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Sisters' Islands Marine Park Dive Trail

27 Jun 2015

To encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore’s marine biodiversity, NParks will be opening Singapore’s first dive trail located at Pulau Subar Laut or the Big Sister’s Island, Sisters’ Islands Marine Park in the third quarter of 2015. The creation of the Park was first announced at the Festival of Biodiversity 2014, and since then, NParks has initiated public activities like the monthly guided intertidal walks as well as the soon-to-be-launched dive trail. These low-impact activities will continue while NParks undertakes a feasibility study that will help us plan sustainable activities within the Marine Park while enhancing the existing habitats and the biodiversity they support.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Pilot Dive Trail will be marked with underwater signboards that will serve as both station markers and underwater educational resources. Divers will also be encouraged to contribute towards the upkeep of the dive trails, for example, by helping to sweep off accumulated algae on the station signboards using the attached cleaning brushes.

NParks will be conducting pilot dives with a selected group of leisure divers with varying levels of experience to assess the suitability and functionality of the dive trail and to implement activities that will provide the best dive experience.

Shallow and deep trails

Two separate trails with varying depths have been established at the pilot site. Approximately 100m in length, the shallow trail will take divers around a circuitous loop to a maximum depth of 6m, and the deep trail will reach a maximum depth of 15m. Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs which will bring their attention to the variety of marine biodiversity and reef features present in Singapore’s waters. To encourage participation in our Citizen Science program, some stations will engage divers in simple biodiversity or water quality surveys. The minimum requirement for those who wish to dive at the trails is an Open Water Diver certification.

  Shallow trail (maximum 6m depth)
Deep trail (maximum 15m depth)
Required diving skill for best experience
Experienced Open Water Divers and above with good buoyancy control
Open Water Divers and above
Visibility
1 – 5 m depending on weather conditions
Marine ecosystem

Coral reefs

Sandy habitat

Coral rubble

Rocky and silty habitat

About the Shallow Trail

The Shallow Trail is characterised by higher light levels and consequently higher hard coral cover as compared to the Deep Trail. Some corals along the Shallow Dive Trail were salvaged from reefs in Singapore that were threatened or designated for reclamation. They were relocated to the reef at the Shallow Trail and their condition is currently being monitored.

Biodiversity highlights

Feather-duster Worm
Feather-duster Worms are bristle worms (Polychaetes) that live in leathery tubes, which are often embedded within coral skeletons. The feeding bristles that extend from the tube capture plankton from the surrounding waters.
Giant Clams

Giant Clams

(Picture credit: NParks)

The mantle of a Giant Clam is sensitive to light and retracts when divers swim over it. Giant Clams have a row of eyespots along the edge of the mantle to detect potential danger. When they sense danger, they withdraw into their shells for protection. Giant Clams obtain food from algae that live within them and filter the seawater for plankton.
Hard Corals








Hard Corals have hard calcium carbonate skeletons and come in many different shapes and forms, each adapted to specific environments:

- Boulder Corals are robust and form the framework of coral reefs. They are able to withstand strong energy forces like wave action and currents;

- Mushroom Corals are free living individuals or colonies and can be moved passively by the action of waves or currents.

- Plate or Foliaceous Corals are usually thin and fragile, and can cover large areas on our reefs. Their form allows them to harvest light efficiently, and is thus able to grow at deeper depths along the reef slope than the other growth forms.

Sea anemones  and clownfish

Sea anemone and clownfish

(Picture credit: NParks)


Sea anemones feed on plankton and other suspended particles which are caught using specialised stinking cells on their tentacles. Clownfish live among sea anemone, and feed on the plankton and algae growing around the organism.

Schooling fish

Schooling fish

(Picture credit: NParks)

Fish swim in groups (known as schools) for safety. A moving "cloud" of fish confuses predators, making it harder to single out an individual to attack. Some schooling fish that can be found at the reef include the Yellowtail Fusilier and Damselfish.

About the Deep Trail

The Deep Trail is characterised by lower light levels as compared to the Shallow Trail. It is located towards the end of the reef slope of the Big Sister’s Island, and reaches a maximum of 15m depth. Visibility — which is affected by the amount of suspended particles and algae in the water — is also lower at the Deep Trail.

Biodiversity highlights

Sea fans

Sea fans

(Picture credit: NParks)

Sea fans are brightly coloured animals closely related to the corals. Each fan can grow to over one metre in size. The wide side of the fans is usually oriented to face the flow of the currents and they are often covered with colourful feather stars that use the sea fans as a convenient perch.

Sponges

Sponges

(Picture credit: NParks)

Sponges are simple reef animals that do not possess the usual nervous, digestive or circulatory systems that are common in many animal groups. They are also known as “pore animals” as their surfaces are covered with tiny pores that lead to complex networks of tunnels. Through the action of specialised cells, they are able to maintain a constant flow of seawater through their bodies where they filter plankton and suspended particles.

Sea stars

Sea stars

(Picture credit: NParks)

Sea stars are related to sea cucumbers, sea urchins and featherstars, which all commonly have a five-point body symmetry. Sea stars like the Cushion stars and Icon stars are general feeders, crawling slowly along the reef graving on the surfaces to feed on algae and other available organic material.

Soft corals

Soft corals

(Picture credit: NParks)

Soft corals, unlike their close relative ie the hard corals, do not have a hard skeleton. Instead, they have bits of calcium needles (sclerites) embedded within their tissue to give them support. Some species are delicate with a translucent main trunk and short branches. They may host symbiotic shrimps, porcelain crabs or brittlestars within their branches.

Nudibranch

Nudibranch

(Picture credit: NParks)

Nudibranchs or sea slugs are molluscs that only have shells during their larval stages. Most nudibranchs have brightly coloured bodies that serve to warn potential predators that they are poisonous as their bodies are able to accumulate toxins from the food that they eat. Other nudibranchs, like the Solar Nudibranch, acquire algae from their food which allows them to photosynthesize like plants.

Dive windows and regulations

NParks will work with dive operators to facilitate guided dive trips at the Pilot Dive Trails that they can offer to their diving customers. NParks will regulate the diving activities based on suitable dive windows and will maintain a cap on the number of divers allowed during each window to ensure minimal damage to the reefs and avoid overcrowding at the trails. Dive windows will be limited to periods when currents are suitable for diving, which will be determined using hydrodynamic predictions for the site. It is estimated that there will be several days with suitable dive windows in any given month.

To ensure dive safety while safeguarding the reef habitat, only dive operators that meet all necessary criteria and who agree to adhere to regulations will be approved to conduct the guided dives. Regulations that include prohibitions on the removal or collection of any living or non-living components of the reef will be imposed to safeguard the reef habitat and biodiversity within the Marine Park. The cost of the dive trips will be set independently by operators, and may differ based on the types of packages and the services they offer.

Visitor information

The pilot dive trail will be ready for public access by end September 2015. Interested members of the public can sign up for the dive trails by contacting the list of approved operators, which will be finalised and announced on the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park website.

 

Last updated on 09 July 2018

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