Monday, December 29, 2008

Stars at Lazarus reclaimed beach

As I was walking along the sterile-looking clean white sand on the artifical reclaimed beach bay connecting Lazarus Island and Seringat, something caught me by surprise.

I found a lone common sea star (Archaster typicus) which is adult sized. Why was I so surprise since marine creatures are known to reside in low water level mark areas?

This is because Kias and Seringat (originally are submerged reefs) were connected to Lazarus Island through reclamation that buried the living reefs. Read more about their fates at the wildfilms blog.

More about the glorious original marine life of Lazarus at Dr Chua Ee Kiam's simply green site.

They also created a beach made by thousands of cubic metres of sand imported from Indonesia. The sand was checked for sandfly eggs so that future visitors will be spared the insect's bites, which can be itchy. (from The newly redeveloped St John's and Lazarus islands have beautiful beaches and sparkling waters, by Teh Jen Lee The New Paper 2 Dec 06)

Indeed it is sad that those reefs had to be buried to build a lifeless beach made for probably the rich to enjoy.

Nature is resilient and I was glad to witness this common sea star (which unfortunately is not common anymore and is under the Red list) at the reclaimed beach during a not so low tide.

What was also thrilling were the presence of these pretty dubious nerites (Clithon oualaniensis) which dotted the shore together with creeper snails.

And through these creatures, we can indeed know that our God patiently draws these fine patterns in which that every nerite is unique from each other, just like us human beings. These two are Pamela's favourite patterns. :-)

We only explored the shore for about 15 minutes and before we left, Chee Kong also found another common sea star, this time a juvenile one. Wow.

Interestingly, this one has parasitic snails that the ones we see on top of the plain sand stars (Astropecten sp.).

Great to know that a lifeless artifical beach is becoming more lively! With time and little or no disturbance, they will come back in a way that we can even not imagine, so let us just leave these marine creatures alone.

Just opposite Lazarus is our favourite Kusu Island.

The portion near Kias though is now lined with breakwater seawall, I was told that hawksbill turtles are usually sighted in that area. Surprisingly, Pamela and I saw the turtle at two instances coming up to the surface to breathe and going down again. It was like spilt second! But nevertheless exciting to know that they are around our waters.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

First time at Sultan Shoal

Somehow, lighthouses exude a special charm because of their architecture and also due to the fact that they provide direction by the shining of light.

Today, I had the privilege to visit Sultan Shoal, a lighthouse (built in 1895) located in the Western Anchorage of Singapore. The lighthouse tower is painted white while the keeper's house roof is red and is of a mixture of Oriental and Victorian design according to Wikipedia.

The trip was possible thanks to Luan Keng who organized it for the RMBR guides. :-)

We departed from West Coast Pier and travelled along the sides of Jurong Island towards our destination.

It was first time getting so close to this gigantic island and indeed almost the whole place was filled with industrial installations.

Looking southwards is a more pleasant sight of Pulau Salu and at the background is Pulau Sudong. Both are live firing area restricted islands though. Salu looks a bit like Jong with the Pau or burger shape.

After a fourty minutes ride, we finally approached the elusive lighthouse which is now sitting in the water body between Jurong Island and the reclaimed land of Tuas. Indeed, there was marine construction work going on.

Upon reaching Sultan Shoal, we landed on a floating pontoon that has a very very steep stairway up. The waters look great, especially with the sunny weather.

Since none of us have been to Sultan Shoal, except for Prof Peter Ng (came 20 years ago before) who was also with us, we have nothing to expect. In fact, I was sceptical if there is good marine life in this seemingly lifeless man made lagoon which is actually the only saltwater swimming pool in Singapore, during high tide of course.

Against the walls of this concrete lagoon were many different types of nerites of all sorts of pattern.

I like this pattern the most, with orange stripes. Have not seen this type of nerite before.

There are several rocks by the edge of the concrete where water is allowed to enter. Rocks are substrates for living creatures like this onchidium.

We were also thrilled by many of these mudskippers.

There is more life than you can imagine or see because you need to overturn the rocks to see more of the marine creatures. Beneath rocks are great hideouts for these animals because it keeps them wet and protected from the scorching sun and dessication.

An example of life under the rocks will be this Wandering cowrie (Cypraea errones).

There was also a very cute juvenile sponge crab (Family Dromiidae) carrying a brown sponge on top of its carapace. If you notice the surrounding, there are many black sea cucumbers.

A closer look of one of the many tiny black sea cucumber reveals a possibility that this is Afrocucumis africana.

While checking out on more rocks for life, I saw this larger sea cucumber that is very long. It doesn't look familiar to me and it seems to be rarely spotted in Singapore.

A closer look reveals their beautiful feeding tentacles and spiky body of the sea cucumber. This is highly likely to be a Holothurian sea cucumber. Could it be Holothuria hilla?

July spotted this pretty pinkish flatworm which is name as beige flatworm at Wild Facts website. Read to find out more.

The team also found this weird worm looking creature which I have no idea what it is!

The lagoon is rich with fiddler crabs which run away from us quickly.

The Orange fiddler crab (Uca vocans) is very common, just like other shores.

However, I get to see for the first time bluish fiddler crabs. They are Uca tetragonon and are important marker species for healthy reefs. Here we have a male (with large extended claw) ans a female of this pretty fiddler crab.

The male fiddler crab with the larger claw to attract female attention. I love the electric blue coloration on its shell.

It was a surprise that the gang found a featherstar within the lagoon! Wow.

Using my new underwater camera, I submerged my camera to take a closeup of this featherstar.

This tiny weeny red creature was also sighted. Can you imagine it is about only 2-3mm big. This is a pseudoscorpion. Read the wikipedia page for more details on this intriuging creature.

There were pretty shrimps in the lagoon too like this one...

and another one which is more orange in pattern coloration.

We could not resist the rocky part beyond the breakwater so we climbed down to take a good look.

Indeed, there are corals of different sorts: hard and soft in different species. The tide today wasn't so low so we didn't get to see all the deeper corals exposed.

This faviid coral is one of the many hard corals that we can find.

There are also many tabletop corals (Acropora sp.) that are nearer to the lower water mark.

I also found this pair of mushroom corals at the rock crevices.

Thats not all, it was a great sight to see many juvenile mushroom corals at another part of the shore.

The zoanthids is something that many mistaken for coral. Their mats are also found at the edge of Sultan Shoal.

While searching for more interesting creatures, I found something special. Yes, I finally get to see a living Arabian cowrie (Cypraea arabica) for the first time. It was huge and very pretty!

The Arabian cowrie is listed as 'Vulnerable' on the Red List of threatened animals of Singapore, due to habitat loss and overcollection.

On the rocks are also these snails that are also alive.

Ron turned a few rocks and we saw a pair of brittlestars.

Remember to turn back the rocks to it's original side and position because the animals will die if left exposed to the environment.

How about anemones? Yes, there are many anemones including this stunning magnificient carpet anemone (Heteractis magnifica).

I found another pair of adult sized carpet anemones and have not much idea what species it is given that it is rather submerged with the crashing waves.

I took the camera to a dip underwater to take the photographs of this pretty pinkish carpet anemone.

This anemone has characteristic bumps on its underside. Could they be Stichodactyla gigantea or Stichodactyla mertensii? Dr Daphne Fautin did said that S. mertensii tends to settle in deeper water among living corals, and holds its oral disk completely flat against the surface. Hmm... or could be it even be a Heteractis magnifica? This is confusing...haha. Hopefully some expert can help me out since colour and patterns are not a reliable way to distinguish the species as these vary even within species.

All too soon, the two hours of short low tide was over. We definitely did not forget taking photographs with the charming lighthouse before we call it a day.

Tide was not very low so we could not go all the way out. Ron saw a bright red featherstar which was deeper in the waters. Therefore, I believe there are more interesting critters down there.

What a great day we had exploring a new area for the first time! I hope to be able to return to Sultan Shoal to explore the deeper parts of the rocky area where there are many more corals and reef associates.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mysterious patch reefs of Singapore

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was at Semakau and I saw several patch reefs in our waters.

With my now-dead trusty camera, I zoomed 10x and captured this mysterious patch reef opposite Semakau intertidal shore. It seems to have some coral rubble, sandy patch and green, which probably means the presence of seagrass. Looks like an exciting place to explore! Opposite is Pulau Hantu at the background.

I went back to check out what this reef is called and found out it is Terumbu Raya.

What is Terumbu? Terumbu from the Malay-English dictionary is a reef covered during high tide, but exposed during low tide.

In fact, the Geo Names website listed a whooping thirty Terumbu that can be found in Singapore. Imagine thirty more shores to explore, thirty more shores with probably undiscovered or unrecorded creatures!?

I transferred each coordinate and label painstakingly into Google Earth (lazy to find any shortcut to do this) and plotted the thirty Terumbus of Singapore! Click on each map to see the unshrunk version.

Let us explore each zone properly ok?

Unfortunately, many Terumbus in the Jurong Island region have became part of this gigantic island. There are still a couple still not buried by reclamation like Terumbu Serebut and Terumbu Busong. But will they survive the future expansion of Jurong Island?

Moving eastwards, we have three Terumbus! Of course we know Terumbu Pandan, also affectionately known as Cyrene Reef! More about this special reef later. There is this Terumbu Retan Darat just off West Coast Pier but we never got to see it everytime we depart or alight at the pier. Hmm, did it got blasted off for ships to travel in that lane?

I don't know why Pulau Palawan appeared in the list though it is not named Terumbu. But Singaporeans, especially those who like to go Sentosa will have heard of Palawan Beach, an articifical beach filled with white sand that buried the original coral fringing reef.

I've seen Pulau Palawan everytime I take the ferry to and fro St John's Island. It is now an island (rather isolated from the rest of the man made islands of Sentosa) bordered with breakwater. However, the hydrological charts reveal to me that there are tiny fringing coral reef around this island/Terumbu. Cool!

Southwards, we have this lone Terumbu Selegi near St John's, Sisters and Pulau Tekukor.

Here's the massive list of Terumbus surrounding Semakau and Hantu. Yet again, some Terumbus became part of the Semakau landfill but some are still in the phase two lagoon! That explains why we see patches of land inside the phase two lagoon during low tide.

If you are extra observant, you might notice a huge patch of reef unlabelled just next to Terumbu Bemban. What exactly is the name of this mysterious reef???

Actually that patch is not a Terumbu but a Beting. The name is Beting Bemban Besar. Beting in Malay means sandbar. Probably there will have a lot of sand than coral reef. Nearby is another Beting, Beting Kapal in the middle between Bukom and Sentosa. I've not seen this reef during low tide, could it have been blasted off too?

Interestingly, we also have a couple of Betings or sandbar in the north! Beting Kusah is now part of Changi Airport already. But we still have the ever stunning Beting Bronok, at the north of Tekong.

Beting Bronok is a very special shore with many sea stars, urchins, soft corals, nudibranches etc. It faces Johor.

And just July this year, we found this Bordered sea star that we have not seen before in the intertidal area. This was a really fascinating find at least to me.

What about the Terumbu? Has anyone explored any of them? Jani shared some of her diving experiences in her The Blue Tempeh blog.

We are really fortunate to have the opportunity to explore Cyrene Reef (Terumbu Pandan) which is a really magical patch reef with rich marine biodiversity despite being in the middle of shipping lane with heavy traffic. In addition, this reef is surrounded by oil refinery at Bukom, port at Pasir Panjang and industrial installations at Jurong Island. It is with awe that this reef is still so rich!

And why are such mysterious patch reefs important? Because they may house creatures that we have never sighted before in Singapore like this Pentaceraster mammillatus sea star which was even featured in The Straits Times.

Sadly, not all thirty Terumbus and four Betings are present now. A good example will be Terumbu Bayan. Terumbu Bayan, a reef between Pulau Hantu and Pulau Bukom, was reclaimed to create more land on Pulau Bukom for the industrial installations there. (Photo by Ria Tan)

Bayan means clear in Malay, so probably this reef had clear waters before the reclamation works. Imagine Singapore's water that is as clear as the pristine reefs of of other countries.

Just before it was gone, a salvage operation was conducted to collect specimens before the place goes to be buried. I found this photo with Jani in this flickr page. More photos from Siva's blog.

Hopefully, before more reefs disappear, we could have a look of what we actually have in Singapore. These patch reefs are mysterious because it is hard for a boat to land on since there is no proper jetty and that these reefs will be submerged after a few short hours of low tide.

The list of Terumbus and Betings are definitely not perfect, as some may have been missed out. They are indeed mind boggling and hopefully in the future we will know more about them.

IF you have the privilege of visiting any of the Terumbus, please feel free to leave some words of your experiences in the comments portion of this post. Will be delighted to hear your adventure. :-)

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