16 July 2014

Checking up on Pulau Jong

Pulau Jong is among the last untouched islands in Singapore. This is what our other recreational Southern Islands looked like before they were reclaimed and developed, e.g., Sisters Islands, Kusu Island, St John's Island, Lazaru Island and Pulau Hantu.
As usual, we do a check for coral bleaching and other threats. Joining us were Simon and Stephen of Travelled Paths who droned the island too!

Dubbed the 'char siew pau' island because of its cute dumpling shape, Pulau Jong has a huge reef flat that is exposed at low spring tide. This reef flat together with the domed island is said to resemble the silhouette of a Chinese sailing junk, thus 'Jong'. We land during a rare daylight low spring tide. The currents around Pulau Jong are treacherous and powerful, so I prefer to land during daylight. As usual, Alex and his crew bring us there and back safely.
Most of the leathery soft corals and hard corals on the reef flats look alright. This little island lies right next to the Semakau Landfill (seen here on the horizon).
Most of the hard corals I saw were not bleaching. I couldn't cover much ground in the rubbly area so I didn't see many kinds of corals.
But some hard corals had patches that were white or flourescent yellow, a sign of coral bleaching. What is coral bleaching and why this is of concern on the Bleach Watch Singapore blog.
Other corals were pink, pastel green or other odd colours. While these colours are pretty, they indicate that the corals are stressed and not well.
Compared to the hard corals, there were more leathery soft corals of various kinds that had large patches of bleaching. Surprisingly, all the Asparagus flowery soft corals I saw were not bleaching.
There seemed to be more leathery soft corals that were bleaching on the western reef flat.
But things are not as bad as during the height of the mass coral bleaching event in 2010. Here's what Pulau Jong looked like in Aug 2010.
Today, most of Pulau Jong's reef flat looked alright, with a variety of hard and soft corals.
A sprinkling of other seaweed lie among the masses of Sargassum seaweeds that look like they are starting to bloom!
How nice to see this Leathery sea fan which I don't often see. It looks fine.
Oh my, what kind of snake is this?!
It turned out to be the tail of this Malayan water monitor lizard that was lying motionless underwater camouflaged with the Sargassum covered rocks.
I also saw common nudibranchs like this Glossodoris atromarginata.
I visited the location of the Fluted giant clam and found only the marker, no clam! A check with Dr Neo Mei Lin aka Giant Clam Girl and I learnt the clam has been borrowed as a part of her efforts to mate it with other clams on our shores and raise a new generation of clams. Currently, our wild clams are too far apart for them to naturally mate. Mei Lin will soon be returning the mama clam to its wild home on Pulau Jong.
This is what the clam looked like when I last saw it in Apr 2013.
There were still small patches of healthy Sickle seagrass growing on some parts of the sandier reef flat. I didn't manage to cover enough ground to look for the Spoon seagrass.
The natural cliffs of Pulau Jong are cloaked with coastal forest plants which are now rare on mainland Singapore. Like the beautiful Delek air which produces delicate violet blue flowers.
Once again, we encounter a large fish trap on the high shore. We disabled the trap but couldn't bring it out with us. In Apr 2013 we saw three large traps here, in Jul 2012 we saw two old broken traps here and in Apr 2011 we saw five large traps here.
Pulau Jong next to the Semakau Landfill and Pulau Bukom, where major petrochemical plants are located.
Click on image for larger view.
On the southern end of Pulau Jong lies Pulau Sebarok which is the 'petrol station' of Singapore's port and where bunkering and refueling goes on.
On the eastern edge of Pulau Jong is the Jong Fairway, a major shipping lane used by enormous ships and other vessels in this, one of the world's busiest ports.
Today we didn't see any large vessels near Pulau Jong so it looks like the work by Shell to replace the SBM pipeline is over. I attended a Shell briefing on this in Sep 2012.
Click on image for larger view.
There was also oil spill in Feb this year that was close to Pulau Jong.
Click on image for larger view.
In the long term, the fate of Pulau Jong is not certain. With the landuse plan by the Ministry of National Developmentreleased in Jan 2013 in response to the Populations White Paper with a 6.9 million population target. The dotted margined blue areas are "Possible Future Reclamation".
Pulau Jong is amongthe existing natural shores that may be impacted by the Land Use Plan following the Population White Paper. Others include Pulau Hantu, Terumbu Pempang Darat, Terumbu Pempang Tengah and Terumbu Semakau.
Let's hope Pulau Jong, one of Singapore's last unspoilt island remains well until we next visit it again!

Update: I just learnt of the legend behind Pulau Jong thanks to Points of Departure by Jerome Lim and Juria Toramae:
"Pulau Jong, "junk island", a small island of a conical shape to the North of Pulau Seking and Pulau Sebarok. The story is that Malay pirates one night attacked a Chinese Junk, which was anchored where the island now is, and just as the Malays got alongside, the Nakhodah of the junk awoke. On seeing the pirates, through terror, he uttered such a frightful yell that the sea-spirit turned the junk into an island much to the consternation of the Malays.

Source: Haughton 1889, Notes on Names of Places in the Island of Singapore and its Vicinity."

After the trip, I rushed over for a lovely radio interview on "Need to Know" by Daphne Lim on Official938LIVE. I was so glad Dr Lena Chan of NParks was there with me as we spoke about Singapore's first marine park!
There is a lot more to be done for Singapore's amazing shores and marine life! Much happy work ahead of us, to quote Dr Karenne Tun. Here's more about the Marine Park.

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