11 August 2013

Wet recce trip at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal

Despite the ferocious wet weather, a brave team of volunteers gathered for a recce walk at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
With a happy crab drawn by Chay Hoon!
We saw all kinds of interesting animals including a fish we haven't seen before.


The day began ominously with red swathes of rain sweeping over the entire Singapore! This is a great example of a Sumatras squall, an angry wall of wind and water sweeping over the Malay peninsula! More about these awesome storms in my earlier blog post.
The team is not deterred, although we did postpone the start of the trip as it was too dangerous to drive and travel in such heavy rain. We arrived at the Terminal later, but it was still raining heavily. Never mind! A good excuse to lim kopi and eat some greasy snacks. Soon, the rain eased to a mizzle (miserable drizzle). There wasn't any lightning, so we headed off to the shore. To get to the shore, access is OUTSIDE the fence of the Ferry Terminal near the main gates and bus stop.
The new blue signboard and yellow-and-black bollards mark the start of the path outside the fence of the Terminal.
Ruth catches up with us as we head along the well trodden path outside the fence.
Another new blue signboard marks the start of the seawall.
Here's a look at the artificial shore: a long seawall that encloses a sandy lagoon where seagrasses have naturally settled.
It's not safe to climb down the seawall as it's slippery at the bottom where the sea covers it at high tide. So we head to the end of the seawall near the forested area. Marked by another blue signboard.
It's safer to climb down the seawall where the plants start growing on it. But we still have to be careful not to step on the litter that accumulates on the high water mark as broken glass and sharp metal and nails might be hidden among them. A safe path through the litter should be cleared before the walk. Jianlin was already on the shore and had waited for us much earlier!
Our first stop is the amazingly large patch of Smooth ribbon seagrasses (Cymodocea rotundata). It is listed as Critically Endangered in Singapore and so far, I've only seen it at Chek Jawa and Cyrene Reef.
Oh dear, there is still oil sheen on this shore. And digging a little near this spot, there is black sand under the seemingly clean sand. During the massive oil spill in 2010, lots of crude oil ended up on the shore and over the years got buried beneath the sand. There was also another smaller oil spill that washed up here in July, last month.
We then head down to where the rest of the team have collected marine life in buckets for us to have a quick look before the animals are returned. We have found this is the best way to allow ordinary people to have a look, without trampling the shore or risking stepping on stonefish. Wow, what's in the first bucket?
It's a recently dead Long-spined black sea urchin (Diadema sp.)! My first time seeing it here at Tanah Merah! This sea urchin has spines that can poke painfully, so it's important not to handle them. Even dead ones.
And here's another special find which is very hard to spot ...
It's a fish that is very flat, a flatfish! It is a Large-toothed flounder (Family Paralichthyidae). The fish begins life like most other fishes with eyes on both sides of the head. As it develops, one eye rapidly moves so both eyes end up on one side of the body and the fish lies flat on the ground! Here's diagrams of this.
Pei Yan explains the next special find: a dead squid (Family Loliginidae). We often see live squids here but at night. During the day, most animals hide, except for dead animals of course.
Since the squid is already dead, Pei Yan decides to conduct an autopsy so we can have a closer look at what goes on inside a squid. Something had already eaten the tentacles of the squid but its huge eyes were still there.
All the black stuff is the ink that squids (and octopuses and cuttlefishes) can produce to confuse enemies. When the ink sac is broken all the ink comes out. As mums who prepare squid for dinner know.
And inside the squid is its stiff but transparent 'bone'. We also found eggs in the squid. Many squid die after they lay eggs. Gracia is very calm about the dissection and not freaked out at all. Here she is examining the bone. Chay Hoon also finds some cuttlefish bones which are entirely different.
Sean also shares stories about Nerite snails (Family Neritidae). These marble-shaped snails may look alike but there are often different species living on the same shore. He explains how those that live lower down on a rock can cling on more firmly. This is because he has done a study on them in school. The study suggests this is probably because these snails have to put up with stronger waves, than snails that live higher up on the rocks.
Pei Yan also tells stories about some intriguing sand collars made by moon snails. They do look like elaborate sand art!
Mum Wei Gene takes a photo of Gracia who looks elegant despite the wet weather.
Yik Hiang and her son Jun Yuan came much later so Pei Yan repeated the squid autopsy which they missed.
Chay Hoon finds a tiny Soldier crab (Dotilla sp.)!
There are lots of these cute crabs on the sandy shore leaving typical balls of sand after they process the sand for edible bits.
Pei Yan has also found some Common sea stars (Archaster typicus)! They survived the oil spill! We gently look at their underside to see their spines, tubefeet and mouth and watch as they turn themselves over. We should not do this more than once as it takes a lot of energy for the sea star to do this.
Gracia has found a Horn-eyed ghost crab (Ocypode cerathophthalmus) buried in the sand! It looks a little surprised when I gently unearthed it.
Jun Yuan had a look a it before it soon buried itself back into the sand.
Gracia also spotted this tiny Striped hermit crab (Clibanarius infraspinatus) that had just moulted! The team also gathered other moults. We also had a look at Moon crabs (Asthoret lunaris).
Jun Yuan and Gracia spotted a little fish that looks just like a dead leaf! Pei Yan manages to catch is so we can have a closer look at it.
It's a baby Brown sweetlips (Plectorhinchus gibbosus) which is sometimes seen on our reefy shores. We return the fish and other creatures after we have a look at them.
Chay Hoon found this funny fish with a 'beard'. It may look like the Brown sweetlips, but it's quite different. We haven't seen anything like this before. Soon, she shared that it has be identified as a young Sicklefish (Drepane sp.). Wow, I really do see something new everytime I visit a shore, no matter how many times I go for shore trips!
All too soon, the tide turned and we had to leave this shore. It may appear dead and lifeless at first glance, but a closer look reveals all kinds of amazing marine life!
We carefully walk past all the litter as we head home.
Thanks to Chay Hoon, Pei Yan, Sean, Andy for being guides and finding things, and to Jianlin  and Ruth, Wei Gene and Gracia, Yik Hiang and Jun Yuan for being our 'visitors' and also finding so many interesting things and asking good questions.

Amazing marine life has settled on the artificial shores of Tanah Merah, including lots of hard corals and otters were also spotted here in June, just two months ago.
A reef of various hard corals is growing at the Ferry Terminal,
but it can only be seen at super low tide.
Hopefully, we can gather enough people to join us to remove all the litter on this shore. As well as have a look at the marvellous marine life that has settled here. I'm working out how we can do this soon, perhaps next month. I'll announce this date on facebook. My facebook stream is public so just subscribe to it to get updates on this and other wild news.

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