Thursday, February 24, 2011

Flowers and Fruits of Caesalpinia crista

It appeared to be the flowering season for Caesalpinia crista now! I have been seeing the flowers and even fruits in several of my mangroves, including Pulau Ubin and my trip to Punggol last week. Thought I will do a short blog on this since this is not something I often see throughout the year.

Caesalpinia crista
The flowers are yellow in colour, clustering to form a branched inflorescence. The fruits (on the left) are somewhat semi-circle in shape.

Caesalpinia crista
As this mangrove climber is often found creeping over the canopy, they are sometimes mistaken for the flowers of the Yellow Flame, a coastal plant which also has yellow inflorescence but flowers more frequently. And as I was taking photo of this plant, I suddenly saw some movements. Can you spot the animal that made the movement in the above photo?

Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)
It was a Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)! It's always nice to see our very own native lizard at our nature areas, instead of the exotic Changeable Lizard! :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Project Semakau Survey at Stonefish Bay on 19 Feb 2011

We did a Project Semakau survey at Stonefish Bay again, and once again, very fortunately, no one encountered any stonefish!

The top find of the day should be this Lovenia Heart Urchin (Lovenia elongata), which I personally have not seen before!

We also saw many Black Long-spined Sea Urchin (Diadema setosum). Quite scary to see so many of them. I counted at least 30 of them! This sea urchin has venomous spines, which easily breaks off and embeds in the skin of anyone who accidentally bumps into them.

And I found one with white patches! But apart from the white colour, the external morphology was the as the others, so I guess it should be the same species.

My main mission today was to collect soft coral specimens, and finally, I can identify these tree-like soft corals to the genus. The above is a Stereonephthya sp. with spiky polyps.

This should be Nephthya sp. with smoother polyps.

I also saw many other soft corals which I was already familiar with.

Like the Sarcophyton sp. above. While it may have folded edges, its top surface does not have additional outgrowths.

This is the similar-looking Lobophytum sp., which has vertical outgrowths on the top surface of the colony. Sometimes, these outgrowths may even be long and appear finger-like.

This is Sinularia sp., which has lots of finger-like structures. It has spiky spicules too.

This one also has spiky spicules, but has more branch-like structures rather than finger-like structures. Could it also be a Sinularia or something else. Can't remember if I have collected a specimen of it. Unfortunately, we did not encountered any Cladiella sp., which also has finger-like structures but not spiky spicules.

This is a xeniid species, my guess is possible a Sansibia sp. Will have to wait for the results of the spicule check to be out to be sure. Update: This is indeed a Sansibia so.

This soft coral with tiny little polyps really puzzled me. Not sure what it is, though morphology wise it could be a Briareum sp. Once again, will have to wait for the spicules results. Update: Checking through my older photos of similar-looking organisms, but clearer ones, and realised this should be a hydroid, not a soft coral.

I came across this pretty Tube Anemone in the shallow waters.

These whitish things may appear like the tube anemones, but they are probably hydroids. I found them growing on a Sarcophyton coral. Not sure what's the relationship between the two species.

I also found two sea cucumbers which I have not seen here before. Both are hidden within the rock wall, and impossible for me to take out to have a better photo. The above one is brown in colour with black bands.

This one has a spiky appearance. Have no idea what species this is too.

I only saw one sea star today, and it's a Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae). It's quite huge, at least 25cm wide.

Several nudibranchs were spotted, including this Funeral Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris).

Saw this lonely Bohol's Nudibranch (Discodoris boholiensis) in the middle of a sandy area.

This Gymnodoris rubropapulosa is a fierce predator of other slugs.

Thought these slugs would be safe since they were usually up high and dry. These marine pulmonate slugs, Peronia verruculata, breathe air and only emerge from air pockets trapped among rocks and sand during low tide to feed on algae.

I also came across this slug which doesn't have the usual big bumps of the previous species. Not sure if it could be a different species?

The rocky areas harboured quite a few Giant Top Shells (Trochus niloticus).

It rained halfway during our survey, but we were rewarded with a nice rainbow too!

NParks Contractor Cuts Down Only Caesalpinia bonduc on Mainland Singapore

Those of you who have been following my blog would remember that I found a locally critically endangered coastal climber, Caesalpinia bonduc, at Punggol Beach earlier this month.

I visited the plant again today, and this was what I saw.

The entire patch of coastal vegetation was cut down, and the Caesalpinia bonduc was barely alive!

Before NParks clear any vegetation, don't they get someone to double check if there are any endangered, or in this case, critically endangered plants among the vegetation?

It is really depressing to see that this has happened.

We have just lost the last Kandelia candel on mainland Singapore, so will this Caesalpinia bonduc suffer the same fate???

I informed NParks and they have taken measures to better protect the plant at Punggol by putting up some sticks for what's left of the plant. It was supposed to be rather hardy, so should be able to regrow well. NParks has also taken some cuttings of the plant to be grown in their nursery. I will also be passing them some of the seeds collected from Semakau. Would like to thank Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Geoffrey Davison, Shufen and other staff of the NParks conservation division for taking the necessary actions to better protect this critically endangered plant :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Semakau Walk on 18 Feb 2011

Today, we brought a group of girls from MGS to Pulau Semakau for an intertidal walk. This was our first intertidal walk of the year, and we were really lucky that although it drizzled a little during the boat ride, the weather improved when we started the guided walk and we had a really great trip! :)

I was guiding today, and my group comprised 15 very enthusiastic MGS girls! Our group name was Flatworm. Here's a group photo taken with the highlights of every Semakau trip - the Knobbly Sea Stars (Protoreaster nodosus). If any of the girls are reading this, you can click on the above photo and download a higher resolution version.

While unfortunately we did not see any flatworms, we still managed to see quite a number of interesting stuff. As this group was really enthusiastic and had lots of questions, I did not have the time to take many photos. I am not complaining though, as it's always great to have such an interested group! Here are some of the few photos that I managed to take.

Here's a Mantis Shrimp (Harpiosquilla sp.), which got its common name from its two front claws which make it somewhat resembles a mantis with some imagination. There are two main groups of mantis shrimps found in local waters - the spearers which spear their prey, and the smashers which punch their prey. The one above is a spearer. We also saw a smasher, but unfortunately it was a little too shy and fast for me to get a photo of it.

The first sea cucumber of the day was this Synaptid Sea Cucumber. It was really long - more than 1m! This sea cucumber lashed its oral tentacles to pick up fine organic particles around it to feed on.

We also saw a very pretty green Haddon's Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni), and it had a pair of Anemone Shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)! The shrimps had a layer of mucus around them which prevent the sea anemone from stinging them, and at the same time, gain protection from predators among the venomous stings. They scavenged for left over food among the tentacles. Meanwhile, the sea anemone did not really benefit from the shrimps. This relationship is known as commensalism.

As we were walking past a tide pool, I saw a little octopus coming out of a hole! This master of camouflage changed its colours and patterns once in a while to match its surrounding.

Nearer to the reef edge, we saw lots of hard corals. This one is actually luminous! The luminous colour pigment was said to act as a sun block to protect the corals from harmful rays.

The tide is also low enough for us to see the resident Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa). When I first saw this clam a few years ago, it was like less than 20cm wide. Now, it appear to be more than twice that size!

I also spotted this Funeral Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris) next to a Blue Sponge (Neopetrosia sp.), which was probably what it fed on.

And as we were heading back to the secondary forest, we saw a Sandfish Sea Cucumber (Holothuria scabra). This is the sea cucumber that is normally served in local restaurants. It must be properly processed to remove toxins in its body before it can consumed though.

All soon, we had to end the walk. Quoting what some of the girls said, a 2-hour walk was certainly not enough to explore this beautiful island! In fact, I would say that even for me who has been regularly visiting Pulau Semakau for the past 5 years, I still see new things every now and then!

Tomorrow, we are going to Stonefish Bay on the island to do a Project Semakau survey. Hopefully we will not encounter any stonefish, but instead will see more interesting organisms! :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kacang-kacang in Our Northern Mangroves

Today was my lucky day, as we found two Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)! I had previously seen this locally endangered plant on Pulau Ubin, but unfortunately while I had gotten photos of the fruits, the plant was destroyed before I managed to get photos of the flowers. So you can imagine my joy when we found two of them today at one of our mangrove forest today!

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
Here are the pretty white flowers with a few flower buds.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
The flowers of Aegiceras corniculatum are used for decoration in some places, and some women also wore them in their hair as they release nice fragrance.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
Here's a look at the withered flowers and young fruits, which came with pinkish tips.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
The young fruits look like little green chillies.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
Maturing fruits that look like beans, and hence the common name "Kacang-kacang", which means beans.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
The bigger fruits of the Aegiceras corniculatum were pinkish in colour. Each fruit contains a seed, which will germinate and break through the seed coat while still attached to the tree. However, the seedling will not break the fruit wall until the fruit drops. This condition is called cryptovivipary.

Kacang-kacang (Aegiceras corniculatum)
Here's a wider shot of one of the trees. It was about 3m tall. This tree is also valued for its timber, and is used for making charcoal in some places.

Certainly hope to find more of this tree at our other mangroves! :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dead Sea Turtle on St John's Island

In late December last year, I saw one of the Xylocarpus rumphii flowering, and hence decided to go back to take a look today to see if the fruits had matured. After getting some photos, I decided to explore further, when I suddenly heard lots of buzzing sound. It turned out to be a dead sea turtle! It was decomposing rather badly with lots of flies and maggots on it, and was lying on its back. Since I couldn't identify the species with it lying on its back, I decided to turn it over.

From the scutes, it should be an Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)! I had never seen this species before in Singapore, either dead or alive! Correction: Have found out from our local vertebrate expert that the structures on the back are not the scutes, but par tof the skeleton. The scutes had fallen off. This could be a Green Turtle or Hawksbill Turtle.

Here's its original position before I turned it over. The head appeared to be badly damaged. Could it be killed by boat propellers? Seeing this is certainly very, very sad...

Chiton (Acanthopleura gemmata)
Another interesting animal I saw was a Chiton (Acanthopleura gemmata). Interestingly, this appeared to be the same individual I saw in December last year, as it had a little barnacle growing on the left side of its middle plate.

Xylocarpus rumphii
And this was the fruit of the Xylocarpus rumphii, and the main reason I was here today. So far I have seen 4 of these locally critically endangered plant on St John's Island. Not sure if there are more of them.

Xylocarpus rumphii
And one of the them was flowering! So I guess in about 2 months time, it may start fruiting also.

Kemunting (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa)
Right on top of the cliff, I saw a wild Kemunting (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa).

I also saw this plant with little flowers growing on the cliff which I had no idea what it was.

It was a small tree with alternate leaves. The leaves were rather glossy and leathery, meaning it could be a coastal plant. Perhaps any of the plant experts can shed some light on its ID? Update: Thanks for Prof Hugh Tan, this is Chrysobalanus icaco, an exotic plant which has been naturalised here.

It started raining cats and dogs soon and I had to cut short the trip. Did not see a lot of things due to the rain, but it was still a rather memorable trip, though in a rather sad way.