22 May 2010

World Biodiversity Day at Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Today is International Day of Biodiversity and what better way to celebrate than out on Chek Jawa!
Sharing with enthusiastic families, this marvellous shore that was miraculously saved from reclamation nearly a decade ago.

Despite the wet and drippy weather, more than 30 turned up for the monthly free Chek Jawa boardwalk tours conducted by the Naked Hermit Crabs!
We had started out at the mangroves. The Nipah palms were blossoming and the mud lobster mounds were teeming with crabs.
The tiny colourful fiddler crabs and stout pincered ones are always a big hit!
Indeed, there were all kinds of little creatures in the pools in the back mangroves. Today, the boardwalk is a little crowded as many bird watchers have come to look at the 'Mangrove Blue'.
One of the bird watchers kindly explains about this compelling bird. It's full name is the Mangrove Blue-flycatcher (Cyornis rufigastra). Although globally common, in Singapore, it was so far only found on Pulau Tekong. So the bird watchers are excited to know that it is found in more accessible Pulau Ubin. This bird lives in mangroves and its rarity here probably reflects the loss of our mangroves.
He shows the kids some photos he had taken of this special and rare bird. Clearly an awesome bird!
Even the littlest child had a look. Shirls shares a lovely photo of this bird on her blog.
The kids are irrepressible! Despite the continuous mizzle (miserable drizzle), they still enthusiastically explore the boardwalk! The high shore was full of fiddler crabs, but the mudskippers seem a little less lively in the rain. In sunny weather, the Bearded mudskippers are usually 'dancing' and standing on their tails! On the natural rocky shores, we also had a look at the oysters, snails laying eggs and other weird blobs that cling there.
The wide open waters might be murky but there's lots of seagrasses and seaweeds in there. We didn't see the monitor lizard today, but the Great billed heron and some Grey herons were out foraging on the flats. And one of the sharp eyed family members spotted a Ribbon jellyfish in the water!
All too soon, we ended the walk. The kids, as usual, had a great time drawing in our guestbook. Sharing their sightings and creating jokes and stories about our walk. I always marvel at their creative ability and also how quickly they understand some of the issues that we discussed during the walk.
I learnt that Ley Kun and Ivan's group saw a wild boar! And had a glimpse of the hornbills. We heard them later again, but didn't get to see them.

As we left Chek Jawa, the bicycle park there is already crowded. It's nice to know that people continue to visit Chek Jawa, despite the wet weather!
Pulau Ubin is all decked out in flags and lanterns today! It's for the celebration of Tua Pek Kong's Birthday.
Which will culminate in evenings of wayang (traditional Chinese opera) at probably the last authentic open-air wayang stage in Singapore: on 27 May to 2 Jun. Do come for this if you can. The days of the traditional way of life at Pulau Ubin are numbered. And I fear it won't be too long before these will die out.
How nice to meet up with Angie and friends from Nature Society (Singapore) who had done a Biodiversity Day walk. The Hornbill film was also screened at Pulau Ubin today (and will be screened again tomorrow). Elsewhere on the mainland, the BiodiverCity photo exhibition was launched, with Cyrene Reef featured among the photos! Thanks to Dr Chua Ee Kiam for sharing the photos. In the afternoon, Siva is giving a talk about our biodiversity. And lots more activities by friends and fellow nature lovers to celebrate Biodiversity Day!
During lunch at the awesome Sin Lam Huat restaurant (that we call "The Two Sisters" for the people who run the restaurant), I look at the now decade-old photos of Chek Jawa and can't help but reminisce. See my post about Chek Jawa in the 'old days'.
It didn't seem too long ago when the boardwalk was being built! The construction was done with minimal impact. So much so that public walks still carried on during the construction and there was lots of marine life still to see!
See Chek Jawa journey: A new chapter for about how the boardwalk was built and its launch, on wildfilms.

What is the future of Chek Jawa?

There still many dangers facing this wonderful shores, ranging from excessive rainfall which caused the mass death in 2007 at Chek Jawa, to other threats such as abandoned driftnets and litter.

During the walk today, another danger is clearly seen. Chek Jawa lies along international shipping lanes that lead to and from important industrial areas such as Sembawang Shipyards and on the Malaysian side, the port of Pasir Gudang. In fact, the Chek Jawa beacon is an important navigation marker.
Large vessels often ply this route. Here is the huge LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) carrier passing Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island) which is part of the Chek Jawa ecosystem. Spills from such large vessels are another threat.
In the long term, we cannot take Chek Jawa for granted. In 1990, in the book "The Next Lap" this was the plan for Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa and Pulau Tekong.
Click on image for larger view.

See also Master Plan 2008: Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa and our northern shores - Is Chek Jawa safe from reclamation? on the wildfilms blog.

So today and every day, we should appreciate Chek Jawa while we can!

More about Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa and how to get there. The Naked Hermit Crabs hold free guided walks on the boardwalk every fourth Saturday of the month for 2010.

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