07 December 2008

Semakau at high tide

The Semakau Book Team were hard at work the whole of Saturday. While the dive team were busy underwater, a small intrepid team spent 8 hours out on the island at high tide.

With us were Chay Hoon and Ivan, and JC Chua and Yan Fei who work with Dr Jean Yong on our mangroves. Sean and James of NEA gave us a ride out to the shore (many thanks!) and also gamefully came along to have a look at the mangroves at Semakau.It was a very windy say, which made taking photos of the plants a real challenge. But it helped to keep the mosquitos at bay! And presented a real dilemna. We had to choose between taken mediocre photos or finding secluded areas to take good ones while donating blood.

It was a very long trip with lots of sightings so I've split this up into three posts. Here's some of the animals we saw and about our very long trip.
We had a very brief look at the mangroves while the tides were at minimum. There were algae covered mounds like soft carpets covered with little snails and dotted with young mangrove trees taking root.Among the many snails we saw were lots of Belitong (Terebralia sulcata) which have a distinctive shell opening (see the hole in the shell of the snail at the top left). There was also large Mangrove murex (Chicoreus capucinus) and lots of tiny Red berry snails (Sphaerassiminea miniata). We saw a lot of shells of Belongkeng (Family Ellobiidae), but no living snails. Wandering on the incoming tide was a lone Crown sea star (Asterina coronata), while lots of mudskippers of all kinds bounded just out of reach. Ivan also spotted many Land hermit crabs (Coenobita sp.)!

Some other animals seen included several dragonflies including this one.The Sea hibiscus bushes (Hibiscus tiliaceus) had some Cotton stainer bugs (Dysdercus decussatus) but not in such profuse numbers as we usually see at mangroves such as Chek Jawa. Another insect that was plentiful was some kind of white scale insect that infested several large mangrove trees. More about those in this following post.
There were also butterflies in the mangroves as well as in the forested area of Pulau Semakau. And I saw several in the grassy areas as well. It will be a job for the butterfly specialists to document these beautiful but very difficult to photograph animals!

Chay Hoon finds this strange thing on a leaf of Ximenia americana.Possibly a butterfly caterpillar? We didn't even know which end was the front of this little creature.
Among the sheltered areas, the mangrove leaves were festooned with the webs of tent spiders.The white spider on the left occupied the web in the photo above. There were other webs with bits of rubbish suspended in the centre which had other kinds of little spiders. I'm looking forward to visiting with the spider experts to check out the spiders of Semakau for the Semakau Book.

Of course, Semakau is full of birds. We could hear the twitter of all kinds of mangrove birds, the calls of Kingfishers and in the windy skies, many raptors overhead.On the shore, we spent some time watching this group of egrets fishing with the incoming tide. There was one black one in the group but he seemed very much at home with the rest. Birds will certainly be a big feature of the Semakau Book.

On the way out in the morning, we had to stop for a monitor lizard crossing the road, and there were lots of monitor lizard tracks on the shores. Ivan said he caught glimpses of geckos or lizards too. Hopefully the vertebrate experts will help us find out more about the non-bird vertebrates on this island.
In the midst of our little walk, we had to hurry back to shelter as a huge storm headed in. We spent some time feeding yet more mosquitos and a quick lunch (where JC Chua and Yan Wei invented the 'bee hoon wrap' as they ate it without chopsticks). As the weather cleared, we headed out for more exploring.By that time, the tide was so high that we had to trek into the forested areas as some parts of the shores were already innundated. What a novel experience for us low tide explorers. While some parts of the forested areas were thickly vegetated, there were others that were more open and full of ferns.

We must have walked the entire length of Semakau twice and some portions four times! And we sure saw a lot of plants (more about those in this post) and some sad situations (in this post). And after all that walking on the shore, it was time to walk some more, back to the NEA jetty. I was joking that after wearing wet booties for 8 hours, our toes might fall off and remain in our booties as we take them off. Fortunately, all our toes were intact, although rather wrinkled. But we sure had weary feet.On the walk back were the vast grasslands on the landfill which we had intended to look at today but just didn't have the time or energy to do so.In the distance among the waving grasses is the beacon that marked the old boundary of Pulau Semakau showing the portion of the original island that was reclaimed to form the landfill.

The grasslands and trees took root on their own, they were not planted. So exploring this area will be interesting.There were lots of beautiful wildflowers growing by the road side, and some were really growing very enthusiastically, spilling out to the road.It was a long long walk. And when we reached the jetty, we found the divers had decided to dive right at the jetty!Here's Eric and his lovely assistant. While his friend shows us what a black tip reef shark looks like, with his fins.. ha ha!They sure were a happy and energetic team, even after one full day of diving. Here they are making a non-standard landing at the NEA jetty so that the boat could pick us all up at one go. Eric said they saw a 1-metre tall sea fan on their dive and other marvellous creatures including possibly a new record of a pipehorse. We can't wait to see his photos.

On the way home, Eric the comsumate photographer points out the dramatic weather building up over us.The looming weather also made a rather gloomy photo of the reclamation works at Pasir Panjang Container Terminal, with Bukom's industrial installations in the background.But it was a great day out, exploring a beautiful shore that will need our love and attention to preserve. Here's more about some of the issues affecting Pulau Semakau and what you can do about it.

The Semakau Book is a project by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to showcase the Semakau Landfill as well as the biodiversity of Pulau Semakau and is scheduled to be published in 2009 in celebration of the Semakau Landfill's 10th anniversary.

More about Pulau Semakau on the wildsingapore website.


  1. The recorded butterfly is likely to be Elymnias hypermnestra (Common Palmfly). It is a rather common species in the main island. :)

    Where were the butterflies spotted? On drier part of the island? :)

  2. Hey, thanks for the ID! As you can tell, I know nothing about anything above the low water mark :-)

    This pretty butterfly was seen among the leaves of a mangrove tree that was sitting right on the water in the incoming tide. The tree was part of a thicket of mangroves and quite near the forested and drier part of the shore.

  3. Hi Ria,

    The dragonfly is Tramea transmarina. A rather common species.


  4. Thanks for the ID Robin! Wonder how these creatures managed to get to Semakau!



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