Pulau Hantu - A celebration of marine life

Secret lives and secret worlds hidden in Singapore's most popular coral reef.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Conservation of Turtles.

I was reading this magazine called SCUBAGLOBE Thai Diver, which was distributed during ADEX. As a magazine based in Thailand, most of its articles and advertisments were of Thai dive shops.

Something interesting caught my eye: a poster of a flip-sided turtle getting hacked and towed along the beach. These are excerpts from the short article:

"Turtles are creatures we are familar with and although they appear to be slow and clumsy on land, they are actually graceful swimmers as they effortlessly glide through water.

Turtles are able to procreate between 20-30 years old and dispite a large clutch of eggs, only a few survice to maturity. Unfortunately in Asian waters, turtles mortality rates have doubled over the last four years and are nearing extinction.

Even with these odds, the human race seems determined to make their very existence even more of a challenge. Turtle eggs are high in demand and most cluthches never get to hatch. Adult turtles are too without sanctuary and often hunted for their shells, which are utilized as an ingredient in traditional medicines, made into musical instruments and jewellery accessories such as eyeglass frames, hair clips and pins.

It is quite ironic that the turtle's 'Shell Of Life'- the mobile home it carries on its back, has been allowed to become a cause for its excruciating demise.

Please help save these magnificant creatures by avoiding the consumption or purchase of any products dericed from turtles."

The poster was aptly named "A HOME TO DIE FOR?" by WILDAID.

If you see turtle products on sale in Singapore, inform the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority at 1800-226 2250. And if you're in Thailand, call 1800-226 2250 0-6973-2220-1 or 0-2579-6886.

I am proud that individual countries are able to stand out on their own now to start clamping down on all these activities. Cheerz to you guys at WILDAID THAILAND!!!

Monday, May 24, 2004

Update on devil ray sighting

On March 1, 1994, 28 individuals Devil rays Mobula thurstoni were trapped in a kelong in Tuas Bay.

The wingspan of these animals average about 1m. The sighting we had of the ray in Hantu waters was estimated 3 feet, which fits the bill.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bubus and Sea Snake at Hantu

The Hantu Bloggers released fish from two bubus (fish traps) in in the reefs of Pulau Hantu on Saturday morning. The two fish traps measuring apx. 1.5 by 2 meters in length were certainly discarded traps but they were not dysfunctional.

The first bubu on the westward fringe reef contained six banded angelfish, malabar grouper, a small school of yellow and blueback fusiliers and a red breasted maori wrasse. The second held blue spotted ray, and an unidentified species of catfish. The second bubu was at a 2m depth on the western submerged reef.

While working around the submerged reef, we had two amazing encounters with a banded sea snake and an unidentified eel. While the snake was small, apx. 1.6m in length, it felt confident enough to let us follow it around the reef as it searched for prey. An incredible and awesome, as well as educational, experience for the divers. The eel was a shy creature, but we managed to get pix and are currently trying to ID it. In a later post, this was identified to be a Yellow-lipped Krait, Laticauda colubrina.

Unidentified eel

Seahorse at Hantu

Seahorsified: As if two days at the Regional Workshop on Seahorse Biology, Culture and Conservation/Stock Enhancement didn't do enough to teach me all and more I ever dared to ask about seahorses, the Hantu Bloggers Dive on Saturday, May 22, revealed a Tiger tail seahorse clinging nonchantlantly onto a seawhip at the shallow depths. What a seahorse-filled week! It seems we can't get enough of them!

While the picture shows it looking rather inconspicuous, prior to it spotting me spotting it, it was coiled firmly around the whip, looking no more like a twig. The yellow stripes on its tail gave it away though. Maybe it stood out because I've been looking at them all week. But seahorses haven't been spotted at Hantu for awhile, and while they've always been known to be around, this is an encouraging reminder that they're still alive on our reefs - more reason to protect their marine homes. And also, a notice for divers to watch where they thread and what they bump into, for what seems dead may very much be alive. Not to mention... cool too...

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Seahorse Workshop at TMSI

The Tropical Marine Sciences Institute (TMSI) held a regional seahorses workshop today at their research institute at St. John's Island.

Seahorse researchers from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore gathered to share information primarily on seahorse culture, but also discussed conservation and re-stocking issues.

Much in discussion was how to reduce the mortality rate of seahorses in captivity. It was revealed that the highest rate of mortality occurs during the first five days of a juvenile seahorses life. It is also apparent there is some variation in the diet between seahorses of the same species in different parts of the world. There may also exist difference in mating behaviour and frequency between different populations of seahorse.

Aquarists, seahorse traders and personnel from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Parks Board (NParks) were also present at the workshop.

NParks used the workshop to learn more about survey methods. Followup studies of animals that have been released into the wild have proven to be very challenging. Even more so for animals like seahorses that are experts at camouflage, if not already being located within dense seagrass beds and the crevices of coral, underwater.

Following the talk, guests were invited to explore TMSI grounds including the breeding facilities of two species of native seahorses, Hedgehog seahorse hippocampus spinosissimus and Tiger tail seahorse hippocampus comes. Also breeding at the facility were Golden travelly, seabass, corals, barnacles and of course the shrimp feeds.

TMSI is a faculty of the National University of Singapore. Also located on St. John's Island were the AVA and HDB, where water sampling studies are conducted.

1)Presentation of tagging methods 2)Common fungal diseases amongst juvenile seahorses 3)Dr. Walford, TMSI and Dr. Anindiastuti, NSDC, Indonesia 4)Choo Chee Kuang, KUSTEM, Malaysia 5)Seahorses in breeding tanks 6)Tiger tail seahorse in breeding tank

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

What the devil?

Kelvin Lim, the Curator of Fishes at NUS' Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research gives some insight to the "Manta Ray sighting" off Pulau Hantu on Saturday:

"There are records of manta rays in Singapore, but they are the smaller ones the devil rays - genus Mobula. I don't know of any records of the true one, Manta birostris, from Singapore, but they occur in the Tioman area, and it is possible that they may wander into our waters.

[However], 3 ft would be the size of devil rays. In the mid 1990s, a
school of Mobula thurstoni was trapped in a kelong off Tuas, and
a few were brought to Underwater World. One of them pup in the
aquarium, but all died soon after. We have the pup and one adult
preserved in our collection."

So it is possible to get excited at what looks like what you'd like to see. We cannot determine if what we saw was a Manta or Mobula after Kelvin's comments. The sighting was too brief and we failed to get any visual documentation. Also, as their behaviour (eagle rays also look and swim vaguely like Mantas) is almost similar, we can't tell them apart by those means. Or can we?

None the less, a devil ray sighting would still be very exciting, and the (wishful) notion of having seen a Manta, charming. But, if we keep going out there enough, knowing the oceans... who'd know?

Picture of Manta Ray from underwaterphotos.com and Devil Ray from ReefNet Gallery.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Wrong ID

The fish identified as Small-toothed whiptail Pentapodus caninus in earlier blogs as well as the Hantu Gallery, is infact the Paradise whiptail Pentapodus paradiseus.

It was initially thought to be the Small-toothed from website research which have generalised the varieties of whiptails. There is a huge variety of whiptails and some even share the same common name.

Thankfully though, Gerry Allen's Marine Fishes of Southeast Asia has pointed out a distinguishing mark on the fish - an angled (not straight) yellow lateral line and a dark spot at the middle of the tail base.

It is similar to the Butterfly whiptail Pentapodus setosus that inhibits the Indo-Malay Archipelago, but whose distribution does not overlap.

Dive log

Pulau Hantu East 0930 - 1410; Sunday; May 16, 2004

Vis was an incredible 5-6 meters. We were down at 15m without a torch (except for peering into holes and crevices). That certainly allowed us to watch from a distance without startling the animals, observing them doing their own thing i.e. feeding, dancing (fighting?!), cleaning up the house...

Stuff we saw: ? Manta/Devil ray (3 ft wingspan), Remora, Giant groper, Star puffer, Flabellina, Sea slug, Yellowtail blue snapper, Swimmer crabs, Rabbit fish - school of 8, Paradise whiptail - school of plenty!, One fat Bornella stellifer (nudibranch), Barred goatfish, ? Damsels, Polyclad worm, Copper banded butterflyfish, Vermiculated Angelfish, Lyretail Wrasse...
Cushion stars and commensal shrimp and snail...
Icon Stars, Blotchy sea cucumber, Frill fin goby, Yellow soapfish, Blue spotted ray, and Indian groper.

Sighted by other divers: Juv. Batfish, ? eel, ? seastar and octopus.

* Question mark "?" implies species unidentified

Manta sighting

A little baby manta with a wingspan of about 3 feet breached the surface of Singapore waters today just after Cyrene Reef on our way to Hantu this morning.

It was absolutely crazy! A Remora was splashed onto the deck after its little display, a good brief moment for divers so see and feel what these little cling-ons are like.

Unfortunately we didn't manage to get any pictures. It was too fast. We stopped the boat and waited for awhile, but it took a dive after the breaching and that was all we got to see of it.

It's an unlikely resident and is probably lost, but it's a reminder that these aren't just "Singapore waters" and that all our oceans are shared.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Sasi's Hantu photos

Sasi Nayar, a marine scientist now based in Australia, has some photos of marine life from Pulau Hantu on his webpage. I concatenated a few here for a preview but visit his webpage for more, including some on coral spawning at Raffles Lighthouse. He took those when he accompanied lab mate James Guest who studies coral reproduction.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Saviour of Wildlife.

Some days ago I noticed this article about Zhang Xingguo, a chef in China who has been sacked 12 times in the past 8 years for refusing to cook exotic meat. He has also been awarded a medal for his efforts. This is certainly great news for the wildlife out there. Thanks to people like him, my taste of exotic food will be curbed.;p

Also, he has managed to get other chefs to join in his crusade. And China has gladly supported him in this movement in trying to get one million chefs to follow his ways before they host the Olympics. Excellent!

Read the whole story at Habitatnews.

Attitude diving

A responsible dive operator is not afraid to tell you not to dive.

Coral reefs are a resource for dive operators and ackowledging that they certainly aren't an inexhaustible resource, a slow but steadily growing number of dive ops are making an effort to protect reefs in whichever way they can. Signs such as these remind divers to dive with the right attitude. The same way we're told to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos when we visit terrestrial reserves.

Others have invested in establishing artificial reefs, installed water recycling facilities or septic tanks so sewage doesn't leak into the sea. Some make an effort to continually mention the need to respect marine life, and teach divers to appreciate it in the appropriate ways. Because ultimately that's why we dive - because there's something beautiful down there.

The next time you dive, check that your dive operator is a responsible one. Be an informed consumer.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

160 marine turtles - dead

Malaysia detains 16 Chinese fishers for poaching, finds 160 dead sea turtles on boat

Source: Associated Press, May 05, 2004

Malaysia's marine police arrested 16 Chinese fishers for suspected poaching after discovering about 160 dead endangered sea turtles aboard a trawler, officials and news reports said Tuesday.

A patrol boat intercepted the suspects Sunday in a rich Malaysian fishing ground in the South China Sea off the northeast coast of Borneo island, a fisheries department spokesman in Sabah state said on condition of anonymity.

The fishers were believed to have poisoned the waters with cyanide to catch the turtles, which were meant to be sold as decorative ornaments, the spokesman said.

Malaysia's waters are visited by four of the world's seven sea turtle species: the giant leatherback, the green, the hawksbill, and the olive ridley. All seven are listed as endangered or threatened with extinction.

The poachers, who were from China's southern island province of Hainan, would be charged with illegally entering Malaysian waters and catching endangered species, the Star newspaper reported.

Monday, May 10, 2004

New record

The first reported sighting of Hippocampos comes for Peninsula Malaysia.

In a blog titled "What would you know?" (Thursday, April 15, 2004) the importance of sharing information with others was mentioned. Choo Chee Kuang, the seahorse researcher in Malaysia who heard about my sighting has finally gotten back to me, and it turns out that my report is the first record of Tiger Tail Seahorse Hippocampus comes in Peninsula Malaysia. It is quite common in Sabah, and can also be found in Singapore waters.

The seahorse was likely to have been sighted before but no report was made. There probably exists a wealth of information out there if even one diver of each trip shared their sightings. Divers can work together to better the knowledge of our seas so we can better protect this environment which we love so much and spend so much time in. For the longest time, we've been taking from the sea, it's time to give for a change, even if in the littlest way.

It could be as simple as sharing your pix on a community web, putting the link up in forums and sending it to friends.

Since my reported sighting of H. comes in April, one more sighting has was made just this weekend of the same animal in the same reef along Aur. Just like that, the data grows...

Friday, May 07, 2004

Horsing around

Tiger Tail Seahorse Hippocampus comes.
What does it take to set up a seahorse exhibit? Well, apart from seahorses and the all important shrimp on which these fish (yes, they are fish indeed) feed on, you'd need some careful coordination with the people who've been researching on these very popular animals.

A marine biologist with Underwater World Singapore (UWS), Yab Han Joe, shared that maintaining a comfortable (or otherwise lethal) temperature is one of the most important factors in creating a suitable seahorse habitat. The exhibit tanks at UWS are maintained at an average temperature of 27 deg C. He explains that the temperature of the water cannot fall below 26 deg C or breech 29 deg C, or the seahorses might be unable to cope and perish. That aside, other factors such as water salinity are less of a concern, as Singapore waters close to shore often fluctuate in salinity levels due to heavy rains and high surface runoff.

The natural habitats of these seahorses also have to be recognised. For example Tiger Tail Seahorse Hippocampus comes often hang around sea whips and hardcorals, whereares the Hedgehog Seahorse Hippocampus spinossisimus prefer safey amongst sea grass. The exhibits at UWS, showcase this.

Hedgehog Seahorse Hippocampus spinosissimus.
Then finally, the seahorses. All seahorses on exhibit at UWS have been bred in captivity by seahorse researchers at TMSI, at their research facility on St. John's Island. Bred seahorses are also used in an ex situ study to discern the health of waters and suitability of habitats. Seahorse specimens controlled in an enclosure are placed on specific sites around Singapore's shores where they can be observed and monitored on a regular basis. Apart from serving as an evironmental indicator of the health of our waters, researchers are also learning of suitable habitats/locations where the seahorses may be introduced into the wild.

Seahorses exhibits at Underwater World Singapore

This morning, Underwater World Singapore launched its new seahorse exhibits. This exhibit is jointly presented by the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) of the National University of Singapore.

Exhibits of juvenile seahorses and live brine shrimp.

The exhibits have been launched this month to coincide with the new listing of seahorses under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), of which Singapore is a signatory. Consequently, new regulations will be put in place to control the export and import of all species of seahorses. This new listing under Appendix II will help regulate their trade so that it’s not detrimental to seahorse populations in each of the member countries.

From left: Dr Elizabeth Taylor, TMSI; Bruce Mackay, UWS; Dr Juan Walford, TMSI; Dr Sivaloganathan, TMSI.

The exhibit displays two species of seahorses known to be found in Singapore. They are the Tiger Tail Seahorse Hippocampus comes and Hedgehog Seahorse Hippocampus spinosissimus. That another species, Hippocampus kuda, is present in Singapore waters has yet to be verified by the scientific community. Seahorse juveniles are also being showcased. Catch them during feeding time to watch them feed on live brine shrimp.

Also on display are interactive educational boards where discs can be flipped to reveal various interesting facts such as, “how are seahorses in danger”, and “where in Singapore are seahorses found.”

Interactive information boards.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Sea Stars & Echinoderms

The Singapore Science Centre has just released a new title to add to its series of natural history guidebooks - A Guide to Sea Stars & Other Echinoderms of Singapore. And guess what's on the cover? The Icon Star! An iconic animal indeed, it was just mentioned a few blogs down!

This guide to sea stars and other echinoderms found in SIngapore waters was written by Dr David J W Land and Didier Vandenspiegel, after nearly a decade of research. It provides welcome information on a unique group of marine animals, and is user-friendly to both layman and biologist. More than 120 species of echinoderms are featured in this guide, including the familiar starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

This is an indespensible guidebook. Priced between $5 and $6, with colour photographs and a wealth of information, it certainly creates an awareness and appreciation for local fauna. Sponsored by BP Singapore Pte Ltd, this is the 39th installment in the series published by the SIngapore Science Centre since 1981.

Available at Kinokuniya, Natures Niche and other major bookstores.

Other issues in the series you might be interested in are: A Guide to Seashore Life, A Guide to the Coral Reef Life of Singapore, A Guide to the Dangerous Marine Animals of Singapore, A Guide to the Threatened Animals of Singapore, A Guide to Common Marine Fishes of Singapore, and A Guide to Common Seashells of Singapore.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Zeehan reveals more

At her talk on Saturday, Zeehan also mentioned the dangers of litter in our local waters. The annual International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, jointly organised by the RMBR and the NSS has revealed that the most common form of litter found are cigarette butts! Some 22.6% of the amount of litter collected from our coasts in 2003, or some 16,812 pieces of cigarette butts were collected. This was followed by plastic bags (14.6%), plastic wrappers and containers (11.8%) and plastic straws and stirrers (8.9%).

Picture from Planet Ark.

It is imperative that divers, who seek the oceans for recreation return a certain respect to the seas and do not litter into it. It takes little effort to place your garbage into a trash bin on deck or keep it to be disposed of on shore. little efforts go a long way. Similarly, a little litter can cause major harm. A single piece of plastic bag may end up being consumed by a turtle that's mistaken it for jellyfish. This innocent act will cost this very popular animal its life. Other marine mammals and birds are affected by marine debris as well.

With much importance, Zeehan also mentioned that not only does littering directly into the sea cause harm. Litter on land can eventually end up in the seas when washed into drains or canals. This is very often the case, as all drains eventually, lead to the sea. No aspect of our environment exists independently.

Become more aware.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Clowning around with Zeehan

Advertisement that appeared in Habitatnews on 13 Apr 2004.

Fishlady, Zeehan Jaafar, delivered a casual but informative talk this afternoon about "Nemo & Neighbours", discussing the biology and conservation of anemone fish and their habitats.

Her talk held a very local focus. She mentioned there are 5 species of anemone fish in Singapore waters, and that there are some 10 species of anemone in which these fish can inhabit. Three of these species are present in Singapore waters. More interesting to note, however, is that although Singapore reefs are about 0.5% the size of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the biodiversity contained in this 0.5% is more than half that of the Great Barrier Reef.

We are very lucky that our reefs are built along this equatorial/tropical belt (along with Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines) which allow an abundant variety of coral growth , and all the amazing diversity of animals that exist in this habitat. Because we've been granted this privillage of having such beautiful life just off our shores, we should count our blessings and do our best to ensure these national trasures are not lost.

Her slideshow featured pictures from our Hantu Bloggers Paul Tan, KC Tseng and myself. The Hantu Blog Gallery was also mentioned during the talk. Thanks for your contributions and keep on sharing!

Finding Nemo? Look no further

Hawksbill turtles on brink of extinction

Hawksbill turtles Eretmochyles imbricata are identified by their broad, pointed beaks and jagged rear scutes

In addition to marine pollution, overfishing and loss of nesting grounds, netting of hawksbill turtles for their scutes has contributed to their status as a critically endangered species. It has been calculated that more than 600,000 hawksbill turtles were required to produce all the tortoise shell imported by Japan between 1970 and 1986. One hawksbill turtle can yield about 80g of tortoise shell. Japan, which imported an average of 38,700kg of bekko annually between 1980 and 1989, has gradually cut back on imports until a total ban in 1993.

In Vietnam, trade in turtle products continues openly, according to a report authored by Traffic programme officers Peter Paul van Dijk and Chris R. Shepherd. During the Traffic survey in mid-2002, almost 30,000 items were found on offer. “The quantities of tortoise shell products were unreal,” says Shepherd...