Pulau Hantu - A celebration of marine life

Secret lives and secret worlds hidden in Singapore's most popular coral reef.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Saving Private Hantu

It was not long ago when i would cringe to the thought of diving at Pulau Hantu.."Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewww Hantu? See what? Why would i pay to see nothing but silt?". You see, my first encounter with P.Hantu was 5 years ago, about a month after i got my OWC. All i saw was an old tire , a metal chair frame and plastic bags on the sea bed. My sis who was brought me out on this trip was luckier, she managed to see a couple of fishes. So right....i felt like i wasted a hundred bucks.

Last year, i got back into diving, thanks to debby's "enthusiastic" pestering. Did a couple of dives in malaysia, gained some experience and was getting addicted to it. Started underwater photography too and needed to practice. So fine, i joined one of the dives to Hantu just to try and get accustomed to the camera. Yeah, i didn't expect to see anything actually. But boy was i surprised to see so much life down there this time round. I didn't go too deep though, stayed above 10m, it was bright enough to see lots of corals and fishes and nudibranches and a blue spotted sting ray.

I went back earlier this year and saw even more. Even our friend Nemo ( yeah i know , clown fish ) was there too! Kept it company for half an hour too! Saw a huge palm sized seaslug, couldn't believe my eyes at first! Flabellina's were everywhere, though very small, their unique colours stood out from the silty seabed. Everytime i wanted to take a picture of a coral, i would dust it first, kinda like preparing the subject for a photoshoot, putting make up and all...yeap, beneath all that dirt reveals a colourful treat!

Hantu IMHO ( in my honest opinion ) besides the visibility, has probably more coral life than any place in Dayang/Aur. Yeah, try fanning away the dirt from the next coral you see in Hantu and you'll see what i mean.

I believe that P.Hantu is a dive treasure. A part of singapore that should never be locked away. In fact , it should be protected and taken care of. Not just for divers, for everyone!

Is there really a need to reclaim all this land just to provide entertainment for the rich? Why build beach resorts to showcase what we've destroyed? Do we have to link up the islands when we can make decent revenue ferrying people around in our traditional barges? Is there really a demand for shopping centers on our islands? If i'm not wrong, why do singaporeans and of course the rest of the world, travel to places with clear blue waters just to rest and relax, even if they stay in wooden huts. If the plans to build on these islands ( without reclaiming more land ) include plans to protect and encourage growth in our reefs, i'm sure the rest of the world would give singapore a pat on the back. Lets not be conservationists only when people are looking.

Lets come together and leave no reef behind.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Service Nation

I met an exchange student from Germany studying Organic Chemistry at the NUS. He said to me "Singapore is a good place to visit for... 2 or 3 days. After that, there's nothing to do."

He's an outdoorsy sort. "I went to Orchard Rd 2 or 3 times, but that's it. And Sentosa, it's so artificial. There's no place you can go in Singapore if you like nature."

I met him on a bus on the way to a dive in Malaysia. "There's no place to dive in Singapore."

He had no idea. So I told him abt Hantu, and despite its bad vis how it still contains life. He'd read abt the state of our Southern Islands in the recent papers. He thinks its a bad idea for a casino to be built, citing that "A casino is not going to make SIngapore a Monte Carlo." He said the island nation is "sterile, like a hospital" and that would have to be addressed with foreigners before becoming a big attaction. "Everything's so fake, i leave singapore and people ask me what it's like and i don't know what to say. it's like any big city."

However, he said "But in Singapore, the government is so strong. If there's any country in Asia that could do sometime to protect nature through infrustructure, knowledge and skills, its Singapore." It is true, Singapore does have the capacity to effect these progressive changes. i.e. dealing with chemical pollution, conserving reefs etc. Here the government listens to the people (through forum pages, letters to MPs etc) and people have the skills to voice their opinions diplomatically and rationally. "Singapore should move towards being environmentally aware as more and more developed countries like in Denmark, Germany, Holland and Canada are becoming. Singapore must think abt these issues if it wants to be a significant country, important to the world."

He's the foreigner. And if it's people like him, the intelligencia and future entrepreneurs we are to attract, i do believe we should be listening to them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

First and Defintely NOT the Last

HANTU CLEANUP 2002 was held together with SSI and FINS. It was defintely a great time to meet diving people from different dive schools, have fun and most of all DIVE!!! I could still remember that day clearly, we were each given a T-shirt that read "WHAT A FISH!" with a picture of a turtle biting on a NTUC plastic bag. Gosh, that picture really shocked me. Firstly, I never thought that a person could take a picture of a sea turtle in spore, what more a picture of a turtle biting onto a NTUC plastic bag.;p Secondly, do singaporeans really litter the sea that much?

I have to confess this, though i dived at hantu quite a bit, i have never set foot on the island other then the cleanup. I was totally appalled by the amount of rubbish found there. You could never imagine what we picked up that day. Tyres, plastic bags, bottles, you name it, we found it. Just imagine this, with just half a day there on the beach itself, we finished one plastic bag worth of rubbish bags!

Next down to the sea, we were given clear instructions not to touch any tyres or other structures that might be a habitat of a community. Still, we managed to pick up quite a lot of rubbish. It just makes me wonder if singaporeans or maybe us divers really dump what we dont want overboard? Please, if you are one of those, STOP IT! I dont think you would want to see a turtle getting choked aye?!

I would say the day was a total sucess. We had great fun and at least for me, playing my part in making Hantu a more diveable place. But it makes me think. Is cleaning up hantu once a year something we should do? Or should we, each and everyone of us play our part in keeping the waters clean. I just yearn for the day, when i could be able to be at the bottom of hantu's waters, look out into the blue unknown and just look at my travellies zooming round in the waters chasing their prey. Or maybe, finally i might get to see my dolphins underwater and break another "first" at hantu. Please anyone who is reading this, help me fulfill my dreams. The dreams of a "Born-in-Hantu" diver.......

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Confessions of a Neophyte

Freshly carded with nowhere to go, I was cajoled into trying out Hantu. That first dive was brutal...

Thumbs down, okay sign, dump air and off we go. Instant disorientation.

What the ****! Where am I? Am I descending? Where the **** is my gauge! Oh … okay … I am going down. Calm down, calm down... 2m… 3m… equalize, remember to equalize …. 6 … 7 … bottom should be coming up soon… 10… 11… errr… why is it getting dark? Where is the bottom anyway!?! 12… 13… BUMP! Damn … didn’t see the bottom coming. Never mind, reef should be due west so I’ll just collect my buddy and… er… buddy? BUDDY!?

Having surfaced and reestablished contact, the rest of the dive was spent looking for the reef, never really sure if the patches of coral we found was really the reef. At the end of the dive, we climbed back up the bumboat, utterly demoralized and ready to bin the rest of the day.

Somehow we were coaxed back in with the assurance that it will get better.

That was 3 months ago and I’ve been back to Hantu for 14 dives since and yes, it has become a whole lot better. The visibility is still more or less the same. Yet somehow the reef seems to have changed.

I started seeing the corals under the dusting of silt.
I started seeing fishes instead of shadows in the murk.
I came across a beautiful patch of coral which I have since learnt is Debby’s Secret Coral Garden
I found the most beautiful starfish just sitting there looking like a leather mosaic.

Reality check. Compared to even Bintan, Hantu has piss poor visibility. As for amazing biodiversity... the poor visibility keeps it pretty much hidden.

Yet I will dive Hantu any chance I get.

There is a certain perverse pleasure in diving in that murk. Where the reef is your own and secrets and discoveries are revealed slowly and savored to their fullest. Yes, I’ll admit it – I have a soft spot for Hantu.

I would daresay Hantu has grown on me like that plain Jane who gets prettier the more you fall in love with her. So give her a chance, those of you who have been avoiding Pulau Hantu, she may just grow on you.

Anyone know where can I buy my “I Love Hantu” bumper sticker? It’s time to come out of the closet.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Hantu Dive Log

Performing at Hantu on
Sunday, March 21, 2004
were the following:

Swimmer crabs 3
Copper banded butterflyfish 3
? Wrasse
Damsels (variety) Small school
Flabellina 3
Rabbit fish (HUGE!) Small school
Cushion star 1
Six banded butterflyfish 2
Cardinalfish Small school
? Angelfish
Icon Star 3

Huge, mature and sprouting corals!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

If you're happy and you know it

Assumptions can take people to wrong places.

A FiNSOnline Forum contributor and reader of the blog "Cat got your tongue?" (posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2004), illustrates this through his comments:

I dont reply cos there is no a need to reply by pointing out to the world that i LUV hantu.

this forum is set up to intro new divers to the local diving forum so there is bound to be so newbies.

so pls use ur words properly.

He’s right. I can’t assume the thoughts of the readers who didn’t post any response.

The thoughts I pulled out from my head and keyed into the blog were random and clueless.

My thoughts can never be the thoughts of others.

Others, such as the reader who contributed the above comments.

Obviously I had failed to assume correctly, the thoughts of readers, which was what he was. He felt so strongly about this, he voiced his opinion to me, the instigator of his offence. I sent an apology, thanked him for his feedback and encouraged him to continue doing so.

Because I or any individual cannot assume what another thinks, ever more so, do we need our voices to be heard.

"I dont reply cos there is no a need to reply by pointing out to the world that i LUV hantu."

But there is! When nothing is mentioned, nothing is heard, nothing is known. Ala my very wrong assumptions. Further, nothing can be "introduced" without anything being said.

If you disagree with something enough, mention it. Likewise, if you agree.

A forum is place where discussions are made. A notice board is where notices are read.

Let’s discuss.

Happiness and Sadness Redefined.

Singapore has decided that they want to create an island island using the space provided by the newly reclaimed southern islands. Pretty disturbing to me cause I realise diving could also be one of the main attractions in a resort. Yes, i agree that Singapore's water aint that great at all. But I do realise that the bio-diversity in Singapore is pretty unique.

Reclaimation has crushed any hopes of thriving coral reefs in Singapore. This would cause the migration of animal populations that had the coral reefs as home. In the future, where would we or the younger generation get to see underwater life in its natural habitat? Do we really have to go to the underwater water world in Sentosa to exclaim "Hey boy! Thats a shark there. We used to have on at pulau hantu. There look at that coral. It can be found at Hantu during my time. Look....." I would defintely hate to tell my next generation that.

I was toying with this idea today: Why cant the government start growing coral reefs like what other countries are doing? They can do it after the reclaimation. Yes this would be time-consuming and lots of money would be spent. But isn't it money well spent? I dont know, maybe by doing this, one day I might be able to read this headline on papers when i am older," Corals have finally spawned again in Singapore after 60 years" That would defintely bring a huge smile on my face. For now, all i can do is hope that whatever marine life left in the waters will be able to find a better home if they are able to migrate, if not, then there would always be a place in my heart to remember the " Fishes in Singapore".

Inner strength

"Given time, a reef is able to heal itself." Veteran diver, William Ong said.

It is this tenacity of Nature that shipwrecks can be miraculously transformed into beautiful reefs. The decommissioning of a vessel spells a new beginning and serves as an anchor for life adrift amidst the living ocean.

Since the initiation of a thread in the FinsOnline forum a week ago, it has drawn over 200 hits! An encouraging sign to show that the topic is one of interest and that those who have placed their comments have returned through the week to check for updates.

Then, because of the response in the forum, this blog has been established to further discuss the issue. This is a simple machine that is in the midst of being developed to allow viewers comments to be posted and viewed. Also in the pipeline, is a photo page where those who have visited the site and captured stills, have come to share them.

Thank you all for your feedback which has been very encouraging and constructive.

Reefs continue growing in silent tribute to all of you.

Coral reef ecosystems can be surprisingly resilient. Similarly so, is the human spirit.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Hantu: Ghost Of the Future

My virgin dive was at Hantu 4 years ago. Despite the poor vis, I was encouraged by the travellies zooming above during my decent. My instructor said i was pretty lucky to have seen trevallies. It was at Hantu that I also saw my first shark and several other "first times". I'm in love with the site.

I once did a night dive at hantu, and was fascinated. The biodiveristy was great. In fact, I saw more stuff at hantu then at dayang. And some DMs who have been diving pretty long, agreed.

1) Of all the sites I've dived in SIngapore, one of the best is Sisters' Island. The 2 islands are blessed with quick currents during the change of tides which results in big fishes being predominant in that area. Travellies (my fave fish) USED TO feed at the channel. After hearing news that these spots are to be closed to divers, i feel a sense of regret. Manz, these spots are the last left in Singapore for locals to dive. Why would they be closed? The govt talks about preserving nature, shouldnt that include the coral and wildlife round the islands? Isn't it a waste to have these replaced by a casino or stuff? Please, why can't we have a minister who loves diving in Singapore?

2) I had hoped against the reclaimation of tekong and its surrounding islands would not change too much. To my dismay, i was astounded to learn that the reclaimation project on Tekong is into full swing. Pulau Serjahat, Serjahat Kechil, Tekong KEchil and tekong has been linked by a huge white sand bund. Now, i could even walk at the spot where i fished a few years ago. The spot where i caught my first fish is now a huge pile of sand! I am disturbed by all these happenings. Dolphins used to appear at tekong. Now i guess most young sailors won't ever see local dolphins, except maybe for those at Underwater World.

As i type these "provocative" thoughts about whats going to happen our seas, I feel like making a round island dive, just to enjoy whats left of singapore.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

abnormal normalities

"I assumed at the time it was quite normal." Said a diver in the Fins Online Forum about his sighting of dolphins at Pulau Hantu "a long long long time ago".

Perhaps I'd over reacted to news of his sighting. But why had I over-reacted? And why had he nothing further to add to his 9-worded statement?

When does normal become abnormal. And how do we know when it gets that way.

Passenger pigeons were once normal. They were the most abundant bird species in the world! During the 1800's, a single flock could number 2 billion individuals or more. Who'd have thought they'd become extinct?!

"Look! A pacific swallow!" I mentioned to a friend on a hike once.
"Huh? I thought you saw something... these are all over the place. No big deal."
Probably the same mentality that got the pigeons removed from the face of the earth.
"One day, when there're no more pacific swallows, you're going to be thinking about what you just said." I retorted.

At various points in time, there were things that were common. Kampungs. Kids in the dirt. Dogs without licences. Then of course this thing arrived called Progess. But what I'm wondering is, how then do we react to the present and the inevitable changes? Can I count the diver a jaded individual? Is he taking things forgranted? Is he complacent? Well, he didn't furnish me enough information to formulate any such conclusion. At least though, I feel bold enough to say that he was jaded and had taken things forgranted. But that's easy for me to say cos here I am in the future where these things are now more treasured because of their rarity. However, the status of our world at present, would probably require us more than ever before, to be thoughtfully and emotionally active. We need to think and feel more. This is not a time to forget the common things around us. This is a time to be alert and pay attention to every little thing, no matter how seemingly insignificant. The pace of life has exponentially quickened over the past half a century, and our senses have to keep pace or we lose orientation.

All normalities are abnormal. Try to believe that.

Notice the odd (regular) things, and appreciate their rarity (commonness).

Cat got your tongue?

118 viewers, only 5 had anything to say. I'm talking about a thread I started in the Fins Magazine Online, Underwater Naturalist Forum.
I am encouraged by those 5 replies. Because each one gave constructive feedback. I also noticed that this thread drew more hits than the others (well, there were only 3, and prior to my thread on Hantu there were none. I'll come to that later).
But who was staring at the screen for those other 108 views? Why don't they have something to say? They must've thought something. Surely. They might not have recognised that they had any thoughts but having no thoughts is still a response.
So I thought I'd think for them. And here's what I thought they might've thought.

"Hantu? What are they talking about?"
"Why do they even bother."
"Hmm... ok."
"Hmm finally someone's doing something..."
"They must have a lot of time."
"Hantu? Please, what's there to save?"
"Hmm... maybe I should try."
"Wow, haven't been there in ages."
"Ee... Hantu."

Ria Tan, a guide who took me to Chek Jawa, and author of the Check Jawa field guide, mentioned that Singaporean's don't speak their minds.
"If you like something, you must say. Tell people about how you enjoyed yourself and how beautiful the place is." Says Ria, "The problem with people is that they are contented with keeping quiet about things. BUT, the people who don't like things are always ready to complain. It's always easier to complain. So all that we ever hear are the complains." So the feedback is skewed and biased. The happy people are maintaining Zen, but hold it any longer and everything is going to collapse around you. "That's why there's always change," adds Ria, "because of all the complains."

Because we can't have unhappy people making alot of noise. And the happy people, they're happy so, let's just leave them be. And the worst part is that the happy people let that happen.

The reefs of Fiji are being poached of coral and fish. What do you think?
Maldives is being poached of sharks. What do you think?
Dolphin's are slaughtered in Norway. What do you think?
Sabah's corals are bleaching. What do you think?
Trawlers are clearing the South China Sea. What do you think?
Nurse sharks in Hantu - extinct. What do you think?

Tell me.

Stayers or quitters and the survival tragedy

"When a reef dies, what happens to the animals?" I asked my buddy.
"They migrate."
"Do they? So they can sense a reef is dying and migrate or do they stay on, unaware of the slowly approaching death?"
"They migrate..." He suggests after some thought.
"I hope so."
"Just like if I put you in a desert, you'd find your way out if you want to survive."
"Hmm... I hope so. But where do they go to? There're no reefs around here."
"Malaysia? They'll find a place..."

But I didn't ask, "What about those which are not mobile?" Like the hard corals or the smaller animals like shrimp and anemone fish? They can't possibly migrate. So what happens to them?

It's not just pigs, cows and poultry that are being buried alive. Our reefs suffer the same. It's as if we're stuck in a room full of mirrors, where the angles are all different but the reflections the same.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Taxi uncles and the roads less travelled

Taxi uncles know everything. They travel all over place.
I was in my cab, travelling on the highway, looking out of the window at a patch of forest, when I spotted the silhouette of what looked like a drongo perched in the high branch of a tree. I then wondered what forest this might be that harbours such birdlife. So I asked the taxi uncle.

"Do you know the name of this forest?"
"This? Forest along this Eng Neo lah."
"Does it have a name? Like Bt Timah or something?"
"Yah lah, this Eng Neo forest. But why you want to know the name? What good is there to see here?"

Alright. So he doesn't know. Neither does he care to, or understand why I would want to. But why should he bother anyway?
Forested areas in Singapore seem little more than land waiting to be developed. It's just unused and barren land.

The taxi uncle has probably never had the chance to experience the forest the way hikers do, and so knows little of what could possibly be in it. He probably doesn't understand much about birds either. So why should be care? It doesn't affect him, and has got nothing to do with him.

If you're not a diver, would you care if all of Singapore's coral reefs were lost? Even same divers who have witnessed the beauty of reefs first hand don't care. A few who continue to dive in Singapore do care, but feel hopeless, otherwise indifferent.

How I felt last Sunday

Visibility at Hantu last Sunday was a fantastic 4m!
On our last dive, during my decomp stop at 3m my buddy and I noticed a huge reticulated pufferfish!we were about to surface but stole some time to grab a few shots of this amazing fish and a short video.
This is the first time both of us have seen this fish in Hantu. I showed the picture to David Wong, the guy who invited us out that day, he's clocked thousands of dives in Hantu, and this was something new even for him! Far out!
Every trip I've made to Hantu has been a learning experience. I always see something new, something I never expect. Apart from the puffer, we also encountered 2 new varieties of a glaucid nudibranch, and a tinsy tiny anemone shrimp! Unbelievable!
You see, Hantu is alive! New corals were sprouting out all over the place. This reef is anything but dead. But some divers believe it is as good as dead. Just mention "diving at Pulau Hantu" to most divers, and it's likely they'll cringe. Some divers won't even give Hantu a chance. They've heard so many bad reviews, they don't even think it's worth a try. No matter how much you coax them, they don't think it's worth their time and buck to dive in Hantu (and I speak from experience).
Just because the vis is poor doesn't mean there isn't anything to be discovered. And it doesn't mean it isn't worth a try. The best part is, that it's right here at home!

Monday, March 01, 2004


The Hantu Blog is a non-profit, environmental awareness initiative for Pulau Hantu, an island recognised by most divers as Singapore's most popular Southern Island, known for its sheltered and biologically diverse reefs.

It is now described as a new-age NGO that utilises modern, free-media, to enhance the awareness of Singapore's coastal and marine habitat.

Established in March 2004, The Hantu Blog found its origins in a Singapore diving forum, where after several pdiscussions were posted by writer Debby Ng, readers began requesting for her to lead dives out to the island and showcase what several divers never thought existed in Singapore. Encouraged by the response and determined to share with others the natural history and precarious status of Hantu, the inaugural Hantu Bloggers dive was held On 24 April 2004! Ever since, the thread on the forum became so popular and overwhelming that Debby had to seek new ways to communicate with divers and readers, and keep the surge of interest in the island alive!

At a time where Blogging had yet to reach its current popularity, Debby was introduced to Blogger by Siva, an ecologist at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity (RMBR). The first blog was built at pulauhantu.blogspot.com, and it was sufficient for the posting of Debby's regular trip dairies (now known as the Blog Log) from visits to Hantu island. However, after Debby acquired an underwater camera in the quest to visually present and document the treasures of Hantu island, a new server was required to host the collection of images that was quickly being complied. That's when Siva stepped in again, and offered to sponsor data storage space on the NUS server.

In May 2004, the blogspot address was moved to the RMBR's Habitatnews domain. About a year later, the Habitatnews URL finally became pulauhantu.org!

Over the past three years, the Hantu Blog has been giving public and school talks to share and garner awareness for the island. It has also participated in several movements and campaigns, and has been represented in several local environmental forums.

In 2006 the Blog together with the Blue Water Volunteers (BWV) and Gill Divers, developed a program called Reef Friends Xplore! to train and tutor divers to be savvy with our local diving conditions and familiar with guiding skills. After an intensive written and practical course that bridged two months, only 11 students graduated from the nearly 60 that registered for the course. These graduates are now active volunteers both with the Hantu Blog and BWV, lending their knowledge to the exploration of both topside and underwater habitats in Singapore's reef and intertidal areas.

The Hantu Blog raises funds primarily buy running monthly trips to the island. The funds generated are channeled towards collecting data on a regular basis from our islands, maintaining the website, and producing media for distribution and display at our talks. Our activities are run solely by committed and dedicated volunteers who have invested huge amounts of time towards raising environmental awareness amongst not only Singaporeans but the countries visitors as well.

The Hantu Blog dives have attracted visitors from the United States of America, Holland, Finland, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, France, Spain and Sweden. It's volunteers comprise of Dutch, Malaysian, Swiss and Singaporeans who come from all walks of life!

To make a donation or find out how you can help, email us.