May 9, 2008

Cyrene: Stars and other strange creatures

We were out at first light, again to Cyrene Reef!
This time with a smaller team of Naked Hermit Crabs, accompanied by Chee Kong who is spearheading the Star Trackers programme (more about it soon). Collin and Kevin also joined us. Collin is looking for seahorses on Cyrene Reef. And it's Ivan's first time to Cyrene Reef! He has never seen a Knobbly before either! We are astonished!

While a bunch of us help out Chee Kong, the rest of us trooped off to try out the route Marcus suggested that would bring us to the most interesting stuff on Cyrene.

Cyrene shores are crowded with life.Here is a pretty green carpet anemone (Stichodactyla sp.) next to Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) with a fruit that has just opened, leaving a flower-like structure behind.

Even before we began in earnest, we spotted a strange flatfish, another red feather star, the strange 'no panties' sea star (Nepanthia sp.), and of course lots and lots of Knobbly sea stars: so Ivan had his fill. We also take a look at the 'Nemo' there, and discovered there were TWO of these marvellous fishes in the anemone. More about these on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog.

We saw lots of Melibe nudibranchs too. At least four.We are so inured to them already that we don't even bother to tidy up the photo and just shoot them as they are. It is easy to see how we might have overlooked them in the past and dismissed them for brown seaweed.

We headed out to the coral rubble area after November enthused about the area after yesterday's trip. It was full of soft corals, hard corals and lots of mushroom corals. And for some unknown reason, a lot of Glossodoris atromarginata nudibranchs.The nudibranchs were everywhere. Some stranded high and dry on the rubble on this super low tide day. There were also lots of small Phyllidiella pustulosa.

Along the way, there were encounters with feathery file fish and carpet eel blenny. More about these too on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog. As well as TWO cushion stars which was real treat for Kok Sheng as he hasn't seen any yet. Find out more about them on his cushion star blog entry.

And for some reason, several 'sotong' as well. These were two small ones we saw.
The team found a really large half dead one as we were waiting for the boat to go home.

Among the special finds was this strange sea cucumber.The hole in the photo is its backside and it burbled a few things to us as we took pictures.It was rather large and smooth with tiny tube feet emerging all over its body.

The underside is flat also with lots of little tube feet.The mouth is on the underside, suggesting that it feeds on the surface.At first glance it does look very much like the commonly encountered Sandfish sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra). But also somewhat different. Here's a photo of the Sandfish sea cucumber on the upper side.And underside.I also saw a strange hard coral today.It looks rather boring, but a closer look suggests it's Hydnophora but with the corallites forming a maze-like pattern. Something I haven't seen yet.And the corallites look like they were secreting long white strings of some sort. I have no idea what is going on.

We also have a look at the 'blonde Knobbly' found yesterday (more on Kok Sheng's blog entry.)Chee Kong says it's possibly a Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster sp.). Indeed, when earlier I asked Dr Lane about how to identify a Knobbly, he said one of the characteristics is that their knobs appear in one row along the arms. And this is indeed the case for this sea star.Although it also has intriguing textures that the other Knobblies lack. So we are awaiting confirmation from Dr Lane on what this might exactly be.

Earlier, Chee Kong shared with us that individual Knobbly sea stars can be identified by their knob arrangement! This is exciting as it means we can track the growth and other life encounters of individual Knobblies. We look forward to more details about his fascinating project.

Just as we were ending our trip, Andy found a blob just lying on the ground among the seagrasses. When we put it in water, it expanded into a lovely sea anemone!It has lots of bumps on the body column.And pretty pink highlights on the pale tentacles. Sam dubbed the creature "Mabel".

Marcus saw a similar anemone in Oct 07 at Changi, drifting about. He asked Dr Daphne Fautin about it.

In her reply, she suggested it might be a member of family Aliciidae. She added that the distinction among genera of that family is the source of the growths from the column -- at only the base, only the middle, or all over. She also shared that she has seen them only rarely, and most in aquaria. She has seen a few in New Guinea, but very rarely. She warns that they can sting humans fairly severely.

Fortunately, it didn't sting me when I moved it into the pool of water. Phew.

Alas, we also encountered an abandoned driftnet.And more fishtraps. But these were already broken.Unfortunately too, we were unable to find any sea horses for Collin. Perhaps the next time? For we will certainly visit this fabulous reef as often as we can!

For as Vyna puts it we must indeed expect the unexpected at Cyrene.

Bravo to Melvin for taking us out despite jellyfish stings in uncomfortable places during yesterday's trip (this is why we wear long pants for amphibious landings). And to the team who came: Chee Kong, Sijie, Andy, Vyna, Kok Sheng, Sam, Kenerf, Ivan, Collin and Kevin.

1 comment:

Ivan said...

Cyrene is a truly magical place. I think I might just be getting a wee bit jaded at seeing all the knobbly seas stars. =)