06 June 2012

Beting Bronok still beautiful

We visit Beting Bronok, a submerged reef on our Northern shore, once a year. Just to see how it's doing.
This morning, I was delighted to see that Beting Bronok is still very much alive. Some parts of the shore are thick with sponges and other colourful soft corals and cnidarians.

In some parts, the ground was so thickly encrusted, I just didn't step there to avoid squashing animals.
There are a bewildering variety of sponges in bright colours and strange shapes! It certainly is a sponge paradise.
Not all the sponges are immobile! Today, I came across many well decorated Velcro crabs (Camposcia retusa). These crabs stick all kinds of living things on their velcro-like hooked hairs on their legs and bodies. They are hard to spot until they move! Russel took some video clips of them. A photo doesn't do justice to their superb disguise. I also came across some large Sponge crabs (Family Dromiidae).
But the most amazing crab find were these tiny decorator crabs with long skinny legs. They were decorated with living hydroids! I have no idea how Jocelyne and Chay Hoon can spot them!
For me, it was Sea Anemone Day. My first special find, this icky slimy looking thing. It's an Alicia sea anemone (Alicia sp.)!
This is what the sea anemone looks like when it's submerged in water. It is reputed to have a very nasty sting, not only on its long sticky tentacles, but also along the body column with is armed with serious looking bumps probably seething with stingers.
How nice to see the rather scary looking Haekel's anemone (Actinostephanus haeckeli). This one was blackish with greenish tinges. Sam saw several all black ones too.
James found a green one! Hurray! We saw one like this too at Pulau Sekudu recently, and at Chek Jawa some time ago. Dr Daphne is interested in this so it's great to finally get a closer look at one.
There were also many Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni), some with tiny anemone shrimps, and one with a pair of Five-spot anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis). There were also many Glass anemone (Dofleinia sp.), and poor Rene got stung by one. Fortunately, the pain went away by the time we arrived back on the mainland. There were also some Swimming anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichi).
It was nice to see many tiny to medium-sized hard coral colonies. There were several Pore corals (Porites sp.), both the boulder-shaped ones and those with bumps. I only saw one colony that was bleaching.
It was nice to see other kinds of hard corals too: Boulder sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.), Neat hexa coral (Pseudosiderastrea tayami) and Favid coral (Family Faviidae).
There were many large Pink flowery soft corals and Ball flowery soft corals. These are homes to many tiny animals from False cowrie snails (Family Ovulidae) to shrimps, porcelain crabs and white snapping shrimps -- often found in a pair.
I saw several sea pens: flowery sea pens (Family Veretillidae), Common sea pen (Pteroides sp.) and Slender sea pen (Virgularia sp.). As usual, tiny Painted porcelain crabs (Porcellanella picta) can be found in some of them.
The dominant cnidarian on Beting Bronok remain zoanthids, mostly Button zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.). These animals carpet vast stretches of the shore

Beting Bronok like many of our Northern shores are an echinoderm paradise. Today, I only saw one Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) and it was standing on its toes, a sign that it's preparing to spawn! There were many Biscuit sea stars (Gonodiscaster scaber) large and small. I saw one Cake sea star (Anthenea aspera), one Red scaly sea star (Nepanthia sp.). The rest of the team saw Painted sand stars (Astropecten sp.) and the Spiny sea star (Gymnanthenea laevis).
How nice to see several feather stars today. I saw one black-and-white one and many blue ones. This is great because on our trip last year, we didn't see any feather stars!
It was good to see a variety of sea urchins too. Several Thorny sea urchin (Prionodidaris sp.), some with slender spines, others with thicker spines. Several White sea urchins (Salmacis sp.) and one Black sea urchin (Temnopleurus sp.). I also saw a wide variety of sea cucumbers: Orange sea cucumbers, Thorny sea cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis), and Purple sea cucumber.
There are many stinging hydroids on this shore. In one, I saw a mama cuttlefish had laid her bunch of egg capsules, black with ink. I could see the tiny babies developing inside the capsules!
There were lots and lots of gianormous  Black spotted flatworms (Acanthozoon sp.), and I saw one Olive flatworm.
There were lots of fishes in the murky pools. I saw plenty of rabbitfishes (Family Siganidae), filefishes (Family Monacanthidae) and this fish that looks like a little grouper (Family Serranidae).
I only saw one small octopus, it was hiding in its burrow pretending to be just another little pebble.
There were many Onyx cowries (Cypraea onyx) on the shore. Mei Lin also found some other kinds of cowries. Sam saw the Baler snail (Melo melo), and Marcus the Noble volute (Cymbiola nobilis). Large Fan shell clams (Family Pinnidae) are still seen today, often festooned with living encrusting marine life.
There were tiny slumps of Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis)!
Just before dawn, two men arrived on a small boat. One of them was carrying a small bucket. I asked what he was looking for and he said 'Gong-gong' a common edible snail. That's odd, because this snail is more abundant on shores like Changi.
At sunrise, a broader view of the sponge-dotted shore! Compared to our trip last year, I get the sense that the shore is slightly better.
Some parts of Beting Bronok remind me of its original glorious state in 2003, when I took this photo.
Beting Bronok: our last northern reef
Colourful marine life at Beting Bronok in 2003.
But still missing are the wondrous variety of sea fans (Order Gorgonacea) that used to grow here. I only saw one small sea fan today.
Sea fan garden at Beting Bronok, Jun 04.
Hopefully they will return as sea fans are common even on Changi shores. But lost forever probably are the wonderful Sunflower mushroom corals (Heliofungia actiniformis) and other corals that we used to see here.

It was good to see that Beting Bronok remains alive and full of fascinating creatures. But to me, it remains a shadow of the way it was before reclamation started nearby. It has since also been affected by the flooding that led to mass deaths at Chek Jawa in 2007, and the coral bleaching in 2010 and a ferry ran aground on Beting Bronok in Jul 2011. And will Beting Bronok be affected by plans to develop massive petrochemical and port facilities at nearby Pengerang, Johor? Here's some old photos of marine life at Beting Bronok. We can only hope for the best for this wonderful reef on our Northern shore.

The rest of the team saw lots more that I missed, including of course, many nudibranchs, fishes and other interesting creatures!

Posts by others on this trip
  • Russel with seahorse, slugs, stars and more.
  • James with super close ups of all kinds of critters.
  • Mei Lin with waspfish, slugs, stars.
  • Sam with a bonanza of beauties.
  • Rene a stinging experience and other more pleasant encounters.
  • Jocelyne with more finds.
  • Pei Yan with explanation of Venus transit day and more sightings.

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