“Uhh can I take the next boat home instead?”

I spent the past 3 days (5 Mar to 7 Mar 2012), far away from civilisation and modern technology (ie my laptop and internet) on Pulau Ubin at the rustic Celestial Resort. I was not slacking or having a staycation — I was at the first expedition of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS) aka Mega Marine Survey! This first expedition is from 5 Mar till 9 Mar, and is a small-scale, trial version of a bigger one that will be held later in Oct this year.

Day 1
I went down on 5 Mar to help Helen and Joo Yong from the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) with the bringing over of logistics and setting up of equipment, along with another volunteer Ling. Heavy rain in the morning delayed our departure, but we eventually made our way from the TMSI centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Kent Ridge campus to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) to the TMSI centre at St. John’s Island for more equipment to Celestial Resort at Pulau Ubin!

We took the TMSI research vessel Galaxea to Ubin, instead of the usual bumboats, because of all the equipment.

GPS showing where the vessel is on the map!

Some sensor shows the depth of the water!

Lots of equipment on deck! And this is just the 1st trip, there was another trip to bring the rest.

Celestial Resort’s own jetty

Haha only can berth if you wanna dine in their restaurant? Never knew this jetty existed though…

We took a pretty long while to get all the equipment in the Function Hall, where the operation headquarters is to be. Toyogo boxes of microscopes, lab supplies (bottles, ziploc bags, tweezers, squeeze bottles etc), nets, chungkuls, ice boxes, jerry cans of alcohol, formalin, magnesium chloride and petrol and lots more! We also had to get them organised for the next day.

Path from the jetty down to the Function Hall

Mudflat survey supplies

The Porta-bote! for hand dredging

Dredging supplies

Lab supplies

Mobile lab! Microscopes and stereoscopes set up for use.

Alcohol, formalin and other tools

Everything looked very neat, but it soon got messy once operations started!

Around evening time, there was also a flock of at least 10 Oriental Pied Hornbills flying back to perch on the trees around the jetty area! Munching on the fruits of some kind of palm tree and others.

Ling and I were very excited to see so many hornbills 🙂 Anyway, after a very full dinner (2 plates of black pepper crabs, 3 plates of Kung Pao chicken and 2 plates of sambal kang kung for 4 ladies), we had an early night to prepare for the next day!

Day 2
Time for the actual workshop! CMBS is a joint effort by both NUS and National Parks Board (NParks), with the NUS side (TMSI and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR)) doing the science stuff, and NParks supplying the volunteers, to put it simply.

We started with talks, of course, about what CMBS is about and what it hopes to achieve.

Dr Tan Koh Siang from TMSI

(short of a photo of Mr Wong Tuan Wah from NParks)

Professor Peter Ng from RMBR and TMSI

Visiting scientists, volunteers, NParks, TMSI and RMBR staff in the audience

And they talked about how we must excite the public and the government, get strong support and good hard science, to make a compelling reason to protect our marine areas (at the moment Singapore does not really have Marine Protected Areas?). The idea of CMBS was brought up a long time ago, but became concrete with the Blue Plan submitted in 2009. With the CMBS, we can put Singapore firmly on the map for biodiversity, and also possibly create MPA(s) for Singapore. Hence there is the need to engage blue groups, the public, and the scientific community to persuade the Powers That Be. The idea is to create the same effect as Chek Jawa did, with public upswelling. This first expedition is for the organisers to plan out the stations and logistics as this is the first ever attempt in Singapore, before the big scale expedition later.

After that, we had an overview of what we’ll be doing the subsequent few days and of the operations.

Dr Bertrand Richer de Forges, who is a long time research collaborator with RMBR, demonstrates how the Otter Trawl works. (Dr Bertrand is the left-most guy in the dark blue shirt)

The Porta-bote being set up!

Right after that we had lunch, and then the first boat was to leave. Which I was supposed to take, but asked if I could take the evening boat instead… (:

Hence I went dredging in the afternoon, aboard the Galaxea!

Fences all around the Northern side of Ubin

Dr Tan Heok Hui, Dr Joelle Lai, Dr Ng Heok Hee and Mr Razali setting off in the Porta-bote to use the hand dredge!

Setting up the dredge

And it’s back! Full of sediment and wonderful creatures 😀

Sieving the dredged sediment – all hands on deck!

Brittle stars, fish, crabs, sea urchins, snails and many more interesting finds!

Caught a Nibong log encrusted with lots of sea fans (and other stuff) on our second dredge! Unfortunately when I tried to bring it up it kinda got away 😦

Our “finds” for the second dredge – more crabs, brittle stars, sea stars, sea urchins and lots more!

Yu Jie from RMBR picking out animals from the sediment we collected back for further sorting.

Sediment nicely packed for further sorting back at HQ

Once we got back, that was when the fun stuff began! Sorting 😀 Haha, it may be tedious and tiring on the eyes, neck and lower back (so was dredging!), but it is very important! Need to make sure we find all the interesting animals we can from what looks like boring, dead sediment.

And so I was supposed to take the evening boat back, but with sorting looking so exciting… I decided to stay overnight so I can help with more sorting 😛 And perhaps, take the next day’s morning boat back…

We sorted till close to midnight, that’s how engrossed we were!

Day 3
We woke up slightly late! But there was still breakfast being served, so 🙂 Once our tummies were filled, we got back down to work. I helped sort out the catch from the net laid out the day before. And so, I gave the morning departure boat a miss (yet again), and settled for the evening boat instead.

Nets laid to trap animals overnight (as part of a scientific study!)

😦 It’s really sad to see life being entangled to death this way.

The catch of fish! The long one is a Conger Eel, and there’s some ray and a couple of puffer fish and catfish, among others.

The catch of crabs, horseshoe crabs (which are not true crabs), and prawns! One of the crabs (Thalamita sp.) pinched my finger 😡

We caught way to many horseshoe crabs! So leaving a male/female pair for specimen and another one for DNA vouchering, I took the remaining 6 to be released. Where I found two volunteers taking a short break!

What volunteers MAY get to do 😛 Here we have Mark and Bryan taking a dip/snorkelling next to the jetty

Helping to return the mangrove horseshoe crabs back where they belong

Back at HQ, the rest of the team were still busy sorting.

Sorting is a never-ending task! On the left, we have Yoyo, a visiting scientist from Indonesia and Ling on the right.

Having to squint at tiny creatures about 1-2mm small is no joke! On the left we have Joo Yong from TMSI, volunteer Swee and Ling, and on the right, Siong Kiat from RMBR.

After they’ve been sorted, they go into little ziploc bags that have been punctured, with a label that says where they’re from (the dredge, mudflat survey or something else?) as well as the date. This ensures that we know where our specimens are from, so that scientists have data to work on in the future.

Bagged and labelled

After which, depending on what they are (soft-bodied or with a shell etc), they’ll be submerged in alcohol, or left in the freezer, or something…

Submerged in alcohol for preservation

Interesting creatures will have their photographs taken! Nicely set up photographs for scientific purposes, that the RMBR team does (and which I have no photo of), as well as field photographs that volunteers take for record purposes? Not too sure about that…

Rene our volunteer photographer taking photos

A pretty complete brittle star — a rare find! Most lose a number of their arms :/

Really special finds, or specimens deemed suitable for DNA collection will go to the RMBR team

Joelle and Yu Jie doing DNA vouchering

(Update 9 Mar – thanks to Yu Jie) Fancy equipment to tag the fish with a label!

So it’s all lots of fun and definitely plenty of learning opportunities here! I really enjoyed the 3 days there, and am very glad I was allowed to delay my departure three times and stay overnight (: Having the opportunity to talk to the scientists and mingle with the other volunteers was very valuable indeed, and it gave me a better idea of what these taxonomists do. Wish I could stay till Friday, but work calls!

Sorting team always hard at work!

[Update 8 Mar 2012] There were other teams doing work as well, apart from dredging and sorting. Mudflat surveys, mud lobster mound surveys and night surveys! Hopefully someone who stayed over will blog more about those(:

Ria Tan has blogged about the expedition as well:
Day 1 (Day 2 on my blog)
Day 2 (Day 3 on my blog)

For more about the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey aka Mega Marine Survey, do check out the blog!

[Update 4 Aug 2012] I also wrote an article on NParks’ quarterly newsletter, My Green Space about this expedition (A Rare Glimpse into a Scientific Expedition). Naturally it’s been looked through and edited, but you can read it here.


About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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4 Responses to “Uhh can I take the next boat home instead?”

  1. yujie says:

    PS: that is not fancy equipment to get DNA, but to tag the fish with a label! :p

    • jocelynesze says:

      OHHHH. hahah thanks for the clarification! 😀

      • yujie says:

        Haha you’re welcome! I’m just amused that the tagger could be mistaken for a DNA extraction tool! The person who invents such a piece of equipment to make the extraction process that simple would be very rich :p

  2. Pingback: Tears at Chek Jawa in 2001 | Nature rambles.

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