Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mysterious patch reefs of Singapore

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was at Semakau and I saw several patch reefs in our waters.

With my now-dead trusty camera, I zoomed 10x and captured this mysterious patch reef opposite Semakau intertidal shore. It seems to have some coral rubble, sandy patch and green, which probably means the presence of seagrass. Looks like an exciting place to explore! Opposite is Pulau Hantu at the background.

I went back to check out what this reef is called and found out it is Terumbu Raya.

What is Terumbu? Terumbu from the Malay-English dictionary is a reef covered during high tide, but exposed during low tide.

In fact, the Geo Names website listed a whooping thirty Terumbu that can be found in Singapore. Imagine thirty more shores to explore, thirty more shores with probably undiscovered or unrecorded creatures!?

I transferred each coordinate and label painstakingly into Google Earth (lazy to find any shortcut to do this) and plotted the thirty Terumbus of Singapore! Click on each map to see the unshrunk version.

Let us explore each zone properly ok?

Unfortunately, many Terumbus in the Jurong Island region have became part of this gigantic island. There are still a couple still not buried by reclamation like Terumbu Serebut and Terumbu Busong. But will they survive the future expansion of Jurong Island?

Moving eastwards, we have three Terumbus! Of course we know Terumbu Pandan, also affectionately known as Cyrene Reef! More about this special reef later. There is this Terumbu Retan Darat just off West Coast Pier but we never got to see it everytime we depart or alight at the pier. Hmm, did it got blasted off for ships to travel in that lane?

I don't know why Pulau Palawan appeared in the list though it is not named Terumbu. But Singaporeans, especially those who like to go Sentosa will have heard of Palawan Beach, an articifical beach filled with white sand that buried the original coral fringing reef.

I've seen Pulau Palawan everytime I take the ferry to and fro St John's Island. It is now an island (rather isolated from the rest of the man made islands of Sentosa) bordered with breakwater. However, the hydrological charts reveal to me that there are tiny fringing coral reef around this island/Terumbu. Cool!

Southwards, we have this lone Terumbu Selegi near St John's, Sisters and Pulau Tekukor.

Here's the massive list of Terumbus surrounding Semakau and Hantu. Yet again, some Terumbus became part of the Semakau landfill but some are still in the phase two lagoon! That explains why we see patches of land inside the phase two lagoon during low tide.

If you are extra observant, you might notice a huge patch of reef unlabelled just next to Terumbu Bemban. What exactly is the name of this mysterious reef???

Actually that patch is not a Terumbu but a Beting. The name is Beting Bemban Besar. Beting in Malay means sandbar. Probably there will have a lot of sand than coral reef. Nearby is another Beting, Beting Kapal in the middle between Bukom and Sentosa. I've not seen this reef during low tide, could it have been blasted off too?

Interestingly, we also have a couple of Betings or sandbar in the north! Beting Kusah is now part of Changi Airport already. But we still have the ever stunning Beting Bronok, at the north of Tekong.

Beting Bronok is a very special shore with many sea stars, urchins, soft corals, nudibranches etc. It faces Johor.

And just July this year, we found this Bordered sea star that we have not seen before in the intertidal area. This was a really fascinating find at least to me.

What about the Terumbu? Has anyone explored any of them? Jani shared some of her diving experiences in her The Blue Tempeh blog.

We are really fortunate to have the opportunity to explore Cyrene Reef (Terumbu Pandan) which is a really magical patch reef with rich marine biodiversity despite being in the middle of shipping lane with heavy traffic. In addition, this reef is surrounded by oil refinery at Bukom, port at Pasir Panjang and industrial installations at Jurong Island. It is with awe that this reef is still so rich!

And why are such mysterious patch reefs important? Because they may house creatures that we have never sighted before in Singapore like this Pentaceraster mammillatus sea star which was even featured in The Straits Times.

Sadly, not all thirty Terumbus and four Betings are present now. A good example will be Terumbu Bayan. Terumbu Bayan, a reef between Pulau Hantu and Pulau Bukom, was reclaimed to create more land on Pulau Bukom for the industrial installations there. (Photo by Ria Tan)

Bayan means clear in Malay, so probably this reef had clear waters before the reclamation works. Imagine Singapore's water that is as clear as the pristine reefs of of other countries.

Just before it was gone, a salvage operation was conducted to collect specimens before the place goes to be buried. I found this photo with Jani in this flickr page. More photos from Siva's blog.

Hopefully, before more reefs disappear, we could have a look of what we actually have in Singapore. These patch reefs are mysterious because it is hard for a boat to land on since there is no proper jetty and that these reefs will be submerged after a few short hours of low tide.

The list of Terumbus and Betings are definitely not perfect, as some may have been missed out. They are indeed mind boggling and hopefully in the future we will know more about them.

IF you have the privilege of visiting any of the Terumbus, please feel free to leave some words of your experiences in the comments portion of this post. Will be delighted to hear your adventure. :-)


Ria Tan said...

What a fabulous post! Thank you for painstakingly marking out all those mysterious reefs!

We shall indeed try to explore as many as we can in 2009!

Ivan said...

Thanks for this very informative post! You must have put in a lot of effort in mapping out all these reefs (and ex-reefs). Indeed, who knows what lies out there, unseen and undiscovered?

aestheticvoyager said...

Amazing! Really appreciate the hard work and am filled with greater awe for our reefs.

SJ said...

BRAVO! Neat work! This is so informative! I believe this would be an all-time favourite blog post.

I know for sure coz I'm putting it into my favourites! Hahaha.

Joe Lai said...

A marvellous piece of work lovingly and passionately done! Congrats!

Unknown said...

Glad to know that this post was helpful and informaive! :-)

I have unfortunately still missed out a few more submerged reefs of Singapore like Terumbu Buran (between Sentosa and Lazarus Island), Terumbu Salu (between P. Salu and P. Sudong), Terumbu Berkas Besar (between P. Sudong and P. Pawai), Terumbu Palat and Terumbu Menalong (between Sudong and Semakau).

It's amazing that we have so many reefs in Singapore!

matinggeckos said...

Nicely done.

We have been to Terumbu Raya once 2-3years back. If I remember correctly, mostly sand bar and coral rubble habitat with patches of Enhalus.

All the Terumbus are crying out for someone to survey them comprehensively. 'The Terumbus of S'pore' will make an excellent scientific paper/report/book :)


Unknown said...

Hi Robin, Great to hear about Terumbu Raya from your trip.

I too wish that there will be publications and surveys on the terumbus of Singapore. That will be like a dream come true.

greengardn said...

You're like the Terumbu Guru dude! Really great work man!

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