18 December 2011

Removing huge driftnets at Pulau Ubin

Today, a small team bravely attempt to remove a huge pile of abandoned driftnets on Pulau Ubin.
The nets are badly entangled among mangrove tree roots and draped all over the shore.

I first saw this pile of nets last month during the Mega Marine Survey there. The net looked freshly abandoned at that time. Fortunately, we could get a team to remove it today.
Abandoned driftnets in Pulau Ubin mangroves
Before we started work, we partake of a traditional ritual on any trip to Pulau Ubin on Sunday. Breakfast of Sunday-only Ubin-only LONTONG! We all take photos of this rare and endangered delicacy. The kampung ambience adds to the enjoyment.
Here's a closer look at the our simple but priceless breakfast!
Jerome is late but makes it in time for his share of lontong!
The tide is not low today: 1.4m. I was afraid we would have to work in high water, but fortunately, it was quite dry at the work site. The net is partially hidden under a bloom of Sea lettuce seaweed (Ulva sp.) which is quite normal for this time of the year. This seaweed accumulates in huge drifts everywhere on Ubin during a bloom.
We got started on the huge nets straightaway.
Part of the net stretched out into the low shore in deeper water. I started working on that portion.
Andy finds another portion of the net that extends into the water.
We found three of these crabs badly entangled in the net. They were still alive.
It looks like a Stone crab (Myomenippe hardwicki) but didn't have the typical green circled red eyes of this species.
Here's another of the crabs found in the net, it had lost one of its pincers.
Brandon is the only one among us with real surgical skills so he leads all the operations to remove all filaments from the trapped crabs.
It takes patience to carefully remove all the entangled net filaments from the crab without hurting it.
Hussain gives a hand while Brandon carefully removes all the filaments on the crab.
Andy also finds a fish, it was freshly dead.
Photo by Andy Dinesh

Jerome livens up the shot of us hard at work!
I was very relieved to have strong young men on the team as today there was a lot of heavy duty work to be done. Fallen branches are lifted so we can carefully cut away the nets.
Soon we managed to fill up all the huge bags with the nets, and the mangrove tree roots are breathing easier! Unfortunately, we didn't have time or manpower to remove the bigger nets which come from the fish farms. But these don't entangle marine life as badly as the transparent driftnets do.
We also quickly removed a few more nets which seemed to have been on the shore for a long time as they were already starting to fall apart.
Alas, as we were washing up in the mangrove stream, we saw MORE nets. Andy also saw more driftnets further up along the shoreline.
And Andy destroyed and removed some fish traps found in the mangroves.
There's all kinds of large rubbish on this shore. Including the remains of a large wooden boat, huge tires, and other trash.
We (rather, the men) dragged all the nets out to the road. That's a humungous pile! Seems like we moved out our body weight in nets today! NParks will kindly dispose of these nets properly.
Here's a last look at the pile of nets we dragged out.
Sadly, this is a very small fraction of the nets that remain on the shore. We will need to go back and remove the rest eventually.

Andy shared a video clip of what we did today.

Project Driftnet Singapore - Ubin 18Dec2011 from SgBeachBum on Vimeo.

As we worked, we saw a huge oil rig being towed past the Straits.
Later on, we saw more huge vessels passing by. The waters off Pulau Ubin and Changi is a major shipping lane for such vessels heading to and from shipyards at Sembawang and at Pasir Gudang in Johor, Malaysia.
Having burnt off all the lontong, it's time to replenish with a great home cooked meal at our favourite Ubin restaurant. Of course, beginning with crispy sotong! As usual, I was too engrossed in eating to take photos of the rest of the meal.
Thanks to Hussain, Brandon, Jerome and Andy for removing the nets! And to Andy for treating us to Lontong!

This effort is part of Project Driftnet and we are very glad that Hussain will be looking at the data we have been collecting this past year on abandoned driftnets. His research on this issue locally and globally will help us better understand and hopefully manage this heartbreaking issue on our shores.

This trip has been funded from the generous donation by Aardwolf Pestkare as part of their very kind project to feature wildsingapore photos on their 2012 calendar.


  1. ahhh the sotong looks good! maybe I should've eaten two lunches instead of going back early...

  2. Yes, we missed you at lunch. You deserve to eat two lunches!

  3. Kudos! kudos! I congratulate your effort! Passionate, spirited, work so difficult and done so well. Thanks a million. : )

  4. Thank you Joe for the encouragement! Feels good to remove those nets. We will be back to do the rest!



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