09 August 2013

Celebrating National Day at Pulau Semakau

The team celebrates National Day with a flag-filled field trip! We had a great survey of Pulau Semakau with many starry finds.
I also checked the seagrasses and corals.  Alas, we encountered a driftnet, and pondered some threats to this marvelous shore.

Our trip started well before dawn. Pei Yan has brought cute little flags for all of us! Thank you! They're much easier to bring along with us than the big flappy flag, which stayed on the boat.
The little flags make great portraits for highlighting our favourite animals. The last time I was here was in Oct 2011!
Among our best finds were Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus). I saw six including a small one about 15cm across (with flag). Small sea stars are exciting because it shows that there are new sea stars settling on the shore. Sadly, we haven't seen small sea stars at Cyrene Reef for some time.
Kok Sheng's wish came true and Pei Yan found the Galloping sea star (Stellaster equestris) shortly after we arrived! It is indeed said to 'gallop', moving in a series of jerks or leaps through synchronised stepping action of its tube feet. But we haven't observed this so far in the specimens we've seen.
Here's a closer look at the black spots on the underside of the sea star. I'm not really sure what they are.
Other fabulous sea stars seen include this large, very prickly Sand star (Astropecten sp.) with bright orange feet. We have seen this before at the Lost Coast and also yesterday at Cyrene. Is this a different kind of sand star? So much more to learn about our shores! There were also many Common sea stars (Archaster typicus) on this shore.
We also found one Laganum sand dollar (Laganum depressum). It is not commonly encountered and it's my first time seeing it on Pulau Semakau. Though Kok Sheng has spotted them before in this stretch of shore. Hurray! Chay Hoon also spotted another Masked burrowing crab.
Near the mangroves, I came across a lively little Dog-faced water snake (Cerberus rynchops). The rest of the team spotted a Banded file snake (Acrochordus granulatus).
A lovely sunrise, but a heartbreaking sight. The little 'sticks' poking out of the water are cropped Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides).
Here's a closer look at the cropped Tape seagrasses.
Among the cropped Tape seagrasses, there are some longer ones growing near rocks.
I did, however, see lots of very long Tape seagrasses in the stream running out of the mangroves.
There are all kinds of little animals living among the seagrasses. Sea stars, sponges, ascidians. In some ways, this part of Semakau reminds me of Changi.
I also took the opportunity to check for coral bleaching. I didn't see any bleaching outright. Some were rather pale including one Favid coral and a few patchs of Small goniopora coral.
Most of the Pore hard corals (Porites sp.) were alright except for one which was pale and had diseased looking portions.
I saw a variety of corals and they looked alright, although the Sandpaper coral (Psammocora sp.) were rather painfully bright green.
As usual, the most abundant kind of corals are Favid corals (Family Faviidae) and most of those I saw seemed alright. Although a few were rather pastel in colour.
I saw one Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora sp.) and it was alright with one feisty little Red coral crab (Trapezia cymodoce) in it!
I saw two Fire anemones (Actinodendron sp.), one of them seemed to be bleaching.
There were lots of Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea), most were small. I didn't see any 'Nemo's in them, but the rest of the team saw some. I only came across one small Haddon's carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni). Chay Hoon also saw a Very long sea anemone.
Most of the leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae) seemed alright although one was squished up and had portions that seemed to be rotting. I saw one spiky soft coral, which is usually pale even when it's not bleaching.
We notice the Sargassum seaweed (Sargassum sp.) has started to bloom! Seems rather early this year. Well hopefully, this well help keep the reefs cool?
Sadly, we came across a driftnet laid on this shore which had trapped at least 14 horseshoe crabs, 5 stingrays and 3 sharks. More about this net and my thoughts about it on the Project Driftnet blog.
There is a large fish farm very close to this shore. It is said to be the largest fish farm in Singapore. It sure looks much larger than it did when it was first set up in 2008.
There is a large floating double story structure near the farm, with floating platforms loaded with stuff.
A closer look at the double-story structure.
Big stacks of supplies float near the fish farms. What are some of the potential impacts of fish farms?
In May 2011, a small team valiantly removed a huge net that probably came from the fish farm. It had washed up on the shore.
There are also plans to close up the gap of the seawall on the Semakau Landfill, forming one big pool and to start filling up the big lagoon with ash. This is because, the existing landfill area is almost all filled up. NEA plans to limit the damage to natural shores during the construction work for this expansion of the landfill.
Here's a look at the gap in the seawall as we leave Semakau.
On National Day, our celebration of Singapore's amazing marine biodiversity is tempered by the many threats that may affect Singapore's natural heritage. With all these developments and happenings, we hope the natural shores nearby will be well. We'll try to check up on them as often as we can.

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