The Blue Tempeh
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
  In search of Bluey...
Bluey is an absolute STAR! A SEAstar, that is. A knobbly one at that too! This is Bluey:

Bluey was adopted by the Blue Water Volunteers (BWV) on the 9th August during the IYOR 2008 celebrations:

On 19th August, Applecow and I went in search of Bluey on the extensive flat of the patch reef on Cyrene! We found and flagged >100 knobbly seastars on Cyrene that day (and were made honorary star trackers!!)...AND LOOOKIE HERE!!!! Have we found Bluey?? Sure looks like Bluey doesn't it???

It's Bluey, isn't it?! Look at those cute bumps, cute brown patterns! It's BLUEY!!!........Isn't it?? Well, according to Chim Chee Kong of Star Trackers, who is monitoring the body growth, survivorship, habitat utilization and movement patterns of knobbly seastar (Protoreaster nodosus) individuals at marine habitats in Singapore, it's NOT! BOOHOOOO!!!

Oh well, the search continues!!

(Yes, the fried tempeh is back...for now!)
Monday, May 22, 2006
  Singapore Sightings! DOLPHINS & DUGONGS!
One day, I went to cut my hair. I know it seems like this has nothing to do with Dolphins or Dugongs in Singapore, but just read on for a bit. SO! One day, I went to cut my hair. And while chatting with the hairdresser, I found out that she liked the sea as much as I do. I told her about my studying marine biology and she started to tell me about her snorkling trips and beach/sea holidays. She told me how she loves dolphins and how she went ALL THE WAY to Australia just to see dolphins in the wild! She recounted to me the way the dolphins were breaching and jumping out of the water and how they were so elegant and cute and wonderful and just so lovable. You could see she was getting quite excited because she kept waving her comb and scissors randomly above my head, trying to reenact the the dolphin movements. Frankly, I rather feared for the end result of my haircut. But it WAS Mahogany (there was a good student deal back then!), and I guess it would have been OK with me if my new haircut was a dolphin inspired one...

Then I told her. I told her, that just that last week, I had seen a port of dolphins off Sisters' islands, a couple of Singapore's southern islands. Silence. No more frantic scissor-comb combos. Then she pointed the comb at me and said accusingly, "YOU BRUFF ME, RIGHT! Singapore water where got dolphins want to come and stay!"

"GOOOOOOOTTTT!!!!" I replied. It was my turn to recount that fateful day when I saw my first port of dolphins in Singapore while she, thankfully, continued to cut my hair. And so we chatted and chatted. And she cut and cut. And when I was done with my stories about what else I've seen in Singapore waters, she was done with the best hair cut I've ever had!

I have NEVER EVER liked any haircut anyone has given me. I would always think that something was wrong somewhere and would continue hating it for another few weeks or so. But not with this one. It was REALLY REALLY great. Well, at least I thought it was really great anyway. For once, I was HAPPY with the haircut right from the start. That was in mid 2004. Two years and many dolphin sightings later, I still have the same hairstyle and my hairdresser is pregnant and telling me how she can't wait to show her kids dolphins.

Anyway, what I was trying to share with you is, in not so many words, Singapore waters is also home to DOLPHINS! More stories of dolphin sightings HERE. The most common dolphin we have here in our waters is the Indo-Pacific Hump-backed dolphins (Sousa Chinensis). Also known as the Pink Dolphin, Chinese White Dolphin, White Dolphin, Borneon White Dolphin, Lead-coloured Dolphin etc. Despite their varied colouration and common names, these dolphins are considered to belong to the same species of Indo-Pacific Hump-backed dolphins.

The Hump-backed dolphins usually occur in groups of ~3-8 animals, but aggregations of >20 has been seen before. These dolphins are shyer than their relative the Bottlenose dolphins, but they can be playful; breaching, slapping surface with their flippers or flukes, lifting heads clear of the water etc. They're also shy of boats, and do not "ride" alongside boats. Little is known about their reproduction, but gestation period has been suggested to be from 10-12 mths. They prey mainly on species that live on or near the ocean bottom and are associated with reefs or brackish waters of estuaries - including small fish, squid & octopus. (content taken from the "Guide to marine Mammals of the World" by the National Audubon Society)

Hump-backed dolphins do not usually get stranded. These dolphins are known to make their home in shallow waters over mudflats and reef flats, even entering mangroves and is said to be able to hump its way over mudbanks to deeper waters should it get stranded (Sigurdsson & Yang, 1990).


So, it was a rather interesting situation we found ourselves in when, after dinner last night, Zeehan got a phone call alerting us of a dolphin carcass beached up along the Marina South breakwater. It had been a long day already by then, what with Reef Friends survey dive at Semakau (currents, bad visibility, rain, thunder, lightning, confusion), and a pigging out session at NYDC. But upon hearing the news of the dolphin carcass, we (Zeehan, myself, Abby and Safia) got excited and rallied down to the Lab to put together a dolphin carcass "investigation" kit before heading down to the Carcass Scene. Our CSI (Carcass Scene Investigation) kit included torches, sample bottles (for tissue samples), alcohol, bags, face masks, a guide book, booties, knife and Abby's perfume (we expected the worst for carcass stench - which was not really that much in the end).

The dolphin carcass

Notice the ribs of the dolphin sticking out of the long cut from its side (just behind the visible flipper).

Here is and account by Zeehan of the dolphin carcass find:
"We arrived at about 8pm at Marina South and the tide was rising. The dolphin was fast being covered by the incoming tide. Dr Chua, Ashley and Jani took photographs. The beak of the carcass caused it to be lodged amongst the rocks at the breakwater. It looked like a female carcass (1.8m from beak to tail) of the Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphin with a long longitudinal (down from forelimb to tail) laceration on its ventral (front) side. It was most likely hit by a boat propeller. It was also very decomposed, hardly any blubber or tissue left but not very smelly. We dislodged the beak and took more photos. The lower jaw was broken and all meat/tissue was already gone from the beak. Some ribs were jutting out of the frame and many superficial lacerations all over the body especially on the head (as pointed out by May Li) but these could be due to the carcass being tossed about by the waves. The initial plan was to salvage whatever we could especially tissue sample but the carcass was badly decomposed, probably more than a week and the tissue integrity would have been poor. In the event that the carcass is fresh, it would be a great opportunity to obtain tissue samples as RMBR (Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research) is setting up a tissue bank."

Zeehan trying to dislodge the dolphin from the breakwater and straighten it up for its length measurement.

From beak to tail: ~1.8m.

The Hump-backed dolphins (Sousa chinensis) are not the only kind of dolphins that have been sighted in Singapore. Other dolphins such as the Bottle-nosed dolphin (Turniops truncatus) and the Irrawady dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) have also been occassionally sighted in our waters. Other marine mammals sighted in Singapore waters include the Finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and the DUGONG (Dugong dugon).


In fact, just LAST WEDNESDAY (18 May 2006), a dugong was sighted at Chek Jawa. A contractor for the board walk being constructed at Chek Jawa had reported seeing a dugong surfacing while at work. This report is an exciting one since it's been some time since the last live sighting of a dugong (1998)! Villagers who used to live by the coasts of Pulau Ubin said that they would often get "visits" from families of dugongs. It's not surprising since P. Ubin has one of the last standing crops of seagrasses, the food of the dugongs. Sadly, however, the contractor also mentioned that he saw some sort of net around the dugong's neck.

Although there are no records of any whales sighted in Singapore, there has been a whalebone whale reported from Singapore waters (Sigurdsson & Yang, 1990). Although there are no official records, Mr. Loh, our trusty bumboat-man, has related to us how one fine day long time ago when we was younger, he saw a WHALE of a shadow (pun intended) next to his boat as he was driving his boat around Singapore waters. The animal, whose shadow indicated that it was as big as the bumboat, did not breach the surface but stayed alongside the boat for some time before disappearing. Mr. Loh also recounted how he had felt very nervous for himself and his boat (for which he had taken a loan from his dad to pay).

Link to the Habitatnews blog for more dolphin sightings (with stories, photos and video):

Thursday, April 13, 2006
  Diving in Singapore: A tribute part II
Hundreds of dives in Singapore reefs and still wanting more. I've dived in "world-class" dive sites and, sure, they are amazing in their own rights. But I can bet you, nothing beats the thrill of diving in my own backyard.

I don't know what compelled Sydney Chew, president of AQUOS Pte Ltd and apparent project leader of Project NOAH to say that there are only TWO DIVE SITES in Singapore open to the public (during the NSS Conservation Chat last night)! Here I present you otherwise. ENJOY! DIVE IN!

Pulau Hantu
Pulau Hantu’s reefs have been known to hold rich marine life, with many new records of nudibranchs and gobies currently being found there. Currently, 2 x 100m stretches of Pulau Hantu’s reefs are being surveyed and monitored by the Blue Water Volunteers (BWV) since 2003. The Marine Biology Laboratory (National University of Singapore) also does biennial surveys of fixed monitoring sites at Pulau Hantu. Survey sites are located on the western side of P. Hantu and encompass both the fringing and patch reefs.

The reefs around Pulau Hantu are also probably the most dived by local recreational divers, even being used by dive operators to teach openwater dive courses. This is probably due to P. Hantu’s accessibility and sheltered reefs. It takes only approximately 20 – 30mins by boat to reach P. Hantu from mainland Singapore, and has relatively calm waters on normal days – being surrounded by P. Bukom, P. Busing, P. Ular and a patch reef.

Huge colonies of corals found at the fringing reef of Pulau Hantu

The Hantu Blog has also been running regular dive trips to P. Hantu with aims to spread conservation and education messages about our local reefs. A new programme, Reef Friends Xplore! have also trained dive guides to showcase our local underwater marine life to divers, increase awareness and educate the public about marine conservation issues in Singapore. A collaborative effort between BWV, the Hantu Bloggers and Gilldivers, Reef Friends Xplore! will also cover Kusu Island as another dive site.


Kusu Island
Unlike P. Hantu, the reefs of Kusu Island are not as well known to recreational divers. This is probably due to the time taken to reach it from mainland Singapore (45 – 60min) by boat, and its exposed reefs – waves can reach well over 1m in bad weather or windy conditions during the northeast monsoon. Currently, BWV and the Marine Biology Laboratory (NUS) are monitoring a 100m stretch of reef at the northeastern side of Kusu Island using Reef Check ( and Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) Line Intercept Transect (LIT) (

This island is open to public and divers who have had the opportunity to visit Kusu Island’s reefs have commented on its rich marine life and uniqueness. Kusu Island’s shallow reefs are home one of the highest densities of anemones and anemonefishes known in Singapore. Deeper, 2m-wide seafans have been observed. Kusu Island is part of the Saint John’s group of islands that has been designated as a Marine Nature Area in 1996 under the care of Sentosa Leisure Group, administered by the National Parks Board, with the Police coast guard providing some enforcement.

Just between you and me, Kusu is my favourite dive site. Interestingly enough, I had a short dive there just last week with a new dive buddy. Upon surfacing, he commented on what rich life he saw, and said that he saw more things at Kusu than when he went to Aur/Dayang/Tioman! Oddly enough too, I had another dive buddy who said the exact thing some time back during his first dive there!


Pulau Jong
Pulau Jong is a tiny island (<1 hectare or 0.01km2) with an extensive cigar-shaped reef that covers an area more than six times its landmass. Due to its location and size, P. Jong’s reefs can experience strong and tricky currents of up to 3 knots, and choppy waters in bad weather conditions and during the monsoon season. It is, however, dive-able in the right conditions and time. BWV has also been monitoring a 100m stretch of reef at the eastern side of P. Jong since 2004 using Australian Institute of Marine Science Line Intercept Transect and Reef Check methods.

Doryrhamphus janssi, a new record of pipefish found at Pulau Jong late last year

Although survey results did not indicate high live coral cover (data published on the Coral Reef of Singapore website,, it was observed to have rich fish life. Black-tip reef sharks and schools of parrotfishes, which have rarely been seen on other reefs in Singapore, have recently been recorded there. In 2005, a new record of pipefish has also been found there. It has been observed that away at the southeastern end of P. Jong’s reefs, live coral cover is higher than what has been surveyed by BWV. P. Jong is also the last untouched island and coastline in Singapore, unlike P. Hantu and Kusu Island that have been reclaimed in the 1970s and 1980s respectively. Due to this, BWV is planning to survey more sites around the reefs of P. Jong.



Saint John's Island
Open to public, Saint John's reefs hold underwater many gems. Currents here can be from mild to mad, depending on the timing and the site that you dive at (as for all reefs found in Singapore, timing is important). However, some parts of Saint John's can be divable at all times (currents are mild, if any). Photos of marine life found at Saint John's HERE.
Coral reef monitoring done by Marine Biology Lab, NUS.

Lazarus Island
Located just next to and connected to Saint John's Island via a land bridge, Lazarus's reefs hold interesting surprises despite the extent of which it has been reclaimed. See blog entry about Lazarus. More photos of Lazarus HERE.
Coral reef surveys done by Marine Biology Lab, NUS.

Pulau Semakau
Open to the public as a recreational nature area since 2005, P. Semakau has one of the largest extents of seagrass and reefs in Singapore. P. Semakau not only has a fringing reef, but also 2 patch reefs off its western side. Things like the elusive Barramundi cod has been seen here before in addition to razor fishes, sweetlips, pipefishes, nudibranchs and many more. Photos from a BWV survey trip HERE.
Coral reef surveys done by 1)Marine Biology Lab, NUS and 2) BWV.

Sisters' Islands
Also open to public, these islands are part of the designated Marine Nature Area in Singapore. Huge seafans and many seawhips can be found aplenty here.
Coral reef surveys done by 1)Marine Biology Lab, NUS and 2)BWV.

Labrador reef
A nature reserve, one can dive at Labrador reef. However, dive training is not allowed to be conducted here under NParks regulations. As a nature reserve, collection of any sorts is not allowed within Labrador. Collecting/harming any organism within the park carries a fine of up to S$50,000 or 6 months imprisonment, or both. Photos HERE. The last official coral reef survey at Labrador was done by the Marine Biology Lab, NUS in 1998.

Pulau Salu
Open to divers on the weekends, divers have spotted things like nurse sharks and reef sharks here before. Supposedly high in live coral cover, I personally have not dived here before. Blog entries of diving at P. Salu HERE and some photos HERE.

Sheltered, exposed, macro-life, large fishes... Singapore's dive sites vary in what they have to offer. Each island, as a dive site, holds unique characteristics. I can personally say I sometimes am spoilt for choice. Yes, our visibility might not be as good as Hawaii, but Singapore has life, variety, DIVERSITY. Our visibility ranges from <1m to 6m, and on good days, you'd be surprised to SEE what you SEE. It might be murky at times, but under that murkiness hides a myriad of marine life that we should treasure and nurture! As a million other people have probably said before, Singapore is not Manado or some world-class dive site, Singapore might not be perfect...but this is our home. These dive sites/islands/reefs I have shared with you do not have clear waters with 20m visibility around them, but these are the homes of our coral reefs and the fishes and other animals that live in them. We should embrace them, and nurture them, and protect them, so that our coral reefs can flourish for all to see.


Cyrene reef
A patch reef in the middle of busy shipping traffic. Photos HERE

Buran reef
Also a patch reef in the middle of shipping traffic. GREAT GREAT reef. Photos HERE.

Pulau Tekukor
Administered by Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), P. Tekukor is not open to public (yet, I hope). Some photos of reef at P. Tekukor HERE.

Raffles Lighthouse
Raffles Lighthouse or P. Satumu used to be open to public. Security and safety issues has made it a restricted area. Raffles Lighthouse's reefs has one of the highest live coral cover in Singapore. Monitored by BWV as well as the Marine Biology Lab, NUS, this site is full of colour and life! Nurse sharks, reef sharks, large groupers, schools of fishes, nudibranchs, crabs, shrimps, crinoids... pretty much FULL of LIFE. See photos HERE. Corals here have also been monitored for the MASS SPAWNING event.

P. Sudong, P. Senang & P. Pawai
Owned by MINDEF these islands are not open to the public. The wreck at Sudong has been a dive locale for some time, but the reefs around the island have not really been explored before.

P. Biola
Also another MINDEF island not allowed for diving by public, this island hold an extensive reef flat.

Sedimentation associated with land reclamation and sea-bed dredging is one of the highest threats to Singapore's reefs right now. Having said that, we experience no damaging fishing methods (e.g. blast fishing, trawlling) and minimal physical damage from other activities (trampling, anchoring etc). Our reefs do not suffer from outbreaks of coral diseases or crown-of-thorns seastar, and our geographic location shelters our reefs from storms and other natural events. Although affected by the global mass bleaching event of 1998, that coincided with the El Nino, up to 75% of our bleached corals recovered within a year. No further mass bleaching events have been reported.

Our marine environment is still very rich just where they are. If we take care of the corals that we have right now, and take measures/steps to nurture them, we might just be able to conserve and protect them for our children and our children's children to experience.

A Marine Conservation Journal of Events and Sentiments.

Blue Water Volunteers

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  • In search of Bluey...
  • Singapore Sightings! DOLPHINS & DUGONGS!
  • Diving in Singapore: A tribute part II
  • A tribute to Singapore's coral reefs. PART 1.
  • RF Xplore! explores Pulau Hantu...
  • Forty winks and more!
  • Island hopping: Saint John's, Lazarus & Semakau!
  • Saint John's ROCKS!: Nudibranch dive
  • Diving diving diving!

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