Apr 22, 2007

Return to Kekek Quarry

Wildfilms, joined by other volunteers dropped by Kekek Quarry today. We were already on Pulau Ubin and thought we should have a quick look before the quarry is re-opened. After tucking into the special lontong served at Pak Ali's shop (served only on Sundays, and in very limited quantities--we ate the last of it), we headed out to the quarry.

The tranquil quarry was stunning as usual, under brilliant blue skies.

With the burbling calls of the Straw-headed bulbul echoing around us, we spotted grey herons fishing. In the cool blue waters, chromides swam and a lone red-eared terrapin paddled about. A group of cyclists stopped by to take photos as well. More photos of wildlife at Kekek shared by MPhil on the focus ubin forum

On the way home, it got particularly stinky near the jetty. We soon discovered the stench came from a VERY large dead fish that had drifted to shore with the incoming tide. Photo of JUST HOW BIG it was and its possible identity on the Budak blog. Sijie and Budak are so brave to get close enough to take photos of it!

More updates on the re-opening of Kekek Quarry on the Pulau Ubin Stories blog.

Apr 21, 2007

Sentosa's original underwater world

What's on the Sentosa shores slated for reclamation as part of the Sentosa IR development?

Yesterday, I had a look at these shores. It was the first time I'm visiting this area. And at a super low tide. We are seldom at Sentosa at such low tides, preferring to spend these rare occasions on other shores. And when we do visit Sentosa, we usually focus on the area near the Tanjung Rimau beacon.

By now, I should have learnt not to underestimate our shores. Still, I was surprised by the very large growths of hard corals on these shores.
About 8ha of shores on both sides of the cable car tower are slated for reclamation (see media articles about these plans.)

The corals there were particularly large and well formed. With many different kinds growing next to one another.
Besides the usual commonly encountered hard corals of the Family Favidae ...
...I saw two different kinds of mushroom corals.
And large specimens of rarer corals such as Galaxy coral (Galaxea sp.)
Hydnophora sp.
Pavona sp.
and this pretty coral with star-like corallites, possibly Cyphastrea sp.?
Other species encountered included the Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) , Disk corals (Turbinaria sp.), Psammocora sp., Montipora sp., Pocillopora sp. and Porites sp.

The most stunning were these large colonies of Anchor coral (Euphyllia ancora?).
Each clump was about 1m across, and there were several of them. The ground near them was very soft, so I couldn't get very close to them.

The Anchor coral colonies were very much alive, although at low tide, the long tentacles were retracted into the skeletons.

There large corals were only those seen exposed at low tide. It is possible that there are more that remain submerged in deeper waters.

I also startled a little all-black frogfish! And had glimpses of little reef fishes darting about in the water.

There were stretches of sandy areas between the reef flat and the sea wall. The silty sand flats were dotted with clumps of Tape Seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) and sprinkles of Spoon seagrass (Halophila ovalis). There was also a good variety of seaweed.

On the sandy silty shore, what a delightful surprise!
Several sand dollars that I've never seen before!

These animal were pinkish, slightly pentagonal with thick rounded edges, so they looked a bit like angular Marie biscuits. They had long prickly spines and moved quite rapidly. Could these be Laganum depressum? Described in Dr Lane's BP Guidebook to Sea Stars and Other Echinoderms of Singapore as "occasionally collected in trawl hauls of the Southern Islands". This sand dollar is listed as vulnerable in the Singapore Red Data Book. Indeed, I've never come across them before.

As the sun rose and I headed back, what an amazing sight!

In a pool right in front of the Underwater World is a thicket of living branching corals (Montipora sp.). The ground was crowded with colonial anemones and other sedentary marine life. Little fishes were darting everywhere! Nature's own maintenance-free touch pool!

The area of branching corals was quite extensive! Although the corals look dead in this photo, they were very much alive.

Unbenownst to the thousands of visitors who throng the artificial habitats in the Underwater World, right at its doorstep is nature's own integrated resort for marine creatures.

How sad that these living shores will be buried to make way for an aquarium and other artificial marine habitats.

For the latest on plans for the Sentosa IR.

Larger photos of this visit has been uploaded to flickr under the set Slated for Reclamation and assembled as a powerpoint available for download (4MB) on the wildsingapore website.

Joseph Lai has done a great compilation of Coastal Features of Blakang Mati 1884 on his eart-h.com website. Blakang Mati was the name of the island before it was changed to Sentosa.

Apr 20, 2007

Marvellous Changi morning

We were out early at Changi yesterday, for the first predawn trip there in months! Following the mass deaths at Chek Jawa, we feared for Changi. But the seagrasses at Changi were teaming with life!

This was a typical scene in the pools at low tide. How many different animals can you spot?

There's a moon snail (white shell and body) prowling in the sand, a scorpion fish in the middle, next to it a green pipefish, and zooming past all of them, some other kind of fish. Scattered all around are several tiny transparent shrimps (too small to see in this reduced photo).

Hidden in the sand were flat sand-coloured dragonets (Callionymus schaapii?). They flip in and out of the sand in an instant! When buried, only their beady little eyes betray their presence.

Tiny flat sole fishes were impossible to spot until they moved. These fishes 'crawl' on the sandy surface with the spiny ribbon of fins that edge the body. They too disappear instantly into the sand.

Changi is the one place you can find lots of hermit crabs with sea anemones on their shells. The hermit crab usually settles into the sand with just its eyes and feelers sticking out. And the sea anemones also poke out of the sand and unfurl their tentacles. When the hermit crab is on the move, the anemones tuck their tentacles into their bodies and turn into blobs on the shell.

It was hard to spot this rather large sea horse. It blends so well with its surroundings. Seahorses are surprisingly common on Changi.

Other fishes were also well camouflaged. Tiny green filefishes hung motionless among equally green seaweeds. The spiny and colourful scorpionfish is hard to spot when it rests on a less uniform surface.

It is quite common to encounter cuttlefishes on Changi. This little feisty one gave us a few tentacles-up as it scooted away.

Not all the creatures on Changi are bland. There were several of these large prawns with colourful peacock tails. The usual Tiger prawns are also commonly seen among the seagrasses there, as well as lots of tiny transparent shrimps.

We saw a moon snail with a brown shell and delicate white patterns on its red foot. We've seen this snail quite often on Changi and think it might be Natica orientalis. Hidden among the sand were many Gong-gong (Strombus canarium) with only their eyes sticking out of their shells. This is reassuring as Gong-gong were among the animals that died out in large numbers on Chek Jawa.

We also saw lots of sand stars! What a relief as many sea stars on Chek Jawa had died.

We also saw a large number of sand dollars. There were a few ball sea cucumbers looking plump and well, half buried in the sand. How reassuring!

There are large patches of Fern seagrass (Halophila spinulosa). And among the lush seagrasses, lots of tiny carpet anemones, some no bigger than a seagrass leaf!

And the best sign of a happy shore is mating! Which seems to be what is in progress between these two Moon crabs (Matuta lunaris).

Changi remains a delightful gem. Andy declared he saw more during today's trip that he had in all the trips he been with us. Besides the fact that Changi is indeed crawling with all manner of marine life, it was also the first predawn trip for the season. We do see a lot more action in the early morning!!

Alas, we had to leave quickly. Not just because the tide was turning.

The distant flashes of lightning had rapidly repositioned right overhead. We tried to ignore the thunder. Then we heard a terrifying ripping sound moving horizontally over us. Before whatever it was decided to move vertically, we scurried off the shore.

Apr 18, 2007

Hot Sisters

It was another blistering hot Sunday afternoon as wildfilms and beachfleas headed out to visit Big Sisters, fast becoming our favourite island.

The visibility was incredible once again! Right at the jetty, overlooking the city, we could see the reefs in the blue blue water under the even bluer sky. There were lots of people at the jetty with lots of fishing gear. They didn't seem to realise how marvellous this clear water was.

In the swimming lagoon, the visibility was just as stunning! It looked like one of those tropical isles used in calendars and tourist brochures! The water was warm though, and I wondered whether the poor marine creatures would broil in it.

Amazing encounters included a busy sea snake that obliged Alvin with lots of footage of snaky foraging among coral rubble. Alvin had worked out a system to get underwater shots with the new HD. We wanted to call it D.U.C (damned underwater contraption) but thought the better of it, in deference to budak. It is quite an appropriate name though. The thing floats, is white and is fat like a duck. The contraption worked very well although it was hard on Alvin's back. Ron has a photo of the entire assembly including Alvin :-)

The day got way too hot for me, so I wimped out under the shady trees. Karyn was stalking the monkeys, and I startled a monitor lizard. Eventually, I just had a nap under the coconut trees. As the sun set and tide turned, we settled in to shoot the Finds of the Day.

The highlight were these delightful cartoonish nudibranchs (oops, Ron corrects and reminds that they are NOT nudibranchs). Called Euselenops luniceps, these are swimming slugs; yes, they swim! I only saw it once before, on Chek Jawa, a long time ago. Adelle found the first one, shortly followed by Chay Hoon finding another. And we found YET another one later on! These cute little slugs flap the sides of their bodies to swim about. Budak took lots of rather RA photos of them and as expected, tells us more about them.

Sijie found a Heart cockle (Corculum cardissa)! This is a clam, i.e., it has a two-part shell. It is really heart-shaped! The only other time I've seen one is at Pulau Semakau. A closer look reveals the pretty patterns on the shell.

Robert found a Land hermit crab (Coenobita cavipes) that refused to come out until I breathed on it, whereupon it lunged out and proceeded to pinch my fingers.

Ron has lots more photos and stories of our day on his tidechaser blog.

As we headed home to the boat at the jetty, we came across a hideous mess. Plastic bags, smelly leftover food, fish bait, wet tissues and other icky things all over the jetty waiting area!

Obviously from the group of fishing people we met on arrival. They had clearly tied up their rubbish in a big bag (the ripped bag was still attached to the railing), but the monkeys had raided the bag and strewn the contents everywhere. Budak has photos and more stories about this mess.

We knew we had to clean it up. Otherwise all the plastic would end up in the water and kill off marine life. Sea turtles often eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. These turtles eventually die.

Everyone helped to scrape it all together, and piled the mess into open boxes and tiny dirty plastic bags. Budak clambered down to the shore under the jetty to get all the rubbish floating there. We dragged everything back to the mainland.

Hopefully, Sentosa will put up signage at the jetty reminding people to bring their rubbish back to the mainland (I mean, if they could haul it all the way to Sisters, they can haul the remains back, right?). Or at least put a monkey-proof bin on the jetty. Bringing the rubbish back is much better. Bins are rarely as monkey-proof as they claim to be.

Apr 7, 2007

Kekek Quarry, Pulau Ubin

Another early morning, this time with November, Khew and Pauline. We were off to explore Kekek Quarry at Pulau Ubin.

The entrance to a trail on the upper edge of this quarry is next to the Thai Temple, marked by a rather mouldy sign that warned of ominous consequences. It wasn't difficult to find the trail. We just followed the rubbish line...sigh.
A short climb and we were rewarded with a stunning view!
The steep rocky slopes were cloaked in all kinds of hardy vegetation.

Pitcher plants were everywhere!
Here's November looking slack already.

The pitcher plants were blooming! A little pollen-dusted mantis was perched on a bunch of flowers, patiently waiting for its breakfast. Inside the pitchers are all kinds of animals, mostly dead ants. But the Pitcher plant spider lurks INSIDE the pitcher to snatch unfortunate insects that slide down the slippery sides. I'm not sure how the spider clings onto this deadly surface.

I didn't have the gear to shoot the spider, so left it to those who had. Khew had an impressive set up for doing just this. It includes all kinds of lights at the front end of the lens, and a monopod with spokes on the end that could take out an eyeball or two.

We went on to have a view of the quarry from another entrance. Walking along country roads with puddles full of wriggly tadpoles.

November and Khew cajoled me onwards with promises of being on the shore (which they know I much prefer to rampaging about in all this resam). Alas, the shore was barred by the Ubin Fence...still standing and not very barnacle ridden or rubbish infested.

The quarry is surrounded by grasslands, and at one edge we came upon a mangrove stream running through an abandoned sluice gate. Throughout our trip, we were accompanied by the burbling calls of bulbuls, piercing whistles of hill mynas and chirps of little birds. We spotted two hornbills, and November chased down a family of jungle fowls. Surprisingly, she said it was her first encounter with them in the wild. There were herons in the quarry, and we saw a little sunbird's nest.

The other entrance to the quarry also had ominous signage.

But the view is worth the crawl through the large hole in the fence.
After the trip, while having our lunch at Ubin Town, we bumped into some friends and their families. They were looking for a place to picnic and after hearing about our morning there, they decided to go to the quarry.

Later in the evening I got this sms from them "Thanks for telling us about Kekek. We enjoyed it tremendously and even took a dip. We saw monitor lizards and two of our group think they saw an otter. We heard straw-headed bulbuls calling and it was a wonderful birthday celebration." I knew they weren't all prepared for getting wet so I'm sure there was some nakedness involved...hmm. These skinny-dipping naturists (who are also notorious naturalists) shall remain anonymous, but they know who they are :-)

November has also uploaded a clip of our trip on her ubin stories blog.

Do you have stories and photos to share about Kekek Quarry?
Post them on the focusubin forum!

update on 9 Apr 07: The news is out...

Singapore looking to reopen Ubin granite quarry
Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 07

Apr 6, 2007

Hantu Dawn

Early this morning, wildfilms and beachfleas headed out to Pulau Hantu. We had to take the long way around Pulau Bukom. The boatman explained the usual, shorter route was difficult to negotiate in the dark due to construction work in the area.
We landed on Hantu Kecil as the jetty at Hantu Besar seemed occupied by a large group of people who had put out fishing gear there.

We arrived just at the first blush of dawn.
The sunrise was great, although the subject was less so. But the petrochemical plants just across Pulau Hantu do look more enchanting the dark, all lit up like Christmas trees.
After spending nearly an hour over the sunrise, we headed out to the lagoon.

Dr Chua Ee Kiam (right) still actively documents the shores, although he has already finished his latest book about our shores: Singapore's Splendours: Life on the Edge. Dr Chua's book will be launched on 22 Apr (Sun) afternoon at the Botanic Gardens. Come for his talk to learn more about what's out there! More details on the wildsingapore events listing.
We were also thrilled that Debby of the Hantu Bloggers joined us today. She spotted a barn owl and other exciting wildlife. Budak also blogged about the spirit of the morning as well as a fiddler poem and thoughts about gong-gong.

Pulau Hantu is still very much alive, despite the onslaught of developments nearby.
Branching corals like Acropora (left) provide shelter for tiny animals, such as these tiny clams. Living Pocillopora coral (right) look fuzzy and have pale bluish polyps over a yellow base. Quite pretty if you take a closer look.

There was a little patch of mushroom corals. From those the size of a ten-cent coin, to large ones as big as saucers. These hard corals can move about when they become larger.

All kinds of other colourful hard corals littered the lagoon. Like this pretty lemon yellow one. The lagoon also had lots of lacy greenish to brownish seaweeds. I still don't know the names of these lifeforms.

Pulau Hantu has two magnificent mangrove trees, and also many patches of Tape seagrass. The sandy shores were thick with Common sea stars, many stacked in pairs (or threesomes), getting ready to mate no doubt.

As we packed up to leave, Andy, as usual, did the proper kind of clean up. He rescued a crab from a crab trap left on the shore.

The visibility at Pulau Hantu today was stunning! We picked up Alvin, Andy and Sijie from Hantu Besar, where they got side-tracked after washing the gear there. The clear water was teeming with all kinds of fishes!
Thanks to our very obliging and knowledgeable boatman for taking us hither and thither to all the jetties. He also shared lots of stories. Regularly punctuating his account with "if only you were here 5-6 years ago, I could have shown you...". He recalled fondly fabulous reefs at Seringat, Saking and many other reefs that have since been reclaimed.

Pulau Hantu is ringed on the northern side by the industrial installations on Pulau Bukom and Pulau Busing.
The reclamation works off Hantu seem mostly completed.
On the way home, we saw more construction going near Pulau Busing. Possibly an extension to their pier? The area was full of odd temporary buoys that made it difficult for small boats like the one we were on to negotiate. The boatman feared the route might eventually be closed.
We hope all these developments will not hurt the beautiful shores of Hantu.