Chek Jawa Transect 2001
August 2001 was a desperate time for many who cared about Singapore's natural heritage. A jewel had been discovered at the eastern end of Pulau Ubin, a veritable complex of marine ecosystems, Chek Jawa, was scheduled for reclamation by year's end, even as the extent of its beauty was revealed to a rare group.
Since development plans has been announced a decade earlier, it seemed hopeless to most. But optimists persist despite unimaginable odds, and several groups laboured in a desperate race against annihilation.
One of the most ambitious projects attempted was a scientific survey of Chek Jawa by Joseph Lai and friends. In order to provide an objective, independent account of the marine life at Chek Jawa, volunteers were mobilised to conduct this first transect study.
The resulting report was presented to various government departments in October 2001 even as large numbers of the public first witnessed the marine life at Chek Jawa for themselves. Comments, letters and other reports were submitted by others, and everyone stepped back and hoped, well beyond reasonable belief, even as volunteer guides continued their work on site.
On 20 December 2001, the Ministry of National Development issued an unprecedented press release - reclamation at Chek Jawa was to be deferred. And after consultation and subsequent independent reports, another surprising press release was issued on 14th January 2002 - reclamation scheduled for the entire Pulau Ubin was deferred.
It was triumph of hope and faith.
The media release stated, "Since the middle of 2001, nature groups and individuals with special interest in Chek Jawa have highlighted the rich biodiversity of the area and provided insightful feedback." It further stated that "Research and surveys will also be conducted to monitor the health and condition of the marine flora and fauna at Chek Jawa."
Chek Jawa Transect 2004
A survey of this nature is not easily accomplished. Once again the challenge has been taken up, not by establishment, but by passionate volunteers. They attended classes, were tested for competency, worked through a night and morning on muddy shores teeming with marine life, learning, contributing and getting the job done above all else.
They completed a field study simply named the Chek Jawa Transect 2004. One of the project leaders, Zeehan Jaafar, and volunteer Debby Ng share with us some of that experience, and radiating from their understated accounts is a rare passion.
Chek Jawa was no flash in the pan, her mysteries and beauty are clearly not forgotten - project leaders and volunteers embraced the opportunity - in fact so many volunteers signed up for the tough work that some had to be turned away. And amongst those who came, some would see the famous intertidal shores of Chek Jawa for the very first time.
Chek Jawa is obviously treasured by many and the lessons of a heritage nearly lost is not forgotten.
There is hope yet for our marine habitats. And more so, there is hope that Singapore citizens will fight to build a nation with a heart and with a soul.
Project Leader Zeehan Jaafar writes...
An opportunity presents itself
Typically during lunch one day, we came to an important decision. Ria Tan suggested Tse-Lynn and I lead the 2nd Chek Jawa Transect. Honoured, we agreed excitedly since little is known scientifically about Chek Jawa.
But when the dust settled, we realised, this was a massive and daunting task! Our excitement didn't dampen though, and next thing we knew, the transect proposal was supported by the National Parks Board (NParks), funded by Wild Singapore and Prof Teh Tiong Sa came on board as expert consultant to locate the previous transect points via GPS.
In order to allow meaningful comparisons and encourage and long-term studies, we decided to replicate the methods of the 2001 survey of Chek Jawa. And the date? The longest low tide for the year - 4th of July 2004. But it would mean working in darkness!
Powered by volunteers
Again, the transects were powered by volunteers. Many people feel deeply about Chek Jawa and this transect exercise would allow them a chance to experience first-hand data collection and make a difference in a cause that they believe in.
The group of about 80 volunteers were divided into teams, each with a group leader.
Quite wisely, many also joined us on two pre-transect day field trips at Chek Jawa - to orientate themselves with the area while there was still light!
Teamwork in action
An advance-team went a day earlier to Chek Jawa to set markers for the six transect lines. Despite the false alarm of rain earlier, the transect day was clear and cloudless. We met at Pulau Ubin jetty at 2am and itw as amazing how everyone was so wide awake!
Soon we were on the shores of Chek Jawa, and the teams carried out their various tasks really well. The identification, mud-sieving and seawater collection was backbreaking, but everyone was cheery, efficient and worked at an amazingly fast speed.
We were done at about 10am - and still cheerful, but a little tired. It was a significant accomplishment and after the debrief, we thanked the volunteers profusely. The team-leaders and project leaders then began specimen preservation and identification, and cleaning muddy equipment!
Tse-Lynn and I are still trying to verify all the records from digital photos and complete the identification of the animals found in the ground (mainly marine worms). Once we finish, we will present the data and report to NParks and the volunteers.
Hopefully this data will aid in our understanding of the marine community at Chek Jawa. With a better understanding of these unique inter-tidal ecosystems and their inhabitants, the information will help contribute to management decisions and education programmes.
And we hope the memory of the preparatory
classes, transect work and camaraderie through darkness and daybreak
will stay in the minds of the Chek Jawa volunteers in the years ahead
as they face challenges in life ahead of them.
Transect Volunteer Debby Ng writes...
4th July 2004, and it's 1am...
It's 1am, and we should all have been asleep!
On an ordinary day perhaps, but this was no ordinary day. My mates and I, nature-enthusiasts, were involved in our first scientific survey - the Chek Jawa Transect 2004! Three years after the original survey, ordinary folk like us were mobilised for something a little less ordinary.
Working with enthusiastic biologists and naturalists was, for me, educational, heart-warming and undoubtedly a wild opportunity. And when regular folk drag themselves out of bed at 1am, its a sign of a strong belief! This radiated throughout every single individual on the project. Not only were they interested in learning about and contributing to Singapore’s marine life, they recruited friends to share in the, ahem, back-breaking experience!
Simple tools for back breaking work
We brought simple tools – a shovel, plastic poles, measuring tape, a plot frame, sieves and heaps of buckets. Teams were assigned to transect lines that ran eastward towards the sea. Each transect was marked by a flag and a transect number setup the night before by the advance team. Our very own was T2, right by the rock pools that lay shrouded in darkness, to be revealed as the sun rose.
From the first flag, a perpendicular line was established and 1m x 1m sampling plots were marked at regular intervals along this line. After some initial confusion and distraction by marine life around us, team leaders stepped in to direct and keep everyone focused on their specific tasks.
After each sampling plot was photographed, everyone dropped to their knees in the mud and speedily began identifying the flora and fauna. Despite the backbreaking work, it was absolutely fascinating to discover the variety of life that could exist in such a tiny plot - gastropods, crustaceans, sea grass, algae and worms galore! One team even chanced upon a juvenile file snake!
After we completed species identification and counts of individuals, we dug a 50 x 50 x 20cm sub-plot and sieved the earth for animals. Water carriers sprung into action, ferrying buckets of seawater continuously from the distant sea to the sampling plot. As we flushed the dug-up earth through the sieves, mud-dwelling organisms were revealed!
All the plot's specimens were tagged and brought back to the base station for identification and preservation where necessary.
A special Singapore weekend
What a weekend! Most had never been on Chek Jawa after sundown. For some, it was even their very first visit! But even the regular CJ volunteers found this a unique experience that began in the tranquility of the night, lasting through to the purity and majesty of daybreak, amidst a unique company of people.
Few get to work to the calls of the waders from the mangrove bush throughout the night, witnesss the wakening orchestra of passerines and enjoy the spectacle of soaring fish eagles at daybreak. Even fewer have felt mud between their toes and sea grass playing around their ankles.
I felt every Singaporean should be able to experience this at least once in their lifetime. Fortunate enough to grow up in one of Singapore’s last kampungs, these were the sort of experiences we enjoyed on a daily basis. Living in and with nature is lost to most Singaporean lives, but the opportunity continues to exist through initiatives like the Chek Jawa Transect 2004.
Chek Jawa Transect 2004 photos and logo by Ria Tan (2004),