Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guided Walk at Semakau - March 2010

A group of students from Nan Hua high school joined me on a morning of adventure at Pulau Semakau. They were the Green Reps/ Ambassadors of their school, and I hope they will take home the message of conservation, and the 3Rs (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle) for sharing with their friends.

Once again, we were all intrigued by the rich marine life on our shores - something that many of us do not expect.

Apart from this Dragonfish Sea Cucumber (Stichopus horrens) that the hunter-seekers found, our group also saw 2 others as we waddled through the 'deathzone' of the seagrass lagoon. This species of Sea Cucumber is said to melt and disintegrate when exposed in the sun for too long. It can also shed its skin when stressed, so be sure not to disturb it unnecessarily.

Often thought to be a worm by first-time visitors to our shores, the Synaptid Sea Cucumber (Family Synaptidae) was a great show-and-tell partner. As I  was introducing it to the crowd, it gamely showed us how it lashes its beautiful tentacles to feed on detritus in the water.

The participants treaded carefully for fear of stepping on a 'land mine' - the Sandsifting Sea Stars (Archaster typicus)  were half buried in the sand. Camouflaging fairly well into the surroundings, we might just step on one if we don't watch our step. While they do not have a brain, and might not feel any pain, we can never be sure, can we?

I must apologise for the photo that doesnt do the Knobbly Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus) any justice. Apart from being the icon for Project Semakau, our Knobblies often awed our visitors with its vibrant colours, pretty knobs (that gave its common name) and its sheer size (it can grow up to 30cm wide!). This Sea Star has a calcified body which makes it difficult for predators to prey on it.

Although mildly venomous, be sure not to touch the Black Long-spined Sea Urchin (Diadema setosum) as the spines can give painful stings if stepped on. The brittle and needle-like spines makes it challenging to extract it from our flesh too. In addition to being a defense mechanism, the spines , in partnership with the Sea Urchin's tube feet, helps it to walk.

My first time seeing a Juvenile Noble Volute (Cymbiola nobilis) whose shell is of a much darker shade. We were really lucky to see a pretty adult too. Unfortunately, this snail's existance is threatened due to habitat loss and over-collection of its beautiful shell - I have seen ,on several occasions, bazaar stalls selling spoons made from the volute's shell!

The Spider Conch (Lambis Lambis) may look unattractive at first glance, but I never fail to hear the visitors' 'Wahhhhh' when I turn it over to show its underside. Named after the spikes on the shell's edge that resembles the legs of a spider, the Spider Conch has a strong operculum and foot that allows it to pole-vault away on the surface.

Our adorable Polka-dot Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris) made a guest appearance too. Named after its exposed naked gills (the feather like structures), Nudibranchs are sea slugs and actually have shells when they are young, but sheds their shell thereafter. They thus develop other defense mechanism such as having warning predators that they are distasteful or poisonous with their bright colours.

Its my first encounter with this Nudibranch (and I believe its a first record for Semakau!). Not quite sure what species this is, but it certainly is huge, almost as long as the length of my 26cm chopstick!

Nearby, we also saw these egg ribbons, not sure if it was the eggs of the Nudibranch, but certainly a good sign that our shores are thriving with life!

It was Bull's eye for the group on their guess of how the Flatworm got its name - 'cause they are really flat! Pseudoceros sp.  was the only species we saw that day and the participants were surprised to hear that the flatworm is a Hermaphrodite which possesses both the male and female reproduction organs. Unlike us, flatworms have no circulatory and respiratory organs,instead oxygen and nutrients pass through their bodies by diffusion.

I had to remind the participants to be extra careful as we wade through the water near the reefs after noticing a few Sea Nettle Jellyfishes (Chrysaora sp.) pulsating near us - contact with their tentacles can result in quite painful stings! Jellyfishes also do not have specialized  respiratory, or circulatory systems as their skin is thin enough for the body to be oxygenated by diffusion.

Another Jellyfish we saw was this Upside-down Jellyfish (Cassiopea sp.) which gives a milder sting that can cause skin irritation with an exceptional itch. No prizes though, for correct guesses on how it got its common name. This Jellyfish harbours a mutually beneficial relationship with zooanthellae (single-celled photosynthetic algae) that is housed in its body. The algae shares its food with the jellyfish who in turns provides a home and minerals for the algae.

Occasionally mistaken for the Upside-down Jellyfish, the Hell's Fire Anemone (Actinodendron sp.) is one you don't want to mess with. Aptly described by one volunteer, the sting from this Anemone burns you like how a fire will, and hurts like 'hell'. Although I have no personal experience to speak of, I sure don't want a taste of that feeling. One can identify the Anemone by its radiating white stripes from its centre disk, and its branching triangular-shaped tentacles.

We were really lucky to see this Heart Cockle (Corculum cardissa), not as commonly seen due to overcollection of its shell. A simple googling will show you how its being marketed as a token of love, sold a fairly cheap price. Little do couples noticed that this clam's opening of the valves cuts vertically across the centre of the 'heart', just like how we often depict a broken heart. In my opinion, a bad omen and not a good token of love at all!

Per usual trips, we had a chance to visit our resident Fluted Giant Claim (Tridacna squamosa), but for as long as we keep the environment protected, clean and for its growth. Unlike most other bivalves, the giant clam harbours single-celled algae ,in its fleshy body, which produces food through photosynthesis. To maximise its "farm", the clam exposes these algae to the sunlight by facing the mantle to sunlight, at the same time, giving us a wide smile!

Yet another fruitful trip to round up my intertidal walks in March. =)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friendship is.....

... being a cushion (or a punch bag for that matter) for your friend, even though it means allowing him/ her to place his/her smelly foot on your belly....

... being really upfront with each other. Friends are transparent to each other, and if we have to lay the cards on the table, we fight it out once and for all.  

... nudging each other after the big fight. We quarrel, but we reconcile too. We forgive, and we forget.

... sometimes, seeing eye to eye. Working together towards a common vision, we are likely to have the same values, driven by the same passion. Friendship is often, one mind in two bodies.

... not seeing eye to eye in many matters. Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

... not being afraid to give a constructive reminder kok on the head. Better he or she be told off by me, than by others.

... being a mirror image of the other if the kok doesnt work. Having a taste of one's own medicine is always cruel but experiential learning always seem to work better.

... watching each other's back. There is no 'I' in a 'Team'.

... looking beside you when it hurts to look back, and you're scared to look ahead, because you will always find your friend there...

... being a pillar of support no matter what happens. A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

..... accepting each other's differences, even if the other is clad in dirty sand and mud all the time...

Are you a friend to another?


Go on, appreciate a friend today.. =)

4-hr date on 19 March with the Smooth Otters

I must have walked up and down the main bridge of SBWR more than 30 times on the morning of 19th March. That approximate 300m displacement from the main entrance is all I managed during the 4-hr trip, pretty much because of the stalking of our endearing Smooth Otters (Lutrogale perpicillata).

Quite perfect timing, the gang of 4 swam towards the main bridge just as we were crossing it. One of them showed off their multitasking skill by yawning and swimming at the same time. No wonder, it was barely 8am in the morning. I was yawning and walking at the same time too. =)

3 of them frolick around the area for a short while, catching fishes while waiting for a member who has lagged behind to catch up.

As they walked ashore, they disappeared behind the mangrove plants. So, why did the otter cross the road/ path?

Because they love to enjoy a hearty breakfast at the prawn pond! With the otters swimming back and forth, and round and round the prawn pond, the 3 of us (the human beings) walked up and down the path, following the direction in which they were swimming (the otters) towards.

While I have never been a big fan of fishes (as a food source), I must say the manner in which the otter feasts on really made the sashimi seemed really yummy. The crunchy sound, coupled with the the otter's enthusiasm and look of satisfaction, gave me second thoughts on whether I'm missing out on some gourmet food!

I was secretly pleased to note that I'm not the only lazy bum in the world! What's best after a full stomach? A nap! shiok only if you lie on your back, spread all paws out, and basically couldnt care less about the spinning world. I, need to learn (about taking it easy that is, not the sleeping posture).

Amazing how we can spent another 1hr+ at the freshwater pond, of course with lots of action from the otters, which I will leave to the next post. =P

In summary, they played hard, the rested, and they performed (or so I think).

Near noon, these otters were STILL at it! Talk about having enormous amount of energy! They must have gotten a little bored with each other, one started gnawing at the cat tail! Not sure it its for play, or for a good reason, but for sure, its something that I wouldnt imagine the authorities to be very pleased with.

Even as the afternoon crowd started to gather, these otters didnt seem bothered with the buzz! Hopefully they won't get so used to human beings that they let their guard down.

The sighting of the Estuarine Crocodule (Crocodylus porosus) must have been the happiest for, ahem, my pseudo daughter. Its her first time meeting these reptiles wild in our reserves! It was quite hilarious how she was still wondering why we were busy snapping photos away, not realising the crocodile's presence. I wouldnt blame her because the still crocodile looks just like a log in water, and part sometimes part of the mangrove plant (trunk) on land.

Being cold blooded, it is not uncommon to see them basking in the sun on a bright sunny morning. This act allows it to regulate its body temperature using the warmth from our natural source of energy.

While it is the largest of all living reptiles, the Estuarine Crocodile that can grow up to 8m in length is seen to be no longer than 3m in our reserves. Although ferocious, these crocodiles have plenty of fishes to feast on in the reserve, they do not pose as a danger to human beings, unless provoked and threatened, of course.

It was interesting to note how the crocodile changed its position when the tide was rising. It looked pretty much like a helpless soul, stranded on an island, soon to be drown! Can't quite happen, because they swim fairly well!


We left the reserve for a good meal of Ramen, not sashimi at Holland Village, before continuing the day's adventure at Pasir Ris mangroves! Its been a long while since I last visited, but I realised I didnt take many photos! 

I havent seen the Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) for a long while! We must be quite luckily, because this heron is primarily more active at twilight. A locally endangered species due to loss of nesting sites and chemical (pesticide) poisoning, it lives mainly in mangroves or near water bodies with plenty of fishes.

One of the highlights of the trip has to be my second encounter with a 'crocodile'!  It was my first meeting with Bruguiera hainesii, whose Malay name means 'crocodile's eyes'.

The bashing through of the forest was all worthwhile, for the cigar-like propagule, and pretty flowers!

Although the weather didnt hold up, and we were caught in a heavy downpour towards the end of the trip, it was still a really fun outing. Definitely a great way to spent my annual leave day!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Leisure walk at SBWR - 14 March

March was really a mad month at work with all the tight deadlines, and I ended up with lots of blog debts of all the weekend trips!

Together with a few friends, we spent an entire morning on 14 March at Sungei Buloh, and were pleasantly surprised with many unexpected sightings.

The replanted Berembang (Sonneratia caseolaris) at the entrance of the Reserve has always been in the limelight as this species is very rare in Singapore. This Serembang that has grown naturally is likely to take over the spot the next time we visit the reserve. The only Sonneratia with red stamens, it also has a flat calyx. Durian lovers have the Sonneratia to thank, because of its role as a food source to sustain bats who polinates the Durian trees. The Sonneratia is especially importatnt during the times when Durian tree is not flowering.


The Sea Hollies are named after the unrelated Christmas plant Holly because their leaves look fairly similar. However, not all species have spiny leaves though. The Acanthus volubilis usually does not have the sharp spiny leaves and is more of a climber.

Acanthus ebracteatus, on the other hand, has very spiny leaves. The Sea Hollies adapts to the environment of high salinity by secreting excess salt through the leaves.

Less common in the reserve is the Acanthus ilicifolius with the light violet flowers.

Another great discovery is that of a fruiting Finlaysonia Ovobata along the mangrove boardwalk. Needless to say, we spent a good 15-20 mins taking many shots of the fruits.

Living in harmony were 3 species of birds, perching on a barren tree. We have the Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis), the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans) and probably Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) 排排站ing on the branches.

True to its name, the Yellow-Barred Flutterer (Rhyothemis phyllis) was fluttering over our heads really quickly, as if playing the game of catching with our cameras. It was really exasperating trying to take a sharp photo of it.

Safety in numbers, the Shield Bugs (Calliphara nobilis) gathered behind the mangrove leaves possibly for shelter. Their shiny wings make them look just like gems, albeit hidden, in the mangroves. They apparently disperses with a loud buzz when disturbed, so be sure not to do disturb them if you don't want to be startled!

After so many trips to the reserve, its only my first time meeting the Yellow-spotted Mudskipper(Periophthalmus walailakae). I guess thats because I never really took a closer look because they are supposedly one of the larger and obvious mudskippers around. This Yellow-spotted Mudskipper can tolerate long durations out of water by trapping water and oxygen to help them breathe on land. Their ability to breathe through their moist skin helps too, which is why we often see them walking into small puddles (to keep skin damp).

As the tide rose, we saw this Blue-spotted Mudskipper (Boleophthalmus boddarti) who appeared to be hanging on to a mangrove root for dear life using its muscular pectoral fins (although it can actually swim!). Unlike other mudskippers who are predators, the Blue-spotted Mudskipper grazes on the layer of algae growing on the mud instead.

I was a little disturbed by this pack of fierce dogs who were barking and fighting in the reserve. I've seen stray dogs chase after otters and essentially, they become a threat to our wildlife in the reserve. Hopefully they will be displaced at another more appropriate environment soon!

My all-time favourite Smooth Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) also made a stopover at their usual sandbox! This was a group of 3 and 2 of them were grooming each other - quite a sweet sight!

,,,while the third one made itself really comfortable, sleeping on its back, at the same time enjoying a bask in the sun.

Was it my eyes or did the otter just winked at us? =P

One of the common reptiles in the Reserve, the Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) was sun-tanning to regulate the temperature of its blood. It has an excellent sense of smell, owing to its forked tongue that it sticks in and out of its mouth. The bite of the monitor lizard is venomous so be sure to leave them alone and not provoke them if you cross their path.

My second time seeing the Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella), the first being more than 1 year ago! This lizard's body can turn brown when threatened. The number of Green Crested Lizard is apparently on the decline in Singapore - some said possibly due to competition from the Changeable Lizard, an introduced species.

While the Lizard was fairly cooperative in posing for photos, it was still challenging to get a clear sharp shot with the poor lighting.

The amazing fact of such nature places is that there are always new surprises on every trip, no matter how many times you have been there. I guess this is also why many of us keep visiting these havens over and over again because each experience is never quite the same!