Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuas After Almost 2 Years

Was given 3 hours time off by my boss for a night event that I had to cover, and thus decided to join Samson at Tuas on Monday.

The last time I visited Tuas was like almost 2 years ago. We had to take a boat there then. But thanks to Schering Plough, we can now visit this lovely shore on foot.

The tide was still a little high when we went onto the shore, and I went into the water hoping to find something interesting.

And the first animal I saw in the water was this cute little jellyfish, which looked like a mushroom with the spots on the bell.

On the shore which was already exposed, we found several Haddon's carpet anemone.

Soon, the tide got lower, and we were able to venture out further.

I was wondering what this striped hermit crab was doing, until I realised that it wasn't holding a rock, but another shell. And soon, I noticed that there was another hermit crab in the other shell! Didn't quite look like they was fighting though. Could it be a male hermit crab guarding a female hermit crab on some kind of mating ritual? Any hermit crab experts out there can advise on this?

We also found several sea pens. This is actually a colony of animals! The centre shaft is the primary polyp, while the feather-like stuff on the sides are the secondary polyps.

As the water level got lower, we began to see many brilliantly coloured peacock anemones too. These pretty animals live in leathery tubes, and they will tuck their tentacles into the tubes when the tide is low or when they sense danger.

Helen spotted this sand star, which was also the only sea star we found for this trip.

This is not a colony of soft corals or sea anemones, but their relatives called zoanthids.

And here's a colony of soft corals. Some how, there are lots of soft corals at Tuas. We found a few sea fans too, but unfortunately the water was too murky and I couldn't get a good shot. Samson managed to find one in less murky water though.

There were several thunder crabs too.

Found this huge anemone which I thought could be a Macrodactyla doreensis.

As the tide got even lower, I managed to go all the way to the beacon, and found patches of hydroids exposed due to the low tide. Good thing that I was wearing longs, or I could have been left with some "souvenirs" on my legs. Hydroids can sting and leave painful scars. However, I must say that there were much fewer hydroids compared to the last time I was here. In fact, there were fewer sea fans and hard corals too.

Had hoped that most of the things would have come back by now, ever since the Wildfilms gang noticed the sudden disappearance of many marine life near the beacon more than a year ago. While the situation has certainly improved, I guess it probably need more time to return to its former glory.

Just before we were about to leave the shore, we found this pretty pink thorny sea cucumber.

Certainly hope to return to this beautiful place again soon to check on the progress of the recovery again. And thanks to Samson, Sheryl, Helen and Haniff for making this trip possible :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Rainy Day at Chek Jawa

Today was a special day at Chek Jawa for the volunteers, as we were able to bring our friends to visit this unique nature spot! And with me today were 5 students from Temasek Poly and 4 friends.

Unfortunately, it started pouring when we were on the boat going to Ubin. OH NO!!! Will we be able to proceed with the walk?

Adelle decided to get the visitors to watch a video clip first, and luckily for us, the rain finally stopped around 4pm and we were able to go ahead.

We saw many interesting things today, and I'll just highlight some of them. Pardon the poor quality of the photos, as when I'm guiding, I had to just take quick shots and had no time to frame my photos properly :P

One of my friends asked me if giant mudskippers like those in Sungei Buloh can be found at Chek Jawa. And sure enough, after walking for a short while on the mangrove boardwalk, we saw one.

And here's a sandfish sea cucumber!

And this was probably the first sea star that most of my friends saw in the wild in Singapore. In fact, I think most of the things we saw today were "first sightings" for many of them.

The carpet anemone is actually an animal, not a plant. It has sticky tentacles to trap other animals that got too close to it.

A cute striped hermit crab in a noble volute shell.

And everyone was happy to see healthy ball sea cucumbers among the seaweed. I could still remember seeing hundreds, if not thousands of dead ball sea cucumbers during the mass death that happened early this year.

Some how we seemed to have more sand dollars on the sand bar these days after the mass death.

Here's a little horseshoe crab. Mind you, horseshoe crabs are not crabs actually, but are more closely related to spiders and scorpions.

A sand sifting sea star!!! I was overjoyed to see it! Otherwise also called the common sea star, this sea star used to be really common on Singapore shores, and we also had a healthy population of them before the mass death. Unfortunately, you can hardly find them on mainland Singapore now, and we haven't seen them for the past 10 months after the mass death. Alyce told me that they saw one last Friday, but I just have to see one with my own eyes. And now, FINALLY, we found one at near the sand bar!

There were lots of peacock anemones on the seaward side of the sand bar too.

Adelle found this cute little nudibranch. Can't remember the species though. Pai seh, getting a bit late, so won't search through sea slug forum for the ID. Will see if I can find time tomorrow. (Update: Have gone through Sea Slug forum, and thought it looks like a Hoplodoris armata.)

And yet another special find of the day - a seahorse!

There were quite a few brittle stars stranded on the sand too.

On our way back to House No 1, we saw this pretty soft coral just under the boardwalk.

And here's a photo of the gang who were with me today.

We were really lucky that it didn't rain again when we were out on the sand bar!

After the walk, D and Agnes stayed back and we had dinner one of the Ubin restaurants. The fried calamari still tasted heavenly as per always.

Can't wait to go back to Ubin again, for the lovely Chek Jawa, and the wonderful fried calamari :P

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Last Team Seagrass Trip for the Year at Semakau

Today's trip to Semakau Landfill is the very last Team Seagrass monitoring trip of the year, and we were really fortunate that the weather was great!

The sea was splashing a lovely bluish green, and the water was really clear! Sadly, many Singaporeans probably don't even know that our sea can be so pretty too. Guess most people are more familiar with the murky waters at East Coast.

My buddy for the day was Sam. We share the same surname - Yeo. Like what they always say in those Chinese drama, we could have come from the same family 500 years ago. Since Sam took the seagrass photos for the transect today, I don't have any of them and thus will only share about some of the things we saw before and after the monitoring session.

While making our way to monitoring site 1, which happened to the one at the far end, we saw this synaptid sea cucumber among the sponges in the shallow water.

Along the way, we walked by an area with lots of sand sifting sea star.

We finally reached the transect site, and quickly set up the line. Surprising, we actually managed to complete the transect in about 30 minutes! While this site is the furthest away, it is also the easiest to do as it has the least seagrasses.

And after the transect, it's time to explore the area!

And as I brought Sam to take a look at the giant clam, we heard a loud explosion!

Seems like the SAF was having a live-firing exercise again, and we were treated to a free pyrotechnic display!

Fortunately, we were not overly distracted by the bombing, and still managed to find quite a few interesting animals along the way.

Here's a stonefish sea cucumber. Didn't managed to find any sandfish though. Could it be that today was to hot? During our other Semakau guided walks, we often had problem finding sandfish on hot days.

Sam soon found one of the resident knobbly sea stars which I named as Pinkie due to its colour :)

I also found one of the orange-coloured ones. Have not given it a name though, as there were several of them with this similar brownish-orange colour. Looking at the knobs, it sure looks like one of those which had a few its knobs bitten off by something else some time back, and has since regenerated them. Didn't see another of my favourite knobbly, Oling, though.

Came across this little tidal pool with a fanworm right next to a sunflower mushroom coral.

And hey, what's this thing lying on the sand? And in fact, there were not just one, but lots and lots of them around!

Seems like the upside-down jellyfish are in season again :)

Here's one of them that I turned over to reveal the bell. This jellyfish has symbiotic algae, mostly in its tentacles, which photosynthesises better with it being upside-down since they will then be exposed to the sun.

And here's a graceful flatworm swimming in one of the tidal pools.

At this point in time, several other seagrassers had also joined us.

Sijie was telling me that he hope to see at least one nudibranch on each of his trip. And almost immediately after he said that, I spotted a discodoris nudibranch!

The above slug was spotted by Dawn. Have no idea what species it is. Too tired to look for the ID today. Hopefully Chay Hoon or some others in the gang will check things and update me tomorrow :P (Update: Thanks to Chay Hoon for looking through the Sea Slugs forum for the ID - Chelidonura pallida. Looking through the factsheet, it appears that this slug actually feeds on flatworms! And like sea hare, they also form mating chains sometimes! The male organ is situated on the right side of the head, while the female opening is at the posterior end of the body on the right side.)

Chay Hoon later also spotted this Denison's nudibranch. This was also the first time I saw this species here on Semakau!

Soon, tide was rising and we had to make our way back to the jetty. Taking a look at the others walking behind me, I managed to capture this beautiful scene before it got too dark.

Indeed, this has again been yet another wonderful trip. Am sure looking forward to the Team Seagrass activities next year!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day 2 at Chek Jawa

Today, I was back at Chek Jawa again. My assistant was Demao, who happened to be my neighbour working as a temp staff for NParks! Used to bump into him in the lift when he was a small kid. How time flies, and now he has already finished his NS!

On our way to the shore, we saw many fruit trees, including the starfruit above. There was a kampong here last time, and thus many fruit trees were planted by the people who used to live there.

To make it easier for me to gather the group, I decided that we need a group name, and told my visitors that we would name our group after the first animal we saw.

The first animal we saw happened to be a vinegar crab, but most of the kids in my group didn't want to be called crabs. Thus, we decided to call ourselves after the second animal we saw - the mudskipper!

Have you eaten ice kacang before? The attap chee in the dessert came from the nipah palm, and you can find a whole forest of them at Chek Jawa! The above shows the fruits of the nipah palm, forming a huge ball. Each fruit contains an attap chee.

We soon got onto the sandy shore, and saw this bigger-than-your-face carpet anemone.

The children were quite fascinated by the sand dollars with its tiny spikes.

There were several sandfish sea cucumber too. This sea cucumber can be eaten, but must be specially treated first to remove its toxins.

We also saw many striped hermit crabs! Hermit crabs need a shell to protect their soft body. So please don't pick up shells from the beach, or the hermit crabs will have to run around naked without any protection from its predators!

Here two caring parents showing their daughter how to gently handle a sand star.

Here's a sponge crab in a tidal pool at one of the hunter-seeker stations. This crab usually carry a sponge or colonial ascidians trimmed them to the right size. And all this while, the sponge or ascidian remains alive!

We also saw several crab moults. The above was the moult of a flower crab. As crabs have hard external skeletons, they need to shed it to grow bigger. The old shell is called a moult.

There were plenty of brittle stars too!

And in some of the tidal pools, we found a few pretty peacock anemone.

This sole fish is so well-camouflaged that if you don't look carefully, you will think that it's part of the sand!

One of the visitors found this little leaf slug covered with silt.

There were also huge clumps of mussels growing on the pillars of the pontoon.

And here's a group shot of my visitors for the day!

All in all, it was definitely a great day out!