18 June 2012

Arabian cowrie at Tanah Merah!

How wonderful to see the Arabian cowrie (Cypraea arabica) on oil-slicked Tanah Merah!
Also, some other encouraging first sightings since the oil spill, suggesting things are coming back to normal, two years after the massive May 2010 oil spill hit this shore.

I also came across this hermit crab that doesn't look like those I commonly see. I have no idea what it is.
Another first sighting after the oil-spill, a Reef octopus like the ones we commonly see in good reefs. It was a rather small one and it slithered quickly into a crevice before I could take a good look at it. Marcus also spotted the Discodoris boholiensis nudibranch.
For the first time since the oil spill, I'm starting to see many sea cucumbers here. I came across two medium sized Garlic bread sea cucumbers (Holothuria scabra)! They seemed happy, busy processing seawater.
The fluffy feeding tentacles turned out to belong to a sea cucumber that looks like the African sea cucumber (Afrocucumis africana). When I turned over the rock to have a look at it, it ejected the brown stuff.
How nice to see the Zebra sole (Zebrias zebra) again. This flat fish was crawling slowly about on the bottom, with its colourful and boldly patterned tail held upright, while the rest of it was covered in sand. Does the tail attract prey towards it? So much more to learn about our marine life!
I also came across a Very long sea anemone! My first sighting on Tanah Merah of this large anemone.
More first sightings after the oil spill include several small Brown egg crabs (Atergatis floridus), several large Red egg crabs (Atergatis integerrimus) and one Maroon stone crab (Menippe rumphii).
Sadly, one Red egg crab was entangled in an abandoned fishing line. Thankfully, I had my trusty not yet rusty scissors and I quickly released it. It was very much alive and rapidly scuttled away unharmed.
A night visit usually means more fishy sightings. And I was not disappointed! I saw one small Razorfish (Family Centriscidae) and many halfbeaks (Family Hemiramphidae) of all kinds.
As usual, there are lots and lots of gobies (Family Gobiidae) and small Swimming crabs (Family Portunidae) of kinds!
The next most abundant fish today were damselfishes (Family Pomacentridae). Most were tiny to small with a few large ones lurking in deep crevices.
Abundant today were Painted scorpionfish (Parascorpaena picta). They are very well camouflaged! Fortunately, neither Marcus nor I saw any Hollow-cheeked stonefish (Synanceia horrida).
Marcus spotted a tiny Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus). There were lots ofCardinalfishes (Family Apogonidae)  as well as Bengal sergeants (Abudefduf bengalensis). I saw a small well camouflaged Blenny (Family Blennidae), many , one False scorpionfish (Centrogenys vaigiensis) and several small Chocolate hinds (Cephalopholis boenak).
There were still lots of hard corals on the artificial seawall. Most of them looked ok, and I didn't see any that were obviously bleaching.
This Brain coral (Family Mussidae) looks very lush, but I'm not sure if this colour is normal. I haven't seen other Brain corals with this kind of coloration.
The large Bracket mushroom coral (Podabacia sp.) was still there and alright, although the windy conditions made it difficult for me to take a good photo of it. I saw a smaller Bracket mushroom coral too. As well as several Circular mushroom coral (Family Fungiidae), still stuck on rocks.
There were several other Brain coral (Family Mussidae), two colonies of Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) and many tiny to small colonies of Flowery disk coral (Turbinaria sp.), as well as a small Carnation coral (Pectinia sp.). I missed seeing some of the special corals I saw in April 2012, but perhaps I just missed them in the dark.
The large colonies of Pore corals (Porites sp.) seemed alright and there were many smaller colonies everywhere. I didn't see any bleaching like I did in April 2012.
As usual, the most abundant kind of coral here are Favid corals (Family Faviidae). At night, they are particularly colourful, many with their polyps and tentacles fully extended. How lovely! There were still many patches of Zebra coral (Oulastrea crispata).
I saw a few clusters of Button zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.), one large colony of Sea mat zoanthids (Palythoa tuberculosa) , while the pile of Leathery soft coral (Family Alcyoniidae) seems to be doing very well! Marcus also saw the Ball-tip corallimorph (Order Corallimorpharia).
Today, we came across many cerianthids (Order Ceriantharia) too.
In this photo, lots of other animals near a ceranthid, an elbow crab (Family Parthenopidae), a goby and tiny red shrimps.
I'm not sure if this is a Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea). It settled on the seawall. Marcus saw a few Haddon's carpet anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) too.
I came across one Swimming anemone (Boloceroides mcmurrichi) and many Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.).
There were some squids (Family Loliginidae) in the lagoon, leaving ink blobs in the water. This one hovered quietly in the water to let me take a photo of it. A very large one actually bumped into my knee! I got a shock and probably so did the squid!
In my torchlight, the tiny eyes of countless little Red-nose shrimps (Periclimenes sp.) glitter all around the rocks. Marcus also saw Saron shrimps (Family Hippolytidae).
As usual, there were lots of Blue tail prawns (Family Penaeidae). For the first time though, I also saw many Banded prawns too.
A dead prawn  had attracted several whelks (Family Nassaridae), many of which were carrying living sea anemone hitch-hiking on their shells!
I only came across a few Common sea stars (Archaster typicus). But perhaps they are lurking some other part of this vast lagoon. Difficult to spot them in the dark.
Sponges are still a bit scarce. I saw one small cluster of Blue jorunna sponge (Neopetrosia sp.), and some Melted chocolate sponge (Chondrilla australiensis). There were also some Thumbs up sea squirts (Polycarpa sp.).
There were many small patches of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis) near the rocky area in the centre of the lagoon. The leaf blades are heavily covered in epiphytes. But the meadows are full of life. There were many Gong-gong snails (Strombus turturella), some in clusters, perhaps getting ready to mate and lay eggs? I also saw many many Oval moon snails (Polinices mammila).
I came across two small clumps of Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides). There wasn't much seaweed on the shore today, mostly Sea letuce seaweed (Ulva reticulata).
Today's trip started very early and ended even before the sun had risen! So no landscape photos. There was still a sheen on the water but the sand seemed clean in most of the lagoon. There seems to be more extensive erosion on the high shore, perhaps the sand from the high shore had covered up most of the crude oil? It's heartening to know that this shore is still alive and hopefully it will continue to flourish.

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

Marcus has some great photos of this trip too.

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