May 31, 2007

Dark Side of the Sisters

3am this morning and a rather perky bunch of beachfleas headed down with wildfilms to the Sisters Islands. As we were leaving, it occurred to us that we haven't been to the Sisters early in the morning. We're not really sure why. This makes the trip even more exciting!

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the powerful fragrance of blooming Tembusu! It was a full moon, the water was clear and tide falling fast.

At night, the corals are extra beautiful because many extend their colourful polyps. Sisters has a wide variety of corals which are homes to all kinds of animals.

Among the rather rare Staghorn coral (Acropora sp.) were many small animals!

A little blue-eyed crab, and lots of little clams!

In another lumpy coral was a funny kind of lump...
It was a tiny little octopus! Did it just have dinner on the clam?

Bigger octopuses prowl among the corals, enclosing branching corals or bunches of seaweeds with the skin between their arms to trap any little edible titbits hiding there.

I spotted this little squid by it's shadow! When it realised it was being watched, it turned its round little bum towards me until it drifted away.

On dead coral rubble grow little pink ascidians. And this blue flatworm looks like it was having dinner on one of these pink animals!

The lagoon was full of little fishes.
There were lots of this pretty blue fish (I have no idea what it is, and I'm too sleepy to check it up right now. Will update this later if I find out what it is). Little shrimps also settle on the living corals to forage for edible bits.

More little colourful fishes.

And a poor fish with an injured eye. The other eye seemed OK.

Some fishes were very well camouflaged. I walked right past this flathead without seeing it. Ron spotted it!

Today there were lots of toadfishes too. This little one moved away with a wiggle and quickly settled down to look just like another mucky little stone. James saw a stonefish! We await his blog entry for photos.

I stopped looking down for a moment and saw the moon setting over the hardworking film crew on the shore. Wow! I haven't seen a moon set for a long while.

All too soon, it was sunrise. A lovely dawn over St. John's which lies just across from the Sisters. As I was taking this photo, the long-tail macaques were waking up and busy in the coconut trees above, checking out for edibles, no doubt.

The tide came in and soon it was time for breakfast! (By the way, we always take out ALL our garbage with us back to the mainland. Instead of dumping it in the trashcans on the island. Because the monkeys will get to the trash.)

Budak shares more photos and stories about the adventures on his budak blog with stories about rays and fishes there and things that lurk on the bottom. Ron also shares all his marvellous fins on his tidechaser blog. I'm sure there'll be more blog entries about the encounters the others had.

As the now sleepy bunch headed home, Little Sister glows in the new day.

Singapore certainly has marvelous island gems!

But the most amazing event today was a non-event. Contrary to expectations, the Evelyn Event did not occur! We were sure that whenever Evelyn joins us it would rain. We packed extra ponchos, enclosed the precious DUC in a big plastic bag, and were also getting grumpy with her.

Perhaps the event was just postponed? It did rain later in the day. We'll see if the curse has been lifted when Evelyn joins us again on Saturday for yet another fabulous shore exploration...

May 25, 2007

Sentosa's Treasure Island of Coral

Jen Lee came with us to see the Sentosa shores for herself and has written an article about it in the New Paper "Sentosa's Treasure Island of Coral", 24 May 07.

Here she is with YuChen examining a large soft coral on the eastern side of the cable car tower. During that trip, Yuchen also found a seahorse (wonder why the photo wasn't published).

According to Jen Lee's article "Mr Michael Chin, RWS senior director for projects, said the EIA indicates that there are areas that may have corals worth transplanting. He said: 'We are waiting for the authorities' input. We have every intention to be an active conservationist. If the experts concur that we should save the corals, we will.'"

We're glad to hear this. Thank you Jen Lee!

May 23, 2007

Of 'fishscales', euphillid wonder and a sad sad future

Its been forever and a day since i went on a wildfilms trip and as always the shores never fail to amaze me.

This time it was commando-style getting into the beach overlooking the Underwater World at Sentosa. Yup, the underwater world, purported to showcase the marine world to the tourists, has all of 2 or 3 coral exhibits. And right outside their doorstep is a whole wonderland of corals!

Hard and soft corals abound, not to mention sponges as well -

from super messy ones

to colonies that look like a crystal palace from some old barsoomian tale.

The star of the show was however this huge colony of Euphilid corals barely exposed by the low tide, and protected by a treacherous slab of soft mud. Silly buggers who lack any sense of self preservation will want to sink/wade across to the colony, and be amazed by their beauty.

Euphillids are hard corals with huge polyps, and the tentacles look like so many pompoms dancing in the water. Out of water they just look limp and well, drippy.
They are just soooo pretty!

Then came the jackass moment that will live in infamy - walking along the seagrass bed i saw something flat and round - was it a fishscale? It looked huge, so i decided to take it back for a look. Maybe its fossilized Megalodon scales! Excitedly i brought my find to Ria and got laughed at. These were actually bivalves who are usually found in sandy/muddy areas, they are known as 'windowpane shells', and can be usually seen in touristy shops selling chandeliers made of these shells. These guys are on the conservation red-list, due to overcollection.

Later i managed to get a shot of the mantle. How pretty!

Other critters included fishes like seahorses,

Chromodorid seaslugs and sand dollars

and even a young scallop with all its tentacles out!

So much wonderful stuff at the beach - why pay so much to pet a few starfish and sea cucumbers when you can get up close to all these critters for free?

As it got light, i noticed that alot of the corals were getting smothered - most probably due to construction work nearby.

More sad stuff: Trapped critters:

This horseshoe crab was horribly entangled, and it took me 15 minutes to extricate it while avoiding its snappy snappies. Apparently this wasnt the only one. Ria and gang found another pair trapped further down the shore, and had to cut them free as well.

And the saddest thing about this is that this section of the beach is doomed for reconstruction - carparks and whatnots. All these pretty critters will dissapear and be replaced with clean, spartan concrete. And maybe a few cultured plants here and there. Later in our trip a few 'professionals' came to join us.

These guys apparently conducted a Environmental Impact Assessment and deemed it OK to raze it to the bedrock. How ok is it to raze all the life that is already growing here? A friend, who was joining us for a wildfilms trip for the first time quietly pulled me aside and asked "uhm, if they are supposed to be professionals why do they seem so clueless about the fauna here?"

Beats me. I'm clueless too. I'm not even going to ask about how the EIA was conducted.


Such will be the fate most of our other shores (and alot already are gone).
Its a shame that our natural heritage is being taken for granted so much, and will have to make way for 'prettier things' that come in vogue, like a little integrated resort here, or another pipeline there.

I only hope that its not too late before we realise what precious little we have and are destroying them. Our natural biodiversity comes as the closest thing we have to a common heritage for all of us Singaporeans. Lets not chuck it away.

May 22, 2007

Frog Island Foray

It's the last of the super lows for this month and this morning we headed for Pulau Sekudu.
This scenic little island lies just off Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. Like many parts of Pulau Ubin, Pulau Sekudu has wonderful rock formations.
One of the large rocks looks very much like a frog. Some people had painted eyes and a smiley to add to this impression. In fact, Pulau Sekudu means Frog Island. There's a folktale about a race among a frog, a pig and an elephant which resulted in the formation of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Sekudu. The entire folktale is on the Ubin Stories blog.

Since the mass deaths at Chek Jawa, we always look for signs of recovery during our visits to the Northern shores.
The seagrasses were doing very well! Thick carpets of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) were everywhere and there were chunks of long Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) here and there. I came across patches of rather pointed Spoon seagrasses. I'm not really sure if this is something to get excited about.
Will have to ask the TeamSeagrass experts about this...

The carpet anemones all looked happy and colourful.
And although it was bright daylight, there were lots of peacock anemones unfurled in the lagoon. In various colours, hence their common name.
A peacock anemones produces a soft felty tube to live in. And this apparently is a nice place for other animals to stay in as well.Embedded in the tube of the peacock anemone above were several little black feathery Phoronid worms. There was also a tiny elbow crab! Which I almost missed until it moved. There's also a chunky thing with holes stuck to the outside of the tube (sponge or ascidian?)And how nice to come across a nice, healthy Biscuit sea star (Goniodiscaster scabre). I didn't see any Knobbly sea stars, though.

There are a few mangrove trees growing among the gigantic rocks on Pulau Sekudu.
Among them was a magnificent Nyireh bunga (Xylocarpus granatum) which was blooming! Its tiny flowers carpeted the sand beneath it.
Unfortunately, some irresponsible people have not only made a barbecue next to its roots, but also left the entire assembly behind. There was also one person on the shore busy digging up clams. On weekends, we've seen large numbers of clam diggers removing buckets of clams, as well as fishermen who fish with lines and also leave several driftnets in the lagoon.

Pulau Sekudu overlooks the built-up mainland and lies along shipping lanes through which large ocean-going ships pass on their way to Sembawang Shipyard or Johor.What a precious treasure this little island is! Hopefully, it will survive all the pressures upon it for sometime yet.

May 21, 2007

Heartbreak at Sentosa

It is always sad when we film a doomed shore. With work possibly starting soon on Sentosa's shores, we don't have much time to document it. As if this wasn't disheartening enough, we came across a freshly laid drift net. In it were entangled a pair of Coastal horseshoe crabs (Tachypleus gigas).
Our Coastal horseshoe crabs are listed on Singapore's Red List, mostly due to habitat loss. The male is usually smaller, and often seen clinging onto the back of the larger female.

The crew stops work to free the trapped animals. Unfortunately, this is a situation we encounter frequently.
Andy documents the effort.It is a back breaking and delicate task as the net is fine and gets stuck in the fragile limbs of the horseshoe crabs. If we pull too hard, we might break these limbs.

The animals were eventually released intact, and the drift net removed from the shore.

What is really sad is that these animals are not targeted by the fishermen. Such by-catch are often discarded, injured or dead. Budak blogs more about the heart-breaking waste of driftnets and other traps on our shores. And the manta blog also reported poaching recently at Changi.

Our shores die first by inches. Killed and carted away in pieces by irresponsible people. Stifled by silt stirred up by coastal activities. Ignored by most people, who assume there can't be anything alive or interesting in our murky waters.

Other recent posts about Sentosa's imperiled shore:
Singapore from Sentosa on the budak blog
Sentosa marine life to give way to IR on the urban forest blog
The Other Side of Sentosa shores on the urban forest blog

May 19, 2007

Wildfilms First Sampler!

Wildfilms proudly presents our first sampler.....

"Singapore Surprise!"

Discover a surprisingly rich shore life of Singapore.
Don't need to swim!
Don't need to dive!

Starring the Fishes, Nudibranch, Flatworms and many more.

Rated PG.

Just hit the "Play" button on the YouTube box.

May 18, 2007

Surprising Sentosa

18th May 2007. It was the second low-tide early day in a row. Only this morning, the sky had an orange tint and the air was heavy with moisture. Drip, drip....on the windshield as I was beckoned past the toll of charge (unlike the 17th when the entry fee was requested). Si Yang was already waiting at UWW (he came an hour too early at 3.30am!) and we headed off the along long coastal walk in. With Jen Lee finding out where the assortment of corals were by daring adventure on the 17th, we headed straight to that spot walking briskly as the rain threatened it's dance. We decided to wait a while for the murky water level to go down a bit more. Then the heavens started the light and sound show. First light teasing rain, then the heavy pounding. We waited out the rain chatting and occasionally playing with our torches (as kids would - ha!...perhaps actually in fear of suddenly meeting any snakes disturbed by the forest clearance). Finally after about an hour, the last drop fell.

SY almost immediately found a Gong Gong trying to make haste away from us. And then a rather nicely patterned crab.

I then made my way over to the signature 1m wide leathery coral which JL had discovered the morning before and which had been visible from quite far away. This was certainly a sight!

It seemed as if this 1m specimen was an anchor tenant at the coral oasis.

All around it were various other coral and sponges. The variety was confusing as many of them looked very similar. The pictures tell it better...

In between all of this were the tiny creatures...snapping shrimp, other shrimp, lots of little fish, many crabs, most of which quickly shied away from the lights. It was difficult to get a good shot of all except the slowest of movers.

There were quite a few ball corals (at least that's what I call them being very much ignorant of the various coral species found in Singapore waters...there's just soooo much to remember!). Here's a series for thought...look at the intricacy of the patterns... A microcosm within itself!

Amazing! Nature's first mazes were in the seas!

This particular spot also had some veggies as well. Halopilla was everywhere.

There was also what seemed to be a red plastic bag but which turned out to be a kind of red seaweed.

Nice green globules!

A coast guard boat quietly sneaked up on us and suddenly shone it's super duper white spotlight at us. We kept on with bent backs and huddled over the corals blasting the flashes at interesting objects and subjects. It moved on as quietly as it had come.

As the sky brightened up, the variety of corals and neighbours showed themselves. The -0.2m tide made it possible to see the abundance of variety.

Although the substrate was generally muddy, it was still possible for such a variety of corals to survive and thrive.

Towards the end of the backbreaking search, SY carefully approached, having wondered off towards the cable car tower.

He had found a little octopus which had somehow stranded itself on an exposed part of the sand. It didn't want to leave SY's plastic tub and metal chopstick. We inverted the tub in a small pool and let the octopus slither out at it's own time. It was all white at first but later turned to brown with spots to match the camouflage of the sand-mud substrate.

The day before, the team had found a large seahorse about 12cm long around the same area. Too bad Mr Seahorse and Ms Octopus...some noisy yellow steeled objects will be arriving soon to demolish your playground. [Not to worry, Arthur Dent felt the same way moments before the earth was demolished to make way for an interstellar highway. He survived...even though the earth did not. See Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.]

Funnily enough, the arrival of the noisy yellow objects is a matter of time for this beach....Douglas Adams' "Last Chance to See" is exactly on point now for this beach and it's residents.
So long Mr Seahorse and Ms Octopus!

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so ~ Douglas Adams, "Last Chance to See"