Aug 4, 2007

'Nems in the News!

Wow! Dr Daphne and The Hunt was featured in today's Straits Times! Here's some extracts ...

Bumper harvest for anemone hunters
Research mission uncovers many new species in S'pore waters
By Shobana Kesava Straits Times 4 Aug 07

SOME gaze into the marine firmament to look for starfish. For Dr Daphne Fautin, sea anemones give her the thrills.

As she peers down a microscope, Dr Fautin, 61, exclaims with excitement: Yet another discovery has been made here in Singapore.

The sea anemone expert has not seen anything quite like it: an anemone with bumps all the way down its throat. Just hours earlier, she and a handful of local naturalists had found one with strawberry spots running down its base.

There are about 1,000 known species of anemone, the smallest and largest of which are found in Singapore.

The tiniest one known to science, just a millimetre across, was uncovered on blades of seagrass here.

The largest, over a metre in height and diameter, makes up a complete ecosystem, supporting clownfish and shrimp.

Dr Fautin's discoveries bring the total number of sea anemone species identified here to 40.

Only 13 were previously known to exist in Singapore, but her trip here has helped to more than triple the number of species identified.
. . .

The discoveries are potentially significant because of the dual nature of sea anemones.

Dr Fautin said they produce the most complex cell secretions. Stinging cells called nematocysts lie on these carnivores' tentacles, paralysing prey and pulling the trapped creature towards their mouths.

'Past studies have found this secretion fights cancer in mice,' Dr Fautin said. New finds could lead to new drug developments.

At the same time, these animals are so simple in structure that developmental biologists can use them to understand how cells divide to become heads, limbs or tails.

While no species of anemone is believed to be endangered, Dr Fautin said that it is possible for some to disappear before they can be identified.

The hantuensis species, once spotted on Pulau Hantu, has eluded the researchers in these last few weeks despite their efforts.

Dr Fautin warns against thinking that the world won't miss what it never knew it had.

'Fishermen have seen crabs and fish go missing. Only later, we found out it was because the mangroves, the habitat of their young, had been destroyed.

'Right now, we don't know what part of the ecosystem will also be affected down the road, because anemones have been removed too,' Dr Fautin said.

Full article on wildsingapore

More 'nems today

Today I was on Pulau Semakau as part of the TeamSeagrass monitoring event. After I finished monitoring with Siyang, I wandered the shore and thought about Dr Daphne. It's a good thing she didn't come I suppose. We didn't see any weird 'nems. And not a single one of the elusive Condylactis Not. (Update: Robert H told me on Sunday that he did see one of these on Semakau).

But I did see this large and beautiful Bubble-tip sea anemone (Entacmea quadricolor). Wedged in between two big clumps of coral rubble in a stream of water leading to the sea. This anemone doesn't always have bubble-shaped tips, as this one clearly shows.But it can be identified by the white ring around the tips. Usually the Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) is found in this anemone. But I couldn't find any in this one. Alas. This combination of anemone and anemonefish, however, has been sighted on Semakau before, see Samson's manta blog.

Also seen was the Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). I looked more closely, as taught by Dr Daphne, and indeed, the tentacles was constantly quivering. Quite a twitchy 'nem.Alas, also didn't find anybody living in the anemone. Sometimes, these have False clown anemonefishes (Amphiprion ocellaris) or anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis). See Ron's tidechaser blog for an encounter with anemonefishes in this anemone.

Just near the start point, I came across a Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni).Tiong Chin also spotted the Magnificent sea anemone (Heteractis magnifica) today at Semakau, see his mountain and sea blog. While Kok Sheng spotted the a Snaky sea anemone (Macrodactyla doreensis) and some other strange large sea anemone, see his wonderful creations blog.

Among the coral rubble were also many Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.). I saw at these two kinds. The plain one (photo on the left) is rather well camouflaged.The part of the shore where I walked had lots of these long-tentacled mushroom corals (Heliofungia actiniformis), which are often mistaken for anemones. This hard coral is not attached to the ground, and is made up of one single large polyp with fat white-tipped tentacles.There were also lots of Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) which are hard corals made up of many little long-bodied polyps living together in a colony.My special find for the day was this little green mantis shrimp. We've also seen this little fellow on Sisters Island. We're still trying to find out what he is.There's still sooo much more to learn about our shores!

For more photos of Singapore's sea anemones, see wildsingapore flickr set on anemones.

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