Jun 23, 2008

A walk on Cyrene

Another sunrise start on our favourite shore! Just off the Pasir Panjang container terminals and the city centre in the distance.Today we were joined by lots of enthusiastic guests!It was a pleasure to have Jeff, Justin and Swee Cheng from TMSI, Vilma from Cicada Tree Eco-Place, Kelvin from RMBR , Dr Chua Ee Kiam our leading nature photographer and author, and the intrepid Star Trackers: Chee Kong and Sijie.

Our special guest is Boon Wah, winner of the "I want to go Cyrene Reef" blogging contest, with her fabulous blog entry about why she wants to go to Cyrene Reef. Boon Wah is also an organiser of the upcoming EnviroFest event, so she is mostly definitely someone who can make a difference for Cyrene!

While the scientists were off to do their stuff, Boon Wah, Vilma and Kelvin graciously agreed to let me test our guided walk route on them.A few steps from our landing point and we were already finding fascinating marine life which Vilma says reminds her very much of Chek Jawa: common sea stars, sand dollars on the sand bar; in the seagrasses lots of peacock anemones, carpet anemones, fan shells and window-pane shells. Indeed, Cyrene is very much the Chek Jawa of the South!We were fascinated to see large portions of the backsides of the buried worms that produce the typical coils of sand. These are acorn worms (Class Enteropneusta).
I managed to find the Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea) which hosts a 'Nemo'. Kok Sheng had found and marked it in our earlier recces. But the False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) was very shy and was well hidden under the anemone host.The anemone shrimps in Cyrene Reef's other carpet anemones (Stichodactyla sp.), however, were less shy and we saw several anemones with a pair of these shrimps. The big one with obvious white spots is the Mama shrimp, while the Papa is more transparent. These shrimps are Periclimenes brevicarpalis.

Along the way, we saw lots of shorebirds.Vilma was in charge of looking at them as she had binoculars. There were various terns and egrets, and this dark coloured Reef egret taken with my not-long lens.

As we headed out to the deep pool festooned with seagrasses, we came across a little blenny.Alas, it disappeared among the seagrasses when Kelvin came to take a photo of it, so I don't know what it is exactly.

Near the edge of the pool, we saw again the hairy seahares (Bursatella leachii)!This time, they were found in huddles of many individuals. Hmm...looks like they are about to make more baby sea hares.

Cyrene Reef is indeed a giant nursery for all kinds of animals. Among the many nudibranchs we saw today was this tiny Discodoris boholensis! It's so tiny there was hardly any space between its rhinophores (the tentacles on the top of its head) and the flower-like feathery gills on its back! We also saw many Glossodoris atromarginata and the TMSI folks saw something that might be Discodoris lilacinia.

We also saw lots and LOTS of baby Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus).They are really adorable. "Sooo cute!!" Vilma exclaims.We suspect that the crunchy pink branching seaweed that is so abundant on Cyrene's seagrass area are among the food of the baby Knobblies. I'm sure the Star Trackers will find out more about this during their studies.

In fact, while we were exploring, the Star Trackers were busy marking and measuring lots and lots of Knobblies with little yellow flags!There were certainly more than 32 of them. Sijie shared that a large proportion of them were babies! Wow. Check the Star Tracker blog for the latest updates on their study of Singapore's knobblies.

Meanwhile, the four of us headed off for the reefs to catch the minimum tide.And the pools there were full of hard and soft corals. A Blue spotted stingray (Taeniura lymma) and us mutually alarmed one another as it dashed off into deeper waters. We walked carefully so as to avoid killing encrusting marine life and also Mr Stonefish (which we thankfully did not encounter).
There's certainly a lot to see on the reefs! Which is amazing as it lies just opposite the world-class petrochemical installations on Pulau Bukom!Among the many hard corals there, I saw a large colony of Anchor corals (Euphyllia sp.). These beautiful hard corals have polyps with U-shaped tips.Although it was broad daylight, we also saw octopuses!We also came across a bright green sea anemone that is probably Macrodactyla doreensis. Kelvin says it reminds him of chendol!Dr Chua has been busy taking lots of photos of all parts of Cyrene Reef. Although the reef is along major shipping lanes with humungous ships passing by, it has lots of marine life!On the way back to the departure point, Dr Chua finds a bright red Nepanthia sea star! This sea star is not commonly encountered and usually only on the Northern shores. But Cyrene seems to have a good population of them as we regularly see it on our visits there.
Alas, there was a few sightings of coral bleaching on small and big hard corals.And very long and straight furrows in the seagrasses in two different locations. They are probably not dugong feeding trails as they are very long and very straight. Could they be damage from small boats zooming over the reef at a lowish tide?

There is much to learn about Cyrene Reefs and its vulnerabilities.

All too soon it was time to go home as the tide rushed in. We had a wonderful day exploring Cyrene despite the ominous weather at daybreak.As always, we have Melvin and his crew to thank for saving us in the nick of high tide, and for giving us good weather on all our trips!

Read more about the fascinating marine life seen during the trip, and the Knobbly babies on Cyrene, on Sijie's nature scouter blog.

A fish seen during this trip is now posted on the Singapore Records at the RMBR. More about this on the wild shores of singapore blog

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