Pulau Hantu - A celebration of marine life

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

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Butterfly fish

Butterfly fish are from the family Chaetodontidae that are the more distinctive members of coral reefs. Many species of butterfly fish are commercially exploited for the aquarium fish trade. In Singapore waters, butterfly fish are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List. This implies the species is believed likely to move into the "Endangered" category in the near future if the threats to its survival are not reduced or eliminated...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Tough Plant

I got this from a book titled "THE LAST DIVE" by Bernie Chowdhury. He said this in this portion when he first started to learn to snorkel when he was a kid. It happened at this turbid lake near his granny's house. This is what he wrote. "Finning was a new feeling for a child who by birth and breeding had felt like an alien in every environment, a scout sent out to master the customs and language of a foreign territory. Although there wasnt much to see in the turbid lake, it thrilled me just the same when i dived a few feet down and saw a plant sticking out of the muddy bottom. Life could occur even in such a dark and unfriendly place."

Hmm... doesn't what he says sound like what I feel about Hantu? I always tell my friends who are learning diving. " Dont go overseas to dive. Whats the point. You just have such a nice place to dive here in singapore. First, you save on your course fees, next you see stuff which are common in aur and tioman and third you get to have much better water confidence!" The thoughts of the writer is just actually what i feel about hantu. Somewhere so dark and hostile, i still get to see plants, corals, fishes and even icon stars. Hey maybe on the next trip to hantu, shouldnt you open ur eyes a little more, you might even get to name a new species!!;p

Also, the tag board is getting a little stale, hope you guys just pop a few msgs there. Comments for our posts. It would just encourage us more to know that at least someone is responding to our posts! Thanks and Best fishes.;p

Pulau Hantu Map

A map of Pulau Hantu is now available for your download and reference!
Print it out and stick it in your log book to know your dive sites proper!

Map courtesy of Seahounds

East Coast Park fishermen

I had a chat with some fishermen who were fishing at the ECP jetty near the Fort Road end this evening. They haven't caught anything all night. "Sometimes we catch some and sometimes, like tonight, we get nothing at all." What do they expect to catch? "String ray, catfish, eel, sea bass..." What do they do with it? "If we can't eat it, we throw it away [into the sea] or if its dead we throw it there [into the garbage bin]" They'd just gotten there at about midnight and were waiting for the tide to rise at about 1am before they "start rolling" i.e. to go on full throttle and cast and reel their rods to hook up the creatures that move in with the tides.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Star impressions

Since we're talking about Icon Stars, I thought I'd be fun to mention how, on my first dive in Hantu, the one animal that reached me most distinctly was in fact Iconoclaster longimanus. I thought it was absolutely funky looking. The colours were totally groovy and the tiled appearance along its perimeter, very retro. So before I knew what Icon Stars were, it was known to me as "the retro starfish". My DM asked me what I saw on that first dive, and I told him, "there was this retro starfish that was really beautiful!" And while he never thought of it that way, he couldn't deny it was a gorgeous animal. And what's more perfect is that you might be able to consider them "common" in Hantu.

Coincidentally, I saw on the logbook of one of the divers at last weekend's dive, a drawing, and a rather detailed one, of I. longimanus. He never knew its name until he heard it form me, but he thought it was very groovy too. So he drew a picture of it in his logbook for keeps. Unlike me however, he didn't spot it until his 11th dive at Hantu, so for him it was a really neat find. And that he made a drawing of it, was a good effort to note things you are unable to identify immediately. It also gives you fun things to talk about, like this.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Falling Star


Icon star Iconaster longimanus

What may seem common to divers around the the reefs of Pulau Hantu and the Southern Islands, is actually an animal that is listed as "Vulnerable and rare" by The World Conservation Union's Red Data Book.

The icon star (Iconaster longimanus) is a striking species that occurs on lower reef slopes and the adjacent sea bed around many of the Southern Islands. It feeds on epilithic growth on hard substrata and coral rubble. Zoologically, it is interesting as it has large lecithotrophic eggs which show abbreviated development, without a larval stage. In recent years this sea-star has been found to be moderately common on and around many of the reefs fringing the Southern Islands. However it is considered vulnerable because living on and near the slopes of fringing reefs, it is threatened by reclaimation activities. Additionally, its attractive appearance many lead to over collection as a curio. Such threats are of particular concern given its slow growth rates.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The inaugural Hantu Bloggers dive!

Morning rain freshened up the day.

We had a good inaugurating Hantu Bloggers dive!
The water was clear, vis was apx 2-3m, but it's surface looked like silk - no current and no choppy surface (as was around the harbour). Super fantastic!

Here's some of the stuff the Hantu Bloggers saw:
Icon starfish, False scorpion fish (8), Juv. Flying fish, Marine worm, Polyclad worm, Flabellina, File fish or Leatherjacket, Bartailed goatfish, Scaly damsel (Small school), Swimming crabs, Urchins (2 varieties), Brownback Travally, Groper, Copper banded butterfly fish (Several pairs and individuals), Cardinal fish, Small-toothed whiptail, Rabbitfish, Pipefish, and Yellowtail or Vermiculated Angelfish.

Of course there were other fish sighted that we were not able to ID, remember or get pictures of. We'll just have to go there more often!

Pictures from this trip will be be up at the Hantu Bloggers Gallery over the next few days, so look out for them!

Friday, April 23, 2004

Shallow thoughts....

I got a little upset today. Well this was what happened.

I was asked by my Head of Department today, what i plan to do after army. I told him of my dreams, studying science and then into marine ecology and hope i get to do something for what i love. Imagine what i felt when he said," you sure you going to go into that field? Its dying yahz!"

Gosh! I just can't imagine a doctor saying this. Hey, we're living on a peice of land in the sea! Hello??? Whats the big deal in studying this? Researchers have found cures for cancer in the forests, made synthetic medicines. But have they ever tried the sea? You always hear this," Every mintue, some tress are getting cut down. Species of insects, ferns and etc disappear with them. Save the trees!" Have you ever heard," Save the Oceans??? They might contain something interesting and useful that we might be able to produce commerically in farms!"

You might upon reading this ask why I would discuss harvesting the ocean for its resources on a conservation blog. I believe in sustainable, commerical harvesting, in a controlled environment. I am not trying to be god. I am just trying to combine my ambition as a budding researcher and a ocean-lover at the same time. Who knows, this might be the only way it will work in the future. People need reasons for saving something and this might be the only reason why our oceans are being conserved.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Ghostly Signs

I am so sorry about my overdued blogs that i wanted to put up. There were just so much stuff i got to do, so much leave to clear and stuff. Hiakz, finally i get to say "ORD LOHZ!"

Ok first up, I was happening to read the papers today. Found a real interesting article. Its about this surfer cum professor, who went round Australia to find the best beach ever. Of course, he had to base his results on several factors, eg sand, risk of getting attacked by sharks and etc. Well, a thought passed my mind. What happens if he comes over to Singapore and grade our beaches. The catch here is that, we are only suppose to grade those factors that we want him to grade. Meaning, if we think that sentosa has nice sand, he can only grade the sand at sentosa with the best beaches in australia, nothing else. I was jsut wondering what he would say? Then, if we get some environmentalist and he is to grade our wildlife. What would he say?

Frankly, i would be real proud to bring the environmentalist around rather then that "beach expert". Reason? SImply because if i am to compare the beaches in Singapore with those overseas, I just feel that the beaches are so artifical... so fake! But look at the wildlife you can find here, i do think that its a pretty limited amount only, but hey! That little amount is pretty significant for our small dot on the globe yah.

Effects of Southern Islands development

"... the idea of linking Sentosa and the Southern Islands was discussed at length in the mid-90s. However, there was concern that this would reduce tidal flow of water around Singapore harbour. He said: "The water quality is fully dependent on the flushing effect of tidal currents passing between Sentosa and the Southern Islands. Without it, the water would just stagnate."

Read the full story by Teh Jen Lee, published in The New Paper, 31 Mar 04 and see "Grimacing over Southern Islands" at Habitatnews. See also Southern Shores of Singapore.

I'm not alone...

Incase you haven't realised, I'm not the only blogger here.
Three fellow hantu divers have been posting their big, little dive experiences in Singapore's most popular dive spot.
Some have had the opportunity of experiencing other dive sites around the Southern Islands, such as Mark, while others are newly bred champions of the ever surprising Ghost Island, such as Paul.
Then there's Sam, who's been fortunate enough to have visited some of the wrecks around the Southern Islands.
Scroll through their posts below and discover their adventures!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

TGIF @ Hantu

Some divers made a trip to Hantu over the Good Friday weekend a week ago. And they had some fantastic sightings!

A green turtle, nurse shark and blue spotted ray!

Those haven't been sighted for awhile, and it was thought that they've migrated.
This is good news.
Singapore isn't just an urban city without time or place for wildlife.
So far at least, the wildlife here has shown that it'll take more than silty waters to make them leave home!
Their resilience must be championed!
If the wildlife hasn't given up on this silted coral reef, how could we?

Monday, April 19, 2004

ADEX 2004 - Words

"I would like to see the dive commnuity being represented in conservation movements. It would be very powerful for divers, who are really ambassadors of the marine environment, to be seen and heard, representing and supporting marine conservation efforts." - Victor Wu, Wildaid

"You will find that the people who have volunteered to become guides at Chek Jawa or show interest and enthusiasim in the preservation of wild areas in Singapore, to have a high level of national identity." - N. Sivasothi, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

"It it much the onus of dive instrutors to educate and impose on new as well as existing divers, the importance of marine conservation and respecting the dive environment." - Stephen Beng, Seahounds

"Dive operators have to realise that it will cost more to repair coral reefs than to implement measures and make an effort to protect them." - Dr Peter Mous, The Nature Conservancy

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Live from ADEX

One more day at ADEX. If you haven't yet been down, all you need is a few hours to meet up with the people from Wildaid (booth 125), and the Nature Society of Singapore's Marine Conservation Group (booth 226). They have on sale, the beautiful coffeetable book, Unveiling our Seas, a story about marine life in Singapore waters.

See also Ocean Environment at booth 634 and 638, to teach yourself more about the marine environment.

Also, you should know there are tons of diver operators here from throughout the world and region! if you've been longing for a holiday in some exptic place, you have to visit ADEX. Coming to meet the dive operators means you get a chance to talk with them and assess if they are responsible dive operators. With just a few simple and innocent questions, you can find out if they're involved in reef conservation projects in their area, if they practice sustainable resort management (i.e. the use of septic tanks and recycled water, biodegradable toiletries etc) and if their resorts support the local communities in the dive area. Factors to consider to ensure your money is going to the right kind of operator. you don't want to put your money in a place that mistreats your beautiful dive area.

This morning at Hantu

My dive instructor commented this morning, how clear the waters around Pulau Hantu Besar are as compared to the waters within the port. "You can see it disctinctly, the colour of the water changes to an inviting light blue as you move closer to the island. It's very nice."

Spotted this morning was a small school of young fusilers, swimmer crabs, and an unidentified bream. THen of course, there are the beloved lizard fish and gobies, which skittish attitude keeps them forever in a somewhat alluring mystery.

The vis today wasn't at best - about a meter. the Current was also strong, BUT in different dive conditions, different animals can be seen.

"Here's where we saw the baraccua the last time!" comments one of the divers as we came close to the jetty.

Get out of the closet

Are you a Closet Greenie? This term mentioned by N. Sivasothi, Researcher at NUS' Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, at the first Seminar at ADEX 2004, refers to people who have an interest, concern and want to learn more about the environment. These are the people, usually without a formal background in conservation or scientific work or studies, or lack the resources and know-how to learn more. They have however, one very powerful asset - an interest. And with this interest they are constantly motivated to learn more, continuously nurturing their interest. These are the people who garner support and the unsuppressing pressure from the ground. These are the people who gave Chek Jawa its reprieve.
Are you a Closet Bluey?

Mirroring our neighbours

At this afternoons seminar on dive conservation and environment, Victor Wu, Campaigner for the Wildaid effort against shark finning, and Peter Mous, Science and Training Manager for the Nature Conservancy, brought to mention unsustainable fishing practices in Indonesia i.e. Cynide fishing, bomb fishing, long line fishing (where huge amounts of by-catch are caught including sharks, marine mammals and reptiles). These practices are believed to be spurred by increasing commercial demand for marine resources (primarily fish). Coastal villages find profitable resource from the sea, sparing little thought for marine ecosystems and the sustainability of their practices. One of the [many] issues mentioned where countries such as Indonesia which tolerate an ever increasing population (population of Indonesia now numbers 284 million) has pushed people to exploit the ocean more than ever both for commerce (stocks for export) as well as survival (for local consumption). Not just fish and not just target fish are suffering the pressure of increasing fishing but coral habitats and a phenomenal array of by-catch (including dolphins, whales and turtles) are ending up in fishing nets and long lines. Similarly it seems, the ever increasing population of Singapore and the demand for more land for housing and industry is pushing our coastline (literally) off existance. We may seem distinct from our neighbours, when in fact we, as with countries all over the world in a quest for ever more resources, are putting pressure on our marine environment, which has for so long, thought to be a renewable and inexhaustible resource. With the heightened awareness of course, and the ever growing number of concerned individuals, organisations and even governements, measures are being taken to realise each country's unique challenges set with the increase of population and consumers. There's much to be learnt from observing our neighbours and the steps being taken by nations all over the world to better understand and implement accordingly, steps towards preserving our environment.

Today at ADEX 2004

This year's ADEX was the first in 10 years to hold a seminar on dive conservation and environment. Michael Aw, Publisher of Asian Geographic and SCUBADiver Australasia said "this [seminar on dive conservation and environment] was a long time coming and I'm pleased." Aw was one of the delegates speaking at todays seminar. He gave insights to his work with Ocean Environment (ONE), an NGO that funds and gives grants to NGO and individual efforts to conserve the marine environment. A few things he mentioned of interest were Patch Reef surveys and Artificial reefs, which have been established in cooperation with dive operators in Indonesia's Manado and other small islands in eastern Indonesia. Patch Reef surveys was something novel to me, where an area of reef 20m by 30m in dimention and between a depth of 3-15m, with a good density of both vetebrate and invertebrate life. Divers spend a good one hour at this patch of reef and survey the number of species present. This number is than put into a local database as well as a global database in the ONE HQ in Australia. This effort has been taken up by conscientious dive operators who realise that the protection of reefs is a return investment. Divers are also made inturn to become aware of the efforts and issues surrounding the marine environment. They can also become a part of these reef surveys, which is a thrilling, eye opening and highly educational experience.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Nemo Talk

Because fish can't speak for themselves, Zeehan Jaafar will do so on their behalf.

She's holding a talk on these super popular fish on 1st May 2004 at 3pm at the Singapore International Foundation, Park Mall, 12th Floor, Asia Room.

Find out more or RSVP your attendance to the Blue Water Volunteers by 28th April 2004.

Attendance is FREE!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

What would you know?

You never know where your information might get you. I recently took a picture of a seahorse I spotted during a leisure dive at Pulau Aur and posted it on my personal album. I forwarded the address to a few friends I thought might be interested in looking at the pix and got a reply from a friend who happens to be a journalist for Malaysia's New Straits Times. She was in contact with a seahorse researcher, Choo Chee Kuang from KUSTEM. He contacted me and because I'd taken note of the habitat in which the seahorse was spotted i.e. substrate, depth, coral etc, I was able to furnish him with what little information I had.
Do you know something we don't? Keep sharing your stuff, and you'll find out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

ADEX this weekend

There will be a seminar at the 2004 Asian Dive Expo to be held at Suntec City this weekend. The best of all the seminars must be the one on Friday April 16 (13.00 - 17.00) about Dive Conservation & Environment. You have to pay to attend these seminars but I'm going anyway and you should too. See you there!!! Check out this link for more details.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Anti-fouling agents

Damage to marine life isn't always caused by something visible.

"Each day spent soaking in Singapore waters gives chemicals applied onto the hulls of ships, time to dissolve into the waters, killing marine life and affecting the food chain. There's little harm when one ship crosses the sea as the dissolved amounts are in less than trace values, but when hundreds of ships congreate and dock for days or weeks in Singapore, the concentration of leaked chemicals becomes significant. This affects the quality of the water both to people and marine life."
- Chemist Sylvain Tourel, German exchange-researcher at the NUS

*****

Anti-fouling paints are used to coat the bottoms of ships to prevent sealife such as algae and molluscs attaching themselves to the hull – thereby slowing down the ship and increasing fuel consumption.

The new Convention defines “anti-fouling systems” as “a coating, paint, surface treatment, surface or device that is used on a ship to control or prevent attachment of unwanted organisms”.

In the early days of sailing ships, lime and later arsenic were used to coat ships' hulls, until the modern chemicals industry developed effective anti-fouling paints using metallic compounds.

These compounds slowly "leach" into the sea water, killing barnacles and other marine life that have attached to the ship. But the studies have shown that these compounds persist in the water, killing sealife, harming the environment and possibly entering the food chain. One of the most effective anti-fouling paints, developed in the 1960s, contains the organotin tributylin (TBT), which has been proven to cause deformations in oysters and sex changes in whelks.

*****

Read more about anti-fouling agents on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) website

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Thoughts Reviewed

Been a long time since I last had my blog, and hey I do have quite a wee bit to say this time round.

I finally made a trip down to the Southern Islands myself with a few doggy companions last weekend. The sight that greated me totally took me by surprise. There were huge sand bunds piled up everywhere, and ships were chugging in and out of the many new channels. Everywhere i went, I could just smell the city. What ever happened to the clean salty breeze i used to experience?

When I did decided to take a short plunge into the water, i grew totally afraid, even my dogs seemed reluctant to do their "deflea-ing" session in the sea. The water was just horrendous, there was even an oily smell emitting from it. It just really pained me to wonder what had just happened beneath me, where all the corals grow. I just wonder if the world beneath me would be the same as before?

I finally made my way down to Hantu, hoping to dive the little pinnacle at the far western end. I was actually hoping to prove Lady D wrong, finding the pinnancle and meeting some old friend underneath would be just great. At least I could come back and tell Lady D that. Nevertheless, I sailed around for about 15 minutes, and i just couldnt find the particular buoy to anchor to and had to settle for a one nearer to hantu. When i popped down into the water, visibility was pretty good considering the tide was changing, and when i finned out to the pinnacle, all i could see was this huge pile of stones and broken coral lying the on sea bed. I mean, what could have happen to it? That pile of rocks used to be the home of an old friend, someone dear to me. Someone juveline and young. Someone I missed so much. Someone I could be able to brag to overseas dive resorts when they tell me SIngapore waters suxs.

I really wanted to see my Shark friend....

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Patient fisherment

I paid a visit to Labrador Park last night. The jetty was a little more crowded than other nights, with anglers and squid fishermen.

I asked one of the men catching squids how many he'd caught so far and he said about 7. 7 big ones.

Small fish gathered on the surface. It's wonderful to observe life in our waters. No matter how seemingly insignificant. It still means our ocean is not dead.

Soon enough, a squid was spotted getting near to the bait, and in a patient moment, a small squid was fished out of the water. "Oh this is a small one," he said. He unhooked it and just when i thought he was abt to return it to the sea bcos it wasn't a good catch, he asked the other fishermen ard that night if they wanted live bait. One hollered and the squid was his.

Small ones are made into baits, big ones are kept and consumed. Nothing is given a chance. I just wondered how sustainable that is. Though I don't fish, and have nothing against people who do, I do think it is only decent for those who seek the seas as a form of recreation to return it some respect. The fishermen threw their cigarette butts and bit of litter, broken lines and hooks into the sea. Shouldn't they be more concerned than anyone else, about the life in the ocean? They reap entertainment from it.

Just down the jetty on the break water, was a baby moray eel, about 2 and a half feet in length. It's corpse lay beaten with flies. This is my first sighting of an eel in Singapore waters, though dead. In its mouth was a fish hook and a broken line. If someone had fished it out, he was obviously more concerned abt the safety of his fingers and chose to leave the hook in the animals' mouth, possibly bcos of its formidable teeth. Otherwise, it would've been caught by a ghost line - irresponsibly disposed fishing lines on a death chant in the sea. Both ways, the significant death could have been prevented, with just a few more minutes of patience and just a split second of consideration.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Letter to URA

Written by Dr KHOO Ih Chu

23 September 2003
Mrs Koh-Lim Wei Gin
Chief Planner & Deputy Chief
Executive Officer
Urban Redevelopment Authority

[...]

We understand that under the Draft URA Master Plan 2003 that four marine sites of St John's island, P Hantu, P Semakau and P Sudong which were included in the Singapore Green Plan 1993 and reaffirmed in the Singapore Green Plan 2012, have not been designated as nature areas. We understand that the four marine sites might instead be used for ship anchorage purposes and the island areas will be used for related supporting facilities. Only Sister's Island was identified as a nature site.

[...]

The RSYC recognizes the need for a balanced approach in nature conservation and economic development for the prosperity of Singapore, Above all, we know that the waters around the clubhouse have among the highest concentration of industrial and port activities and that we are but a stone's throw away from the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Nonetheless, the club tries hard to enable our members and members of the public to enjoy the waters around the Southern Islands.

We agree fully with the URA motto of making Singapore a distinctive city, a great place to live, work and play. It would be a great pity if, as an island state, Singapore's citizens and residents were deprived of opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the natural environs of the surrounding waters and offshore islands. The surrounding waters off the Southern islands have long provided Singaporeans a much needed respite from the pressures of urban living. Scuba divers will attest to the richness of the coral reefs, never mind the murky visibility due to the high volume of marine traffic and reclamation/dredging. Fishermen still spend hours waiting for the biggest catch despite disturbance from neighbouring reclamation works. Sailors and boaters enjoy the idyllic open waters against the backdrop of industrial stacks and city skyline.

We fully appreciate the planners' concern “to keep our options open so as not to commit future generations” in the draft Master Plan. But we are also the guardians of Singapore for future generations. The conservation of the natural heritage and protection of biodiversity should form a cornerstone in the future development of Singapore.

Hence, we urge the relevant authorities to look into ways to safeguard the interests of the natural heritage of Singapore in the development planning process. This would go a long way in enhancing our quality of life. We believe that the authorities will make their utmost effort to minimise the impact of industrial development on nature and seek win–win solutions where possible.

The RSYC and our members are extremely interested to be kept informed of the plans for development for the Southern Islands and the surrounding waterways as and when they may be activated in the near future and would be glad to provide feedback and be involved in the consultative process on plans for usage of these areas.

Yours sincerely

Dr Khoo Ih Chu
Commodore
Republic of Singapore Yacht Club