It beggars the imagination how these ungainly things can maintain a foothold, much less traverse the crest and descend the slope that mark the end of Pulau Semakau's intertidal zone, a wave swept terrain of living outcrops, overgrown pipes and colonial bodies. But cling they do, to sandy patches between the corals or with their bodies half-squirrelled in overhangs of rubble, where they appear to be taking refuge during episodes of reefer madness.
Scorning the distinction between limb and disc as they mature, cushion stars have made a virtue out of traversty, assuming a form that allows the oreasterids to straddle exposed formations and withstand the assaults of tetraodontiform hunters, whose gapes probably scrape the stars' tubercled surface but fail to secure a grip. Hidden columns support a concavity of plates with diverse permutations of pigment but few chinks save five thin grooves from which sticky tubes, protected by fringing spines, emerge to secure the swollen animal to coralline perches.
Yet to be caught red-handed in the act of decimating the polyps that build local reefs, a defect perhaps of nocturnal omission, Culcita novaeguineae remains a fairly uncommon sight, even on flats such as Semakau's and patch reefs around the landfill. Its similarly well-armoured but lankier cousin, Protoreaster nodosus, is far more often seen and rather less circumspect in habit, having been observed devouring sand dollars or in flagranto delicto on encrusted rocks with their innards running riot over an organic spread. A substantial population still creeps near the reef edge, arms askew in sloping pools or raised in a greeting of deflated spirits. Such moments of dry surrender, an artefact of long, low tides, seldom trouble their distant kin which spend most of the time in unconsolidated sediments and appear only when the moon is up and their guard is down. Come dusk, when clouds of nematocerans commence their assault on swell bodies, a crew of sandfish, dragonfish, stonefish and other, nameless, worms emerge from their lairs to lounge on the silt and declare war on dirt, in a campaign of slow motions through lines of sentiment with much to root for and the prospect of spoils from guts without glory.