19 January 2011

Five islands in one trip!

Today I went on a trip to FIVE of our Southern islands! Including TWO lighthouses and some of my favourite islands.
Raffles Lighthouse, the Southernmost point of Singapore is our first stop.
This is the most number of islands I've ever visited in one day!!

The tide is super high when we arrive! Although the water was quite clear, it was way too high to see the wonderful corals that circle this lighthouse. Nevertheless, Jeff gives an introduction to the marine life here and we spot some fishes! Here's more photos of the reefs at Raffles Lighthouse that I took over some years ago.
Just off Raffles Lighthouse is one of my favourite untouched reefs: Pulau Biola. It is home to the best population of the Critically Endangered Mentigi (Pemphis acidula) that I've seen on our shores. As well as some awesome marine life. Here's more photos of what we saw there on earlier trips.
A gorgeous little island packed with rare plants and wonderful reefs!
Everyone took turns to climb up to the top of the lighthouse! Except me, due to weak knees. Apparently the view from the top is awesome, although it was rather hazy.
A priceless view from the Southernmost point of Singapore!
Instead I chat with the lighthouse keeper, who shared a photo of the black tipped reef shark he saw in the lagoon at the lighthouse. He also said that sea turtles regularly nest in the sandy shores of the lagoon, and just recently, lots of baby sea turtles hatched. He said they protected the nest from marauding monitors! He also sometimes sees dolphins, usually four, three grey ones with one pinkish one.
Awesome shark seen at Raffles Lighthouse.
We were blessed with a gorgeous blue-sky day and the team enjoy the view of the life firing islands. This is Pulau Senang on the horizon. While others keep an eye out for amazing seabirds that have recently been sighted along our waters. More about Raffles Lighthouse in this earlier post.
Alas, no seabird sightings on our trip, though some of us looked.
Then we are off to visit a place I've not been to before. It's the Sultan Shoal Lighthouse which is quite a distance away. It's not as tall as Raffles Lighthouse but is much prettier!
Some interesting facts about Sultan Shoal

Sultan Shoal Lighthouse is located in the middle of the ongoing massive reclamation on our Western shores.
Sultan Shoal Lighthouse is in the crook of the 'hockey-stick'
reclamation site at Tuas and next to Jurong Island.
There is an odd circular pool with concrete walls created next to the lighthouse. The tide is really high still, and we can hardly see the sandy bottom of the pool. In the shade of coconut palms and the sea breeze, it's a great spot to have our lunch and to just have a rest.
In the waters I saw this large fat fish. I'm not too sure what it is.
And some of us fed our left over lunch to the reef fishes, which happily gathered for the free meal.
Possibly the Bengal sergeant (Abudefduf bengalensis).
THEN, we headed over to Pulau Hantu. Although it is right next to the massive petrochemical plants on Pulau Bukom, Pulau Hantu has great reefs! The volunteers of the Hantu Bloggers regularly dive there every month, where they encounter all kinds of marvellous marine life, check out their blog for more photos. Hantu is also great for a low tide walk. Here's more photos and earlier posts of what I have seen at Pulau Hantu during our low tide trips. But today, we decide to have a look at the mangroves that have naturally settled on the artificial seawalls at Hantu.
Mangroves have settled on the seawall (top left in the photo).
These mangroves settled on the wall all by themselves. I first noticed them in Apr 2009. They seem to have since grown even more lush! There are many different kinds of mangrove trees here!
Near the high shore, lots of the Vulnerable Bakau pasir (Rhizophora stylosa)
with their elegant arching stilt roots.
Everyone else came along to have a look at the mangroves! Edging around the lagoon as the tide was still quite high.
The beautiful red flowers of Tumu (Bruguirea gymnorrhiza).
Jeffrey volunteers to clamber down the seawall to harvest the many ready-to-plant mangrove shoots on the Vulnerable Tengar putih (Ceriops tagal). He got quite a lot of them! These will be nurtured and used to replenish and restore our mangroves.
Beautiful fresh green leaves adorn most of the trees here.
After that exciting stop, we headed for a short stop at St. John's Island to pick up more Sentosa and URA friends to join our trip. St. John's also has marvellous mangroves and reefs, but we didn't have time to even have a peek at them. Here's more about my previous field trips to St. John's Island.
Our final stop, at Big Sisters Island where we will have a low tide walk! This charming pair of islands lies just off the main business district on the mainland. Isn't it amazing that Singapore has wonderful reefs just 15 minutes from world class hotels and business areas?!
Little Sisters (left) and Big Sisters (right) frame
the business district on the mainland on the horizon.
Safety first! We practice looking for Mr Stonefish (Synanceia horrida) on the Guidesheet to the Southern Islands.
There's Mr Stonefish!
We're ready to explore the reefs! Alas, many of the large corals seem to still be bleaching. More about coral bleaching on Bleach Watch Singapore.
Fortunately, my team of visitors have really sharp eyes and a pretty Discodoris boholiensis nudibranch is quickly sighted! We also see a tiny bright blue Phyllidiella pustulosa nudibranch that looks like a sweet!
One of the special corals that is abundant on Sisters Islands are mushroom corals (Family Fungiidae). We saw a small patch of young ones that were still stuck to a hard surface. Then the visitors spotted several clusters of adults which were already free living, i.e., no longer stuck and could move around!
Hurray, the sharp-eyed visitors find two Red egg crabs (Atergatis integerrimus), which have bright warning colours as they are quite toxic to eat. These crabs are listed as Vulnerable. More eagle-eyed spotting by the visitors reveal Hairy crabs (Family Pilumnidae), marine spiders (Desis martensi), an eel-like fish and many other fishes!
Wow, we stumble across some Anemone corals (Goniopora sp.) which look like they have survived the coral bleaching. The tiny white spots in the photo are minute crustacea that were swarming in the waters. These are fed on by other marine life on the reefs.
Nestled in one colony of Anemone corals, there was the recently identified Ashy pink sea cucumber (Holothuria fuscocinerea). This sea cucumber is not very often sighted on our shores.
A little further on, we spot many Black long sea cucumbers (Holothuria leucospilota). These animals are more commonly encountered on our shores.
We also see Frilly sea anemones (Phymanthus sp.) and lots of different kinds of hard corals, as well as leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae).
Shufen shows us the bright red feather star (Order Crinoidea) that they found! It's so pretty! These animals seem seasonal and we sometimes encounter many of them on a trip. The Sisters Islands are among the best places to spot them.
Shufen also shows us a Giant top shell snail (Trochus niloticus) that she found earlier. This animal is listed as Vulnerable. She also shows us a Giant carpet anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea) with a pair of anemone shrimps (Periclimenes brevicarpalis)! The rest of the team also saw an octopus!
Just before we leave, we peek over the jetty at the reefs in the clear waters below. And we see an enormous feather star!! The Sisters Islands are indeed one of our best reefs. On my previous trips to the Sisters Islands we've also seen sea turtles, sea snakes, strange slugs and lots and lots of different kinds of corals.
What a great low tide walk to top off a fantastic trip! Thanks to the sporting visitors who have great eyes for finding marine life.

Here's all the locations we visited today. Wow! That's all over the Southern Islands. Along the way, we also enjoyed views of Pulau Jong, Pulau Semakau and some intriguing submerged reefs and islands.
Thank you Collin and NParks for letting me come of this trip, and I hope to meet new friends from URA and Sentosa again on another field trip. Perhaps to Cyrene Reef? Here's MORE about Cyrene on a blog dedicated just to this awesome reef.

Want to visit our Southern islands?
Although the lighthouses require special permission to visit, the islands listed below are accessible to the public, links are to more info on what to see and do and how to get there.

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