Friday, April 11, 2008

Surprising Cyrene

Cyrene Reef holds plenty of suprises though it is always under-explored. I believe more can be found in this rich biodiverse reef if we get to visit and document it more extensively. We are glad that Team Seagrass adopted to monitor the lush seagrasses in the reef.

Monitoring seagrass gets more fun each time I do it. Especially if you get to partner with Siti, the head of the Seagrassers, you can learn how to differentiate species properly though the juvenile of one species can look 99% like another species. This is a flower of the sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) that we found along the transect. Ria found a baby knobbly seastar directly in her quadrat. It's really cool to monitor the seagrass at Cyrene.

I chanced upon this prawn or shrimp stranded on the sandbar. It does look that it is cooked because it is red in colour. Haha, but it is still alive and kicking. This one is red maybe because to avoid being seen by predators since red is hard to make out in the dim. These kind of large shrimps are mostly scavengers while smaller ones feed on plankton and algae.

Another shrimp, this time found by Marcus. This snapping shrimp usually tells its presence by their clicking and snapping sounds rather by sight.

This is the first time I get so close with a juvenile long-spine sea urchins (Diadema setosum). This was found among the seagrasses. Can you see its orange rim on its anal cone. This fellow fascinates me by how it continually moves its inner spines, tinted blue in colour. If you see it, do not touch because its long slender spines are very delicate and can break off to cause extreme pain in the victim's flesh.

In hope to find the cushion seastar, I went to explore the reef edge, filled with lots of corals, soft and hard alike. The hard coral shown in this photo is Turbinaria Coral (Turbinaria sp.).

Close up of this Turbinaria Coral showing the individual polyps living together.

This anemone looking creature is not an anemone but a hard coral instead.

Other than the red egg crab, hairy crab sighted, I also spotted this cute swimming crab. They are predators that hunt speedy prey like fishes using their long pincers. You can also see that their eyes are widely apart. It is called a swimming crab because of its paddled-shaped swimming leg (not shown here).

Marcus with his sharp eyes spotted this pipefish (Family Syngathidae). It was hiding among the seagrasses, which they usually do in the day and usually come out at night. They are good camouflage animals, often mistaken as plants of twigs. They can use their elongated mouths to "suck" in small animals floating in the water.

Two seahorses were also spotted! A seahorse is not a horse, but a fish. Haha. They belong to the same family to the pipefish, as featured above. They are actually voracious carnivores sucking up tiny preys. This papa is actually pregnant.

This is the other seahorse. They have a long snout tipped with toothless jaw to suck food. Their tail can curl to find supporting structures to attach to to prevent being swept away by the currents. This is important since they cannot swim fast enough.

Towards the end of the trip where people are already ready to leave Cyrene, Sijie told me he saw a slug among the algae. I thought at first it was a brown looking algae instead! It's good he shouted for Chay Hoon to check it out.

This is the holy grail that Wildfilms have been looking for years! It's the melibe nudibranch that was about 15cm in length!

What is interesting is that it has an expandable hood (the circular portion) at the front with which it can trap and eat crustaceans.

More about this marvellous find at the Wildfilms blog and a video of how it swims at Colourful clouds blog.

All too soon, we had to leave before ending up to get trap with the rising tide that is going to reclaim back the exposed Cyrene Reef.

Siti did not forget to entertain us by posing as if she is going to be left behind at Cyrene. Perhaps she can join the creatures at Cyrene and be a dugong like the photo of Siti lying in a tidal pool taken by Ria on the wildfilms blog. Wahahaha. (No offense intended :P)

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