29 June 2010

First trip to Terumbu Pempang Darat

This year, we hope to visit all of Singapore's submerged reefs! Only three reefs remain unvisited!
A small team head out this morning to do the first of these.

The three remaining major submerged reefs are the Terumbu Pempang that lie just off Pulau Hantu. They are quite large! So we can only do one reef per low tide.
There is a rich reef on the edge facing Terumbu Pempang Tengah, another submerged reef that we intend to visit soon! In the distance, the large Pulau Sudong and tiny Pulau Salu.
Sadly, as with our recent reef visits, we encounter much bleaching here.
Many of the leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) were bleaching. And some seemed to have died and rotten away! Strangely, I didn't see any Flowery soft corals (Family Nephtheidae). Did they all already die off?
But compared to the other reefs I recently visited, I saw more large leathery soft corals of various kinds still unbleached on this reef!
And not all the hard corals were bleached!
Many Favid corals (Family Faviidae) were NOT bleached.
How nice to see unbleached colonies of these familiar favourites: The branching Montipora corals (Montipora sp.) seem unbleached on all the sites we visited so far. There was also happy Galaxy corals (Galaxea sp.), Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.), Sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.), unbleached Disk coral (Turbinaria sp.) and happy Mole mushroom corals (Polyphyllia talpina).
I also saw some less commonly seen corals: A lovely Lettuce coral (Pavona sp.), Horn coral (Hydnophora sp.), Carnation coral (Pectinia sp.) and Bracket mushroom coral.
Alas, I did not see any healthy Cauliflower corals (Pocillopora sp.) or Torch anchor corals (Euphyllia glabrescens).
There were quite a few Acropora corals (Acropora sp.) and some were not bleached.
Next to a broken and abandoned fish trap, there was a Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). It had several False clown anemonefishes (Amphiprion ocellaris) but only the tiniest one would come out to be photographed. Sadly, the anemone seems to be bleaching.
I saw this bleached sea anemone tucked among rocks near the reef edge. I'm not sure what it is.
But it was heartening to see that many of the Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.) were not bleached. Like during our recent trip to Pulau Hantu, there were some bleaching colonial anemones or zoanthids (Order Zoanthidea), but most of them seem unbleached.

I saw many common sponges on this reef and they are all their normal colourful selves.
There isn't much seagrass on this submerged reef. Only scattered patches of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis), Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) and Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii). So far, from all the submerged reefs we have visited, none have seagrass meadows as splendid as those found on Cyrene Reef! Well, we shall see as we visit the other two Terumbu Pempang.
As usual, I didn't see as many special animals as the rest of the team, who saw lots of nudibranchs and flatworms and other wonders. I did see this fish high and dry on the sand. Fortunately, it revived when I put it back into the water. I think it's some kind of shrimp goby, possibly the Spotted shrimp goby (Cryptocentrus sp.)?
We also saw this very very long ribbon worm (Baseodiscus delineatus)! It doesn't seem to be in a hurry and several of us saw it though we were far apart. There is really no reason to disturb this delicate beast.
Just as we were leaving, we find this pretty little clam. Chay Hoon tells us it's the Strawberry cockle (Fragum unedo).
And it was great that Mei Lin has another Giant clam sighting here! This time, a small Burrowing giant clam (Tridacna crocea).

This submerged reef lies just off Pulau Hantu (dark forested mass on the right) and behind it, Pulau Bukom and its petrochemical plants.
In the humid morning just after a tropical storm passed us, the emissions billowing out of Pulau Bukom gather into a huge cloud.
In the distance from the reef is Jurong Island. We can see the emissions from the industrial installations there, and the layer of brown smog hovering over the area.
Oh dear, there is a huge trench in the middle of the reef. It looks like it was made by a boat collision.
It's heartening to see that bleaching is not as bad on Terumbu Pempang Darat. I would say bleaching here is about 50-60%, a little less extensive than what we saw at Pulau Hantu a few days ago. This is why it's important to conserve more than one reef. So the 'surviving' reefs can be a source of new animals to settle on other reefs that are more badly impacted by events such as bleaching, oil spills and other disasters. More about bleaching on Bleach Watch Singapore.

I look forward to visiting the other two Terumbu Pempang and finally have a better idea of what can be found on our wonderful submerged reefs! But we have to wait for a suitable tide to do this.

Our thanks once again to Alex and Jumari for making our adventures possible.

Meanwhile, tomorrow we head to Sentosa to check up the bleaching situation there.

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