21 August 2009

Exploring Changi with new friends

Today, Chay Hoon and I had the pleasure of bringing some new friends from NParks' Coastal Parks team to visit Changi.
Here's Chay Hoon with some intrepid young members of the team. OK, they weren't actually working for NParks (yet?) but were just as enthusiastic as the bigger people.

It was a super low tide, on a new moon night with fine weather and stars out in the dark dark sky. On the seagrassy shores, lots of wondrous surprises!
Among the first creatures we spotted were lots of Hairy seahares (Bursatella leachii). They're back in season! There were also many tangles of beehoon-like egg strings among the seagrasses, probably laid by these slugs. A little later, we came across a Batik tailed slug (Philinopsis sp.). This slug is not commonly seen.
We also come across a few large Noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis)! As well as some smaller ones. There were also many Gong-gong snails (Strombus canarium) which hop instead of creep. As well as Window-pane clams (Placuna sp.) and Fan shell clams (Pinna sp.). These are often targetted by collectors, so it's nice to see that there are still many on the shores.
We also saw large Carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) and a few Swimming anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichii). And two beautiful Glass anemones (Dofleinia sp.)! Dr Daphne had earlier explained that these anemones can drop off their tentacles, which break off at the dark ring at the base of the tentacle.
The shores of Changi are among the few in Singapore with a wide variety of echinoderms. Which include the sea stars. And today we saw many Biscuit sea stars (Goniodiscaster scaber) as well as Painted sand stars (Astropecten sp.).
One of the team members found this special Eight-armed sea star (Luidia maculata)! My first sighting of this star on this stretch of Changi! How wonderful! This is a carnivorous sea star. Like other predators, they are not as abundant as less fierce echinoderms that just graze on scum and muck. They are listed as 'Endangered' on our Red List of threatened animals.
Abundant on the shore today were large White sea urchins (Salmacis sp.) many with a worm-like animal curled around the mouth. Eew! As well as many Cake sand dollars (Arachnoides placenta). We saw the test (skeleton) of these animals and could thus better see some of their body structures. An exciting find for me was this test of the special Laganum sand dollar (Laganum depressum)! If living ones are found on Changi, this will be a first encounter for me there. But we didn't see any live ones today.
Near the waters' edge, there were lots of large brittle stars with flat arms. Unlike the more sedate sea stars, these animals are quite lively and can move rapidly with snake-like movements of their flexible arms.
There were of course, lots of different kinds of sea cucumbers. Buried in the sand were smooth sea cucumbers as well as Ball sea cucumbers (Phyllophorus sp.). There were also several small Garlic bread sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra). And several of these Polka-dotted sea cucumbers that have recently been identified. Karenne Tun reports that the Aspidolist has identified this sea cucumber as Holothuria (Matriatyla) ocellata. As this has not previously been recorded for Singapore, this is a first record for Singapore!
Later on we saw two of these Polka-dotted sea cucumbers next to one another. Hmm...making new sea cucumbers?
The shores were also teeming with little fishes of all kinds.
Little Long-spined scorpionfishes (Paracentropogon longispinis) were particularly abundant today. I have no idea why.
Other fishes seen included filefishes (Family Monacanthidae), baby Kite butterflyfishes (Parachaetodon ocellatus), and a flatfish. And I saw this fish. I don't quite know what it is. Possibly a young Trumpeter perch (Pelates quadrilineatus)?
We also saw lots of Flower crabs (Portunus pelagicus), hermit crabs and shrimps of all kinds. Seagrass meadows like Changi provide shelter for many young creatures that eventually grow up to become our favourite seafood.

But the most important fish of the day were seahorses (Hippocampus kuda). Collin has a programme to tag our seahorses and he and Ben joined us to get this done. Today, they found three seahorses. Two mamas and one papa seahorse! Chay Hoon found one too. But the team with me didn't find any. We had to settle for looking at photos that Ben took of the seahorses.
On the way out, we had a Horn-eyed ghost crab (Ocypode ceratophthalmus) in the spotlight. Literally.
These crabs can run very fast but often freeze when spotlighted at night. They live in the large burrows that are often seen at the high water mark.All too soon, the tide turned and it was sunrise. I had a great time with a team who were really good at finding things, and who were sporting to put up with my bad jokes. Especially Ryan, who certainly made for a very lively outing.
And also many thanks to Clarence for putting the trip together and getting everyone organised.

Today, some of the rest of the team went with Kok Sheng to check out the reefs at Tanah Merah. They are going to a new stretch there. Apparently, from James' Singapore Nature blog it was a suicidal trip. But they sure saw a lot of hard corals and other reefy stuff. More also on Kok Sheng's wonderful creations blog about the coral reefs and sandy shores found there.

Meanwhile, Marcus and Andy are out at Sentosa with TeamSeagrass. Thanks guys for filling in for us. (Wei Ling is at another field trips, while Siti is also on a separate field trip).

There's a LOT to do and not enough low tides!!

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