12 January 2009

Mangroves and snake at Pulau Semakau

We're back with a team of vertebrate and mangrove specialists to find out more about Pulau Semakau for the Semakau Book Project.It was a gloomy start, not because of the long walk, but the threatening clouds.

In fact, the company was very cheery and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk in the cool afternoon, spotting shore birds and taking a closer look at the mangroves. Dr Jean Yong shared stories about the mangrove replanting at Pulau Semakau and pointed out many features of the regenerating mangroves that we had been oblivious to. Wow, the mangroves really come alive with Dr Yong's stories.

I stayed on with Dr Yong and the Mangrove Team during this trip, so I missed the happenings with Subaraj and the Verters as well as Kok Sheng on the shores. But I'm sure we'll read about these soon on the blogs.

Almost as soon as we arrived at the mangroves, Dr Yong pointed out the luxuriant and tall Lumnitzera littorea trees.
These trees with thick waxy spoon-shaped leaves and clusters of little red flowers are not often seen. On Pulau Semakau, there were several that were more than 8m tall! Dr Yong says this is one of the indicators of a good mangrove forest.

At the coastline Dr Yong spots a tree that he thinks is special.
Real Botanists have snazzy telescoping cutters that can reach way way up to snip off a sample for identification. Isn't that cool?! And Shufen is using the GPS to record its location.This is what the leaves look like. Alas, there were no fruits of flowers, which helps in identification. Could this be something new? For Pulau Semakau? For Singapore? We won't know until the experts have a look at it.

Meanwhile, as we were running through the mosquito infested forest, Dr Yong pointed out a humungous Pong-pong tree in the forest (Cerbera odollam). He says it's the biggest one he's seen so far. Wow. We never looked up when negotiating the treacherous slippery tracks thick with mosquitos.

And again, Dr Yong find an even more special kind of Pong-pong tree right where we have been walking up and and down countless times.It's a stretch of several Cerbera manghas! There were at least 20 mature trees about 5-7m tall! Dr Yong considers the population on Pulau Semakau as viable and believes this is the largest population of these special trees! He says this is another indicator of a high quality natural coastal forest.
Cerbera manghas is identified by the pink blush in the middle of the white flower. They are indeed very beautiful. We are very excited. How could we have missed these tall trees?Probably because we were always looking down at this part of the coastline. To watch out for the tricky shores and to look for the Seashore bat lily (Tacca leontopetaloides). I snuck in again to take more photos of this rare plant.Dr Yong also points out the presence of the more delicate species of Mangrove fern (Acrostichum speciosum), which is another indicator of a good mangrove forest.

We also shared this pretty tree that we've seen before. Dr Yong is most delighted! He confirms it is Ceriops tagal.He points out that the tree is quite tall and the trunk is relatively thick. From this he estimates it is probably more than 60 years old. He notes that it is well formed and in an unusual location. We all agree it is a very pretty tree and spend lots of time just admiring it even though the mosquitos were biting.The bright green leaves were interspersed with little star-shaped flowers.Dr Yong points out the white portion of the propagule (top left photo). This is an identifying feature to look out for if we want to be sure that it is Ceriops tagal. The flowers are small.

Dr Yong is very excited to encounter so many indicators of a good mangrove and coastal forest on Pulau Semakau. And so are we!
When it was time to head back through the mozzie zone, Dr Yong whipped out more of this strange little plant that he showed us earlier at the jetty. It's a plant that the traditional people in Papua New Guinea use to ward off mosquitos. The tiny little fruits release a pungent and strange smell (not annoying, just strange). We rub it all over ourselves and into our hair and everything. And I do say, for me, it WORKS!! No mozzies! Wow! Although after that, I did smell strange. Dr Yong shared that this plant is hard to grow and that it was only discovered by tapping the traditional knowledge of the natives. Plants are indeed mysterious, magical and marvellous.

And just as I came through the forest path, Subaraj had found a little wolf snake!It's such a beautiful little animal! Only Subaraj could have found it.Here's a closer look at the snake. WOW!

The search for Avicennia marina with Dr Yong is in an entirely separate post, as well as the other botanical gems he shared about our mangroves and coastal plants at Pulau Semakau.
Aside from a small break in the weather, it was mostly mizzling (miserable drizzle) or outright rain during the trip. But the marvellous finds, learning opportunities and joyful company made it so enjoyable.

Thank you everyone for another wonderful trip to Pulau Semakau.

Kok Sheng shares more marvellous encounters of seahorse, anemones, nudis and stars during the trip, on his wonderful creations blog.


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