07 June 2016

Bleaching at Beting Bronok

I am always hesitant about visiting Beting Bronok, because I've seen a slow decline over the years and it's painful because I've seen it in its full glory.
Today, I was glad to see good growths of sponges and other reef life. Although there were also signs of mass coral bleaching.

Beting Bronok used to be full of amazing echinoderms. And today, the team saw four Bordered sea stars today! So far, we commonly see this star only on Beting Bronok.
I saw many large Biscuit stars, a few small Cake sea stars, one Spiny sea star and one Scaly sea star. The rest of the team saw one Knobbly sea star. We saw five on our last survey in Aug 2015.
I didn't see many sea cucumbers on the shore today. Only one Smooth sea cucumber, one Ball sea cucumber and one Thorny sea cucumber.
I saw several large Thorny sea urchins, and one blue feather star.
Beting Bronok often has lots of nudibranchs. Today I saw about eight of these fat Ceratosoma gracillimum more commonly seen by divers in reefs. I also saw two Discodoris boholiensis, while the rest of the team saw many 'Blue Dragons', like we did on our last survey here. Meanwhile, there were also many very large Spangled flatworms. Rene saw many Olive flatworms gathered together, and saw a total of 4 flatworm species.
There were many octopuses on the shore, the one I saw was at its burrow. The rest of the team found two seahorses! I saw some gobies, a toadfish, filefish and rabbitfish. There were also some Swimming crabs.
I saw several Noble volutes laying eggs, and several small ones. There were also many Swimming anemones. I only saw one live Onyx cowrie, unlike on our last survey when we saw a lot. None of us saw the Baler snail. I didn't come across any living Fan shell clams.
There were a good variety of sponges. I feel the sponge situation is a lot better than during our last survey in Aug 2015.
From the NOAA's coral reef watch satellite monitoring shows that Singapore is in the Watch zone. Where we should be prepared for mass coral bleaching.

Unfortunately, we did see some signs of bleaching at Beting Bronok today.
In a small area, there were many bleaching Spiky flowery soft corals.
There were also many small colonies of Pink flowery soft corals and they were all not bleaching. Most were pink, some had paler body columns but bright red polyps. There were also many clumps of Knobbly soft corals. There were also many small clumps of various hydroids including Fern hydroids and the nasty Stinging hydroids. Also many Candy hydroids although most of them were heavily covered in epiphytes.
I only saw a few Ball flowery soft corals, one had White soft coral snapping shrimps. The colonies were mostly alright, although some were slightly pale.
I saw a few small colonies of Neat hexagonal coral that were alright. And two colonies of Big ring merulinid corals that were full on bleaching. I did not see any other Merulinid corals.
There were many small colonies of Branching pore corals. Most of them were brown, some were covered with a bluish slime, and one had a small bleaching patch.
About 30% of the Boulder pore corals were fully bleaching, 30% were pale or had bleaching patches. But 40% were still brown. The corals at Beting Bronok suffered badly from mass bleaching in 2010.
I saw several Candelabra sea fans, one small Tree sea fan and several Gnarled sea fans. Similar to the situation during our last survey. But I couldn't find any commensals on the sea fans.
I only saw two Flowery sea pens and one Slender sea pen and two cerianthids. They were not bleaching. I did not see any Spiky sea pens.
I saw several Haddon's anemones. Some were very small, others were alright. Only one looked a little bleachy. I didn't see any anemoneshrimps. Nick saw several Haekel's anemones, and a Glass anemone.
Button zoanthids cover vast areas of the reef. I also saw a small patch of Sea mat zoanthids. I did not see any that were bleaching. I saw a sprinkling of Spoon seagrass while the rest of team saw larger patches.
Every year we visit Benting Bronok, we see less and less marine life. But today, the shore seems a lot better than during our last survey in Aug 2015. This is what the shore looked like today.
Below are photos of what the shore looked like in years past.
Mostly zoanthids only on the shore, Aug 2015
Marine life on at Beting Bronok in 2014
Marine life on Beting Bronok in 2013.
Colourful marine life at Beting Bronok in 2012.
Beting Bronok in 2012.
Here's what Beting Bronok looked like ten years ago in 2003.
Beting Bronok in 2003.
Beting Bronok in 2003.
There used to be a wondrous variety of sea fans.
Sea fans on Beting Bronok in 2004.
Hopefully they will return as sea fans are common even on Changi shores. But lost forever probably are the wonderful Sunflower mushroom corals 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 Developmentwas 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.
Today, we didn't see any fish traps. We almost always see signs of fishing pressure on this reef on every survey. This suggests that even the fishermen don't find it productive to harvest on Beting Bronok. Here we are leaving the reef as the tide turned.
Thanks to Chay Hoon for organising the trip. Our annual trips to Beting Bronok are bitter-sweet. Like visiting our favourite grandma and watching her painfully, slowly fade away. I feel privileged to have seen her at her best.

Posts by others on this trip
Others on this trip: Toh Chay Hoon, Ivan Kwan, Nick Yap, Tang Yong Jen.

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