Crustacean or Arachnid?

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Have you encountered a horseshoe crab? Few months back, I sighted one while we walked along Cockle Cove beach (Chatham, MA) and was wondering what it was!  It had a hard shell like a crab but has a tail, by appearance it formed like a ray but with hard externals. It was dead though as we found it partly buried on the sand. We found few more shells around in different sizes. The next day while on trail at Hamblen Park (Welfleet, MA), we found more on grassy wetlands. It was lifeless though, but bigger and still complete I thought at first it was alive. My sister said it’s not edible but never dangerous. I have never seen this animal in the Philippines.

Here are few interesting facts about the specie, I learned it’s not alien in Philippine waters and just one of many significant critters in marine world.

  1. Horseshoe crabs are actually not true crabs at all, being more closely related to arachnids (a group that includes spiders and scorpions) than to crustaceans (a group that includes true crabs, lobsters, and shrimp).
  2. Often called “living fossils,” horseshoe crab ancestors can traced back through the geologic record to around 445 million years ago, 200 million years before dinosaurs existed.
  3. There are four species of horseshoe crabs that exists today, viz.
    a.) Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) lives around the Gulf and eastern Atlantic coasts of the United States.
    b.) Mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the Coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas) have similar ranges. They live in parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
    c.) Chinese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus). This species is found in parts of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
  4. This animal is harmless in reality, although some people viewed them as dangerous due to its spike-like tail. The horseshoe crab’s tail is used primarily to flip the animal upright if it is overturned.
  5. Horseshoe crabs are known for their large nesting aggregations or groups on beaches, the male fertilizes the eggs as the female lays them in a nest in the sand.  Most of this nesting activity takes place during high tides around the time of a new or full moon.
  6. The young and adult horseshoe crabs spend most of their time on the sandy bottoms of intertidal flats or zones above the low tide mark and feed on various invertebrates.
  7. Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecology of coastal communities. Their eggs are the major food sourceof migrating birds and these birds evolve to time their migration to coincide during spawning activity.  Many fish species have been observed feeding on horseshoe crab eggs in Florida. Adult horseshoes serve as prey for sea turtles, alligators, horse conchs and sharks.
  8. Horseshoe crabs are also extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called “Limulus Amebocyte Lysate”(LAL) that are chemically used to determine the presence of toxins. This compound coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs.
  9. Horseshoe crabs are marine animals, which means they live in salt water. The eggs are laid on the sand, when hatched the juvenile stay on shallow water where they are protected, like estuaries until they reached two years old. After two years, the now-adult horseshoe crabs can move into deeper water. Adults are found at depths ranging from 100 feet deep to more than 600 feet deep.
  1. They can and do swim, but for the most part they simply walk along the bottom since this is where their food is located.Its main diet consists of worms as well as mollusks, which are animals with a soft body, no spine, and a hard protective shell. Clams are the most common mollusk in the horseshoe crab’s diet.

There are three species of horseshoe crabs that can be found in the country; the Mangrove, Coastal and Chinese but unfortunately haven’t encountered any yet so far. I could only wish I will see one in the sandy bottom in the depths. Actually, they are endangered species in the Philippines and I think the remaining resources needs to be protected and managed.  They are very important in biodiversity conservation and plays an important role in the marine ecosystem.

NB.  Above facts were resourced from http://www.myfwc.com

Love from Cape Cod (Part III)

We drove to the northernmost tip of the Cape, Provincetown is where the historic first landing of The Pilgrims of the so called New World. I love this quaint town, so picturesque actually.

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White wash buildings were common in the town!

It has maintained its idyllic and rural setting and I believe its inhabitants never felt pressured to adopt modernity extensively. It is said that the residents felt violated with their privacy with the influx of tourists during summer. The town is filled with old buildings, art galleries, coffee shops & restos, seafood shacks, gift & souvenir shops and even thrift shops! It’s that kind of setting where you can just walk about the whole town, when you feel tired you can just sit on one of those benches around and you can grab something nearby if you need to munch or quench your thirst.  And we practically went around, my sister insisted with the unique shops and we didn’t miss the shell shop at Commercial Street, the friendly owner showed us around and it was interesting that she had visited Philippines twice and still planning to be back!

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Almost surrounded by waters and definitely part of the network of marine sanctuaries in the Cape, this northern town housed a center for coastal studies with on-going research on the Stellwagen Bank, an underwater plateau of sand and gravel historically important as a fishing ground for more than 400 years.  The region is rich with maritime history and teeming with life, it was designated as national marine sanctuary in 1992. Provincetown is very significant in the whole territory of Cape Cod.

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Waiting for the signs of whales!

Lastly, the highlight of my trip in the Cape was the whale watching cruise based in Hyannis,  I was not expecting or even planning for it, actually it was expensive. But my sister thought I love the marine world, Gary facilitated for the trip with the Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises as we drove to Barnstable. It was a more than two-hour cruise hosted by a marine biologist who has been on the research team for more than two decades (if I hear it right!). During the trip, the naturalist narrated about the Stellwagen Bank and extensively explained the whales species that normally migrated by season, it is the feeding ground of this animals during summer. The blues skies and the blue seas lifted my spirit even if I was in the midst of total strangers, the waters was perfectly balmy after out of the realms for many weeks!

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It took an hour before the first sighting, the host calling out – 1 o’clock!; 11 o’clock!; 10 o’clock! – the watchers shifted position now and then. We were at a distance when a humpback breached!  It was so quick, I just watched in awe, obviously no chance for photos! 😦  There were few more sightings, always shifting when the host called out the position.  You could hear the swooshing and the spray of salt waters up like a fountain, which they explained that the animal was breathing! The whale according to the naturalist was doing zigzag route down under, perhaps viewing the animal from their gadgets.  Many times, the whale showed its tale like waving for us, my position was not favorable for a wider view of the tale so my photos was somewhat obscure. It was too fast, I got stunned I merely watched the sight in awe! Truly, it was a wonderful experience!

My Cape Cod trip will never be forgotten, as they say, “it’s for the books!” but more than that, it’s for my heart treasured forever.  I may never get the chance again to be there but the memories was an important experience and a special part of my marine world learning in the Atlantic front. There was just abundance of life!

Love from Cape Cod (Part II)

Needless to say, vacation at Cape Cod costs a fortune, this exotic place definitely demands a price. But the Lord provided for everything through the generosity of my sister and family including the children. After more than two decades of waiting, I finally made it. Indeed, there is always a right time for everything!

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The summer house at Wellfleet!

The few days we had at the Cape was about getting around, while we were staying south of Chatham which has its own waterfront we spend more time at Wellfleet. My sister’s family revisited them to show me around, the children grew up coming in these spots almost very summer. Definitely, it was part of their childhood memories and always a joy for them to be here.

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The Salt Marsh is one good find at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, we started the trail from Uncle Tim’s Bridge crossing the Duck Harbor Creek to Hamblen Island overlooking the mudflats, where few birds took refuge and perhaps searching for shells, crabs and grasses for feeds. Then found a horseshoe crab by the side trails, unfortunately it was lifeless. It was my first encounter of such specie, it’s not edible though. There‘s small clearing near the bridge ruins at the creek, where one can sit and watch the view which at the time was all green, the rushing waters was also an attraction. Crabs, shells and other crustaceans dwell by the tidal marsh, a natural habitat for them. The locals on the area supported by the government have endeavored for its protection and preservation.

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The Cockle Cove Beach was facing the Nantucket Sound

The Cockle Cove Beach was just near our Air B&B abode in Chatham, for me it was more than just a spot for pleasure. The beach was just a short drive with my niece and nephew and fortunately the parking was free when we went there! The warm waters from Nantucket Sound is perfect for swimming but there were no beach-goers, only few people were there taking lessons for SUP and windsurfing.

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Yet, I was more interested of the seagulls hovering, unbelievably flying low with few landed along the sand picking with the sea weeds, it was surprising they stood their ground while we passed by looking for shells. Just few meters above was Mill Creek where we sighted thousands of hermit crabs and other crustaceans inhabiting the mudflats, a multitude were crawling by the creek side. The cove is without doubt part of sanctuary network in the Cape, series of restoration efforts were mobilized also due to sand erosion in the area.

Love from Cape Cod (Part I)

Cape Cod is hook-shaped peninsula of the US state of Massachusetts, is a popular summertime destination. It is characterized by quaint villages, seafood shacks, lighthouses, ponds & bay & ocean beaches.  The bulk of land on Cape consists of glacial land forms, formed by terminal moraine and outwash plains.  Its historic, maritime character and ample beaches attract heavy tourism during summer months.

CapeCodTownsMap Cape Cod Map courtesy of Wikitravel

This beautiful destination aside from being historic dwelled so much at the back of my mind since time immemorial.  My sister always told me stories about their summer trips – with her family tagging along the kids, with friends and their family, sometimes with friends of friends – they went there every year. Practically, it’s their second home. Setting foot at the Cape is a dream trip to me.

After much prayers and discernment, I scheduled a US trip to visit my Sister and her family and to offer myself a little consolation. Since the trip fell on summer, the Cape Cod dream was few steps closer. And, it happened since my sister’s vacation was scheduled just few weeks before I go back home!

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Typical scene on the beach during summer!

My blue heart was attracted to Cape with no reservations – the great Atlantic waters was for me un-chartered. It was playing a lot of thoughts just to get a glimpse of this large body with its rich marine life. Cape territory is divided into 15 towns with many villages all of which are practically have waterfronts.  Beaches abound naturally…

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Breaks can create waves suitable for surfing!

The Nauset Beach in Orleans is just one of those pristine coast line that are too perfect for summer events – be it sunbathing, swimming, skim boarding or just sitting under beach umbrella and watch the horizons beyond.  It was far beyond compare to our beaches, definitely it’s clean and free from structures and obstructions.  It was naturally maintained.

When we got there, it was already filled with beach-goers we had to find a strategic spot with unobstructed view of the waters. The sun was already scorching and decided not to swim, my sister said the waters too cold for her even it is sunny. Lounging on my beach chair was comfortable enough. The sunny skies and blue waters were nothing different back home, I was wondering what was beyond the surface.  At a distance, we saw a head or two of seals bobbing up the surface, its either getting away from predators or looking for prey in shallower waters.  Few sea gulls flew over humans perhaps looking for food scraps while few also flew over the waters perhaps eyeing for fish.

Obviously, Nauset is part of wildlife sanctuary network in the Cape. Last July 18, 2018 swimmers and surfers fled the waters as shark attacked a seal just few feet from the shoreline, though no human injuries were reported. (https://abc7chicago.com/pets-animals/swimmers-flee-water-as-shark-devours-seal/3849325/)

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Pristine and so enticing for swimming or surfing!

Newcomb Hollow Beach is located at northernmost of Wellfleet, it featured a scenic stretch of ocean beach backed with stretch of sand dunes.  It is pristine just like other beaches in the Cape and its blue waters were truly inviting not only for swimming but also for surfing as there are bars for waves breaks commonly for short boards.

It was just too interesting to try swimming in an Atlantic surface, the water is cold according to my sister but the blue waters with soft waves were just too enticing.  The good thing was my nephew and niece joined me for the swim, being out of waters for almost ten weeks it was some sort of deliverance from sea sickness, I was like hyper ventilating! And again, its waters was also rich with marine life as sharks are patrolling the area for preys. There were times when closures of the beach is necessary if a number of sharks sightings were observed.  There was a recent shark attack in this beach just when official summer was over. (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/newcomb-hollow-beach-wellfeet-massachusetts-deadly-shark-attack-today-2018-09-15/)

20180704_200940It was in Fourth of July when we visited Duck Harbor Beach, still in Wellfleet.  You need to pass along a stretch of sand dunes, thankfully the parking was free though you need to be early before it gets full. It was dusk and we were in for a glorious display of colors of sunset, the sky was clear and we could saw faint image of the Pilgrim Tower in Provincetown from the horizon ahead of us. Just when the whole country was celebrating this big day  we were out there walking along the shore and later sitting in our beach chairs watching the changing hues before us. It was just relaxing!

On a BySide!

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Grand Central Terminal

I was on my way looking for the Flatiron district in Manhattan, my few remaining hours in the city should be maximized to the fullest.  The reason why I transferred to a hostel in Chelsea area and left my refuge in the past days at Jersey City. It was past 7pm but summer has illuminated well the street, in fact not a common condition back home. It could have been dark already, and most likely I wont venture searching a spot in a strange city. Lugging my backpack, I was determined to find this unusual building, cautious yet relying a bit with google map. 🙂

So, I was lost a bit but not worrying because I know I will surely find it in the end. Unexpectedly, as I was silently treading West 21st Street, the familiar dive flag sign caught me off guard. Yes, I was passing a dive shop by my left side  – I grinned from ear to ear like my face would split in half (sorry, I’m exaggerating)! I wasn’t expecting to bump a dive shop right in Manhattan, it was a total surprise. I silently touched my dive computer which has been my travel buddy for this trip.  My feet just brought me there to brighten up after a hectic day.

I peek a bit through the glass windows with a smile and left with quick steps for my destination. Scuba Network Manhattan was a lovely sight to me as a diver!

The sun was still bright when I got to Flatiron Building, unfortunately it was obstructed by Marshall’s ads installation, so it wasn’t a pretty sight for photos. I ended up at Madison Square Park sitting on one of those park benches, watching passersby, taking my time until it got dark.

It was just a beautiful day!

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My refuge in Manhattan!

Frisky Ribbon Eel!

 

If you frequently dive in the Philippines, chances are you have encountered a ribbon eel, usually in blue color gently peeking and swaying from its burrow.  Normally the specie is found on sandy patches like the garden eel as they create their hole in the sand.

  1. The ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) or Bernis eel, is a species of moray eel, the only member of the genus Rhinomuraena and is normally found in Indo-Pacific ocean
  2. Ribbon eels are carnivores, preying on small fish and other marine creatures. They can attract their prey with their flared nostrils and then clamp down on them with their strong jaws and retreat into their burrows.
  3. They are usually seen with only their heads protruding from holes in reefs, amongst coral rubble on coastal reef slopes or in sand and mud of lagoons. It can stay in the same hole for months or even years.
  4. The ribbon eel is the only moray eel that is protandric, which means that they can change from a male to female (protandry) should it become necessary for survival of the species in their area.
  5. All juveniles are born male, generally in jet black with a yellow dorsal fin. The adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.
  6. As the adult male reaches full size (approximately 1 metre), it begins to turn into a female, and turns yellow. It will then mate, lay eggs, and die within about a month. Due to this short lifespan, female ribbon eels are a relatively rare sight.
  7. Females are yellow with a black anal fin with white margins on the fins. So, they are not all different species, they are just differently coloured, according to sex…. which they can change during their lifetimes.
  8. The ribbon eel grows to an overall length of approximately 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a life span of up to twenty years.

Rarely did I encounter ribbon eel in group, mostly alone or in couple which I quickly presume that couples are male and female.  In my encounters, generally all were blue with yellow dorsal fins, the latest of which was in Samal Island. I remember there was once I sighted a black one (juvenile) while diving at Red Sands in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental.

I love blue ribbon eels with their blue and yellow color, so harmless gently swaying over their burrow. Their sequential transformation in terms of color and sex held so much wonder – such an interesting life cycle!  Now, here’s hoping to encounter a swimming eel out from their hole or a female one, I guess I need to be keen for a yellow ribbon eel next time!

 

Charming Camiguin

Indeed, there are 101 ways of enjoying the wonders of Camiguin Island and maybe it would be too archaic to say I am one of many who are captivated by its enduring charms. I will never get tired of coming over and over again, last year I hopped to the island three times each with different agenda to relish once more its grandeur on its surface and beyond.

Mountains and Falls

During one long weekend in summer I went with workmates to fulfill my long-time wish to climb Mt. Hibok-hibok, the trek was unforgiving but I made it traversing to Ardent Hotsprings. It was just marvelous getting up close with this majestic & dangerous mountain which have devastated the island decades ago. My legs went wobbly when I got back in the camp but happy for it was a wish come true!

In June during an official travel, after having a road tour with staff and workmates, I had a quick detour for a weekend dive with my dive buddy. It was rediscovering the island province, surface & beyond.  And yes, after the dives in Mantigue Island we went up the mountains for the trek to Binangawan Falls in Sagay.  We went for the unforgiving trails but the feeling was great when we got there, it was deserted compared to Katibawasan & Tuasan Falls! The trek was engaging, one mistake and you fell into the ravine.  The waters was too cold, just right to cool down after the long and challenging walk and it was all ours!  🙂

Island and Depths

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Mantigue Island, a gem in the Bohol Sea!

I went back to the island for my year-end dive and the weather favoured us, while other regions was on a storm it was like summer in Northern Mindanao.  We aimed for Mantigue Island, we just couldn’t get enough of the school of giant trevally and huge turtles. I never get tired of coming back again and again, the point is – we only spent brief moment underwater which is usually an hour at a time, and the probability that we will see everything in that moment is nonsensical. Exactly, different sightings in every descent. Yet if I’m in Mantigue waters, I waited for the turtles and the large herd of jackfish or trevallies. I wished to be in the midst of these numerous silvery fish with big eyes and swim with them or be engulfed in their swirling motion completely at peace.

Once again we encountered my favourite species – the turtles, giant trevallies, garden eels, stonefish, giant grouper (like a goliath!), sea snake, moray eel, few nudis and unexpectedly – a herd of barracudas! We bumped with the trevallies at least three times as we went around. We stumbled upon a reef decorated with feather stars, soft and hard corals and hydroids formed like a heart – amazing discovery! 🙂 Angel tugged me and pointed it out while floating weightlessly.  My two dives on that Saturday have refreshed me undoubtedly after just recovered from feeling ill.

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An amazing find!  🙂

It was drizzling when we head for the white sandbar in Yumbing early the next morning, a storm darkened the skies followed by rains, but the sun peeped after awhile and suddenly brightened up the horizons.  It’s been long since I last set foot in the sandbar, then a rainbow appeared and it reminded me of a promise from the heavens, a magic to behold sending good cheers!

Camiguin always fascinates me in every way, the island is purely magical – surface and beyond.

NB. The split photo of Mantigue Island is courtesy of my dive buddy.