19 October 2020

St. John's with little green sea stars

A short boat ride from the Central Business District on the main island of Singapore, are the amazing living shores of St John's Island!
Living shores of St John's Island
It was a relief to see the hard and soft corals seemed alright, while seagrasses remain lush. Rare mangrove trees on the untouched western shore were also doing well. A special treat was to see many little green Knobbly sea stars!

St. John's Island has some of our more spectacular natural shores. Although most of its eastern shoreline has been reclaimed or have artificial seawalls, the northern tip remains untouched. Here's a view of the northern tip of St John's with the Sisters Islands on the horizon. In fact, the western shore of St John's Island is part of the Sisters Islands Marine Park!
Rocky shores of St John's Island
St John's Island has fascinating rock formations which look stunning in the clear afternoon sun.
Rocky shores of St John's Island
There are not many hard corals on this shore. Today, with the bloom of Sargassum seaweed (normal for this time of the year), it was even more challenging to find them.
Living shores of St John's Island
But I saw small colonies of a variety of common corals, most of them in very good health. I did not see any signs of mass coral bleaching.
There are also some small colonies of Leathery soft corals, they were also alright.
Living coastal forest of St John's Island
As on our last survey in Jan 2020, there are many sea anemones on this shore, I didn't see any that were bleaching. Especially on the western shore, there were many Giant carpet anemones, but no anemonefish. I saw many  Frilly anemones, the team saw several Magnificent anemones (one with shrimps) and in the sandy lagoons, many Haddon's carpet anemones one with shrimps. And a first entry for this location, James Koh saw several Swimming anemones.
Among the most interesting finds today were many small green Knobbly sea stars! Vincent Choo also saw an Orange sand star. There was also a big Red feather star. Spider conch snails are quite common here. I saw the skeleton of the rare Thick-edged sand dollar, but no live ones. There were also some Common sea stars, and all kinds of other small crabs and fishes.
The rest of the team saw lots of other interesting marine life too. Like this beautiful Swimming file clam, photographed by James Koh.
While Vincent Choo saw this translucent juvenile flatfish!
I love this shore mainly for the beautiful natural coastal forest that still grows here. There are not too many of these left in Singapore. The situation today is quite similar to our last survey in Jan 2020.
Living coastal forest of St John's Island
I made the pilgrimage past the tip of the northern shore. To pay my respects to the grandmother Nyireh laut tree. She is still very much alive! Although there is a large log near her, which will probably pound into her during the high tide. These trees do live in a harsh environment.
Nyireh laut (Xylocarpus rumphii)
The two daughter trees next to grandma are still alright.
Nyireh laut (Xylocarpus rumphii)
But one dead tree nearby looks like a Nyireh laut that didn't survive what looks like a tree fall from the cliffside. There's no sign of recovery.
Nyireh laut (Xylocarpus rumphii)
Today, the Seashore pandan flower was quite low. I had a sniff and it smells like soap! Lots of little bees were busy gathering at the flowers. Other interesting plants seen flowering and fruiting were: Penaga LautChengamNyireh bunga, Tiup-tiup. I even saw a clump of mangrove fern growing on the cliff. But I didn't see the Raffles pitcher plant today.
It was great to see many small clumps of Tape seagrass, most with fresh green and moderately long leaf blades. St John's Island is one of the few shores left that still has long Tape seagrass.
Tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides)
I saw good growths of Sickle seagrass on the western shore facing the Sisters Islands. There were also sprinkles of Spoons seagrass (with small leaves) in the eastern lagoons.
Today, we didn't come across any fish nets or traps. I saw two men fishing with lines just off the reef from a dinghy. They left as I approached them.
Line fishing off the reef from a dinghy
At sunset, a group of about 20 people suddenly turned up on the shore. Not all were masked and they seemed to be mingling freely among one another. I did not notice them coming back to the jetty along the eastern shore. Did they continue northward, make the turn at the northern point and then along the western shore? In the dark, on a new moon? Lots of safety concerns crossed my mind.
No safe distancing
Anyway, our small survey team returned by the eastern shore and the last we saw of them was as tiny figures on the horizon as the sun set.
Sunset over the Sisters Islands from St John's Island

St John's Island in the Singapore Blue Plan

The Singapore Blue Plan 2018 highlights the importance of St John's Island to our marine biodiversity.

The cluster of Kusu, Lazarus and St. John's Islands has been recommended by the Singapore Blue Plan 2018 for elevated protection status. The Blue Plan highlights that Lazarus, St. John’s, and Kusu Islands are established sites for coral nurseries as their shoreline offers ideal sheltered areas for growth of corals. Designating these islands as No-fishing Areas can bolster their rehabilitation.

Protecting a larger cluster of islands means zonation plans for use can be implemented to manage tourism and human impacts.

DOWNLOAD the Plan, SUPPORT the Plan! More on the Singapore Blue Plan 2018 site.

Photos by others on this trip

Jianlin Liu

Loh Kok Sheng

Vincent Choo

James Koh 

Other shores surveyed

Richard Kuah surveyed Coney Island

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