04 April 2009

Updates on whale shark at Resorts World Sentosa

"Although the feedback we have received till now is not always positive, it shows how concerned everyone is towards the success of the Marine Life Park." stated an undated letter on the Resorts World Sentosa website.

"As of today, over 3,000 of you have written to us and we hope you can spare a few minutes for our side of the story." says Resorts World Sentosa.

There appears to be several petitions on the issue. This petition has 7,100 signatures while this petition has 550 signatures. There is one more petition here, it doesn't display the current count of signatures.

"Last week, we put out a press statement specifying that plans for the Marine Life Park are still being finalized and options are being explored." Are they referring to this post they made dated 12 Mar (which no longer exists on their website)?

"We want to highlight that the whale shark exhibit at the Marine Life Park was submitted as part of the winning bid in an international competition for the Integrated Resort on Sentosa in late 2006. As such, the organization is bound to deliver the integrity of the bid, and any proposed replacement for the whale sharks must be defensible in that it must be viable and be as broad, if not compelling, in its appeal to bring in visitors to Singapore - the reason Singapore decided to have the integrated resorts."

In a radio interview with 92.8Live on 20 Mar, "in response to this, the animal welfare organizations point out that marine parks elsewhere are already excluding captivity and that is the direction Singapore should take."

Louis Ng of Acres said: "If you look, other marine parks in the UK are saying no dolphins in captivity, there are government that are more progressive, who have said, no more dolphins in captivity. And I think we’ve progressed, but we have to progress in the right direction, and not do something other countries are stopping."

Jaki Teo who is behind the Against whale sharks in captivity petition feels although the whale shark exhibit formed part of the winning bid, RWS should explore other ways to attract tourists.

"Granted it was part of the bidding agreement that they have whale sharks, but I’m sure if they had a think about it, there are so many other ways to bring in tourists. If there’s people from different countries, like America and Dubai and even Taiwan and China signing our petition and saying that that’s a bad idea, I don’t think anyone would really believe that it’s for conservation, I think it’s bad for our own image."

The Singapore Tourism Board says in importing animals for the Marine Life Park, RWS will have to comply with international regulations as well as the requirements of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

AVA said that RWS would have to demonstrate that they have the necessary facilities and infrastructure in place for marine animals.

The facilities must be large enough to house the shark and have a good water maintenance system - and in addition, adequate professional staff, including veterinarians and marine biologists.

Full radio interview and Resorts World Sentosa letter on the wildsingapore news blog.

SPROUT! Environmental workshops with a twist!

Learn new media skills while discovering Singapore’s environment and wildlife.
SPROUT workshopsprogramme to introduce blogging for nature.By the end of the workshops, we hope you will put your new skills to good use: blog about environmental plans you have, photograph rare migatory birds in nature reserves, make a film about the environment and draw super heros to stop global warming!

It is easy to join!

Simply send in a drawing, photograph or write a 100 word BLOG ENTRY on the topic: “SPEAK UP FOR ENV!”

EMAIL your entry together with your NAME, AGE and SCHOOL NAME to post@sproutentry.posterous.com.

Registration will end on 11 May 2009.

More information can be found on sprout09.posterous.com.


23 May 2009
Blogging and Photography Workshop at Sungei Buloh Water Reserve
conducted by Mr Sivasothi, Ms Ria Tan, Mr Kenneth Pinto and Ms Colleen Goh

30 May 2009
Film Making Workshop at Pulau Ubin
conducted by Mr Eric Lim

6 June 2009
Comic Drawing and Sketching Workshop at MacRitchie Tree Top Walk
conducted by Mr Arron Teo

In defence of the Red List

"While we at IUCN welcome constructive criticism, we are exasperated by critics who fail to recognise the steady improvements IUCN has been making in trying to present an objective picture of the conservation status of species worldwide, as well as helping to ensure that biodiversity loss is recognised as a crucial issue at the highest political levels." commented IUCN leaders on recent criticisms that the Red List is unscientific and frequently wrong.

They highlight that "it is extremely difficult to raise awareness among decision-makers about the crucial importance of giving attention to all life forms on our planet. Everybody in the conservation movement wants biodiversity to receive the same level of attention as climate change, but this is no easy task. The Red List, thanks to its objectivity and high standards, is one of the very few tools that could allow this to happen."

They add that "the Red List helps to answer many important questions. What is the overall status of biodiversity and how is it changing over time? What is the rate at which biodiversity is being lost? Where is biodiversity being lost most rapidly? What are the main drivers of the loss of biodiversity? What is the effectiveness and impact of conservation activities?"

They also address the criticism is that the list is excessively cautious because it assigns too many species to a category labelled "data deficient". IUCN says that "rather than rushing to a judgement based on poor data, we highlight those species that need more research before an objective decision can be made."

They also argue against faulting the Red List for assigning extinction risk based on how fast a species is declining, rather than on absolute numbers. While this can lead to species such as the green turtle being listed as endangered when there are still more than 2 million individuals, criticising it on these grounds is misleading. Decline is a key indicator of extinction risk. As many conservation experts can attest, there are numerous instances of formerly abundant species declining to extremely low levels very rapidly - think of American bison and passenger pigeons in the past and, more recently, Asian vultures and saiga antelope.

Full article on the wildsingapore news blog.

The Red List in Singapore

03 April 2009

Dredging at Changi Point from Apr to Jun 09

'Maintenance dredging works' will take place just off Changi Point, at the CAFHI Jetty.
And what is the CAFHI Jetty?

I found out it's a fuel hydrant system for Changi Airport set up and operated by six aviation fuel suppliers (Air Total, BP, Caltex, Exxonmobil, Shell and SPC). To "avoid duplication of infrastructure", these suppliers formed the Changi Airport Fuel Hydrant Installation Pte Ltd or CAFHI. The fuel hydrant system includes the fuel jetty, storage tanks, underground pipelines and other infrastructures .

Dredging at the Changi CAFHI Jetty
from Port Marine Notice No. 42 of 2009 dated 2 Apr 09
With effect from 08 Apr 09 to 31 Jun 09. 0700 to 1900 hours daily including Sundays and Public Holidays. At CAFHI Jetty, off berth No.1 (see above plan):

These craft will exhibit the appropriate local and international day and night signals. Maintenance dredging works will be carried out within the working area. The Dredger Barge will be held by 4-point anchor moorings with a safe working zone of a 50-metre radius centred at the Dredger Barge. A safety boat will be deployed 24 hours in the vicinity of the working area to warn craft to keep clear from the on-going dredging works. Further general enquiries relating to the project can be directed to Mr Ang Kong Woon, the Project Coordinator, at Tel: 9626 8813 (email: hs131@singnet.com.sg ).

What is CAFHI?

Parliamentary Debates (PDF)
Monday 16th January, 2006 Volume 80 No. 15, on the NUS website

CHANGI AIRPORT (Provision of aviation fuel)

15. Prof. Ivan Png Paak Liang asked the Minister for Transport what are the commercial arrangements for the provision of aviation fuel at Changi Airport, and in particular (i) who are the concessionaires (ii) how are the concessions awarded; (iii) the duration of the concessions; and (iv) the pricing and conditions of service.

The Minister of State for Transport (Mrs Lim Hwee Hua) (for the Minister for Transport):

Sir, there are currently six aviation fuel suppliers at Changi Airport, namely, Air Total, BP, Caltex, Exxonmobil, Shell and SPC. To avoid duplication of infrastructure at the airport, these suppliers formed a company called Changi Airport Fuel Hydrant Installation Pte Ltd, in short "CAFHI", to construct and operate a single set of fuel hydrant system at Changi Airport.

The fuel hydrant system includes the fuel jetty, storage tanks, underground pipelines and other infrastructures which are shared by these fuel suppliers to store and deliver aviation fuel to their respective airline customers. Although the fuel suppliers share a common infrastructure, they compete independently. Pricing and services provided to airlines by each fuel supplier is contracted separately and airlines are free to engage any one of the six suppliers.

When Changi Airport opened in 1981, CAAS issued CAFHI a 30-year operating licence to operate in Changi Airport. Under this operating licence, which expires in 2011, the consortium is required to ensure the quality of aviation fuel from the fuel suppliers, as well as adhere to the performance standards in the supply of aviation fuel. Although major fuel companies like Shell, Exxonmobil, BP are already represented in Changi Airport, CAAS welcomes competition and any new oil company interested in doing business at Changi can do so by joining this consortium. The admission criteria for new entrants are spelt out in the CAFHI's Heads of Agreement. Any reputable oil company that can meet the admission criteria will be eligible to join the consortium by buying over an equity shareholding from the existing shareholders.

Seashell shapes and patterns: how do snails create them?

A snail creates its own shell and never leaves the shell while alive. The shell continues to grow as the snail gets bigger. And the shell retains its marvellous shape and pattern as it grows. How does the snail do this?

The snail's body (mantle) which overlaps the edge of the growing shell, senses or "tastes" the shell layer laid down the day before in order to generate a new layer. "The pattern on a seashell is the snail's memories."
By adjusting nine parameters in a single equation, a computer model can generate patterned shells (right example in each pair above) that closely resemble real mollusk shells. (Credit: Alistair Boettiger/UC Berkeley)

The complex patterns of seashells have been reproduced by using simple principles developed in a recent study. The researchers' computer model reproduces nearly all known shell shapes and patterns. "The model gives us a remarkable ability to explain much of the dramatic diversity of both shape and pattern that we see in the natural world,"

Studying how snails produce their shells may also help improve understanding of how neural networks function in our brain and where neural nets cover our skin and all internal organs.

Mollusks Taste Memories To Build Shells
ScienceDaily 2 Apr 09;
University of California, Berkeley, graduate student Alistair Boettiger has amassed a beautiful collection of seashells, but not by combing the beach. He created them in his computer.

He and George Oster, a UC Berkeley biophysicist, along with University of Pittsburgh mathematical neuroscientist Bard Ermentrout, have written a computer program that generates the complex patterns of seashells using simple principles developed to explain how the brain works and how memories are stored.

The "neural net" model explains how mollusks build their seashells based on the finding that the mollusk's tongue-like mantle, which overlaps the edge of the growing shell, senses or "tastes" the calcium carbonate layer laid down the day before in order to generate a new layer.

"The pattern on a seashell is the mollusk's memories," said Oster, a professor of environmental science, policy and management and of molecular and cell biology. "The shell is laid down in layers, so the mantle is sensing the history of the mollusk's 'thoughts' and extrapolating to the next layer, just like our brains project into the future."

The studies may help neuroscientists understand how neural networks work in the brain and throughout the body, where neural nets cover our skin and all internal organs.

The researchers' computer model, published this week in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reproduces nearly all known shell shapes, ranging from scallops to whelks, and nearly all the shell patterns that make beachcombing so popular.

"The model gives us a remarkable ability to explain much of the dramatic diversity of both shape and pattern that we see in the natural world," Boettiger said.

To build their model, the UC Berkeley scientists first studied electron microscope images of mollusk mantles in order to understand the network of neurons connecting the sensing cells in the mantle with the secretory cells that produce calcium carbonate and proteins - many of them colored pigments - incorporated into the growing shell. Different rates of calcium carbonate secretion determine the shape of the spiral, while different amounts of pigment secretion create a pattern unique to each species.

They then modeled the size of the excitatory and inhibitory regions surrounding the secretory cells and the cells' firing thresholds - nine parameters in all - as a neural network that determines how much calcium and pigment is secreted.

Based solely on these nine parameters, Boettiger, Oster and Ermentrout were able to reproduce the shapes and patterns of almost every known sea mollusk.

Interestingly, they found that all shell patterns fall into three basic classes: stripes perpendicular to the growing edge, bands parallel to the growing edge, and complex patterns created by asymmetric "traveling waves" of pigment or calcium deposition.

The basic concept behind the neural net model, which was first described by physicist Ernst Mach in 1865 to explain visual illusions, is that centers of excitation - in the retina, for example - are surrounded by areas of inhibition. Local activation/lateral inhibition applies to many types of neuronal activity and underlies the extreme sensitivity of our eyes and visual system to edges - the activation of cells at an edge inhibits neighboring cells, accentuating the discontinuity.

Famed computer scientist Alan Turing showed in 1952 how local activation/lateral inhibition could work chemically, and biologist Hans Meinhardt used this chemical model to create realistic seashell patterns in the 1970s, which he published in a 1995 book called "The algorithmic beauty of sea shells."

At that time, the neural basis of shell patterning hadn't been widely accepted, though Oster and Ermentrout published an earlier version of the neural model in the 1970s. One problem with Meinhardt's chemical model, which hypothesized reactions among chemicals diffusing through the snail shell, is that it required different chemical reactions to produce each shell pattern.

"Our real contribution is not reproducing the patterns, but showing that the nervous system can do it with one equation based on the principle discovered by Ernst Mach in the 1860s," Oster said.

Striped shells are the easiest to explain with this neural network model. A pigment-secreting cell inhibits secretion of pigment by neighboring cells but not itself, so that the same pattern is repeated day after day, yielding a stripe. Similarly, if one cell pumps up calcium carbonate secretion while depressing secretion by surrounding cells, ridges result. Interestingly, the stripes or ridges split naturally as the shell grows, a mathematical necessity because the size of the inhibition area remains the same as the shell's edge grows.

Bands parallel to the growing edge can be explained by inhibition of future activity. Pigment secreted on one day can inhibit secreting cells for a few days, resulting in an on/off pattern that produces a series of bands.

The most interesting patterns, however, are waves of activity that interfere to produce zigzags, diamonds, chevrons, arrowheads and a host of other shapes. These come about when a pigment inhibits future secretion at that site but excites secretion in surrounding cells. The pigment thus moves laterally on successive days, producing the equivalent of a traveling wave.

Ironically, most sea snails don't care a whit about their shell pattern. They are buried in the mud of the seafloor where their patterns are hidden even from potential mates.

"The pigment is a cue to get the mantle in register so it builds the right shaped shell, and is only an epiphenomenon reflecting neural activity," Oster said. "It is incidental to the snail."

"There is no strong selective pressure to drive patterns, so evolution can explore the entire parameter space" of possible shells, Boettiger added. "That was one rewarding thing about this work; it brought some nice aesthetics to the whole project."

With their success describing shell patterning, Oster plans to move on to his real interest, how cuttlefish rapidly change their patterns in response to the environment. Cuttlefish see a pattern in the environment and alter their skin pattern to blend in, he said, often flickering so rapidly that they resemble an hypnotic strobe.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

02 April 2009

Blue Films

Green Porno goes Blue and does a series of five short clips on the reproductive habits of marine creatures. This follows up on their earlier series on insects.Green Porno is scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining. Produced by Isabella Rossellini, Jody Shapiro and Rick Gilbert, these delightful clips explore various concepts.

My favourite is about species specific reproductive organs.
Although you might be equally entertained by the humungous organ of the whale, or hermaphrodite behaviour of limpets and the really lame male anglerfish.

View the clips on the Sundance Channel. There's also photos from Green Porno 2 and the Making of Green Porno 2.

You can also get a kick by getting your green porno name: mine is Coral Greencups...hmmm...I wonder what that means?

Mudflat microbes clean up petrochemical pollution

Micro-organisms occurring naturally in coastal mudflats have an essential role in breaking down petrochemical residues. A recent study found that in a healthy marine ecosystem where the water is oxygenated, petrochemical contamination can biodegraded by micro-organisms. But if the oxygen supply is depleted by pollution and other processes leading to the breakdown of organic matter in the soil, the contamination will persist.
Pulau Bukom off Pulau Semakau's mangroves
Mangroves and mudflats of Pulau Semakau
off the petrochemical installations on Pulau Bukom.

"Estuaries are ideal locations for refineries and petrochemical facilities – it is essential that mudflats are preserved to provide a natural clean-up area for pollution" said Dr Efe Aganbi, lead of this research.

Another reason to preserve natural habitats, especially near our industrial areas.

Microbes in mud flats clean up oil spill chemicals
Society for General Microbiology EurekAlert 29 Mar 09;
Micro-organisms occurring naturally in coastal mudflats have an essential role to play in cleaning up pollution by breaking down petrochemical residues.

Research by Dr Efe Aganbi and colleagues from the University of Essex, presented at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting at Harrogate today (Monday 30 April), reveals essential differences in the speed of degradation of the chemicals depending on whether or not oxygen is present.

In aerobic conditions (where oxygen is present), benzene, toluene and naphthalene, which all occur in petroleum, were rapidly degraded by microbes. In the absence of oxygen degradation was slower and only toluene was significantly broken down.

This means that in a healthy marine ecosystem where the water is oxygenated, petrochemical contamination can biodegraded by micro-organisms, but if the oxygen supply is depleted by pollution and other processes leading to the breakdown of organic matter in the soil, the contamination will persist.

While almost all known aromatic hydrocarbons (the petroleum breakdown products) are degraded with oxygen only a few can be completely broken down in the absence of oxygen.

However, in a contaminated environment oxygen is quickly depleted and anaerobic breakdown (without oxygen) becomes an important mechanism for getting rid of contaminants

The scientists also investigated the impact of the three chemicals on the make-up of different estuarine microbial communities.

Over time the types of micro-organisms changed as the compounds were degraded. In aerobic conditions, benzene and toluene did not appear to affect community structure but naphthalene stimulated the growth of Cycloclasticus spirillensus, a bacterium known to break down oil residues. These bacteria might be used as a natural way of cleaning up pollution.

"Our work shows that microbes are very versatile and can live on most types of chemicals" said Dr Aganbi, "More work is needed to identify bacteria in these mud sediments as little is known about the range of bacteria present. Estuaries are ideal locations for refineries and petrochemical facilities – it is essential that mudflats are preserved to provide a natural clean-up area for pollution".

Ancient hermit crabs

The first animals to crawl out of the sea onto land had to figure out how to keep moist. Scientists studying fossils suggest they might have done what hermit crabs do today.
Black hermit crab
Like modern hermit crabs, these ancient pioneers had a scorpion-like body, and could stuff their abdomen into a coiled snail shell. One advantage of doing this was that the shell may have acted as a humid chamber to keep their gills moist.

More about Singapore's hermit crabs (modern ones).

Hermit arthropods 500 million years ago?
ScienceDaily 31 Mar 09;
When animals first crawled onto land, one of the greatest obstacles they had to contend with was figuring out how to breathe. No longer bathed in oxygen-rich marine waters, their gills would surely have dried out.

Hagadorn and Seilacher* have analyzed fossils from 500-million-year-old rocks that show one way these early pioneers may have dealt with this problem--the first terrestrial animals carried a shell on their backs.

Like modern hermit crabs, these ancient pioneers had a scorpion-like body, and could stuff their abdomen into a coiled snail shell. One advantage of doing this was that the shell may have acted as a humid chamber to keep their gills moist.

This would have allowed brief forays out of the water, to explore the beaches and tidal flats, and to graze in environments where there was no competition from other animals or predators.

These fossils represent the first usage of "tools," and provide insights into how some animals may have made the leap from living in water to living on land.

*The article by James W. Hagadorn and Adolf Seilacher, Dept. of Geology, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002, USA was published in the April issue of Geology, Pages 295-298.

01 April 2009

More Sentosa surprises

Every trip to a shore, I discover and learn something new! Though I was just here yesterday with the ITE team, today I see yet MORE stuff as I returned for TeamSeagrass monitoring at Sentosa!During the Spider Survey at Sungei Buloh, David Court expressed interest in any sightings of spiders, especially tarantulas, on our shores. So I was quite excited to see a humungous spider among the debris washed up on the high shores.

Hmm ... I think it's a Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) .
It sure was huge though!

On the natural cliffs of this natural shore, there were large orb webs that were almost invisible. The webs were built parallel to the cliff, and the spider hid off the web in some crevice on the cliff.It does look scary. I have no idea what it might be.

The shores were strewn with the delicate star-shaped flowers of the Sea almond (Terminalia catappa).Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Sea almond trees painted our coastal forest in autumn shades as their leaves turned red and dropped off. Now, they are blooming!In the early morning, the flowers were still fresh and almost sparkled against the dark green leaves! The male flowers form at the tips of the spike.

As I struggled among the loose rocks and pebbles to have a look at the very special mangrove trees on Sentosa, I came across another very special animal on the rocks.It is the Polished nerite (Nerita polita) which I seldom see. And such a pretty one it was too!
Here's what the underside looks like. It has a very different kind of 'door' (operculum) to the shell opening. The operculum is smooth and not 'pimply' like the other Nerite species more commonly seen on our rocky shores.

Today, I also learnt more about a coastal tree, the Tiup tiup tree (Adinandra dumosa) and took lots of underwater photos of our fabulous seagrasses submerged. What wonderful day out on the shores!

Special mangrove tree at Sentosa

There are two Xylocarpus trees on Sentosa and I never paid much attention to them until my recent obsession with mangroves began (all Dr Jean Yong's fault!).
Learning more about mangroves from Dr Jean Yong, and recalling Joseph Lai's documentation of Sentosa's coastal plants in our Sentosa Survey of 2006, I just had to have a closer look at them! Today, after the TeamSeagrass monitoring, Siti, Wei Ling and I paid them a visit.

These two magnificent trees are Xylocarpus rumphii, very rare trees in Singapore! In his article for Nature Watch, Jean Yong shared that "The last time this species was counted (1996), there were three mature trees and twelve young plants. " According to Hsuan Keng, it has been recorded on rocky coasts of Singapore. The species is now listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.

While Singapore's two other species, Xylocarpus granatum (still quite common) and Xylocarpus moluccensis (listed as 'Endangered') are found in mangroves, Xylocarpus rumphii is found on rocky shores. And there are fewer of such suitable habitats left for X. rumphii.

Xylocarpus rumphii has fissured bark (while X. granatum has peeling bark, and X. moluccensis also has fissured bark.)
Xylocarpus rumphii doesn't have specialised roots (while X. granatum has snaky buttress roots, and X. moluccensis has short buttresses and peg-like pneumatophores)

The leaves of Xylocarpus rumphii are almost heart-shaped with obvious pale veins (while X. granatum has leaves with rounded tips, and X. moluccensis has sort of eye-shaped leaves.)
This is the typical form of the young fruits of X. rumphii.

According to Giesen, among its uses are the wood for handles of traditional knives (kris) and in building boats, the bark for tanning and dyeing cloth. The seeds are used to treat stomachache.

The presence of trees such as Xylocarpus rumphii and Tongkat Ali and many other endangered and rare plants and animals makes this Sentosa shore very special indeed.

  • The Struggle for Survival: Five threatened coastal plants once common on our shores by Jean W H Yong, Nature Watch Vol 6 No 1 Jan-Mar 98
  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Giesen, Wim and Stephan Wulffraat, Max Zieren and Liesbeth Scholten. 2006. Mangrove Guidebook for Southeast Asia (PDF online downloadable). RAP publication 2006/07 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok.

Tiup tiup tree

I know so little about our coastal plants. The best way to improve, I thought, was to learn one plant at each shore trip.
Today I decided to find out more about this tree that I keep seeing. It has pretty leaves and intriguing flowers, and has a fascinating relationship with bats!

This is the Tiup tiup tree (Adinandra dumosa)The small flowers are cream and the petals do not open. The bit sticking out is the style. Fruits are small globular berries (about 1cm), ripening green to brownish. The leaves are leathery, dark green above and pale beneath. They wither dull scarlet, young leaves are reddish pink.

According to Corners, it begins to flower at a height of 2m "when it is about 2-3 years old and continues daily for some hundred years". He says it grows slowly but steadily, "even in the most improverished places".

Corners adds that it is said the flowers are pollinated by bees, but as they do not open, it is likely that they are self pollinated. The seeds are distributed by small fruit bats which carry the fruits one at a time from to the tree to their resting places where they suck out the pulp contents and disgorge the seeds.

According to Corners the tree was "one of the commonest" in Malaya. It is found in secondary forests, often forming almost pure stands. According to Burkill, the name 'Tiup tiup' probably arose because the style resembles a blow pipe.

  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Corners, E. J. H., 1997. Wayside Trees of Malaya: in two volumes. Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
  • Burkill, I. H., 1993. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. 3rd printing. Publication Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-1240; volume 2: 1241-2444.

31 March 2009

Dredging off Kusu Island Apr-Aug 09

In front of the living reefs of Kusu Island, dredging is expected to take place for the next five months.
Living reefs of Kusu Island, Singapore
Dredging stirs up sediments which make the water murky and affects the amount of sunlight that reaches the corals.

Reef-building hard corals need sunlight because they harbour microscopic, single-celled algae (called zooxanthellae) inside their bodies. The algae undergo photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight. The food produced is shared with the coral 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.

More about hard corals on the wild fact sheets, and more about sedimentation in Singapore waters and other threats to our reefs on the Coral Reefs of Singapore website.

Dredging works at East Keppel Fairway
from Port Marine Notice No. 41 of 2009 dated 31 Mar 09 (PDF)

With effect from 03 Apr 09 to 02 Aug 09. 24 hours daily including Sundays and Public Holidays. At East Keppel Fairway within a working area (see attached plan):

Dredging works will be carried out by the grab dredger “Kyoei No.18”, held in position by 2 spud poles. The dredger, with hopper barges in attendance, will have a circular safety working zone of 50-metre radius centred at the dredger. Dredged material will be transported to the designated dumping ground by the hopper barges and assisted by pusher tugs. During the operation, the tug boat “Kyoei No.16” will be used to shift the dredger. Safety boats will be in attendance at all times to warn and re-direct craft in the vicinity. Further general enquiries can be directed to Mr Christoper Goh, the project coordinator, at Tel: 6476 8823 (email: christophergoh@mypenta.net).

Sharing Sentosa with ITE

Another fabulous sunrise, sadly over the reclamation site at Sentosa for the Integrated Resort.
I was there with an intrepid team of ITE students and teachers led by Cecilia, to share with them what a real natural shore looks like.

We checked out the sandy beach behind Underwater World which previously had Carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni) with anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) as well as branching hard corals. See this post about my last trip there nearly a year ago, and a trip before reclamation started.
The area in front of this soft shore has become a construction site, with drainage going right onto the beach. Nevertheless, there was still lots of Spoon seagrasses (Halophila ovalis), some Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides). And one of the ITE team spotted an egg case of a shark! It was already empty though.

As the tide was rather short, we quickly headed out for the Tanjung Rimau beacon. The rocky shores were very much alive with all kinds of snails typical of this kind of habitat. We had a look at the Nerite snails (Family Neritidae) as well as Turban snails (Family Trochidae). We also talked about how snails and other marine organisms reproduce and disperse.A little further along, we look at the many Onch sea slugs (Family Onchididae) crawling about on the stones. This made us realise that the shores are alive! And that we should watch our step.
We also spot lots of large sand dollars on the sandy stretches. These sand dollars (probably Arachnoides placenta) were large and fast moving! But many were half buried in the sand. Another reason to be careful of where we stepped.

After admiring the natural cliffs, and peering into rock pools with hard corals and all kinds of little fishes.We head around the point at Tanjung Rimau onto the reef flats!

And come across the first of special sightings.The Giant top shell snail (Trochus niloticus) is quite rare and it's my first time seeing it on Sentosa! I've so far only seen it on Sisters Island, Pulau Hantu and Raffles Lighthouse.Here's what the animal looks like...well, out of water. Underwater he is more handsome I am sure.As we continued to explore the clear clear waters of this reef flat, we discovered more interesting marine life.
Such as the pretty Mosaic reef crab (Lophozozymus pictor)! We saw another smaller one further on.

These crabs are the most poisonous crabs in Singapore. Their toxins are not destroyed by heat or cooking. These crabs should never be eaten. Eating them can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning which can lead to death. There is no antidote to their toxins. While these crabs may be poisonous, they are not venomous. That is, they cannot introduce their toxins by stinging or biting. But nevertheless, it's best to leave these crabs alone. For example, those who are allergic might get a reaction by even touching these crabs. We admired them from a distance.
The reef flats have some hard and soft corals. And some of them were quite large.The students really took to heart my explanation that hard corals took a long time to grow. Some grow only 1cm a year, so a large coral could be our grandpa. The young ladies respectfully addressed this humungous coral as "Ah Kong" or 'grandfather'!

We saw lots of other little fishes, crabs, examined seaweeds and discussed other little creatures that we came across.

We also saw blooming and fruiting Tongkat Ali plants! I've done a separate post about this intriguing plant.

Alas, all too soon, the tide came in and I ran out of steam after talking for two hours. And it was time to go home. We forgot to take a group photo on the natural shores of Sentosa. But remembered just in time to pose on the artificial beach of Sentosa.

Our natural shores may appear messy, but they sure are more fun to explore. And I had a great time sharing them with the friendly team from ITE.

More links
You can also download this free high-res poster of Sentosa's natural shores on wildsingapore flickr.
A4 Poster: Sentosa's natural shore

Blooming Tongkat Ali

Today at Sentosa, the Tongkat Ali were blooming and fruiting!
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) has a notorious reputation as a purported aphrodisiac. The ITE team on this trip broke out in knowing smiles when I pointed out the plant.

Tongkat Ali is a small tree or a shrub with an umbrella-like rosette of leaves at the tips of the branches. The leaf is made up of 45-80 leaflets. The tiny, hairy cup-shaped flowers are purplish-crimson, and according to Corners, with a slightly foetid smell. Male and female flowers are found on different trees. These turn into oval fruits that ripen yellow then red.

The tree has many traditional medicinal uses. According to Corners, the bark and especially the roots are 'exceedingly bitter' and the bark was used as one of the native remedies for malaria. According to Burkill, the bark is also used in a tonic for after childbirth. It is also pounded and used externally for headaches, wounds, ulcers and sores.

Unfortunately this plant is listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore. Elsewhere, the plant is also threatened by over-collection for the traditional herbal trade. According to Hsuan Keng, it was previously found in primary and secondary forests including Tanglin and Bukit Timah. According to Burkill, its distribution is from the Gulf of Tongkin to the Malay Peninsula and Borneo and Sumatra.

Wikipedia reports that "Tongkat ali is one of the most expensive herbals sold internationally. The market demand for Tongkat Ali is growing, and even though plantations are being created every year, demand still outweighs supplies. Trees in their native habitat are rather scarce, and are further endangered by the common practice of wild harvesting."

Some links about Tongkat Ali
  • On About.com's page on alternative medicine.
  • On Drugs.com which indicates there is no clinical evidence of the effects of Tongkat Ali.
  • On the Bogor Botanical Gardens site: description of the plant and threats to it from the traditional herbal trade.
  • On wikipedia

  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Corners, E. J. H., 1997. Wayside Trees of Malaya: in two volumes. Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Burkill, I. H., 1993. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. 3rd printing. Publication Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-1240; volume 2: 1241-2444.

30 March 2009

Crane Dance Structure construction at Sentosa

No, it's not some fancy new-fangled tourist attraction. Apparently it's part of seawall and reclamation works for the Integrated Resort.

I've tried to google for what a 'crane dance structure' is and can't seem to find something to do with construction.

Construction of Crane Dance Structure in Cruise Bay
from Port Marine Notice No. 39 of 2009 dated 30 Mar 09

With effect from 31 Mar 09 to 30 Sep 09. 24 hours daily including Sundays and Public Holidays. In Cruise Bay, off Sentosa (see attached plan):

The construction entails building an independent crane dance structure in addition to the seawall and reclamation works. The crane dance structure (Point 11), is sited within the current working area for the seawall and reclamation project. Crane barges and Flat Top barges will be used for piling works and transportation of steel pipe piles and pre-cast concrete elements. The barges used in the project works will be shifted by tugs operating in pusher mode. Safety boats will be in attendance throughout the duration of the operation. For enquiries, please contact the project manager, Mr Chris Kelly at Tel: 9118 2802 (email: Chris_Kelly@macdow.com.au).

Return to Terumbu Raya

Another glorious sunrise trip, to the Great Reef: Terumbu Raya.
We were back on this submerged reef off Pulau Semakau. Among the intrepid explorers was a team of students from ITE led by their valiant teacher Cecilia. They are planning to do a documentary about marine conservation in Singapore!

As Melvin was finding the best spot to land, Kok Sheng and I can't resist taking more photos of the spectacular sunrise over Pulau Semakau.We are greeted by several Blue-spotted fantail rays (Taeniura lymma).
The size of coffee saucers, these small fishes zip away into the reefs as we gently find sandy spots to step on. These sting rays are often seen on our Southern reefs.Some parts of Terumbu Raya have fabulous encrustations of hard corals.Large colonies growing close to one another.

There were also good sized colonies of some of the rarer hard corals.There was a large Ringed plate coral (Pachyseris sp.), which form a plate-like colony with fine ridges in rings.Another plate-like coral that I don't see very often is this Ridged plate coral (Merulina sp.). This coral has 'walls' that form meandering valleys and ridges, radiating from the centre of the plate to the edges. It comes in pretty colours and this one was maroon with little pale blue 'eyes'.
The Carnation coral (Pectinia sp.) is not often seen. But many nice colonies were seen at Terumbu Raya.
It's always nice to see Acropora corals (Acropora sp.). However, these are not as plentiful at Terumbu Raya, as in undisturbed reefs like Raffles Lighthouse.Cauliflower corals (Pocillopora sp.) are also branching corals, and are commonly seen on many of our reefs. When the tiny polyps are expanded though, the colony appears fuzzy and I suppose does resemble cauliflower.Another branching hard coral that is hard to distinguish with all the polyps extended is Branching anchor corals (Euphyllia paraancora). The tentacles have U-shaped tips and expand like a chrysanthemum! This hard coral is not that commonly seen on our reefs.
Galaxy corals (Galaxea sp.) are quite regularly seen on some of our better reefs. These have pretty polyps with white tipped tentacles.This seems to be a different kind of Galaxy coral.It was also nice to come across several Tongue mushroom corals (Herpolitha sp.). These hard corals are not attached to the surface as adults.

I also saw lots of Favid hard corals (Family Faviidae), as well as many colonies of Brain corals (Family Mussidae) and Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) I came across one colony of Lettuce corals (Pavona sp.).

The reefs form the basis for a community of all kinds of animals. Among the living corals were other animals such as fan worms, sponges, ascidians and sea anemones.
I came across one large Bubble tip sea anemone (Entacmea quadricolor) but it had no resident anemonefish.

A little further along, I came across a small Giant sea anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea),with a really REALLY tiny False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris)!
There were also lots of different kinds of Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.). Kok Sheng also saw some special sea anemones such as the Fire anemone (Actinodendron sp.) and a very colourful Pizza anemone (Cryptodendrum adhaesivum), as well as a Wriggly star anemone. See his blog for the lovely photos.
Nestled among the coral rubble was also this small Long-spined black sea urchin (Diadema sp.). These sea urchins seem rather seasonal. At times we see lots of them on the intertidal reef flats, and then none at all. Is the Diadema season starting up?

Chay Hoon also found a Red feather star and Kok Sheng saw the White-rumped sea cucumber (Actinopyg lecanora). Other than those, we didn't see any other echinoderms. Despite looking, we failed to find any Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus).

Of course Kok Sheng and Chay Hoon find lots of special nudibranchs and one special flatworm! I failed to find any.

Other creatures I failed to find despite tantalizing signs include:Cone snails: these fascinating animals have toxins so powerful that some can kill people. I saw some cone snails shells and hoped to see a live one. Alas, none were encountered.There were also several empty half-shells of what seems to be small Burrowing giant clams (Tridacna crocea). Again, I failed to find any living ones.

Unfortunately, I did find a large abandoned driftnet draped across the reef flat.
In the background are Pulau Hantu (the green island on the left) and Pulau Bukom (the industrial installations on the right).

The tide turned very soon and it was time to go home. Terumbu Raya is certainly worth another visit as it's way too large to explore completely in one trip.

Other blog posts about this trip


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