A Walk With Sea Creatures
Participants of the first Sisters’ Islands Marine Park guided walk admiring and snapping photos of a carpet anemone and its companion anemone shrimp in the lagoon.
Fourtheenth August 2014 dawned cloudy, but fortunately after a brief spell of drizzle, the rest of the morning stayed dry and cool. Just in time for the very first guided walk opened to the public to the Singapore’s first marine park, the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park.
My volunteer guides and I were extremely excited that particular morning, as we watched the participants show up one by one. One family even shared that they had bought their two young daughters brand-new bright-pink boots specially for their first intertidal walk! With the registration done, we ushered the participants up the boat for the approximately 30 minutes ride to the Sisters’ Islands.
The feather star is typically seen in the deeper parts of our local reefs, but it has decided to surprise some visitors this time round by appearing at the shallows.
With the lively conversations on board, the boat ride seemed short and we arrived on Big Sister’s Island in no time. Sisters’ Islands actually comprises two islands, one bigger than the other. Hence the bigger one is known as Big Sister’s Island and the other Small Sister’s Island.
The legend of the Sisters’ Islands was that two beautiful sisters lived in a village near the sea and were extremely close to one another. They met a pirate chief one day while drawing water from a well and he took a liking to the younger sister. The pirate chief took the younger sister by force back to his ship. The elder sister jumped into the sea in pursuit but started drowning. Seeing her older sister in peril, the younger sister broke free of her captors and jumped into the sea to save her. Unfortunately, both sisters drowned. The next day, villagers saw two islands appearing at the location where the two sisters had drowned.
A short introduction and safety briefing to participants before the start of the guided walk.
The participants were given a safety briefing on what they should and should not do during the guided walk, for example, not to touch anything on the trip and to walk in a single file behind their guide to avoid trampling on fragile marine animals. They were then split into three groups, each led by an experienced guide.
A long-spined Sea Urchin (Diadema sp.). They graze on algae and help to maintain a healthy algae population on our reefs.
The groups were then brought to three different parts of the lagoons to view marine plants and animals that are usually hidden from sight when the tide is high. The guides brought participants to areas of the lagoon where it is relatively dry, as the intertidal area is typically exposed for 1–2 hours during the spring low tides, which only happens a few days within a month.
Karenne, the guide of this group, explaining what corals are to the participants.
However, some marine animals like the giant clam and corals, are located further from the shore and can only be seen if participants are willing to venture into the ankle-deep waters of the lagoon.
A Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa). Unlike legends of clams trapping legs of unsuspecting swimmers and then consuming them, the Fluted Giant Clam feeds on food produced by the zooxanthellae (a kind of single-celled algae) that lives in its body.
Many of the marine animals had come out from their homes foraging for food.
The groups were shown the “usual suspects” which consist of organisms like the fluted giant clam, the carpet anemone and the pair of anemone shrimps that live together with it, common sea stars, moon snails (so called partly because of the shape of their shell and because many of the species are white), sea cucumbers, sponges, seagrass and many different species of hard and soft corals in various colours, shapes and sizes.
A Tiger Tail Seahorse (Hippocampus comes) with its tail hooked around a piece of algae to keep it in place amid strong currents as well as to camouflage itself.
This might sound silly, but I personally find great satisfaction whenever I hear the participants ooh and ahh when they were shown a marine life they had not seen before, except perhaps in documentaries.
Many of the participants commented that they had not known that such an amazing variety of marine life could actually be found in Singapore’s own backyard. They shared that they also appreciated the opportunity to experience discovering Singapore’s marine flora and fauna in their natural environment.
A frilly sea anemone (Phymanthus sp.) Anemones are related to corals and jellyfish and have stinging cells in their tentacles to help catch their prey.
The guided tour was over in a blink of an eye as everyone was so engrossed in closely examining the marine life.
The participants reluctantly had to leave the intertidal area as the tide was also beginning to flow into the lagoon. With the waters from the flooding tide lapping lightly at our feet, it felt as if Mother Nature was gently reminding us that it was time for us to leave as she was claiming back her portion of the sea.
A group photo of the happy participants to commemorate this wonderful experience.
Many participants mentioned that they will encourage their friends and family to sign up for the upcoming walks in November and December. But more than that, I hope they will now have a greater appreciation for and a greater interest in the conservation of our natural heritage.
For more information on how to register for the upcoming walks, please refer to the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park website at: http://www.nparks.gov.sg/sistersislandsmarinepark
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