Thursday, August 30, 2007

Study ecology at Labrador Park

After a two hour practical on how to design a rain guage and where to place them in the geography EARTH lab, had to rush over back to science faculty because today is our fieldtrip to Labrador Park for my module on Ecology and environmental processes. So much so that I had forgotten totally about my lunch for today..hhahaha.

The objective of today's fieldtrip is to learn how to study ecology by looking out for patterns regardless of scales and then derive a hypothesis out of it, following by divising of experimental setup and then to conduct it.

After a short and sweet briefing by our TA, we headed to the coastal forest to get ideas for our ecological observations. Only fished out my camera when I reached the shores, since its where my affinity lies. It was high tide and obviously the meadow of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii) were out of sight. From this photo, you can see out of the edge of the shore, something that looks like a long barrier extends out.

This barrier extending out is the cofferdam built on Labrador July last year. It aims to divert submarine services between Pasir Panjang and Pulau Bukom. By right, the intertidal shore of labrador stretches beyond the cofferdam as I discovered almost exactly one year ago for my ecological system project under Geography department. There were more seagrasses doing very well there too, but now all gone. Sorry consolation is there was a relocation of some marine sessile species.

Those who are concerned and wish to check out more about it can take a browse at wildfilms blog.

The coastal forest area near Labrador is highly dynamic. Landslides are real, usually triggered by lack of fauna cover or by heavy rain or any human impact which I have no idea. This one is really high, it stretches all the way up.

After a short digression to satisfy my curiosity on the shores, had to head back to the forest. Our group found a few interesting observations. Was told that ants form mould trails along the tree trunk. Didn't know about it, that's what you will realize if you take time to understand how nature works.

A hairy clidemia is always a great plant to show to friends because not only you can see it, you can also touch it. YES, you are right, it feels hairy, thus called hairy clidemia...Duh.

This tropical American species is the only non-native species which can invade good forest patches in the Nature Reserves, growing at fringe areas or open patches in primary and secondary forest like Labrador Park.

It should be destroyed wherever it grows to prevent it becoming more widespread in the forest areas of Singapore. Wow.

Don't believe? See it for yourself. These 'hairs' on the leaves or outgrowths of the epidermis (top level of cell in leaves) are called trichomes.

It functions to repel heat and provide insulation. It may also reduce water loss by reducing evapotranspiration (by reducing windspeed at air-leaf surface interface) and also may deter herbivores. Some of these hairs of other species can sting, thus discouraging walking or eating. Surprising, some hairs of some species of plant leaves can even secret salt.

Walking along the steep steps of the park, we started to work out on the chosen observation to study further.

This was the subject for our study... white leaf fig (Ficus glossularioides).

What is so interesting about this is that many ants like to gather at the base of the leaf where the leaf stalk or petiole connects.

The process of coming up with hypothesis, and with a simple and doable experimental setup within one hour is definitely not easy, there were many mistakes made along the way.

But the BEST way to learn is to learn from mistakes :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Outward Bound memories

Pulau Ubin has been a part of me since secondary school period. Usually I would like to go there to cycle and explore the rustic charm of this wild place. My love for this wonderful place deepened when my friends and I went to attend Outward Bound course about 6 years ago over a week at the western end of Ubin. That time, it was a totally different experience. Firstly, we set off from Punggol, not from Changi point. Secondly, we were visiting a totally unfamiliar area of Ubin. And thirdly, it's going to be a week long stay where we had the best of fun and bonding together.

I am full of envy when teaching scholars get to go to OBS together, not the awardees. Everyone could see they are so bonded after they returned, unlike Teaching awardees, we are so like strangers to one another. I even had to swallow sour grapes when I was working in Chek Jawa for my project like a mad cow when they kayaked past in a big group. How I wish I can have a taste of sea expedition :-)

A recent knowing of Pei Hao has brought me elated again as he has been interning in Nparks Ubin for past months. I've always asked him about has he been to Tg Tajam, the western end of Ubin (just like Chek Jawa is the eastern end) and how is it there (since OBS is there, I wanna know how is that place after I left).

When I visited Tajam six years ago, it was during a night solo walk. The western forest of Ubin is amazing with remnants of the old building foundations and also it is where you can find fireflies! This photo is taken on the jetty of Tajam. I remember there is a generator there too.

I was excited when Pei Hao sent me this photo of Tg Tajam when he went there a while ago. This place though looks unfamiliar, yet I still wish to visit one day, if possible of course.

During the course of my OBS course, I had a wonderful instructor who taught us the secrets of Ubin. We had land expedition instead of the kayaking sea expedition. And one of the stops, we visited Mr. Lim Chye Joo, headman of the island. Sadly, he passed away at a grand age of 101 last year.

It was also OBS that I knew about this highest point of Ubin... Puaka Hill. The view from this high point is really spectacular and I always "force" my cycling friends to make a treacherous climb up. But it is all worth it.

This is the House No. 1 before it now has already the visitor centre for Chek Jawa.

This must be one of the most interesting part. We had to build a raft out of materials and raft ourselves back to OBS. It started raining and the tide was going out. We had to head west, against the tides. We were struggling so hard to move forward, but the power of the tides made our displacement negative. We were pushed backwards instead! Hahaha... What a moment.

There's so so much to remember from this special one week stay. It has impacted me deeply as we learnt about what it meant by teamwork, perserverance, friendship and especially to appreciate and respect nature, God's wonderful creation.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Naked Hermit Crab preview at Chek Jawa

This morning was a cooling and cloudy one as "naked" fellow guides from Naked Hermit Crabs gathered at Ubin for our second recce to prepare for the upcoming walks starting September.

Upon reaching the information kiosk, we had a quick briefing by Ron, the top-"naked" one. We promised not to blabber more than 5 minutes on one station and after a quick introduction, we set up, this time starting from the coastal side.

Along the dirt track leading to the boardwalk, we stopped to talk about this plant called the sea lettuce. Who eats this plant? Very large atlas moths do. The little fan-shaped white flowers will eventually develop into a round fruit of diameter around 1cm. They have large and waxy leaves. The waxy layer is to prevent water loss from the leaves, especially on a hot day.

November, a promising geographer, then shared with us on the story behind Pulau Sekudu, or frog island. To know more about the tales behind how Pulau Sekudu and Ubin came about, join us soon on guided walks with the Naked Hermit Crabs.

As we walked along the newly-built boardwalk, Pei Hao shared that this 1.1km boardwalk took 18 months to complete, and the brown part which looks like wood is actually fibreglass-reinforced concrete. Why must a boardwalk be built? So that everyone can convenient visit Chek Jawa anytime, without being there to kill and stomp all the marine life to death.

Do you know that Chek Jawa has a rear beacon other than the front beacon? Apparently, they just set a solar panel above the triangular plate. Can you see?

When the tide comes in, so do the birds, like this majestic great-billed heron.

JOKE of the day (not find of the day): Is this five-armed BISCUIT star, originally made from factories, now found in Chek Jawa's boardwalk apparently.

There are people who treats the boardwalk as a wonderful picnic ground, no problems. Please bring back all your litters though. What is the point of letting the public accessible to one of the last wild places, yet we litter the place to death.

On the back of a sea hibisicus heart-shaped leaf, we can see the cotton-stainer bugs and these guys feed on the seeds of the sea hibisicus and these bugs can be very colourful with a cross on their back.

Interestingly, we can still be reminded of Chek Jawa's history as a village with a little jetty. Can you see the jetty remains of the foundations?

What are the big claws of these fiddler crabs for? For fighting? eating? or what? Learn more about them, join us yeah.

Very soon, a downpour arrived at the end of the coastal route and we were in no time found at house no. 1.

The rescue tank has new additions of fishes,

including this too.

We had a very productive debrief and much has been settled together with the lunch treat by Ria. And we are looking forward to share the wonders of Chek Jawa with you.

On our way out, we paid the green house of the Green Volunteers Network a visit and I was pleasantly enjoying all the exhibits and stuffs they have in there! Incredibly, this house runs without any electricity, good!

Lovely goodbye by the shriek wannabe ape.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Predawn at Little Sisters

School semester is starting very very soon. And the last series of low morning spring tides is also ending soon. Early in the morning at 0300, like-minded shore lovers gathered at Marina South Pier and I managed to get there together with Evelyn and Aaron through the kind ride from Pei Hao.

And this was where we headed to... Sisters. Little sisters! Not the usual Big sisters which the gang usually visits. Though it is a smaller place, it deserves a good check too right.

Chay Hoon found this small fish on the high shores which is Harry Hotlips (Plectorhinchus gibbosus). We were a little early and the outgoing tide was still flushing out.

Another fishy business which caught most of our attention must be this black frogfish. They employ their first dorsal spine as a fishing lure to attract prey. Can you see the bait on the fish? Isn't this guy interesting?

And do you know that frogfish has the fastest movement of all animal? It can open it’s mouth in a whooping 1/6000 sec, creating an almost vaccum sucking in water and prey.

Today at little sisters we saw many many fishes and gobies... And these two are the little bit more fanciful ones that I bothered to take out a camera to take a snapshot.

Now over to the crabby business. Ria found this ghost crab high up the shore. Why are they called ghost crabs? Is it because they look as pale as the white apparitions?

Nah... It is because they have this great ability to disappear from sight almost instantly like a ghost. It can move at a high speed up to sixteen km per hour and these guys, like ghosts, usually appear at night only.

Are you convinced it's like a GHOST?

More friendly to the sight our "beachfleas" like us will be these swimming crabs found aplenty at little sisters. I like the blue-green coloration on the shells. These swimming crabs have paddle-like legs which can help them to swim quickly.

This huge charismatic red egg crab possess bright warning coloration and is slow in motion. All these is because it is poisonous and you cannot kill their toxin even after cooking. Therefore, it doesn't have to run away from its dear life like swimming or flower crabs upon sight of any threats.

Pei Hao spotted this octopus on top of a coral. These guys are common on sister's shore but sometimes hard to spot as it can rapidly change its colors and body patterns in order to blend with its surroundings.

Yuchen, top-notched hunter seeker, was on all fours and he found this tiny and almost transparent anemone on the muddy substrate. Well done!

I started to pay attention to the more subtle lifeforms around too and spotted this whelk with two anemones attached to it. Anemones are a great way of defence if you don't know, simply because they can sting. It's just like tying durians around your body in a crowded shopping lane, everyone will "siam" or avoid you...hahaha.

Detail-focused Chay Hoon shared with me that there are more that meets the eyes of these algae. With a closer look, I was surprised to find many and many of these tiny centimeter long sarcoglossid slugs on the Bryopsis algae. Aren't they cute? You can only spot these only if you care and take time to appreciate.

I was also caught up with these guys on the rocky areas. Nerites' streamlined shape is round and smooth which allows the snail to avoid being washed off the rocks when it is splashed by waves and swept by currents.

The marine spider is named as marine as it can live in the sea. During high tide, it waits in air pockets among rocks or rubble but during low tide, it will come out and hunt. Also, these guys can also literally walk on water through its furry feet which can repel water. Nevertheless, it still prefers to walk on land. Can you believe these spiders are listed among the threatened animals of Singapore due to habitat loss.

Hard corals can be especially beautiful when they are in the waters with the polyp tentacles sticking out.

And that goes the same for soft corals. Look at this leathery soft coral, it is so huge as compared to the chopstick scale.

And when in water, the tentacles from each polyp or animal will become very obvious though it is only leathery when exposed in the air. Isn't it amazing?

Though it looks really nice, leathery corals are generally not welcomed in a marine tank as they can release substances that stunt or prevent the growth of hard corals nearby.

Walking along the reef flat near the jetty, I found this spider conch through the distinctive projections. From the top, it looks very well camouflaged but when you flip it to see its underside, you can see the guy inside.

And here's a close up to the guy in it. It pretty fun to see how it reacts to being exposed.

Towards the end of today's trip, Evelyn showed me her find of this feather star that is bright red in colour.

And look how graceful it turns out to be when it is opened up. Definitely a great find before we call it a day. Too bad however, I didn't managed to see the little sister's resident giant clam which Ria did.

As we were waiting for the late boat after a hearty breakfast prepared by Ria, was looking around and like how St John looks behind a glowing sunrise.

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