Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Slug frenzy @ P.Satumu

After Sat's dive, have found *yet* another group of tiny critters for me to practise my underwater phototaking (I usual target nudibranchs and crinoids/feather stars). And during yesterday's dive, I WAS trying to look for stuff amongst the whips and seafans (sorry Diana, was supposed to be recruit spotting for you! *heh*) but no such luck. Guess the portion of the reef slope we were at just didn't have enough seafans or whip corals (they weren't as stunning as the Kusu ones, and many had algae and ascidians covering ~20% of the colony).

With my guilty conscience kicking in, stopped looking at the gorgonians and started looking at rubble etc for coral recruits. Good news is that many of the recruits (possibly some of those from the mass spawning in April) are growing quite nicely on big rocks and consolidated substrate. No danger of them being swept away or rolled over etc. This one looks like a relatively young mushroom coral (they start out similarly to other hard corals, attached to a substrate, before becoming the free-living adult form)

The not-so-good news is that our Honors kids need recruits for their projects on reef remediation methods....

So amidst the recruit hunting, found loads of Phyllids and blue dragons. Managed to *finally* get that nicely focused shot of the rather commonly seen blue dragons. *yay*

Blue dragons aka Pteraeolidia ianthina

Even a juvenile one here that was around 5mm long!!!

And of course, there was this couple of Cuthona sibogae near where we descended. ^^ This is one of the more colorful and eyecatching of the nudibranchs that I see in Singapore. Wonder if that means that they are more poisonous that say the Phyllids that are generally more drab... The orange hydroid that these two are on seems like Sertularella quadridens, so I wonder if they were feeding or mating, or perhaps doing a little of both?

The nudis weren't the only sea slugs that were out and about yesterday. Towards the end of the dive, I even spotted a nice little sapsucker (Thuridilla bayeri). Sap0sucking slugs are sea slugs like nudibranchs but these are generally herbivorous (aka vegetarian), feeding on green algae. This is probably the main reason why a number of the sap suckers (e.g. Elysia sp.) are green. The nudibranch book (Nudibranchs and Sea Snails: Indo-Pacific Field Guide by Helmut Debelius) I have on hand says that "little is known about the feeding habits of this genus", so I don't know how this pattern/coloration helps this little slug. Interestingly enough, the sea slug forum puts this individual as T.gracilis and may be considered synonymous with T.bayeri.

Links to the Seaslug forum articles below:
(1) Thuridilla gracilis
(2) Thuridilla bayeri
(3) Comparison of T.gracilis & T.bayeri
Click for the rambling...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

commensal crazy in Kusu!!!

Was out doing our modified ReefCheck with ReefFriends today, and I must say, this was one of my most fruitful dives at Kusu!! As expected, was relegated to doing LIT with coral genera ID for the deeper transects along with MS. Sadly, when compared to Semakau, the reef slope here hardly has any live coral cover. It made our work a little easier since we could finish the LIT with relative ease and look for stuff to photograph. =^-^=

Haven't really had to explore Kusu underwater recently, so it was really a pleasant surprise to see all these sea fans and whip corals all over the place. Even more amazing were the number of crinoids EVERYWHERE!! Poor HB had to count/estimate the number of crinoids for the mobile invertebrates survey.....

Then there were the HUGE seafans that were sticking out of the slope. I narrowly missed swimming right into one when reeling back the tapes... *phew* That would have been one BIG guilt trip for me man!!

And this was the first time that I have seen SO many brittle stars curled around whip corals. All those little bumps on this whip Gorgonians aren't some kind of disease. They're all little brittle stars!!

BUT, the dive was not just filled with enormous Gorgonians, the REAL highlights of the dives were the macrolife =^-^= Namely, whip gobies, gorgonian shrimps and allied cowries that live commensally on seafans and whip corals. These creatures have absolutely amazing camouflage, and generally, it would be near to spot them if you were just swimming past and they keep incredibly still. Rather difficult subjects to photograph using a point-and-shoot since they are skitterish on top of being tiny and well camouflaged. The first of the many that were pointed out was a pair of sawtooth Gorgonian shrimp (Tozeuma armatum). This fella was probably the largest (or rather, longest) of all the commensals we saw.

Then there were all these tiny tiny shrimp scurrying all around. I only have nudibranch and fish books to help me in ID-ing photos, so will need a little help here in getting these guys ID-ed. Any suggestions would be more than welcome! ^^

Contraty to what I intially thought, it seems like whip gobies are rather common in Singapore. First spotted (and tried to photograph them) during the RF survey trip to Semakau last month. Managed to get a somewhat blurry shot of THREE of them on a single whip coral. And today I actually managed to get a better shot of one when I was in search of more allied shrimps!! *yay*

And then there was another one that was camera shy but seemed to like playing peek-a-boo at the same time. See him/her?

Didn't spot as many allied cowries but here was one really pretty one that MS pointed out. This one's a spindle cowrie.

Sure looks different from the usual roundish cowries that most people know of. Allied cowries (aka egg shells) are closely related to cowries, and they DO belong to the same superfamily. What does this mean to all those non-biologists? Simply put, allied cowries and cowries are kinda like cousins. Unlike their cowrie relatives, these small allied cowries are masters of disguise! They have adapted to look like what they eat (yes, they feed on softcorals and Gorgonians), and there are even some that have polyp-like extensions that resemble the feeding polyps of their host soft corals!!

But soft corals aren't the only ones with their little creatures living on them. Hard corals do too!! Like this coral shrimp (Vir philippinensis) that's living among the bubble-like tentacles of this bubble coral (Plerogyra).

The main reason why I saw as many as I did is my buddy, MS, who is simply AMAZING!!! How he can spot all those little critters on the whip corals and sea fans is really beyond me. Really thankful for his eagle-eyes. woceht has also benefited from his sharp eyes, and they saw wonderful macrolife at Hantu in April as well!! Click here for woceht's account on the experience. ^^

Of course, no dive in Singapore would be complete without nudibranchs!! The Phyllids were just EVERYWHERE on the reef and there were also a couple of blue dragons (Pteraeolidia iathina) out posing for me.

This particular phyllid even looked like it was winking at me with one rhinophore (those stubby stalky looking things) up and the other retracted. ^^

And things just keep getting better!! Wonder what MS is so intently photographing in that hole..

LOBSTER!!! Poor guy was probably freaked out by us swimming up and down and flashing at him while taking photos... Not too sure which rock lobster it is but *think* it may be a painted rock lobster...

Here are also a coupld of interesting things that I simply can't figure out... Anybody know what these are?
(1) Funny looking blobby thing at the tip of the whip coral

Update: possible ID with Nigel's help
Seems like this rather funky looking thing may be a Tubularian, and is actually a kinda of hydroid!!! So hydroids DO come in all shapes and sizes, including some that deposit a calcium carbonate skeleton (i.e. Millepora aka CME that LIT-ers should be familiar with). The very clear close-ups on the following sites do seem to confirm that this is a Tubularian hydroid. Interesting that one of the species is actually "common throughout the British isles". Perhaps this is yet another proof of Singapore's colonisation by the British!! They even brought it along with them to SEA? *okies, am starting to crap here*
New Jersey Scuba Diver
Tubularia larynx
Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole

(2) Anemone-ish looking thing

Yep, we definitely went home a happy troop of people!!

Click for the rambling...

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Dolphins in Singapore!!!

Back to work dives with the lab. Today was supposed
to be spent helping the Honors kids get fragments and recruits for their experiments. You can see how excited SY was at the start of the day...

Of course, at ard 12:15h we did indeed find something REALLY EXCITING!!! Indo-pacific humpback/Chinese white dolphins! (also know locally as pink dolphins) Not just a few but an entire family group of possibly 10 or so near the linkage between St John's Island and Lazarus. There were the smaller, grey juveniles as well as the larger almost white-pinkish adults. So cool!! My first dolphin sighting in Singapore!! Enough said, here are the photos and videos that Marco and I took ^^

The photos can only be described as a gallery of random dolphin body parts, but amazingly enough, Marco managed to take shots of just about every part of the dolphins!! Dude, you rock!!

And of course, if a picture paints a thousand words, videos portray a gadzilliong more ^^ Do excuse the Blair Witch feel of the videos since we were on the boat, putting our digicams to their max zoom....Enjoy!!

At least we know that some of our marine mammals still frolick in our waters despite developments like the connection between St John's Island and Lazarus. Now, if only mantas and whalesharks would appear in Singapore too~~~

SY has more photos and videos here. And below are the Wiki links to Humpback dolphins and Sousa chinensis chinensis:
(1) Humpback dolphins
(2) Chinese White dolphins
Click for the rambling...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

wild, wet weekend @ Semakau and Kusu

ReefWALK @ Kusu with BWV
Just got back from our rather rainy and early walk at Kusu. Nearly overslept (despite being the coordinator), just like the last time, but some how managing to wake up like 5min just before transport came. *oops* It started raining from the time we were on the boat all the way till we left the island, making it really difficult to spot animals lurking in the tide pools since the silt was pretty much stirred up before we actually trooped down. Despite being Fathers' Day, there were hardly any family groups with us today. All four groups managed to maintain their good spirits even though a number of them had no ponchos and were sportingly getting wet. Didn't really have any "special guests" this walk but the usual residents of anemones, soft corals, crabs, etc. were out. Real pity about the rain since the timing of the low tide was perfect for a sunrise walk~~~

Very tempted to *cheat* by putting up photos and blogging about last month's walk due to the lack of photos (except for this one lone flower crab shot that I took). Silly me forgot to video the pretty little moon crab we found when it was burying itself in the sand... Just like the last time. The thing is when I'm the main guide, I concentrate so much on finding things and talking about them that I forget to take photos....

Intertidal Semakau RMBR/NEA
The weather yesterday was not much better when we at Semakau. Woke up just as early to take a early morning walk West Coast jetty, and it was my 1st OJT walk!! Can't wait to go for more!! Got assigned to Turtles, and we were with some SNGS girls out exploring life at our last landfill. Since it was nice early morning walk, the NEA bus was not there to drive us to our entry point, thus a morning walk for all of us.

And if you think Turtles are slow on land, think again!!! There's another group behind us!! Won't you look at the sky? Such lovely colors!

And on to the tour proper... Our lead Turtle, TC telling the group about the intertidal area...

With the weather threatening to turn at any moment, we head out across the seagrass meadow to get right out there~~

And look what our hunter-seeker found for us!!! Spider conch!!! This is my very first time seeing one alive!!! *jumps in excitment*

The topside doesn't look like anything special, camouflages rather well in the intertidal area of grainy brown and algae. However, when it's turn upside down, this marine shell DOES look really pretty indeed!

But that's NOT all!! It is even able to right itself when place upside (either by us or by wave action), just like how this little video shows. Neat, eh? As my camera was in it's UW casing, the "running commentary" wasn't picked up very well but if you up the volume to the max....

[More videos from juanicths]

At the same spot, there was also a moon snail. Also a first for me. Have only seen the collar of eggs before but not the actually snail per se. It's mantle (the fleshy bit) can actually spread out quite a bit in a thin, flat sheet. Rather scary in a way, compared to most other snails (marine or otherwise) that just have enough sticking out to form a foot.

Elsewhere on the flats, TC's occasional turning over of rocks/rubble yielded this. Cowrie~~~ Yet another kinda snail (Gastropod) This funky little critter actually has it's mantle our, covering and "polishing" the outer portion of it's shell, so unlike the other snails, the top/other side of it's shell is actually smooth, rather shiny, and generally have rather nice patterns on them. (Note: patterns do NOT result from the mantle covering the shell... Just that they are visible due to the lack of fouling)

One of the last few things we saw before the storm front actually hit us was this spider crab that TC's holding. (No, he's not trying to have sashimi despite the chopsticks. Those are part of our little "tool pack" to manage animals that we show our groups) The last time I saw these fellas in Singapore was during the night dive we did during the mass spawning in April this year. Pretty surprised that it was found intertidally...

And when the rain hit, boy, did it POUR!!! Too busy trying to get myself (and people) off the flats and into the ONLY shelter that was situated next to the road just before the forest area. So here's everybody squished into the shelter, except for most of the guides/OJTs who had ponchos or were just already so dreanched it really didn't matter...

But it seems that our guides and OJTs don't really mind the rain so much? At least not with friends, chitchatting and smiles all a round while we waited for Mr Poi to drive the bus over ^^

Our very own 3 *drenched* musketeers?

And of course, this being a nature walk, ANY organism that we can talk about would be shown-and-not-quite-toad...

With the rain stopped, and everybody relatively drier, it was back to the bus for a quick landfill tour. Sending us around was the very nice and friendly Mr Poi.

Our very own July giving us the running commentary on the landfill. Our LAST and ONLY landfill... So we all need to reduce the amount of refuse we produce so that this can last a long long long long long time!

Here's interesting proof that the area that we are using as a landfill used to be our sea (think of all those poor corals and organisms that were sacrificed underneath all this!!) A warning beacon to ships!!! Probably the only landlocked one that I'll ever see!

And here's the "standby" area that has yet to be converted into cells for the ash. They spotted black tip reef sharks here before!! In this very lagoon!!

And of course, to commemorate our trip, a group shot at the southern most point in Singapore that is publicly accessible! The southernmost limit is actually Pulau Satumu but it's a restricted area, and a number of other nearby islands (P.Sudong, P.Pawai, P.Senang) are live firing places that most people won't be able to go to...

Links to other accounts of our wet adventures at Semakau:
Tidechaser blog
Urban Forest blog
Mountain and Sea blog
Manta blog
July's discovery blog

p/s Found an alternative to hosting my videos on Youtube. Trying out the Imageshack hosting, so ALL my nature videos are up there now! (Click on the linkie under "multimedia")
Click for the rambling...