09 April 2012

Giant clams at Terumbu Pempang Tengah

Another predawn trip, this time with the Giant Clam team to check out Terumbu Pempang Tengah, a submerged reef near the refineries on Pulau Bukom. We arrive well before dawn and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise.
Thankfully, we found Clams! Also a lovely patch of rich reefs, and lots of amazing marine life!


'Tengah' means middle in Malay and indeed it is in between two large submerged reefs. This is only our third time visiting the reef, our previous trips were in May 2011 and Jul 2010. There are so many shores and so few low tides that we often can only visit each of our spectacular reefs only once a  year!
We're here today to have a look at the wild Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa) found on our reefs. Mei Lin and Kareen are doing work to propagate these fascinating large animals and hopefully replenish the populations on our shores. Here Mei Lin (aka Giant Clam Girl) is sharing with Jose, who is now working as an intern at Straits Times and will be writing about her project. Look out for his article soon!
Here's a look at the smaller Giant clam that we first found, thanks to Chay Hoon who found it on a previous trip and who took GPS readings of its location.
Nearby, Marcus found another one! It was much bigger. We also decided to look for more Giant clams on this reef, and cover a portion of the huge reef that we have yet to properly explore.
Mei Lin found a Cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae) that has yet to reach its full Cushionhood. She shares that the ones she sees diving are almost spherical. It looks like a rock  from above and it's sea star features are more obvious when we look at the underside. Oh dear, when we turned this over, it sprung a leak with a jet of water streaming out of the side, where it ought not to. Hopefully, it will heal soon.
I'm not sure why, but today we saw a lot of stranded White rumped sea cucumbers (Actinopyga lecanora), identified by the white ring around their butts.
Mei Lin also pointed out this strange clam which reminds me of a geoduck. The squishy tubular leathery part emerging from the shell can grow quite long! I have no idea what it is.
Marcus showed me this beautiful Magnificent anemone (Heteractis magnifica). Alas, we couldn't find any anemone fishes in it.
The Magnificent sea anemones here have a brown body column and greenish tentacles. Elsewhere, they may have a lilac body column with purplish tentacles. I noticed more than ten of them on this shore today. I recall Dr Daphne said these anemones can multiply by cloning, that is why on a shore they may look very similar.
Kareen found a stranded eel-like fish and we helped it back to the water. I'm not too sure what it is. It might be a young Estuarine moray eel (Gymnothorax tile).
Another stranded fish was this pretty Diamond tuskfish (Halichoeres dussumieri). Ever since I got bitten trying to save one of these fishes I don't handle stranded fishes with bare hands anymore!
Mei Lin found a Heart cockle (Corculum cardissa)! We rarely see this strange bivalve.
Here's a closer look at the pretty clam. The opening or 'seam' in this bivalve shell is in the middle and not at the sides. It sure does look like a heart!
Marcus found a strange prawn with lots of spots. Here's a closer look at it. Marcus also took photos of it in the wild.
Marcus found a huge patch of Montipora corals (Montipora sp.)!
I was glad to see a medium sized Acropora coral (Acropora sp.) that was quite healthy and forming into a table. There were also many other stumpy branched ones, and several with ridges on the branches.
As usual, anticipating coral mass spawning over the next few days, I take a closer look at the polyps of the hard corals on the shore today. Seems all calm right now. Jose's article about the upcoming coral spawning is in today's Straits Times! Also listed on wildsingapore news. His article explains why this year's mass spawning event is particularly important.
Seagrasses grow sparsely here and there on the submerged reef. I'm glad to see long Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) that are not cropped short or bleaching. There were also sprinkles of small Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) on the sandy areas. And surprisingly, some Spoon seagrass with large leaves too. I also saw some patches of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii).
Mei Lin pointed out a very rich patch of corals! Jose and I scrambled to have a quick look at it before the tide turned.
This patch of reef is thick with hard and soft corals of all kinds and colours! It's so nice to see these large and healthy reef life.
Here's some snap shots of the amazing variety of corals found in this small patch.
The dark patch reflected in the water over the corals is a large plume of smoke emerging from the refineries on Pulau Bukom nearby.
Here's a look at the plume.
Here's a look at the cloud from further away, earlier in the morning just at dawn.
All too soon, the tide turned and it was time to pack up and go home. Here's the team, behind them the vast submerged reef of Terumbu Pempang Darat with the warning sign board of high voltage cables buried there. The wooded area on the horizon is Pulau Semakau. This area of our waters is designated for parking of large construction type vessels.
On the way back, we notice several large boats sunk in the channel between Terumbu Pempang Darat and Terumbu Pempang Laut!
The rest of the team saw lots of other interesting things including a sea horse, stingrays, strange cowries and more.

MORE predawn trips, tomorrow we head over to Kusu Island.

Update: Jose wrote a great article about Mei Lin's work on giant clams for the Straits Times!

Posts by others on this trip
  • Jose on facebook with lots of other sightings.
  • Mei Lin with MORE giant clams and other marine life.

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