11 November 2010

Stonefish at Tanah Merah!

A heart-stopping moment before I put my foot down. Uh oh, that lump looks familiar.
I took a closer look and realised it was Mr Stonefish. Can you see him?

How about now... mouth in a perpetual frown and two tiny eyes over huge 'hollow cheeks'.
Here's what the entire Hollow-cheeked stonefish (Synanceia horrida) looks like after I gently nudged him out of hiding.
I suppose as someone who loves our shores, I should be glad that Mr Stonefish still survives on these shores that were hit by the oil spill six months ago. Instead, I only get chills down my spine. The other unwanted survivor on the shore that were present in huge numbers are sandflies.

Fortunately, I encountered other sea creatures that are more beloved.

I saw about 40 Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) not too far apart from one another, about every five steps apart. These sea stars tend to burrow just beneath the sand. Where some of them are found, it seems there is crude just beneath the layer of sand (the dark blue areas).
I saw this clump of corals including a colony of leathery soft coral (Family Alcyoniidae) that I had seen two months earlier. They looked unchanged.
This clump of hard corals also seem to be doing well, including a little colony of Disk coral (Turbinaria sp.).
The single colony of Acropora coral (Acropora sp.) is still alive.
Among the other coral species seen include a plate forming coral which I couldn't get close enough to identify, a colony of Anemone coral (Goniopora sp.), several Favid corals (Family Faviidae), and several larger Pore corals (Porites sp.). All the colonies I saw were not bleached, although some had yellowish edges.
There were all kinds of small and medium sized fishes swimming about near the rocks. But they were hard to shoot in the murky water. The little blue fish is probably a juvenile Three-spot damselfish (Pomacentrus tripunctatus).
I did manage a shot of this fish which I think is a Yellow-banded damselfish (Dischistodus fasciatus).
There were many Ornate gobies (Istigobius ornatus) in the shallow areas. I also saw several tiny Black eeltail catfishes (Plotosus canius).
I saw two Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) and one still had an anemone shrimp it in. Both did not appear to be bleaching.
There were still several clumps of Button zoanthids or colonial anemones (Zoanthus sp.).
There were a few large Penaeid shrimps (Family Penaeidae) out and about on the sand. They tend to bury themselves in the sand when they are alarmed.
I saw one Hairy crab (Family Pilumnidae). There were many swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) of all kinds, most were small to medium sized (4-6cm). I saw a pair of Flower crabs (Portunus pelagicus) half hidden in the sand, possibly getting ready to mate. I didn't see any Ghost crabs (Ocypode cerathophthalmus).
I saw this little hermit crab. I'm not sure exactly what kind it is.
There were many clumps of Blue spatula sponge (Lamellodysidea herbacea). I also saw one patch of Melted chocolate sponge (Chondrilla australiensis) on the rocks.. I didn't come across any other sponges.
On the rocks, there were lots of Planaxis snails (Planaxis sulcatus). Also some Lightning dove snails (Pictocolumbella ocellata), some Nerites (Family Neritidae), some of these unknown plain creeper snails (Family Cerithiidae), as well as Drills (Family Muricidae). I also came across one Firebrand murex (Chicoreus torrefactus).
I came across about ten of the elegantly patterned creeper snail (Family Cerithiidae) ploughing through the sand. I saw one Oval moon snail (Polinices mammilla) and one Gong-gong (Strombus turturella). I thought I saw a few squids zooming about in the murky water.
There were a few fan worms (Family Sabellidae). But I didn't see any signs of Acorn worms (Class Enteropneusta) on the sandy areas.
There were many medium-sized clumps of Knobbly agar-agar red seaweed (Gracilaria salicornia). Aside from that, there wasn't many other kinds of seaweeds. I saw a few sad clumps of Hairy green seaweed (Bryopsis sp.), some clumps of purplish hairy stuff, and a few patches of Oval green sea grapes (Caulerpa racemosa).
In the middle of the trip, a moody sunset with the city skyline and ships parked off the East Coast. I continued working in the dark until the tide turned.
Earlier during daylight, almost the entire length of shore that I walked had a layer of crude still sitting in 'pancakes' at the low water mark. The pancakes seem to be about 2-5cm thick.
As water streams over the crude at low tide, the oil returns to the waters and animals living there.
The crude still streams out into the lagoon forming a sheen everywhere.
Everywhere I walked from the low water mark to the rock wall, large areas of the sandy shore were covered with a thin layer of brownish scum that was studded with tiny air bubbles. Snails moving through the scum 'peel' off the layer on their shells. In some places, the entire layer seemed to be 'erupting' into a huge bubble of scum.
These bubbles seem to 'lift off' to form weird jellyfish-like shapes. Gross. The scum is so fine I can't feel anything between my fingers when I rub them.
I'm not sure what created this pattern on the scummy sand.
On the water surface throughout the lagoon there is still an oil layer of scum and sheen. The brown spots on the rocks are Zebra corals (Oulastrea crispata).
Another look at the scum forming on the water.
It's hard to photograph the corals growing on the rocks. The ground is now very soft and silty so every step raises a plume of sediments that quickly cloud up the water. Also, this is where we often see Mr Stonefish. So I only did a short stretch of the rock wall.
Generally, things don't look much worse or much better than my last trip here a month ago and two months ago.

When I first arrived while it was still daylight, I noticed an absorbent boom has been placed across the canal.
Here's a closer look at the boom.
Has there been a spill again? Upstream? Or in the sea? Oh dear.

During this trip, no one came to the shore to fish or collect sea creatures. But along the canal, there was a couple who had put up crab traps along about 50m of the canal. When I left, the traps were removed and they had left.

My visits to the oil-slicked shores of Tanah Merah are bitter-sweet. I sadly remember how nice the shore used to be, but am glad some life still clings on here. I also still worry about long-term effects.

More about the oil spill on this blog and on the Oil spill facebook page.

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