13 March 2012

Giant clams at Beting Bemban Besar

Hurray! The big clams at Beting Bemban Besar are still there. I'm out again with Mei Lin and the Clam Team to check up on our wild giant clams.
Also took the opportunity to quickly check this humungous submerged reef next to Pulau Semakau. The corals seemed fine, but seagrasses in some parts didn't look too well.

Here is the second Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa) that Mei Lin had spotted earlier on this reef. We are so glad that it's still there! Recently, we have lost clams seen at Cyrene, Pulau Jong and Little Sisters Island. I had to take the photos of these clams carefully as Mei Ling warned me that they can squirt a powerful jet of water at intruders!
Beting Bemban Besar lies off Pulau Semakau and is probably our largest submerged reefs. It's been nearly a year since our last visit in May 2011. There are large patches of seagrasses on the sandy areas just opposite the natural shores of Pulau Semakau.
Sadly, most of the Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) had cropped blades which were bleaching at the tips. Similar to the situation we saw a few days ago at Cyrene. Some Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) and other species had burnt or reddish leaf blades. In some parts, the leaves were thickly coated in epiphytes.
In other parts of the shore, the Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis) and Needle seagrasses (Halodule sp.) seemed well. But I didn't come across any Noodle seagrass (Syringodium isoetifolium).
The seagrass meadows were full of animals! We saw a tiny Feathery filefish (Chaetodermis penicilligerus), tiny swimming anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichi) stuck on the blades, a cerianthid, Kareen spotted a flatworm (Pseudobiceros uniarborensis) and Bill spotted a small Garlic bread sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra). I also saw one Common sea star (Archaster typicus).
After taking care of the clams, we all had a quick look around the reef edge. Fortunately, the Sargassum bloom is over and it's so much easier to safely explore the reefs now.
The reefs were very much alive! It was very windy with ruffled waters, so Little Swimming Camera did a lot of work underwater where it's calmer.
All kinds of animals live among the corals. Like pretty fan worms (Family Sabellidae). I also saw the Very long ribbon worm (Baseodiscus delineatus).
It was great to see many large happy colonies of Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora sp.). These species suffered quite badly during the 2010 mass bleaching event. I was also glad to see the tiny Red coral crabs (Trapezia cymodoce) that live in these branching corals.
I saw two Fire anemones (Actinodendron sp.)! These animals look like soft corals but are actually sea anemones that can sting painfully. It's not a good idea to touch anything with the word 'fire' in their common name.
The only nudibranch I saw was this very fast moving Gymnodoris rubropapulosa. This nudibranch eats other slugs! Mei Lin also spotted Jorunna funebris.
At first I thought this was a sea cucumber that I've not seen before, but a closer look and I realise it's the White-rumped sea cucumber (Actinopyga lecanora) as it had a white ring around its butt.
Mei Lin and I had a closer look at this strange animal that we sometimes see. I still think it's a sea fan rather than a leathery soft coral as it has a wiry stalk in the centre of the branches. The stalk isn't stiff, but rather flexible.
The rest found this tiny little octopus and called me over to have a look at it. It was hunched up over a hole trying very much to be a rock.
I saw a wide variety of hard corals that looked healthy including Acropora corals (Acropora sp.), Branching montipora coral (Montipora sp.), Galaxy corals (Galaxea sp.), Tongue mushroom corals (Herpolitha sp.), Anemone coral (Goniopora sp.), Crinkled sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.), lots of Favid corals (Family Faviidae) of all kinds and Disk corals (Turbinaria sp.). Also Small goniopora coral (Goniopora sp.).
There were nice colonies of Blue corals (Heliopora coerulea) and surprisingly, some had their polyps slightly extended. These confusing animals are not brown and not blue on the outside, and are not hard corals!
The usual soft corals were present and all seemed fine and healthy. There were few large Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae), although small colonies were plentiful. Strangely, I didn't come across any obvious sea anemones.
 These bright pink fluffy balls are the tips of a much large buried sponge (Oceanapia sagittaria)!
There were also all kinds of other colourful sponges on the shore.
In the distance are the trees of Pulau Hantu, which lies just across from the massive petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom. Fortunately, today I didn't come across any abandoned driftnets or fish traps.
As we were going home, we passed by Pulau Jong, among the last untouched Southern islands. In the distance, the huge reclamation project for the construction of the Pasir Panjang Container Terminal.
Despite these pressures, our wild shores still have much interesting marine life! We were also very lucky that this changeover from evening to morning low tides had tides that seemed much lower than predicted. During the changeover, tidal predictions can be off, and thwart field trips if they are much higher. So we were lucky today!


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