Thursday, July 31, 2008

Solo at Changi

It's the last of this year's super low spring tide season and my first destination today is Changi. While Ria and company were at another part of Changi checking a closer look on the echinoderms and the fishes, I was alone at another wonderful stretch searching for my sand stars (Astropecten sp.).

Our own shores are just splendid, that is because you can find different types of stunning sea stars. I especially like cake sea stars (Anthenea aspera) because they come in various patterns and colours! The ones above are juveniles.

If you take a closer look at the cake sea star, you can spot a beige looking dot on the surface. It is called its madroporite that serves as the external opening of sea star's water vascular system.

There are also medium-sized (or teenage if you want to call it that way) cake sea stars.

It's underside will reveal several pincer-like structures called pedicellariae.

At Changi, we can also spot this uncommon Gymnanthenea laevis sea star.

Today, I had a special find of this six-armed Gymnanthenea laevis! It has beautiful orange tips at the end of its arms.

The underside of Gymnanthenea laevis sea stars looks similar to that of cake sea stars though as both have pincer-like structures. Find out more about differentiating the stars at the Ria's wildfilms blog.

Today was weird because the large mats of Asian date mussel beds (Musculista senhousia) went missing!

I was relieved the sand stars are still there! As you can probably notice, they are still leftover shells of the Asian date mussels around the sand area. Looks like the disappearance of the mussel beds seem like a recent event.

The star find of the day must be this super rare sea star which is probably Luidia hardwicki. To identify the species, one needs to use a stereomicroscope or a strong hand lens to see the occurence of bivalve pedicellariae along the ambulacral groove.

It's amazing that Changi is particular rich with sea stars as I've seen the four-armed version before as well during the super low tide in May.

According to Dr Lane's "A Guide to Sea Stars and Other Echinoderms of Singapore", this five-rayed luidiid species was newly recorded for Singapore when three specimens were trawled in 1994 at Sultan shoal.

Of course they are many active brittlestars in the dark where the seaweeds are.

If you are keen enough, you can spot several motionless pipefishes on the tidepools.

This mantis shrimp is not a pushover and can pinch you badly, so never pick marine organisms with your bare hands especially when you do not know them.

I like this tiny maroon coloured sea pencil with emerging polyps.

Also encountered included several of these Miliaris cowrie (Cypraea miliaris). This snail covers its shell with its body called as the mantle. Its mantle has many hairy-looking projections.

While photographing the cowrie, the most stunning thing happened! Out from the ground emerges a large bristleworm as it it appeared like magic. The worm is very beautiful with its pinkish body. I though it is going to do something to the cowrie but it does not seem to be disturbing it.

Sometimes these worms are also known as fireworms because you will feel a firey sensation when you try to touch it. A closer look reveals the business end of the several spiney structures that can prick into your hands.

There are many octopus on the shore as well that are white in colour.

This is yet another octopus that is white as well. Believe that its whitish coloration is to match the sandy substrate for camouflage purposes.

It is interesting to see another octopus that is not white but brownish. High possible to match not the sand but the jar beside it. If you take a look inside the jar, there are many eggs which I do nt know whom they belong to.

Before leaving, I managed to see this school of catfishes with the returning tides.

I always thought that if I'm alone, will not spot many fantastic creatures because I'm quite lousy at spotting animals. But the richness in the Changi shores has made my solo trip today worth the waking up at 2am to reach there at 3am.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Semakau guiding with Brunei students

It's the last day of this week's low spring tide and I'm out at Semakau landfill guiding five students and one teacher from Brunei. There's also another host teacher from NUS High in the group of seven. We set off from Marina South Pier and when we reached Semakau landfill, the whole sky from the southwest was filled with dark clouds looming with heavy downpour and strong wind. Thank God the rain ceased after about 45 minutes and we could proceed with the walk.

To visit the intertidal area of Pulau Semakau, it is mandatory for all to cross the mosquito infested forest part. Due to the rain, many parts of the path were waterlogged with puddles.

Another "channel" to crossover will be this perpetual "longkang" or kill zone of the seagrass meadow at Semakau. As a warm up, it is a good thing to make a request for an energetic looking photo taking. Haha.

The lady in front is Ms Lee, teacher from Brunei with her students. Her initial is also LKS, exactly the same as mine. So I named her LKS1 and I am LKS2. Haha. She's a very friendly, approachable and good teacher in my opinion. She can connect with the students like friends, yet ensuring they get to learn things along the way. Am impressed with her teaching passion and love for students. I've learnt a lot from her and hopefully apply them when I get into teaching career. Oh wells, she is afraid of snakes (everyone has their weak links) and too bad we didn't encounter the handsome yellow lipped sea snake.

The special find of the day must be this adult sized cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae) which Ron found.

The reason that this sea star looks roundish is because such a size and shape may make it hard for fish predators to bite. Juveniles have a more pronounced star shape though. They can eat corals and also a variety of sessile animal growth or even organic-rich sediments.

Another starry find will be the adult sized knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus) which never fails to attract the attentions of shore visitors.

July later found another knobbly sea star that we suspect that we have not seen for quite some time.

Amongst the many different types of nudibranch found today include this which may possibly be Discodoris lilacina.

Siyang who was guiding another group was engaging a battle with the flower crab using the chopstick. It refused to let go and was quite furious.

Today, it was impossible not to miss this oil rig work site where repair work will be done till 21 Aug 08. Find out more about it at the wildfilms blog.

All too soon, time past very quickly and we proceeded with the landfill tour. We saw many creatures like pretty hard and soft corals, sponges, common sea stars, noble volute, giant clam, anemones, moon snails etc etc etc.

We took a photo of the Brunei visitors at the southernmost point of Semakau towards the end of today's tour.

Hopefully, they will be inspired to do nature conservation and appreciation work when they return to Brunei. It's my pleasure to share the living shores with all these wonderful friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beautiful Cyrene

Cyrene Reef is a beautiful reef that only emerges at low spring tides. Visiting Cyrene when dawn breaks reveals a stunning landscape of the glowing sunrise, giving me a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Cyrene Reef is the only place in Singapore you can find over 100 knobbly sea stars in one location. There are many juvenile ones around and the Star Tracker study has shown that 45% of them are juveniles according to their past surveys. They are absolutely cute!

Juanhui says she wants to see the blondie star again. Soon, I chanced upon this star that looks quite blondie but not exactly like the one we saw. The Star trackers (Chee Kong and Sijie) and I think that it should be still a knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus).

Andy found this common sea star with three arms. Interestingly, you can see the two arms starting to regenerate.

Chee Kong found this attractive purple six-armed scaly sea star (Nepanthia sp., probably Nepanthia belcheri)!

One distinctive feature of this sea star is that its upper or aboral surface has distinctive cresentic shape of the aboral plates which, with their convex edges appearing to overlap distally, somewhat resembling fish scales.

The grooves where the tube feet are is in orange colour as compared to the purplish body.

Somehow, God blessed my Cyrene trip today because I get to see what the team saw yesterday. One of which is this stunning juvenile orange cake sea star (Anthenea aspera) which Juanhui saw the day before.

Juanhui also found the juvenile cushion sea star (Culcita novaeguineae), that July found yesterday! Great as I wanted to see this. The black upper surface with yellow spots is so pretty!

The underside of the cushion star reveals reddish oral surface. In fact, it is about 9cm in diameter so it's more of a young adult rather than a juvenile in my opinion. Haha.

Andy found the huge nudibranch that was found yesterday as well. This is possibly Dendrodoris tuberculosa.

As for me, I found quite a number of this small sea hare that will release purplish inks when disturbed.

There were also a number of flatworms on the seagrass lagoon.

This black flatworm with brown fringe is not as commonly seen as the orange spotted one above.

This bristleworm was found near a hole on the ground.

Though wormy-looking, this is actually a synaptic sea cucumber. Usually we find them in brown or black colour.

However, it's rare to find one that is white with some dark stripes.

A closeup of this synatpic sea cucumber reveals its tentacles.

Chee Kong, Sijie and I went straight to the other extreme of Cyrene Reef for our first time (Yes, Cyrene is huge!). This part is where you can find the orange beacon that Melvin always joke about that if we are late for departure, we have to climb this beacon to avoid being submerged with the reef.

Anyway, we wanted to find the larger adult knobbly sea stars but to no avail. Juanhui found them later though.

There are many barnacles growing, even on the wall of the beacon.

This area of Cyrene has quite good coral growth.

I came across this pair of red egg crab which made me puzzled what exactly they are doing.

Of course there's the ever clever and colour changing octopus that never fail to impress me.

Chay Hoon spotted a bad, wrong, bat fish, that swims sidewards left and right instead of a direct displacement.

She also shared with us a new find! A cowrie that has red mantle. We have not seen one with red mantle before. Ria says it might not even be a cowrie at all, could be a false cowrie. But we are all excited to want to know if this is a new species record for Singapore.

Soon, it was time to leave Cyrene before it gets submerged under the rising tide. It's amazing how the fantastic reef can coexist in the middle of the shipping lanes surrounded by petrochemical islands. Yet the pollutions and work done around it continues to be a threat as there is always a limit to resilience you see.

Let's hope Cyrene Reef will remain for our next generations to see. It is a natural heritage that we own for ourselves and be proud of it.

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