04 August 2012

Stars, snake, sharks at Beting Bemban Besar

We landed well before dawn on this huge submerged reef, and the tide was still high. Perfect for spotting sharks!
I also met a charming sea snake, saw lots of Knobbly sea stars and Cushion stars and corals and other amazing marine life!

It's been more than a year since we properly surveyed this shore in May 2011, although I made a brief trip here in Apr 2012 for giant clams. Beting Bemban Besar is an enormous submerged reef off Pulau Semakau. We can hardly cover a quarter of it during a low tide, so this time, we are heading out to a different part of the reef that we have yet to explore properly.The water was still high when we arrived, and it was dark. Plus wind ripples on the water surface, it was rather difficult to shoot from above water. So little Sneaky Swimming Camera takes the plunge and gets a glimpse of a flatworm  (Pseudobiceros uniarborensis) and a False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) in a Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). !
Soon the tide fell and we could get to work! One of the advantages of visiting a reef at night is that the fishes are less shy and it's easier to get good photos of them. This is a pretty Yellow banded damselfish (Dischistodus fasciatus). I also saw several Blue-spotted fantail rays (Taeniura lymma), while the rest of the team saw Black-tipped reef sharks.
I was delighted to meet with a Yellow-lipped sea snake (Laticauda colubrina)! I usually miss the sightings made by the rest of the team recently, so it was nice to have this snake all to myself. It was a medium sized one and was patiently checking out every nook and cranny in the reef. At one point even coming to check me out!
Just as I was about to follow the foraging sea snake, I noticed a pair of small octopuses seemingly entangled in one another. One had his tentacle stuck up another one which was smaller and had turned white, but with a wide black stripe along its head facing the bigger octopus!
I focused on them instead and noticed the other octopus had also put on black stripes on its face. I have no idea whether this is mating or some other octopus activity. There were a lot of octopuses out and about today.
This Gymnodoris rubropapulosa nudibranch seemed particularly common today as several of us saw them. This nudibranch eats other slugs!
How nice to see the Very hairy hermit crab (Dardanus lagopodes)! Those of these that I see are often very large. I have no idea why.
Today we headed for the 'Starry' part of the shore where in May 2010 I spotted clusters of large Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus). They were still there! But unlike at Cyrene Reef, we didn't spot any small Knobbly sea stars here.
There were also several Cushion star (Culcita novaeguineae) in the same area! They are often mistaken for rubble, especially when they are out of water, then looking squished and deflated. When we gently put them into a pool of water, their beautiful colours and patterns can be seen. Rene finally got to see one of these fascinating animals today.
All too soon it was sunrise! And a glorious one too. Today, I didn't see too much emissions emerging out of the refineries at Pulau Bukom until we left the shore.
With daylight, it was time to do the intertidal survey. Here's a slide show of the transects today. Along the way, I also checked the hard and soft corals for signs of coral bleaching. I did the reefy part of the shore, but at the mid-water mark. Kok Sheng went 'swimming' in the deeper end and saw far more spectacular stuff.
It's always nice to come across a cluster of Circular mushroom corals (Family Fungiidae). These look nice and big. But the hard coral in the top left corner of the photo is very pale.
I came across one Mole mushroom corals (Polyphyllia talpina) which seemed alright. And two small colonies of Bracket mushroom coral (Podobacia sp.) which seem a little pale.
I saw several Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora sp.) and several Crinkled sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.). All those I saw seemed healthy. These two species suffered very badly during the coral bleaching event.
I saw several Acropora corals (Acropora sp.) and they looked fine. There were also many Branching montipora coral (Montipora sp.) on the higher sandier parts of the shore and they too looked fine.
Also abundant on the shore were Anemone coral (Goniopora sp.) with their large long polyps as well as Small goniopora coral (Goniopora sp.). I also saw several different kinds of Disk corals (Turbinaria sp.).
There were also colonies of Brain coral (Family Mussidae), Galaxy coral (Galaxea sp.) and even two small colonies of Horn coral (Hydnophora exesa). There were also many colonies of Blue corals (Heliopora coerulea).
The most abundant hard corals were Pore corals (Porites sp.) and Favid corals (Family Faviidae). I didn't come across any that were bleaching. Although one or two had oddly coloured bands or spots.
There were many large Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) of all kinds on the shore, none of those I saw were bleaching. I didn't see many Asparagus soft corals (Family Nephtheidae) but those I saw seemed healthy.
As I was working, I noticed a small Tern was also working. It was hovering over the low water with its bill pointed down. It was possibly foraging for fish? This behaviour looks similar to the birds we saw hunting in deeper water near the Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal a week ago.
Some of us also spent a little time checking out what could be found under the dead corals and rocks on the shore. It's lively and colourful down there! So much more to discover and learn, and never enough low tides.
I also took a closer look at the spatula shaped clams that are often found on rocks. As I learnt from Dr Tan's Bivalve Workshop, they are not all from Family Malleidae. Some of them could instead be from the Family Isognomonidae, these have a series of several 'teeth' on the hinge of the clam which those from Family Malleida lack. But this is hard to check as the hinge is usually tucked deep in a crevice.
Kok Sheng found a Four-spot cowrie (Cypraea quadrimaculata) which is not often seen.
There are some areas on the reef with dense growths of seagrasses of various kinds. But almost all the seagrasses were heavily coated in a layer of hairy epiphytes.
This brown epiphyte also covered all kinds of seaweeds. Oh dear.
We also saw several broken fish traps, but Russel found and disabled a working one. Our beautiful submerged reefs do face challenges.

Sadly, all too soon, the tide turned and we had to hurry off the reef, spotting Black-tipped reef sharks in the incoming water. We probably won't be back here for many more months. I hope it will stay well until then.

Tomorrow another predawn trip, but much later at a more decent hour of 6am. Hurray, I can sleep in.

Posts by others on this trip
  • Rene on facebook with more 'Nemo', corals, Cushion stars; with video clips on the 'Nemo' and Gymnodoris nudibranch
  • Pei Yan with great shark shots, lots of Nemos, stars and more.
  • Russel on facebook part 1 coral overdose

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