Friday, December 28, 2007

Coral Fluorescence and other attributes

Coral Workshop in Semakau (25 Dec 2007)
(Kindly provide correct ID of coral if named wrongly. Much appreciated)

For the rest of the pictures please follow this link

As the workshop was held in the evening, the first few coral that we came across was fluorescing in a beautiful green glow! Eventually we will get to see other corals and even Peacock Anemone glowing in the dusk light.

Picture 1 - Favia sp.

The phenomenon of FLUORESCENCE is when matter of higher energy is being absorbed by a substance, and in term being released by that same substance at a lower energy level. For CORAL FLUORESCENCE, the higher light energy (blue colour) is being absorbed by the Coral, and released in a lower light energy (green or red colour). Thus coral that may appear dull in the daytime, may emit myriad of colours during the dusk period.

Jani (our workshop instructor) explained that this is the normal reaction of such coral during certain time of the day as a form of “sun block” to reduce the animals from receiving harmful ray (ie. UV light which is at the other end of the visible light spectrum).
It is also known that younger Coral (Coral Recruit) tends to radiate more than the older ones. Takeing advantage of this behaviour, scientist has used this behaviour when they are out looking for recruit for their research. Of course, in the aquarium trade, to make their coral exhibits more interesting, the tanks will always be bathed with UV light.

Dr Charles Mazel - a leading investigator into Coral Fluorescence, said that it is possible for coral to fluorescence without any known reasons. The phenomena of Coral Fluorescence is still full of mystery. Is it an indicator the health of the coral; for spawning reason; ward off predators. Scientists are still wondering!

Picture 2 - Brain Coral (Symphyllia sp.)

Picture 3 - Turbinaria

In this picture below, it can be clearly seen that those polyps that are out of the water, the glow tends to center in the center of the Calyx (the calcium cup that the polyp lives), but those in the water has a more brilliant glow. The reason is that only the lived part of the coral (polyp) is the one that glow, and not the Calyx.

Picture 4 - Closed Up of the Favia sp.

Picture 5 - Carnation Coral (Pectinia). Totally submerged in water, the polyps are out and fluorescing.

We came across these two corals, with one of them “bald” on the left side. I took a compass bearing, and interestingly it pointed to the East. This is co-incidental or maybe this specimen does not like the harsh morning ray, but then how many low tide coincide with the Sun rise, and in this spot.

Picture 6 - Faviidae

Referring to BALDING of Coral, usually the balding occurs at the top of a coral mass. The primary reasons are
· Settling of Sedimentation
· More prone to physical contacts with other floating objects
· Direct Sunlight when exposed during low tide

Picture 7 - Faviidae

An interesting observation was pointed out by Jani, and that is to infer the wave energy of the shore by observing the type of Corals that grow in that region. Boulder like Corals (eg. Porites, Montipora) tend to indicate higher wave energy shore, and more so if there is an absence of the Branching types of Corals (eg Acropora)

Estimating the age of coral, is by looking at the size of the coral and estimating the thickness of the coral from an imaginary centre point of the coral mass. As coral grows about 1 to 2 cm a year, then the coral below is about 15 years old. Some of the bigger ones are older than you and I!

Pictue 8 - Symphyllia sp.

Beside the Coral that was Flourescing, this uprooted Peacock Anemone was also radiating in bright orange.

Semakau is blessed with all these types of corals and more. And we are blessed to have Semakau. And all the more we have to be mindful of our heritage, as these once lost will be hard to replace.

(Special thanks to Jani for her keeness to teach us, and Luan Keng for organising)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chek Jawa - 23rd Dec 2007

Despite aching from the previous day "exercise" of Tug of War with discarded drift net (, I simply could not let the opportunity of visiting Chek Jawa comes to pass.

Together with like minded friends, a day in the realm of Nature is definitely worth the Orchard crush.

I have been to Chek Jawa, the shore side but have never ventured into the inter-tidal area. This will be my first time and indeed the shore is so abundant with organism that thankfully this area was spared from development into Housing Blocks!

Starting at the boardwalk, there are already much to see.

This plant (Flemingia strobilifera) has two unique type of leaves. The puffy flower like leaves, are actually folded leaves and in the olden days, these leaves can be used as filling for pillow!

There were many types of crabs along the board walk, many were busied scurrying into their nest which in this case belongs to the Mud Lobster. Below is a Mangrove Crab (Family Grapsidae). This type of crab is also known as Vinegar crab in that the Chinese especially the TeoChew pickle them with black vinegar, and it is then taken with porridge.

As we ventured into Chek Jawa, there were many Fiddler Crabs, but this was special to me as these have RED EYES. It was very difficult to ID them as
  • they were small
  • we were at the board walk

The Fiddler Crabs below (male withthe one big claw, and the female) have been identified as Uca dussumieri. (Thanks to Prof Peter Ng and Luan Keng from RMBR)

This is the female juvenile Uca dussumieri.

Approaching the inter-tidal area, we were greeted by this huge expanse of Green Carpet, but then there were many areas covered by Yellow/White blotches.

Only when one goes down on the knees and examine them, did one realised that it is the Green Sea Weed that has been bleached. See the following photo.

What caused this mass bleaching? Too much fresh water from the monsoon rain, or perhaps it is the run off from the Sungei Johore just up north. Hope that Kok Sheng's group can shed some light as they were doing the transect here to determine the recovery of Chek Jawa from the continuous deluge.

Facing seaward, the feather friends were having a feast on the sand and mud banks. The Little Egrets were less shy, and I was able to reduce my distance from them.
Whereas the Great Billed Herons were quite shy. Pictures taken from a distance.
As was in Pulau Sekudu, there were many Hermit Crabs that dwell here. (Sekudu is just next door to Chek Jawa). The biodiversity should be quite similar.

Most common hermit crabs that we have seen are the Striped Hermit Crab (Clibanarius sp). In the picture below, the hermit crab is using the shell of a Volute, and in the other picture, it is the shell of a Conch. Other than the exposed parts, the rest of the hermit crab is very soft, and will be vulnerable to be eaten or attacked if it does not have some kind of protection.

The shell is one example, but heavy camouflaging is also vital for their survival. This hermit crab is big, and the volute shell that it has occupied was huge. Still this hermit crab has taken camouflaging to a very high level. If it has not moved, one will have easily given it a miss!

We were glad that we managed to see two different types of Horseshoe Crabs. The smaller Mangrove horseshoe (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the bigger Coastal horseshoe (Tachypleus gigas).

The Horseshoe Crab is not truly a crab but belongs to the Spider family. I have always been fascinated by their eyes. It has more than ONE pair of eyes. The Horseshoe crab has a total of 10 eyes. Eyes are found on the underside as well as on the tails!

But the most prominent of all the eyes, must be the one on either sides. The Lateral Compound eyes. These are used for finding mates. Of course - what can be more important than to pro-create.
Talking of pro-create, June found this mass of "mee sua", which we believed are the egg capsules of certain slugs. Look closely, and you will see the round eggs inside the strand. Like mother hen, June ensured that we did not trampled on her precious brood! Good for June.

First time I came across this Nudibranch Armina babai, unlike most nudi, this one was not colourful and rather plain. The uniqueness of this nudi is that its gills are on the side. See the picture immediately below this.
The gills of the Armina babai.
The greatest find of the day must be this Headshield Slug. Previously this has been identified as belonging to the Hydatinae family, but has been provened to be wrong. The correct family should be Aplustridae. The specimen that we saw is most probably a Hydatina zonata.

This is a very beautiful slug, it feeds on polychaete worms. Its mantle is so huge that it cannot be totally retracted within the shell. For defence, it relies on camouflage and its ability to swim.

Probably due to the previous fresh water carnage, most of the sea cucumbers that we saw were juvenile, wish them "Grow up quickly". The specimen below was found by Samson, and it was smaller than his watch. This Ball Sea Cucumber (Phyllophorus spiculata) was small, the Button Shell is even smaller.

The sea cucumber belongs to the Echinoderm class. Similar to this will be the Sea Stars and the Brittle Stars, which we saw a fair number of them as well.

We came across this candidate which most of us suspect could be Cake Sea Star. But from the "A Guide to Sea Stars and Other Echinoderms of Singapore", this specimen seems to be the Gymnanthenea laevis (Family Oreasteridae). According to this book, the notable features are the spine-like tubercles on the central radial plates, and the arms are slightly upturned at the ends.

Another look at the Gymnanthenea laevis but from the underside.
Unlike the sea-star above, the specimen below is the Spiny Sandstar (Astropecten indicus). It has pointed legs and with that many legs, is also a very good burrower and it is in this domain that it hunts for its preys.

Lastly, why is the triangular object moving against the current? Answer, there is a Leaf Porter Crab (Neodorippe callida) below. This is how this Leaf Porter Crab caught our attention.

It possesses special claws to hold on to the leaf or in this case a covering. Usually a nocturnal creature, we were very fortunate to come across this one, and quite a big handsome one too. They tend to grow to about 15 mm, and the one we saw was about this size.

Indeed Chek Jawa is full of surpises, and I wish that it will remain so for the future generation to come in appreciation and awe.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Weaver Ants and Noni at Buloh

Today is Deepavali, and I would think that most people will sleep late and will be somewhere other than Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

I was totally wrong, upon reaching this place – bus after bus were discharging their occupants, and that is not counting people who took public transport and drove there. In was maddening, to say the least. This place was noisy and decided to go for the Kranji trail instead. But before I capture some shots of the Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

We have much flora growing on our shore, and most of these unfortunately are not indigenous to our land, but were planted by early settlers as well as our attempt to green the nation.

The Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum) originates from Africa and is now quite a common sight here. This grass can easily grow to a height of 4 m or more. Used to be gathered as fodder, but now they grow wild.

Below is a picture of the inflorescence.
Closed up of the flower.

Fern – having neither flower nor seed, this plant propagates by spores which is being produced from the underside of the leaves.
When the leaf first emerges from the centre of the fern, it is curled, and to a certain extend has the resemblance of a “foetus”.

Slowly, it will uncurl itself, and a new leaf is formed. From this image of the underside of the leaf, there seems to be “holes” where the spores are produced and released. (Try to search for articles on fern, but did not go very far).
Along the mangrove area of Kranji Trail, there are a lot of Noni Plant (Morinda citrifolia). The Malay calls it Mengkudu, but the common name Noni as adopted by most of us came from Hawaii.

This plant has both the medicinal value for the human, as well as one of the favourite home for the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina). In fact, every part of this tree, can be eaten or to be used to treat various illness face by us. Previously before the convenient of medicine, this tree has been used to treat eye, skin, gum, respiratory, constipation etc.

The bark of this tree is also produced a purplish red or brown dye that is used in making batik.
Somehow, the Weaver Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) is attracted to the Noni, and build their nest. The weaver ant builds one of the most intriguing nest in the family of Ants.

The Weaver Ant will find two leaves, and form an ant-chain and slowly close the gap between these leaves. Once it is closed enough, the ant will carry their larvae in their mandible and squeeze out silks which act like glue. Interestingly, only the larvae is able to produce this silk. The adult weaver ant is incapable of this act. The colony can span many trees, with the queen ant in the nest.

The Weaver Ants are large, and in certain country they are eaten both as adult as well as in the pupae stage. (The Noni flowers grow out from a fleshy structure that looks like a fruit)
In my attempt to take the picture, this Weaver Ant was in an angry posture, as to tell me to back off. In the past, farmers encouraged the Weaver Ants to build colony on their plants which offer protection to their crops. Now this has been revived, and definitely it will be one good way to grow organic food, provided you know how to handle the ants!The Noni that I came upon was in a cluster with the Weaver Ant Nest nearby, the weaver ant was busied harvesting nectar from the Noni Flowers as well as the Mealy bug (Cataenococcus hispidus). The weaver ant will stimulate the mealy bug with its antennae, and in response will produce a sweet liquid which the ants will consume.

The Weaver Ant can also be found in the Sea Hibiscus plant, and they are fiercely protective of their host.

Observe the 3 shots below (shot in sequence), where the ants have obtained the sweet gems from the mealybug. Notice the liquid in the mandible of the ant.

Beside foraging in the Noni plant, the Weaver ants were seen harvesting nectars from other plant, and in this case the Morning Glory.Common Sun Skink (Mabuya spp), this is a lizard but unlike lizard, skink has a smooth and overlapping scales like the snake. The interesting feature of the skink is actually the “missing neck”.
Did not realize that there was a pair hidden the undergrowth until I downloaded the shots. They would have gone un-noticed if they have not tried to avoid me by scurrying away into the undergrowth.Along the way, I came across this partially closed leaf which was housing a family of beetles (unknown). These look liked juvenile beetles. And on a separate branch, I found this pair of shiny beetles with “red eyes”.
Looks like they were in the process of mating! (Again a search through literature and Internet did not prove fruitful in coming up with the ID).

(To those of you who know the ID of these beetles, please do drop me a note. Thanks)

Glad that I made my way from the maddening crowd and into Kranji Trail. Though I walked a short distance, there were much to be seen.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cape Town - South Africa

Suppose to be with the Semakau guides to do the Exploratory Walk on the 28th Oct, but duty calls.
For late that night, I have to be at the airport making my way to Cape Town in South Africa on a business trip.

South Africa is buffeted by two oceans (Indian and Atlantic), and where the oceans “collides”and with the different in temperature, the sea here is most active and life most abundant.

Believing that I will have no chance to drink in the local scenery and enjoy its beauties, I left my camera at home. Fortunately, I was still armed with my handphone which comes with a 3.1 Megapixel camera. So this is the first time, I am blogging with pictures taken with a handphone!
(All pictures taken with Sony Ericsson K800i - no editing of any sort)

I was staying in this hotel, that overlooks the Table Mountain. It is a classic geographic term for Plateau, the top is FLAT. It rises to about 900 m, and there are many ways of going to the top, for me I can only enjoy the view from where I was staying and standing, the hotel.

In the morning, the top of this mountain is cloaked with layer of mist, and at times, the whole mountain “disappear” behind this misty shroud, but by late morning with the sun warming and clearing the air, the mountain will appear.

I took the opportunity to comb the beach, and found many dislocated kelps that have been uprooted by the constant pounding of the waves. The waves in this bay is “small”, but bigger waves can be seen outside the cove.

I examined a number of these fallen “trees”, and the trunks are round and hard, and the leaf blades are like leather - Thick and tough. But looking at the anchoring point, it seems to be held by a small root section onto rock. Kelp is one of the fastest growing organism, and in S Africa there are 3 types, of the fallen specimen, I have no idea which one is this.

The kelp forest provides safe haven for fishes, as they can hide from their predators. Sea Otter has been seen using the kelp as a type of "rope"which it will wind around its body when it is feeding on the water surface. This will keep them in one spot and not be swept away.

(Below picture was taken in the Two Ocean Acquarium - Cape Town, showing the simplified kelp forest formation)
The Kelp forest forms a very important part of the eco system just like the trees on land. The root system, the swaying "trunks"and leaves. Many other organisms rely on the kelps for their survivors.

Strewn across the sandy shore, unfortunately are the many shells of mollusks and leftover of human occupation! So similar to most of our shores.

(looking very much like Water Hyacinch, there were many of these that were brought in by the waves)

Along the strewn path to the water line, many native and maybe imported flowers can be seen. Unfamiliar with the S African fauna, I perceive that this may be the daisy, and probably brought over by the early settlers.

There were many types of birds, was unable to capture them with my simple phone.
Gulls flew with the wind and look for leftover scraps from the human. Dove of types, that I have never seen. Over the sky, a flock of ibis flew with their curve beaks.

South Africa faces the same economic dilemma as most countries, the Abalone has been over-harvested. River extraries have been polluted by development effort.

South Africa – there is really so much one can see.