A trench of sand and muck floats between the long beach of Tanah Merah and a low breakwater that runs from the ferry terminal to the mouth of a canal overlooked by a dormitory boasting unfettered seafront views. In this ditch live a population of littoral crabs and intertidal snails, who timeshare their turf with penaieds, gobies, dog conches and portunids, and whose bodies infest a flat that gnaws at the foot of a wall with little means to keep out the creatures of a deeper reef.
This rocky boundary between shore and sea offers a dubious refuge for small fish and shrimp, which find plenty of crevices to hide in but also risk running afoul of hidden threats. In the shadows lurk stonefish, scorpionfish, groupers, moray eels and octopuses, but danger also looms in the open, where one class of hunters has mastered the art of blending in, even in a zone where nearly every flank sticks out and there is nowhere to flee save rare clumps of seagrass and isolated strands of calcerous seaweed. The smallest of these stalkers, Idiosepius, resembles little more than a fragment of debris, a figment of benthic imagination in a pool of invisible bodies. But these kraken in miniature, reduced in size but undiminished in scale, possess the means and mind to wreck the nocturnal rites of carideans that swarm over sand and stone, confident in their thin disguise. It's a façade that the pygmy squid has little trouble seeing through, and the shrimp can only fight back with sheer numbers when death swoops in from above to single out a victim and pierce its cuticle with a horny beak.
In the same waters are cuttlefish that hover over the silt, eight arms in tow and eyes in constant surveillance. Two other tentacles, probably the pair used to snatch motile prey, are almost always cocked and primed for offensive manœuvres, which occur with unannounced regularity and can overwhelm even fellow cephalopods with formidable bites of their own. Suspended by air-filled chambers, the sepiids tilt and twirl with the aid of lateral fins that ripple with just enough force to propel a yellow submarine to striking distance. Mantle jets then provide brief spurts to flush out buried prey or bridge the gap between a mark and a meal. But apart from these occasional dashes of fury, there is little need for haste, for chromatic shifts and a stealthy demeanour shield the animals from their quarry as well as quarrelsome neighbours, even at close quarters, and permit a measure of curiosity between tidal explorers that appears almost mutual.
While their cousins loll by the rocks, pencil squid scoot across the flat, scattering shoals of fish as they probe shallow coves and steer through narrow frontiers. These loliginids are probably more at home beyond the seawall, where speed comes into play and there are no barriers to hinder midwater chases or thwart pelagic getaways. A few individuals, swept in by tides that tower over the boulders, linger on the wrong side of the reef, but the gutter they are trapped in offers a modicum of security and no lack of sustenance, privileges the animals no doubt cherish to their dying day, which comes soon after they squander their reserves on biological welfare and run out of fuel to continue a life of intelligent pursuits and spill ink on rocket signs.