Nature Watch features our reefs and shores!

The latest issue of Nature Watch, a magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore) is all about our reefs and shores. It's packed with articles and gorgeous photos about all aspects of our marine heritage.

The lovely Teresa Teo Guttensohn graces the cover of this issue. Teresa points out that this is because she wrote the article about coconut trees: "Restore our humble coconut to its proud legacy".

There's also an article about some of our islands including "Kampung Ubin" and "Pulau Tekukor". Michelle Kiu, age 10, also shares views of a young shore explorer on "Kids on a Rocky Seashore".

There are also features on groups who work on our shores including the Naked Hermit Crabs.
and TeamSeagrass.And a feature on "Singapore's Shores are Alive!" by Ria of wildsingapore.

The fascinating issue is made complete with a selection of thoughtful and thought-provoking poems and photos by Joseph Lai of eart-h.comYou can buy a copy of Nature Watch Volume 15 No. 1 Jan-Jun 2008 from the Nature Society (Singapore) as well as Nature's Niche.

Switch off for Earth Hour today

Earth Hour 2008 is a worldwide effort to create awareness about global warming by switching off all lights for one hour today at 8-9pm.

In Singapore, this effort is led by Eco-Singapore.

Date: 29th March 2008
Time: 8-9pm
Action: Turn off the Lights (or more if you want), with more on what you can do, and what is going on in Singapore for this event, on the earth hour singapore blog

Also on the main international Earth Hour website.

Related articles

'Earth Hour' to plunge millions into darkness
Madeleine Coorey Yahoo News 28 Mar 08;

Switch off and save the earth, Singaporeans urged
One hour of total darkness?
Jinny Koh Today Online 26 Mar 08;

Dubai to join 'Earth Hour' blackout
Yahoo News 18 Mar 08;

24 world cities in 'Earth Hour' black-out: organisers
Yahoo News 19 Feb 08;

Earth Hour: City plays key role in Earth Hour crusade
Peter Gorrie, The Toronto Star 19 Jan 08;

Cities to turn out the lights for climate change: WWF
Yahoo News 13 Dec 07;

31 Mar-1 Apr: Code Blue features our reefs at NUS

Code Blue introduces our reefs and shores, and ways that you CAN make a difference for them.

Come and support the team who have put this together at the National University of Singapore!

The term Code Blue is commonly used to signify life-threatening emergencies. The colour blue is also associated with Earth's oceans. Hence, CODE BLUE calls for attention and action to conserve local marine life.

Timed to coincide with the International Year of the Reefs 2008, CODE BLUE will join the worldwide marine conservation campaign on March 31 with a two-day special event featuring recruitment for marine conservation volunteers, a marine photo exhibition and a one-of-a-kind environmental display at the NUS Central Forum.

The 2-day special event will feature the following highlights:
  • Marine photo exhibition;
  • One-of-a-kind environmental exhibition;
  • Marine conservation exhibition;
  • Pledge booth for participants to sign pledge cards in support of marine conservation; and
  • Recruitment drive for a variety of marine conservation activities and also for Roots & Shoots Youth United youth leaders
CODE BLUE is a communications campaign aimed at advocating local marine conservation efforts among NUS students. The campaign was initiated by pioneer members of Roots & Shoots Youth United, the NUS chapter of the international Roots & Shoots organisation that spearheads youth-driven community and environmental projects.

Time: 10am-6pm
Venue: Central Forum, the National University of Singapore
Contact: Belmont Lay

25 Mar (Tue): Last episode of Once Upon A Tree

This is the last episode of the series! It features Pulau Hantu.

From the arts central website, here's the write up on episode .

Hopes & Future

The Following is a Note From Shawn (Host) & Suelyn (Co-host): We are more fact-ors than actors. For the final episode, we look at what might be in the pipelines for the future of Singapore waters. And for what it's worth, what is the future? Is it a place, a person, an idea?

This was our last chance to fit everything in, everything from Corals to Wetsuits. We even went so far as to dispel the myth that clouds our water. We did all right. What? The crew? For now we are taking a break from each other.

This last episode will feature Pulau Hantu and the Hantu Bloggers! What fabulous timing as the Hantu Bloggers just celebrated their fourth anniversary!

And wow, another super fast, mega detailed review on Jun's ashira blog PLUS lots of secret behind-the-scenes photos of the people who made this series possible.

Here's links to entries about the previous episodes

Hantu Bloggers' 4th Anniversary Dive

The Hantu Bloggers had a series of fantastic dives on Sunday to celebrate their 4th Anniversary!

With great visibility, fabulous finds and lots more!

Visit the hantu blog for great photos as well as videos of their dives, which included a night dive. Sightings included 'Nemos', a sea whip goby, shark egg case, sting ray and more!

Chay Hoon also shares the Four Fantastic dives on her colourful clouds blog with sea stars, seahorse, frogfish and of course slugs galore, including an encounter with a nudibranch eating another nudibranch. There was also a pipefish that mimicked a sea whip!

MORE photos and stories also on the ashira blog.

Join the Hantu Bloggers on their next dive on 27 Apr (Sun) (more details on the hantu blog) or join their mailing list for updates of trips and activities.

Pulau Hantu: Wild reefs with spirit

An island with spirit, Pulau Hantu is a favourite dive spot in Singapore. Its wild reefs can also be explored at low tide by non-divers.

Despite reclamation and on-going coastal works, the island is still home to an amazing diversity of marine life.

"Hantu" is the Malay word for ghost and Pulau Hantu is aptly named as "island of ghosts". Legend has it that it was here that ancient Malay warriors once dueled to the death and their ghosts is said to wander the isle.

Despite its forbidding name, Pulau Hantu today is a favourite with fishing and snorkeling enthusiasts because of its sheltered beaches, swimming lagoons and inviting waters. It is also popular with campers and day-trippers who want a unique outdoor experience away from the hustle and bustle. A peaceful and idyllic getaway, the island has swaying palms, surrounded by white sands and rich fringing reefs. There are also seagrasses and even a tiny patch of mangroves.

Double Ghosts

Pulau Hantu is actually made up of two islets: Hantu Besar (Big Ghost) and Hantu Kecil (Little Ghost). The current island is the result of massive reclamation. Pulau Hantu Besar used to be 2ha and Pulau Hantu Kechil 0.4ha, surrounded by fringing reefs with a common reef flat in between. Land reclamation from 1974-75 increased land area to 12.2ha using 400,000 cubic metres of sand, leaving a narrow strip between rock bund and edge of the reef (about 20-30m). The original bit that stuck out above water at high tide is marked by untidy plant growth, near the restrooms. At low tide, it is possible to walk across the shallow lagoon between the two islands; but not at high tide.

Since 2006, reclamation works started at Terumbu Bayan, Pulau Ular to extend Pulau Bukom. More about this at "Two groups fear new Shell plant will endanger marine life". The issue was also raised in parliament.

Marine life of Pulau Hantu

Hantu has rich reefs despite its close proximity to Pulau Bukom's petrochemical plants, and extensive reclamation and coastal work nearby.Ordinary people can view the shore life at low tide...While divers can enjoy discovering our very own reefs. Among the corals there are marvels such as seahores, slugs to discover and if you're lucky, the sea turtle!The Hantu Blog has LOTS more stories and photos of diving at Pulau Hantu!

The Hantu Bloggers are dedicated volunteers who promote diving at Hantu. Not only organising regular dives there, but also sharing what they have seen through stories and photos on their blog, and also giving talks about our reefs and sharing about Hantu on TV.

The Hantu Bloggers are celebrating their fourth anniversary today - 23 Mar (Sun) - with a series of dives including a night dive! Check out their blog for their adventures. Or better still, join them for their next dive on 27 Apr (Sun) or sign up on their mailing list for updates on trips.


Pulau Hantu: A celebration of marine life the hantu blog with stories and photos of Pulau Hantu and other marine issues.
Info for visitors on the wildsingapore website.
Pulau Hantu on the coral reefs of singapore website
Photos of intertidal marine life on Pulau Hantu on wildsingapore flickr

Mushroom hard corals: Godzilla of Hard Corals

Unlike most other hard corals which are colonies of tiny polyps, most mushroom hard corals are a single polyp.

A mushroom hard coral grows to about 10-15cm, sometimes longer. Considering that most hard coral polyps are tiny (0.5cm or less), mushroom hard corals are truly giants among polyps.

Not only that, they are also not attached to the sea bottom and can move about. You can almost hear them growl as they lurch around other tiny coral polyps stuck in their colonial skeletons!

What are mushroom hard corals?
Mushroom hard corals belong to the Family Fungiidae. They are solitary corals that are free-living (i.e., lie unattached on the ground) as adults.

Some mushroom hard corals have a circular disk-like skeleton.
The slit-like mouth of this solitary polyp is in the centre on the upper surface. The 'lips' are usually striped.

Others are long and tongue-shaped. An unidentified mushroom coral that is sometimes seen on undisturbed reefs.

Some mushroom corals, like Herpolitha sp. have Y- or X-shapes. This is generally due to regeneration following damage.
Some have really short tentacles!
This is Polyphyllia talpina which is listed among the threatened animals of Singapore.

Most have short tentacles, except for Heliofungia actiniformis that has such long tentacles that it is often mistaken for a sea anemone.Young mushroom hard corals start life attached to a surface, and look like tiny stalked mushrooms. In many species, as the coral matures eventually breaks away from the stalk and lives life as an adult unattached to the bottom.
Free-living mushroom hard corals can move! Though very slowly. And smaller ones can right themselves should they be accidentally overturned.

Some species of hard corals from other families are also giant polyps that lie unattached to the surface. This includes Trachyphyllia geoffroyi, a rather rarely encountered coral.
This beautiful coral is sometimes called the Banana coral because when its tissues are inflated underwater, these resemble bananas.

More photos of Singapore's mushroom hard corals on wildsingapore flickr.

Battle for the Coral Reefs: an online game

A classic shooter game set underwater. Choose from three unique ship designs and battle an ocean of waste. Jump in, master the high score, and restore the coral reefs!

On the riverwired website. Thanks to budak for the heads up on the link.

Reef talk at Woodlands Ring Primary School

Ron Yeo shared about our reefs and shores with about 80 school children!

With lots of photos and lots of interest, visit his tidechaser blog for more details.

More details on arranging for a reef talk at your group or community.

Otters sighted during a Chek Jawa public walk!

What an amazing encounter!

Here's what Adelle shared on the Ubin Volunteers blog

"Another surprise beholded us - Out on the seagrass about 80 metres away, there were 5 figures running inland. These figures looked unmistakening familiar and I yelled to the hunter seeker.... "OTTERS!"......These smooth coated otters which appeared larger than the small clawed otters were running inland. Those who ran faster stopped a while appearing to wait for the slower ones. They were heading to RDC area and even hanged around the entrance to RDC before disappearing into the forest.

That's a good 45 minutes that the hunter seekers went down before we spotted them. The otters could had been hanging around the seagrass lagoon during that period. Or came in from the sea from the northern sandbar."

Read all about this and other exciting encounters on the Ubin Volunteers blog.

You can be an Ubin guide too! More details on the Ubin NParks website.

Nudibranchs Overdose!

juanicths has started a much needed series of articles about our wonderful sea slugs!

She explains why they are 'nude' and definitely sexy. There's wonderful introductions to our very own slugs like the ever favourite "Oreo Cookie slug" and the delightful frilly slug with elegant black-edged 'skirts' and MORE! and with Japanese names too!

Go check out her Ashira blog now, for all the delicious details and yummy photos!

Living sculptures: our amazing hard corals!

How do these marvellous living sculptures come to be? And in such a fantastic variety of colours, patterns and shapes?

Here's a very quick and very unscientific introduction.

With examples of some of corals that can be seen even by non-divers (all these photos were taken above water).

Each hard coral is actually a group (colony) of many tiny animals called polyps.

Each polyp looks somewhat like a miniature sea anemone, with a body column topped with tentacles.
Each polyp produces a delicate tiny external skeleton made out of calcium carbonate, called a corallite.
The polyp can retract into its corallite to hide from predators or to avoid drying out when the colony is exposed at low tide.

Although each polyp is tiny, together, they may produce a stony structure that is several metres in diameter, weigh tons and be made up of hundreds of thousands of polyps!
Huge coral reefs are made up of the skeletons of these tiny polyps, living ones growing over the skeletons of dead ones.

How does a coral colony get bigger?

Each polyp has a fixed adult size. So as each polyp adds to its corallite, the corallite becomes deeper. The polyp periodically lifts its base and builds a new floor, sealing off a little space below. As the colony grows, there develops a 'condominium' of abandoned floors, with the living polyps only on the top floor! Thus the 'thickness' of the entire colony skeleton grows over time.

The colony also increases in size by increasing the number of polyps in the colony. New polyps budding off from existing polyps and as these new polyps produce their corallite, the entire colony gets that tiny bit bigger.

As the polyps are so tiny, hard corals tend to grow very slowly. Some colonies grow only 1cm a year. In these, a colony 1 metre wide can be 100 years old!

The various shapes and surface patterns of hard corals arise from the way the polyps are arranged. So you have to take a closer look at the coral to see what's really going on!

Here are some common shapes of hard corals often encountered on Singapore's shores.

Rounded boulders, with a rather smooth surface. While two colonies may appear similar in overall shape, they may be entirely different species of hard coral. Have a closer look to see the tiny polyps and the corallites that they create!
Probably Porites sp.

Possibly Psammocora sp.

A thin layer encrusting a hard surface.

Possibly Cyphastrea sp.?

Thin plates, sometimes in tiers or layers of plates.
Pachyseris sp.

Montipora sp.

Merulina sp.

Vertical plates, sometimes folded so that the colony resembles a cabbage or a rose.
Turbinaria sp.

Pavona sp.

A flat surface that is folded so that the colony looks like a cup or a vase.
Turbinaria sp.

Delicate branches so that the colony looks like a small bush.
Possibly Acropora sp.

Hydnophora sp.

Shorter branches or merely lumps.
Psammocora sp.

Pocillopora sp.

Here are some common textures of hard coral surfaces.

In some the corallites are quite obvious as large circles or rings.
In others, the corallites have 'shared' walls so that the resulting patter of 'valleys' resembles the surface of a brain.
Some corallites are long and trumpet-like, but with only the circular opening on the surface, we don't see the 'stem' that is usually hidden inside the colony.
And there are lots and lots more different kinds of corals that can be seen on our shores!

Links to more
Jeff has a fabulous series of diagrams and photos to help you ID corals on his catfish flickr site
More photos of corals on wildsingapore flickr and the IYOR flickr group

Hard corals: animal, vegetable or mineral?

Hard corals are commonly seen on many of our shores. These odd stone-like organisms hardly look like animals. Could they be plants? Or simply colourful rocks? What ARE hard corals?

Are they animals?

A hard coral is made up of many small animals called polyps. The polyps usually look like tiny sea anemones, with a tube-like body column topped with tentacles.
All hard corals are carnivores. Those with small polyps feed on plankton or collect finer particles using mucus films and strands. Some hard coral polyps lack tentacles and rely entirely on mucus to gather suspended food particles from the water. Hard corals can produce a large quantity of mucus.

Or vegetable?

The polyps of many hard corals harbour microscopic, single-celled algae (called zooxanthallae) inside their bodies. The algae undergo photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight. The food produced is shared with the polyp, which in return provides the algae with shelter and minerals.

It is believed this additional source of nutrients from the zooxanthellae help hard corals produce their hard skeletons and thus expand the size of the colony faster.

Thus clear waters that let sunlight through for photosynthesis is important for healthy reef growth. Many of the hard corals on our shores, however, are adapted to murky waters.

Coral bleaching results when the there is mass loss of symbiotic algae (zooxanthallae) from the coral polyps.

The algae give colour to the polyps. Without their algae, the polyps are colourless and the underlying white skeleton shows through. Thus large patches of the colony appear colourless or white.Factors believed to cause bleaching include: temperature fluctuations (too high or too low), excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, excessive sedimentation in the water, changes in salinity and disease. It is generally believed that bleaching is related to unusual prolonged temperature increases in the seawater.

Or mineral?

Each polyp produces a hard skeleton. Called a corallite, this skeleton protects them from danger and provides support. A large hard stone-like coral that you see is a colony of countless tiny polyps and their tiny skeletons!
Out of water, the polyps are often retracted, leaving only their hard skeletons. Thus, they are often mistaken for non-living rocks or dead corals. But they are alive!

The various shapes and surface patterns of hard corals arise from the way the polyps join to one another.

Do we have living corals on our shores?

Much of our reefs have been affected by land reclamation and coastal development. These not only reduced live coral coverage, but also resulted in murky waters which reduced sunlight penetration.

Most of our amazing reefs are hidden from view in the sediment-laden waters due to on-going coastal development.During low tide, however, the water clears up and some of our reefs are revealed. Ordinary people can then view our rich shores without having to swim or dive.

Some of Singapore's best reefs are just half an hour away from the city centre! More about our city reefs on wildsingapore.