08 December 2008

Crazy Cnidarians: more fun at the nature guides' workshop

A huge turnout of very sporting nature guides gathered to discuss 'easy' cnidarians.Squishy and stingy, we covered the jellyfish and relatives that don't make hard skeletons. Who knew they could be such fun?!

These workshops are organised by November of the Leafmonkey Workshop and are open to everyone from all groups. So it was a great chance to meet guides from all over Singapore, as well as people who are thinking of becoming guides.First order of the day was to think up of team names, appropriate to the theme of cnidarians of course.

I gave a brief introduction to Cnidarians and some of their basic properties.

We had quite a lively discussion sharing ouch experiences of stings, and how best to deal with stings. Being stung is basically like getting pregnant. Quite easy to avoid. But once it happens, there's not much you can do and it sometimes involves going to the hospital. Abstinence is the best way to avoid stings (and pregnancy), but if you must take the risk, wear protection. Cover all skin when exploring in water. And once stung, never use freshwater as these trigger off more stingers to fire. And peeing on stings is NOT a good idea either as the pee of most people (unless severely dehydrated) is probably mostly freshwater.

Then it was off to brainstorm ways to share cnidarians in a fun and meaningful way to ordinary visitors. Going through some basic information, we thought up ways to make them relevant and fun. Through analogies and jokes with a message. It was not easy, but everyone came up with quite novel approaches.
Some of the messages were stomach-churning, and the jokes were really hilarious! Analogies suggested also really helped ordinary people connect with these odd and unfamiliar animals.

Then it was time for the fun part of the workshop where everyone created their fantasy cnidarians.We really went crazy making weird animals.I wasn't quite sure how this one would assemble into a cnidarian...Everyone pitched in with ideas and creativity.Lots of hands and heads make for a wacky creation.
While thought had to be put into explaining how the animal ate and defends itself from predators.

And the results...
This odd, double ended cnidarian is man-eating! And studded with giant stingers.
This leafy sea pen is defended by purple commensals.This seemingly innocent small cnidarian has fierce invisible tentacles that go up to here, Ivan shows.And to defend itself from a marauding nudibranch, its hidden commensal emerges from under the oral disk -- the dreaded Clown Shark comes to the rescue and gobbles up the offending slug.Meanwhile the placid looking sweet-lips anemone is also home to various commensals.Most of the anemone is buried underground, as illustrated here (see arrow pointing to body column). Amazing!And then there is the Decoy cnidarian that dares the inquisitive to come annoy it. Whereupon hyperactive disturbers will be stung and eaten. It comes in various languages.July illustrates how a sea turtle might attempt to eat it and come to an unhappy end as it becomes Turtle wrap.We sure had a great time thanks to the sporting participation of all the guides. It was particularly heartening to meet so many new faces as well as old friends. I'm looking forward to the next session.

The next session is on hard corals, which are also cnidarians but quite bewildering. Jeffrey Low, who is a Real Scientist, conducts this session. He is the scientific officer of Blue Water Volunteers and Hard Coral Master (see his flickr coral guide). He is also co-author of the Guide to Common Marine Fishes of Singapore. So please come if you've always wanted to figure out our hard corals. Jeff will also do a session about our fishes too!

9 Jan (Fri). 7pm - 10pm
The Hard (Not Soft) Cnidarians Workshop

6 Feb (Fri). 7pm - 10pm
The Fishy Workshop

More details on the Leafmonkey Workshop.
Join the Leafmonkey Workshop Facebook group for updates of upcoming workshops.
Or the Leafmonkey Workshop mailing list for email updates.

If you are a diver and have always wanted to help out underwater, Jeff is also conducting a series of ReefFriends training sessions in December.

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