Singapore is not exactly known for its abundant nature and wildlife, but despite its small size there are some more rural areas. That’s what I discovered when I went on a daytrip to Pulau Ubin, an island just a 10 minute bumboat ride off the mainland. It is often considered the last village (“kampung”) in Singapore and boasts some flora and fauna that can’t be found on the mainland. Indeed, setting foot on this small island is like stepping into a different world when arriving from the bustling city. The few residents here live without modern public utilities and rely on farming and fishing.
Pulau Ubin can either be explored by bike or on foot, and I decided to go for a walk to get a better look at the plants and animals. The Tree Trail is an interesting walking trail highlighting some of the main plants found on the island. As Pulau Ubin was used for granite mining and farming, a lot of the original vegetation was cleared for the cultivation of rubber and crops. Some crops I spotted along the way were coconut, pineapple and banana. Another common sight along the trail are durian trees.
Candlenut (Aleurites moluccanus) is native to the Indo-Malaya region and, after introduction in Singapore, has been commonly planted in kampungs because all parts of the tree have a use such as for medicine, food, dyes and construction. The nuts are rich in omega-3 oil and are said to relieve constipation in crushed or roasted form. The sap can be used to heal insect bites and sores.
On our walk through the forest, we also spotted some common animals: a (big) spider, a wild boar family, long-tailed macaques and monitor lizards. Boars preferably eat the coconut here. The monkeys are very cheeky and like to steal from inattentive visitors.
One of the most interesting places on Pulau Ubin in terms of wildlife is Chek Jawa Wetlands, one of Singapore’s richest ecosystems. Chek Jawa has a diverse marine wildlife, which can be observed in the intertidal areas, including sea hares, sea squirts, octopuses, starfishes, sand dollars, fishes, sponges, cuttlefishes and nudibranches. The mangrove swamps are also rich in biodiversity.
For example, Perepat trees grow in the oxygen-poor mud by sending out pneumatophores (breathing roots) sticking out of the mud. Depending on the tide, these trees spend quite some time half-submerged in the seawater.
The Attap/Nipah Palm also grows in mangrove conditions. Its leaves are used for roof thatching in “attap houses” and the flesh of the fruit is used in local desserts such as ice kacang.
We could also observe some animals on the boardwalk through the mangroves: crabs (top and bottom left), mudskippers (top right) and horseshoe crabs (bottom right).
The male Porcelain Fiddler Crab is easily recognisable by its enlarged claw used for courtship and fighting. Mudskippers are fish and as such, breathe with gills, but they are adapted to the intertidal area and can stay out of water on the muddy or sandy flats for a while. They have eyes on the top of their head, which are visible on the photo.
Horseshoe crabs are considered “living fossils” because they originated 450 million years ago. They are not crabs or crustaceans, but more closely related to spiders. Interestingly (for a biology student like myself at least), horseshoe crab blood is highly sensitive to endotoxins and is used to detect the presence of bacteria in drugs and medical devices (LAL or TAL test). Some species of horseshoe crabs are endangered or vulnerable in Singapore, which is why the Nature Society started a conservation program.
Some species of animals that my friend told me are sometimes seen on Pulau Ubin, but that I couldn’t spot on my daytrip, are the Oriental Pied Hornbill, sand dollars and dugongs (very rarely).