With Dr. David Lane, we were out at Semakau this morning to seek out asteroids on the wilder fringe of the far shore. Few stars lit up the passage to the island, though, for ominous clouds shielded the sky with the aid of thick streams of pale breath from the towering stacks that line much of the journey from the pier pass the shipyards and cast iron isles given over to the petrolchemical cause.
It was a rare nocturnal outing to this site, timed to catch the spring tide and animals under the cover of darkness. We walked the half mile or so from the landing site to the mangrove path with the cumulonimbus before us issuing bright sheets of lightning. The biting things of the swamp had an unexpected feast of warm blood as we tramped through the trail. Reaching the sand, the flickering lights of the refinery greeted our descent to the foreshore, and the discovery of roosting herons in our favourite Rhizopora treelet.
We stumbled upon a couple of large knobbly sea stars near the edge of the reef, having bypassed the seagrass lagoon and the silty flat filled with amorous Archasters in an embrace of spiny arms. There were lone anemones with snake-like tentacles which vanished into the mud with the speed of a shadow. Flatworms grazed the living layers of the substrate with the ancient ease of a group that has survived far more complex creatures. And in the countless pools no deeper than a footprint, gangs of gobies fan out before approaching steps, while swimming crabs bare their fury at an intrusion into their pre-dawn routine.
No other asteroids were found though. There were, however, signs of intelligent activity in a fresh driftnet that had entangled a flower crab and the disembodied skin of a sandfish that had probably tumbled out of a bucket. A healthier specimen was found later though, which bore two hitchhiking slugs on its hide. These Chromodoris lineolata nudibranchs feed on sponges so they probably aren't rasping away at the holothurian. Sea cucumbers are known to harbour assorted riders though, from colourful imperial shrimp to small crabs that shelter amongst tube feet. Some nudibranchs are themselves creatures of burden for peckish shrimp, but I have not come across nudibranch-holothurian associations save this account of one being used as a nursery.
Sometimes sea kraits can be seen surfacing amidst the rubble between forays into the crevices in search of fish. Armed with bold stripes, they usually show neither fear nor aggression, treating wandering legs as mere props worthy of brief inspection. Much less deadly and far more demure than the sea serpents are their namesake stars the ophiuroids, which abound in the shallows but hook rapid retreats into nooks and crannies at the passing of a shadow. In the pores of a brown sponge, Ivan found a hive of tiny brittle stars who are clearly not the mood to lose a arm or break a leg. Above them, another flatworm browsed the organic film that encrusts the rear of the colony. Entwined around another sponge was a synaptic sea cucumber. Snake-like but with nary a bite, the animal has a body that turns flaccid when removed from the water. Lacking tube feet, it secures itself to sessile objects and sweeps the water for minute particles of food using a circlet of feathery tentacles at its head end.
Now, this is a puzzle. Amongst the Enhalus, Ria came across this massive nudibranch that'd fit a size 7 shoe. The rhinopores are barely distinguishable from the layered waves of protrusions and frilly rosettes that cover the mantle like elaborate origami flowers. My best guess is tis' a Dendrodoris akin to this, but like all such trips, there are always questions unanswered and creatures unknown. There's no end to dissatisfaction when each venture to these littoral lands disrupts the mind with discoveries unsought for and a desire for nights of luminous seas unmarred by visions of grandeur. Is it far better perhaps to turn the random rewards of unpaved shorelines into predictable pleasures for a privileged few, or indulge in dreams of a future where the pursuit of unquenchable thirsts is blind to the true cost of unmitigated wants?