There was a major stampede to see the splendid marine life of Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin when it was first ‘discovered’, which ironically killed off a good portion of the ‘discovery’. In order to protect this fragile inter-tidal treasure from further damage, NParks implemented restricted access. It built an elevated coastal and mangrove boardwalk as compensation. The Education Group visited the area during the spring low tide of 10 April 2011, guided by Tan Hang Chong, Edzra Iskandar, Boon Peiya, Timothy Pwee and myself.
As chief guide, Uncle Hang Chong was superb with the kids. He peppered our walk with lots of stimulating edutainment. Kids learnt that the giant Orb Web Spider that we usually see is actually the female. The males are the tiny ‘babies’ that hang around the periphery of the web, essentially leeching off the female’s catches. They have to be careful not to get chomped on by their ‘wife’ after mating, which unfortunately happens sometimes. Auntie Gloria then spotted a Water Monitor Lizard climbing up a coconut tree, an arresting sight to say the least.
At the start of the coastal boardwalk, we came across the inedible Sea Nutmeg and Sea Mangosteen. We then spied several Carpet Anemones with tentacles swaying in the incoming tide. Purple Climber Crabs scrambled on sea boulders, which themselves were plastered with huge Rock Oysters. A stately Great-billed Heron, Singapore’s largest bird, was seen striding the distant mudflats, accompanied by a Little Heron and Whimbrel. Fiddler Crabs went about their daily business eating the coating of detritus on sand grains. Males cheerily waved their enlarged bright orange pincers in the hope of attracting the ladies.
As chief guide, Uncle Hang Chong even brought along a stash of ‘attap chee’, which comes from the Nipah Palm found also at Chek Jawa.
Kids found out that mangrove trees can thrive in poorly-oxygenated mudflats because they have aerial (air breathing) as well as buried roots. Depending on the species, the aerial roots can be pencil shaped or prop like. We were introduced to the Nipah Palm, source of the Ice Kachang must-have ‘attap chee’. Uncle Hang Chong even brought along a stash of these sugared treats, which were eagerly gobbled up. We rounded off the tour with a stop at the NSS Green Hub @ Ubin. Everybody was wowed by the surprisingly bright lighting system that uses diffused daylight. A big tube punched through the roof channels sunlight through a diffuser which also functions to remove the sun’s heat.