10 May 2009

High on Hantu

Back for another early morning trip to the shore. This time to Pulau Hantu, and fortunately, spared from the weather that was performing with lights and sound on the mainland.
Among the first things Kok Sheng and I did, was to try to find the special Haekel's anemone (Actinostephanus haekeli) that Sam discovered on our earlier trip to Pulau Hantu. Kok Sheng of course found it! Bravo.

This sea anemone reminds me of Darth Vader for some reason. It sure looks like a hoodlum of an anemone that is Up to No Good and seems quite capable of hurting things badly. We sure didn't want to touch it!

Today I decided to check out the high shores and explore another lagoon. The rest went ahead to explore the usual reefs outside the sea wall (don't do this on your own and if you are not familiar with the tides).

I love going out at night because the animals are not only up and about, but also not shy at all. It's possible to come up very very close to critters such as fiddler crabs, that would vanish into a hole during the day before you can even get within 3m of them. This is a handsome male Orange fiddler crab (Uca vocans) with a humungous enlarged claw.

In the lagoon, there are lots of colourful animals.
Such as sponges. The Orange sprawling sponge I've only seen in large numbers on Pulau Hantu and Pulau Semakau. With some also seen on Cyrene Reef. Today I saw chunky ones on Hantu, instead of the usual long branching form.
Sponges provide shelter for all kinds of animals. Some, like these tiny brittle stars, even live INSIDE the sponge, sticking their tiny arms out of the holes in the sponge.
The lagoon is always submerged in water even at low tide and also has small hard corals of various kinds. Hard corals also provide shelter for all kinds of animals. Animals may hide under them, in crevices or among the branches of branching corals. But also ON them. The little brown ovals on the polyps of this hard coral are Acoel flatworms. The worms don't eat the hard coral. It is believed that they graze on the edible bits that get trapped in the mucus produced by the polyps.Here's an encrusting hard coral that looks pretty boring, until you take a really close look. It's a Montipora hard coral (Montipora sp.) with little bumps. The polyps look like tiny flowers among the bumps.It was only because I was looking so hard for the tiny polyps that I noticed other animals living IN this hard coral. These animals have burrowed into the coral and only their feathery bits or tentacles stick out of the hard coral.

Our shores are fascinating because animals live on animals! There's always something to find for those who are patient and observant.

As I head out to the other lagoon, I noticed lots and LOTS of Shadow gobies (Acentrogobius nebulosus) in the shallow pools.
I'm not sure why they are so abundant. Perhaps one reason is that these fishes are poisonous to eat. They contain tetrodotoxin (the same toxin found in pufferfishes) in their flesh and internal organs. In some places, they are called the Poisonous goby.There were also lots of tiny sea anemones on the high shore. I'm not sure if these are Banded bead anemones or something else altogether. I also came across one Common peacock anemone.
Also abundant in the lagoon and soft shores were Venus clams (Family Veneridae) in all kinds of patterns, as well as Window pane clams (Placuna sp.). And Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) too.

The other lagoon is also ringed with reefs, though these are not as spectacular as the reefs found outside the seawall.
Still, there were colourful corals.In various shapes and textures.
It was nice to come across several of these long mushroom corals. This one is the Mole mushroom coral (Polyphyllia talpina). Densely covered with short tentacles, it has a furry look. While some mushroom corals like the circular ones we saw yesterday at Sisters Island are considered solitary polyps, some consider the Mole mushroom coral to be a colony of many polyps as there are many little mouths all over the coral.This is probably the Tongue mushroom coral (Herpolitha sp.). Its short tentacles are more sparsely distributed. It too has many mouths, appearing along the length in the middle of the coral.I almost missed this Painted scorpionfish (Parascorpaena picta)! It's so well camouflaged and did not move a fin. This is my first photo of this fish on Pulau Hantu, although I've seen this fish on our other reefs.

When I met up with the others, I learnt they saw lots of marvellous stuff. Including lots and LOTS of red feather stars and a Spotted-tail frogfish (Lophiocharon trisignatus).

I also checked out the mangrove trees growing on the other seawall of the big lagoon.

At sunrise, as the tide turned, a little sampan silently came close to the reefs where I was.
A huge fish trap bigger than a man was hauled out.
Just off the reef, there seems to be some sort of dredging going on.Despite all these pressures, and being located right next to Pulau Bukom, there's still magnificent marinelife to be found on Pulau Hantu. Today though, the lights on the petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom were all off. More about recent shut downs in Singapore's refineries for "maintenance".

Chay Hoon is diving Hantu today with ReefFriends and I'm sure we'll find out soon more about the amazing reefs of Pulau Hantu beneath the low water mark.

More blog posts about this trip

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