16 June 2011

The Sea Anemone Workshop 2011: Day 2

The day begins very early and very wet! Fortunately, the downpour with strong winds and massive lightning eased up well before the tide turned. It was still dark when Dr Daphne led us on a field exploration of St. John's Island for sea anemones.
It's amazing what marine life we can find, just a short distance from Singapore's main business district on the horizon!

Among the anemones we saw were many Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.) with branched tentacles and spots on its body.
We also saw several Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea). One of them had a 'Nemo' in it! But sneaky camera was too feeble to photograph it in the murky water.
Wow, we are introduced to this pretty spotted anemone which is found very high up the rocky shore. It is Anthopleura buddemeieri. Dr Daphne named this anemone after her husband who had found them in this most unlikely of tidal zones!
James managed to relocate the small strange anemone that he found a few months ago. At first glance it looks like the Pizza anemone (Cryptodendrum adhaesivum). To be sure, we need to take a closer look at it.
Also seen were Wriggly reef anemones which are very shy, the Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) in the seagrasses. Unfortunately we couldn't relocate the 'Hantuensis' anemone that James saw on St. John's Island earlier in the year. Perhaps the heavy rain earlier made them burrow deep into the soft silty ground where they live?

I've never before explored the outer edges of St. John's Island near the seawalls at super low tide. There are quite a few surprises there including some interesting hard corals! There were two large Tongue mushroom corals (Herpolitha sp.).
Another big surprise was to find a small Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus) on the seagrass meadows! We all immediately thought of Kok Sheng, who was braving the downpour and exploring our East Coast Park where he also found unexpectedly rich marine life!
We had a lot of fun searching for anemones and learning about them from Dr Daphne. I learnt a new word from Dr Daphne today: 'skunked'. Which is what happens when you fail to find your objective during a field trip. Fortunately, today, we were not skunked!
We eventually managed to explore quite a bit of the shore on this long low tide. On the horizon, are the Sisters Islands. We will be going there tomorrow for our field trip!
Dr Daphne also teaches us how to properly take care of the sea anemones after the field trip. As she rightly explains, we must treat the animals which gave up their lives for science with respect. We need to properly record as much as we can about them. We also set them up so that they can 'relax', in this way allowing proper description of all their parts for correct and accurate identification. We do this first thing after a field trip, before we clean ourselves up.
Dr Daphne patiently explains many of the tricky aspects of sea anemones.
It was soon time for Dr Daphne's first lecture of the day, more about Singapore anemones!
Among the many things she covered, Dr Daphne shows how her awesome Hexacorallians of the World website can tell us so much about our sea anemones!
Dr Daphne also has a modeling system that can help predict what anemones might possibly be found in Singapore! I find this very encouraging. Because many sea anemones are hidden or well camouflaged. And Dr Daphne is not always with us to uncover them. Hopefully, we can learn how to find more of our sea anemones on our own.
The exercise of the day is to try to use the Key to Identifying our sea anemones that Dr Daphne provided in her paper on the 16 species of anemones on the shores of Singapore. Everyone seems to be able to use it very well!
It can be quite tricky to differentiate sea anemones. For example, the Anthopleura buddemeieri that we saw this morning (here starting to relax nicely) looks very similar, at first glance, to ...
... the 'Strawberry' anemones (yet unidentified). This is why it is important to be meticulous and to take a really close look at the animals when trying to determine their identity correctly.
Tiny anemones may look similar at first glance. But a closer look reveals differences in patterns, like these ones with spots versus lines on the body column. Today, I learnt from Dr Daphne that differences in patterns are likely to be more significant than differences in colour. Of course, the only way to be sure is to look at the insides of a sea anemone.
Before we left, we have a look at James' strange anemone which is starting to relax. Dr Daphne still can't be sure what it is! Wow! Every day, we seem to find yet another intriguing anemone on our shores. There's still so much more to learn and find out!
We left the workshop early, while the full-time participants continued to learn more about studying sea anemones from Dr Daphne. Tomorrow, we rejoin them at Sisters Island!

Do try to catch Dr Daphne's "Sea Anemone Lecture"on 21 Jun (Tue) 7pm. It's free and all are welcome to attend. I've just received the abstract of her talk:
Hidden treasures of biodiversity: flowers of the marine world (sea anemones)

Nemo lived in a sea anemone. These animals, which look like harmless flowers, are actually carnivorous that can eat Nemo and other larger prey. My study of Singapore's sea anemone diversity over the past five years suggests that there about 50 shallow-water species and most of them undocumented until recently.

The sea anemone diversity in Singapore waters include one species that can swim and several that can sting humans. The diversity is so high that it was postulated that Singapore has more species of sea anemones than the entire west coast of north America!

In this talk, I will explore questions like: What allows clownfishes to live in such a hostile environment? What factors are responsible for Singapore having a greater diversity of sea anemones than any area its size anywhere in the world? Where else do sea anemones live? And what role do sea anemones play in nature?

The Sea Anemone Workshop is jointly organised by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the Tropical Marine Science Institute in conjunction with the National Parks Board, National Biodiversity Centre and their Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore.

Posts by others on this trip
  • James captures the indefatigable Dr Daphne at work today.

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