Thursday, March 24, 2011

Soft Coral Spawning at St John's Island!

The soft corals are spawning at St John's Island!!!

Soft Coral Spawning
Well, not all of them, but at least this species above. I have no idea what soft coral this is though. When I took the photo, I was actually rather doubtful if those were egg/sperm packages. It was only after I did a search online just now that I confirmed my suspicion. Seriously, this was something that I never expect to witness on an intertidal trip! I have heard from other friends who went diving to see the hard corals spawning, but today, I actually got to see a soft coral spawning without having to dive! This really made my day!

Today, we were actually on a recce trip to check out the shores for a field camp in Jun, and apart from the spawning soft corals, we saw a number of other interesting stuff.

Costasiella sp.
As usual, I managed to find a few tiny Fan Seaweed Slugs (Costasiella spp.) on the Fan Seaweeds.

There were a few really tiny Land Hermit Crabs (Coenobita sp.) too, and each was just a few mm wide. They were bright red in colour. I suspect they were juvenile hermit crabs.

And here's a huge Land Hermit Crab nearby, using an African Land Snail's shell to protect its soft abdomen.

Trochus niloticus
Talking about shells, we saw interesting living shells too, including this Giant Top Shell (Trochus niloticus).

Angaria delphinus
I found a Dolphin Shell (Angaria delphinus) too! It got its common name from the shape of the shell, which resembles a jumping dolphin (with some imagination).

Jorunna funebris
The Funeral Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris) appears to rather abundant on most of our shores these few weeks.

Phyllidiella pustulosa
There was this little Pustulose Phyllid Nudibranch (Phyllidiella pustulosa) on a small rock. This nudibranch is said to be able to excrete toxic chemicals to deter predators.

Elysia ornata
There were lots of Bryopsis seaweed, and hence I wasn't surprised to find a few Leaf Slugs (Elysia ornata) which feed on the seaweed. Leaf Slugs are able to retain the chloroplast of the algae and use them for photosynthesis to make food, making them effective solar-powered!

Acanthopleura gemmata
I found the same Giant Chiton (Acanthopleura gemmata) that I had been seeing during my past few trips on the same rock! This time round it was busy trying to squeeze into a small crack though.

Eunice aphroditois
Another giant was this long and slim Giant Reef Worm (Eunice aphroditois), which appeared to be somewhat common on this shore

Another somewhat long and slim animal would be this pipefish. Not sure what species this is though.

Tiger Beetle
There were quite a few Tiger Beetles (Subfamily Cicindelinae) near the coastal forest.

Tiger Shrike
And what looks like a juvenile Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus). Not sure if it's the same one, but I had saw one last November around the same area as well, and JH who's working in TMSI had told me that she regularly saw this bird in the same area.

Frankly speaking, the diversity on St John's Island's intertidal areas appeared to be decreasing every time I went. Many of the corals have died ever since they joined St John's Island with Lazarus Island with a rock bund, probably due to the changes in the currents. Will things start coming back when the situation stabilises, I wonder? Hmm...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Raffles Lighthouse on 23 Mar 2011

Finally, Raffles Lighthouse with fine weathers! The past few trips were all rainy :P

Raffles Lighthouse certainly is one of the best places to look at the amazing coral diversity in Singapore, and so here I am going to focus on the hard corals I saw during this trip.

Just look at how dense the coral cover is! A lot of people would probably find it hard to believe that this is part of Singapore.

In just one small area, I could already spot quite a few corals from different genera.

Here's another patch.

Some of coral genera I saw include:

Massive colonies of Goniastrea with the typical paliformed lobes in the corallites.

Favites, where the corallites have joint walls without paliformed lobes.

Encrusting Oulastrea colony, with black coenosteum.

The so-called brain coral, Symphyllia sp., with distinct septal teeth and the corallites have joint walls.

The similar-looking Lobophyllia with separate walls.

Psammocora sp.

The "leafy" Pavona sp.

The mushroom coral, Fungia sp. Doesn't it appear like a big mushroom?

The galaxy coral, Galaxea sp., with crown-shaped corallites.

Echinopora sp., in the plating form with a few branching structures. The surface of the colony is granulated.

The turban coral, Turbinaria sp., which exhibits a plating growth form.

Closely related is the cave coral, Tubastrea sp., which is usually found under rocks.

A branching Hydnophora sp.

Another branching coral - Montipora sp.

This one with fine branching is the Porcillopora coral.

The most abundant coral here will be the Acropora corals. And here at Raffles Lighthouse, there are many different species with different growth forms!

There are the encrusting ones with hardly any branching.

The ones with antler-like appearances.

And table-forming colonies.

This colony is also green in colour like the previous one, but it has finer branching.

There are reddish colonies too.

All Acropora species will have a polyp at the tip of the branch.

I even found one growing on a spider conch (Lambis lambis)!

This is a blue coral (Heliopora coerulea). Technically it is not a hard coral, even though it has a hard skeleton, as it is more closely related to soft corals.

And among the blue corals I found a Hairy Reef Hermit Crab (Dardanus lagopodes).

A few other animals we saw include this Saron shrimp (Saron sp.).

A pretty little brittler star...

Several nudibranchs, including this Gymnodoris sp., were spotted.

And there were many little fishes in the lagoon.

Glad to see so much life returning to this little island, as we witnessed massive coral bleaching last year. I did not see a number of hard coral genera which were commonly seen last time though. Hopefully they will soon re-establish themselves here...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Semakau Over 2 Days in Mar 2011

It always feels good to be back on Semakau :)

We had a guided walk on Friday, followed by a Project Semakau survey on Saturday. The weather was great on Friday, but unfortunately, it rained on Saturday! Luckily, the rain was not heavy, and soon stopped. Hence, we still managed to complete the survey successfully.

Here are some of the organisms we saw on both days:

Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda
We had a really lucky trip for the guided walk, as we spotted a number of interesting stuff on our own! The first animal we spotted was this little Mangrove Horseshoe Crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda). Horseshoe crabs are very ancient animals, and are said to have been around for more than 400 million years! They have an interesting way of dealing of bacteria infection - their blood will the bacteria and become gel like. Scientists these days use a substance extracted from the blood to test for bacteria on surgical instruments and also some drugs. And scientists from NUS have developed a way to clone this substance, so that we do not have to harvest from the wild as much.

The second animal we spotted was this Cryptic Rock Star (Cryptasterina sp.). This sea star usually hides under rocks in the day time to escape the heat. So far we have only seen this animals at the few rocky areas on Semakau. This is also the first time that I found this sea star along the guided walk route!

Protoreaster nodosus
Another sea star we saw during the guided walk, this time round not spotted by us but by an earlier group, was the ever charismatic Knobbly Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus)! This was just a juvenile, and probably about 10 cm wide. Semakau is one of the few places in Singapore that juvenile Knobbly Sea Stars can be found! And recently, we are seeing quite a number of them! This sea star has a hard calcified body to deter predators from feeding on them.

Culcita novaeguineae
We did not see the Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae) during the guided walk, but saw two of them during the survey!

Culcita novaeguineae
This is the other Cushion Star we saw. Both are still quite small, about 10 cm wide. This sea star feeds on corals, especially Pocillopora sp. according to studies. They are usually found in coral reefs, but it appears that the juveniles start off in seagrass meadows. Somehow this appears to be the case with the Knobbly Sea Stars as well.

Stichopus horrens
Among the seagrass, we also found many Dragonfish Sea Cucumber (Stichopus horrens). During the survey, I easily saw more than 15 of them! Many of them appeared to be rather short - and it is possible that they have been reproducing by fission. To split into two, each end of a sea cucumber will twist in opposite directions, and the sea cucumber will break into two from the twisting. The lost parts will be regenerated.

Holothuria scabra
There were a few Sandfish Sea Cucumbers (Holothuria scabra) too. This is the species that is usually served in local restaurants. They got their common name from the fact that they are found in sandy habitats, and are able to burrow into the sand.

Also in the seagrass meadow are many Synaptid Sea Cucumbers. This one is probably a Opheodesoma sp. It feeds on tiny decaying particles by picking them up with their lashing tentacles. This sea cucumber is really long, and this one here is definitely more than a metre long.

Actinopyga lecanora
There were a few Stonefish Sea Cucumbers (Actinopyga lecanora). I usually find them in the coral rubble areas though. They are usually rather smooth and somewhat hard - like a well eroded, smooth rock, which gave it its common name.

Cymbiola nobilis
The Noble Volute (Cymbiola nobilis) is another commonly seen resident of Semakau's shores. This snail feeds on other snails and clams by wrapping its big foot around them to suffocate them, forcing them to open up so that it can feed on them. We can usually see Noble Volutes of various sizes on Semakau, and sometimes, even those in the process of laying eggs! This is a good indication that they are reproducing well on the island!

Jorunna funebris
A close relative of the snails are the slugs, including the Funeral Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris). "Nudibranch" means "naked gills", refering to the flower-like gills on the back of most species. This nudibranch feeds on sponges.

And one of the favourite food of the Funeral Nudibranch will be this Blue Sponge (Neopetrosia sp.). Sponges are very simple animals with lots of little pores on them. Water is sucked into the animal via these pores, and the sponge will feed on the plankton or other organic particles in the water.

Vulsella in Sponge
There are many different types of sponges on Semakau, and here's another species - a Spongia sp. Embedded within is sponge are many little clams - Vulsella sp. The openings of these clams form the little slits on the surface of the sponge.

Tridacna squamosa
Other clams here are not so well camouflaged though, especially the huge Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa). There are myths about divers trapped by the closing valves of giant clams, but they are certainly not true, as the clam closes its valves very slowly, and for many of the bigger ones, they can't even close their shells completely. This giant clam was first spotted about 5 years ago, when it was probably less than 20 cm wide. But now, it is close to 40cm wide!

One-horned Spider Crab (Menaethius monoceros)
Not too far away from the giant clam, I spotted this little One-horned Spider Crab (Menaethius monoceros). Just see how well-camouflaged it is. unless it moves, it's really quite difficult to spot this animal.

Periclimenes brevicarpalis
During the guided walk, we also saw the Gigantic Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea), with a pair of Anemone Shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) on it. The shrimps have a layer of mucous which prevents the sea anemone from stinging them.

Another stinging animal we saw, but during the survey, was this Stinging Nettle (Chrysaora sp.). Seems like they are in season again! The last time I saw them was in May last year.

The surprise find of the survey was this little pipefish, which I have no idea what species it is.

It has lots of little spots on its body. We rarely see pipefishes on Semakau, possible because the seagrass meadows were rather dense and tall.

Alligator Pipefish (Syngnathoides biaculeatus)
We also saw another pipefish - the Alligator Pipefish (Syngnathoides biaculeatus). This is a regular find during our fish surveys.

Alligator Pipefish (Syngnathoides biaculeatus)
Look at the bits and pieces of little structures on its body - it's no wonder why we seldom see it during our guided walks and other types of surveys. It looks just like the leaf of a tape seagrass with epiphytes growing on it!

I am still taking photos of my old faithful Pentax waterproof camera for my intertidal trips - guess perhaps I should start using my new Nikon 7000 soon :P