03 March 2011

A year later, how is Tanah Merah's oil-slicked shores? Part 1

It's nearly a year since the oil spill hit Tanah Merah's reefs and shores. Today, I sense the corals here are showing signs of a comeback!
The leathery soft coral (Family Alcyoniidae) here seems a lot happier than on my last trip to this shore in December 2010.

My first impression wasn't very uplifting. It's been a year, and there's still crude on the shore at Tanah Merah! The water draining out at low tide carve out dark streams where the crude lies beneath a thin layer of sand.
In many parts of the shore, the sand is soft and squishy, beneath which is a layer of crude seemingly as fresh as the day it landed a year ago. Some parts of the shore still smells of crude.
Large parts of the shore were covered with a thin layer of brown scum.
Here's an underwater look at the scum, often embedded with lots and lots of air bubbles. Something seems to be furiously respiring here. Bacteria?
As on earlier trips, thin layers of scum float off and drift in the water.
There is still sheen on some parts of the shore, but not as much as on my trip in December. Perhaps the rain today dispersed it?
I started on the high shore as I arrived a little early for the low tide. And then it started to rain! Nevertheless, I spotted about ten living Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) on the midwater zone. Some were still burrowing through oil-soaked sand.
The sea stars were rather far apart and I didn't see any in mating position. But it was daytime and raining, conditions which marine creatures don't really enjoy. Hopefully, they are still there but hidden.
I saw one Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) with a pair of resident anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)! Anemone and shrimps looked quite alright. I didn't see the other Haddon's anemone that I saw on previous trips. I also didn't see any other kinds of sea anemones.
As I walked in thigh-deep water, a big school of tiny fishes swim around me! Sneaky camera valiantly tries to capture the shot. I also saw lots of other fishes zooming about in the murky water. Alas, sneaky camera failed to capture any shots of them. I'm very glad NOT to have met Mr Stonefish, though I did keep a perpetual eye out for him and his clan.
In the scummy, black stained sand, there were several large and busy moon snails (Family Naticidae).
On the silty shore, I came across many young Gong-gong snails (Strombus turturella), many Black lipped conch snails (Strombus urceus) and one Firebrand murex (Chicoreus torrefactus). On the rockier areas, there were some Bazillion snails (Batillaria zonalis), but I didn't see any on the silty sandy areas. The rocky areas also had lots of Planaxis snails (Planaxis sulcatus), several different kinds of Nerites snails (Family Neritidae) and Plain creeper snails (Family Cerithiidae). I saw one live Fan shell clam (Family Pinnidae) and Thorny oyster (Spondylus sp.).
There were lots of fat and busy Onch slugs (Family Onchidiidae) on the rocks.
In the rocky area, a Ghost crabs (Ocypode cerathophthalmus) trying very hard to blend in with its surroundings. I glimpsed a few small Swimming crabs (Family Portunidae), but didn't come across many crabs on this trip.
I didn't come across many sponges. Just a few patches of Smooth blue sponge (Lendenfeldia cf. chondrodes). There were a few Thumbs up sea squirts (Polycarpa sp.) that were nice and 'clean' -- and not covered in scum.
The reefs at Tanah Merah were hit by the double whammy of a massive oil spill in late March 2010, followed shortly by coral bleaching which hit all our reefs and reefs worldwide in early to mid 2010. So I was quite relieved to see many large colonies of hard corals that looked healthy and unbleached. This included some less commonly seen corals.
This is probably the Bracket mushroom coral which I don't often see on our shores!
I saw two juvenile Circular mushroom corals (Family Fungiidae) which were still attached to the rocks. But they were already quite large (about 10cm in diameter) and very happy looking.
The little colony of Acropora coral (Acropora sp.) is still there! It seems somewhat bigger.
I saw two happy Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) . They were not very large but they were healthy looking and unbleached.
There was even a large Brain coral (Family Mussidae).
Something I noticed for the first time, many small colonies of Flowery disk coral (Turbinaria sp.) along the rock wall.
The colonies ranged from tiny, with just a few polyps, to slightly larger ones.
There were also many little colonies of other kinds of corals.
Zebra coral (Oulastrea crispata) remains abundant and seem happy. I also saw one colony of Cyphastrea sp.
I also came across several colonies of a wide variety of common Favid corals (Family Faviidae).
Some of the Favid coral colonies were quite large.
There were several large brown Pore corals (Porites sp.) and several greenish ones that encrusted the rocks.
Some of the large coral colonies, however, were producing slime. This is how the coral polyps get rid of icky stuff from their bodies.
There were a few clumps of Button zoanthids or colonial anemones (Zoanthus sp.) here and there.
I only saw one fan worm (Family Sabellidae), and didn't see any Acorn worms (Class Enteropneusta) on the sandy area.

I didn't see much seaweed on the shore today. There was the small clump of Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) here, some ropes were covered with Pom pom red seaweed and there were small patches of Mermaid's fan (Padina sp.) on the rocky areas.
While on the shore, I saw one man with a fishing rod heading out to the rock wall, another busy on the wall with a bucket, and yet another working with a small cast net.
I saw this abandoned fish trap, and also some small clumps of abandoned fishing nets, with most of the netting already rotted away.
The trail to the shore has been extensively cleared. I'm not sure why.
The Acacia trees along the trail have been trimmed. Alas, the area is still studded with litter.
The Acacia trees along the main road have also been cleared.
I saw a branch of Acacia in the drain, there was also one on the shore.
There is some massive construction going on at the area next to the shore. Frames for large buildings are being put up and lots of heavy machinery are busy at the site.

Tomorrow I'm going to check out the other part of this very long shore at Tanah Merah.

More about the oil spill on this blog and on the Oil spill facebook page.

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