Sunday, July 22, 2012

Predawn adventure to Cyrene Reef with sharks

Today is another predawn adventure.
A small team of 7 shore explorers visit Cyrene Reef this morning.
This is my second time to Cyrene, but it is my first time landing in the dark.
Furthermore the tide was still high (but receding) when we reached Cyrene.
Sun rise at Cyrene reef is always spectacular.
Sunrise at Cyrene reef
Although the high was still high, the highest point of the sand bar has already expose itself. That is best place to place out life vests.
Today I decided to start from the southern part of the reef, walking eastwards, north then westward, forming the shape of a horseshoe.
It was difficult to shoot when the tide is high but soon after the tide went down and the team was out searching for critters.
My first find was a reef bristleworm (Eurythoe complanata).
Reef bristleworm
It was sticking out of its hole and later I observe it pulling one of the materials it has used to surround its worm hole. Perhaps it was trying to neaten its hole.
Near to the worm, a shy snapping shrimp was hanging out at its entrance only revealing its pincers.
Snapping shrimp
Another kind of worm I saw was the red ribbon worm. Part of the worm was out, possibly looking for food. This worm can retract quickly when it senses danger or disturbance. 
Red ribbon worm
An empty snail shell has a another kind of usage other than being occupied by hermit crabs. While walking and looking around, I notice this pretty snail shell and tried to pick it up only to release that it is tightly glued onto other shore materials. 
Snail shell stuck onto other materials
It looked like the construction work of some worm.

There were many different types of snails found on the reef. There are many snail shells that moved quickly on the sandy reef. These shells are occupied by tiny hermit crabs. The shells with real snails inside moved very slowly or hardly move at all. There will be some suction tension when you try to lift them from the surface.
Let's look at the snails I saw today.
Round periwinkle snail (Echinolittorina vidua)?
Side profile
China moon snail (Natica onca)

Oval moon snail (Polinices mammilla). Mammilla means 'breast' in Latin.
Moon snail opening its operculum 
Side profile
Two oval moon snail side by side
Variegated sundial snail (Heliacus variegatus) empty shell.
Empty shell
Unknown shell found on blades of seagrass. There were a few of them found on seagrass blades.

Grey bonnet snail (Phalium glaucum)

In a shallow pool with hole, there were 4 gobies resting outside the hole.
By the side of the hole
Out of the hole for me to take picture.
I also saw a octopus hiding in a burrow.
One of the tentacles of the octopus
I even see a small squid swimming on the water surface. It is about the length of one segment of my pinky finger. It is a pygmy squid (Idiosepius sp.)!
Tiny squid
On the southern side of the reef, there were many fan worms showing their pretty "fans".
Banded fan worm
There are a few variety of corals on this southern part of the reef. Oh no! I saw a large coral with heavy bleeching. It was upsetting to find half of this huge coral bleeched.
Bleeching coral
Predawn trip to Cyrene reef means we get to see the sun rising from mainland Singapore. It is a spectacular scene to watch the sun rise from the back of the tall buildings.
Silhouette of buildings
Sun rise in Cyrene reef
When the sun is up, large container ships are seen passing by this channel. Look at how small Alex's Boon Teik from Summit Marine is as compared to Maersk Line.

As usual, I found a number of suspicious moving coral fragments with the unknown crab carrying it. One of the coral fragment was overturned and I stood there looking at the crab out of its "home". After some wait time, the crab came down its "home" and flipped it over. Then it went under the coral fragment to carry it. Such an amazing observation.
The crab waiting on its overturned "home" to ensure that it is safe to turn it over.
After observing the above crab, the fish resting next nearby caught my eyes. I made an attempt to direct it into my container by it disappeared quickly and I could not see where it swam to. :(
But I took a shot before my attempt to catch it. I am not sure what fish this is.
Unknown resting fish
I name Cyrene reef the land of sea stars. There are plenty of common sea stars (Archaster typicus) and knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) on Cyrene.
There were some knobbly sea stars broken arms and new arms are growing. They were the first few knobbly sea stars I encounter today.
One damaged arm.
3 damaged arms.
It made me feel sad to see "handicapped" knobbly sea stars. But their arms are regenerating. The ability for sea stars to regenerate their arms made me felt better. After counting up to 40 knobbly sea stars on the southern side, I felt very happy.

In one of the knobbly sea stars which I turned over, its stomach was exposed. Realising that it is being turned over, it quickly retract its stomach back in. It looks it it was in the process of enjoying its meal when I happened to disturb it. Opps.
Retracting its stomach. The right part is its food?
The "food" sinking into the stomach.
Of course, the area of knobbly sea star is located on the northern side.
Medium size knobbly sea star
As the sun rises so does the temperature. It was a rather hot day. Even the knobblies out of water could not take the heat and start to curl up in awful positions.
 Leg raise
To the right 
 Curl 1
Curl 2 
The other critter that made me happy today will be the Pantaceraster sea star (Pantaceraster mammilatus) shared by Kok Sheng. It was my wish list before the trip and it was satisfied. I not only see one but a few after that.
Greenish body with yellow bums
Close up
Arm underside
Red body with yellow bum
Is this another species of Pantaceraster? Its underside looks different from the above pantaceraster.
Top view
As a comparison, we have three sea stars near each other.
3 sea stars
The last few critters found by the team will be the blue dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina) and a brown sea cucmber (Bohadschia vitiensis).
Blue dragon nudibranch
The brown sea cucumber was rather stressed when Marcus dug it out and it released sticky white cylindrical tubes (Cuvierian tubules). Marcus' finger was stuck with strands of the tubes and he had some difficulty removing them.
Brown sea cucumber
During this trip, I found a fishing trap and there were fish trapped inside. As I approach the fish trap, a medium size stingray was panicking around in the trap. I had never destroy fish traps before and neither do I have the correct tools to do it. So I leave it to Russel, who much later saw the trap and destroyed it.

Soon it was time to leave.
As we head back to the landing point, I spotted a big fish swimming in the lagoon and I shouted "Shark!". A black-tipped reef shark swam by and it got everyone excited. Russel commented that he saw 4 sharks while he was exploring the lagoon area.

The weather was really hot today and it depleted my energy very quickly. Many of images shot after sun rise was done rather haphazardly. Looking forward to my next trip to Cyrene!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wet day at Chek Jawa Guided Walk

It was a wet day for the Naked Hermit Crabs.
Despite the rain which started early in the morning, about 30 visitors who signed up for the monthly guided walk by the Naked Hermit Crabs turn up and braved the light rain during the walk.

As usual, we were greeted by the wild boar herd when we alighted from the van outside at the entrance of Chek Jawa. They appeared from the forest behind the bicycle lots. One of the piglets laid down in the grooming position, waiting for mama wild boar to groom it.
Wild boars - young and adult
One of the piglets in grooming position.
The wild boars in Chek Jawa are rather tame and friendly. They can be quite curious about visitors at times but they do not attack unless provoked. However there is an adult female wild boar that visitors need to be on a look out for.
Wild boar visiting the information kiosk. (Beware of this adult pig)
From the NParks staff on duty today, the guides were told that this adult pig (picture above) has been following the footsteps of the monkeys residing in Chek Jawa. It has been watching how the monkeys steal food and ransack bags placed on bicycles parked at Chek Jawa's entrance. Now it associates bags and plastic bags with food and it will use its mouth to pull the items away from visitors.

What to do in such situation:
  1. The NParks staff recommends clapping of hands and making loud sounds to scare that wild boar away. He reminds visitors not to say "Hello" as it will signal invitation for them to get closer. 
  2. Watch all your belongings, especially bags. This wild boar can grab the base of your bag and put it away. In such cases, playing a tug-of-war game will cause severe damage to your bag.
  3. Keep all food in your bags. Carrying food around in plastic bags will attract this wild boar. It will not relent in following you until it gets hold of the food. If you have to encounter such situations, raise your plastic bags as high as possible and keep them in your bag quickly.
Back to the guided walk...
Despite the rainy weather, the visitors and guides spotted quite a number of animals.
One of your visitors spotted a tree climbing crab near the foot of the jejawi tower. Its pincers look like it is forming a heart shape.

Tree climbing crab.
The Jejawi tower is a very tall tower in Chek Jawa. At the top of the tower, you can have an overview scene of Chek Jawa and a close up look at the Jejawi tree (a kind of fig tree). You can even see Pulau Tekong and the eastern side of Johor.
Jejawi Tower from the boardwalk.
Signage at the base of the tower.
Chay Hoon spotted a Mangrove dwarf. I was so happy to see this dragonfly as this species is classified as uncommon and I have not seen dragonflies in Chek Jawa for a long time. This is a female dragonfly. Too bad my compact camera did not do a good job in capturing this dragonfly. Hopefully this sighting means something good and the dragonfly population in Chek Jawa will grow in population.
Mangrove dwarf (Raphismia bispina), female
Dragonfly nymph feeds on the mosquito larvae and the adult dragonfly will feed on mosquitos. They are nature's mosquito control.

Today I'm on free guiding and was following closely with Ria's group. I helped to spot animals and explain some of the sighting to our visitors.
Ria explaining about the nipah palm.
Fruit of the nipah palm. This is where you get attap chee from.
Our visitors looking at the waving fiddler crabs and trying to spot sand bubbler crabs.
At the start of the boardwalk, there were still presence of wild boar foraging tracks in the mud. I also noticed their tracks on the sand at the coastal side.
Wild boar tracks at the start of the boardwalk.
Damage caused by wild boars' digging.
Track on sand. Can you see them?
Along the coastal side, the rain started to get slightly heavy. But the visitors did not give up the walk and we walk the whole route. Hurray for the visitors.
Umbrellas and ponchos all out. 
There were many pretty sea hibiscus flowers and some of them were wide opened. I took the opportunity to show the visitors the pretty flower. Too bad I was not able to find a sea hibiscus flower that is about to fall to share with the visitors.
Sea hibiscus flower.
All trips end at House No. 1 with our visitors participating in our guestbook's writing or drawing. No photos from me though.

The guides had a lovely lunch at the Sister's Restaurant despite the ongoing rain.

For more details about the free Chek Jawa guided walk by the Naked Hermit Crabs, check out here.


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