Saturday, September 5, 2009

Join STRAMM Fish Watch

Thanks everyone for the positive comments I've received in recent months about this blog. Just sorry not to be diving in TARP any more! Do some for me...

Anyway, I've begun a small but growing Group on Facebook for those interested in Fishwatching in STRAMM sites (Shallow Tropical Reef and Muck, Marine). Feel free to go to the Group's portal or search Facebook for STRAMM Fish Watch, and request to join.

Here's a photo I took of a fish watching me watching it: Acreichthys tomentosus of the family MONACANTHIDAE, off Manukan island back on 23rd June 2007.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Goodbye TARP

GOODBYE TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PARK! I'm writing this from England where I have just arrived after a wonderful three years on and off in Sabah. In memory of the place, I thought I'd post my picture from 1st September 2007 off Gaya island of perhaps the strangest and most beautiful creature I had the pleasure to meet there during the last three years: the Whip coral crab Xenocarcinus tuberculatus (family MAJIDAE).

I bowed out with a lovely day of dives (4 in all) with my daughter on 15th July 2009. I was surprised to see a new Damsel - Chromis ternatensis - which is new to the TARP aggregate fish checklist, and pleased to see a lovely Wrasse I've been keen to see in the park - Novaculichthys taeniourus (the Rockmover). As of today, my confirmed list stands at 441 plus 3 without evidence, and the confirmed aggregated TARP fish checklist weighs in at 560 plus 4 unconfirmed.

I've been so pleased to be part of this and hope that in due course, other divers and snorkellers will add entries to the aggregated list.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pushing It

I've already mentioned the successful morning spent diving with Sabah Parks research staff on 24th June 2009. I've now had a chance to create ID cards for the endangered Bumphead Parrotfish Bolbometopon muricatum and the sumptuously decorated Angelfish Pomacanthus semicirculatus. Additionally, the day offered up a new species of Triggerfish for the aggregated TARP fish list - Balistapus undulatus (this photo comes form the Philippines but I will be uploading my poor quality image in due course), as well as a first sight of the Goby Eviota sigillata, and in a 1 metre deep foray amongst some mangrove roots (alongside tangled ropes and other manmade debris but no crocodiles): the Dartfish Parioglossus rainfordi. My personal checklist of fishes photographed in TARP now stands at 439, with the aggregated list of fish-with-evidence at 559. Of these, 444 have been noted in the last 4 years.

I'm hoping also to gain access to a list of fishes identified here by a Japanese marine biologist working with Sabah Parks a couple of years ago which I think will add 20-40 more to the list in due course. By the time I leave Sabah permanently later this month, it would be great if I had been able to coax the list to top 600 species: this would be tremendously significant for TARP and I hope it would be a stimulus to enhance the park's protection and help ward off future attempts at such astounding schemes as building a bridge to Gaya island, or a ring road and residential developments on it (believe it: I've seen the proposals vegetating where last left after being rejected, but who knows what monster resurrection might be attempted by a future Frankenstein).

Today's photo shows a Sabellid worm jockeying for space amongst a host of large coral polyps off Sapi island on 24th June 2009.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cardinal Park

A ferocious squall hit Tunku Abdul Rahman Park on the morning of 17th June this year. Totally unexpected, the blue sky darkened in minutes and the rain flew in sideways. A calm shallow muck dive off Gaya island was transformed in minutes into a maelstrom of cloudy mud, with visibility below 1 metre, and tall waves on the surface. We abandoned it after 20 minutes, but not before surprising myself with two new Cardinal fishes - Apogon endekataenia and A. hartzfeldii. Moving to calmer sites in the shelter of Sapi island for the rest of the day, I was gratified to see another new Cardinalfish - Apogon fraenatus - and a new Goby - Valenciennea sexguttata. Two of these four are new on the aggregated TARP fish checklist too, bringing it up to 553 confirmed (and 4 unconfirmed) species.

The poor vis, even at Sapi island (where my buddy and I lost the rest of the group in one bank of particularly mirky soup) meant my focus switched to macro, and I am particularly pleased with the photo here of the centre of a partially unfolded Feather star.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bumpheads & Blenny Hunting

It was a major privilege yesterday, to be asked to accompany Sabah Parks staff on the hunt for a purportedly new species of Blenny. Sure enough, we found several colonies so the process of detailed description can eventually begin. Led by Irwan Isnain (Research Coordinator for Western Sabah), Jim and Roslee were the intrepid photographers in our troupe, with Boy our amenable boatman. Thanks guys!

Also fantastic, was the first viewing in TARP both for me and Irwan (who dives more than I do here), of a juvenile Bumphead Parrotfish (listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List)! Ensuring no net fishing is done in the Park has gone up a notch in my priority list now (if it could get any higher).

Added to this was my first sighting here of the sumptuously blue-margined Semicircle Angelfish. (I will process these later for the TARP checklist; this is just a taster.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

63 species - 45 minutes snorkelling - Mamutik

A strange kind of Anemone to say the least, this was photographed off Sapi island back on 11th July 2008.

After a long weekend SCUBA diving near Cebu in the Philippines last month and processing all the emerging photos, I'm now able to get back to more recent events nearer home - this time a chance to test out my newly repaired video camera snorkelling off Mamutik island. Not very good I'm afraid, but it has still been possible to pick out 63 fish species during just 3/4 hour before the battery gave up. And three of these are new to my TARP fish list (now standing at 430 species), one also being new to the comprehensive TARP fish checklist (now at 551 with evidence).

The overall new fish is the Halfbeak Hyporhamphus dussumieri. The other two are the Damsel Pomacentrus simsiang and wonderfully - the Butterflyfish Chaetodon adiergastos (last listed here in 1992).

Going back to the 63 fish species in 45 minutes, I'm wondering whether there could ever be enough interest to have some sort of contest in TARP - to photograph and identify as many fish species as possible whilst snorkelling? Maybe something for the future...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

No Need Plastic (Get over it Sabah)

I took this photo of soft coral Sarcophyton sp. (I think) in the family ALCYONIIDAE back in September 2006 on my third ever day of diving in TARP. It is a reminder to me that my recent focus on fishes is all very well but I need to get back into some of the macro stuff which I first enjoyed so much here.

Having said that, I was gratified with the attendance of so many for my talk on the fishes of TARP at the Sabah Society recently. Unbenownst to me, a reporter from a local newspaper was making notes and a friend later gave me a copy of the article. Mostly correct (but with some odd misunderstandings) it was at least good to have the park's fish assets pointed out to the general public.

I've noticed a spray of discussion about rubbish in the park in the news in recent weeks, as well as some discussion about plastic bags in Sabah. I am always astonished that even for the tiniest items bought singly in a shop (a small battery for instance) I am offered the tiniest of plastic bags to go with it. And each kind of fruit must apparently have its own little bag at the fruit stalls. And the municipal rubbish collectors were adamant, when I asked why they wouldn't tip my big rubbish bin into their rubbish lorry, that they would only take rubbish in plastic bags. The plastic bag culture in Sabah seems ubiquitous. At last it is being addressed - it now seems that all plastic bag makers will have to convert their machines to take biodegradable plastic. Just how quickly this will happen I don't know. Hopefully not a whole generation, since the powers that be seem to think that there is no point in trying to change the behaviour of us recalcitrant adults and are focusing on children. ('Speak for themselves' is all I can say, if they think that!)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why 'Gregory'?

With its dual rhinopores at the front and gill fronds at the back, this astonishingly coloured Nudibranch can slither around in broad daylight (this one off Gaya island on 18th February 2009), safe from predation because of its toxicity - as advertised by the wild & wacky colour scheme!

As I've noted before, even snorkelling in TARP can throw up surprises - 14th April at Sapi island was no exception. As well as a much better picture for Sergeant fish Abudefduf septemfasciatus and my first sighting of an adult of the Damsel fish Chrysiptera unimaculata, three new guys appeared: tiny, unafraid Dragonet Anaora tentaculata, the Gregory Stegastes fasciolatus, and an initial phase form of the Wrasse Stethojulis bandanensis. And I'm hoping to go again this coming weekend - maybe I'll get a better shot of the latter; nice!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mellow Yellow

A Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina, family ELAPIDAE) poked prodded and slithered its way across and under shallow corals off Gaya island. Reserving its deadly venom for small fishes and invertebrates, it ignored me. It's was my first ever sighting of this species and if my air supply wasn't borderline, I'd have given it more of my attention. The day was the 4th of April 2009, a day with enough else of interest to report that I'm sorry I can't dawdle:

It ended with my first sighting of the elusive but iconic and brightly coloured Dragonet Synchiropus splendidus soon before finally surfacing; it began with a first sighting of the weird and camouflaged Flathead Platycephalus indicus (save for flashes of bright yellow in its tail when disturbed). In between I counted another 6 new species for my TARP Fishes list (now sitting at 423; the TARP collaborative list will then read 548 confirmed + 4 probables when I update it): Gobies Amblygobius nocturnus, Cryptocentrus caeruleomaculatus, Mahidolia mystacina, and the astonishingly beautiful Cryptocentrus leptocephalus; Blenny Salarius guttatus; lastly (with a rather poor photo) a juvenile specimen of Wrasse Halichoeres podostigma.

As well as some improved pictures for several old fish friends, some new colour phase fishes also presented themselves for inspection: the juvenile Boxfish Ostracion cubicus and the Dottyback Pseudochromis fuscus (both bright yellow); also a juvenile of Scolopsis margaritifera sporting its second set of colours (along with the first, they mimic different poison-fanged members of the Blenny genus Meiacanthus only one of which I have seen meaning the other is probably around somewhere in the Park yet to be discovered).

Incidentally, since posting information about my last dive in February, I have been able to identify a fish from back then which had been vexing me: Glassfish Ambassis miops.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fangs, Babies & Butterflies

Just think - this beautiful baby sponge seen off Gaya island on 30th August 2008, may already be well on the way to being a giant barrel sponge capable of hiding Porcupinefishes or Lionfishes...

Anyway, I'm still catching up on my fish observations - this time data from 20th February this year. First a confusion to clear up: Until now, I have persisted in calling a certain type of Wrasse Oxycheilinus orientalis because a significant authority suggests it. However, having read further, I am pretty certain that what I have seen is actually called O. rhodochrous even if the first authority doesn't recognise it. And whilst reviewing my photos of the suspects, I realised that one was just wrong. Further investigation convinced me that in the past I have actually seen a second species (not yet listed for TARP by myself nor by Gerry Allen previously) called Oxycheilinus bimaculatus.

Alongside this are three more fishes not previously listed in TARP by either of us: Moray Gymnothorax zonipectis (normally only visible at night so very nice to spot on a daytime dive), Wrasse Pseudocheilinus hexataenia (which hides most of the time and only appeared to me in the background of a photo of another fish), and yet another large Grouper species (hooray!) Plectropomus leopardus.

Lastly, there were two special fishes which Gerry had already seen but I hadn't: Butterflyfish Chaetodon auriga (I sometimes wonder why the Butterflyfish presence seems to have dwindled since 1992), and the very localised (known only from the coast of Sabah and Palawan island) Fangblenny Meiacanthus geminatus; with its poison fangs, it has prompted some very good mimics - at least one of which (the juvenile of Scolopsis margaritifera) can also be seen in TARP.

In total then, my TARP list stands at 414 fish species, and the combined list total at 548 (it will take me a while yet to update this list on line).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

2% More

It had to be done sometime: a photo of a nemo-fish - this one is Amphiprion ocellaris (family POMACENTRIDAE) photographed off Gaya island on 18th February 2009. All in all it proved a satisfying day including photos of 8 new fish species taking my checklist total up to 408.

Really satisfying was the Blenny Ecsenius monoculus (apparently strictly limited to Sabah and the Sulu islands of the far southern Philippines). Goby Eviota guttata was cute too along with Gazza minuta (a little Toothpony). Under a jetty drifted a silent shoal of the Cardinalfish Sphaeramia orbicularis (a black and silver version of the better known Pyjama cardinal), and loitering around its crevice in a big coral bommie in shallow water was my first Dottyback for TARP - Pseudochromis fuscus. A couple of handsome Filefishes - Pervagor janthinosoma - squared off against each other in the presence of a potential mate (otherwise normally they are very shy and retiring). Out to sea off Sapi island in a deep outer reef, I saw my first Greensnout parrotfish - Scarus spinus (it's a lovely site with many types of Parrotfishes, relieving some of my previous fears about their apparent scarcity in TARP). Lastly in a mixed shoal of Barracuda, I photographed Sphyraena flavicauda for my first time in the park (I've seen it several times before here but not got the camera to it).

That's not all though - as you might expect during such a productive day: I got a photo of the awesome bright yellow morph of the Trumpetfish Aulostomus chinensis, as well as the beautifully barred juvenile Wrasse Cheilinus fasciatus. I was also rewarded with better photos of the Fang-blenny mimic Petroscirtes breviceps (previously I had also misdiagnosed it as P. variabilis), Damsel Pomacentrus philippinus, and off Sapi again the Parrotfishes Scarus forsteni (Terminal Phase) and Scarus niger.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

400th Fish Species Caught on Camera

I'm pretty certain that the soft coral pictured here off Sapi island exactly a year ago (6 April 2008) is a member of the family Xeniidae. That should make up for yesterday's uncertainty.

I bought a digital video camera and housing a few weeks ago, in Singapore. A day or so after testing it out whilst snorkelling, it died on me. It's been awaiting parts from japan for repair ever since. However, the day I tested it (16th February) brought me a surprise: a new species of Sergeant fish (Abudefduf septemfasciatus) hiding right in front of my eyes - sure enough I'd misidentified it a couple of times in the preceding 1year. Sadly, my photo is complete rubbish, being pulled off a test-shot with the video. Still, I know where to go next time to get better photos.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tourism 2008 Figures Equivocal

Preliminary 2008 Sabah visitor statistics are in. I've added them to my historical graph for ease of reference. Overall, numbers appear to be down around 7% on 2007. However the number of visitors from non-contiguous countries is barely down (less than 2%) and the number of non-Sabahan Malaysian visitors is up for the ninth year in a row: this time by over 7%. The apparent down-turn is actually caused by a big drop (60%) in the number of visitors from Indonesia (the drop in their actual numbers matches the total drop in all visitor numbers to within 1%) and I would be surprised if this represented a significant group of true tourists; given the global economic downturn I am quite surprised that non-Indonesian visitor numbers have not plummeted. Incidentally, the figures for the month of January 2009 appear to reflect this argument in comparison to the month of January 2008 as well (aside from a significant drop in South Korean visitors).

I'm a huge fan of these large soft corals (photographed on 30th August 2008 off Gaya island). I didn't touch them though so I can't confirm if they were from the family CLAVULARIIDAE (if so they would withdraw into tubes) or XENIIDAE (nowhere to hide).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

11 up, 1 down & a slug to celebrate

An intertwined couple of Nudibranchs (sea slugs - Chelidonura amoena from the family AGLAJIDAE) were found 'doing their thing' off Sapi island back on 19th March 2007. Nice, but not the main story.

4th January 2009 brought loads of modifications to my TARP fish list. So much so that I am only here reporting back on the new ID panels I've created; I have yet to update my checklist or the combined one for TARP. My total of fish species now lies at 399; the total I am aware of in TARP is now 529 identified (and another 12 unidentified - 2 of which are known to be undescribed). So what have we got?

First off, a new colour morph to be added for Goby Amblygobius albimaculatus and new ID panels for the Adults of Wrasse Halichoeres prosopeion and Damsel Pomacentrus burroughi, as well as for the Juvenile phases of Fusilier Caesio teres and Damsel Dischistodus perspicillatus. Alongside these are better photos for Wrasse Halichoeres melanochir (Initial phase) and Damsel Neoglyphidodon oxyodon (Juvenile).

Next up: the realisation that most of my sightings of Cardinalfish Apogon trimaculatus are in fact a previously unlisted species - Apogon rhodopterus; similarly that a couple of examples of Shrimpfish Aeoliscus strigatus are in fact another rarer species in TARP - Centriscus scutatus; furthermore that I was probably mistaken in assigning an unique sighting of Pomacentrus vaiuli as P. armillatus (which I will be removing from the checklist).

Lastly, a good list of totally new species for a single day when I was already 389 up at the start: Wrasse Anampses meleagrides (Initial phase), Damsels Chrysiptera oxycephala and Neopomacentrus filamentosus and Pomacentrus philippinus, Trevally Gnathanodon speciosus (skitting around me and my buddy as though we were cruising sharks which it likes to hang with), Rockskipper Istiblennius edentulus, inch-long Dartfish Parioglossus philippinus, Grouper Plectropomus maculatus (particularly pleasing to see large Groupers in the Park), and Parrotfish Scarus forsteni including also the striking Initial phase morph.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2,000th TARP Fish Observation

January 4th 2009 saw my 2,000th logged fish observation in TARP (I only make a maximum of one entry per morph per location per day). Gradually, I'm uploading some of these to the web (but only one example per morph per location per year; for example Gymnothorax javanicus). Happily enough, it was also my first sight of a fairly large (around two feet long) Grouper Plectropomus maculatus - a pity there are not more large groupers in TARP but there is at least one! (I am still working on that and several snorkel/ diving days since so I have not yet updated my on-line database.) Since working on the TARP fish list in earnest, I have tended to forego taking photos of invertebrates. But as with this beautiful Feather Star (an Echinoderm in the Order Comatulida) photographed off Sapi island back on 25th July 2007, I retain a fascination with the whole, magnificent spectrum of fauna in TARP.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Potential Bleaching Predicted from June 2009

For the first time this year, NOAA's 18 week forecast is predicting potential bleaching conditions off western Sabah (starting at the end of May 2009). See their animation for details. Worrying... particularly hot on the heels of the potential severe bleaching warning in the southwest Pacific. Let's hope that neither the prediction climbs into a worse category, nor comes true!

Here's a 'critter' that might be affected if it does: hard coral Euphyllia divisa (family EUPHYLLIDAE) photographed off Gaya island on 1st September 2007.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dolphin Superpod in TARP

Who knows for how long they'll stay, but a superpod of dolphins has been sighted in TARP! Beautiful!

I'm sitting on a day's worth of dive photos, unprocessed so far, but expecting to add two or more fishes to the TARP species list in due course.

I'm beginning to feel the need for another night dive - my last was 22nd April 2008 when this feeding Acropora hard coral (family ACRPORIDAE) was snapped off Sapi island.