Monday, September 22, 2008

Open Water at Dayang

YES! I finally went for my Open Water diving course!

Was supposed to go with JL and KS in June, but was really too busy with work to find time for it. Fortunately, SY decided to go with me to take his Advanced Diving course, so at least I won't have to go alone :P

We decided to take my Open Water at Pulau Dayang, since I had not been there before. It was a very pretty island with clear blue water.

Was rather glad that I manage to clear all the skill sets without any major problem, though I almost freak out before I did the clear mask drill.

Here are some of the photos I took during the trip. Have to admit that my underwater photography sucks big time, and most of the photos turned out horrible, especially those I took during dive 3 and 4. Had to do quite a bit of colour correction. Anyway, will arrange the organisms according to the phylum starting from the simplest.

The Cnidarians

Staghorn Corals (Acropora sp.) - there were lots of them every where! We can hardly find such huge colonies in Singapore though, since these corals require clear water and lots of sunlight.

Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sp.) - the first time I see this in the wild! :P

Sea Whip (Order Gorgonacea) - they were every where too. Didn't have the time to look around carefully for any commensal snails or shrimps though. While there were lots of huge sea whips, I didn't really see many huge sea fan colonies though.

Tube Anemone (Family Cerianthidae) - these were the only 2 I saw. As the name implies, these animals live in a tube! They are also called peacock anemones since they come in all kind of colours.

The Ctenophores

Probably a Comb Jelly (Phylum Ctenophoria) - Very fragile and part of it seemed to be broken off.

The Annelids

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus) - There were so many of them on the rocks and corals!

The Echinoderms

Feather Stars (Class Crinoidea) - This is the only decent photo I have of a feather star. The rest were all somewhat blurred due to the currents. Unfortunately, we were diving a little deep and this photo, like many others, looks ultra blue...

This sea star looks like a Linckia multiflora. Noticed that it has one much longer arm and 4 other shorter ones. Wonder if this could be a case of asexual reproduction, with 1 arm detached from the parent sea star and is now growing the other 4 arms?.

Blue Linckia Sea Star (Linckia laevigata) - this pretty sea star was once found in Singapore too, but unfortunately you can't find them now.

Not very sure what sea star this is, though I suspect it could be a Echinaster luzonicus.

Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae) - I've seen this many times on Singapore shores, but it's definitely still one of my favourite sea stars :P

Leopard Sea cucumber (Bohadschia argus) - this is my first time seeing a leopard sea cucumber :) Saw many of the usual sea cucumbers like pinkfish and greenfish as well.

The Molluscs

Swallowtail Headshield Slug (Chelidonura amoena) - Only saw one species of swallowtail headshield slug during the various dives. Like other headshield slugs (Order Cephalaspidea), this has a broadening at the head called the headshield. "Swallowtail" refers to the split in the tail.

Nudibranch (Hypselodoris bullockii) - First time seeing this species! The term "nudibranch" means naked gills, refering to the flower-like gills on the back of many nudibranchs (Order Nudibranchia).

Nudibranch (Chromodoris coi) - Another first time!!!

Have no idea what nudibranch this is though.

Phyllid Nudibranch (Probably Phyllidiella pustulosa or Phyllidiopsis burni). The phyllids are known to be very toxic. When stressed, they can release poisonous chemicals to that can kill their predators.

We saw many other phyllids during the fifth dive, many of which I'm not sure of the ID.

Phyllid Nudibranch (Probably Phyllidiopsis fissuratus).

Phyllid Nudibranch (Phyllidia elegans)

Phyllid Nudibranch (probably Phyllidia varicosa)

Blue Dragon Nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) - Was rather happy to find a blue dragon, until I found a second one, a third one, and more... Guess they are just as common in Dayang as in Singapore. Blue dragons are able to store the zooxanthellae from the hydroids they feed on in the cerata (hair-like projections on their back). The zooxanthellae can photosynthesise and some of the food produced will be passed on to the host nudibranch.

Cone Snail (Conus sp.) - unfortunately the photo was a litttle blur as I was rushing to catch up with the rest... This is one very venomous snail that stings their prey. Some cone species can even kill people with their venomous stings.

Spider Conch (Lambis lambis) - thought this one was rather huge - bigger than the ones we usually see in Singapore, but SY said that it probably just looked bigger under water. Haha...

Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) - Saw quite a few of them at Dayang. This species can grow up to about 40cm wide, and like the hard corals, it harbours symbiotic algae that can photosynthesise. Some of the food produced by the algae will be passed on to the clam.

Looks like a Zigzag Oyster (Lopha sp.) to me. This one was rather huge, almost as big as some of the fluted giant clams.

The Chordates

Tunicates (Subphyllum Tunicata) - it's rather hard to believe sometimes that these sessile blobs are actually more closely related to us than crabs or snails. Juvenile tunicates possess a notocord. In the vertebrates, the notocord will further develop into the backbone as the animal matures, but the tunicates lose their notocord as they grow.

Razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus) - finally managed to get a somewhat decent photo of razorfishes. The ones I took previously in the intertidal areas are all too blur to be used.

Teira Batfish (Platax teira) - have seen the juveniles in Singapore's subtidal area before, and the adults as well at some of the southern island jetties.

Dogface Pufferfish (Arothron nigropunctatus) - if you just look at the head, this really looks like a puppy. It's also called the blackspotted pufferfish due to the black spots on its body, but I think dogface puffer is just so much cuter :P

Juvenile Yellow Boxfish (Ostracion cubicus) - there was an adult with it, but it was swimming so quickly that the photos turned out blurred. Fortunately, the juvenile was rather cooperative.

Probably a Clark's Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) - first time seeing this in the wild too.

Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) - some people call this the false clownfish to differentiate it from the percula clownfish found in Australia and Papua New Guinea, but personally, I prefer to call it the ocellaris clownfish. The host anemone is a magnificent anemone (Heteractis magnifica).

And now, the last group of chordates - the people! :P

And here's me with a cushion star :P

And SY with a cushion star.

Valerie and Sophie, my dive buddies.

Olivia and Hwee Jin, who were also taking their Open Water course.

Me and our divermaster, Debby, who also runs the Hantu Blog dives.

Our instructor, Jimmy, holding onto his "sausage", and Sui Hon at the back who was on a leisure dive trip.

This was certainly a great trip, and well, I'm finally a certified Open Water diver!

Looking forward to the next dive... :P

Monday, September 08, 2008

Mangrove Pitta at Sungei Buloh

I was taking a walk in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve yesterday (7 Sep 2008) when I saw a flash of blue landing on the muddy ground among some mangrove trees. Taking a closer look, I realised that it's a pitta!

Mangrove pitta, Pitta megarhyncha

Showed LK the photo later, and confirmed that it is a mangrove pitta (Pitta megarhyncha). It was just there hopping around, picking up things along the way. Seems like it was feeding on something among the mud.

Mangrove pitta, Pitta megarhyncha

According to the "An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Singapore", the mangrove pitta is a rare resident in Singapore. It's globally near-threatened due to loss of habitat.

Mangrove pitta, Pitta megarhyncha

The mangrove pitta looks very similar to the blue-winged pitta, which is an uncommon winter visitor to Singapore. The latter, however, has a shorter beak, and a wider and darker black band on top of its head.

Seeing this rare bird certainly made my day at Sungei Buloh! :)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Semakau Walk on 2 Sep 2008

Today, we had our very last Semakau morning walk for the year. Instead of guiding a group, I was one of the hunter-seekers this time round. As the tide was not really very low, I was a little skeptical about whether we will be able to find many interesting stuff. But guess I worried too much, because Semakau always has lots of interesting things to offer!

Semakau is one of the best place to spot sea cucumbers, and today, we were really lucky that we managed to find all of what I called the Big Five Sea Cucumbers.

Dragonfish sea cucumber, Stichopus horrens
Among the seagrasses, RH found a dragonfish sea cucumber (Stichopus horrens), and almost immediately, I found another one.

Synaptid sea cucumber
It didn't take us long to find a synaptid sea cucumber (Synaptidae) among the seagrasses too.

Stonefish sea cucumber, Actinopyga lecanora
RH soon found a stonefish sea cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora) in one of the tidal pools.

Sandfish sea cucumber, Holothuria scabra
And I found a sandfish sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra) at the coral rubble area.

Ocellated sea cucumber, Stichopus ocellatus
Halfway through the walk, RH finally found an ocellated sea cucumber (Stichopus ocellatus), thus completing our search for the Big Five Sea Cucumbers! :)

Apart from the Big Five Sea Cucumbers, I also have another list of Big Five Animals of Semakau, which includes sea cucumbers, sea stars, nudibranchs, flatworms, and octopuses. So, did we complete this second Big Five list?

Sand-sifting sea stars , Archaster typicus
Immediately after we crossed the seagrass meadow, we saw lots of sand-sifting sea stars (Archaster typicus) at the usual sandy patch.

Knobbly sea star, Protoreaster nodosus
And RH also managed to find the pinkish knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus) near the reef crest.

Knobby starfish, Protoreaster nodosus
I found this other orange knobbly a while later.

Noble volute, Cymbiola nobili
As usual, there were several noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) laying eggs at the coral rubble area. LK found the first one, and we spotted several others thereafter.

Fluted giant clam, Tridacna squamosa
As tide was rising, I quickly went all the way out to mark the location of the fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa), and hurried the groups to visit it quickly before the water level got too high.

Today was a day for the octopuses too, and we spotted many of them.

Chromodoris lineolata Nudibranch
The Chromodoris lineolata nudibranch appeared to be in season, and I saw many of them in several of the tidal pools.

Funeral nudibranch, Jorunna funebris
RH found us a cute funeral nudibranch (Jorunna funebris).

Gymnodoris rubropapulosa nudibranch
I found this pretty Gymnodoris rubropapulosa nudibranch near the reef crest.

Acanthozoon flatworm
And there were lots of flatworms too! We found several of the Acanthozoon flatworms (see above), and later I also found a persian carpet flatworm (Pseudobiceros bedfordi).

So, YES! We managed to find all our Big Five Animals too!

Not not just that, we also saw lots of other interesting stuff like spider conch, ribbon worms, hard corals, soft corals, carpet anemones, scallops, moon snails... and the list goes on and on...

This was certainly an excellent way to end our series of morning walks! :)