Patterns, Terns & Turtles – Nature@BB

We have been busy here on Pulau Tengah – welcoming guests, preparing for the upcoming rainy season, recruiting new staff and the list goes on. However, this post is not about on-island “busy-ness” but rather a narrative of the goings-on above and below the waters which surround us by Simon, our resident Naturalist. Through his surveys and observations, he points out specific and now perhaps obvious patterns in nature (which we had not noticed over the past 18 years we have been visiting the island…). I am sure will be looking back to this post next year to predict the exact date of the 2013 North East Monsoon’s arrival…

Green Turtle @ Pulau Tengah (photo: Simon Buckell)

I have been conducting surveys of the wildlife in and around the island and monitoring the estuary at Mersing on a once a week basis to establish the migration of the waders. Waders are the first true migratory species to arrive for the autumn / return passage where they are returning from their summer breeding grounds of the Himalayan Plateaus and the fast flowing mountain rivers and open tundra’s of the Russian near arctic and arctic environments.

Seabirds have also begun their migrations with specialty species such as Swinhoes Storm Petrels being seen in the waters between Mersing and Pulau Tengah. These true ocean going seabirds are also returning from their summer breeding grounds of small islands and rocky islets off the coasts in the seas of Japan, Korea, China and Russia. They are migrating through these waters on their way down through the Straits of Singapore to the Indian Ocean where they will remain for the winter until next spring when they will return migrating northwards returning back to their summer breeding grounds.

Terns are also a seabird species and numbers have begun to build on the eastern side of the island using the small rocky areas to roost. Up to 90 Black-naped Terns were recorded on the 23/09/2012 a personal high count for the island. Great Crested Terns have also begun appearing in amongst the Black Naped Terns. An early visit to survey the Batuan Tikus lighthouse produced 30 Bridled Terns which included at least 3 juveniles present providing early indications that there was successful breeding at a newly discovered breeding colony close-by.

Black Naped Tern (photo: Simon Buckell)

Whilst all of this has been happening above the waters, below the surface things have also become busy with the sudden appearance of large shoals of jelly fish close inshore on the western side of the island on 22/09/2012. These had almost entirely disappeared the following day, which however provided crystal clear waters where the northern reef was alive with large shoals of small fish present with bigger species such as presumed Barracuda seen jumping at the surface in the distance. Then all of a sudden turtle sightings became much more evident than usual with a higher frequency of sightings with at least 4-5 individuals seen on a routine Turtle Patrols of the island by Kayak.

The Turtles are well and truly here at the moment with guests enjoying frequent sightings of them coming to the surface (some almost right underneath the jetty)! A handful of lucky guests have been able to jump in and snorkel right next to one particular turtle (christened Rufus by eleven year old Holly who got to know him quite well on her recent visit). All Turtle sightings are currently of the species Green Turtle of which some can be as large as 3½ feet long. These Turtles are arriving here to feed up on the sea grass and algae beds just off shore that stretch from the island’s Long Beach through to Pulau Besar. They will remain here to feed up before embarking on their own migrations believed to be through to the Philippines and possibly Australia where they will remain throughout until the local monsoon rains have passed when they will begin to return to the beaches here to lay their eggs next spring.

Green Turtle at Pulau Tengah (photo: Simon Buckell)

During surveys carried out by myself and Hakim (our intern) last year the same occurrence took place with turtles being seen regularly in good numbers including sightings of both Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Turtles. Dugong and an Indo Pacific Finless Porpoise were also recorded as well as pair of Otters. It is still early in the migration season and we will be keeping busy monitoring the migration that takes place on and around the island, keeping a keen eye out for some of last year’s visitors. We will keep you posted here.

Bird migration data collected from surveys conducted last year by Simon & Hakim (September through to November) have recently been published in the Malaysian Natural Society’s quarterly magazine SUARA ENGGANG along with a photo of the Christmas Island Frigatebird they observed.

It is our aim that Batu Batu Nature will continue to provide more information, reports and photos to be published in the Malaysian Nature Society’s publications, as we believe in recording, monitoring, protecting and conserving the island’s natural environment. Revenues from Batu Batu Nature equipment rentals and guided excursions are used to fund these studies and surveys.


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