Sunday, June 22, 2008

Video of otter at Sungei Buloh

A follow up from the previous post on otters at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve with still images, here is a continuation which comes in a video clip.

The otter finally managed to climb out of the fenced up area but unfortunately climb into another fenced up area immediately, thus explains the laughter. It was stuck again inside for some time. :-)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My first solo guiding experience at Semakau

It's quite hard to imagine actually I have little guiding experience though I'm a shore volunteer. Today is in fact my first solo guiding experience in my one and half year of doing intertidal stuffs.

This could be explained by the fact that I was mainly doing my Chek Jawa project (now my sea star project) or did more Team Seagrass monitoring than guiding. Somehow the other guiding opportunities always like to clash with my schedule. :P

To recall, my first guiding was with July at Sentosa last year with Naked Hermit Crabs and the other couple more guiding experiences were as an OJT (on the job training) trainee at Semakau. Finally I got to try solo guiding for the first time (only) today --> quite ashamed to say this compared to the other shore volunteers. Haha.

This morning, at 4.30am we met at Marina South Pier, boy it was early and I had really minimum sleep. But it was all worth it. I had a wonderful group (named Puffer fish) of eight with two families.

There were Mingying and Tim with their three sons and also Nancy with her son and daughter. Wonderful to have family bonding in such nature trips. They are crossing the "death zone" of the seagrass lagoon in the intertidal area.

Oh, we saw plenty of wonderful creatures!

Some selected animals to be featured here includes this noble volute (Cymbiola nobilis). The Noble volute can seek out buried bivalves with its siphon and encloses the prey in its huge foot.

You can see that the noble volute here is laying translucent egg capsules. The eggs will later hatch and undergo metamorphosis within the egg capsules, emerging as tiny crawling snails.

By accident, I spotted this knobbly sea star which I thought were placed there by hunker seekers.

This charismatic red sea star is the centre of attraction for the visitors to our shores and we all love to have a photograph with this wonderful star. Hopefully they will also show these photos to their friends and share the richness of our living shores around.

Here is Nancy and family with the star of the day.

July also found a nemo in one of the anemones, which he gently placed into the container for the visitors to take a look without stressing the nemo and anemone too much.

I guess those who have watched Finding Nemo has finally found one in the wild. That proves to show that you need not dive or swim to get close with these marine creatures.

Personally, the find of the day is when I spotted this tiny yet stunning blue dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) near the rich reef edge area. It is also the first time for me seeing it in the intertidal area.

There were many other types of nudibranch that we saw as well including the very cute polka dot nudibranch (Jorunna funebris)...

the phyllid nudibranch...

and the chromodoris nudibranch (Chromodoris lineolata).

This particular nudibranch found was much rarer. It is Platydoris scabra which I have seen before at Kusu Island last year. This sea slug has a stiff and rigid mantle and grows to at least 10cm long. It is quite big compared to the other tiny weeny nudibranchs.

Every trip to Semakau, looking at the same fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa) never fail to impress me.

Tiong Chin found a comb jelly which belong to the phylum Ctenophora, a different phylum from other jellyfish which is Cnidaria. These comb jellies have eight rows of cilia which are often fused into "combs" called ctenidia for movement.

Soon, the hunter seeker found another knobbly sea star, great job.

And the participants were quite excited to see this very large diadema sea urchin.

Soon, tide was coming in and we left for the landfill tour. Since only my group was in the van, I had to give the landfill tour as well, wow another first time. :P

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful morning out with my lovely participants of Puffer fish group. Hope to see you at some nature areas sometime soon. :-)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Otters at Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve

A small group of NUS students informally went to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve today to do a short recce for next week's guiding with the foreign students. While we were debriefing, Jeremy our TA who happened to be there as well told us there are otter sightings!

Being someone who hasn't seen otters in the wild before, I dashed out to the location and indeed there are otters! Three smooth otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) to be exact were spotted. There were avid photographers with their telescope-looking cameras that went snapping continuously like a machine gun and they got very nice photos, one even with the otter biting a fish.

Somehow, one of the otters decided to have a dip into one of the enclosed areas of the pond and after that followed some very exciting commotions as we were all taking photographs of this charismatic otter. It was going underwater most of the time, with occasional pop ups of its head.

Somehow, this otter was trying to get out of the enclosed pool and was figuring out.

Looking left and right, popping up and down, swimming here and there... wow I was excited that my hands trembled.

Interestingly, the otter decided to play smart...

by climbing over the fence and off it goes into somewhere else. Wow, what a great sighting today!

I didn't get nice photos of the otter looking face front but these two quite blur photos which I thought are cute. The photo on the right has the plant on top of the otter's head as it was popping up from the water.

According to Ria's Sungei Buloh online guide,

"Smooth Otters are the largest otters in Southeast Asia. They are named for their shorter, smoother coats which appears velvety and shining. Like other otters, they have shorter tightly packed underfur and longer guard hairs which are water repellant.

Smooth Otters like to eat fish but they eat whatever is plentiful and easy to catch. Prey include crustacea, frogs, water rats, turtles and even large birds. They may hunt as a family group, using teamwork to catch their prey.

Like other otters, Smooth Otters are excellent divers and swimmers. They close their ears and nostrils when underwater. Also like other social animals, Smooth Otters have developed complex communication involving mainly smell, but also calls.

Otters are very playful and are among the few mammals that play even as adults. Play helps youngsters develop co-ordination, and strengthens bonds within the group."

However, like other wetland creatures, Smooth Otters are threatened by habitat loss and pollution.

Sea apple at Changi

On a predawn morning, we were out at Changi and for me, I was checking out my sand stars.

Among the seagrasses, I stumbled upon something that has stunning red colour. Upon a closer look, it is a Sea apple (Pseudocolochirus violaceaus) which is a sea cucumber. It's my first time seeing this rare animal, which is listed among the threatened animals of Singapore due to habitat loss and overcollection according to the online Chek Jawa guide by Ria Tan.

Ironically, they do not make good aquarium specimens as they are highly toxic to their tank mates. They are sometimes coined as "tank bombs" for their toxicity.

According to the online Chek Jawa guide, colourful sea apples are sometimes seen on the coral rubble area, clinging to the rubble with their yellow tube feet that emerge in three rows on the underside. During low tide, they retract their colourful feeding tentacles. When relaxed, their normal shape is sausage-like as most other sea cucumbers. When stressed, however, they often inflate themselves into a large round shape.

The Sea apple gathers plankton and edible bits from the water with its branched feeding tentacles. The feeding tentacle is inserted one by one into the central mouth and 'wiped clean' of any edible bits.

The shape of this tunicate looks like the sea apple but it is an ascidian.

There are also many stars like this juvenile biscuit sea star.

And yes, another one of the many biscuit stars.

This juvenile star is highly possible to be a cake sea star.

And I'm so glad that my Astropecten sand stars are doing very well. This photograph was taken in situ in their natural state.

The shore is alive with peacock anemone, phoronid worms and even a seahorse!

Here a close up on the phoronid worms. Ria posted more information about phoronid worms that were seen at Pasir Ris.

These phoronid worms usually can be found beside peacock anemones.

And this is a juvenile peacock anemone which I thought is much cuter. :-)

There were also a number of carpet anemones on Changi.

And it is nice to see the peacock anemone and the carpet anemone side by side, though the former is not a true anemone.

Changi is always full of surprises, the last time the bailer snail, now the sea apple cucumber!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My first diving experience

On a weekend, a bunch of shore volunteers went to Dayang/Aur for diving. July and I were doing our course to learn diving in the open waters while Juanhui, Chay Hoon and Samson came for leisure dives.

The waters there are really clear with wonderful visibility. Something Singapore also can likely have if we control pollution into the open sea.

The following photos were taken by my instructor, Jimmy. I "stole" his photos from his facebook photo album for the trip. Sorry my camera cannot swim.

He took a group photo of us newbies just on the surface of the clear blue sea just in front of Pulau Lang.

Here's another group photo of us at Atlantis Bay of Aur, this time underwater. We had to hold our breath for a while to prevent the bubbles from blurring the photo. Seems like July (bottom left) didn't follow instructions. Hahaha. Guess where I am?

I'm the naughty one doing rabbit ear signs on my newly made friend, Edwin. Oh yes, we made many other wonderful new friends like Runyu, Gaius, Amanda and many more.

And finally, my very own underwater photo of myself.

It was surreal to be underwater, as if I entered into another dimension. I've never seen so many magnificent and large growing corals in my life before. Their Acropora or table top corals are really huge and plentiful! The sea is also filled with other living creatures like sponges, fishes, stars etc etc.

Schools of fish just swim with you!

Jimmy also saw this stingray and signalled to the group to take a look as the stingray hid underneath in a crevice.

The following below photos belong to Amanda, which I this time stole from her flickr gallery.

We saw many weird looking nudibranch that I've not seen before.

Amanda and friends saw a moray eel with a cleaner wrasse!

The reef was filled with plenty of stunning featherstars!

And also many nemos, it is very nice to see them underwater happily swimming.

We also saw MANY cushion stars at one go.

Finally for the last dive, Amanda was very kind to lend me her camera to take some photos. The last two underwater photos were taken by myself using her camera.

The last dive site had drift currents and it was a challenge to take photos, need to learn more from the experts like Juanhui, Chay Hoon and Samson.

Dayang/Aur is also the place where I see many crown of thorn sea stars for the first time! They eat corals and I saw three feasting on a coral colony while diving at Crocodile Bay off Dayang.

Talking about crocodile bay, this is also the place I saw sea turtle in the wild for the first time. I spotted the first one and it was so gentle. I could swim side by side with the turtle. :-)

July signalled for me and wow a very nice necklace sea star (Fromia monilis)!

Soon, we completed five dives and were certified PADI divers! Yay.

On the way back to Mersing, we saw a bunch of kids at the intertidal area having fun. Well, many Singaporeans are deprived of such childhood and turn to computer games and handheld games instead.

Looking forward to my next dive, in Singapore?

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