Thursday, June 11, 2009

Field Study Camp with Maris Stella

From 9-10 Jun, we conducted a field study camp for a group of lively students from Maris Stella High (Primary Section).

We took a boat from Marina South Pier. For some of the students, it was their first time taking a boat!

Most of them were quite camera shy and turned away when I was taking photos.

A few others were sporting enough to pose for me though. These two are supposed to be best friends for the past 3 years. A short time probably for many of us, but it's a quarter of their life so far :P

After about 15 min on the boat, St John's Island came into sight.

Our dormitories were at the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), about 10 min walk from the jetty.

The kids commented that it was a rather luxurious camp with air-con dorm. After everyone has put down their stuff, we went for a quick orientation of TMSI, followed by a short nature walk around the mangrove and coastal vegetation area.

On the side of the pavement, we saw a Mistletoe growing on a Geiger Tree. Mistletoe are hemi-parasitic plants which can photosynthesize, but at the same time, leech nutrients from the host plants they were growing on.

One of the boys, Chicken, spotted this very well-camouflaged Lichen Spider.

We eventually reached the mangrove area, and some of the interesting things we saw include the Nipah Palm and mud lobster mounds (the mud pile on the right). You can see the fruit of the Nipah Palm on the left. It is basically a cluster of seeds, and every seed contains an attap chee, the translucent seed you can find in ice kachang.

We were very lucky that the Mangrove Cannonball Tree was fruiting. This tree got its common name from its huge round fruit.

After leaving the mangrove area, the students were tasked to write a nature journal to reflect on the things they had learned during the nature walk.

We conducted a Crabs Hands-on Workshop for the students after the nature walk. The students got to see and touch various crab specimens, learn about their adaptations and the internal anatomy of a flower crab. We saw many parasitic barnacles growing on the gills of this crab.

That night, the students got to help with cooking their own dinner, and we had a night walk after it turned dark. Didn't take any photos though, since it was really very dark and I had to lead the group.

The next morning, we went for an intertidal walk and saw many interesting things!

The moment we stepped into the sandy lagoon, we saw a few Soldier Crabs. They can sometimes be found moving in a huge troop, thus the common name.

This is the cast of an Acorn Worm, which swallows the sand and feed on tiny organic particles inside. The cleansed sand will be pushed out of the backend of the worm.

A few gong-gongs were also spotted. This snail is edible and can be readily pruchase at seafood restaurants.

And of course, we saw the Sand-sifting Sea Star too! This sea star can burrow into the sand to escape from predators and also to feed on tiny organic particles in the sand (aka detritus).

The is a huge Haddon's Carpet Anemone in the sandy lagoon too. This animal has lots of stinging tentacles to sting and feed on other smaller animals .

Here's a group photo half-way through the sandy lagoon.

We soon left the sandy lagoon and arrived at the rocky shore. Many large Black Sea Cucumbers were found near the rocks.

Along the way, we found many Volcano Barnacles on the rocks. One of them in the above photo has a snail on it. The snail is a Drill which can secrete an acid to soften the shell of the barnacle and drill a hole using a radula (something that looks like a tongue with little teeth on it) to feed on the barnacle animal hiding inside.

Sliding over the rocks are also lots of Onch slugs which feed on algae.These slugs have simple lungs to breathe air, and some may drown if left underwater.

We proceed on to the coral rubble area, and noticed several fanworms some of the tidal pools.

This sea slug is called a Leaf Slug, and you can probably where it got its name from its colour and shape. It feeds on the sap of the algae, and can in fact retain the algae's chloroplast in its body for photosynthesis.

We proceed on to the edge of the intertidal coral reef, and found several colonies of hard corals. Many soft coral colonies were spotted too.

These animals may look like sea anemones, but they are not. They are commonly known as Mushroom Anemones because they each has a little "stalk" attaching them to the substrate.

The reef also has many zoanthids. I always thought that these animals look like a flowery carpet.

Our hunter seekers also found us several flatworms, one of which is shown in the above photo.

Soon, tide was rising and we had to leave the shore area. Back at TMSI, I conducted a short lecture on Intertidal Ecology, followed by a dicussion on conservation with the students. A nature hunt was also conducted for the students to find bits and pieces of nature, before we eventually took a boat ride back home.

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