Sunday, May 5, 2013

Intertidal walk @ East Coast Park

It was a cloudy weekend morning and I had planned to sneak out of the house in the wee hours of the morning to walk the beach during low tide. The objective was to photograph animals to share with the children in church later in the morning. The girls woke up and caught up with me at the door. A. begged me to take her with me, and so off we went. K. on the other hand felt it was too dark and scary and decided to stay in bed with mummy. A. was so excited she didn't even bother to change out and left in her pyjamas, grabbing a couple of apples from the fridge for a quick bite along the way.

We caught a cab to the beachfront at East Coast Park Area G in front of the National Service Resort and Country Club, a large sand-flat we could safely explore away from the rocky areas, which is important when moving around with a child. When we arrived, the sun was just about to peek over the horizon. We posed for a few 'welcome' pictures while waiting for the tide to go out and for A. to finish up her apple.

Finishing up my morning snack... an apple.

Sand flats that are vast, open, flat, and most importantly, safe.

First to be spotted were the crustaceans, specifically, hermit crabs! They're always a fun bunch to watch and look at for children because they are generally active even when disturbed. They also come in many different shapes and sizes depending on the 'homes' they have chosen. I found it especially difficult to explain to Anna that these crabs have soft bodies, and the shells they are carrying weren't originally theirs. It helped to show her later what the original inhabitants look like.

Waiting for the host to come out and greet us!

Observing a congregation of smaller crabs.

Trails in the sand indicated the presence of yet another interesting class of intertidal critters: the echinoderms. We learnt to identify the trails of sand-dollars, which are round flat hard disk like creatures that seem to have no legs but are able to glide slowly just under the sand's surface. Observing these slow coaches require a little more patience.

Can you spot the sand-dollar trail at my feet? It's likely the Placenta Sand Dollar (Arachnoides placenta) that is relatively common on local beaches.

A favourite of our intertidal trips are the sea stars, commonly known as 'starfish'. They move a little quicker than slugs and sand-dollars, and their thousands of little 'feet' are fun to watch as they wiggle about. Another interesting fact: it's mouth is on its belly!

We spotted a couple of Sand Sea Stars (Astropecten species) this morning.

Another interesting group of animals is elusive, and almost never seen. They are worm-like creatures known as Hemichordates, and the most common member locally is the Acorn Worm. Although we hardly ever see one, it's easy to spot their location by the sediments of sand that they excrete after filtering it through to find their favourite plankton meal. These 'coils' of sediments are left behind by a rear end that sticks out of their burrow, and are known as 'casts', but to a five year old, they're simply called 'poo poo'. Either way, they're an interesting item on the shore at low tide too!

Cast of an Acorn Worm.

Still, my favourite class of animals has to be the mollusks, and there were plenty of them hiding in the sand flat this morning. The animals themselves are usually partially or completely hidden in the sand, so to find them, we kept a look out for 'bumps' and trails that they leave behind when they momentarily break the surface.

We notice someone peeking out at us under its blanket of fine sand. Who could it be?

It turns out to be a pretty Grey Bonnet (Phalium glaucum), a real treat to spot!

Isn't it pretty?

Egg case of a moon snail. I forgot to photograph the mummy...

Another large beautiful snail left behind by the receding tide: a Fig Shell (Ficus variegata).

What hides under that trail? A little prodding reveals beautiful, shiny, olive snails (Oliva mustelina).

The cloudy morning quickly turned into a light drizzle and we had to leave the shore to find shelter. There was a bus stand inside the NSRCC carpark for shuttles to Tanah Merah MRT station. There, we wiped off the sand from our feet while waiting for a taxi we had called in. We were in a rush to get home on time for the Sunday service and did we have stories to share about our adventure!

Cleaning up at the NSRCC bus stop while waiting for our taxi.

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