09 December 2010

Very fishy day at oil-slicked Tanah Merah

What a surprise to see a pair of Razorfishes at Tanah Merah yesterday! Easily mistaken for floating leaves, these flattened fishes often 'float' head down, but can swim horizontally too. These are probably Aoeliscus sp. (Family Centriscidae) because they have a 'hinged tail'.
I also saw THREE stonefishes! Eeks.

Here's Mr Stonefish Number One. The Hollow-cheeked stonefish (Synanceia horrida) is superbly camouflaged and incredibly common on Tanah Merah!
Here's Mr Stonefish Number Two. He was about 3 paces away from Number One. So there goes my theory that these fishes are well spaced apart on this shore!
This is Mr Stonefish Number Three. See how he looks just like another stone among the rocks. This is why we need to be super careful when walking about on a rocky or rubbly shore.
This is a Painted scorpionfish (Parascorpaena picta), which is not as scary as a stonefish but can still give a nasty sting.
I also saw a small Blue-spotted fantail ray (Taeniura lymma) zooming past in the murky water.
And a very special fish: In the murky water, I saw what seems to be a shrimp goby! It think it's the Slender-lined shrimp-goby (Cryptocentrus leptocephalus).
There were a lot of other fishes too! I saw one with a big black spot near the tail which I don't know, also many small Yellow-banded damselfish (Dischistodus fasciatus), rabbitfishes (Family Siganidae), Ornate gobies (Istigobius ornatus) and other gobies.
I saw two Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) and one still had an anemone shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) it in. Both did not appear to be bleaching.
I saw two Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.)!
I spent most of my time at the sea wall so I only saw four Common sea stars (Archaster typicus). Kok Sheng saw a lot more as he walked all the way to the other end of this very long lagoon.
There was also a very long Synaptid sea cucumber (Family Synapthidae) on the shore! This is quite surprising as there is virtually no seagrasses in the lagoon. I did see one small very badly beat up clump of Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) and very sparse patches of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) with leaf blades heavily covered in scum.
It was good to see the Firebrand murex (Chicoreus torrefactus), and a live cowrie (Family Cypraeidae), possibly. Hopefully, this means the rarer cowries will make a comeback soon? I also saw the empty shell of this snail that I have not seen alive on our shores yet.
There were lots of Dwarf turban snails (Turbo bruneus) on the rocks, as well as a few Black lipped conch (Strombus urceus). On the sandy shore, I saw many living Gong-gong (Strombus turturella). I also saw a few live Venus clams (Family Veneridae), one live Fan shell clam (Family Pinnidae) and several small sand collars, which are the egg mass of moon snails (Family Naticidae).
Nerites snails (Family Neritidae) were plentiful on the rocks and many seemed to be mating. There were also many small Purple climber crabs (Metopograpsus sp.).
As it got dark, I saw several living Ghost crabs (Ocypode cerathophthalmus). They were small to medium sized.
On the way home, on the high shore, there were several small Land hermit crabs (Coenobita sp.)! Kok Sheng also saw a very shy Spotted hermit crab (Dardanus sp.) that refused to come out of its shell. Earlier on I saw several Banded hermit crabs and two small Striped hermit crabs (Clibanarius sp.).
There were many Swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) but they were all very small. This pair seemed to be about to get into mating position. Which is rather odd as the crabs were very small.
Some parts of the shore were teeming with tiny Red nose shrimps (Periclimenes sp.).These were gathered on a living hard coral.
About 100m of the shore that I walked still had a long line of 'pancakes' of crude oil on the mid-water mark. Beneath the thin layer of sand, the crude sparkles and seems as fresh as the day it landed.
Many parts of the shore still has crude under a layer of soft silty sand, showing up in my footprints. The surface of the sand in large parts of the shore is covered with a thin layer of brown slime that floats off in bubbles. The situation doesn't seem very different from what I saw on my trip here about a month ago.
I walked about half of the lagoon, and almost everywhere I walked, there was a sheen of oil on the water surface. Here, you can see a large living hard coral underwater beneath the sheen.
Another view of oily scum on the water surface above the submerged large hard coral colonies growing on the rocks.
Streaks of oily scum gather on the rocks where the hard corals are.
There are some large hard coral colonies growing on the rocks and they seem alright despite the oily scum on the water.
But I still saw many different kinds of hard corals ranging in size from tiny to medium.
Another cluster of small hard coral colonies, including a greenish Disk coral (Turbinaria sp.) that all seem alright.
The clump of corals including a colony of leathery soft coral (Family Alcyoniidae) nearby are still there, but the leathery soft coral doesn't look very happy.
The sheen of oil obscures the colony of Anemone coral (Goniopora sp.) which looks a bit limp and pale. Oh dear.
The little colony of Acropora coral (Acropora sp.) is still there and seems alright. Although it has a wreath of some sort of purplish hairy stuff that I also saw in small clumps here and there.
It was nice to see large hard coral colonies that seemed alright, as well as many small colonies of hard corals. There were plenty of living Zebra coral (Oulastrea crispata), Favid corals (Family Faviidae), and several larger Pore corals (Porites sp.). And the greenish colony I suspect might be a small Brain coral (Family Mussidae).
This looks like a hard coral that has recently died, with small portions still barely alive. It's hard to 'find' dead corals as scum quickly covers them so they look just like another rock.
I saw several large colonies of Button zoanthids or colonial anemones (Zoanthus sp.), all seemed to be fine.
This lagoon had many clumps of this Blue spatula sponge (Lamellodysidea herbacea). Most clumps were small, this is one of the larger clumps I saw.
I saw only a few fan worms (Family Sabellidae) in this lagoon. I saw more in the other Tanah Merah lagoon. I saw a pile of sand that might have been made by an Acorn worm (Class Enteropneusta), but perhaps not.
There wasn't much seaweed on the shore. I saw a few clumps of Sargassum seaweed (Sargassum sp.) and some patches of Mermaid's fan (Padina sp.).
As it got dark and the tide started turning, several young men came onto the shore carrying nets and floating boxes.
Earlier on, I came across a very long driftnet abandoned in the middle of the lagoon.
Within the net, there were two trapped crabs. Abandoned driftnets are a heartache as they continuously trap animals. These trapped animals in turn attract scavengers like these crabs which in turn get trapped as well. Since driftnets are not biodegradable, this horror goes on for a very long time.
Even before we got to the shore, we came across a pile of abandoned driftnets left on the high shore. We should come back one of these days just to remove all the driftnets.
Once again we had a relatively cool dry trip, although there was a small 'blessing' of rain at the start of our trip. Kok Sheng covered a lot more ground and saw more amazing things.

Let's hope this shore survives and recovers with time.

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

See also Kok Sheng's post about the trip: he saw lots more marine life including a moray eel and spider conch.

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