26 June 2010

First night trip to Cyrene!

Although Cyrene is our favourite submerged reef and our most visited one, we have never been able to visit it at night before.
Thanks to Alex and Jumari who kindly agreed to take us out at night, today we're off to find Cyrene in the dark. It's a bit tricky but there some light from a clouded full moon and the bright lights of the surrounding industrial installations.

We see so much more of a shore during a night low spring tide. In the cool dark, more animals are active and are easier to photograph. Because we have not surveyed Cyrene at night before, there are many common animals that are 'missing' from our list of Cyrene sightings. Today I managed to fill up some of these gaps.

This is my first photo of the Stone crab (Myomenippe hardwicki) which is not very often encountered on our Southern shores. And there was a lovely Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) next to it, my first photo of it on Cyrene!
My first sighting of the Blue-tailed prawns (Family Penaeidae) on Cyrene! These nearly transparent prawns with delicately coloured tails are commonly seen on some of our shores.
My first shot of a red banded shrimp on Cyrene, and it's a mama carrying eggs on her belly. I find it a lot easier to take better photos at night. This shrimp is quite commonly seen on many of our reefs.
I saw lots of snapping shrimps (Family Alpheidae) today, something that is not easy to do in daylight.
Although we often see the ferocious Red swimming crab (Thalamita spinimana) on many of our shores, this is my first time seeing it on Cyrene! We missed it all this while simply because we have not visited at night. It's always nice to see the Mosaic crab (Lophozozymus pictor) though it is highly toxic.
My first good look at what seems to be a Spoon pincer crab (Leptodius sp.) on Cyrene.
My first shot of a Three-spined toadfish (Batrachomoeus trispinosus) on Cyrene! And it's a pretty one too. This fish is very common on many of our shores, so it was baffling not to have it on the Cyrene list. Probably because we have not surveyed Cyrene at night!
Common fishes like the rabbitfish (Siganus canaliculatus) and filefish (Family Monacanthidae) are much easier to photograph at night. My sightings on Cyrene of filefishes are mainly from the fish survey that Collin does here. I rarely see these fishes in daylight on Cyrene.
I have yet to figure out what fish this is though I have seen it several times already on our other shores. My first time seeing it on Cyrene.
Even in the dark, it's impossible to miss the countless Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus) on Cyrene. I didn't see any other kinds of stars, but of course Kok Sheng and the rest saw many different kinds.
I did not have much luck with special echinoderms today. But I did see a tiny brittle star on the arm tip of a Knobbly sea star.
I only saw one White sea urchin (Salmacis sp.)
I also saw the Garlic bread sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra), Black long sea cucumber (Holothuria leucospilota) and White-rumped sea cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora). But there were lots of Cake sand dollars (Arachnoides placenta) and Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) as usual on this shore. Something I've grown to appreciate, having recently surveyed the shores hit by the oil spill.

As Grace says, it's hard after going on a field trip with Dr Daphne, not to see all the anemones on the shore. Today, I saw several Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) including some tiny ones. And a Peachia anemones (Peachia sp.) which is not often sighted in daylight on Cyrene.
We also saw many peacock anemones (Order Ceriantharia), which are not true anemones, but they are pretty too.

Travis found a squid!
I was happiest with my first sighting of this pretty Little ruby flatworm (Phrikoceros baibaiye). This is our first sighting outside of Chek Jawa and Pulau Sekudu, and the first in the South. Indeed, in many ways, Cyrene Reef is like the Chek Jawa of the South. The rest of the team also saw the Spotted foot nudibranch (Discodoris lilacina), also so far only seen at Chek Jawa and Pulau Sekudu.
I didn't see any nudibranchs, but of course, the rest of the team saw plenty of these. As well as other amazing animals.

Another reason it's nice to visit a shore at night: The hard coral polyps are usually expanded at this time.
Unfortunately, many hard corals were bleached. They were stark white and hard to miss in the dark. Some of the Cauliflower corals (Pocillopora sp.) were already dead, though most of the bleached corals seem to be still hanging in there.
Almost all the soft corals were bleached, both leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) and flowery soft corals (Family Neptheidae). More about bleaching on Bleach Watch Singapore.
I noticed that most of the hard corals growing in the seagrass meadows were not bleached. Do the seagrasses shade them and help these corals cope better with the raised water temperature?
Sadly, today we saw several people working very long driftnets covering almost all the reefs, as well as several fish traps on Cyrene. The rest of the team engaged the fishermen more extensively and found that they harvested many fishes. They apparently leave the driftnet there and check it only once every three days. This does not bode well for Cyrene's marine life.
As the sun rises, the tide comes in and it's time to go home. The sand crabs have been busy in the dark, leaving sand balls at their burrow entrance on the sand bar.
We have to hurry back or swim back!
Our morning trip, and all our amphibious trips, would not be possible without the very capable and obliging Jumari and Alex. Thank you!
Tomorrow we head out to Pulau Hantu for bleach watch. Not really looking forward to seeing how the rich reefs there might be impacted by bleaching.

More about Cyrene Reef on Cyrene Reef Exposed!

Other posts about this trip by:
  • James with some cool UV photos of Cyrene marine life!
  • Kok Sheng with lots of stars!
  • Sam on facebook: more Knobbly Sea Stars and Common Sea Stars and sand dollars than you can shake a stick at!
  • Chay Hoon awesome nudis and more

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