Saturday, June 30, 2007

Basket! And mind u, we are NOT swearing...

Today, we went to Sisters Island again, and yet again, we had quite a few nice encounters!

Some of us started with the smaller lagoon to give it a proper scan - was hoping to find some common seastars here, which unfortunately, we didn't find any. But while the smaller lagoon was less lively than the big one, it still had a number of interesting things.

At the edge of the waters, I found this ghost crab running away from me at top speed. Ghost crabs are fast runners, and can move about 100 bodylengths per second, and they also have excellent eyesight so as to see where they going. When it finally got exhausted, it decided to just burrow into the sand. I managed to grab a shot just before it vanished.

We also found these cute pair of anemone shrimps on a carpet anemone. Some how, there seemed to be less carpet anemones these days. Were some of them stolen by poachers?

We always have this dilemma when we want to post things onto the web - while we want to let other people know how rich our shores are, we are also worried that poachers may start going to these places to collect stuff.

It was really sad that these people often do not care about conserving our wonderful natural heritage for our future generations. To think that just a few years ago, I didn't even know we can find all these wonderful things on our shores, and now I have to worry about losing them before other fellow Singaporeans even know their existence!

I found 2 other anemone shrimps on a merten's carpet anemone. Aren't they cute? Isn't it better to experience them in their natural habitat, where you will get the whole package - sun, sand, clouds, and getting your feet wet as you step into sea water?

At the coral rubble area, I found this little black-coloured fish. Not sure what fish this is, though I thought the shape looked somewhat similar to that of a sicklefish.

There were also quite a few halfbeaks swimming around on the surface of the water. They are so-named because the lower jaw is elongated and extends beyond the much shorter upper jaw.

I also saw a few juvenile mushroom corals! Unlike the adult mushroom corals which we often found lying around freely on the substrate, these juvenile ones were still attached to the rocks with a stalk - making them looked just like little mushrooms! It's always nice to know that our corals are reproducing - an indication that our shores are very much alive!

There were also lots of octopuses, most of them hardly bigger than my palm! Some of them, like the one above, were actually creeping on the coral rubble out of the water!

And here's an eel-blenny resting between an omelette leathery soft coral (top), a hard coral (bottom), and coralline algae (reddish thing on the right).

Helen spotted this pretty flatworm.

And just nearby, I found this cute little cowrie sliding over a rock. Do you know that cowrie shells were used as the currency in some places last time? They used to be very common in our waters, but these days we are seeing less of them. So please don't collect these beautiful shells from our shores if you see them, or they may be driven to extinction!

There were also a number of sea cucumbers. Helen and Kok Sheng found the sea cucumber above hiding under some coral rubble. Not quite sure what's the species though.

This is another unidentified sea cucumber I found among the coral rubble.

While I'm been finding quite a number of nemos these days, I still got into the photo-taking mode immediately when we found the false clownfish above. Isn't it cute? However, I didn't see any males with her though. Why was she alone? Or maybe they will return when the tide rises?

But the find of the day must be this.

When I vaguely heard Chay Hoon shouting "basket", I was wondering, who or what could have irritated her so much that she started swearing.

But when she shouted again, I realised I've heard wrongly. She's not irritated, but excited!

This is something that has not been seen in our waters since 1896! It's a basket star! Probably still a juvenile though, since it was quite small, maybe about 10cm wide with its arms full extended.

Here's a better view of its flowery branch-like arms!

Really, this is something that I never expect to see on an intertidal trip!

Just show how amazing our shores are! We've been to Sisters Island many times, but we still see new things every now and then!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wonderful Satumu

On Monday, 18 Jun, some kind souls included a few of us on a special trip to the "One Tree Island", or Pulau Satumu. The gang wasn't here to see the trees though (there were actually more than one tree there these days), and neither were we here to visit the lighthouse (though the lighthouse keepers were quite friendly) but rather, we were there to check out the fabulous wildlife in the intertidal zone!

Pulau Satumu, more commonly known as Raffles Lighthouse due to the name of the lighthouse on the island, was truly a wonderful place for coral lovers. There were corals everywhere in the lagoon! Fortunately, the lagoon was quite small, and so although I had to stay near Alvin in case he needed any assistance, I was able to do quite a bit of exploration as well.

Really, I've lost count of the number of species of corals I saw - not that I'm much of a coral expert in the first place, so I wasn't able to identify most of them. But here are some of those I saw:

Table-top coral (Acropora sp.)

Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora sp.)

Blue coral (Heliopora sp.)

Leaf Coral (Pavona sp.)

And here are a few photos just to show how densely covered the place is - so many types of corals competing for space!

And they came in different shapes and colours too!

Apart from corals, this is also a great place to find feather stars (Class Crinoidea)!

Don't you think the extend arms of the one above looked just like feathers?

This cute green-coloured one was all curled up.

This one looked a little sticky with all the silt stuck to its arms.

And when I saw this from afar, I initially thought it was a flatworm! It was only when I got closer then I realised it's a crinoid!

I also managed to find the resident fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa), which I found during my last trip here about a year ago.

Some how, we usually couldn't find many nudibranchs at Pulau Satumu.

I only found a Phyllidiella pustulosa (L) and a Phyllidiella nigra (R). Some of the others found a Jorunna funerbris, which I didn't managed to grab a photo.

But not far from the black phyllid, I had a pleasant surprise.

A stranded false clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) on a merten's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii)!

Using my metal chopsticks, I gently push it into a little tidal pool on the other side of the carpet anemone.

Just then, someone shouted that he found a large cowrie.

I walked over and saw that it was a pretty Arabian cowrie (Cypraea arabica).

And right next to where the cowrie was found, another shell caught my eye.

Hey! It's an abalone! Not sure if it's dead or alive, though it wasn't moving.

And as I walked towards the rocky shore, I suddenly noticed some feathery thing just next to my feet.

Alamak! Hyroids! Lucky I was wearing long pants, or I could have gotten some nasty stings!

At the rocky shore, I found this giant top shell (Trochus niloticus) resting among some rocks.

And to think that just earlier in the lagoon, I found 2 dead top shells, and inside each of them was a hermit crab (probably Dardanus sp.)!

And that's why I never remove empty shells from the shores. We could be depriving hermit crabs of their home, and they would have to run around naked, exposing their soft body to predators!

Walking out of the lagoon was certainly a totally different experience. The waves were much stronger, and the corals... What can I say? They were simply ultra AWESOME!

Just take a look at this!

Even with all the waves, we can still see that the area was so densely covered with corals! And they come in all colours too!

And just as I was about to turn to head back to the lagoon, a flash of green caught my eyes.

It was a big and brilliantly coloured wrasse! At least between 40-50cm long!

Wow! And as I watch, it was making splashes swimming among the corals. Too bad it was too fast for me to capture more shots...

Now, who says Singapore doesn't have colourful coral reefs with colourful marine life?

Just imagine, if we have less dredging, less litter, less collection, and more protection, all our shores can have such beautiful coral reefs too!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another Wet Day at Semakau on 17 Jun 2007

The weather these days are really so unpredictable.

When we reached Semakau, I could still see some stars in the sky.

But as we walked towards the entrance to the forest, the wind picked up and dark clouds gathered.

And as we were cutting through the forest, it started drizzling.

By the time we reached the sandy shores, the rain was much heavier. And just as we were discussing whether we should proceed to the intertidal area - a clap of thunder made the decision for us.

We went back to the shelter near the entrance of the forest, and were stuck there for at least one and a half hours.

Eventually, the rain turned into a drizzle again, and there was no more lightning, and we decided to go ahead with the exploration in our ponchos.

Anyway, due to the rain, most of the organisms were hiding. But still, we had a few good finds :)

Some of us went to the far right side of the intertidal area, and the biodiversity there was simply amazing.

Sponges, hard corals, seaweeds... All packed together, competing for space. Especially the sponges, there were so many of themin different colours!

And right next to a rock, I found the above ocellated sea cucumber (Stichopus ocellatus), which has false "eyes" on its body.

And somehow, the rain did not stop the false clownfishes (Amphiprion ocellaris) to come out to play among the tentacles of the merten's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).

While we did not encounter the fishy stonefish, we found one non-fishy one - the stonefish sea cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora).

And as we walked on, there was this area with lots of leathery soft corals. The photo above features a omelette leahery soft coral (Sacrophyton sp.)

Not to forget hard corals, there were lots of them too, including the colony of plate corals (Turbinaria sp.) above.

We also found a marginated glossodoris nudibranch (Glossodoris atromarginata), and I managed to grab an underwater shot of it.

But the find of the day must be this:

A cute little red seastar spotted by Chee Kong! It looks like a crown seastar (Asterina coronata) to me. Understand that they have found the crown seastar at Semakau before, but this was my first time seeing it! And this was also the first time I saw a crown sea star that was not greyish in colour! Here's the underside of the seastar.

The crown seastars at Chek Jawa were usually found under rocks in the day, and thus we also call them rock stars. But at night, they would come out into the open.

Well, depsite the rain, we had quite a bit of fun, with some good findings! Hopefully my next Semakau trip will be even better and we'll see even more things!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rainy Semakau Walk on 16 Jun 2007

It was a windy morning when I reached West Coast Pier. I was supposed to guide a group from St Nicholas today, and Lahiru was my assistant.

Anyway, we had to walk to the intertidal area today again, since it was too early for the NEA people to drive us there :(

The HSBC guides were also there to practise their guiding.

Anyway, we soon reached the shores. Was supposed to head all the way out to the reef edge since the tide was rising. But I decided to stop just a short while to talk a little about the common seastar. Was a little worried that by the time we came back the tide may be high and all the common seastars might have burrowed into the sand.

It turned out to be the right decision, as you will find out later that we didn't get to stop by the common seastars zone later :P

Anyway, there were actually 2 seastars in the above photo - the other one (the female) was below the male one in the sand, getting really to do something sexy.

We had to cross a long seagrass lagoon to get to the coral rubble area.

The above was a group shot of my participants from St Nicholas, with Lahiru at the back.

When we emerged from the seagrass lagoon, a sea cucumber was waiting for us!

That's the sandfish sea cucumber. It can be eaten, but must be properly treated first as it contains toxins.

Next to the sea cucumber was a flatworm. Had earlier read in some book which said that flatworms have a nerve ring instead of a proper brain. But did another search online recently, and fount that indeed it has a brain! Guess the book I read earlier was either outdated or just incorrect!

Pai seh, Lahiru, you were right to say that they have eyes. Thanks to Siyang for providing the info (Added this upon Siyang's request. HAHAHHAhahaaaa...). The book I read previously just called them light sensors. Guess I really need to read the more updated resources :P

Anyway, the eyes are not capable of seeing images but are sensitive to changes in light direction and intensity. A flatworm has a cerebral eyespot where numerous eyes appear to form round clusters. Further eyes are located on the ventral and dorsal pseudotentacles. Chemosensory detectors were also located at the pseudotentacles to help the flatworm "sniff" out its prey.

There were lots of hairy crabs around. Can you spot it in the picture below?

Hairy crabs are actually poisonous and thus can't be eaten. It obtain its poison from zoanthids, which it sometimes feed on.

And below we have a zoanthid colony. Not sure if hairy crabs feed on this particular species though :P

There were also lots of corals around.

The above were hard corals, which had hard skeleton made from calcium carbonate.

We also saw several pretty sunflower mushroom coral.

The one above is a lovely green one. The ones we usually saw were brown in colour. Unlike the colonial hard corals which are stuck to the ground, this mushroom coral is a single free-living animal!

At the coral rubble area, we also found a scallop!

And like what they show in Chinese Opera, this bivalve can swim by flapping it's shells!

We also saw a few species of nudibranchs.

The above is a Bohol nudibranch.

But what got us really excited was this nudibranch below.

It's probably a Platydoris scabra. This was the first time that we saw it at Semakau! Thanks to Samson for the ID! Sorry for the blurry image though - dark clouds were gathering, and I had to grab the shots quickly. Guess I didn't focus properly.

Here's the underside.

Hopefully will find it again tomorrow.

We also found a spider crab.

There were some ascidian growing on the crab, which allowed it to camouflage into the surrounding. As you can see, this was out of focus as well. So you can tell I was really rushing through things... darks clouds gathering fast...

We managed to do a quick photo of the beautiful knobbly seastar though. There were 3 of them.

And here's the traditional group shot.

See the dark clouds gathering behind... We had to walk really fast towards the upper shore soon after this shot.

But still... we were too late... halfway to the forest, We could see the rain moving towards us from the south... and it started pouring like mad!!!

Never had such a horrible storm on a Semakau trip before!!!

Although the rain might have spoilt our plans to further explore the amazing intertidal life at Semakau, but it could never spoil our mood!!!

How many of you have enjoyed a shower under a pouring sky before? Just look at the smiles on the faces!

Most of us were really drenched. Obviously, most of them did not read my guide on how to survive a storm on the shores.

The following shots were taken at the shelter near the entrance to the forest.

The above showed Tiong Chin, Siyang and July in front of the visitors and HSBC trainees.

And here 1st-time OJT, Jenn Chye, and Robert, both in fiery colours.

Not to forget the people at the back...

...people at the back on the left...

...and Samson was there on the right trying to grab a photo of the record-breaking shelter-squeeze.

Last but not least, here's Helen taking a good look at Siyang's figure.


Have to say it was a great day, despite the rain.

Sorry Siyang, for teasing you so much today.


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