Chek Jawa At Long Last

Fiddler crabs

I’ve wanted to walk the Chek Jawa intertidal wetlands at Pulau Ubin ever since I returned to Singapore after university, and after about six years I finally managed it. This was back in June, but first I was slow about processing the photos, and then Michael Jackson died.

A little background for anyone reading this who isn’t from Singapore: when nature enthusiasts discovered that the government planned to reclaim this area, they conducted a biodiversity survey, submitted a report to the government, and petitioned against the reclamation. They were partially successful – the government agreed to defer its plans until 2012, but after that Chek Jawa’s fate remains unknown. In the meantime, the National Parks Board has had to balance huge public interest in the area against the necessity to preserve the fragile ecosystem. An elevated boardwalk takes you through the wetlands without letting you trample them into oblivion, but if you want to actually set foot on them you have to register for a guided walking tour. These are only available on a handful of dates per quarter, due to the need for suitable tide levels and times and of course in order to control visitor impact, and are so wildly popular that places are snapped up almost as soon as the tour dates are released.

Boardwalk and viewing tower

After trying and failing to get on these tours since 2003, I was delighted when my company got a block booking and organized an employee outing. I’d missed the opportunity to join a previous employee outing because all available places were taken as soon as the email advertising it was sent out, but this time they sent out the email quite late on a Friday evening and I was one of the few poor sods still at work. Score, kind of! So here are some pictures of what I waited 6 years to see. I’m a little drained from all the Michael Jackson posts – they’re not easy for me to write – and tonight I enjoyed a change of scene.

Sandbar lightThe puddled ground of the sandbar shimmered in the morning sun.


Fiddler crabsFiddler crabs scurried back and forth on the sand.


Crab's eye viewTinier crabs clambered in and out of little assembled sandball piles, their homes. These are dotted everywhere and it’s almost impossible to avoid stepping on one every now and then. Sorry, crabs. :(


Our guide showed us:

Hermit crab

Flower crab moult

Rock starfish

Rock starfish (underside)

Sea cucumber

Carpet anemone

Please, Powers That Be, let things remain as they are in this beautiful part of Singapore.

Beachscape at low tide

And just for once, let civilization advance no further.

London 2005: London Wetland Centre

Day Five: Monday 8 August

Russ suddenly realizes he has to drive to Oxford today to move his stuff back to London, so I improvise a London Wetland Centre plan. Much like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, it’s another place I always meant to visit when I lived in London, but never did.

Traditional conservation goes topsy-turvy

What’s pretty cool about the place is the story behind its creation: when four Victorian-era reservoirs became redundant upon installation of the London Ring Main water system, rather than abandon the area to indiscriminate development, the reservoirs were used as the basis for this wetland centre. I rather like the idea of turning reservoirs into conservation sites. These days it seems people are more likely to do the opposite.


So with existing migratory routes already covering the area, they worked on the Field Of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come”, built a wetland paradise and just waited for birds to discover it – and they did.

A wader on the mudflats

I end up seeing about a hundred times more birds here today than I ever have at Sungei Buloh, and as any real ecosystem is, it’s teeming with all sorts of plant and animal life as well. The grounds are well-planned but not overly manicured, so you don’t feel you’re at yet another bird park or public duck pond.


Natural blues

It also has headfucks for non-bird people like me (I assume bird people already know about the Oxyura australis), who then end up stalking ducks round ponds for ages in blue-bill-induced disbelief.


I finish exploring the whole place in three leisurely hours. On the way home I look at the bus routes leaving from the bus stop I’m using. Tooting! I know someone in Tooting! On the spur of the moment I call Jeff (unannounced, out of the blue), and an hour or so later I am eating dinner with him. And thus ends my hastily improvised day, which I couldn’t have planned any better.

Ubin Witch

I took this picture in a Pulau Ubin quarry last Sunday, but only saw the witch’s face later when I viewed the photo on my computer screen. It’s not just me who sees her, right?

* * *

Later, we tried to take photos of ourselves in another quarry and were less than pleased with the results.

Russ, who had long abandoned his shirt: I look so gay!
Me: Well, I guess the nipple doesn’t help.
Russ, noticing his photographed nipple for the first time: Aaagh!

It echoed across the calm waters as the sunset bathed everything in gold.

Labrador Park

Some photos from the weekend. These were taken at Labrador Park.

Labrador Rock
Barnacles and colours
Lichen on ruins
Lichen life in the ruined fort
Muslim ladies fishing
Makciks and tankers

(makcik: Malay lady, usually middle-aged or older.)