(written by Nate Tschaenn, photographs by Abby Johnson)
On our last full day in Singapore, we took a trip away from the many tall buildings of mainland Singapore to a smaller, largely uninhabited island on the northeast side of Singapore called Pulau Ubin.
In the morning we met with Dr. Robert Teo, assistant director of the park at Palau Ubin, who described some of the work National Parks has been doing on the island. The name Palua Ubin roughly translates “granite island” and several granite quarries once operated on the island. The quarry industry, along with the farming of various crops like rubber and coconuts, left the island badly damaged. In 1977 National Parks started to manage the island to protect and restore the biodiversity of this area. Since this time 254 new species of plants have been recorded in Singapore and 69 species once thought extinct in Singapore were rediscovered.
After our meeting, we were shown the butterfly garden, which attracts 80 different species of butterflies. We were also given a tour of the sensory trail where we had the opportunity to see, touch, smell, and taste many interesting plants. While on the tour we were very lucky to see a hornbill, a beautiful bird that had once been driven off the island due to the destruction of its natural habitat by the quarry and agricultural operations.
After lunch we visited Chek Jawa, a wetland park on the far eastern side of Pulau Ubin. Here we had a fantastic tour through the wetlands and were able to see a variety of ecosystems in this one area, including mangroves, sandy beach, rocky beach, seagrass lagoon, coral rubble, sand bar, and coastal forest. The whole area was teeming with life, and we were able to spot beautiful birds, crabs, and lots of funny looking mudskippers. In December of 2001, Check Jawa was saved from a planned reclamation project that would have destroyed this natural area. Volunteers conducted a biodiversity survey and convinced the government to suspend the project, at least temporarily. We were certainly lucky to have been able to experience this beautiful park and hope that Singapore will continue to preserve these unique habitats.