Aug 30, 2007

Pulau Semakau with CNN

Another early start this morning. This time to Pulau Semakau to share the rich shores there with CNN which is doing a programme on sustainable development. They intend to showcase the landfill as an example of how biodiversity can co-exist with urban living if the proper care and consideration is given to construction and operation.

Ron has kindly agreed to use up his precious leave to be the 'Guide', while Mary and Chris from NEA were his 'visitors'. YC and Liana again made time to be with the team, to help find things and also introduce the marine life there. Shawn from NEA is also with us, which is fabulous as he's really good at finding things. And what a lovely surprise! Senior Semakau officers Mr Ong and Mr Loo also came along for the trip.

Almost as soon as we arrived on the shore at daybreak, we found mating Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) on the sandy shore! Ron shares more about these animals that sadly, are no longer common elsewhere in Singapore.We quickly moved out to the reef edge to catch the tide before it turned.

YC soon found the big red Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus). Ron shares about it on camera, while Mr Ong and Mr Loo join in to have a closer look.Shortly after, Ron finds another of these big sea stars, and YC finds a brown one too!

Ron then introduces the hard and soft corals at the reef edge.And there are stunning specimens of some rarely seen corals.Besides Acropora corals, and Galaxy corals ...
... there were also lots of brain and boulder corals of various sizes, colours and patterns. As well as mushroom corals, and the weird soft corals that look like surgical gloves and fried eggs, and much much more.

Ron brings us to see a very nice Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa). YC takes over to explain it as he knows lots about these magnificent animals.

Our giant clams are sadly listed among our threatened animals, mainly due to habitat loss. Pulau Semakau is one of our few reefs where they are still found.

Shawn finds an octopus!It was stranded on the dry sand so we put it into a pool. Whereupon we noticed some of its tentacles seem to have been bitten off. It then inked! Probably as it was really scared. We moved it to a new pool where it seemed happier.

Shawn also found a bright orange-spotted gymnodoris nudibranch, while Liana found a blue-and-white flatworm!Poor Ron had to work very hard throughout the trip. At the end of it all, he was thoroughly interviewed by Constance of CNN.Meanwhile, the rest of us got into Nem Mode.

We looked at the beautiful Bulb-tentacled sea anemone (Entacmea quadricolor).And a gathering of Magnificent anemones (Heteractis magnifica).Alas, neither had any anemonefishes.

Liana spotted a cluster of weird looking 'nem-things. They were about 15cm wide, very large for a corallimorph. We think they might be Pizza anemones (Cryptodendron sp.) that we usually see all squished up. These could be what they look like when they're expanded? Wow!

And everywhere, as if to taunt us, were the Condy-nots.We were supposed to be looking for these anemones for Dr Daphne at Labrador today, but rescheduled due to the sudden visit by CNN.

Finally, Captain Anemone couldn't stand it anymore and nabbed this pretty one.YC is really good at it and all by himself, managed to get an entire, unbroken specimen! Dr Daphne will be very pleased as she really wanted a complete specimen.

On the way back, we saw a Noble volute laying eggs, and a pair of mating Mangrove horseshoe crabs (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda). Ron explains more about these strange and endangered animals, which are still commonly seen on Pulau Semakau.All in all, I think we managed to show the best side of Pulau Semakau given the short trip. All thanks to the help of the hunter-seekers who found lots of interesting things so that we could film them without trampling all over the delicate shores. And of course to Ron for sharing the wonders of Semakau in his inimitable style, even at 6am in the morning!

Despite having to guide, Ron still found the time to take photos! See his tidechaser blog for some of the many animals we saw today.

Aug 29, 2007

Lucky at Changi

For this morning's 'nem hunt, Liana and I decided to have an easy trip and go back to another portion of the neglected Changi shore that I visited yesterday. We also decided we won't bother with the tiny 'nems.

This portion of the shore is much sandier, and we headed straight out to the waterline. There were seagrasses there! Big leafy Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis)!Among the seagrasses, my first sighting of the Thorny sea cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis) for the year! Since the big flood early this year.One was hardly bigger than the seagrass leaf that it was clinging to. Seagrasses are indeed important habitats for our marine life.

In the murky receeding water, we spotted tiny flatfishes. Moon snails ploughed the sand and the shore was teeming with hermit crabs. There was a patch with LOTS of tiny ones.And here and there, were 'queues' of hermits of various sizes. They are probably surrounding a newly empty shell. When one of the hermit crabs finds the new shell to be a good fit, it leaves behind its old shell. This in turn is inspected by smaller hermits who might abandon their old shell for the recently vacated one, and so forth. Kind of like a musical shells situation!

But where are them 'nems? None of the hermit crabs seemed to have any anemones on their shells.

There were fan worms, which can appear to be sea anemones.
But a closer look shows that it has a segmented wormy body topped by a fan of fine feathery tentacles. The worm lives in a tube and it is quite common on Changi.

Aha! Here is a pretty 'nem that I've not seen before.It turned out to be attached to a buried shell. Possibly the shell was previously occupied by a hermit crab?

Shortly after, we came across this large 'nem.It looked pretty easy to examine. But it was very VERY deeply wedged in the mud. Both Liana and I had our arms up the elbows and we still couldn't find the end of it!

We spotted several of these pink polka-dotted sea anemones with a rim of white bumps around the top of the body column.They are quite common and Dr Daphne has been taking a closer look at them already. So we leave them alone.

Then we came across a blob that looked very much like other blobs. But when we peeked under the tentacles, we noticed a bright red body! And taking a closer look, it was totally red right down to its foot!Wow! I've never seen anything like it before.

On the left is what it looked like as a blob in the sand.On the right is what it looks like with its tentacles out. On the surface, it looks quite ordinary and not very different from the second one that we struggled to unearth. Amazing! We must indeed take a much closer look at our common sea anemones.

Red being a lucky colour, I must say we had a very lucky day at Changi!

Of course we informed Dr Daphne about our find and here is her response:

"All I can say is AMAZING!!!

It certainly appears, except for the colour, to be the same as one of the burrowing non-Peachias we got. Internal anatomy will tell. If it is not ...

Some individuals of actinodendrids, some burrowing species of Heteractis, and of Macrodacyla can have a yellow or orange column or, more commonly, splotched with colour.

I am told that could be due to waste products such as guanines, which presumably cannot be oxidized easily in the sediments. But whatever, this is spectacular -- and shows the value of keeping on with sampling.

Glad the weather is treating you well. I guess I am there in spirit with you."

Aug 28, 2007

A neglected Changi shore

Chay Hoon and I were out early this morning to check out a little-visited portion of Changi. I haven't been here in years, but wow, it's full of anemones.

Including this strange little one that could be the brown Peachia that Dr Daphne is looking for (we are hoping).I saw this lovely pair of anemones ...And they turn out to be attached to a buried whelk! Wow! There were also lots of misleading anemone-like things. The tiny pink filaments (left photo) might be tentacles of buried worms.While I have no idea what the thing on the right is. Possibly a baby peacock anemone? We saw only one large peacock anemone, but several tiny sea pens.

The shore was also full of crabs, including these swimming crabs.I'm not really sure what they kind of swimming crabs they are.

I spotted this tiny snapping shrimp that looked like it had some sort of other animal clamped to its head.Eeww! The worm-like animal looks rather sinister and I have no idea what it is.

Looking so closely, I notice more of the gobies that are so commonly seen on our sandy shores.There was also a very energetic scorpionfish.And a large toadfish.Of course, with Chay Hoon around, we get to see really well camouflaged animals that only she can see. Like this miniscule filefish!
Of course, she spots the find of the day. We have no idea whether it's a flatworm or a nudibranch. It's not really all that flat and has a hump in the middle, as well as two tiny pointy 'feelers' near the front of the body, so it might not be a flatworm. But it did move very rapidly and in a flatworm-like manner. We are thoroughly perplexed.

Wow! There's just so much to learn about our shores. Even beat-up ignored ones.

Throughout our trip, we were right under the flight path of landing planes. We noticed that 30 seconds after a plane passed, there would be a very strong gust of wind. Sometimes followed by a weird crackling sound in the air, like horizontal lightning. Quite scary what planes might be causing just by flying around.

Aug 27, 2007

Sleepless in Sembawang

Shall we go to Kranji or Sembawang?

Sembawang! Because YC didn't want to add to his count of exotic internal parasites, and we didn't really want to get eaten up by crocodiles. Besides which it's the Seventh Month and it's rather spooky in the mangroves at 4am.

It's been years since I last checked out Sembawang. But I recalled that it had a lot of anemones.

And wow, Sembawang shores were really carpeted with them 'nems.
Some were large, but most were very tiny.But there were lots of them. And in all kinds of patterns.We are particularly intrigued by these ones with a 'moustache' of a pair of longer more opaque tentacles.They look very similar to the one Mervin found at East Coast, so we kept calling them Mervin's nem.

There were others that were rather plain but still pretty when you take a closer look.Of course we have no idea whether they are different or the same or what. We gathered a few so that Swee Hee and Dr Daphne can have a look at them.

Besides 'nems, there were also lots of brittle stars out and about.
These delicate animals are indeed rather 'brittle' and will drop off an arm if it is alarmed.It is a cousin of the sea star, you can see the five-part central disk.The mouth is on the underside. This particular one was happily moving about upside down.

YC found a Flower crab...oops, turned out to be two crabs mating.On the seawall was a very pretty Climbing crab, with green eyes.We stopped early today, to pace ourselves for the upcoming trips this week. Let's see what we can find in some of our other neglected shores tomorrow.

Aug 16, 2007

Monitoring Chek Jawa's recovery

Early this morning, some of us joined Kok Sheng to visit Chek Jawa. There were 13 of us, which on hindsight, isn't such a good number especially since the Hungry Ghost month just started.

Earlier this year, there was mass death of many kinds of animals on Chek Jawa due to the large inflow of freshwater following massive flooding in Johor. Chek Jawa lies very close to the mouth of the Johor River. Kok Sheng's Chek Jawa project aims to study how marine life recovers from such an event.

We were split up into teams. Each team would focus on a particular 'charismatic' animal, i.e., the 'Bambis of the shores'; which were selected following Dr Dan's recent visit to Chek Jawa. Dr Dan is one of the supervisors for this project.

I got assigned to the carpet anemone team!

Shu Ying, Yuan Ting, Captain Anemone aka YC, and I headed off to find those BIG 'nems. After searching for tiny 'nems, how difficult would it be to find ones bigger than your head?, I thought (foolishly)

It was hard! There were so few of them. This is tragic. Before the flood, there were so many carpet anemones the guides had a hard job getting visitors to avoid stepping on them.

Finally one of the ladies on the team found one!

OK, the plan is to take a photo of the animal with a ruler (placed pointing North, I always consistently pointed it 30deg off. I still think the compass is off...grump.), plus a tag.
That's a snap, no problem.

Then measure the diameter three ways, a breeze.

Then count the tentacles...WHAT!! There must be gazzilions of them! I woke up a little (this was during the briefing) then realised we were only required to take a photo of a 1cm and 0.5cm square of the tentacles. Then poor Kok Sheng will later count and extrapolate total number of tentacles. He shares more about how he did this on his wonderful creations blog. OK. That's doable at 6am when we're still half asleep. By the way, you can tell this anemone is a Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) because it has the typical long-short tentacles at the edge.

After all that is done, YC whacks a marker near, but not too near. This is so that we can find it again and repeat the whole thing another day. In this way, we hope to find out whether the carpet anemones are growing.

Well, you'd think this was quite an idiot-proof thing to do. Alas, we realised lots of things could go wrong.

Some carpet anemones were very sticky and tried to 'eat up' the square markers.
Such a sticky one tended to cringe up and shrink, which made Yuan Ting's job of measuring the diameter more difficult if not impossible.

Sometimes, an oops, foot-in-the-mud situation results in a disastrous photo.And poor YC, after whacking in all those stakes, develops a wrist problem that he says he can't sue Hustler magazine for.

Anyway, we managed to locate and mark 30 carpet anemones all throughout Chek Jawa. And of course, saw lots more than 30 of them. It's good to know they are still there. Although not as numerous yet, as they were before the flood.

Along the way, we spotted lots of other interesting animals.

Besides the carpet anemones, Captain Anemone and I were secretly on the lookout for other 'nems too. And behold, we find 'Bob the Blob'.This is an affectionate name for a rather boring and unremarkable sea anemone, aside from its size and rather rare occurrence.

Other blobs in the sand included this Moon snail.You can see its pair of banded tentacles sticking out of its oversized body. The white blob next to the tentacles is a little tube or siphon that it uses to breathe with. There were lots of sand collars too on the shore. Some of them were HUGE! They must have been created by really Big Mamas.

Kok Sheng again spotted the 8-armed sea star (Luidia maculata). Only this one seemed to have lost and is regrowing several of its arms.
Gwyn also showed an orange sea star that she found. Wow! I have no idea what it is.There were also lots of Sand stars (Astropecten sp.) and it was Ron's job to find and measure them. He shares his Star Search and other tribulations to do with rapidly vanishing stars on the tidechaser blog.

The other 'Bambi' we are waiting for, are the Common sea stars. Alas, we didn't see a single one today. But we hope they will return soon. Before the flood, they were truly common on Chek Jawa. Elsewhere in Singapore, they are no longer common.

We came across many large and active brittle stars too.And what a huge surprise, the team came across many feather stars on the North sand bar! I think 5 of them altogether. I only managed to photograph this blue-and-black one, that we commonly see on Beting Bronok.And Dickson shared this bright red one, which I've never seen before.It's really strange to see so many of these animals on a sand bar. They are usually found near reefs.

Were they washed away from some other reef? Oh dear. Still so much we have yet to learn about our shores.

Links to more about this trip
The Big Picture on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog
Sand star search and other surprises on Ron's tidechaser blog