lot of awareness programmes and, I think that a step ahead of awareness is actually being proactive in monitoring the environment, in doing something tangible. So that's how Team Seagrass actually fills the niche and that's why we have so many volunteers as well."

Another volunteer has been publishing books on Singapore's eco-system and donating the proceeds, as much as $70,000, to nature and marine research.

Another $50,000 from his latest book, "Singapore's Splendour-Life on the Edge" has also been committed.

"After I joined the nature society, I was shown whole areas of Singapore that have so much diversity. Chek Jawa first came into the picture then and I was looking at Chek Jawa and that got me started working on the project and got me seeing many things in Chek Jawa which many people never saw because in Chek Jawa and in the inter-tidal areas, we went in very early in the morning - three, four o'clock - and a whole host of things running around, feeding, mating, avoiding us, running all over the place," says Dr Chua Ee Kiam, volunteer and author of "Singapore's Splendour".

"So there is so much, much to see unlike the public which goes in at three, four o'clock in the afternoon-so many things would have hidden.

"When I saw so many things, I decided to document this and this area, and these creatures and after that, decided to do a book on this so that Singaporeans can see for themselves."

And who knows, as Singaporeans become more aware of the rich marine environment around them, this live classroom sessions may well attract more volunteers. - CNA/yy

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