28 May 2010

Return to Pulau Tekukor

In the east, where the sun is rising is approximately where the oil spill started. But our schedule (set up well before the spill) will take us over the next days to several different Southern locations.
It is probably just as well, since there is a chance that the spill will eventually reach these Southern islands. This morning, we visited Pulau Tekukor, which used to be an ammunition dump which was closed in the 1980s.

We are here to help Mei Lin look for giant clams. The last time we were here, we couldn't safely explore the reefs for clams because it was covered in a bloom of Sargassum seaweeds.

Today instead, we had a bloom of Hairy seaweeds (Bryopsis sp.) , forming a fine feathery covering over the shores. So of course, there are also lots of Bryopsis slugs (Placida daguilarensis) well camouflaged among the seaweeds that they feed on. I saw one slug floating on the water upside down.
Hidden among the fuzzy hairy seaweeds, something that literally has a sting! It's a Blue-spotted fantail ray (Taeniura lymma)! In any case, we are always careful when exploring the shore, because we are even more afraid of Mr Stonefish. Fortunately, we had no mishaps today.
We arrived well before dawn, so the fishes were still quite active. Here's some seen that are commonly encountered near reefs.
There were fishes commonly seen also in seagrass meadows.
These look like scorpionfishes but are actually groupers! The False scorpionfish (Centrogenys vaigiensis) can be found in many different colours and patterns!
But the best fishy find was by Kok Sheng who spotted two Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea) full of False clown anemonefishes (Amphiprion ocellaris)!
It's always a delight to see these fishes frolicking safely in the stinging tentacles of the anemone. Unfortunately, the popularity of this fish following the 'Nemo' cartoon has resulted in them being overharvested from the wild.
It's always a delight to encounter octopuses. And there were many out and about in the dark. But this one is pretending to be a stone.
Tekukor doesn't have as many hard corals as nearby islands such as Sisters and St. John's. Most of the corals were Pore hard corals (Porites sp.) with several Flowery disk corals (Turbinaria sp.) at top left, and many colourful Favid corals (Family Faviidae) the rest of the photos.
Sadly, I saw quite a fair amount of bleaching corals. I would say about 5% of the corals I saw were bleached on the stretch I visited.

There was also a good variety of leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) though they were not very large.
I only saw a few Flowery soft corals (Family Nephtheidae).
There were not many kinds of anemones. The most commonly seen were Frilly sea anemones of all kinds. This is one with smooth tentacles and the prettiest one I've seen in a while.
There were also other kinds of frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.) , and I saw one Wriggly star anemone.
A tantalizing find, a recently dead empty shell of a cone snail. I have yet to see a living cone snail on our shores!
I saw one Giant top shell snail (Trochus niloticus) while the rest saw a lot more. I also saw one Ovum cowrie (Cypraea ovum). There were also lots of Lightning dove snails (Pictocollumbella ocellata) on this shore.
The only flatworm I saw was this large Acanthozoon sp. which is quite commonly encountered on our shores.
There's some patches of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) here! As well as lots of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis). These meadows are a great home for many animals, such as swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) which were plentiful today. Sadly, I didn't see any Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides).
Other crustaceans seen included: Floral egg crab (Atergatis floridus), Red egg crab (Atergatis integerrimus), Mosaic crab (Lophozozymus pictor), Red-eyed reef crab (Eriphia ferox), Hairy crab (Family Pilumnidae) and not a crab but an interesting crustacean, the Coral ghost shrimp (Glypturus sp.).
I had been exploring the western shore. The tide turns as the moon sets over the industrial islands of Pulau Bukom and in the far distance Jurong Island. I headed to the eastern shore to take the sunrise.
Pulau Tekukor is a large, long island and one side of the rocky cliffs remain undeveloped, fronting a long rocky intertidal. Reefs ring the island. It is next to Lazarus Island and St. John's Island, seen here on the horizon.
Pulau Tekukor also overlooks the main business district on the mainland!
On the other side of Pulau Tekukor is Sentosa, where development continues apace to build high-value properties on reclaimed land that used to be reefs.
This shore facing the mainland remains coated in large areas by zoanthids. We also didn't find any living giant clams today.

It is rather disappointing that Tekukor doesn't have the rich variety of reef life that is found in nearby shores. We are not sure why this is so. I had asked some scientists about this and one possibility is that the ammunition dump some how contaminated the area. Copper contamination, for example, is believed to have very long lasting effects.

Despite the disappointing marine life, the island does have some treasures. Andrew pointed out this vigorous looking tree with broad shiny leaves and shared that it is Fagraea auriculata, a tree that was once thought to be extinct in Singapore until it was re-discovered on 'two offshore islands', according to the NParks Floraweb entry for this plant. Andrew also shared that its Malay name 'Pelir Musang' means 'testicles of the civet cat' referring to the fruits. Alas, we could not find any of the beautiful large white flowers, nor the intriguingly named fruits. There's a large grove of these trees on Tekukor!
Although the oil spill has gripped out attention, our shores face all kinds of challenges and threats all the time. The biggest challenge is that we know so little about many of them.

Over the next four days, the team will be hunting giant clams at various Southern locations. Hopefully we will have more luck with the clams, and hopefully, the oil spill will not reach as far as the Southern Islands.

See also other posts about this trip:

1 comment:

  1. You're right-- the shell with the edges is indeed a dolphin snail! I realise that the reef version is very thick and heavy, whereas the lost coast version has walls that are much more thin.

    Remarkably, this shore has a lot of dead cone shells. There are a lot of Coenobita land hermit crabs, most of whom are so big they cannot retract fully into their shells. They seem to like huddling together in groups under pieces of washed up styrofoam!

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