01 November 2009

Latest biodiversity happenings on our shores on the NParks e-newsletter

Some interesting articles about our marine and terrestrial biodiversity is up on NParks' e-newsletter section!
Called 'My Green Space' there are features on the coral nursery at Pulau Semakau, shorebirds and otters at Buloh and mammals and birds at Pulau Ubin. Here's some excepts.

A helping hand for local reefs about the coral nursery off Pulau Semakau set up in 2007, a collaboration between NParks and the National University of Singapore, funded by Keppel Corporation. The programme intends to restore and enhance the current coral cover in Singapore.
Said Collin Tong from NParks, the coral nursery’s project coordinator: “We’re trying to grow fragments to use as ‘seeds’, which will be used to restore areas where corals were damaged, as well as to promote coral growth in other areas where there are none currently.” According to Collin, this is a process similar to that of a horticultural nursery that provides seedlings to repopulate forest sites.

So far, this project has shown positive results. Since January 2008, 665 fragments and recruits – also known as coral larvae, or ‘baby corals’ – have been collected. A total of 20 ‘nursery tables’ have been secured into the seabed as surfaces for the new corals to grow on. Some of the fragments collected months ago have already begun to grow new polyps, which are the component parts of a coral head. The first batch of thriving corals will soon be transplanted to local reefs.

Although the coral nursery is doing well, there is still a constant need to increase awareness of Singapore’s coral reefs and their significance. An avid diver, Collin has first-hand experience of the reef-associated fishes – including butterflyfish, damselfish and parrotfish – which live and hide in our offshore reefs.

However, many others who work and play in our local waters do not even know that the reefs exist. “Even though people may not be able to actually see the reefs and marine life under the water’s surface, we hope that being aware of these coral reefs will make them more responsible for their actions when boating or diving,” said Collin.

A Thai Visitor at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve By Mendis Tan about the return of a flagged migrant shorebirds to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Despite the regularity of arrivals each migratory season, Sungei Buloh occasionally has the opportunity to host an unexpected guest. I experienced one such visitor at the beginning of the current migratory season, when I was asked by my colleague to photograph a newly sighted bird at SBWR. My bird-loving heart skipped a beat – I was thrilled to see a Common Redshank on the mudflats of the main hide of Sungei Buloh. SBWR has seen many Common Redshanks over the years, but this particular bird was unique. Its leg bore a coloured tag to indicate it had been flagged in Thailand, meaning that it had flown thousands of kilometres to visit us in sunny Singapore.
Why, you may ask, would migratory birds choose to land upon our shores? For the uninitiated, SBWR is a member of the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Site Network, and has been internationally recognised as an important site for migratory shorebirds. As part of a regional bird banding scheme, the staff of SBWR place a coloured ‘flag’ on the leg of each bird that is caught in Sungei Buloh. The colour code indicates where the bird was first caught and flagged. Birds flagged in SBWR wear a white over green flag, while the flag on the Common Redshank from Thailand was black over green. Other colors and color combinations used in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway include orange, yellow, blue and black.

‘Shooting’ Wildlife on Pulau Ubin By Justin Tan about the work by Marcus Chua to document the large mammals at Pulau Ubin.
From November 2008, Marcus spent ten months exploring Pulau Ubin, looking for elusive creatures. As part of NParks’ collaboration in his research, ten new camera traps were purchased and placed with bait in locations throughout the island. These recorded for a total of 402 days, to capture any elusive animals that might wander into their range.

The footage from the cameras revealed many of the usual suspects on Pulau Ubin: dogs, cats, monitor lizards and wild boars. Also featured were animals that are typically harder to spot by humans as they tend to steer clear of human traffic. The Jungle Fowl, the Crab-eating Macaque, and the Common Palm Civet all had their moments in front of the cameras. Even the Pulau Ubin Cow was captured on film, finally putting to rest all rumours that its existence was merely a myth.
The proudest achievement of the camera traps is unequivocally the rediscovery of the Greater Mouse Deer (Tragulus napu) on Pulau Ubin, last sighted in Singapore in the 1920s. Mouse deer are the smallest hoofed mammals in the world, and this particular mouse deer had been believed to be extinct in Singapore for the last 80 years.
All of these medium-sized mammals play an important part in the biodiversity of Pulau Ubin because of their roles as both seed dispersers and predators. They are able to shape the physical landscape of the forest areas they live in, as well as that of Pulau Ubin at large.
I learnt more about Marcus Ng and his work on the Greater Mousedeer during his talk! And his paper about this discovery is also now online.

Playful Water Puppies By Ramakrishnan K and Mendis Tan about the smooth otters at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
SBWR’s first encounter with the resident Smooth Otters was more than ten years ago, when we saw a single otter at low tide in 1997. The following year, a pair of otters was seen swimming and catching fish at the Sungei Buloh Besar. It was since then that the family of otters increased, numbering seven otters at the last sighting in July 2009. The Sungei Buloh Besar is perhaps their favourite hunting ground when the tides are coming in, most likely due to the increase of fish swimming in at these times. The otters usually swim in a pack of four to seven while chasing after fish.

A family of otters appears to have moved in permanently to SBWR, judging from the fact that they have been eating, breeding, playing, and marking territory there. If you should be fortunate enough to spot them frolicking, do tread lightly and speak softly so as not to scare them. The less aware they are of your presence, the more opportunities you will have to observe them at play!

It seems I missed the No. 2 issue which had great articles too!

About birds and their bands by Robert Teo, shares about the bird banding programme at Pulau Ubin.
Though bird banding has been done at Ubin since 1998, it was only in 2006 that a regular quarterly Bird Banding Programme was started. So far, close to 500 birds of over 60 species have been banded, including one that was previously unrecorded on the island – the Lanceolated Warbler. The most commonly caught bird was the Yellow-vented Bulbul (155 captures), while some of the rarities include the Black-naped Monarch, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Ruddy Kingfisher.

Return of the hornbills about efforts to introduce a pair of captive bred hornbills to a site in the Bukit Timah area, the first time this would be done on mainland.

Read the full e-newsletters online on the NParks website. You can also subscribe to receive the newsletter via email.

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