15 July 2011

Moonlight trip to Cyrene

It's 3.30am and we're off to visit Cyrene under the light of the full moon! We see so much more on a night trip as marine creatures are more active and less wary.
My favourite sighting of the day is this tiny juvenile Batfish (Family Ephippidae) among the seagrasses!

Cyrene has awesome seagrass meadows, reefs and sandy shores. The most obvious animal on the seagrass meadows today were big fat Forskal's sidegill slugs (Pleurobranchus forskali). I saw a lot of them! Many were laying ruffled white egg ribbons.
The big fat slugs were particularly concentrated where there were carpets of Green gum drop ascidians. Do the slugs eat these ascidians? There were also several slugs in pairs. Are they mating? I tried and couldn't see any special bits poking into one another. These slugs have gills on one side, hence their common name of 'sidegill slugs'.
In a bunch of sea grape seaweeds (Caulerpa racemosa), I saw suspicious fluffy things. These are the Bushy sap sucking slugs (Polybranchia orientalis). These slugs are more commonly seen on our Northern shores, it's my first time seeing them on the Southern shores.
The only real nudibranch I saw was this Discodoris boholiensis which is quite commonly seen on our shores. The rest of the team saw more nudis, of course.
This little cutie is the Pygmy squid (Idiosepius sp.) that doesn't get any bigger. It has a 'glue-gun' on its butt, used to stick itself to the underside of seagrasses where it stays safe from currents and predators while lurking for tiny prey.
I saw these flatworms today. The one on the left is probably the Starry flatworm (Pseudobiceros stellae) while the one on the right I have yet to figure out and is probably the one I call the Olive flatworm. I haven't seen this at Cyrene before.
There were lots and lots of White sea urchins (Salmacis sp.) today. Some were gathered in large clusters. I also saw some tiny ones.
These wormy looking things are Synaptid sea cucumbers (Family Synaptidae). I came across several in the seagrass meadows.
Although it looks boring, the Garlic bread sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra) plays an important role in promoting healthy seagrass growth by burrowing through the ground and introducing nutrients into the ecosystem. It was good to see many large ones today in the meadows. Perhaps in the daytime they are buried so I don't see them?
I was about to plunge into deeper water when I noticed patches of murkiness. Oops, Blue-spotted fantail rays (Taeniura lymma) were mucking about. Perhaps they are feeding? This is another reason to watch our step and avoid murky waters.
I briefly checked the reefs near the beacon and at the western tip. I didn't see many live hard coral colonies. But there were many Favid corals (Family Faviidae), mostly medium sized colonies, that were healthy looking.
I saw a few medium sized Flowery disk corals (Turbinaria sp.) and one medium sized Anemone coral (Goniopora sp.). I also saw many small to medium-sized colonies of Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae).
There were many medium-sized to large Pore corals (Porites sp.) that looked perfectly healthy. I often wonder though, why they grow in a ring? This one has another colony inside the ring. Hmm...
There was this tiny fish clinging to a living hard coral. I have no idea what it is.
There were many healthy and happy Asparagus soft corals (Family Nephtheidae). Some of them had tiny colourful brittle stars (Ophiothela danae) in them! A back-breaking challenge to photograph.
Today I noticed porcelain crabs in the Asparagus soft corals too!
Nightime is a great time to spot the lovely large reef octopus.
Crabs are very lively at night! Some of saw Mosaic crabs (Lophozozymus pictor) the most poisonous crab in Singapore, and it's relative, also toxic, the Red egg crab (Atergatis integerrimus). There were many colourful Swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) and I saw one Flower crab (Portunus pelagicus) that looked like it had just finished moulting out of its old shell.
I didn't see too many other kinds of fishes today. The fish in the top photo is probably some kind of Emperor (Family Lethrinidae). I saw one small Carpet eel-blenny (Congrogadus subducens) and several False scorpionfishes (Centrogenys vaigiensis). Once again, as we were leaving, Andy spots a sand diver (Family Trichonotidae). It was stranded and quite dead.
How nice to see a small 'Nemo' or False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) in a small Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). Dr Daphne shared a lot about anemonefishes and how they settle into an anemone and what happens when 'Mom' anemonefish dies in her public lecture.
There were several Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) too, some with a pair of Five spot anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis). Anemones make great homes if you have a way not to get stung by them.
The clean sandy shore of Cyrene is full of life. Among the special animals that can be found here is this large Olive snail (Family Olividae). So far I've only seen this kind of Olive snail on Cyrene. Other animals include lots of Common sea star (Archaster typicus) and Cake sand dollars (Arachnoides placenta). Shao Wei found the Grey bonnet snail (Phalium glaucum) that appears to eat sand dollars!
As I met up with the rest of the team at sunrise, James and Geraldine have found two Pentaceraster sea star (Pentaceraster mammilatus)! I haven't seen these for a long time. I wonder if they are both the same kind of sea star. Wow, so much more still to learn about our shores. Shao Wei also found a Cushion sea star (Culcita novaeguineae).
Of course, there are lots of Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) on Cyrene. So much so I focus only on the small ones and funny looking ones. On the top row, the smallest ones I could find. According to the Star Trackers, "the presence of juveniles, subadults and adults indicated that there is a healthy level of recruitment at Cyrene Reef. This habitat may be the only sustainable population of knobbly seastars left in Singapore today". On the bottom row is a Knobbly with few knobs, is it a grown up Nudistarré -- the Knobbly sea star adopted by the Naked Hermit Crabs? Knobblies usually have five arms, but there are some with six!
Throughout the night, we could hear the groaning and grumbling of dredging going on right next to Cyrene.
A recent Port Marine Notice had outlined the area in red for 24/7 dredging next to Cyrene Reef until Aug 2011.

Sunrise with Dredger. Sigh.
All too soon, the tide turned and it was time to leave this submerged reef!
This predawn trip to Cyrene went a lot better than the one in March when we got wiped out by rain! Thanks as usual to Alex and Jumari for taking us out and bringing us home safely.

On the way home, there's MORE coastal works near Cyrene. This is the massive reclamation for the new Pasir Panjang Container Terminal which includes dredging and underwater blasting too. In addition, there are also plans to reclaim the portion of Jurong Island near Cyrene Reef.
I was astounded at the progress of the construction at Berlayar Creek for the boardwalk. The humungous steel girders pounded into the shore seems to only be to allow the huge machinery to construct a much narrower boardwalk! Berlayar shore was quite rich, so much so that we even conducted guide training here last year!
Here's a closer look at the wide, huge, rusting steel girder structure supporting heavy machinery, and the more slender grey structure that looks like the boardwalk itself. Earlier media reports on the boardwalk assured that "construction work would be carried out carefully to ensure that the ecosystem would not be affected". Having seen boardwalks being sensitively constructed on shores like Chek Jawa and Sungei Buloh, I'm quite surprised at the massive scale of the work on this boardwalk.
This is why I feel it is important to document and survey all our shores as often as we can. We never know when they may be impacted, and whether they will recover after the impact.

Tomorrow morning, another crazy early trip, this time to Kusu Island.

More about Cyrene Reef!

Posts by others on this trip
  • Shao Wei on facebook with many special creatures that I missed finding.
  • James with tiny unknown anemones, strange moon snail and more.

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