Sunday, April 12, 2009

015. Them Mozzies Were Worth It Aft’ All (11th April – Part 2)

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About 40 minutes after the tide reached 0.3m in height, only did Hen and I reached the far end of the coral reef edge. If it was at normal sea level, I wouldn’t have the guts to even travel half the distance lest I get swept away by the strong current. But with the waves lapping at our shins, we stopped and gazed out towards the east. The sun was just peeking through the curtained-skies and boy, it was definitely a jaw-dropping fantastic day! With the Singapore Straits just behind us, we slowly trudged our way back towards the meeting point while reminiscing about the past couple hours of the fun, the cool and the embarrassing. =)













The Dog-Faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops) was one of the first creatures (besides the pesky mosquitoes) to cross our paths as we treaded our way through the mangroves. Mildly venomous, this reptile feeds on fish although the big ones can feed on eels, mudskippers, catfish etc. It’s noted that the dog-faced water snakes are not aggressive in water (usually lethargic and docile). However, on land, their first response to threats is to flee, which was what did this lil’ creature here did as its comfy spot was getting too crowded by the minute.

And after getting feasted by mosquitoes left and right, up and down; Hen and I finally reached our designated spot where we will be conducting our survey. It wasn’t 5 minutes before we heard Ron give out a cry of surprise. And guess what, it was none other than the elusive mud lobster (below)!!


It was my first time – even for the experienced guide himself – seeing this creature (the whole of it) in Singapore! The mud lobsters (Thalassina anomala) are rarely seen as they live within underground burrows, which are dug extensively beneath mangrove habitats. Their existence are usually indicated by volcano-shaped mounds that result from their digging (and I was writing about this just the other day too!). Sometimes, it emerges from its burrow at night (as shown by the picture). Its digging oxygenates the soil profile below while its mound provides a place to live for creatures such as ants, crabs and snakes.

This crustacean here was approximately 25-30 cm in length. Wicked stance!










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(left): After seconds of contemplation, we decided to note this organism down as an ascidian (Greek for ‘little body). Ascidians are distantly related to chordates (or those possessing a back bone) as they have – during the larval stage – 1) a tail, 2) a dorsal nerve cord, 3) a dorsal stiffening structure (aka the notochord), and 4) pharyngeal gill clefts.

(top right): The main focus of the picture was the algae that lies in the middle of the picture. Since we were running low on time (compared to the large tract of area that we had to survey), Hen and I just named this plant-like organism ‘Algae 2’ and as we planned to sort all of them out after we reached the Visitors’ Center.

(bottom right): At a closer look, ‘Algae 3’ resembles the seasonal Strap Brown Seaweed (Dictyota sp.) rather closely in shape.

(bottom): And just as I was feeling for the holdfast which bound the algae to the fan shell (top right), I suddenly felt something slimy. Immediately jerking my hand away lest it was a snake (or something venomous), I went through the thicket of algae once more after having my chopsticks in hand. And at closer look, we saw it was a little fish. But the curious thing was the fish didn’t even do so much as flick its fin as it felt my touch. Generally, a fish will flee in 2 shakes of a duck’s tail if a shadow do so much as just  pass above it. Thinking that it was dead, we tried to get a reaction from it once more. Since it seemed rather lethargic and that organisms like fish can be collected for further verification, all I ended up with later in my container, was water. >_> Sigh..


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(left): ‘Algae 4’ which looked similarly to ‘Algae 2’. Again, a specimen was collected for further identification later on.

(right): Discovered by Hen, ‘Algae 5’ looked rather pretty with its bronze-reddish hue. We assumed it to be the red Gracilaria sp., but we couldn’t be too sure.


(left): Looking at this picture now, I am uncertain which number this alga was classified under. >_< It’s fortunate that Hen remembered to collect specimens for the identification of algae.

(right): Calcareous green algae is one alga that is easily recognisable. This alga (Halimeda sp.) is one of the green algae that deposits calcium carbonate internally. It may be green when it’s alive, the skeleton that it leaves behind is behind is white once it dies off.


(left): Lying in the middle of this picture of 2 species of algae, one is the mermaid’s fan (Padina sp.) (top right) while the other is probably the Bryopsis sp. (the pale green strands that lie in the middle of the picture).

(right): In the midst of the Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) meadow, Hen picked out a bivalve that was encrusted with drills (Thais sp.) all around. In the picture, only a couple of drills can be seen as the rest have fallen into the plastic, which will also be containing this bivalve soon enough.




(left): Then, swimming as freely as you please about in the seagrass meadow was a snapping shrimp (Alpheus sp.). It wasn’t easy to catch a picture of it as it was weaving rather nimbly through blades of tape seagrass before disappearing from our sight entirely (after a short stopover at Hen’s left foot.. lol). These shrimps are skilful diggers that can dig deep (and often complex) burrows. Their poor eyesight are compensated by well-developed sensory feelers for touch and smell. 

(top right & bottom right): Sponge 1 and Sponge 2, looked relatively familiar but which names still remain elusive like the mud lobster. As soon as the new sponge guidebook comes out later this year, I am so going to get it. This helpless feel does not become me.


(left): If it wasn’t for a black-lipped conch (Strombus urceus), I wouldn’t have knelt down and the rock star or the Crown Sea Star (Asterina coronata) would have went unnoticed.

(right): Hen found the second one of the day by sheer chance. =) Who would have thought that there would be a star stuck to the bottom of an ascidia-encrusted T-shaped shell (or something like it)? Lucky~~


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Turning it over, underneath (in grooves) the  arms are somewhat long slender tube feet that end in suckers. And as one might have guessed, the tube feet are used for locomotion (or walking, but in my opinion, sliding would be a better word) ^^.


(left): Other sea stars such as the common sea star (Archaster typicus) was seen pseudo-mating (fake sex, in other words). When these stars are about to mate, the smaller male stacks above the female in order to stake a claim on her. Possessive aren’t we? But anyway, this act itself does not mean that their sexual organs are in contact with each other, hence pseudo-mating. Instead, external fertilisation takes place as the eggs and the sperm are released at the same time.

(right): I have no clue what this might be, but Hen and I assumed that it might be an anemone.


(Top): Taking a closer look at the bottom of the green-lined ‘bell’, in the midst of the tentacles are 4 large brown specks. The tentacles itself made us catch our breath; it wouldn’t be surprising if this was indeed an anemone. Sea anemones are often called flowers of the seas as their long, flashy, radially-arranged tentacles look rather similar to flower petals.

(Bottom): Traversing along the sea-grass meadow once more, I went further in front to continue our hunt. And what a bountiful find the next creature was!!! Sprawled and interlaced among the blades of the seagrass was a rather fat Banded file snake (Acrochordus granulatus). Nocturnal and harmless to humans, these creatures are usually seen in the late evening or early morning.

Seeing this snake, I immediately called (okay, I might have screamed a little >.<) out to Hen, who then subsequently called a rather excited Ron by phone. Not knowing whether it was harmless or otherwise, my mind had only 1 intent and that was taking pictures of the reptile (hmm.. thinking about it, I should have waited for the coordinators first and get their advice. Noted!). Later, Mindy (with gloves and all) came, saw and conquered~~ :) (she handled the snake rather expertly before placing it on a sandy mound).

(left): The banded file snake can achieve a length to about 1m or more. It is banded with black or brown bands on white or beige. On the underside along the centre of the belly lies a prominent fold.  The loose skin is covered with small rough scales; this file-like skin then helps it to grip slippery prey, like small fishes (its main diet). Also, we noticed that the snake did several peristalsis movements along 2/3 of its body (probably digesting its prey?).

(right): As can be seen, the snake has rather tiny eyes that’s accompanied by a rather small mouth. However, those nostril-like holes seem rather big don’t they? :)



All too soon, the skies herald the arrival of the morning sun by gradually turning to a rose-peach hue; revealing baby blue clouds that glimmered over the horizon. It was 15 minutes before we had to return to the meeting point. As quickly and as efficient as possible, Hen and I went on to finish the rest of the tract. Although we came out from the Hunting-Seeking session with countless ‘kiss’ marks from the mosquitoes, it was worth it (and more)! Farewell banded snake and (hopefully), I’ll be able to see you again in July (fingers crossed ^^x).













** Again, my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to AY for his camera. You rock, senpai!

014. Ethereal beauty vs Ear-splitting brawn (10th April – Part 1)


THIS was the day which many of us were eagerly awaiting for. Our arrival at Marina South Pier were enthusiastically ‘greeted’ by a sheet of pelting rain. But then again, I wouldn’t trade the storm that day for any tropical sunshine on the equator. =) Although I was immediately speared with numerous water droplets as I edged towards the side of the sheltered area, there wasn’t any rush for me to turn back for cover. I stood rooted as I took in the roiling of the waves and the distant rumbling of thunder.






Being one of the busiest ports in the world, ships were still sailing aplenty in the rocky waters towards the south of Singapore. With the heavy downpour and chilling, greyish doomsday-like atmosphere, (with a little imagination, of course), this picture (above) could have been something out of ‘The Pirates of The Caribbean’.

After a while, it’s back to Earth for me. After a session of OJT in the do’s and don’ts of ‘Bridge’ (courtesy of Mindy ^^), I could follow the game somewhat without getting lost in the initial bidding session or being driven to confusion by ‘partners’ and ‘trumps’. It was good fun while the boat headed down its usual 45-minute route (probably longer, due to the weather) to Semakau Island.

Compared to all my previous trips to Semakau Island, this one was one of the most special because since when doesn’t staying overnight (especially at a place where not many has done so before) not give you the thrills right? Since the tide was at its lowest (0.3m) at 6:07 am in the morning, we all had to set out early just so that the ‘Hunting & Seeking’ session 1 can be carried out with relatively little delay. Tide and time wait for no man indeed.

With a reminder to be back at the Visitors’ Centre by 8 in the evening  (left), we were given permission to explore the island as soon as the rain abated. Thanks to Sam and his plastic bags of ration (including a whole honey glazed chicken, several cans of mushroom soup, bread and tea-brewed eggs) plus Hen’s packet of bread sticks, our bellies were satisfied before we headed down the usual tarred route (right) that led towards the mangrove and intertidal areas.

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(left): Not only was the air refreshingly cool after the long rainy session, it was also free of mosquitoes and sandflies (though it was near 6 when we set out) ^^v. Taking in the slightly-salty breeze, the six of us set out on the 3.5km trail. Admiring the sea-view and glittering industry-dotted horizon on our right, our walk was mostly peppered with smiles and (rather =__=””) jokes.  However even so, Hen and I still had time to play paparazzi to the lovely wildflowers that flourished along the roadside.

(right): Though not as striking as the purple blooms that grew next to it, this humble yellow blossom still makes a sweet picture. It was too bad that a slight whisper from the evening wind was enough to send it whipping into merry excitement.  

Laced with pearly raindrops, these tiny purple inflorescence  ( =a cluster of flowers) captured many of our hearts and commanded the camera’s attention.

Shimmering like Swarovski crystals, the droplets turned these subtle pretty-in-pink into an electrostatic attraction.

Hanging by the thread, this droplet was all ready to plunge into the verdant sea beneath. By the time we had snapped to our heart’s content, it was then only we realised the sky had taken a shade of dusky grey-blue.

A view of the Semakau Landfill from afar with the Visitors’ Centre situated on its far right. Time for the de-briefing session on what’s expected of during the ‘Hunting & Seeking’ session!

** Gosh, this reminds me I better lick my intertidal knowledge into shape during the hols.

** Also, my heartfelt gratitude to AY for lending me his SX100 IS. =) I would have never been able to take all the above snapshots if it wasn’t for your camera. あなたわ最高,はロリ-くん!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

013. Banking on Awareness (5th April 2009)

Even though rubbish was strewn adjacent to it, this view and its surrounding ambience had me holding my breath. Welcome to St. John’s Island (in my opinion, this is one place where Kuching would be a better alias instead). Of course, this doesn’t greet you immediately when you first set foot on the island. In fact, not unless you are willing to brave slippery slopes and muddy banks can you savour this hideaway with its near-pristine waters. With approximately 35 employees from the Deutche Bank in tow, we all set off to the island to carry out a coastal-cum-mangrove cleanup. Indeed, whoever’s been to the island would agree that this location (especially the small area of mangroves) was sorely in need of a spring-cleaning.












Proudly sporting their bright blue logos (which apparently means a growth that is steadily regulated), the near 40 people were separated into 3 groups. With LK as the lead guide of the group, I was assistant with my responsibilities ranging from being a photographer to seeker (of certain fruits of plants etc). But mainly, I was there to gain some know-hows of being a guide. Lesson 1: The type of audience matters. To be an engaging guide, one has to change the mannerism, language and content according to the kind of listeners. After kicking off with introduction, LK explained the itinerary of the day before going a little into the history of the place. Apparently, this island used to be a former quarantine station for leprosy cases and a penal settlement for political prisoners and ringleaders of secret societies. Cool eh?

After making sure everyone has put on the proper required shoe wear, it was time for the short guided tour. The first plants LK touched on was the pong pong tree (Cerbera odollam) which flank the roads situated near the coast before proceeding to a few mangrove tales. Lesson 2: Never drown your audience in a pool of scientific facts. Scaring them defeats the purpose of a guided walk. Instead, share with them stories or information which they can relate to in their daily lives. Unless you have a group of ecological students/scientists that come for an education tour, it’s best to leave out the scientific names. Common names would do just as well. In fact, the public might relate better to these and would hence, be more interested in the walk.

The Chinaman’s Hat or the limpet (left) got quite a few oohs and ahhs from the audience. Lesson 3: Elaborate on the readily-seen features. Visuals and images sink in more quickly then words. In fact, if it’s possible, talk about some quirky facts that are associated with the clear-to-see features. Like the limpet, it’s stuck so hard to the substrate that it’s near impossible to pry them off with just bare hands.

We were all pretty amazed (yours truly excluded cause she was trying hard to find a pong pong fruit while snapping shots of the group.. lol) when LK explained that the hole dug by the ghost crab (Ocypode sp.) (right) tunnels down four feet at a 45° angle. Animals and plants and such are important and make wonderful tales, however, the natural features of the landscape (eg strand line etc) are also excellent fodder for guides to focus on.

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Everyone having fun with the Casuarina branchlet (left). Lesson 4: Touching can do wonders. And I don’t mean anything lewd with this, mind out from the gutters please.  :) Anyway, instead of just going on and on about a certain plant or animal, it’s also good to let our audience get a feel of the described organism. Even letting your group handle simple things like the aforementioned branchlet is a million times better than letting them listen to you drone on and on about the wonders of this and that. Humans, we get distracted real easy.. before long, it will be thin air one is addressing.

Lesson 5: Having fun is not against the law. In fact, it will ease the tension and let you communicate more easily with your audience (right). Of course, the assistant guide left that area with puffs of white, hairy seeds in her face. =.=”

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Everyone gazes far into the sky as they tried to catch a glimpse of the distant Brahminy Kite (left). And soon, we reached the designated area that green group was in charge of. Looks fairly clean doesn’t it? Well, seeing is not always believing.

The flowers of the Teruntum Merah (Lumnitzera littorea) (left). It was really hard for me to leave a plant without getting at least one clear picture of it, but then duty calls. Nearby the plant had some weaver ants crawling about it. Though they can have many nests (right) on one plant, only one will contain the queen. Small but smart.

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Resembling a fresh mound of poop, this mud lobster mound (left) was found aplenty (new and old ones) on the muddy area which we trekked upon. These mounds are made when the mud lobster digs deep into the muddy substrate in search for food. Whatever mud that they come face-to-face with will be kicked and piled on the surface.

And in the Eden of verdant tranquillity, a large Nipah palm (Nypa fruticans) (right)was found flowering and fruiting. Apparently, this plant has many uses. But I can’t seem to conjure up any, and the only use I know of it is that the jello-like substance in the seed is eaten as attap chee. Ooh, now that I think of it, LK also mentioned that the sap collected from the plant is also used to produce Gula Melaka. This gotta be one of my favourite trees. :P

And here’s what I meant by the Eden of verdant tranquillity. Except for the rubbish marring its edges, this scene was near-perfect.

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And boy were there a lot of them! Split up further into 3 groups, each was given a pair of tongs, gloves and a couple of those black, massive garbage bags before they went their own way to pick up the trash strewn about. And as expected, there were a lot of plastic bags being disposed off. Other wastes include construction trash, a large polystyrene box (above), cans, cardboards etc. It was too much that those in charge stopped recording the rubbish (the data will then be added into the database of the International Coastal Cleanup) picked and focused their energy solely on the fairly arduous task.

By the end of the day, the place was relatively cleaner compared to the 1 hour before. Although the people have been encouraged to reuse, reduce and recycle, there’s still a long way to go before Singapore can achieve its aim to be 100% litter-free. As RY says, each and everyone of us is already helping with the conservation of nature just by not littering and recycling. :)

It was a fun day indeed despite getting all muddy and wet (the heavens opened up and poured as we were on our way back to the jetty), but little did I know I was in for a nasty revelation. >_< Get well soon, A720 IS!