01 June 2011

Cowfish at Tanah Merah

I don't often encounter this strange boxy fish! In fact, the last time I saw this on Tanah Merah was on one of our first trips there. Mei Lin found it then.
So it was nice to see another Longhorned cowfish (Lactoria cornuta) today, one year after this shore was hit by an oil spill. The shores were very fishy today!

As on my trip here last month, I saw lots of fishes today. Some of them are new to me. I'm not sure what this pajama-striped fish is. I've seen it sometimes on our other reefs.
Mystery fish no. 1
Another mystery fish, this one with a dark spot on its body, about 10cm long. I saw many of these today.
Mystery fish no. 2
Another unidentified fish. It was about 8cm long with pink pattens on its head. I saw two of them half buried in the sand.
Mystery fish no. 3
I saw a few fishes that I don't often encounter. Like the pretty Anchor tuskfish (Choerodon achorago) that I saw in the other lagoon at Tanah Merah, kindly identified by Jeff.
And this looks like the Pink-eared emperor (Lethrinus lutjan). What looks like a wound near the pectoral fins are actually red markings of an unharmed fish.
There were other familiar favourites.The Chocolate hind (Cephalopholis boenak) is a grouper. I saw a few small ones (about 15cm long) lurking in the crevices.
This fish is also a grouper. It's the False scorpionfishes (Centrogenys vaigiensis).
This is a true scorpion fish, the Painted scorpionfishes (Parascorpaena picta). I saw many of these fishes today.
This one looks like the Spangled emperor (Lethrinus nebulousus).
I saw many of these pretty patterned Freckled goatfishes (Upeneus tragula), most were about 10cm long.
Damselfishes were abundant, especially the Yellow banded damselfish (Dischistodus fasciatus) and the Three-spot damselfish (Pomacentrus tripunctatus) from tiny juveniles to small adults.
There were lots of gobies (Family Gobiidae)! Particularly abundant were the Ornate gobies (Istigobius ornatus) which were often seen in clusters.
There were many small Cardinalfishes (Family Apogonidae), also some Silversides (Family Atherinidae), many small White-spotted rabbitfishes (Siganus canaliculatus), one Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) and several Crescent perch (Terapon jarbua). There were also many small and large Common mojara (Gerres oyena) and many Whitings (Family Sillagenidae)
Other gobies seen include many Shadow gobies (Acentrogobius nebulosus), several Frill-fin gobies (Bathygobius sp.) and the Black-spotted lagoon-goby (Istigobius goldmanni).
The Bengal sergeants (Abudefduf bengalensis) were plentiful, from tiny to medium-sized ones. And I saw several small Scissortail sergeants (Abudefduf sexfasciatus).
The hard and soft corals on the shore seem to be doing alright. This leathery soft coral (Family Alcyoniidae) that I visit every month seems fine. In some areas, various colonies of corals grow near one another.
There were many large colonies of Favid corals (Family Faviidae) and Pore corals (Porites sp.) which all seemed unbleached.
Favid corals remain the most abundant type of hard corals here, with a bewildering variety of shapes and colours.
Other species of corals seen include: Acropora coral (Acropora sp.), Carnation coral (Pectinia sp.), Plate montipora coral (Montipora sp.), Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.), Brain coral (Family Mussidae) and Flowery disk coral (Turbinaria sp.).
How nice to see a tiny little coral scallop (Pedum spondyloideum) in one of the hard corals!
I saw several Oval moon snails (Polinices mammila), one Pink moon snail (Natica zonalis). Unlike the other lagoon, Bazillion snails (Batillaria zonalis) only covered a small part of the rockier areas. I saw several young small Window-pane clam (Placuna sp.), a few young small Fan clams (Family Pinnidae) and one Large cockle (Family Cardiidae).
Wow, a tiny octopus! My first sighting since the oil spill. It was hiding under a small stone and I nearly missed it.
There were lots of Gong-gong snails (Strombus turturella) in the soft silty sand, even in the areas that were covered with brown scum. And I saw a pair near one another, suspecting that they were mating. And sure enough, when I got home to look at the photos, I saw the tell-tale string of eggs near the snail in front!
And lurking in its lair is a mantis shrimp (Order Stomatopoda)! It refused to come out. But it's good to know that possibly the mantis shrimps are back. One of the heartbreaking sights I saw when the oil spill first hit this shore, was a pair of mantis shrimp, dead, just outside their burrow.
There were also lots of crabs out on the shore today. I saw two Red egg crabs (Atergatis integerrimus), lots of tiny but skittish Spotted moon crabs (Ashtoret lunaris), many Ghost crabs (Ocypode cerathophthalmus), and lots and lots of Swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) of all kinds with a lot of small Flower crabs (Portunus pelagicus).
How nice to see the Spotted hermit crab (Dardanus megistos) with white spots on its hairy body and legs. I saw another hermit crab which I thought was similar then I realised it didn't have spots and wasn't so hairy and had smaller pincers. Hmm...another mystery beast.
Mystery hermit crab (right photo).
The sandy area was teeming with Blue-tailed prawns (Family Penaeidae). While the shallow pools in rockier areas had lots of tiny Red-banded shrimps, I saw many females carrying bright green eggs under their belly. There were also many Red nose shrimps (Periclimenes sp.) clustered on corals growing on the seawall.
There were some clumps of Button zoanthids or colonial anemones (Zoanthus sp.) and tiny patch of Broad zonathids (Palythoa mutuki), and for the first time after the oil spill, I saw several different kinds of cerianthids including the Small mouth cerianthid and Banded cerianthid. Also a tiny Frilly anemone. I also saw many clumps of Blue spatula sponge (Lamellodysidea herbacea).
Seaweeds remain sparse on the shore, with only some clumps of Mermaid's fan (Padina sp.) and Sargassum seaweed (Sargassum sp.). I saw a few clumps of other kinds of seaweeds.
But some parts of the rockier portions of the shore was 'crunchy' with a coating of tiny pink pom pom seaweed everywhere. With tufts of other kinds of seaweeds growing here and there. With the return of seaweed, hopefully other animals that feed on and shelter among the seaweeds will also return.
I came across small patches of sparse Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) heavily covered in epiphytes. I also saw one small clump of Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides).I didn't manage to see any of these animals that I saw last month: Common sea stars (Archaster typicus), Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni), Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea).

Large parts of the shore were still covered in a fine brown scum. It was too dark to take a wide shot, but I still got a whiff of crude oil on some parts of the shore.
In some areas, the scum that seemed to have turned into 'scabs' of rather firm brownish or greenish stuff. Algae growing on the scum? There were lots of small animals among these 'scabs'.
Plastic litter has started to accumulate on the high shore, and some of the plastic bottles are heavily covered in oil. But most of the bottles were not.
A pair of young men who regularly visit this shore (I recognise their voices, it's hard to recognise faces in the dark) were also busy fishing on the shore with a hand net and styrofoam box. They specially came up to me today to share in a very friendly way about how one of their friends was badly stung by a stingray and had to be sent to Changi hospital. I sensed they were trying to warn me about this danger. I suspect though, that their poor friend probably stepped on a stonefish, which are very abundant on this shore and these men work the seawall intensively and walk very rapidly all over the shore. But it was nice of them to take the time to tell me this.

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

Tomorrow, a look at the other lagoon at Tanah Merah.

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