Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas monitoring with the volunteers

On 25th Dec 2007 Christmas Day, a gang of enthusiastic volunteers and I took a bumboat, not a cruise. We arrived at Pulau Ubin and off we went, together with Uncle Chu's van to Chek Jawa.

Greeting us in the intertidal flat were these great billed heron (Ardea sumatrana) and grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Apparently, the great billed heron caught a fish and the latter came trying to snatch the prized catch.

The tide was still receding while I was trying to show Liana where her peacock anemone study sites are. And along the way, we saw even more shore birds feeding and roaming about at the flats of Chek Jawa.

Recovery has been good. At first, carpet anemones returned mostly at areas where there are seagrasses or seaweed. It is heartening to see quite a number of new recruits at the sandbar now. Before the mass death, the sandbar was landmined with these carpet anemones. However, almost all of them on the sandbar were wiped out after the mass death this January.

Checking back to the transect 3 start point where the cake seastar (Anthenea aspera) was found the day before, we have realized it has moved about 100m away. Nevertheless, I marked its location temporarily for the volunteers to take a look after they finish their work at sunset.

Featuring the long suffering carpet anemone team, we have the good old usual strong team of Ria and Yuchen. Joining them for the first time are Sam (2nd from left) and Xiuli (extreme right).

This time, Yikang was my volunteer to do the salinity check from extreme north all the way to the House no. 1 jetty. The salinity was pretty normal at about 27 ppt, considering there was no longlasting rain.

I took the last opportunity to check the health of coral rubble extensively for this is the last of 0.0m tide till the end of my project.

Unfortunately, this fish apparently got chomped off by its predator.

The carpet anemones at the coral rubble area were as big as usual. Most are thriving well, however a few looked pretty puffed up and unhealthy.

Carpet anemone with Porites hard coral.

The mystery of the "coral" found in July has been unveiled as the super low tide uncovered the whole organism in dry land.

It is not a coral in closeup. They are zoanthids.

Quite a number of these adult sized noble volutes (Cymbiola nobilis) were spotted. And they are proliferating well. Check out Joseph Lai's flickr gallery where he posted many of his fantastic Chek Jawa photos including one noble volute laying translucent egg capsules.

A cleanup was done in Pulau Sekudu a couple of days ago. Pulau Sekudu is considered as part of the whole Chek Jawa bigger ecosystem. It is a seeding ground when Chek Jawa got impacted by the mass death. Indeed, we need to maintain these seeding areas which act as control. Another of such important shores must be Changi Beach. On Boxing day, we found many juveniles of all sorts of marine creatures on the shore of Changi. Changi is like a mini-Chek Jawa and indeed the surrounding northern shores are very interconnected. Destroying one will affect all.

At the edge facing Sekudu, there are many sponges growing well on the rocks.

The sponges come in all sorts of shapes and colours, slowly revealing the good old Chek Jawa before the mass death.

Not only does the coral rubble have the hard coral of Porites species, it also houses the flowery soft corals. This one in particular is very small in size, again showing that recovery is taking place and it is recent and ongoing at the same time.

More marine organisms thriving at the rich yet fragile coral rubble are the fanworm, colonial ascidians, warty sea cucumber and the Salmacis sea urchin (Salmacis sp.), from top left to bottom right.

Meanwhile, the volunteers are still working hard including Juanhui, having to help me take 19 specific landscape photographs.

Pausing from their conscientious work, the peacock anemone team posed for a group photo. From left to right: Liana, Shuyi, Peiya and Kenny.

I'm sorry I forgot to take a photo of the mussel bed monitoring team with Hamsa and Alex together. They had to work solo, covering the north and south of the mussel bed patches with the GPS. Alex, however pointed out to me that the shore birds were feeding on the mussel beds. As we have pondered, are the mussel beds friends or foes, I believe its a friend in this case, as food for migratory birds.

Cropping out from the above photos, I realized at home that opposite at the shores of Johor, there are groups of people at their intertidal areas too. Are they nature lovers or simply poachers? Being in close proximity and part of the interconnectedness, this mysterious Malaysia shore indeed is crucial for the ecosystem of Chek Jawa.

Juanhui pointed out to me that there are also many small sand dollars on the sandbar.

And they could be even as small as about 1cm in diameter. This proves to show that ecosystems are dynamic where the young replaces the old, with a turnover rate.

The last task for everyone will be to search for populations of sandstars after about 6.30pm. It is only during the evening then these Astropecten species of sand stars start to appear. Yuchen showed his dedicated hunterseeking skills by being on all fours.

It was nice to have many friends working together. Hamsa is on the extreme left of the photo.

Yuchen gamely and creatively used the sandfish sea cucumber and sand stars to show the Singapore flag. We as Singaporeans am proud and should continue to show to the rest of the world that conservation is possible despite developments only if we allow them to coexist just like Pulau Semakau.

We found plentiful of sandstars hiding beneath and above the sand. It is when you are bothered to look, then you will realize the natural heritage we still possess. If we dismiss everything is gone, we might just lose them forever.

With compliments to Ria, we toasted a Merry Christmas and happy New Year on the sandbar to everyone. This marks the last monitoring for 2007.

Thank you everyone for making this Christmas exceptionally meaningful. You've indeed made a difference.

Links of other blog posts related to these 3 days series of monitoring trips:


Sijie's nature scouters blog


July's discovery blog
Ria's wildfilms blog


Joseph Lai's flying fish friends blog
Liana Tang's nearly lucid blog
Ria's wildfilms blog
Shuyi's personal blog

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December Transect Day 2

Introducing the teams for day 2: here we have Khairul, Vincent and Alex with transect two. Too bad they are quite far from this photo and I don't have another shot of them in work since time was tight. On the left is July, my assistant this time. Without him, I won't be able to do a lot within a few hours of tide window.

The other team consisted of (from left to right) Yong Xiang, Qian Yue, Apple and Yikang. I salute them for their efforts. Wind was strong and the tapes were as strong as a tug of war to adjust in the correct direction. Never never underestimate the power of nature.

Chek Jawa was in perfect weather, again we were so blessed. Many different shorebirds land on the intertidal flat to rest and feed.

A flock of Great crested-tern along the sandbar with Tekong breakwater and Pengarang forest in the background.

The carpet anemones are thriving in the northern sandbar edges. This one is caught feeding on a crab.

It may be hard to imagine but carpet anemones are not flowers or plants. They are animals, inveterbrates that feed through their central mouth which is also their anus.

Day 2 proves to be starry! In an unexpected area of sandbar, something orangey and striking caught my attention despite I was walking very quickly.

It proves to be a stunning cake seastar (Anthenea aspera) in a colour I have not encountered before. It is about 15-18 cm in diameter. Ria commented that it can feed on the populations of button shells found nearby. That may explain why it is found on the sandbar instead of coral rubble.

Together with July, I found another star. The common sea star (Archaster typicus) that were wiped out totally after the mass death early this year. A month ago, Ron spotted the first one that appeared though its arms were bit broken. I'm glad to witness their return personally, in healthy state.

Their diameter is about 15cm. Will they survive through the current monsoon season till Feb 2008? We will know the next time we monitor at end January.
Given that it is the last series of 0.0m tides till April 2008 and that I had the assistance from July, I had a bit of time to check out the health of coral rubble since it has been raining quite a lot for the past weeks.

And surprise! The third star of Chek Jawa, the knobbly seastar (Protoreaster nodosus), which were also wiped out after mass death. This one is not the same as the previous first one found last month.

The coral rubble was doing well and I got to see stony boulder corals (Porites sp.) at Chek Jawa for the first time. Thanks to the very low tides especially many of these corals were exposed.

Sea squirts or tunicates were also abundant.

Sponges that melted away during the mass death returned in all sorts of colours.

And also in all types of shapes.

Juvenile growths of sea fans were also found.

Coral rubble is also the only area in Chek Jawa to find the tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides). Other types of seagrasses grow in abundance elsewhere at the seagrass lagoon and edges of sandbars.

Ria and I found this abundant bubu trap with large fishes like the groupers inside. If we didn't save them, they will die eventually.

Before leaving, I chanced upon this seapen with an insect-like organism. Any idea what is it?

We left with a spectacular full moon and clear skies of constellations.

Big thank you to July, Yikang, Yong Xiang, Apple, Qian Yue, Vincent, Khairul, Alex and Ria for the help.