Few realise that the dark waters of the western Tebrau Strait between Singapore’s industrial area and the Port of Tg Pelepas and Forest City in Gelang Patah, Johor is home to the Spotted seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) and the Three-spot seahorse (Hippocampus trimaculatus). Every once in a while another species, the Tiger-tail seahorse (Hippocampus comes) will float over from Singapore. These enigmatic creatures are fish covered in bony plates (not scales) that swim upright, propelled by a tiny fin on their back.
They entwine their tails around seagrass and seem to melt into the murk, but a sharp eye will be able to spot them. They mate for life; if you find one adult seahorse, its partner should be nearby. Seahorses don’t have teeth but they inhale tiny crustacea and plankton with their long snouts. Male seahorses hold the eggs from a female in his pouch until they are ready to hatch into perfect tiny imitations of their parents. Unfortunately, only 1 in 1000 of these tiny critters survive in the wild.
For now, seahorses can still be found in Iskandar Puteri, Johor, but they are endangered. The local community in this area are working with other stakeholders to prevent collectors from taking them to sell as Chinese medicine or for ‘breeding programmes’.
Kelab Alami studies local seahorse populations in the seagrass meadows of Mukim Tanjung Kupang (sponsored by the Johor Port Authority) and conducts guided seagrass habitat walks where you might be able to spot these magical critters. Log on to kelabalami.weebly.com for more information.
Serina Rahman is the co-founder of Kelab Alami and a Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. She is also a winner of the Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA)