Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fabulous reef and seagrasses of Tanah Merah

We are back on yet another reclaimed mainland shore on a predawn trip.  It's our once-a-year survey of the hard corals at Tanah Merah.

The slippery and wobbly rocks below the seawall made this shore among the most difficult shores to document. I spent more time trying to get a proper footing than looking at the shore. But it is all worthwhile!

This stretched of reclaimed coastline is home to thick growths of hard corals of all sorts of shapes, colours and species. These corals colonised the shore by its own.

As compared to the reefs of East Coast where the Disk corals (Turbinaria sp.) are plentiful, there are a lot more uncommon hard corals on Tanah Merah such as the Carnation corals (Pectinia sp.), Brain corals (Family Mussidae), Galaxy corals (Galaxea sp.) and Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.).

More hard corals found on the reef include the Boulder Pore corals (Porites sp.) and also a special find of the Euphyllia coral (Euphyllia sp.).

There are also several of the Circular mushroom corals (Fungia sp.) which are commonly found on pristine reefs of the south. 

The plate-like coral in the middle of this photo shows a good growth of the Lettuce hard coral (Pavona sp.).

Though abundant in hard corals, there are not many sponges on Tanah Merah. When I took a photo of the only Blue jorunna sponge (Neopetrosia sp.) encountered, I missed the Polka-dot jorunna nudibranch (Jorunna funebris) found beneath the coral and sponge until I processed the photos at home. These blue sponges are among the favourite food for this species of nudibranch. 

The Eight-banded butterflyfish (Chaetodon octofasciatus) mainly feed on coral polyps and it is commonly sighted on the rich reefs of Tanah Merah.

I was excited to see the juvenile Harlequin sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) and for the first time managed to take a photo of this cute fish! This fellow is super difficult to photograph because it swims head down in a typical 'drunken' dance, flip flopping rapidly from side to side.

It's been a long time since I came across this Ashy pink sea cucumber (Holothuria fuscocinerea). This sea cucumber spits out toxic or sticky strings (called Cuvierian tubules) when disturbed. Siyang, Lionel and I wrote a paper in Nature in Singapore during 2010 on the new record of this species.

On the high shore, I saw two skinny Sea fans (Order Gorgonacea) and they are quite small-sized.

Other than looking at the reefs, there are seagrasses at Tanah Merah. Many of us are awe-struck with how well they are growing! This whole huge patch of seagrass is made up of the rare Noodle seagrass (Syringodium isoetifolium). It's the second mainland site that we see this species of seagrass. Don't you think it really look like a thick lawn of grass?

Seagrasses are home to lots of critters and juvenile marine life! One would discover lots of animals among the blades if we take time to look at it. Can you spot something in this photo?

Yikes! It's the dreadful Hollow-cheeked stonefish (Synanceia horrida)! The stonefish is one of the most dangerous fishes on our shores. It has tough dorsal fin spines that can penetrate thick soled shoes. These act like hypodermic needles, injecting a venom that can cause lots of pain and even fatality if not properly treated. Though this individual is a juvenile stonefish, it is a constant reminder for us to be careful when exploring our shores.

Another fishy find would be this baby Peacock sole (Pardachirus pavoninus). This is the only shot I got before it swam away.

Other than the Noodle seagrass, there are also lots of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) and also a small patch of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii).

There was even a small clump of the Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) among the bed of Needle seagrass (Halodule sp.) and Noodle seagrass (Syringodium isoetifolium).

There was a pleasant find of three Common sea stars (Archaster typicus)! I wonder if there's a bigger population of these stars somewhere along the shore.

There was this small Scallop (Family Pectinidae) with many short tentacles. If you take a closer look, you would realise there are several well developed but tiny eyes along the mantle edge.

Among the seaweed on an outgoing tide, this Snake-eel (Family Ophichthidae) appeared and it quickly started to burrow.

Interestingly, they burrow using their tail to go in first and the head enters last.

Pei Yan shared with me her fantastic find of the Bailer volute (Melo melo)! It's our first living sighting outside of the Changi, Ubin and Tekong area.

It's heartening to see how the seagrasses and reef are doing fine on the reclaimed shores of Tanah Merah. Let's hope they remain this way, if not do better. Will check out this shore again next year!

More photos of the trip on my facebook album:

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