16 June 2014

Beting Bronok still slowly dying

It was good to see sponges and colourful marine life on Beting Bronok, our last submerged reef in the North.
Alas, during our annual visits over the last decade we notice that the reef seems to be dying a slow death.

It was a relief to see a variety of sponges here after we noticed a severe lack of sponges at Chek Jawa and Pulau Sekudu recently.
There were a wide variety of colourful sponges in various shapes.
There were many many Ball flowery soft corals, most of the colonies were small. I only saw a few small Pink flowery soft corals and didn't see other kinds of flowery soft corals.
There are usually pair of white snapping shrimps in the Ball flowery soft coral. Here's one hanging out as the coral was exposed at low tide.
It was nice to see some hard corals. There were small patches of Neat hexa coral and Zebra corals. As well as small colonies of Pore corals.
I only saw these two with pale patches suggesting coral bleaching.
There were many many Swimming anemones today. I saw one Frilly anemone, several Glass anemones, and one Snaky anemone that seemed to be rather pale. There were also many Haddon's carpet anemones and I didn't see any that were bleaching. The rest of the team saw many Haekel's anemones. I only saw one Common cerianthid.
I didn't see many sea fans. A few small Candelabra sea fans, two small Gnarled sea fan and one small Skinny sea fan.
The hydroids are still abundant here. Many orange fern-like hydroids but I couldn't find any nudibranchs in them. Also many Candy hydroids although most of them were heavily covered in epiphytes. Lots of large 'bushes' of stinging hydroids. Sheltering among their deadly fronds were transparent shrimps which I can only find when I look at my photos at home! Chay Hoon looked and looked and couldn't find the nudibranchs that are usually found there.
Beting Bronok is the only place so far where I often see this lovely red-and-white Slender sea pen. There were also some Spiky sea pen, and a few flowery sea pens.
The only nudibranch I found was this Bornella. I also saw one Hairy sea hare. But the rest of the team found many other kinds, the nudis only appearing just as we were getting ready to leave!
I saw this small Bartail flathead, many filefishes (Family . There were also many small gobies.
Russel showed me this seahorse that we found sheltering in a small pool.
There were a lot of Onyx cowries everywhere. And a few small Noble volutes.
Russel found a medium sized Baler snail which had in its clutches, a Noble volute. The Bailer snail is only regularly encountered on Beting Bronok and it is a ferocious predator.
There were many many small octopuses stranded all over the shore. This little one was fortunately in a pool of water.
I saw many Biscuit sea stars, some were very large. I also saw a few Painted sand stars. The rest of the team saw a Spiny sea star, many Red scaly sea stars, but only one Knobbly sea star was seen. We also only saw one Knobbly sea star last year.
I only saw one Blue feather star.
There were still many Thorny sea urchins, although they were very well camouflaged with encrustrations on their spines. I only saw one White sea urchin. I also a few Orange sea cucumbers, two Thorny sea cucumbers, a few Purple sea cucumbers and some Ball sea cucumbers.
The only flatworm we saw were many large Spotted black flatworms. There were some Swimming crabs. Juria and Marcus found a Mud shrimp.
I realised there are actually very few rocks and rubble on Beting Bronok as I trip to flip them to look for critters. Most of the clusters were actually sponges embedded in the gravelling ground. Fan shell clams are also an important anchoring point. As this dead uprooted clam shows. There were many living Fan shell clams stuck in the ground.
I saw a few tiny sparse patches of Spoon seagrasses. But the rest of team saw more patches, some of them quite lush. Is the Beting changing from a rubbly shore to perhaps a more silty seagrassy one?
The field of Button zoanthids that were previously more confined to the middle of the Beting have spread significantly forming a thick carpet all over.
Many of the feathery, branching animals were coated with a slimy black hairy growth. Might be some kind of cyanobacteria or marine fungus? We observed the same growths during our survey last year.
There was a great deal more silt. Some of the sponges like this pretty orange one with leaf-like structures was almost completely covered with silt.
Although it was good to see sponges and other animals, thickly covering some parts of the shore...
Beting Bronok is no longer what it used to be. It's not even what it was just two years ago in 2012.
Colourful marine life at Beting Bronok in 2012.
Beting Bronok in 2012.
Here's what Beting Bronok looked like ten years ago in 2003.
Beting Bronok in 2003.
Beting Bronok in 2003.
There used to be a wondrous variety of sea fans.
Sea fans on Beting Bronok in 2004.
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.

Where is Beting Bronok? What is it's status and future?

Click on image for larger view.
When the 2030 landuse plan by the Ministry of National Developmentwas announced, it was also announced that Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum have been granted 'Nature Area' status. As I understand it, this status means the area "will be kept for as long as possible until required for development". Here's an earlier about 'Nature Area' status seem to mean.

It was good to see that Beting Bronok remains alive and full of fascinating creatures. But to me, it seems to be in steady decline since the reclamation started at nearby Pulau Tekong . 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. 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.

There are plans that may affect Beting Bronok a in the not too distant future. These include plans to locate at Pengerang Johor, a petrochemical complex that was rejected in Taiwan for environmental and health reasons.
At sunrise, we were only half way through the low tide.
I saw a fish trap. But none of us made it to that area so we couldn't check if it was still in use. We almost always see signs of fishing pressure on this reef on every survey.
Thanks to Chay Hoon for organising the trip. Our annual trips to Beting Bronok are bitter-sweet. Like visiting our favourite grandma and watching her painfully, slowly fade away. I feel privileged to have seen her at her best.

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