23 July 2013

Slow death on Beting Bronok

What a surprise to see this huge nudibranch on the intertidal! It is Ceratosoma gracillimum and more commonly seen by divers.
Beting Bronok is our last submerged reef in the North. Although we saw all kinds of spectacular marine life today, the reef is a pale shadow of its former self and I think is slowly dying.

Beting Bronok is a wonderland of colourful animals of all kinds. From sponges to soft and hard corals. With all kinds of associated mobile animals like crabs, fishes, nudibranch and lots more.
The shore is dotted with clumps of colourful animals of all kinds.
Today I saw many clumps of this thread-like sponge that Lim Swee Cheng, the Sponge Guru, says looks like Roti Jala.
Animals are often superbly camouflaged. I only spotted this Velcro crabs (Camposcia retusa) because it moved. It had stuck living Knobbly soft corals and sponges onto itself!
Another surprising find was a basket star wrapped on a soft coral.
Here's a closer look at the basket star. We saw many similar looking basket stars at Bedok Jetty earlier in the month. At Bedok Jetty, they were wrapped around the many sea fans found there. Perhaps the one at Beting Bronok is wrapped around the soft coral because there were so few sea fans there?
The Pink flowery soft corals also have False cowrie snails (Family Ovulidae) that perfectly match their host! Can you spot the snail in this photo?
There were many huge Ball flowery soft corals. These usually have white snapping shrimps and I saw one of these shrimps struggling a short distance from its host.
I saw this sea star and was wondering what it was until I turned it over. It's the Red scaly sea star (Nepanthia sp.), which looked strange to me because the 'scales' were hidden by many long thick tube feet that emerged all over the upperside of the body.
There were some large Biscuit sea stars (Gonodiscaster scaber) and many Spiny sea star (Gymnanthenea laevis). I also saw several Painted sand stars (Astropecten sp.).
It was nice to see many feather stars today. I saw five, all Blue feather stars.
There were many large Thorny sea urchin (Prionodidaris sp.), but I didn't see other kinds of sea urchins. And several brittle stars of all kinds. I also saw many Orange sea cucumbers, a few Thorny sea cucumbers (Colochirus quadrangularis), and a few Purple sea cucumbers and some Ball sea cucumbers (Phyllophorus sp.). I also saw one Garlic bread sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra).
I can only spot large nudibranchs. The Sponge nudibranch (Ategema spongiosa) is large but a challenge to spot as it is very well camouflaged among the rubble and sponges. Can  you spot it in this photo?
The only other nudibranchs I saw was one Dendrodoris fumata and another one which is something else. Chay Hoon told me but I forget...oops.
There was a lot splashing in deeper water. I managed this shot of a large fish. I'm not too sure what it is.
There were many smaller fishes, though they were hard to photograph in the murky water: One fish that looks like a Bartail flathead (Platycephalus indicus), many filefishes (Family Monacanthidae) and tiny fishes like baby Butterflyfishes (Family Chaetodontidae).
There were many many Onyx cowries (Cypraea onyx), as well as some Ovum cowrie (Cypraea ovum). Siong Kiat found one Baler snail (Melo melo) but we didn't come across any Noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis). There were many Fan shell clams (Family Pinnidae). Ywee Chieh found a reef octopus. There were lots of large Black spotted flatworms, but I didn't see any other kinds of flatworms.
There were many Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni). In one I saw a largeFive-spot anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)  as well as many tiny anemone shrimps (yellow arrow). I've not noticed both kinds of shrimps in one anemone before.
There were also many large Swimming anemones (Boloceroides mcmurrichi). I also saw two Glass anemone (Dofleinia sp. and one black blob that looks like a retracted Haekel's anemone (Actinostephanus haeckeli). There were a few cerianthids including a handsome Black-mouthed cerianthid.
There were many flowery sea pens (Family Veretillidae), some Common sea pen (Pteroides sp.) and some Slender sea pen (Virgularia sp.). The dominant cnidarian on Beting Bronok remain zoanthids, mostly Button zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.). These animals carpet vast stretches of the shore.
I saw five small sea fans. One Skinny sea fan and the rest were Candelabra sea fans. They didn't have many commensals in them.
The hydroids are still abundant here. Many orange fern-like hydroids (Sertularella sp.) but I couldn't find any nudibranchs in them. Lots of large 'bushes' of stinging hydroids with all kinds of small animals in them. Also many Candy hydroids although most of them were heavily covered in epiphytes. Chay Hoon found a lot of interesting nudibranchs in them.
It was nice to see that there were still many small colonies of hard corals. Mostly Pore corals (Porites sp.) brown or green boulder-shaped or brown with bumps. With a few tiny colonies of Neat hexa coral (Pseudosiderastrea tayami)  and Zebra corals (Oulastrea crispata). I didn't see the Boulder sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.) and Favid coral (Family Faviidae) that I saw in Jun 2012. All of them seemed fine and I only saw one small colony that was bleaching. The corals at Beting Bronok suffered badly from mass bleaching in 2010, and there are signs of mass bleaching this year too. Oh dear.
Alas, we only found one Knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus). Ywee Chieh and Diego combed the entire shore thoroughly and couldn't find any more. Oh dear. In the past we had seen a lot, and then over the years, less and less. In fact, in 2012 we only saw one too (but a different one). And only six were seen during our trip in 2011.
Today, there were scummy growths on many of the sponges and immobile animals growing on the shore.
Sadly, in most parts of the shore especially in the central lagoon, the scummy growths were thick and seem to be overwhelming the sponges, corals and other animals there.
Two small boats landed on the reef during our stay there from 3am to sunrise. I saw one guy collecting stuff with a large bucket. I didn't manage to get close enough to see what he was collecting. We also encountered collectors on our trip in 2012.
As we were leaving, I noticed someone in a small boat moving slowly from the seawall at Pulau Tekong across the large lagoon. I think he was laying a driftnet in the lagoon.
Although there were still many small clusters of colourful sponges and other lifeforms, these are far less than they were in the past. This is what it looks like today.
Today, the shore is certainly not like what we saw just a year ago in 2012

Colourful marine life at Beting Bronok in Jun 2012.
Beting Bronok in Jun 2012.
Here's what Beting Bronok looked like in 2003.
Beting Bronok: our last northern reef
Colourful marine life at Beting Bronok in 2003.
There used to be a wondrous variety of sea fans (Order Gorgonacea).
Sea fan garden at Beting Bronok, Jun 2004.
Hopefully they will return as sea fans are common even on Changi shores. But lost forever probably are the wonderful Sunflower mushroom corals (Heliofungia actiniformis) and other corals that we used to see here.

Where is Beting Bronok? What is it's status and future?
Click on image for larger view.
When the 2030 landuse plan by the Ministry of National Development was announced, it was also announced that Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum have been granted 'Nature Area' status. As I understand it, this status means the area "will be kept for as long as possible until required for development". Here's an earlier about 'Nature Area' status seem to mean. 

It was good to see that Beting Bronok remains alive and full of fascinating creatures. But to me, it seems to be in steady decline since the reclamation started at nearby Pulau Tekong . It has since also been affected by the flooding that led to mass deaths at Chek Jawa in 2007, and the coral bleaching in 2010 and a ferry ran aground on Beting Bronok in Jul 2011. Here's some old photos of marine life at Beting Bronok. We can only hope for the best for this wonderful reef on our Northern shore.

There are plans that may affect Beting Bronok a in the not too distant future. These include plans to locate at Pengerang Johor, a petrochemical complex that was rejected in Taiwan for environmental and health reasons.
The 2030 landuse plan by the Ministry of National Development includes plans for a road link (black line) from the mainland jumping off at Punggol, crossing to Pulau Ubin through Chek Jawa to jump off to Pulau Tekong before circling back to the mainland on Changi East. Proposed reclamation (in yellow) will bury Pasir Ris shores, Pulau Sekudu and Chek Jawa as well as a large amount of shore at Changi Beach.
Click on images for larger view.
Today, we enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise before we had to leave as the tide was turning fast.
Thanks to Chay Hoon for organising the trip, and to Ywee Chieh for supporting it. Sadly, I only have enough funds and enough time to check up on Beting Bronok once a year. Hoping against hope for it to hang in there, although I think it is more likely that this marvellous reef will slowly die out over the years.

Chay Hoon shares lots more photos of awesome slugs that only she can spot!

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