Purpose of NatureScouter

This blog will address mainly two issues - Nature and Scouting.

The purpose of Nature blogs is to educate and promote the awareness of Singapore’s and global environmental and conservation issues to the public and the Scouting community. The Scouting-related blogs serve the similar purpose by promoting the World’s largest youth movement and its activities to the public.

This blog was created thanks to the persistent demands of all my dear friends to blog, and on my 25th birthday, this blog was born.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Super Star of Echinoderm Hunt! - Part II

Part II is here! And this time we were off to Cyrene Reef with Dr. Lane.

Comprises 3 patch reefs - Terumbu Pandan, Pandan Beacon and South Cyrene Beacon, Cyrene Reef is one of the largest patch reef systems in Singapore. Located to the south of mainland Singapore, it is smacked right in the middle of a shipping lane. Hundreds of ships transit the waters around the reef every day. The reef is also next to huge industrial sites like Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom. Despite all these, the biodiversity on Cyrene is amazing. So much so that certain fauna found here could possibly be found no where else.

Our main aim for today is echinoderms and nothing else. So this post will be solely focused on echinoderms.

We set off just before sunrise on the 'Dolphin Explorer' managed by Melvin at the Singapore Yacht Club, and the scenery is beautiful as usual.

Approaching the reef, we transit to a smaller boat - 'Baby Dolphin Explorer' to land on the reef.

Once we set foot, no time was wasted and the search began, with a particular target in mind.

First critter of the echinoderm list - Sea Cucumbers. Not much, but still something.
From top left, clockwise: Sandfish (Holothuria scabra), Black Sea Cucumber (Holothuria leucospilata), and Synaptid (Family Synaptidae)

Next - Sea urchin. Well I saw only two species. One of which is a Salmacis sp., but I forgot to snap its photo!!
This is the other. This most probably is a Diadema setosum, as noted by the distinct orange anal ring.

Next - Feather sea star. One and only one I saw...
Feather stars, also known as crinoids (Class Crinoidea) are the most ancient of all echinoderms. They move by pulsating their 'feathers', but more often than not, they are directed by water currents. They have 'hooks' known as cirri, which they use to anchor themselves onto substrates.

Last but not the least - Sea stars!!
Common sea stars (Archaster typicus). They were abundant at a certain portion of the sandy area, and I meant really a lot... maneuvering around was difficult. The one on the right only has four arms, not that one was chomped off - it seems natural. I found two of this kind in total. Maybe five is a mess? Haha...

OMG!!! Not 1, not 2, but 15 Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodusus)!!! Just by walking along my designated path together with some others, 15 individuals were easily found... I bet the others found many more!

However, the highlight of the trip must be this. It is THE ultimate aim of the trip.
Pentaceraster sp.!! This is not just another knobbly or a knobbly that has crossed over to the dark side. It is a new record of its type! Something new in our Singapore waters.

UPDATE: The sea star is now tentatively being identified as Pentaceraster mammillatus by Dr. David Lane. Its distribution is that of Indian Ocean, but apparently with its appearance in Singapore, it has expanded its range. It is usually found in lower eulittoral and deeper region, on sand and seagrasses. However, the taxonomy of this group has some uncertainties, with gradations between species, possible hybrids and a closely related form living in the Philippines region. Still it's an important find, indicating the cleanliness of our marine environment despite Singapore being one of the busiest port in the world.

The new find is the reason why Cyrene is so amazing. Should we preserve this patch of reef for our children to admire? Should we allow this amazing ecosystem and its rich biodiversity to continue its Nature course? Well, this is for you to decide!

Cyrene Blogging Carnival
Cyrene Carnival Edition 1
Cyrene facebook

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Echinoderm Hunting with Dr. David Lane - Part I

Today was the first of two trips out with Dr. David Lane, who is an echinoderm expert. He often comes to Singapore to study our shallow water echinoderms.

Dr. Lane is currently a senior lecturer at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, teaching subjects like ecology, living resources and aquatic biology. More about him can be found here.

Pulau Semakau is our destination today and for those who doesn't know - it is one of our southern islands. This island is where all the ash from the incineration of our waste and non-incinerable waste ends up. The Semakau Landfill was created by enclosing Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng when we exhausted our mainland landfill in 1999. Despite being developed as a landfill for our waste, biodiversity was protected. In fact, wildlife is striving very well. More about Semakau can be found here.

Our task was to find uncommon echinoderms. After the recent find of a new record, Pentaceraster sp., Dr. Lane was keen to see what else could be found. However, to find something new ain't a walk in the park. So I just find whatever I can.

Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodusus), the icon of Semakau. We found quite a number of them - three I think.

Octopus (Order Octopoda)

This was hiding under the sand. At first I thought it was a stingray till I notice the longish body. Thanks to Chay Hoon, I've gotten the ID! This is a Flathead (Family Platycephalidae), or also known as Crocodile fish. It inhabits estuaries and the open ocean.

Now, this is a stingray. Blue-spotted Fantail Ray, Taeniura lymma.

Hard corals - plenty of them in Semakau. From top left, clockwise: Heliofungia actiniformis, Goniopora sp., possibly Lobophyllia sp., Pocillopora sp., Centre: Pectinia sp.

These are also corals but they have a soft body instead, hence they are known as soft corals.

Feather worms or featherdusters worms or tube worms.

Jellyfish. Have seen this particular species quite often. Today alone was plentiful, at least seen 3-4 on the shores and another 3-4 at the jetty.

Anemones - From left: Peacock anemone, Star sea anemone

This is also an anemone, more specifically a flower anemone (Phymanthus sp.). If you notice, there a flatworm in the middle of the anemone! I wonder what it is doing there? Eating? Hiding? Clownfish-wannabe?

Sea cucumbers. From left - Sandfish (Holothuria scabra), Synaptid (Family Synaptidae), Stonefish (Actinopyga lecanora). If you notice carefully, there are two 'specks' on the sandfish sea cucumber. It is actually carrying a pair of mating Chromodoris lineolata on top of it... Imagine climbing on top of a cucumber so much bigger than you just to have sex... Looking for challenge eh?

Nudibranchs!!! One of my favs! From top left, clockwise: Polka-dot (Jorunna funebris), Marginated Glossodoris (Glossodoris atromarginata), the mating pair of Chromodoris lineolata that was found on top of the sandfish sea cucumber mentioned above, and another mating pair.

Not a good echinoderm day, but still a good day. Damn it's tiring thou! Kudos and admire Ria who has the energy to do this repetitively for weeks in a row. Had to go back to work after that and now I just complete this blog post.... and I'm dead... beat...

Now awaiting for part II.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

TeamSeagrass at Chek Jawa

I've been to and been counting every single TSG's CJ trip. This is trip no 7. In my notebook's folder, 'TSG-Chek Jawa' subfolders are slowly accumulating.

Another early morning trip with the usual beautiful sunrise.

With Vyna taking the lead, we all gathered and off we proceed to Ubin and then CJ. Siti and Ria then began with the usual briefing and distribution of the equipment.

I led site 1 group down and this was a nice shot taken from beneath the boardwalk.

A wide view of the seagrass lagoon.

Jerald was my buddy once again. And being used to working with each other, we cleared the transect in record time! And off we went exploring.

Here, in my usual style, is the critter list:

A round and spiky sponge.

Another sponge, but with a nice yellow and green cover.

This one is really spiky. Urchin, Salmacis sp..

Noble Volute, Voluta nobilis

Warty sea cucumber, Colochirus quadrangularis

Carpet anemone, Stichodactyla haddoni

Flowery soft coral, Dendronephthya sp.

Banded beads anemone, possibly Anthopleura handi

Thunder crab, Myomenippe harwicki. This one had one claw missing. Ain't the red/green eyes beautiful?

Geographic seahare, Syphonota geographica

Sea stars! Left is a Biscuit seastar, Goniodiscaster scaber, and right is an orange Cake seastar, Anthenea aspera.

And these were spotted on our way back - Cotton Stainers, Dysdercus decussatus. Apparently, these were at the same location since two weeks ago as confirmed by a friend of mine who saw them then too.

Thanks to the long period of low tide and the fast monitoring, the good one hour of exploration was fantastic. I will always return to Chek Jawa - a heritage of all Singaporeans.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

TeamSeagrass at Cyrene Reef

Today was a great day. First of all, it was my virgin trip to Cyrene. Couldn't make it for any of last year's Cyrene trips. Second, the weather was extremely kind. Last but not the least, we found damn lots of stuff today. So following this will only be a selection of critters.

What a beautiful morning. Everyone was of course still in a daze during the boat trip. Haha.

Soon we reached close to the edge of the reef and we hopped on a smaller boat to land on the reef. See the happy and excited faces of everyone.

What a view. Imagine an island that only appears at extreme low tides. That's how Cyrene works - in the middle of nowhere, right in a shipping lane.

While walking to site 2, this was one of the first critters we found - Anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)! Not only one anemone, but quite a few anemones were occupied.

Common seastar (Archaster typicus) 'footprint'. In fact, they were actually buried underneath.

Urchins (Left: Salmacis sp., Right: Possibly a Jewel Box Sea Urchin, Mespilia globulus (Thanks Chay Hoon for ID!))! A couple of others saw urchins of other types too. Quite a variety indeed!

During the transect, I chanced upon this - an amphipod??

Swimming sea anemone (Boloceroides sp.). There's quite a lot of them. I could easily see at least one in every transect.

Jellyfish! Don't know much about it, but personally I haven't seen this type before.

One of my favourites - Nudibranchs! This one should be a Pteraeolida sp..

This was what puzzled Gaytri and Vyna. I found this near their transect and asked them what was it. Then I called out to Chay Hoon, saying that there are two blobs of stuff. While they walked over, I saw something that looked like rhinophores. Only then I realised - Damn! Nudibranchs?! Chay Hoon later confirmed, but not exactly nudis.

These were actually side-gilled slugs, Pleurobranchus forskalii. Instead of gills on their back, they have it on their sides.

There were quite alot of knobbly seastars (Protoreaster nodosus) on Cyrene. However, there was something different.

The one on the right. I asked Chee Kong (my FYP snake mentor, who now works on knobblies in TMSI), and he told me it could be a Protoreaster nodulosus. He's looking into it and we will soon know.

Update: The 'Knobbly' could jolly well be a Red Tubercled Sea Star (Pentaceraster tuberculatus). If it's the case, it could be a new record for the species and its genus even! Wow! *Awaiting for confirmation from Chee Kong.

Seahorses (Hippocampus kuda)! Collin from NParks was looking for them high and low, only to find them on our way back in a water channel. The left is a female and the right could possibly be a 'pregnant' male.

Last but not the least, I found this just before we were heading back to the boat after finding the seahorses. Kok Sheng said it was algae when he saw it. Well, that was before he saw the rhinophores.

Yes! It's another nudibranch (Melibe sp.). Called the 'holy grail' by Chay Hoon and Ria, they said it was last seen in 2006. It interestingly has a hood in front that envelopes everything in the way, hopefully a crustacean for its meal. And it is also as long as your hand (adult's hand of course!)

Not a bad day at all! Neat! Can't wait to return!

More on the trip:
Team Seagrass
Wonderful Creation, with a special post on seastars
Colourful Clouds