19 March 2011

Cyrene Safari with the Environmental Engineering Society of Singapore

Despite a rainy start, a very enthusiastic team from the Environmental Engineering Society of Singapore made safe landing on Cyrene this afternoon!
And what a fabulous trip we had!

Landing on Cyrene can be tricky in the waves without a jetty. But with Francis and Melvin looking after us, and the help of a ladder, we all make it safely to shore.
As soon as we arrive, we are greeted by lots of brightly coloured large Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus)! Wandering through swathes of Sand dollars (Arachnoides placenta) and Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) many of which were in mating position), we headed out to the reefs.
The tide was still a little high, so we had to wade a bit to see to the huge corals, leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) and flowery soft corals (Family Nephtheidae) here. They were all doing well, and none of them were bleaching. All of Singapore's reefs including Cyrene suffered from coral bleaching last year, so it's good to see a recovery! More about coral bleaching on Bleach Watch Singapore.
We saw a little Ribbon jellyfish (Chrysaora sp.) which has a very nasty sting! Good thing everyone was wearing long pants. And Lee Chew spotted a Black tipped reef shark swimming in the water! Oops, time to head back to higher ground where the seagrasses grow.
Koh Lee Chew, Treasurer of the Society, not only organised the trip but was also the best spotter in the team! He found so many interesting creatures! Here he has found a fanworm (Family Sabellidae).
Lee Chew has found this amazing little slug. I've never seen this before! It is probably some kind of Tailed slug (Family Aglajidae). Some tailed slugs are carnivores and eat their prey whole, crushing them with hard plates in their tummies. Their prey include other slugs, flatworms and other worms. Some have well developed structures to track down their prey by following the prey's mucous trail. Others are herbivores. Wow, this is a very special sighting for me! Thank you Lee Chew!
He also found this nudibranch, Discodoris lilacina. My first time seeing it at Cyrene! Although Kok Sheng and Chay Hoon shared sightings of this nudibranch on Cyrene last year.
This nudibranch is identified by the spots on the underside.
The rest of the team also spotted other amazing marine life in the seagrass meadows. Like this little Slender seamoth (Pegasus volitans). It has large 'wings' which are its pectoral fins, and a long stiff pointed snout that is made up of modified nose bones. It was very tiny! It is our first sighting of this fish for Cyrene! Besides Kusu Island, I've not gotten a record of this fish on our other Southern shores. This fish is more commonly seen on northern shores such as Chek Jawa. In many ways, Cyrene is like the Chek Jawa of the South.
Another great find that requires sharp eyes: a tiny flatfish! It is probably a young Large-tooth flounder (Family Paralichthyidae). Flatfishes are awesome! When it first hatches, a flatfish larva looks like the larva of other ‘normal’ fish. As the larva matures, it starts to swim on one side of its body. One eye moves to what becomes the upperside, also called the eyed side. The mouth and one pectoral fin also becomes asymmetrically distorted. There are also changes in the skeleton and digestive system. The change may be completed within five days.
Other fishes sighted included several Worm eels (Muraenichthys sp.), Mosaic dragonets (Callionymus enneactis), gobies and other fast swimming fishes. We also saw a lot of swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) and plenty of Fan shells (Family Pinnidae).

What is special about the Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) on Cyrene is that we find many small ones here. According to the Star Trackers, Cyrene probably has the largest population of these Endangered sea stars, and the only one with a viable, reproducing population of these magnificent sea stars.
We also saw lots of Black long sea cucumbers (Holothuria leucospilota) and a Garlic bread sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra). Both these sea cucumbers are listed as Vulnerable on the Singapore Red List. And also several worm-like Synaptid sea cucumbers (Family Synaptidae).
Besides coral reefs and seagrass meadows, there are also sandy shores on Cyrene. Today we noticed the tiny little 'cactus'-like stiff seaweed that grow here. These are Coin seaweed (Halimeda sp.) which are made up of hard coin-like shapes joined together. The seaweed is stiff because it incorporates calcium into its body.
Another habitat here are rocky shores! Here we spot a little octopus that got stranded on dry land. It soon wriggled and hopped its way back into water and eventually a burrow under a rock. The rocky shores also had many tiny Hairy crabs (Family Pilumnidae).
Lee Chew works his magic and finds two Giant top shell snails (Trochus niloticus)! These large snails are listed as 'Vulnerable' and are no longer commonly seen on our shores.
We saw a Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea)! While it had a pair of anemone shrimps, we didn't find any 'Nemos' or clown anemonefishes that are usually found in this kind of anemone. We earlier also saw several Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) also with anemone shrimps.
Fortunately, the skies cleared and we enjoyed a cool blue sky day. In the distance, Siti and her team of volunteers were working hard to set up seagrass experiments on Cyrene. Behind them, the huge orange beacon that marks the end of this kilometre-long submerged reef, and the petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom on the horizon.
On the other side of the "Industrial Triangle" are the massive industrial installations of Jurong Island. The third side of the Triangle is formed by the world-class container terminals at Pasir Panjang. Isn't it amazing that such a great reef can continue to exist in the middle of this Triangle?!
There are plans to reclaim the portion of Jurong Island near Cyrene Reef and massive reclamation is ongoing at nearby Pasir Panjang for a new container terminal. Hopefully, these will not affect Cyrene too badly.

The sun is setting and the tide is turning and we have a last look at this wondrous shore, saying goodbye to the many Knobbly sea stars that stud the shore near the departure point.
Francis and Melvin have already transported Siti and her team back to their boat. A huge cruise ship passes by.
Then it's our turn to leave. The gentlemen stay on the shore, allowing the ladies take the first ride back to our big boat.
On the way home, we have a glimpse of the 'Supermoon'. Today, the moon is supposed to be its largest in 20 years. It doesn't seem all that large. But we are grateful to see it in clear weather and for having had a safe and enjoyable trip.
Siti and her team later told me that they had found a huge abandoned driftnet on Cyrene. Sigh. We shall be back on Cyrene for TeamSeagrass monitoring next week, and will try to remove the nets then as well as part of Project Driftnet. On a happier note, they saw a small Pentaceraster sea star (Pentaceraster mammilatus) although it was missing three of its arms. Oh dear. See more photos of what Siti and her team saw in Sean's facebook album.

Thank you to the very sporting team from the Environmental Engineering Society of Singapore who made the time to come and for finding so many special creatures and making this such an enjoyable trip! And special thanks to Lee Chew for organising the trip and being the best spotter on the team!

More about Cyrene Reef!

Other posts about this trip

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