Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hairy monsters

Nearly the end of 2008 and loads to reflect on this year in TARP Watch (which I won't here). But the place still continues to surprise me: on Christmas eve, I was snorkelling for only an hour off Sapi island and photographed examples of another 5 species new to me here! This takes my total to 389. (The combined total of all known recorded identified fishes since 1992 now stands at 529; contrast this with the most speciose part of the Caribbean: Bonaire with 487 species logged in the REEF database). December 24th's additions were: Needlefish Strongylura incisa, Damselfishes Chrysiptera unimaculata (Juvenile) and Pomacentrus dickii, Sea Chub/ Drummer Kyphosus vaigiensis (also a new family here for me - KYPHOSIDAE), and lastly the Boxfish Ostracion meleagris (this one male).

Perhaps the craziest-haired fish of 2008 is shown here off Gaya island on 11th July - Antennarius striatus (family ANTENNARIIDAE).

Friday, December 26, 2008

527 catalogued fish species in TARP

This Squirrelfish Myripristis hexagona (Family HOLOCENTRIDAE) at Agill reef off Gaya island on 11th September 2008 probably thought it was nicely hidden; nicely framed more like! Anyway, I am pleased to announce the launch today of a collaborative wiki-based checklist of all 527 known fish species in TARP (not merely my own which already reach 384).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Speedboats and sunsets

Will he be pleased? Photographed off Sapi island on 21st July 2006, Ardeadoris egretta (a Nudibranch from the Family CHROMODORIDIDAE) of course will not be asked. The idea though appears to be that the sea village on Gaya will be 'rearranged' and supplemented by 1,000 houses, government offices, and a fire station... all on Gaya itself. (It reminds me of defunct plans to build a bridge to Gaya ++. Maybe that plan is in danger of being re-floated too?) Here's hoping that my friend and his vast but fragile underwater society won't be so overcome by the benefits of 'development' (like construction silt and waste water), that there's little left to TARP but speedboats and sunsets.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Website Launched

At last, I've made a start in creating an unofficial website for TARP - also called TARP Watch. Using Google Sites, it is possible to have collaborators with permission to modify and add to it, so if anyone is keen to do so, do contact me and we can discuss it. One benefit is that I can start to unload clutter from the periphery of this blog and I have already made a start.

I am making good progress with the guidebook to fishes in TARP - but it remains slow going and I hope to complete it soon (maybe even before the New Year). As I've mentioned before, publishing options are not obvious but with a good dummy printed off, I hope to be able to take it further, one way or another.

I've noticed that the exquisite Genus Dendronephthya (soft coral Family NEPHTHEIDAE) is missing from my blog illustrations thus far; the example shown (species uncertain) was taken off Sulug island on the morning of 19th May 2007.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Here's an amazing little creature: a suckermouth rockskipper (Andamia heteroptera - Family BLENNIIDAE; thanks to Jeff Williams for identification help). As the name suggests, its lower lip forms a sucker which it uses to hold itself onto surf-bashed rocks here in TARP (this one on Sapi island on 11th November 2008). He takes my total fish list for TARP to 384.

Seen the same day was also my first sighting of the adult Spadefish: Platax teira (I've seen the juveniles around already).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Squeezing Sponges

I can't resist commenting now that we have official opinions about the upcoming impact of the global financial crisis on Sabah's tourism. Yesterday a drop was predicted which seems much more realistic to me. I feel sorry for those who depend on tourism income. Yet I also feel a little bit happier for the denizens of TARP who might just get a little less squeezed by all the attention they have been trying to get used to in recent years.

I've been investing huge amounts of effort reformatting my fish guide mock-up. Undoubtedly no one will now be wanting to invest commercial money in the project in the near future; after all, who would buy it? But as a not-for-profit conservation project a donor might be interested to cover the costs. And if I'm willing to make no profit and still can't get it published then maybe I will post the book in PDF format on-line so people can print their own copies: perhaps on waterproof paper or for laminating if they want to take it under water.

I'm also looking into obtaining photos of previously unseen fish (by me) via other outlets so as to improve the comprehensiveness of the guide. We'll see: they too are likely to be feeling the pinch and may not have much time now to help.

Here's a gorgeous Poripheran (sponge - possibly Family LEUCETTIDAE) which I hope will have a less pressured 2009 (photo taken on 21st July 2006 off Sulug island).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sapi: Slides, Swells & Suckermouths

It's been good to get back in the water after travelling recently. Given the rains and the wind however, Sapi island proved a bit of a mess (not of course the manicured front tourist beach). Landslides have brought two big trees down onto the second beach, which is also covered in soil and rocks from the slips and the water was yellow (pity the poor lagoon fishes). The waves were uncharacteristically big breakers too, stirring up sand further out in the lagoon. Overall, not at all pleasant. I only managed to snap a few blurry shots but hurried back as my brother, visiting for a few days, got seasick snorkelling with me in the big swells. Lazing by the rocks on the beach however turned up a lovely surprise: Jeff Williams tells me they were Suckermouth rockskippers - preferring to sit just above the water line on surf-bashed rocks. I'll be plugging them it into my database in due course and coming back to the blog with a name and ID panel.

Meantime, enjoy this opalescent little crab - possibly Lissoporcellana quadrilobata of the Family PORCELLANIDAE - which I snapped on a large ghostly white Dendronephthya soft coral out on the mud off Sapi island on 11th July 2008.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fish Bombs

A couple of weeks ago , I felt two bombs go off underwater. I was diving off Olango island near Cebu in the Philippines. The second of these was so loud that it spooked the shoal of fish I was watching, and made my adrenaline run hard for a few moments. Yet on the surface, there was no evidence of nearby bombing at all - indeed we were in a marine protected area with several dive and snorkelling vessels and a community patrol boat with no story to tell; the bombing must have been miles away, yet its underwater effect reached out way beyond its immediate impact.

Here in Sabah, something similar seems to be happening. Whilst I have never heard fish bombs in TARP, I have been told by others that they sometimes hear them - not exploding in the Park itself but several miles away up or down the coast. It is illegal in Sabah. But three days ago, newspapers report that a man killed himself and his estranged wife with one here in KK. And now it seems the Police will step up their efforts to enforce the law against fish bombing. They say they have caught five fish-bombers already this year; here's hoping this sad tale will truly mark the end of a not only hugely destructive and unsustainable livelihood practice, but a humanly dangerous one. An instructor friend of mine in the Philippines was near a bomb when it was detonated underwater and nearly killed, but challenging the boatmen involved was physically risky and he says the police are themselves afraid of the violence of fish bombers in the Philippines. Let's hope it is different here when (if) the police step up their campaign.

Here's a regular friend at Hanging Garden off Gaya island, photographed on 28th December 2006 ,who's cousins elsewhere in the state might benefit: the giant reef dwelling Broadclub cuttlefish Sepia latimanus (Mollusc Family SEPIIDAE).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Crazily named Damsels

A macro shot of an anemone tentacle shows some fascinating detail - one can almost imagine that each nematocyst sack is visible in this photo taken on Plate Coral Reef off Sapi island on 11th July 2008.

This weekend I've been able to catch up on feedback from Gerry Allen regarding several Damselfishes I questioned him about recently. It turns out that as I suspected, two are actually new species to me: Pomacentrus armillatus and Pomacentrus burroughi. In addition, he confirmed my diagnoses for several colour morphs - the adult Neoglyphidodon melas and Neoglyphidodon oxyodon, and an intermediate form of Pomacentrus cuneatus.

I was also pleased to hear back from Jeff Williams regarding a new species of Blenny for me seen earlier this week whilst snorkelling - Nannosalarias nativitatis. In total now, my Checklist for TARP fish species has reached 383.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beautiful Monster

Like a troll under the bridge, this potential killer of a Box jellyfish (Family CHIRODROPIDAE) loiters under the gangway down to the floating pontoon and the speedboats at Jesselton harbour; departure point for TARP.

As well as this beautiful monster, Eid (Hari Raya to Malaysians) on 1st October 2008 also offered up several new fish specimens to me whilst out snorkelling at Sapi island. First off the Parrotfish Scarus oviceps. Next, a shoal of Sweepers Pempheris oualensis. Last but by no means least, a couple of majestic juvenile Batfish Platax teira. Still awaited is the diagnosis of a Blenny new to me, not yet identifiable in any of the sources I have access to. For now then, my total of species photographed in the Park and logged in my Checklist rises to 380.

In addition, I am pleased to have much improved photos of two Damselfishes which I have habitually only managed to photograph blurred blotches of before: Dischistodus melanotus and the juvenile form of Neoglyphidodon melas.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Olango tango

Olango island is opposite Mactan island on which is housed the international airport for Cebu in the central Philippines. It's only an hour and a half away from KK by plane and can be expected to share a significant ocean fauna with us here. I had a chance to explore last weekend, but I will try to connect my comments to TARP:

First of note is that I recorded 79 species of fish in 1 hour and 35 minutes underwater (two dives) in a single location called Talima. In comparison, it took me 3 hours and 6 minutes to do the same in TARP. My initial feeling is that the species density is much higher at Talima, although I could just have attended an amazingly diverse site (not the impression given by our dive leader who said he had chosen Talima because it was sheltered from big waves but not that good). The size of the larger fishes shoals in Talima was obviously greater than TARP: continued fishing of larger fish in TARP could conceivably have had an impact on species density in proportion to shoal densities.

Secondly, 34 (43%) of the fishes I recorded at Olango were never recorded by me in TARP despite diving or snorkelling here with a working camera for over 75 hours. Even if all other fish species were identical, there is a minimum of 9% unique to Olango compared to TARP (but more likely the figure is around 40%: my 2 dives in Talima are akin to a statistical sample). Possibly, it is because Talima represents an ecosystem not exactly matched in TARP - eel grass with scattered coral bommies and a very deep drop off. But a number of species I have not seen in TARP but are found at Olango were seen in a 1992 survey in TARP by Gerry Allen. It makes me wonder whether Olango represents a more healthy reef in general now - more like the TARP of the early nineties? In that case, given the pelagic nature of many reef fish larvae, it makes me wonder if the coast and near shore reefs of western Sabah will ever be rehabilitated sufficiently en masse to return TARP to the best it could be - it will take more than preserving TARP by itself.

Thirdly, four interesting groups appeared at Olango which have not turned up in my experience in TARP: Hawkfishes (an example photographed under a wrecked boat spar from the family CIRRHITIDAE Cirrhitichthys falco is shown here), Unicornfishes (Genus Naso), Drummers / Sea chubs (Family KYPHOSIDAE), and Anthiases (Genus Anthias). Why? Unicornfishes appear to prefer to be near deep drop-offs - and we have none in TARP whereas off Olango, the slope drops off steeply in a coral wall at around 15-20 metres. But as for the other groups, I have no idea although the beauty of Hawfishes and Anthiases does make me feel that TARP is poorer for not having any.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hotlips and a purple sponge

20th September 2008 was a low visibility, somewhat tired kind of a day. I missed a photo of a new Angelfish to TARP - Centropyge vroliki - so I haven't yet added it to my Checklist; also an unusual Grouper and some kind of Pipefish which had disappeared by the time our dive leader could attract my attention. But lunch on Sapi island brought to the attention of my camera a pair of strange leaf-like fish in only a few centimetres of water which Gerry Allen later helped me to identify as a juvenile of Plectorhynchus gibbosus (better known as 'Harry hotlips'!) I also photographed a Wrasse new to me: Pteragogus cryptus, and the Rabbitfish Siganus corallinus, bringing me up to 377 fish species in the Park. (I also managed to replace my embarrassing splodge of a picture of Emperor Lethrinus erythropterus.)

As always in low vis, I fall back on close-ups such as this strikingly contrasted Comatulid Feather star on a purple sponge background, taken on the same day at Agil reef off Gaya island.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Fairies & Fangs

A beautiful Boxfish (Family OSTRACIIDAE) - Ostracion cubicus; new to me in the Park back on 11th September this year at Hanging garden off Gaya island, this one being cleaned by a juvenile Cleaner wrasse. A couple of other new fishes too: the Damselfish Neopomacentrus azysron and Wrasse Macropharyngodon negrosensis taking me to a total of 374 species in the Park.

Thanks to Dr Hioyuki Tanaka too for help in identifying the Juvenile Fairy wrasse Cirrhilabrus cyanopleura with its little white nose spot. The day also saw access to better shots to update or add slight colour variations to Fangblenny Plagiotremus rhinorhynchos (the blue form which likes to mimic the Cleaner wrasse seen in today's picture), Goby Amblygobius hectori, Damselfish Hemiglyphidodon plagiometopon, Blenny Salarias obscurus, and the initial phase of Wrasse Labrichthys unilineatus.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cleaner shrimps & fish bombs

9th September 2008 saw this cleaner shrimp (Family PALAEMONIDAE, Genus Urocaridella) leave the resident Stingray in the tyres off the south side of Sapi island, and make his way hopefully towards my camera housing. Pretty. Pity about the poor visibility in the park though, which below 18 metres off Sapi got down to only 2 metres! Anyway, above that, it was a nice enough couple of dives involving a new Boxfish species, for my checklist. Including the return to Agil reef off the west end of Gaya island where I picked up a couple of new species of fish (more in a later blog), and some nicer photos of some rarer stuff previously seen, it turned out to be a productive day.

Incidentally, an alleged fish bomber was recently arrested in KK.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mind-googling technology

My friend Marc is an Orangutan specialist here in Sabah; he loved this crab when we came across a similar one whilst diving together (Achaeus japonicus commonly known as an Orangutan crab) from the Family MAJIDAE. I took this photo on Bubble coral between Sulug and Manukan islands on 23rd June 2007.

I'm beginning the task of modifying my fish identification on-line, to include an example of every photographed sighting I have logged in the park. It allows me to locate each photo too (if you have Google Earth then a simple button allows you to see the photos dotted around the park to show actual distributions). It also makes it easier for others to double-check and question my identifications (go right ahead) and hopefully will provide a more meaningful legacy for future researchers into the fishes in TARP. Not wanting to pay Google anything, I am limited to 250 'albums' per log-in ID (I have over 370 species with 400+ colour morphs) so I am starting with an ID for 'Sinkers' - fish which tend to sink if not swimming, as opposed to 'Swimmers' (I didn't have the heart to call them 'Floaters') who find it hard to sink except when asleep at night. I've already uploaded material for 9 species, for example Gymnothorax javanicus; go ahead and hit the 'View in Google Earth' button in the bottom right of the screen to see the distribution of my sightings, with the details on any one if clicked. It will also provide a gallery to locate other peoples sightings if they send them to me with or for identification and permission for me to add them.

I'm making changes to the checklist off-line to provide the relevant links too, but this is incremental and I'll only upload it when I next upload substantive changes to it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dive-in Saturday (apologies to David Bowie)

Are any readers aware of the new Underwater Channel which has opened with free viewing? Some fascinating stuff and well worth uploading their viewer for. (I'm not just saying this because their Forum Editor liked this blog!)

I was surprised when reviewing my photos from my last dive on 31st August, to discover that I had photographed 5 new species, taking my total to 371 in the park (Checklist now updated). The cutest has got to be the Cardinalfish Apogon nigrofasciatus who's little red and yellow candy-cane nose appeared between Staghorn coral tips in a blurred photo of a blenny which I was about to discard, not having noticed the Cardinalfish whilst diving. Next is a tiny Whipcoral goby Bryaninops loki. A big snapper Lutjanus argentimaculatus proved momentarily obliging, as did a Sand flounder Pseudorhombus cinnamoneus from a new Family for me. Lastly I'm adding a new Scorpionfish Scorpaenopsis oxycephala although its differentiation from other Genus members underwater will be next-to-impossible; you'll need a good quality side-on photo and well spread pectoral fins to examine later.

Along the way, I picked up better photos of the Juvenile Hogfish Bodianus mesothorax, the Initial Phase Parrotfish Scarus hypselopterus (at least - it showed a previously hidden diagnostic feature although being more out of focus than the existing photo), and a rare Grouper Epinephelus ongus (I'd only seen it once before, in April 2006).

Lastly, some gorgeous fish just asking to be photographed - like the Damselfish illustrated here on Agil reef off Gaya island: Pomacentrus vaiuli.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


It could be blood vessels on the surface of the heart. In fact, it is a form of Sponge from the Family CRAMBEIDAE (possibly Genus Monanchora) taken on 6th July 2008 off Mamutik island.

Further to my second snorkelling session last week (28th July), I can now report back on two new species of fish uploaded to my Album and Checklist (totalling 366 species now), namely: The Moral eel I mentioned in an earlier blog (Echidna nebulosa), and an apparent predation escapee in the form of a small roughed up Rainbow runner - Elagatis bipinnulata.

I've also uploaded the panel for the Trevally - Caranx melampygus - from 26th July with the better photos from the 28th. Additionally, I've added panels for the Adult of Damselfish Neoglyphidodon oxyodon (modifying the Juvenile panel along the way) and the Initial Phase form of Parrotfish Scarus psittacus. Lastly, I've modified the panel for Lutjanus carponotatus having photographed a Juvenile (not sufficiently different to merit its own panel but confusingly different if seen small to merit inclusion alongside a parent).

Monday, September 1, 2008

A fish a day...

I mentioned some new fish species seen in the last week and I'm starting to get them up into my album. From the 26th of August whilst snorkelling off Sapi island, come three new species: the Goby Istigobius ornatus, the Emperor Lethrinus erythropterus (apologies for the illustration since it was a long way away and moving fast so an out-of-focus blob is all I got to show for it, but its key feature - white tail rings - are obvious), and the Trevally Caranx melampygus (no illustration yet since I got a better photo on 28th August but I haven't processed those yet). I haven't updated the Checklist yet either because of this but suffice to say for now the total of fish species I've logged in TARP is 364.

In addition, I have uploaded an ID panel for the diagnostic Juvenile of Damselfish Dischistodus chrysopoecilus (which justifies my renaming it in my list a few weeks ago from D. pseudochrysopoecilus), and I have added a better photo for the Butterflyfish Chaetodon rafflesii.

On 31st March 2007, I found the iridescent lip of this Sea squirt mouth at Hanging gardens off Gaya island irresistibly photogenic, so I went ahead; I believe it to be a member of the Genus Herdmania in the Family PYURIDAE.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Malaysia!

Sincere words from a Brit. It's not often that I can get close up to, and auto-focus on a fish's face, but perhaps in celebratation of Merdeka day, this Damselfish (Dischistodus prosopotaenia) gave me a flash on Saturday 30th of August 2008 whilst diving off Sapi island. Let's hope there'll still be somewhere beautiful for his descendents (and perhaps ours) in TARP in 2057 when Malaysia reaches a century.

The last week has seen me snorkelling or diving in the park three times and I hope soon to get an update on several new species I've noted.

Snowflakes and sunshine

Another great day for snorkelling - Thursday off Sapi island saw the emergence in shallow water of a Snowflake moray eel (Echidna nebulosa) on a feeding frenzy - only to slither off into hiding when it was all over. Still, it attracted some interesting scavenging hangers-on which would normally have skittered off at my appearance, the Bluelined hind (Cephalopholis formosa) being their cheerleader.

Friday morning was also encouraging, with more interest expressed in the possibility of publishing my guide to the fishes of TARP. Watch this space.

Today's photo is of a beautifully convoluted Hard coral from the family AGARICIIDAE, taken off Gaya island's southeast side on 27th October 2007.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Looking good!

I have a strange red/white transition on the backs of my calves; some kind of vitamin deficiency perhaps? No - too much snorkelling in booties off Sapi island yesterday with insufficient thought given to suncream. It was worth it though, being a lovely day to snap loads of pics. Still analysing them, but one particularly caught my eye: a juvenile Butterflyfish Chaetodon rafflesi - I've only seen adults in TARP and then only twice in two years so it's rather pleasing to see that such a beautiful fish must still be breeding in the area.

By the way, my photo also taken off Sapi island back on 19th March 2007, appears to show a specimen of coral from the Family ANTIPATHIDAE. To put it more bluntly, I think we have Black coral growing in the park!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Shock & Awe

My youngest son and I were glued to the television last Sunday, watching the first of the BBC's new three part series called 'Pacific Abyss'. Stunning and inspiring to say the least! Diving to the so-called 'Twilight zone' between 60 and 150 metres, it was astonishing to me that so much reef life - and several new fish species - could aggregate so far down. Talk about jealous! And for my 11 year old, hugely keen as he is on natural history, came fighting talk about becoming a marine biologist... Hopefully we'll find a way to watch the second in the series next Sunday.

My picture today is more mundane, but striking none-the-less: it is a series of pipes laid down by a Sponge which I think can be located in the family THEONELLIDAE, found back on 23rd June 2007 near the Hanging Garden off Gaya island.

Incidentally, I have withdrawn my experimental TARP fish identification key website for the time being - after reviewing it, I don't think it is fit for purpose and I will ponder its replacement further. The checklist and album remain in place.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Names and Nemo crabs

This Porcelain crab Neopetrolisthes maculatus (family PORCELLANIDAE) was interested enough in our visit to its home anemone at southeast Mid-reef on 6th July 2008, that it chose not to flee but pose (perhaps it thought it was being menacing?!) Beautiful anyway.

Having now had a chance to review the checklist of marine fishes in TARP produced by Gerry Allen on a visit to Sabah in February 1992, I have made a few more alterations to my checklist (the other day, I added a Stingray as an initial result). This time around, I have re-named the Spinefoot Siganus canaliculatus as Siganus fuscescens (Gerry noted the latter was common but made no mention of the former, both of which are very similar, so I have changed my diagnosis in deference). I have done the same for the Goby Amblygobius albimaculatus (was A. phalaena in my old scheme) and Dischistodus chrysopoecilus (I had it listed previously as D. pseudochrysopoecilus).

I'm also taking the opportunity to bring the Genus up to date for the Cardinalfish Nectamia savayensis (until January 2008 it was still generally known as Apogon savayensis and the amended FishBase reference has only recently come to my attention).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Checklist with a sting in its tail

Believe it or not, the picture is of a hard coral - I think it is from the Genus Goniopora (Family PORITIDAE). It was taken on Plate Coral reef off Sapi island on 19th March 2008.

This is by way of diverting you from my embarrassment at mis-identifying a new (for me) Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii) back on 9th July 2008. This allows me to increase my TARP checklist to 361 species. It came about as I was cross-checking against Gerry Allen's checklist from 1992 and I realised my mistake.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ghosts and butterflies

The last day of my intensive diving holiday - 11th July 2008 - brought several beauties into my life: Perhaps the most beguiling was the white Ghost goby Pleurosicya boldinghi - found on a lonely white soft coral sprouting on a broad expanse of mud in the dusky gloom of a late afternoon; a rainstorm on the surface. (Being partially translucent, one photo has the flash diffusely reflected off its swim bladder like a soft pearly inner light. As my son would say: "Sweet!") Add to this a couple of fishes only described in the last few years - the Sand-goby Fusigobius melacron and the Sandperch Parapercis lineopunctata. Lastly (for new species) the Butterflyfish Chaetodon baronessa (a real surprise given how unusual it is to see such spectacular large fish for the first time after two years) and the Cardinalfish Apogon multilineatus. So, this brings me finally to a total of 360 fish species logged in TARP. Next task will be to cross-check with Gerry Allen's 1992 list and see what our combined total comes to.

Of course, I'm still picking up the odd new colour morph - in this case the Initial Phase form of Parrotfish Chlorurus capistratoides - and better photos of previously seen fish (Parrotfish Scarus ghobban, Snapper Lutjanus quinquelineatus, Frogfish Antennarius striatus and Dartfish Ptereleotris hanae).

And the last (but not least) beauty of the day - the Nudibranch in the photo, from the family PHYLLIDIIDAE, seen on Plate Coral Reef off the back of Sapi island.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weird stuff

355. After adding the seven newly identified species from 9th July 2008, I am now one short of Gerry Allen's 1992 total. (I have yet to cross check our lists but I have no doubt that they don't exactly overlap.) The seven were the Frogfish Antennarius striatus (doing a passably good impression of a black and very spiny - I know, I leaned my thigh onto one and got a nasty surprise - Diadema Sea urchin), the Flounder Bothus pantherinus (one of five of the new species found over sand), a very suspicious and flighty Grouper Epinephelus undulosus, the gorgeous (pity about my poor photo) Fairy wrasse Paracheilinus carpenteri above a reef, a juvenile and an adult of the Damselfish Pomacentrus grammorhynchus (also above the reef), a Dartfish Ptereleotris hanae which likes to live alongside Shrimpgobies, and the Snakefish Trachinocephalus myops.

Back to the 6th of July 2008, on the southeast Mid-reef, I chanced on this coral from (I think) the family FUNGIIDAE. Amazing hues and textures.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cryptic crustacean

11:46am, 9th July 2008, sands off western Gaya island: what on earth is it? Tell you later.

Another great day of diving. Not so many new fish species (more in a later blog) - it feels like new discoveries are slowing down - but some good stuff none-the-less. First off, some piccies to update existinig ID panels for the Fairy wrasse Cirrhilabrus cyanopleura (Initial Phase), Wrasses Halichoeres scapularis and Stethojulis interrupta (both Terminal Phase), Damselfishes Chrysiptera rollandi and Pomacentrus lepidogenys, Goatfish Parupeneus barberinus (another Goatfish which normally runs when it sees my camera), and Cardinalfish Siphamia versicolor (likes to hide amongst Sea urchin spines). I also stumbled across a gang of curious adult Eeltail catfish (Plotosus lineatus) in an old submerged log, which are sufficiently different from Juveniles to merit their own ID panel. I've updated the links in my checklist.

Well, in case you haven't guessed, my picture today is of a small jellyfish being held upside on the back of a crab (half-buried in the sand, eyes to the right). What a fantastic defence for a daytime foray!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Shrimps and rice: very nice

July 6th 2008 was a fairly poor diving day re: general visibility, but well made up for with a series of astonishing macro-photo opportunities. Take for example the photo here (taken on the eastern Mid-reef) of the Whip coral shrimp (Pontonides unciger, family PALAEMONIDAE) - no bigger than a few rice grains - see if you can find it amongst the coral polyps.

Between dives on 6th and 9th July, during a visit to the Sabah Parks office on Manukan island on the 8th, I happened to snap some shots of another new fish species for my checklist feeding off bread scattered by tourists at the jetty - the Scad Alepes vari. Sleek; and now my total reaches 348 still with two long diving days of photos to process - I feel the 350 barrier fast approaching!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crazy fool of a fish

It's a quick way to go: July 6th 2008 saw this delicious little Ghost goby (pleurosicya mossambica) off Mamutik island doing the craziest thing; but maybe you should try to see for yourself and I'll tell you at the end in case you haven't got it...

Along the way that day, I was pleased to be able to turn up another three new species for my personal TARP fish checklist (total now 347). These were the Cardinalfish Archamia bleekeri, the venomous-spined Eeltail catfish Paraplotosus albilabris, and the Queenfish Scomberoides lysan. Additionally, I created a new ID panel for the Female Sanddiver Trichonotus elegans, and amended the original to represent only the male. Furthermore (and somewhat embarrassingly) I have revised my ID of Wrasse Leptojulis cyanopleura (misnamed by me Hologymnosus doliatus). Lastly, better examples of previously photographed specimens presented themselves for inspection and have been incorporated into the relevant ID panel: Snake eel Ophichthus altipennis; Gobies Amblyeleotris rubrimarginata, Pleurosicya mossambica, Cryptocentrus inexplicatus (a somewhat different colour morph) and Fusigobius longispinus; Turkeyfish Pterois russelii; Wormfish Gunnellichthys viridescens.

I am gratified by the comments from Tarquin; however I have found the feeds for this blog with both Firefox (at the end of the address bar) and MS Internet Explorer (via a permanently visible portion of the toolbar) so I am not sure why you may not be able to set up a feed to my blog. If necessary, add the blog address to your 'home' addresses to open automatically when you load your browser and you will then be able to see when there is a new contribution.

By the way, the Ghost goby in the photo today is sitting on the nose of one of its worst enemies - an incredibly well camouflaged Scorpionfish!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ruby Friday

Only its ruby eye betrayed this Lizardfish (family SYNODONTIDAE) lurking in the sand waiting for its next meal to happen by, back on Friday 4th July 2008 off Mamutik island. More clear were another 14 species I saw in TARP for the first time and one I realised was not yet in my checklist from before, bringing my total species checklist to 344 over the last two years.

The list now adds the Shrimpgobies Amblyeleotris latifasciata, Amblyeleotris periophthalma, Cryptocentrus fasciatus and Cryptocentrus inexplicatus. Alongside these is the Scad Atule mate, the Ghoul Inimicus sinensis, the Velvetfish Paraploactis kagoshimensis, the Sweeper Pempheris molucca, the Angelfish Pygoplites diacanthus (amazing to think I have missed it these last two years seeing as it is dazzlingly coloured - it is certainly encouraging to see new Angelfish in TARP), the Cardinalfish Siphamia elongata (which likes to hide amongst the spines of Sea urchins), the Leaf scorpionfish Taenianotus triacanthus, the Sanddivers Trichonotus elegans and Trichonotus setiger, and the Razorfish Xyrichtys melanopus.

Additionally, the Cardinalfish Cheilodipterus intermedius turns out to have been in my database all along but mixed up with Cheilodipterus macrodon. Lastly, I forgot to update my Stonefish picture Synanceia verrucosa yesterday (now I have a full-body ugly-mug shot instead of just its mouth previously), and I didn't realise till processing the photo from 4th July that I now have two Juvenile morphs of Monocle bream Scolopsis affinis to present in a new panel.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New sites; new fishes

This juvenile Horn-nosed boxfish (Ostracion rhinorhynchos) was enjoying chewing on a Comb jelly (Phylum Ctenophora) on the 4th of July 2008 on The Pyramid off Mamutik island so much that it pretty much ignored me despite being metres up in the open. In the past, I have assigned similar juveniles to the species Ostracion cubicus but I've realised it isn't so it has come off my species checklist today. However, an example of a Scorpionfish pretty much convinced me to reintroduce Scorpaenopsis venosa to my checklist and to firm up my diagnoses of examples of Scorpaenopsis possi, so the total species count remains at 329 (before adding new species from 4th July - more in another blog).

As mentioned, the dives on 4th July included The Pyramid - a nice site in good visibility (my first under such conditions) - and the sand slope east of Mamutik island jetty. Perhaps it was their novelty which handed me a good number of new fish sightings. Anyway, along the way I was able to improve on my photos (and associated ID panels) for Surgeonfish Acanthurus xanthopterus, Damselfish Pomacentrus vaiuli, Anemonefish Amphiprion perideraion (not widely found in TARP), Cardinalfishes Apogon ventrifasciatus (it seems externally indistinguishable from A. moluccensis so I will only report A. ventrifasciatus in my checklist - principally because all examples I have seen have have been much smaller than the larger A. moluccensis size listed in FishBase) and the rare Apogon sealei, and lastly Grouper Epinephelus areolatus. I have also added new colour morphs for Shrimpgoby Cryptocentrus cinctus and Cardinalfish Apogon chrysopomus, and being sufficiently different to merit their own ID panels were the non-breeding Damselfish Chromis cinerascens, the Juvenile Triggerfish Balistoides viridescens, and the Adult form of the Parrotfish Chlorurus bleekeri.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

18 new fish species in 1 day

2nd July 2008 proved an amazing phenomenon. Whatever happened (I only visited familiar dive sites - although the visibility was unusually good), it was a bumper day for new species to add to my checklist - over 5% of my total list added in three dives, 2 years after starting the initiative (now standing at a total of 329 species). This guy was one of them - Pomacentrus nagasakiensis, a plain little damselfish with an unique tail pattern, seen on Hanging Gardens off Gaya island.

The others were: the Cardinalfish Apogon sealei (apparently generally rare); Damselfishes Cheiloprion labiatus (puckered lips), Chrysiptera springeri (dazzlingly blue), Pomacentrus amboinensis (unobtrusive); Parrotfishes Chlorurus bleekeri (an Initial Phase morph), Chlorurus capistratoides (apparently unusually far north), Scarus dimidiatus (another Initial Phase fish); the Dartfish Ptereleotris evides (a gorgeous pair circling high above the reef); the Blenny Salarias obscurus (supposedly localised to the Philippines); my first Wormfish Gunnellichthys viridescens; Wrasses Halichoeres prosopeion (a Juvenile wildly different from its Adult morph), Hemigymnus fasciatus (a Juvenile, barred and buzzing round like a bumblebee), Labrichthys unilineatus (both Adult morphs with their tube-forming lips); Goatfish Mulloidichthys flavolineatus (not uncommon but always previously fleeing as my camera turned towards it); the Goby Oplopomus caninoides (the real one); Ghost pipefish Solenostomus cyanopterus (looking like a dead leaf); last but not least the Triggerfish Sufflamen chrysopterum (it's silhouette an angular mosaic of triangles).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Three new juvenile fish morphs

Further to yesterday's blog, I'm still not ready to add the new fish species I saw on 2nd July 2008, but I have added some new panels for previously un-seen (by me) Juvenile forms: the Parrotfish Chlorurus sordidus, the Whiptail Pentapodus trivittatus, and the Cardinalfish Apogon compressus. In addition, I forgot yesterday to update the amazingly-coloured Redtail filefish: Pervagor melanocephalus. Lastly, the updated checklist should be uploaded by the time you read this.

As an incidental diversion from the fish, the soft coral in the picture (each polyp has 8 'fingers') which I think is from the family ACANTHOGORGIIDAE, was taken out on Clement's reef in TARP on 17th November 2007.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's amazing!

A Robust ghost pipefish Solenostomus cyanopterus (family SOLENOSTOMIDAE) - a gorgeous fish amongst a swathe which I saw for the first time on 2nd July 2008 (this one off Sapi island). I'm still putting together the details, but along the way I also managed to take better pictures and upgrade ID panels for 12 fishes already seen (Acanthurus xanthopterus, Vanderhorstia ambanoro, Vanderhorstia nobilis, Cheilinus trilobatus, Chrysiptera rollandi, Scarus rivulatus - Initial Phase, Apogon chrysopomus, Cheilodipterus artus, Chaetodon trifasciatus, Parapercis clathrata, Balistoides viridescens and Cantherhines pardalis) and add new colour morphs for another 4 (Abudefduf bengalensis, Neopomacentrus cyanomos, Arothron nigropunctatus and Scolopsis monogramma).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Marine Research at Sabah Parks

Here's a Hawksbill marine turtle who's photo I took on 2nd July 2008 off Sapi island; very relaxed and so without disturbing him I was able to fire off a number of nice shots.

This is exactly the sort of fellow that Irwan Isnain and his colleagues at Sabah Parks are determined to protect; I met with him yesterday at his office on Manukan island and had a really good time - it's fantastic to meet some of the people passionate about TARP and working for the government. It was a great opportunity to compare notes on fish species lists for the park too - including the complete list put together in 1992 during a visit by Gerry Allen. In addition, it turns out that a Japanese researcher has put together a supplementary list based on his own photos taken in the park between 2005 and 2007. As yet, the list is unpublished but it appears to have over 80 additions to Gerry's original - taking his list towards the total he predicted. It's a pity not to have sight now of the supplementary list as it remains confidential for the time being, but in due course I'm sure it will come out; hopefully it will also mention the fishes from Gerry's list which have been seen since as well: when the three lists can come together, I think we will be very close to a comprehensive perspective on all of TARP's fish species ever recorded (though there are indications that the number is less than it used to be).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Latest dives - 2 fish species re-named

It's taking some time to catch up with all my recent diving - and more to come. A good number of fish species new to me at the park are coming to light: more in due course. However, I have been able to tackle the difficult question of the identity of what I had called Pterois lunulata - now having been able to count the columns of scales I am pretty confident that the species in question should actually be Pterois russelii (the Plaintail Turkeyfish). In addition, I have recently turned up a second species from the Goby genus Oplopomus which I believe is the real Oplopomus caninoides but I am not ready yet to add it to my checklist, so for now I have modified the original mistaken O. caninoides and description to read Oplopomus oplopomus. The checklist has also been modifed.

Incidentally, these two cleaner shrimps (Periclimenes sp. - possibly P. holthuisi) from the family PALAEMONIDAE living in an anemone on the sand off Sapi island's main beach, were very interested in me as I took photos of Nemo fish living with them on 2nd July 2008.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Housekeeping finds 2 fish

Wading through the backlog of unsorted photos in the last few days has led me to 2 fishes I couldn't identify at the time, but with help from Gerry Allen on an analogous example sent to me to identify from Lankayan island off eastern Sabah, I realised I had photographed (and have now added) Chromis cinerascens in its nuptial colours (a somewhat scruffy wedding outfit I have to say). Going way back to only my second day of diving ever at TARP, a new book I got for my birthday (Kuiter & Debelius World Atlas of Marine Fishes) has helped me place an unusual and normally cryptic Grouper - Epinephelus ongus. Neither photo was terribly good, so I have recruited a Map puffer fish (Arothron mappa - family TETRAODONTIDAE) taken the same day (17th May 2006) off Gaya island to play best man.

Incidentally, I have fully updated the species checklist which now lists all 311 TARP fish species logged so far.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

309 fish species; 2 undescribed

Not only a beautiful day, but a productive one for diving; 28th June 2008 revealed 5 species I was previously unaware of in TARP (including a Goby Asterropteryx striata, a Wrasse Macropharyngodon meleagris, a resplendant Bicolor Angelfish - only the fourth type I've seen in the park - Centropyge bicolor, and the largest variety of reef Filefish - Aluterus scriptus. Of even greater interest was a second species of Goby new to me, this one from the Genus Cryptocentrus which after discussion with Gerry Allen turns out to be as yet undescribed by Biologists (though Gerry and others have seen examples now in various places, not least off nearby Palawan island in the Philippines). In summary, I have now recorded & photographed 309 species of fish in TARP, including 2 species of Goby not yet scientifically described.

An encounter with one of the park's resident stingrays also gave me a much better photo than previously, causing me to change my original diagnosis of Himantura granulata to Himantura fai.

In addition, I was able to capture pictures for the first time (adding relevant panels to my ID album) an Initial Phase form of the Yellowtail tubelip (Diproctacanthus xanthurus) and similarly of the Bird Wrasse (Gomphosus varius).

Lastly, better photos have allowed me to upgrade the ID panels for the Squirrelfish Myripristis hexagona, the Surgeonfish Ctenochaetus binotatus, the Goby Amblyeleotris diagonalis, the Slingjaw wrasse Epibulus insidiator (Initial Phase), the Bird wrasse Gomphosus varius (Terminal Phase), another Wrasse Oxycheilinus digramma, the Puffer fish Arothron nigropunctatus, and the Toby Canthigaster papua.

This cute little fellow (Arothron nigropunctatus) from the family TETRAODONTIDAE is yet another colour form of this extraordinarily varied species; he appeared on the day in question whilst I was diving at the Hanging Gardens off Gaya island.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Positive about the park

Beautiful day to dive again yesterday. And without fully analysing my fish photos yet, I think I will be able to add 6 fish to my checklist which is already 304 long. Indeed, one of them was an Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor) which is strikingly beautiful (purple and gold) and good news because after two years I'd given up on seeing any more species of the flamboyant Angelfishes here (3 species so far)! In discussion with some of my dive instructor friends, they also reported seeing some unusual Butterflyfishes in the past few weeks. Coupled with the first news I have ever heard about a Blue-ringed octopus on the reef by Downbelow, and I'm feeling pretty hopeful that things are improving gradually - although it may be seasonal or a 'statistical blip', and the Octopus was seen at 30 metres on sand - hardly the most frequented of local dive sites.

This gorgonian soft-coral (family PLEXAURIDAE) taken on 28th December 2006 at Hanging garden off Gaya island should benefit from improving reef conditions; the visibility there yesterday was excellent.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gross dog surgery photos!

Well I enjoyed myself - but not the yucky dog surgery photos which followed my short presentation to the Seri Insan school students yesterday! This Grey-faced moray eel (Gymnothorax thyrsoideus snapped on 4th November 2006 off the main beach on Sapi island) looks suitably shocked as well. Anyway, thanks to all those who expressed their appreciation and I hope it'll go some way to helping achieve the objectives of KK Reef Watch who asked me to talk on their behalf.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fish Checklist updated

Just a quick post to point out that I have now updated my TARP fish Checklist to include links back to the ID panels which describe them in my public album. I am however a bit disatisfied with the outcome of my web-site key; it seems to me that with some work on the tags it should be possible to search my Picasa album directly for panels matching certain criteria (e.g. Zebra stripes & tail base spot). In due course I think I'll go that route but it is not available yet and will take quite a lot of work.

The picture here comes from off the southeast slope of Gaya island, taken on 27th October 2007; I believe it is a specimen of hard coral from the genus Galaxea (possible G. astreata) in the family OCULINIDAE.

Monday, June 16, 2008

304 fish species in TARP

31st May 2008 was gorgeous - blue skies and calm waves; this sea hare Aplysia dactylomela (a kind of giant sea slug from the family APLYSIIDAE) also seemed to think so as it charged across the sand off Sapi island to this clump of algae before grinding it to bits.

I gorged on my snorkelling session too: a better photo to upload with an improved description for one of my fish ID panels (Thalassoma lunare), a youthful colour variant to add for another (Lutjanus fulviflamma), an un-logged juvenile for a previously adult-only species (Halichoeres argus) and an adult photo for a species previously represented only by a juvenile (Pomacentrus chrysurus). Incidentally this caused me to concede that I had mistakenly recorded another such adult previously as Pomacentrus armillatus (which I have now removed from my checklist). Amazingly, this single snorkel session added 6 new species too, which (counting the discarded species) brings my total of observed species in the park to 304. Species added were Cephalopholis microprion (which stimulated a slight modification to my description of Cephalopholis cyanostigma), Cheilio inermis, Chromis viridis, Ctenochaetus striatus, Neoglyphidodon oxyodon and Pteragogus guttatus.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Less tourist pressures or less money for conservation?

I dare not share my opinion about whether or not the increased price of fuel is a blessing for conservation in TARP. But it could have a significant impact in the short term - maybe even long term if long distance travel patterns begin to change singnificantly too. Either way, a government minister this week predicted a reduction in tourism travel to Sabah.

Meanwhile, something lurks in a hole - possibly a coral hermit crab - in its host coral (family FAVIIDAE I think), photographed on 27th October 2007 on Clement's reef.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fish ID website ready

The first draft of my new fish identification website (TARP Fish) is now up. It's not overly exciting - it uses the same panels as are already accessible via my public gallery - but it provides a more flexible base for so much data than does a blog (I plan to stop publishing new items to my TARPFish blog) and more importantly, it provides an attempt at a user-friendly key for those unwilling to wade through all 325+ of my ID panels; used correctly it should allow you to home in on just a handful of possibilities at the first attempt. If you want to give it a test run and feed back any glitches, I'd be grateful. In due course it will be enhanced: I need to build links back to it from the checklist, which is the same one you can find at my TARPFish blog. I also want to link to my original photos as I log them into FishBase and also to comparison photos elsewhere on the web where my ID is not obviously based on official FishBase entries. I'm also planning to build links to other fish watcher sites around the world (though that is a saga in itself), and perhaps build some more sites like this for other places I've visited several times (e.g. Bootless Bay in PNG or Nusa Penida in Bali).

Needless to say, Lutjanus lutjanus (family Lutjanidae) can be found at my new website; it was photographed at Hanging Gardens off Gaya island on 1st September 2007.