05 May 2012

Big Sisters Island is lovely after the storm

A huddle of horses! At first I saw two. Then I realised there were three Tiger-tail seahorses (Hippocampus comes) clinging onto to this branching sponge!
A small team visited Big Sisters Island very early this morning. Despite the ferocious early morning storm, we enjoyed a cool and mostly dry trip on this reefy shore that is full of life!

Among the first animals I saw were two red feather stars! But I didn't really take a closer look for commensals. Younger backs are needed for that!
Big Sisters Island has a wide range of corals. Including some special ones like Brain anchor coral (Euphyllia ancora), Lettuce coral (Pavona sp.), Brain corals (Family Mussidae), Thin disk coral (Turbinaria sp.),  Crinkled sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.) and Ridged plate corals (Merulina sp.). Also some Circular mushroom corals (Family Fungiidae).
I saw a few rather white hard corals, but most of them were their usual healthy colours: Flowery disk corals (Turbinaria sp.), Ridged plate corals (Merulina sp.), Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.). And lots of Favid corals (Family Faviidae) in a wide range of colours and patterns. 
Oh dear, one rather white  Pore corals (Porites sp.), next to another that is the usual healthy brown. It's that time of the year when I start to worry about mass coral bleaching as the summer season heats up the oceans world wide. So I get nervous when the corals don't look quite right.
Corals provide living spaces for all kinds of animals. Crabs hide under the coral colonies, and in this Carnation coral (Pectinia sp.), I got a glimpse of a little blue fish hiding in the crevices. I failed to get a good shot of it.
A Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) and another pretty banded fish that I don't know.
More fishes including the Eightband butterflyfish (Chaetodon octofasciatus) which I don't come across often.
As usual, there were some Blue-spotted stingray (Taeniura lymma) in the lagoon. Later on, I found out that Geraldine had found the dreaded Hollow cheek stonefish (Synanceia horrida) in the lagoon too! It's important to be careful when walking on the reef flats, especially in the dark!
Fan worms (Family Sabellidae) are another kind of animal that is often seen living with hard corals. I also came across several small colonies of Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) of various kinds. As well as many different kinds of sponges.
There were many little flatworms out today. We saw several Blue line flatworms (Pseudoceros sp.) I saw two Persian carpet flatworms (Pseudobiceros bedfordi) and one Ornate leaf slug (Elysia ornata) which is not a flatworm but sometimes mistaken for one.
James also found this very very tiny flatworm! Alas, without Chay Hoon, we are unable to find any nudibranchs.
I saw the mystery large sea anemone again. I'm still not sure if it's a Magnificent sea anemone (Heteractis magnifica) with a pale body column, or a Bubble tip sea anemone (Entacmea quadricolor) with 'deflated' tentacle tips. I couldn't see any 'Nemo's in it. I also came across several Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea), and of course, many Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.).
This squid had squirted a blob of ink! The ink doesn't disperse, but remains floating in the water in approximately the same size and shape as the squid. Meanwhile, the squid had turned paler and scooted away. I can see how this can confuse a predator!
I decided to take a closer look at the rocky areas today. And came across this mysterious sea cucumber. It had lots and lots of stumpy tube feet on a broad underside. The upperside had soft 'thorns'. It looks black but with strong flash looks brown.
Here's a closer look at the feeding tentacles of the sea cucumber. It looks like a weird version of the Long black sea cucumber (Holothuria leucospilota).
Under the stones were these strange clams. I'm not sure what they are.
As the tide turned, I headed up to the sandy shores. I saw one Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) and lots and lots of Peachia anemones (Peachia sp.).
James found this small sea anemone. Another mystery! He also saw what I call the 'Neon' sea anemone which bright flourescent stripes on the body column as if someone had marked it with a highlighter. We saw this at Terumbu Hantu last month. The one at Sisters Island was well wedged into a dead coral.
Our last proper survey of Big Sisters Island was in January. I'm glad to see that the reef seems fine.  It wasn't even sunrise when the tide turned!
Fortunately, we had a relatively dry trip despite the fierce storm earlier. I woke up at 2am to wind and lightning, and terrified cats desperate for cuddles while I try to pack. Then sleepily drove to the marina through 'ponding' (which seemed more like floods in the dark), bits of fallen trees, drunken people criss-crossing the empty city streets at random or attempting to hail taxis by standing in the middle of the road. By the time we got onto the boat, I was very much awake! Every safe trip, free of accidents and stonefish is a miracle!

Hoping for good weather tomorrow. For another early morning trip, this time to Little Sisters Island!

Posts by others on this trip
  • Pei Yan shares her first trip with us, with octopus, scorpionfishes and more. 
  • Jerome shares feather stars, corals and more.
  • James shares stonefish! Nudis, corals and more.
  • Geraldine shares lots of 'Nemo's, slugs, sea snake and more.

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