Friday, September 28, 2012

Catch a Falling (sea) Star

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away…
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day …

Familiar with this song? Imagine catching a falling star and having it as your lucky charm. :-)

So I had a chance to catch some falling "stars". Nusa Dua Beach was full of them and I felt like I was in a Giant Touch Pool at the sea world. The two common species of sea stars that I found in Nusa Dua are the Horned Sea Star or also known as the Knobbly Sea Star (Protoreaster nodosus) and the Pentaceraster mammilatus. They come in various bright colors and shape. Some have horned or spiky feature, however, despite their scary-look, sea stars are safe to touch with the exception of the poisonous crown of thorn sea star(Acanthaster planci).

The features of sea stars are pentaradial symmetry and most of them have five arms that radiate from the central disk. Several species, such as the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) and the crown of thorns sea star, have more than five arms. In school we learned that sea stars have the ability to regenerate lost arms and can regrow an entire new arm given time, but please note that not all sea star possess this superpower ability. So if you find a sea star, please handle it carefully and don’t try to break its arms in purpose just to see whether it can regrow.

The bodies of sea star are composed of ossicles, which are made of calcium carbonate. These formed the endoskeleton, which are externally expressed  in various species as a variety of structures of spines or granules. Most sea stars prey on mollusk (snail, clam, oyster, etc), but some are also detritivores, means they feed on decomposing animal and plant material.

Here are some of the photos I took from a single trip to Nusa Dua Beach, Bali on October 2011.
a green knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus)
with the diameter size of 12 cm

Protoreaster nodosus
This species of sea star also known as the horned sea star or knobbly sea star for the knobbly or horned feature on its aboral side. They are massive in size with a heavily calcified body wall and come in various color shade of red, orange, green or brown.

The oral or actinal side of the green Protoreaster nodosus.

Not sure whether this is a Protoreaster nodosus
or some punk kid of the sea :p

The actinal side of the red Protoreaster nodosus.
This sea star is 20cm wide in diameter.

The color of  knobs/ horns of the Protoreaster nodosus
is darker then the rest of its body.

A dark blue Pentaceraster mammilatus.

Pentaceraster mammilatus
This species of sea star has smaller knob than the Protoreaster nodosus type. The knobs are more like granules and lighter in color than the color of it aboral side. 
The oral/ actinal side of a Pentaceraster mammilatus.

An orange Pentaceraster mammilatus with the diameter of less than 10cm.

One pretty green Pentaceraster mammilatus with yellow tiny knob :)

Gompohia gomophia (Gomphia gomphia)

Gomphia Sp.

Gomphia Sp. has its aboral side covered with small knobbs which look like warts. On this trip, I found a three armed Gomphia Sp. Maybe it lost its  two arms in an escape attempt from predator. Like lizard, some sea stars can perform autotomy, a self-defence mechanism where they detach their arm(s) to elude predator.  

This Gomphia Sp. has one tiny arm that just started to regrow on its left side. I kinda feel pity for this little guy, but also fascinated at the same time.

An arm regenerating process in a Gomphia Sp.
So there was my trip to catch some falling stars. Can't wait for my next trip to find more stars!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sea Urchins of Nusa Dua

Sea urchins are one of beautiful marine creatures that come in many sizes and colors. They are non-aggressive and may be found all over the world in the shallow, rocky bottoms, or between the sea grasses. Sea urchins are also infamous for their venomous spines that often accidentally injured people on the beach. But the fact is most of sea urchins are not venomous. The venomous urchins are characterized by the long sharp spine such in the family Diadematidae or the bright fiery color as present in the fire urchin.
On my trip to Nusa Dua, Bali, I encountered several species of urchins. Some look dangerous, but some are so pretty.

Cake Urchin
Cake urchins or collector urchins (Tripneustes gratilla) are not venomous. They are edible and in some part of the world their gonads (mistakenly known as “urchin’s roe”) are considered as delicacy. This urchin is also exploited in Bali. Scientific reports from Indonesian Scientific Institusion (LIPI) stated that the cake urchins population in Bali is declining.

Cake urchins feed on algae and seagrass, thus they could be easily found between the seagrass
Cake urchins come in many colors. However this color disappears when the individual dies and is difficult to preserve

 Matha’s Sea Urchin
This Echinometra mathaei urchin is also not venomous and the spines have smooth rubbery texture. I wore rubber glove just for protection since I was observing the venomous urchins also.

Diadema Setosum
This long-spined urchin is mildly venomous. Special characteristic of the species is the presence of a bright, orange ring around the urchin's periproctal cone (anus).

Diadema Savignyi
This is another urchin species which is mildly venomous. The characteristic of a Diadema savignyi is its long spines are predominately black with light blue lines around its periproctal cone .  

The light blue lines around the periproctal cone and long thin spines of the urchin pictured below suggest this species is a Diadema savignyi. However, banded/ striped pattern of echinothrix character also present. This suggest that this species might be a hybrid between the two species, which is common.

Echinothrix Calamaris
Another venomous urchin is the Echinothrix calamaris. It has two sets of spines, the shorter spines which are dark in color and venomous, and the longer spines that are often banded/ striped in color.

So those are the types of urchins you can find in Nusa Dua Beach, Bali. Sea urchins are amazing creature. If you are careful in your observation trip, you shall not suffer from any puncture injury from the venomous ones.

Preventing & Treating Sea Urchin Puncture Injury

Sea urchins are commonly present on shallow rocky area. Although most of them are not venomous, some species of long-spined and fire urchins are. So here are some precautionary steps to avoid urchin sting injury and measures to treat it:  

Long-spined urchins between the coral crevices at Pantai Sawarna, Banten, Indonesia
       Do not walking barefoot on the intertidal shallow rocky area. The long-spined urchins often hide in the rock/ coral crevices.
       Look carefully when exiting the ocean, particularly in areas that are rocky, have coral, or ironshore coral. If an exit is covered with urchins, try to pick an alternate exit to avoid injury.

Sea Urchins Puncture Symptoms
       A puncture injury from a sea urchin can cause swelling and redness around the area, which may lead to severe pain and infection.
       Multiple deep puncture wounds may cause more serious symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, shock, etc.

Sea urchin puncture injury (illustrasion)

       Immerse the affected area for 30-90 minutes in water as hot as the injured person can tolerate. Repeat as necessary to control pain.
       Use tweezers to remove any large spines in the wound.
       The spine near the skin surface can also be removed by gently scrap the skin in the direction of the spine with a razor.
       Then scrub the wound with soap and water followed by extensive flushing with fresh water.
       Do not close the wound with tape or glue skin.
       If signs of infection, such as pus, redness, or heat occur, apply topical antibiotic ointment and call your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. If the patient is started on antibiotics, continue to take them until the patient has used the entire course of the medication. Talk to the doctor about antibiotics and sun sensitivity.
      Relieve pain with the recommended doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) pain relievers every 4 hours and/or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) every 6-8 hours.
Urine Treatment Misconception  

There's a widespread belief that human urine can treat the injury caused by marine animal, including sea urchin. This idea is WRONG! To begin with, the composition of urine, which mainly water and amonia, are not the right chemical to solve the problem. Sea urchin's spines are composed of calcium carbonate which disolved in acid. Urine may contain acid, however not in the required amount to get the job done. On the other hand, vinegar can be even more effective. Vinegar is also known to help neutralize jellyfish sting, while fresh water tend to burn the nematocyst and caused more pain to the victim.

See also:

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Sunrise at Nusa Dua Beach, Bali

My first introduction to the intertidal wildlife was some sort of an accident. I was looking for the sunrise in Nusa Dua Beach, Bali. Instead of sunrise, I found many sea stars and other echinoderms as well as pretty sea slugs. They’re so amazing and I totally forgot about the sunrise. Then for 4 days I strolled around the beach and found so many magnificent marine critters.
I couldn’t swim, so never before in my life that I had dreams of seeing all these beauties that I’ve only seen on the Discovery Channel or the National Geographic. So please note that none of the pictures herein are diving or snorkeling photos.

Nusa Dua Beach is a very rich ecosystem, so I will have separate posts based on their types. In the meantime, here are some of the pictures I took from the trip:

Sea Star
It was still dark and this is one of the sea star I found on the beach, a Pentaceraster mammilatus. Well, I googled the Latin name and the search for Pentaceraster mammilatus matched the description of this green sea star with tiny orange spikes.

Sea urchin
This is a cake urchin (Tripneustes gratilla). There were so many of them tucked between the sea grass. That made them looked like tomatoes fell from a basket and scattered around the beach.

Serpent Star
This is an Ophiarachna incrassata, a green brittle star which also known as the serpent star. The sea grass was swarmed by these brittle stars. They were hiding between the sea grass, waving their hands to their preys hoping some misguided little fishes will think it’s a worm or something.

Puffer fish
I found this white spotted puffer fish (Arothron hispidus) stranded in a small tide pool. It desperately tried to hide between the sea grass. Its green color kinda helped, but I spotted this little guy and took a nice picture of it.

Anemone Hermit Crab
Another first time was my first to see an anemone hermit crab (Dardanus pedunculatus) in the wild! I spotted this anemone hermit crab sunbathing on a sandy area.

I was so excited and thrilled thinking that this anemone hermit crab is a rare and hard to find species, but about ten minutes later I stumble upon the anemone hermit crab headquarter. It’s a tide pool full of the Pleurobranchia forskalii sea slugs and of course a cast of anemone hermit crabs sunbathing with arrogant pose. I say arrogant, because they have those ferocious look of yellow eyes sticking out their shells. :p

Banded Sole Fish
So… what is this colorful flat critter? My first guess was some type of flatworm. I spent a long time googling its name from the marine flatworms’ database online. Then… on an accidental unrelated search, I found out that this little guy is actually a fish! Yes, a sole fish, which is commonly known as the banded sole fish a.k.a Soleichthys heterorhinos.
Ouch… sorry, my bad… Surely you’re a fish! Look at those protruding eyes of yours.

Baby Lion Fish
Another amazing discovery of my Nusa Dua trip was this Baby Lion Fish (Pterois sp.). I’ve never seen a lion fish in the wild so when I found out what this little guy was, I was thrilled!
Well, to be honest, I didn’t spot it until I developed the photo. I was actually taking picture of the red sea star next to it and not realizing its presence. This baby was spotted when I zoomed the photo. Oops…

Pleurobranchia forskalii

When I saw this little red guy swimming around gracefully, my first thought was, “Holy cow! A Nudibranch!”. Again, I was so thrilled since it’s my first time seeing a “nudibranch” in the wild. Later I learned that this little guy is a species of sea slug with the Latin name of Pleurobranchia forskalii.
There were so many of them scattered around; I think it’s like their season. It was October 2011. They came with the color of bright red, bright orange, creamy to brown. They have this distinctive pattern of white circle on their top. So pretty…

Harlequin Snake Eel
At 8.30 am, it was started to rain in Nusa Dua. I rushed to the shore for cover when I dead stop upon looking at this long black & white striped thing in front of me. It swam really close to the shore line. I thought I was going to die, thinking that it was the infamous venomous banded sea snake (Laticauda colubrine).

Then, I saw its pectoral fin and smooth skin which gave away its cover. After that, I was convinced that it was indeed the harmless Harlequin Snake Eel or Banded Snake Eel (Myrichthys colubrinus). Its smart disguise allows it to hunt safely over sand flats and sea grass beds near coral reefs for small fish and crustaceans.
What a great last encounter before I returned safely to my hotel that morning.

So those are the highlights of my Nusa Dua trip on October 2011. More posts with specific theme from this trip will be posted soon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I live in Indonesia, a tropical country. However, I used to not much of a beach person for I just can’t stand the intense heat of the beach. That was the main reason when my best friend and I decided that we would do a “cultural trip” only and promised to avoid the beaches on my first trip to Bali on February 2011. (Can you believe it? We went to BALI, the Island of Gods, which is famous for its great beaches and not planning to see any beach?)
Well, apparently Bali had a different plan for me. It’s like fate, my first time to Bali was actually the beginning of another 4 Bali trips on the 2011 alone. From then on, I just fall in love with Bali and its beautiful beaches, particularly the intertidal ones.

Intertidal Beach

Intertidal beaches are rich ecosystems for marine wildlife. They are the place where organisms live between the low and high tide. The intertidal area of sea grass or rocky reef will be exposed at the low tide and thus available for observation without diving or snorkeling.

Nusa Dua Beach, Bali
One characteristic of an intertidal beach is the long shoreline, in which the waves look far from the beach.

Nusa Dua Beach, Bali
During the low tide, the intertidal area of sea grass is exposed .

Nusa Dua Beach, Bali
The coral reef and colorful algaes are visible during the low tide,

Intertidal Beaches in Bali & Java

As a nature enthusiast, my favorite beach in Bali is Nusa Dua. The one that stretched between the Westin Resort to the Melia Hotel within the Bali Tourism Development Centre's (BTDC) complex. Some says this area is too artificial for it is so clean and sterile (unlike the common public beaches in Bali). I don’t mind though, for me, this beach is the tourist beach with the most pristine crystal clear water in Bali and its isolation preserves the marine wildlife in the intertidal area. If you look into the adjacent beach area of Tanjung Benoa, you will see how the area has been damaged by water sport and tourist activities.
Other intertidal beaches in Bali are includes Sanur Beach which located next to Nusa Dua Beach and Lovina Beach which located in the northern part of Bali. Some other intertidal beaches that I know in Java are Pantai Pameungpeuk in West Java, Pantai Sawarna in Banten and Pantai Ngobaran in Yogyakarta. ("Pantai" means "Beach" in Indonesian)

Tanjung Layar, Pantai Sawarna, Banten
This magnificent scenery resembles the picture of land in some enchanted tales.

Sawarna Beach, Banten, Indonesia
A rocky intertidal beach facing the Indian Ocean in the Southern part of Java.
Best Time to Explore
Nusa Dua Beach, Bali
A swarm of baby fishes during the morning low tide.
If you wish to find marine critters, it is best to explore during the morning low tide right after sunrise. You will find some nocturnal species on their way back to their hiding places. Around 9 am the coral reef fishes will be sighted swimming actively inside the low tide pools. On the other hand, the afternoon low tide is quiet and lack of marine critters sightings, except for the sharp spines of some sea urchins that are sticking out from underneath the rocks.

The night hunt is also great, especially during the full moon. However make sure you take extra safety measures:
  • ensure you know the duration of the low tide (you don't want to get stuck when it's suddenly a high tide),
  • don't go barefoot (you don't want to step on some diadema urchin or camouflaged stonefish)
  • bring torch/ flash light,
  • ensure you know the area where you wonder, avoid going to  the area you are not familiar with,
  • don't wonder alone in the area that you are not know well. 

Dos & Don'ts
Intertidal areas are unique environments. Some areas are also very fragile; they can be easily damaged and take a long time to recover. To ensure we won't harm them, please note the following:
·     After looking at organisms under rocks or seaweeds, cover up the organisms so the sun and air will not dry them out. Replace rocks in their original positions.
·     Avoid walking on plants and animals whenever possible.
·     Leave animals where you find them. Each animal is specialized to live in a certain habitat and may not survive if put in a different area.
·    Avoid to touch bright-colored looking animals and the spiky ones for they might be poisonous.
·    Avoid to touch polyclads (flatworms) for some of them are so fragile that they have developed self-destruction mechanism. Once disturbed, they will dissolve themselves into slime like substance. ( )

Happy Looking! J

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Westin Resort Nusa Dua: Where the Journey Began

I was assigned for a business meeting in Bali last year. I recalled from an article in my school book that Nusa Dua was described as the beach where the elderly goes due to its calm waves and sunrise spot. What an understatement, this beach is splendid for all ages!  It has a long shoreline with glorious golden sand and calm crystal clear water; safe for swimming.

At first, my expectation was just to attend the meeting and relaxing on the beach afterward. They have some nice beach cocoons like these:

Beach cocoons lined up on the golden sands of Nusa Dua Beach, Bali.

Ha… I know you wanna go there too!

The hotel is located in the Bali Tourism Development Centre's (BTDC) complex where the international conferences and summit meetings held. That’s why this complex is a relatively sterile tourist enclave.

The meeting went on for 3 days from 8.30 am to 4 pm, and every time I got the chance, I just rushed to the beach or the poolside. Life’s good…

Me relaxing between meetings at the poolside.

On the second day, I felt like to catch the sunrise, so I got up at 4.30 am and walked to the beach. It was very dark. Later I learned that the sunrise was not up until 6 am. I got bored of waiting and start to walk, that was when I stumbled upon the biggest starfish I’ve ever seen. When the streaks of ray appeared, I realized that this beach is a very rich ecosystem.

So this is where my journey began…