Monday, October 29, 2007

Exploring Semakau on 28 Oct 2007

I heard the news reader on the radio saying it would rain in the afternoon just as I was leaving my place yesterday.

Shucks! Don't tell me every time we go for our own exploratory trip, it will rain!

When we reached the shores, the sky looked strange - half of it was blue sky, the other half covered with dark clouds.


Anyway, we went on with our exploration. The tide was still quite high, as we decided to come earlier to take a look at the mangroves which we had often neglected.

One of the first few animals we spotted - a cute little ladybird on a sea hibiscus leaf.

A perepat tree has hundreds, if not thousands of cone-shaped roots. I was always extra careful whenever I walked among these roots. Can't imagine what will happen if I were to slip and fall. In fact, most of the time I try to avoid wondering among perepat roots.

Many of the seashore pandan were also fruiting. The fruits always remind me of pineapples. This is a very useful plant - the leaves were sometimes used to weave into basket or mats, and the fruits were used by fishermen as floats. Essential oil extracted from the male flower is used by North Indians for cooking or even as a perfume.

My attention soon drifted to the rocky areas near the mangrove. According to the "Guide to Sea Stars & Echinoderms of Singapore", a type of sea star which I've only seen at Pulau Tioman so far, Cryptasterina sp, can be found on Semakau's rocky shore. And Luan Keng told me that she had seen it before!

Thus, one of my main objectives for this trip was to find it!

I started randomly turning over rocks along the shore as I walked towards the western end of the intertidal area.

And finally, after searching for about half an hour, I found them!

At last! And now, the types of sea stars we've seen on Semakau in the intertidal area add up to 5! We have the sand-sifting sea star (Archaster typicus), knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus), cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae), crown rock star (Asterina coronata), and now, the cryptic rock star (Cryptasterina sp.)!

I managed to find 6 or 7 of them before I stopped flipping over every other rock. The colour of the ones I found was somewhat different from the ones I've seen at Tioman and in the guide book though. So I'm not sure if it's just a colour variation or a different species.

It soon started drizzling, but fortunately it wasn't that bad and we managed to carry on with our exploration.

Finally, we reached the far end of the mangroves at the mouth of the river.

This was certainly a special moment to remember - my first time coming to this far end of Semakau!

And on the rocky area near the end of the stream, I found a giant top shell, ultra well camouflaged among the rocks. I've seen giant top shells several times before on some of our southern islands, but this is the first time I've seen it on Semakau!

Following the stream, we reached a seagrass meadow and several sandy patches here and there. I saw a shell moving and decided to pick it up. It's a striped hermit crab. But wait! There's something else...

There's a chiton at the opening of the shell! It's that oval-shaped thing in front of the hermit crab's pincers. Can you see the eight plates on its back? A chiton is a mollusc, related to squids, clams, and snails! This was the first time I saw a chiton in Singapore! Heard from Angie that she often saw them while diving though. The last time I saw one was in New Zealand. They were much bigger there though.

My second objective of this trip was to find the sand dollars. We knew that there were sand dollars on Semakau from Zeehan, but we were not sure where.

As we walked further out into the seagrass meadow, I came across a sandy patch and saw many circular prints on the sand. So, here's where they were hiding! And there were so many of them too!

And just nearby, there were lots of sand-sifting sea star. This one only has four arms, unlike the usual ones with five arms.

And just then Luan Keng shouted something and caught everyone's attention.

She found a juvenile knobbly among the seagrass! (Note: Pai seh, found out from July's blog that Helen was the one who found it, though Luan Keng was the one who shouted to me.) This was the second juvenile knobbly we'd seen on Semakau. The previous one was found during the public walk. Too bad we wanted to explore the reef edge, and thus did not spend more time to look for more of them. I'm sure there will be many others in the seagrass lagoon.

And heading towards the reef edge, we spotted several sea cucumbers.

Two shorter ones on top were the stonefish sea cucumber (L) and the dragonfish sea cucumber. The longer ones below were a synaptid sea cucumber (L) and a long thorny sea cucumber which we'd never seen on Semakau before! It's probably as long as, if not longer than my arm!

We also saw a few carpet anemones with nemos. While I didn't managed to get any clear photos of the nemos, I got this instead:

An anemone shrimp in a cup-size carpet anemone! Looks really cute :)

We also found a grumpy looking moon crab among the seagrass.

And this discodoris nudibranch was the only nudibranch I saw for the day.

Nearer to the coral reef, I had another special find - a giant clam! It hasn't grown that big yet though, perhaps about 15cm long.

There were several noble volutes too, and one of them appeared to be feeding on a spiral melongena. Felt so pai seh because I didn't know it was feeding and picked it up. It dropped the snail which was engulfed in its foot immediately. It appeared that there was hardly anything left in the melongena shell though, except a bit of blackish soup. I quickly put the volute back down on top of the mostly eaten melongena. Hopefully it would continue its meal.

And just not far from the volute, 2 squids. They look really cute when they were hunting. They swam near the surface of the water, with their arms opened up to two sides, looking like the blades of a pair of scissors, and their two tentacles tried to snatch any passing fishes. But guess they weren't too successful, probably because I was there watching with my torch shining around.

All too soon, it's time to go back. Semakau was just too big, and I think I had hardly even covered 5 percent of the intertidal area!

Sure want to come back here again to explore!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Back to Cyrene

Today, I finally got to visit Cyrene Reef with Team Seagrass again!

But this time round, our transportation there was a little different. Previously, we took a boat that went all the way to the reef. But today, the boat brought us to some where near the reef, and we then had to transfer to a smaller boat to get nearer to the shore, which made the landing easier.

This was the first time we tried this method, and here were the brave ones (Ria, Andy, Robin and Jo) on the first boat.

And YES! They made a successful landing!

Here goes the second batch - Siti, Marcus, Wei Ling and Wei Lian. I went with Chay Hoon, Kok Sheng and Gaytri on the third batch.

When we reached the reef, we noticed that the tape seagrasses were flowering! The small whitish bits (that look that styrofoam) floating around are the male flower, while the bigger one in the middle is the female flower.

Marcus was my buddy for the seagrass transect, and we managed to complete it in about 45 minutes.

And after that, we got to explore the reef to see the rich marine life!

There were lots of knobbly sea stars among the seagrasses, and they came in different shades of brown, red and orange.

There were lots and lots of sand-sifting sea stars on the sand bar too!

Also on the sand bar were the sand dollars.

We also saw a diadema sea urchin trapped in a tidal pool, and a salmacis sea urchin hidden among the seagrasses.

There were several sandfish sea cucumberss as well, and lots of synaptid sea cucumber. Do you know that sea cucumbers breathe through their anuses?

Cyrene Reef also has lots of corals, such as the soft corals on above-top, and the hard corals on above-bottom.

Several Denison's nudibranchs were also spotted among the seagrasses, and one of them just next to Chay Hoon and Gaytri's transect line at 23m!

But the highlight of the day must be this! I had initially thought that it's a nudibranch, but after examining my photos carefully, I realised that its two rhinophores in front were kind of cylindrical in shape, typical of a side-gilled slug. And of course, I also couldn't find any gills on its back nor any opening for the gills. Checking at the Sea Slug Forum under Pleurobranchidae, I found that it resembles the darker variation of Pleurobranchus forskalii. This side-gilled slug can be differentiated from other similar species by the white rings or semi-rings on its back. Will send it to Sea Slug Forum later to seek some advice on the exact ID.

Too bad I didn't have the time to properly take some better photos as tide was rising and we had to leave soon.

Here's the first boat making for our bigger boat further away from the shore.

Really, can't wait to come back to this fabulous shore again!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Walk from Bukit Timah to MacRitchie

Last Saturday, a few of us Semakau guides decided to go terrestrial for a change :)

And our target - to walk from Bukit Timah to MacRitchie.

I've often heard people telling me there's nothing much to see in our nature reserves - it's just trees, and trees, and more trees...

But really, if you can stop a while to observe the surrounding, the wonders unfold...

And here are just some of the beautiful sights and interesting things we saw along the way...

Sometimes, you just have to look up to see postcard perfect silhouettes.

And have you ever stopped to take a closer look at the leaves along the trail?

The intricate patterns on the fern leaves...

The dew on the big yam leaves...

And leaves don't just come in green...

Every now and then, there were surprises among the leaves, and in this case, adding a pastel hue to the refreshing green.

And among the trees were splashes of orange, contributed by our native wild ixora.

And little yellow flowers dotted the grass patches.

There were lots of interesting fungi with weird shapes here and there.

And many of them were brilliantly coloured too!

But wait, enough about the flora, but do we have any interesting fauna?

Forest ants were a common sight, and they can be every where - on the ground, tree trunks, flowers...

Many cute little crickets were also spotted squatting on leaves.

The white-handed fly looks like it's wearing a pair of white gloves.

There were several pretty damselflies.

And lots of dragonflies!

This water stick insect looks like it's skating on the water, but actually it's swimming in it!

And in the water, we saw fishes too, including this snakehead.

Along the way, several monkeys were also spotted. This one is biting on a little fig. That just shows that monkeys can find food on their own. You don't have to feed them, or eventually they may just lose the ability to find food on their own!

And what a pleasant surprise! A snake! Was looking through my reptiles book and some of the snake forums, but couldn't find one that looks like the above, which has a green belly and reddish brown back.

It started raining again, and we had to put on our ponchos. But still, it felt great to be walking among the greenery.

Finally, we reached MacRitchie Reservoir, which is part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

This was not the first time I've done this, but going with fellow nature guides made the experience a whole new one! Along the way, we shared the bits and pieces of information we knew about the flora and fauna we saw, and I've certainly learnt quite a number of new things, and at the same time, enjoy the beauty that nature offers!

There has been a lot of talks on how to increase environmental awareness. Perhaps apart from the various campaigns and policies, another effective (or perhaps, more effective) solution will be to educate the masses on how to enjoy what the environment can offer them?

Perhaps when people can better appreciate their interaction with the environment, they will learn to protect it?

And that's why I'm really glad that there are more nature groups in Singapore these days conducting guided trips to our various nature spots :)

This entry was written in support of Blog Action Day.