Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What?!? Man-made Nature?

When I saw it on TV, I almost fell off my chair.

A floating wetland will be created on Punggol Reservoir while along the edge of Serangoon Reservoir, the Lorong Halus Wetland will become Singapore’s first constructed wetland. See for more details.

All these while, we have been destroying our natural wetlands, and now, we are going to have man-made ones???

This is just so ironical, though I do understand that they need to have a constructed wetland over the former landfill to discharge the waste water etc.

But for one thing, cat tails and reeds just sound ultra fake to me. Seems like they are going to have some pseudo marsh to me.

But I guess beggars can't be choosy... At least I'm glad that they are going to convert the old Lorong Halus Landfill to wetlands, even though I suspect that is probably because they couldn't find any other uses for the former landfill. You can't exactly build houses over it, since it takes time for the landfill to stablise, and also for the waste water and materials to be discharged.

In any case, any additional green land in Singapore is good news to me, be it natural or fake. And I certainly hope that after they have created the pseudo marsh, they will leave it alone for a while, so that nature will take over and hopefully the Lorong Halus Wetland will be a truly natural wetland after a few years.

Maybe in time to come, we will start seeing the wild things we have seen in our other nature places turning up in Lorong Halus? I certainly hope so :)

Monday, January 22, 2007

After the Chek Jawa Massacre

Published a blog entry in the wildfilms blog earlier on our visit to Chek Jawa yesterday.

Some how, everything just felt so unreal. Last month, I just brought a group of visitors there. We saw a few dead things here and there, but most of the wildlife still looked ok.

But yesterday, the place looked like it was hit by some apocalyptic event.

And to think that the day before yesterday, I just had one of the best Semakau trip so far.

According to the Ubin villagers, they had experienced something similar before, and Chek Jawa managed to recover.

But how long will it take for nature to recover this time round, I wonder.

I can't help but feel worried. The board walk is about to be ready, and so is the visitor information centre. What if some stooopid visitor come and say, "Hey, there's nothing here at Chek Jawa! Why are we spending so much money on it?" And the same stooopid visitor will write to the papers and feedback unit, asking them to reclaim the area to build some high class rustic bungalows for the ultra rich.

Will Chek Jawa recover in time to deal with all these?

Really, we have very little natural heritage left.

Chek Jawa is one of the few places left in Singapore which is accessible by the public and yet so rich in terms of biodiversity.

Sometimes, I really envy the Japanese and Westerners, where nature appreciation is worked into their education curriculum. And they were smart to do that too, as a person who cares about nature will normally be a socially responsible person too. And a person who loves the nature places in his country will probably stay to protect these places, and thus also contribute to the economy with his full-time job.

Frankly speaking, job opportunities, shopping districts, food, security etc are things that you can duplicate in other countries. Not to forget that you will be called a "foreign talent" when you are there, whether you are really a talent or not.

Nature, on the other hand, can't really be duplicated. Every place has it's own ecosystem, it's own climate etc. Even in Singapore, the things you see in the northen islands are different from what you will see on the southern shores.

Doesn't that make nature appreciation very useful for national education, when nature lovers will love Singapore's nature places, and hence strengthen their love for the country?

Really, I appreciate the authorities' effort to preserve Chek Jawa, and I'm thankful that Labrador has been made a nature reserve. But I really do hope that all the relevant authorities can see that nature conservation has a far wider positive influence on our people than many would have thought.

Here's what I posted on the blog earlier...


I could smell it in the air…

After reading Adelle’s blog entry, I had already prepared myself for the worst. But stepping into Chek Jawa itself and seeing everything with my own eyes, I realised that no nature-lover would every be adequately prepare to witness this.

How many of you reading this have been to Chek Jawa? How many of you can remember the graceful carpet anemones dancing among the seagrasses? The cute little ball sea cucumbers that burrow into the sand? The common seastars that move around with their little tube feet? The colourful sponges that decorate the coral rubble? The salty smell of the sea as you stepped onto the sand bar?

But yesterday, I could only smell death.

The bits and pieces of white-coloured stuff you see above were not tissue paper left by some irresponsible visitors. Yes indeed, they were tissues, but animal tissues. I felt like I was stepping into a graveyard, except that the dead were not buried…

Chay Hoon said it reminded her of the tsunami, where hundreds and thousands of corpses were left to rot.

Indeed, death was in the air, in every breath we took. For the remaining photos below, you may click on each of them to see how the animals may have looked like when they were alive and healthy.

We used to have to dig out these burrowing ball sea cucumbers. But yesterday, they were every where, but lifeless. Frankly, I would rather that they were alive and burrowing. I wouldn’t mind taking time digging them out. Really, I wouldn’t mind…

There used to be thousands of carpet anemones among the seagrasses. Occasionally, you would see swimming crabs darting among the seagrasses, flashing their claws every now and then, and sometimes, a few unlucky ones got to close to the carpet anemones and became the latter’s meal.

Yesterday, I didn’t see any swimming crabs. I did see many carpet anemones, or rather, what’s left of the anemones. There were several lucky ones that looked like they were really unhealthy. The rest were dead, rotting, and torn into pieces, somewhat like the one below.

Previously, it was difficult to find even one sandfish sea cucumber as they burrow. But yesterday, we were spoilt for choice - except that they were all dead and colourless.

These sea cucumbers were supposed to be edible if properly prepared. During the Chinese New Year period, which is now, the prices can be obscenely high. I was never too fond of sea cucumbers. Or rather, I mean I love sea cucumbers when they are alive and in their natural habitat, but not as part of my diet, though I do understand there are others who love sea cucumbers in other ways. The decaying smell of the rotting sea cucumbers was still lingering in my nose as I was typing this. I don’t think I’ll be having any sea cucumber this Chinese New Year.

Has anybody seen SpongeBob SquarePants? This could probably be how he would look like when he is dead.

And SpongeBob’s friend, Patrick, the seastar did not fare any better.

That was a dead knobbly seastar.

The coral rubble area used to be full of colourful sponges, and every now and then, you will be able to find a few red, orange or beige knobbly seastars. But yesterday, everything was black.

When I touched one of the dead sponges with my metal chopsticks, it disintegrated into black powder. It was like watching some horror movie, where the victims or monsters were reduced to dust.

By the way, have you eaten abalone before? In the market, they sometimes sell a cheaper alternative – volutes.

The above is a noble volute served in its shell, soup included. I saw another dead noble volute with a clam stuck to its foot. From what we understand, noble volutes feed on clams. It was depressing to see so many dead volutes, but at least I think this one didn’t die with an empty stomach. Or perhaps both the volute and the clam died before the former finished its meal? I guess that would remain a mystery that we can never solve.

Looking at all these carcasses every where, saying that I'm depressed is certainly an understatement. Those who have visited Chek Jawa, especially the guides, will probably understand how I feel now. If you have not visited Chek Jawa before, please visit Ria's Online Guide to Chek Jawa.

What causes this massive killing? It is the rain?

We do know that most marine creatures can’t survive in fresh water, and the drastic rainfall over the past few weeks had certainly flooded Chek Jawa with lots of freshwater. And the Johor River was made an unwilling accomplice by bringing more flood waters into the Johor Straits.

But like what they asked in the movie “One Last Dance”, who is the real murderer? The one who fired the shots, or the one who wrote down the names?

Or perhaps the rain is the bullet, but there must be someone who pulled the trigger.

And I think we all know who is, or rather, who are behind all these crazy weather patterns.

What comes around, goes around.

Perhaps it is really time to think about how we have been mistreating mother earth, and how we can salvage the situation, before it’s really pay back time…

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Exploratory Trip for Semakau Guides & Trainees

Finally! A Semakau trip that I didn’t have to guide, and I could take all the photos I want!

We were all quite worried about the weather initially. Rain stop rain stop. During the boat ride to Semakau, it was raining so heavily that the boat had to go really slowly because visibility was really bad. But fortunately, the weather improved when we reached Semakau and we managed to proceed with the walk, though we had to wait at the canteen for a little while for the rain to stop.

Some of the guides started playing table tennis, and Mr Poi even offered us some mangoes from the mango trees planted on the island. They tasted rather nice, though kind of sour :P

Anyway, we eventually managed to get to the intertidal zone. Probably because of the rain, the sandy area was kind of quiet today. We only saw a few common sea stars, when we could normally see many of them. I got a bit worried as this monsoon had badly affected Chek Jawa, and I certainly do not want the same thing to happen to Semakau. But good thing it turned out that things were still ok at Semakau.

And indeed, today's trip turned out to be one of the best trips we had so far!

When we were crossing the seagrass lagoon, we saw a long synaptid sea cucumber, at least a metre long! Later at the coral reef, we also managed to find a stonefish sea cucumber and a sandfish sea cucumber. Both these sea cucumbers are supposed to be edible, but they must be properly prepared before they can be consumed.

And at the coral rubble, we found a carpet anemone with a beautiful anemone shrimp. Been trying to get a nice photo of an anemone shrimp, and finally managed to do it today!

Anemone Shrimp

We also found several nudibranchs today, including several gymnodoris...

Gymnodoris rubropapulosa

We also saw a few noble volutes.

Noble Volute, Cymbiola nobilis

They seemed to be in season end of the year till beginning of the year. Normally we can’t seem to find them at other times of the year.

And of course, we also saw the usual knobbly seastars, corals, anemones, swimming crabs, hairy crabs, flatworms etc.

But the highlights of the day must be these two first time encounters!

I could still remember telling Luan Keng on the boat, “I’m sure we will be able to find featherstars one of these days. Since they can find it around Hantu next door.”

And this was what Ed found.

Feather star, crinoid

I could still remember shouting to Luan Keng who was like 50 to 100 metres away, “LUAN KENG, FEA-THER-STAR! CRI-NOID”

YES! FINALLY! After saying it so many times, we finally found a featherstar!

And coincidentally, I also remember telling the others before, that if we could find cushion stars on Jong next door, maybe one day we would find them on Semakeu too!

And indeed, Samson found this!

Cushion star

We have been to Semakau so many times, and yet we are still finding new things every now and then! For one thing, Semakau is just too big and there are just so many things hiding in the unexplored corners. And not to forget that some animals are seasonal and we may not be there to find them when they are in season.

Soon it was time to turn back. But even the journey back had a few surprises.

What’s this? Is this what I think it is?

Upside Down Jellyfish

Flipping it over with my chopsticks… YES! It’s a jellyfish. An upside down jellyfish! Hadn’t had a nice photo of a jellyfish as well, so now I finally got one.

Upside-down jellyfish

Indeed, today’s trip was simply GREAT. And more importantly, we could also see that many of the new guides were truly passionate about this, and I do hope to see more of them in our future walks.

Thanks to Luan Keng for organising this walk.

And also, thanks to Mr Poi for staying back to drive us back to the jetty :)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Heart-Breaking Scene at Chek Jawa

It was around mid-night when I received the sms from Adelle. She has posted a new entry in the Ubin Volunteer's blog.

This is kind of unusual actually, since Adelle doesn't usually sms us when she puts up anything. I suddenly had this bad feeling...

Immediately, I went into the blog at

And it was heart breaking...

Thousands of ball sea cucumbers stranded on the mud flats... carpet anemones uprooted ... sea stars breaking up...

Suddenly, I was glad that I was so busy with work these days, that I couldn't take leave to guide at Chek Jawa this week. I don't think I'll be able to carry on guiding if I were to witness this myself. I can hardly imagine how the other guides must have felt yesterday, and today there will be another walk... another round of heart breaking...

During the walks last month, it was bad enough... uprooted carpet anemones here and there, dead fishes floating around or stranded on the shore...

No one is sure why this is happening, though we suspect it's due to the dramatic increase in rainfall this monsoon season...

The fresh water from the rain and Johor River probably dilluted the saltwater so much that it killed many of these marine creatures...

We the humans have been causing global warming and other environmental hazards, causing the global weather system to be drastically affect... and now, the innocent wildlifes are paying the price for our crime...

Eventually, before we know it, we the humans may be hit by the effects of the damages we have done to our environment... In fact, high summer temperatures and extremely cold winters have already claimed lives...

Do we need a polar melt down, causing massive flooding, or powerful cyclones sprouting everywhere to drive the message into our heads that we need to take better care of our environment? Or do our brains have a teflon coating, and that's why nothing sticks???

Who needs a nuclear war? What we have done to our environment may jolly well cause another mass extinction, and for all you know, a mass extinction that includes homo sapiens...