10 August 2021

Terumbu Pempang Laut with signs of dugong, and cone snails!

We resume low spring tide surveys as COVID restrictions are eased. The first shore we check out is a huge submerged reef close to Jurong Island.
Living shores of Terumbu Pempang Laut, Aug 2021
We saw healthy corals, durong feeding trails in seagrasses, Giant clams, cone snails and more!

Today, I saw some dugong feeding trails in the meadows of Spoon seagrass in the sandy centre of the reef flat near the arrival point. We saw some on our  last survey on Jul 2020. We didn't see any on our last survey in May 2019. We saw many trails in Dec 2018. Also in Aug 2016. The first time we noted them was in May 2012.
Dugong feeding trail in Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis), Terumbu Pempang Laut, Aug 2021
The large Fluted giant clam near the arrival point that we have seen on our past surveys seems alright! We saw it first in Jun 2014.
Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa)
Vincent also saw a Burrowing giant clam.
Another special find was a live Cone snail! I saw this one burrowing on open sand. Chay Hoon found another one. I did not touch it with bare hands. The cone snail is one of the most dangerous animals on Singapore shores. The snail can inject bare hands and bare feet of swimmers and shore explorers in shallow water. Its tiny 'harpoon' is hardly felt so victims are often unaware until they show symptoms. The toxin can have serious effects and death in humans. No antivenin is available for cone shell envenomation.
It was lovely to come across a Giant carpet anemone with wiggling Clown anemonefishes in it. I was surprised to see one of the smaller anemonefishes leaving the anemone and heading slowly away (these fish can't swim well). Eventually it settled in a depression nearby. Perhaps it knows the anemone will soon be out of water in the low spring tide? How interesting!
Seagrasses are doing well! There was a sprinkle of seagrasses on almost the entire reef flat from the reef edge to the centre. In some large parts, the seagrasses were growing more densely. The most common were Spoon seagrass (mostly small but some large leaves) and Sickle seagrass. They were fresh and green and no longer heavily covered in epiphytes as on our last survey on Jul 2020. I saw many clumps of Tape seagrass, all were cropped. 
Among the seagrasses were the usual animals commonly seen in such habitats: Haddon's carpet anemones, Fan shell clams, Garlic bread sea cucumbers. A nice surprise was to see some Orange fiddler crabs.
There has never been a lot of hard corals on this shore. But there is a good variety of common corals with some forming quite large colonies.
Living shores of Terumbu Pempang Laut, Aug 2021
I did not see any that were bleaching. Most seemed healthy.
Today, I saw more leathery soft corals than I did on our last survey in Jul 2020. Both more colonies and  variety of species. They seemed alright. Other cnidarians like Asparagus flowery soft corals, zoanthids, anemones were not bleaching.
Living shores of Terumbu Pempang Laut, Aug 2021
The sand bar at the landing point is still there.
Sand bar at Terumbu Pempang Laut
I saw lots of Oval moon snails, some Common sea stars, one Cake sand dollar, a Strawberry cockle and signs of sand crabs and worms in the sand.
The sandy centre of the reef flat still had dense growths of Spoon seagrass. But also a bloom of bright green Turf seaweed.
Bloom of Enteromorpha sp.
At the edge of the reef flat I saw three signs of boats striking the shore: a deep hole gouged out, piles of coral rubble on the inward side where the boat pushed up the ground, and bare sand in the hole. 
Signs of boat strike on Terumbu Pempang Laut, Aug 2021
Terumbu Pempang Laut is one of our largest submerged reefs and located near industrial islands such as Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom.
Terumbu Pempang Laut lies next to a major shipping lane that connects to our container terminals.
Jurong Island from Terumbu Pempang Laut
Sunrise today, over Pulau Bukom from Terumbu Pempang Laut.
Sunrise over Pulau Bukom from Terumbu Pempang Laut

What is the fate of Terumbu Pempang Laut?

Terumbu Pempang Laut is one of the existing natural shores that may be impacted by the landuse plan by the Ministry of National Development released in Jan 2013 in response to the Populations White Paper with a 6.9 million population target. The dotted margined blue areas are "Possible Future Reclamation".

The other shores impacted by this plan include Pulau Hantu, Terumbu Pempang Darat, Terumbu Pempang Tengah and Pulau Jong and Terumbu Semakau.
Let's hope Terumbu Pempang Laut stays safe until we can visit again.

Photos by others on this survey

Marcus Ng

Richard Kuah

Vincent Choo

Chay Hoon


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