17 May 2011

Helpful crab at Terumbu Pempang Tengah

A crab has found a heart urchin! I'm really bad at spotting animals, so it's great to get help from others! But it was quite unexpected to get help from a crab!
I was out at 4am this morning on Terumbu Pempang Tengah, a submerged reef off Pulau Hantu.

I tried to borrow the heart urchin from the crab for a closer look. I was going to return it. But the crab refused to let go. Clutching the heart urchin, it hurriedly disappeared into a crevice. But from the many photos I took, it looks like the Lovenia heart urchin (Lovenia elongata). The only other echinoderm I saw were several White rumped sea cucumbers (Actinopyga lecanora).
But there were lots and lots and LOTS of crabs on the shore today. Plenty of swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) of all kinds. As well as other Floral egg crabs (Atergatis floridus) and Red egg crabs (Atergatis integerrimus) and also the Spoon-pincer crab (Leptodius sp.). The rest of the team also saw the Mosaic crab (Lophozozymus pictor).
I also saw the swimming crab with chocolate pincers and blue legs mating with an all red swimming crab! So what I call the 'Chocolate' swimming crab must be the same species as the Red swimming crab (Thalamita spinimana). Marcus Ng actually pointed this out to me earlier and I haven't gotten around to correct the wild fact sheets.
I saw this little pebbly crab. I don't know exactly what it is but I think it is a member of Family Xanthidae.
I saw a large giant clam! I think it's a Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa), although the scutes are barely sticking out. It was quite large, about 30cm. When I saw it I realised I forgot to bring my GPS. So sorry Mei Lin! The rest of the team saw several Spider conch snails (Lambis lambis) and Ivan saw a file clam (Lima lima).
Octopuses are quite common on our shores. But they are very well camouflaged. I nearly missed this one which blended so well with the sand and was perfectly motionless.
Night time is also the best time to photograph fishes as they are out of hiding. Here's some of the fishes I saw today. The rest of the team also saw moray eel, flatheads, snake eels, pufferfish and other interesting fishes!
As usual, there are lots of Blue-spotted fantail rays in the pools.
For the first time in a long time, I saw a False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) in a Magnificent anemone (Heteractis magnifica). And there were also some of these 'Nemos' in Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea). One of the fishes was tiny but seemed mature, a miniature replica of the larger fishes in the same anemone!
Another animal that unexpectedly came to me was this large raptor, a Brahminy kite? It was mewing in the dark and swooped up towards me.
To land not far from me on the shore! It shortly flew away again. I have no idea why it did that.
The last time I was on this reef in July 2010, there was bleaching on the shore. Today, most of the hard corals I saw were not bleaching. I only saw this large colony that was partially bleaching. More about coral bleaching on Bleach Watch Singapore.
Although there isn't a densely reefy part on this shore, I did come across several different kinds of hard corals: Galaxy coral (Galaxea sp.), Brain corals (Family Mussidae), Carnation corals (Pectinia sp.), Disk corals (Turbinaria sp.) and Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.).
I came across two Cauliflower corals (Pocillopora sp.). This species was badly affected by coral bleaching. So it's good to see them, although both had signs of colony death. Tiny red coral crabs (Trapezia cymodocea) live in this coral, I accidentally took a photo of one.
As with our other shores, Favid corals (Family Faviidae) are very common on this shore. Also common on this shore were Pore hard corals (Porites sp.).
At night, many of the corals have their polyps fully extended. For the first time, I noticed the polyps of the Pebble coral (Astreopora sp.). I didn't know the polyps have a longish body column!
I saw several Mole mushroom corals (Polyphyllia talpina). But no other kinds of Family Fungiidae.
There are many leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) on this shore of all kinds. I didn't see any that were bleaching. But most colonies I saw were small.
There are also all kinds of other cnidarians on the shore. From Flowery soft corals (Family Nephtheidae) to Feathery soft corals, and various kinds of sea anemones: Frilly sea anemones (Phymathus sp.) and Wriggly star anemone as well as corallimorphs (Order Corallimorpharia). I didn't see any that were seriously bleaching.
Another creature that I usually only see at night is this Shy glass peacock anemone. It rapidly 'shrivels' in the light and I need to photograph it quickly. Peacock anemones are not true anemones and it's probably better to call them cerianthids.
Many parts of the shore were teeming with zoanthids (Order Zoanthidea) of all kinds.
Seagrasses grow sparsely on some parts of the shore. I saw some Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) as well as Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) and Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis). They didn't seem to be doing very well here.
When we landed, in calm waters under a full moon, we could see the emissions rising up from the refineries on Pulau Bukom.
'Tengah' means middle in Malay and indeed Terumbu Pempang Tengah is in between two large submerged reefs, and next to Terumbu Pempang Laut which we visited recently.
At sun rise, the plumes of emissions rise high into the sky.
Oops, the tide has come in! We were having so much fun and busy with the sunrise, we didn't realise it was time to leave!

When we got back to the boat, we shared about some of the exciting encounters we had. More about these in the posts below.

Another 1am wake up call soon, for another predawn trip in a few hours!

Other posts about this trip
  • Liana on facebook with photos of shrimp goby, alicia sea anemone, big brittle star and more.
  • Kok Sheng with coral forest, strange octopus behaviour, pufferfish and other fishes.
  • Chay Hoon with lots of nudis and slugs and sea stars and sand dollars.
  • Russel with moray eel, 'nemos', crabs, corals and more.
  • Sam on facebook with colourful sponges, crabs, snake eel and more.
  • Ivan on facebook with file clam! And lots of other fishies, corals and critters.
  • Rene on facebook with snake eel and other colourful animals.
  • Geraldine on facebook with colourful crabs.

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