20 August 2012

Mission seahorse at Sisters Island

Hurray, we found a lovely pair of seahorses at Sisters Island today. These animals blend perfectly among the seahorse shaped branches of sponges!
This was the primary mission today, and I was relieved to find them early in the trip.

Paul Erftemeijer joined us today for our little field trip to Sisters Island. This is my third attempt to show him live seahorses on Singapore shores. So it was great to find them! The curse is lifted!
And we found yet another of these Tiger-tail seahorses (Hippocampus comes) later on in the trip! Phew. Now if Paul would come when the tide is low enough, we can show him the seahorses among seagrasses at Changi.

We also met a rather friendly Burrowing snake eel (Pisodonophis crancrivorous). It was calmly foraging and ignored us even though we came quite close to it. Unlike true eels, which belong to a different family, burrowing eels have pectoral fins, and a sharp tail. Here's more on how to tell apart snakes, eels and other long fishes. Paul spotted several Fringe-eyed flatheads (Cymbacephalus nematophthalmus), as well as many other kinds of reef fishes. Fortunately no one encountered Mr Stonefish today.

These fishes seem to love eating octopuses. And there are lots of them on the shore, although they are very well camouflaged.

I was glad to have a chance to show Paul the 'Nemo' or False clown anemonefishes (Amphiprion ocellaris) living happily in the Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea). Paul also spotted a pair of anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis). Later on, we saw one large Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) on the high shore. And everyone saw many Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.) in various patterns.

I was astonished to find a File clam (Lima lima) quite high up on the shore. It was quite lively, swimming by clapping its valves together, with its pretty pink tentacles extended.

Earlier on, I found another File clam that it seems different (photos in the right column). It has much shorter tentacles which don't have bands, and as Ivan pointed out, the shell looks a little different. It isn't as active as the one with the long red tentacles. And it has a long narrow foot, which sticks far out from the shell and immediately attempted to lay down byssus threads.

I had a brief look at the corals here, and most seemed alright, I didn't come across any that were bleaching. As usual, there were many Pore corals (Porites sp.) and Favid corals (Family Faviidae). I also saw Brain corals (Family Mussidae), Thin disk coral (Turbinaria sp.),  Crinkled sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.), Lettuce coral (Pavona sp.) and Circular mushroom corals (Family Fungiidae). The big Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) were doing alright. But I didn't see the Brain anchor coral (Euphyllia ancora) that I saw on my last trip here in May 2012. I also didn't see any Cauliflower corals (Pocillopora sp.). Many of the corals had Fan worms (Family Sabellidae) growing on them. We also came across several small colonies of Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) of various kinds.
We also came across a cluster of these mysterious animals which look like sea anemones but which might be corallimorphs instead. We'll have to wait until Dr Daphne has a look at them to be sure. I last had a closer look at these at Terumbu Pempang Tengah last month.
I came across commonly seen nudibranchs like the pink-spotted Phyllidiella nigra and the blue blobbed Phyllidiella pustulosa. But Paul saw a pair of mating Gymnodoris rubropapulosa! He also saw several Ornate leaf slugs (Elysia ornata) .
Although the reef edges are still clear, Sargassum is blooming in the middle of the lagoon. We came across a bunch of squid eggs in some Sargassum. Hairy green seaweed (Bryopsis sp.) was also abundant on the shore today.
These blobs under a rock, however, are probably not eggs. They look like tiny bubble-like ascidians. See the two orange-ringed holes? Hmm, I must try to find out more about these.
Kok Sheng and Ivan explored a different part of the island and found feather stars (Class Crinoidea)! These pretty animals are relatives of sea stars and sea urchins.
Here's more feather stars! They found about five different patterned ones. But we can't really be sure if they are different species until the experts have a closer look at them.
Feather stars have super tiny feeding tentacles on their feathery arms, with tiny tentacles down the channels in the middle of the 'feather'. This is how they gather teeny food particles and transfer these to the mouth in the centre.
Some of the feather stars had worm-like commensals clinging on their arms. These commensals match their host perfectly! James Koh took some great photos of these feather star commensals on our trip last year.
The team also found some lively Scintilla clams (Family Galeommatidae). Although they are bivalves, they behave more like snails, with a long foot, tentacle-like protrusions from their fleshy mantle. And they can hop around quite rapidly!
Of course, there were lots more exciting sightings and I'm sure the rest of the team will share them soon.

This is our last morning low tide trip for the year as the tide switches soon to evening lows. It's been exhausting but exciting. We're taking a break for September and October, our trips will resume in November. We finally get some sleep after months of self-inflicted jet lag!

But I'll try to do trips to the mangroves in September, before the exciting Northern Expedition of the Mega Marine Survey starts in October.

Posts by others on this trip
  • Pei Yan with great seahorse shots, fishies, flatworms and double octopus, also on her blog.
  • Kok Sheng with an underwater glimpse of corals, feather stars and more. 
  • Jose on facebook with more seahorses, corals and other marine life.

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