Modern Singapore may be more of a concrete jungle than a real one, but a few spots remain where you spot a selection of the tropical wildlife that used to be abundant here – and I’m not talking about the zoo.
One such place is Pulau Ubin, a small island off the east coast, where nature has been allowed to take its course since the island’s granite quarries closed in the 1970s. It may only be a 5 minute bum-boat ride away from mainland Singapore, but Ubin’s rocky beaches and mangrove forests feel a world away from the city. The most modern development on the island is a handful of seafood restaurants and bicycle rental shops near the jetty, and your mobile phone may think you’re in Malaysia.
Left to its natural state, Pulau Ubin has become a refuge for nature lovers and, of course, nature itself. The official census of Ubin’s inhabitants includes monitor lizards, reticulated pythons, crab-eating macaques, civet cats, wild boars, pangolins, and even the greater Malay mouse deer, previously thought to be extinct in Singapore.
While some of these species are quite elusive, the birds are not and I saw this Oriental Pied hornbill within my first 10 minutes on the island. Keep your eyes to the sky to spot hawks and eagles circling for prey, and quiet hikers may encounter the flightless red junglefowl, the ancestor of the domesticated chicken.
To learn about Ubin’s aquatic wildlife, follow the signs pointing east from the jetty to Chek Jawa wetlands – it’s a few kilometres away so you may want to rent a bicycle. A mixture of mangroves, lagoons, sandbars, and coral reefs, Chew Jawa is the most diverse ecosystem on Pulau Ubin and a new species of sea sponge has been discovered here.
Boardwalks have been built so visitors can observe the sea stars, crabs, anemones, seahorses, sea cucumbers, nudibranches, and octopi without causing any damage. A unique sight among the mangroves is the mudskippers, fish that crawl out of the water and can breathe air through their gills. Rarer species include dugongs and dolphins; your best chance of spotting one is to climb the observation tower and watch the off-shore reefs.
The colonial-style Chek Jawa Visitors Centre seems out of place, but it does have lots of information and, more importantly, clean bathrooms.
Bumboats from the Changi Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin operate daily from 05:30 to 21:00. The fare is S$2.50 per person and boats leave when they have 12 passengers.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 3rd December, 2015.