Singapore. A modern city home to world class infrastructure and exceptional manifestations of architectural ingenuity. Rather than being overshadowed by rapid development, Singapore’s Wild Side is very much alive and vibrant! Nested in a busy shipping lane and accessible only by boat, Cyrene reef is a prime example of how a thriving haven for unique organisms can exist alongside a bustling city.
The 30 min boat ride from ONE°15 Marina Club gave us ample opportunity to take photos and prepare ourselves for our visit to the reef. The idyllic setting and high-spirited atmosphere saw us striking wacky poses, and talking excitedly with one another 🙂 Not having fully acquired our sea legs and yet clambering around the pitching boat, it was a wonder how everyone had managed to stay on board.
Before long, a rocky landmass crept into the horizon, against the backdrop of monotonous industrial establishment. Cyrene reef! The boats stopped and we were ferried to the reef on small rubber dinghies, which could only hold 6 people at a time.
Standing up, one would hardly be able to tell the difference between a typical seagrass carpeted, rock pile dotted patch of reef and another. Upon stooping down and peering around however, a different world emerged before our eyes. We could see tiny crabs foraging in the seagrass, a snapping shrimp excavating its new burrow a few meters away, sea urchins ambling along on their bristle-like feet, and maybe even a sea star or two. Each flash of colour, each peculiar shape, could be a novel discovery, a new animal we have yet to encounter! Life was all around us, darting between our feet, shuffling around in the sand, or simply swaying in the current.
Oh yes sea stars! We were quite taken aback by the sheer number of them that were, ahem, mating. They were all scattered about, with a larger proportion of them congregating on sandier patches of the sea bed. Some were half-buried in the sand, blissfully partaking in the intimate affair in private, while some were more liberal with regards to their choice of setting, and were seen moving along the sea bed.
We had to be especially careful about where we placed our feet, so as not to run the risk of stepping on any of the sea stars.
There were quite a number of knobbly sea stars lying around too. Interestingly, some of them seemed to be in the mood for a party, and we promptly gave them a hand, as chauffeurs. Of course, we later replaced them to where we had found them.
Along the way, we saw strange mounts of grey sand, which seem to have been brought up to the surface from some distance below.
Mr Tan later informed us that the sand was material that had been expelled by peanut worms. This material is essentially sand from which nutrients and food particles had been extracted.
We saw 2 types of sea anemones. The first would secrete toxic substances that irritate human skin when touched, while the other had tentacles whose tips would adhered onto intruding fingers. Ever placed your fingers into a small volume of glue and removed them? Yep, that’s the sensation!
Two of the anemones we encountered hosted a shrimp couple each. Anemones and anemone shrimp share a symbiotic relationship, or more specifically commensalistic one (where one organism benefits from the other without affecting it), in which the shrimp seek refuge among the stinging tentacles of the anemone, without any deleterious impact on the host.
Here’s a question for you: What is coral? A) A mineral B) A plant C) An animal. The answer is … it’s all three! Coral polyps, which are animals, excrete calcium carbonate to build stable structures on which they can grow. The zooxanthellae living in the soft tissue of a coral polyp use sunlight to produce food through photosynthesis and create a byproduct that the coral can use as food. Thus, zooxanthellae provide corals with food; in return, the coral provides the zooxanthellae with shelter and nutrients. Each coral colony starts with a single polyp. Identical clones are then created, building structures as small as a coin and as large as entire islands. Unfortunately, zooxanthellae are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and chemical pollutants. Hence, rising sea temperatures threaten to wipe entire populations of coral around the world out, by extension depriving millions of marine organisms the shelter and food that are critical to their survival.
We came across quite a number of sea cucumbers too. Fortunately, all of us were sensible enough not to provoke them to the extent to which their activating defence mechanisms were activated. This would entail the spewing of silky threads (their guts … eek) that solidify into a white, sticky, and unremovable mess.
Crabs can be more agile than you may imagine them to be. Tiny shadows darted around as we walked along. Closer inspection of the spots at which the shadows had stopped moving at would reveal little crabs hiding in the sea grass, or underneath a large rock. We were rather privileged to have been able to meet and greet 5 different kinds of crabs: hermits, mosaics, elbows, hairy (or teddy bear) and decorators.
The decorator crab is perhaps the most unique species of crab, amongst the 5, in that it attaches bits of objects — sea grass, sponges, and anemones etc to its shell. This behaviour enhances its camouflage and allows it to stay hidden from predators.
The seabed farthest from our point of arrival was peppered with short spined sea urchins, and we had to take special care not to step on any small clusters of sea shell debris that were in the area, as they could be sea urchins.
Alas, after a few hours of exploration, the tide started to rise and we had to head back to the shore. Once again, the elusive reef was blanketed in life giving water, saving its secrets for another day.
Nature never fails to enthral us with its ingenuity, creativity, and tenacity. Even within the confines of a single reef, we were exposed to countless unique feeding methods, defence mechanisms, and symbiotic relationships. Nature’s wonder has the incredible ability to put how we perceive ourselves in perspective, by showing how us humans are not the only organisms which are exceptional, and that we are but one player in a larger web of mutual dependency.
Our relationship with nature does not simply revolve around those charismatic sharks and sea turtles that we know too well of, and too may often associate as being the most impressive embodiments of the wonderment of our watery world. Rather, it entails paying attention to the littlest of things, and in turn realising how awe inspiring Nature really is.
On the whole, it was an eye opening, highly enriching experience for everyone. This may be our last official outing together as J2s, but definitely one of many more adventures to come for ODAC 30, our family 🙂