10 May 2023

Terumbu Pempang Tengah: Land of Leatheries still fine

Huge leathery soft corals colonies of various shapes and colours crowd the southern part of Terumbu Pempang Tengah! Even though this submerged reef lies near Jurong Island and major shipping lanes.
Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae)
On a scorching hot day, the team saw Cushion sea star and other special animals. While the corals seem fine, and the seagrass situation seems unchanged.

As usual, the rest of the team saw all the special animals. Liz spotted a Cushion sea star! Also octopus, while Richard saw squidred feather starDiadema sea urchins. I saw a Spangled flatworm. They also saw a Magnificent anemone, while there remains many Giant carpet anemones - I saw signs of anemonefish but didn't get any photos. Richard also saw many Ribbon jellyfish - they seem to be in season, we have been seeing them on all our recent surveys. Unfortunately, none of us saw any Giant clams.
Montage of photos by Liz Lim and Richard Kuah.
There have always been a wide variety of Leathery soft corals on the shore. Some resemble fried omelette, others look like discarded gloves. Asparagus flowery soft corals were also plentiful. I didn't see any that were outright bleaching.
The shore is dotted with corals big and small. Sadly, the large field of Branching montipora near the landing point is completely dead. The last time I saw it in May 2021, it was alive and well. But Richard saw a field of Acropora corals further north.
Living shores of Terumbu Pempang Tengah, May 2023
Most of the corals were common boulder-shaped species. I saw many well formed healthy colonies.
I did come across a few corals that had very pale portions, or pinkish portions - a sign of stress. There were also some asparagus flowery soft corals that were oddly coloured - pastels instead of uniform purplish.
There were sprinkles of seagrasses of various kinds on many parts of the shore: sand bar and sandy areas in between rocks. Mostly Spoon seagrass with small leaves, heavily covered with epiphytes, and some with large leaves which were cleaner. There were also many clumps of Sickle seagrass. There were some longish Tape seagrasses, but many of these had large bleaching portions. The situation looks slightly worse than what I saw in May 2022 and May 2021.
It was a scorching hot day. I abandoned the survey after an hour, but the rest of the team carried on. Fortunately, we didn't observe any nets or traps.
Exploring Terumbu Pempang Tengah

What is the fate of Terumbu Pempang Tengah?

Pulau Hantu and all the terumbus west of it are slated for massive reclamation outlined recently in the Long-Term Plan Review. Singapore's submerged reefs are often out of sight under the high tide and thus forgotten. Let's hope these terumbu stay safe until we can visit again.

The Singapore Blue Plan 2018

Pulau Semakau and nearby islands and submerged reefs have been recommended by the Singapore Blue Plan 2018 for Immediate Conservation Priority. The Blue Plan recommends the intertidal and subtidal marine areas of Pulau Semakau and adjacent Pulau Hantu, and Pulau Jong to be designated Marine Reserve.
Leathery soft corals (Family Alcyoniidae)
The Blue Plan highlights that Pulau Semakau and its associated patch reefs comprise many ecosystems: coral reefs, mangrove areas, intertidal sandflats, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs. The subtidal area of Pulau Jong is larger than the terrestrial area. Pulau Hantu is a popular dive site has seen increasing interest in the past decade due to biodiversity awareness. If protection is accorded to these three islands, 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 survey

Liz Lim

Richard Kuah

Marcus Ng


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