13 February 2021

Paying respects to our Big Sister

This Lunar New Year, we pay our respects to Big Sister's Island, part of Singapore's first Marine Park. Thanks to NParks for permission to survey after sunset.
Fluted giant clam (Tridacna squamosa)
There are Giant clams on this shore! The corals seemed alright and we saw interesting marine life despite the intermittent rain.

Most of the shores on both Big and Small Sisters' Islands were reclaimed: seawalls were built on the reef edge and the reef flat buried. The original islands were much tinier. Most of Big Sister's Island is ringed by artificial seawalls, which create two swimming lagoons.
Since the reclamation, living corals have returned in the big lagoon of Big Sisters Island.
Living corals in the big lagoon of Big Sisters Island
I didn't see any full on bleaching coral colonies. But there were some colonies that were pale, with small bleaching portions, or recently dying (grey) or long dead portions (covered with encrustations). This is similar to what I saw on our last survey here in Sep 2020.
I saw a good variety of hard corals. Most were doing alright.
There was also a good variety of leathery soft corals. I saw several Haddon's carpet anemones and Giant carpet anemones and some Frilly sea anemones. None of them were bleaching. 
Throughout our trip, a Great billed heron was successfully hunting on the shore and I saw it regularly on the seawall with a fish. The intermittent rain meant most animals stayed in hiding, but I did manage to see some of the typical reef life. I saw Common sea stars in the small lagoon. And came across a Halloween flatworm and Blue-lined flatworm, as well as a Pimply nudibranch. There were a lot of Ornate leaf slugs on the shore. At sunset, I heard the calls of two Spotted wood owls!
The rest of the team saw other amazing creatures. We're so lucky to have Chay Hoon with us, our nudibranch expert who not only knows all about them, but also can find special ones!
Today, I checked the seawall in the middle of the Big Lagoon. The level of sand inside the Big Lagoon remains high, but it seems the sand is no longer overwhelming the corals. There were lots of Oval moon snails in the sand. I noticed this first on our survey in Jan 2018 and Feb 2019 too. And noted this on our last survey here in Jan 2020 and Sep 2020.
Living shores on Big Sisters Island
I didn't see much seagrass and the Tape seagrass in the small lagoon remains cropped. But I also didn't come across any fish traps or nets. Let's hope the shores remain safe until we can return to survey it again.

More about Big Sisters Island

This island is now part of the Sisters Islands Marine Park. Like many parks in Singapore, you can visit Big Sisters Island any day from 7am to 7pm. You don't need a guide or a permit to visit during these times.

Marina South Ferries now offer travel to the Sisters Islands on weekends. Besides the ferry, you can also hire a water taxi to take you there from Marina South Pier. There are about 10 commercial water taxi companies located there. You can call to book a taxi or just go to the Pier and get a taxi. Most leisure visitors go with Island Cruise, which caters to tourists.

More about the Sisters Islands Marine Park on the NParks website and on the Sisters Islands Marine Park blog and facebook group.

Photos by others on this survey

Loh Kok Sheng

Marcus Ng

Chay Hoon

Nathaniel Soon

Joleen Chan

James Koh

Others on the survey: Vincent Choo.

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