28 February 2010

Pulau Hantu with Dr Dan

We're back on the shore with Dr Dan and the students from Duke University!
Although they are taking a very early morning flight tomorrow, a few of them took the time to take a last look at our shores.

We are also very privileged to be joined by Debby of the Hantu Bloggers. She had stayed back from a dive at Hantu this morning just to join us. Also with us today is Chris Klock from the Netherlands, who is very interested in our corals.
Almost as soon as we got to the shore, one of the students spots a 'Nemo' in a carpet anemone!
A little later on, we saw another 'Nemo' (more properly called the False clown anemonefish, Amphiprion ocellaris) stranded in a pool away from its now high-and-dry home, the Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). The tiny clown anemonefish is in the lower left corner.
The students are great at spotting interesting marine life. Like this bunch of sausage-like squid eggs!
Dr Dan said he had never seen a Giant clam in the wild. So it was good to show him 'our' Giant clam (Tridacna crocea). It's tagged by Mei Lin who is studying these clams. It is rather well camouflaged, and didn't look very pretty as it was out of water.
Here's what it looks like underwater, when we saw it at our trip a few weeks ago.
We hurry over to our favourite patch of corals and Dr Dan, as usual, is way ahead of us and checking out all the hard corals. He saw at least 30 different kinds! Yes indeed, the reefs at Pulau Hantu are quite amazing!
Among the Hantu specials are these Sunflower mushroom corals (Heliofungia actiniformis). The only other place where I still see them often is Pulau Semakau. There used to be a lot also on Beting Bronok but they have since been lost after the mass deaths in the area in 2007.
Chris is happy to see some Acropora hard corals (Acropora sp.). This one isn't looking very healthy though. And it seems to be infested with Drill snails (Family Muricidae) that might be eating the coral.
Among the corals was a pair of 'dancing' swimming crabs (Family Portunidae). The male crab has the female's legs in his grip and is probably trying to get her into position to mate with her. The students also found a very large crab, possibly the same one we saw on our earlier trip? I was too slack to walk back to have a look at it.
Debby finds a nudibranch! It's a brown Blue dragon (Pteraeolidia ianthina) identified by the purple rings on its oral tentacles.
On this stretch of sea wall, there's an ongoing experiment on coral settlement. We are careful not to step on them.
All too soon, we hit the end of the reef which plunges away. The only way out was to walk back the way we came, or...
It was only then that we learnt that Chris was a mountain guide! And since Dr Dan and all the students already clambered up and down, the rest of us had no choice. We really don't like climbing rocks, having learnt the hard way of the many things that could go wrong when we do so.

Fortunately, everyone made it safely to the other side. Among the many creatures in the lagoon was this rather bleached looking Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni). This anemone is not as common in the South as they are on our Northern shores.
We also saw lots of little clumps of these organisms. I'm not too sure what they are.
Stuck in a rather murky pool, was this little fish. We're not sure what it is either.
I always learn so much from Dr Dan, often simply because he asks the questions we fail to think of. Like does the Giant top shell snail (Trochus niloticus) have an operculum? And what do you know, it does! And a pretty one too.
The Duke University students are marvellous at spotting all kinds of things. Like this Clear sundial snail (Architectonica perspectiva)! Wow, we're starting to see these snails more often. I wonder what this means?
Dr Dan also spotted a sea turtle popping up for a breath of air. Debby and I kept hearing splashes but always looked up too late! Wow!

Alas, one of the students found some chopped off tails of stingrays. Washed up on the shore. This one looked like it was a Blue-spotted fantail ray (Taeniura lymma). Perhaps they were caught by fishermen?
We had a quiet sunset and it finally got cooler.
In the fading light, the flaring at Pulau Bukom began again. We're much closer to it at Pulau Hantu and the flaring is accompanied by loud high pitched sounds like a jet engine.
As we left on the boat, the full moon rose over the flaring and petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom, all lit up like a Christmas tree.
We learnt that some of the environmental impact of flares arises from incomplete combustion, resulting in by-products such as hydrocarbons and sulphur. For a cleaner flare, oxygen or additional fuel should be added to the burn. It appears, a clean flare is not orange in colour like the one we saw tonight.

It was great to be able to share Hantu with Dr Dan and Duke U. And Chris too!

I hope Dr. Dan and the Duke U. student have a safe trip home and I will miss having them on our trips. They are such great company, full of energy and very sporting. And find lots of interesting things. And of course, I always learn so much from Dr Dan.

James also saw some other awesome marine life including a little pipefish, a sea moth and more! See them on his Singapore Nature blog.

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