Jun 30, 2007


Chay Hoon is the most lady-like person I know. It was thus quite a shock to hear her yell "Basket!" on the shore.

Closer attention to what she said, and I realised what she exclaimed was "Basket STAR!"
And it IS indeed something to get excited about! It's our first ever sighting of this strange animal on the intertidal.
The basket star is a relative of the sea star. At the centre (right closeup photo) you can see the five arms emerging from a central disk. It's just that in a basket star, the arms divide into many curly branches! (left closeup photo). Isn't just an amazing animal?!

We were out very early at Sisters Island on a bright full moon morning.

Shortly after we arrived, Chay Hoon found a baby Razorfish (Family Centriscidae). It was all alone, although she did look around for its friends. Usually, these odd fishes are found in groups. They hang head down, often sheltering among the long spines of large sea urchins, but swim horizontally too.
The halfbeak (top left corner) swims horizontally on the surface of the water. Other little fishes were also sheltering in the pools left behind by the tide.

Another of Chay Hoon's smashing finds was this smasher mantis shrimp. The mantis shrimps we usually see at Changi have spiny arms just like the land praying mantis insect. But this green mantis shrimp has clubs instead of spines on its arms.
These clubs can be used to give a really hard whack! To discourage predators and to stun prey or crack shells.
Unlike Chay Hoon, I am not good at finding spectacular things. Generally I only spot marine life that don't move much or at all. I came across these little Anchor corals.
As well as a sea anemone with bulbous tentacles (Entacmea quadricolor). The Tomato anemonefish usually shelters in this kind of anemone, but I didn't see any of these fishes.
I also chanced upon a busy little octopus hardly bigger than 10cm. It was perfectly camouflaged as it skimmed over the coral rubble in search of breakfast.
It stopped now and then, unfurling all eight long skinny arms in eight different directions, to poke about in nooks and crannies.When it discovered something tantalizing, it immediately flared out the webbing between its arms so the octopus became a little net!
I noticed that many of the living hard corals today were rather brown. A closer look revealed that they were covered with a layer of tiny acoel flatworms!
These very small flatworms are believed to graze on the small animals trapped on the mucus of the host coral, e.g., small crustaceans, copepods, diatoms, detritus. I'm not sure if the worms hurt or help the coral in the process. Here's a closer look at the worms.
I've seen small groups of these acoel flatworms on hard corals, but never so many before.

All too soon the tide came in and the sun rose to a dull and lackluster sunrise (what we call a "power failure sunrise"). But we were still busy checking out the shore. Almost forgetting our breakfast cooler which we left on the shore so the wild monkeys wouldn't raid it.
The cooler nearly floated away! Fortunately, Helen saved it.

Today, the reefs of Sisters were very quiet compared to our previous visits. All the seaweed was gone, both sargassum and bryopsis. The rubble was drab, when usually they are coated with pink, blue and other colourful encrusting animals. And there seemed to be a lot of sand, with many of the hard corals half buried. We're not really sure what is going on and whether we should worry.

This is why I feel it's important to make regular visits to our shores so that we can keep track of what is going and get a better sense of seasonal changes.

Lots of other marine life were sighted too! See these other blogs about the same trip ...
tidechaser blog with sightings of "Nemo" (clown anemonefish), anemone shrimps, strange sea cucumbers,
wonderful creations blog with sightings of colourful crabs, blue-spotted stingray
where discovery begins blog with sightings of land hermit crab, brittle star, marine spider

Jun 25, 2007

Mr Yeo Keng Loo, RIP

Today, we are deeply saddened to hear of the sudden loss of a gentle soul.

We learnt from Siva that Mr Yeo Keng Loo, curator at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research had passed away on Saturday.

I first met Mr Yeo when I spent hours photographing the specimens from the first Chek Jawa transect at the museum. It was my first time doing anything like this and he was patient in showing me how to do it right (and to survive the formaldehyde).

I met him many times later again, at field trips, during visits to the museum.

In fact, now that I think back, he was among the team for our first major boat 'expedition' to the Southern Islands which we undertook on the same day of the Chek Jawa guidebook launch!

The wildfilms crew will always remember the special trips he made possible for us last year. Then, as always, he quietly offered sound field advice, and patiently looked after everything.

This is the only photograph I have of him with the film crew. Alas, we didn't know it would be the last time in the field with him.

Mr Yeo's kind and gentle friendship will be sorely missed.

More about how he touched so many lives on the rmbr news blog

It is times like this that remind me to appreciate the many dedicated people who are involved in what we do. Always there to quietly provide constant support, guidance and a friendly smile when thing get tough.

We cannot do any of what we do alone. Thank you.

Jun 18, 2007

Acropora Overdose

It was another early start this morning, under threatening skies as we zoomed past the Southern Islands. This is Pulau Jong, distinctively shaped like a 'pau'.
Shortly, we arrived at the southernmost point of Singapore, with Pulau Biola in the foreground and the city centre visible in the horizon.
Singapore indeed has marvellous reefs!

Where are we? Wildfilms were kindly included in a brief survey of Raffles Lighthouse!

This tiny island has among the most pristine of our reefs. Being off limits and distant, and thus well protected from collection and not as exposed to other impacts. Here is Alvin filming the very rich lagoon right at the lighthouse jetty.

The lighthouse is rich in all the different kinds of hard corals that we see elsewhere on our reefs. What is really special at this location are the amazing variety of large and healthy Acropora corals.
They come in a wide variety of shapes and colours.

The polyps that make up these corals are quite distinctive.
These corals are sometimes also called Tabletop corals as the overall structure looks like a platform.

These corals are sometimes also called Staghorn corals because their branches resemble the large horns of these terrestrial beasts.
These branching corals are like forests under the sea, providing hiding places for all kinds of animals.
Such as this tiny hairy crab. Other animals that can be found in Acropora corals include little clams and small fishes.

Another rarely seen coral that grows in profusion at the lighthouse is Hydnophora sp.
And other rarely seen corals as well (except for the green Galaxea coral, I'm not really sure exactly what the others are).
We also came across several different kinds of feather stars! These relatives of sea stars and sea cucumbers have lots of feathery arms and can be quite active.
Today was my first encounter with the Adhesive sea anemone (Cryptodendrum sp.) which I think really looks like a pizza!
The one that was still submerged (big picture) was a little hard to spot. Another one that was out of water was a little more obvious. These large flat sea anemones with really short tentacles hide under coral slabs.

Of course LOTS of other marine life were encountered: anemonefishes, stingrays, other little fishes; giant clams. And there may also have been a first encounter with a kind of sponge today!

Raffles Lighthouse shows the kind of reefs Singapore can have if impact is controlled: coastal developments (e.g., dredging, wake from sea traffic), collection (e.g., drift nets, uncontrolled harvest of marine life and corals), marine litter and other stresses that the other more accessible shores have to bear.

changi in a collage

Changi never fails to amaze, even for those who frequent the place. The place was near overcrowded with crabs of all sorts and fishes mingling around. There were hermit crabs the size of your palm. There were volute shells bigger than your palm. We stumbled across a swarm of schooling catfish. We disturbed sole central and at least 3 solefish upped and left as we muddied the water. Bigger crabs were having a field day trying to catch smaller hermit crabs for a quick snack. Seapens stuck out of the sand like beacons. Rabbitfish pranced around and pipe fish, like dragons, raised their long slender heads above the forest of algae. For first timer to Changi on a Wildfilms trip, Liana tries to sum it up with a collage in a microcosmos:

Jun 17, 2007

Under the boardwalk, down by the sea

Yesterday I joined a group of Chek Jawa enthusiasts to have a look at the nearly completed boardwalk there.

From the beautifully restored House No. 1, we should see Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island (where Kok Sheng and friends spent the morning). The old jetty has also been rebuilt.
As the tide was coming in, we quickly headed down to the shore to have a quick look. The 'finger' that pokes out of the boardwalk to the sand bar is a pontoon that moves up and down with the water. So visitors are never far from the bottom.

Alas, the sand bar was still bare of carpet anemones, where usually we might find one at every few steps. I saw only two living anemones, one normal coloured, another a sickly yellow.

The tide was coming in fast! And the little Soldier crabs (Dotilla sp.) were busy getting ready for the high tide. In seconds, with a quick spiral of building big balls out of wet sand, each little crab sealed itself safely into its burrow.

As we headed back to the shore, we came across large expanses of the very rare Beccarri's seagrass (Halophila beccarri). In Singapore, we've only come across this tiny striped seagrass on Chek Jawa! Elsewhere, this seagrass is also rare.

It was rather disturbing that the usually thick patch of Ribbon seagrass (Cymodocea rotundata) near the shore was now a bare patch. Although there were more of this seagrass towards the seaward side of the lagoon (right photo). It appears that Chek Jawa is only slowly recovering from the mass deaths early this year due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

It's time to check out the boardwalk, which circles the coastal forest, through the mangroves and has a look-out tower.

The planes roar past on their way towards Changi Airport. Isn't it amazing that right in the flight path of a world-class airport, is a wonderful natural habitat like Chek Jawa?!

The raised boardwalk takes us past hordes of fiddler crabs. Still busy on the shores, feeding and annoying one another before the tide comes in.

The boardwalk takes us through the back mangroves, with very tall Nipah palms, lots of mud lobster mounds and other intriguing mangrove life.

The highlight is of course the tower. A monitor lizard was spotted on a coconut tree and much argument made about whether it was the common Malayan water monitor or the rarer Clouded monitor.

The tower takes us high above the canopy for a breath-taking view of the coast and the surrounding forests.

Heading back out for the shore, this time on the boardwalk as the tide comes all the way in.

Past the floating pontoon over the sand bar, now right in the middle of the water. The threatening weather finally hits us.

This little shelter opposite the coastal forest is a perfect spot to wait out the shower. And to observe the coastal forest where jungle fowl and other creatures live.

As the weather clears, we head back to House No. 1, past the Chek Jawa Beacon.

The boardwalk snakes along the coast, allowing everyone to enjoy this unique and scenic location even during high tide.

The access routes to the boardwalk have been purposely left natural, strewn with fallen fruits, flowers and leaves, and bordered by wild plants.

If you like it exactly the way it is, please write in and say so. Otherwise, people who write in to suggest that these be paved over and 'weeds' removed will get their way! This situation applies to our other wild places too. Agencies managing these places are often under pressure by people who want things more 'civilised' while there is no counterweight of expressions by people who like things exactly the way they are.

Among some of the special sights along this boardwalk are the very rare Seashore nutmeg (Knema globularia) (left) and the strange Ceriops tagal (right), a rather rare mangrove tree which has squarish seedlings.

The brightly coloured fruits of Rotan tikus (left), which means Rat's Rattan in malay, festoon the mangroves. Among the plants were pretty butterflies. With the boardwalk, there will be lots more to a tour of Chek Jawa than just marine life!