Last Sunday, we followed the good guides from National Parks Board (NParks) on a walk at the intertidal zone along the beaches of Sisters’ Islands, specifically the big and small man-made lagoon of Big Sister Island.
What is Intertidal Zone? What is so special about it?
Intertidal Zone on the beach is the area that is exposed during low tide and submerged during high tide. Guided tours by NParks on Sisters’ Islands are conducted on days when tides recede to 0.4 metres and below for at least two hours when the intertidal flats are revealed. Also for safe public walks, it has to be carried out during daylight hours too. Anything out of this range would prove guided discovery tour very difficult as most of the area will be submerged under water, making walking difficult. Although there are daily tides, and every month there will be a lowest/highest tide,not every lowest tide of the month will be suitable for a fulfilling guided discovery walk.
Why are there so few tours?!!
To answer that, pls do everyone a favour by reading at this page hosted by Wild Singapore to understand more about tides. I’ve the volunteers explaining too many times but nobody bothers to REGISTER the explanation in their head. In layman’s term, chartering a boat to go there as private group is not a problem. If the low tide is not low enough, all you can do is to have a picnic and enjoy the sunset only. What’s the point in not listening to advice then? Just go Sentosa!
Where is Sisters’ Island and why is it named such?
Before we proceed, let us explore some background information of the Sisters’ Islands :-
[Info from Wikipedia] The Sisters’ Islands are two of the Southern Islands in Singapore and are located to the south of the main island, off the Straits of Singapore. Big Sister’s Island, about 39,000 square metres (9.6 acres) in area and also known as Pulau Subar Laut in Malay, faces the open sea, while Little Sister’s Island, about 17,000 m2 (4.2 acres) in area and also known as Pulau Subar Darat in Malay, faces the mainland. The two islands are separated by a narrow channel. Currents through this channel can be very dangerous to swimmers and divers.
Legend tells of a poor widow who had two pretty daughters, Minah and Linah, who were very close to each other. After their mother died, the sisters left the village to live with a distant uncle.
One unfortunate day, Linah met a group of pirates while she was fetching water from a well near the sea. Frightened, she ran home while the pirate chief gave chase. At the uncle’s home, the pirate brandished a dagger and made known his wish to marry Linah. That night, the two sisters wept bitterly in each other’s arms. When dawn broke, the pirate chief and 16 of his men came to take Linah away. Clinging to each other, they were torn apart by the pirates and Linah was forced to leave with the pirates. Just then, the sky turned dark and a storm broke out. Desperate, Minah swam after the boat but drowned. On seeing this, Linah freed herself from her captors and jumped into the sea to join Minah.
The storm subsided but nowhere can the sisters be found. The next day, the villagers were shocked to see two islands at the spot where the two sisters had drowned.
The two tranquil islands, called Pulau Subar Laut and Pulau Subar Darat, was henceforth known as the Sisters’ Islands. It was said that every year on that very day when the sisters turned into islands, there will always be storm and rain. [Info from Wikipedia]
The Legend of Sisters’ Island (Animated video commissioned by National Heritage Board)
To prepare ourselves for the tour, we ordered new rainboots for the kids since they are outgrowing their current pair. Do take note that no exposed footwear will be allowed during the walk due to safety reasons.
I also packed raincoat, windbreaker and water bottle. Despite trying to be as lightweight as possible, i find my backpack very heavy after 1.5-2hrs walk on the intertidal zone. So do pack as light as you can, and if possible, have another adult carry one more backpack.
On the day of the tour, it stormed 2hrs before scheduled departure at 430pm. Nevertheless we proceeded to Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal as planned while keeping an optimistic outlook on the weather and refusing to give up the hard-earned opportunity so easily. (Read : Getting a slot here is more difficult than P1 registration.) We met up with the group and registered our attendance with Collin (NParks rep) next to the BUZZ KIOSK. After a short briefing by Ria, our guide, we proceeded to board the ferry that NParks chartered specially for this tour.
In less than 45 min, we reached the jetty of the Big Sister’s Island. We were then split into groups of 10 with each group having at least 2 volunteer nature guides to lead the respective groups.
At the jetty area, we saw a group of long-tail macques scavenging for food from the rubbish bins or food packaging carelessly thrown by picnic campers. And we were told not to feed the monkeys for they will learn to associate human beings with food. We were also told to try to walk in groups, especially kids so as not to be approached by any daring monkeys.
When all was ready, we proceeded our walk inland towards the other side of the island at the big lagoon area.
There are 2 man-made lagoons which we explored in batches according to our groups. Mass-walk is prevented in order to minimize accidental damage by the public.
We started our walk on the intertidal zone very soon after. We discovered lots that day. Poor Ria also had to entertain the 3 exciting kids attached to her group as each discovers yet another coral, teeny tiny hermit crab, fish and shrimp.
Watch how the above starfish flipped itself over from upside down position.
My most exciting find must be the nudibranch. Diver friends who know me well would have known how obsessed I am with the 1001 different species of the beautiful nudibranches found all over the world. To date, I still am 🙂
We stumbled upon a dead flower crab. Later we found out that it’s actually the abandoned shell of it’s owner which has just molted. And we also learned that crabs belong to the animal family called Arthropods. They don’t have skeletal bones and their body is supported by a shell outside their bodies. Soft-shell crabs are also not any species of crabs, but those that are newly molted because of the need to shed the older shell in replacement of the growth of a new and larger one.
Later on I read that the chilli crabs that we eat are sometimes “not fresh”. The meat is watery, the meat “shrank” (old wives’ tale on crabs caught under full moon), or the meat is jelly-like. All these are not true but are actually crabs that have just molted not long ago. Freshly molted crabs will normally hide under rocks or sand to protect themselves. But sometime later they will have a foracious appetite for the need of growth. That’s when they come out to feed and risk getting caught for our dinner tables.
When i read news on the availability of FREE guided intertidal walk hosted by NParks, i already set our minds that we must successfully register for a slot in this very hot & popular event. It will be a nice & privileged outdoor learning experience for the kids. It is indeed an eye-opener for the kids and my mum, and all who don’t do diving as a sport. As for myself, i wished that I am once again a carefree diver exploring the reef and sandbed with my hubby. Everybody left the marine park tired and hungry (must be after looking at all the seafood) but very happy. Thanks to NPark and WIldlife Singapore for this experience!
I saw that for December tours, NParks has changed to a first-come-first-served email booking system, by which one applicant can register for a max of 2 pax. Successful applicants will be notified by email. The tour dates for December are already full, by the way! Interested applicants should join and monitor the Facebook group “Sisters’ Islands Marine Park” for updates on trip dates for 2015. Do note that due to the limitation of appropriate low tide condition and the availability of volunteer guides, it is not possible for weekly trip. Hence, slots literally fly off the screen as you send in your application. Just keep your fingers crossed that you will be able to get a confirmation email from NParks thereafter! 🙂
[Update 22 DEC ’14]Ready for the next round of registration??? New slot for February will be opening soon. FASTEST FINGERS FIRST!!!
Registration will only open at 10am on 1 January 2015 (Thursday).
Registrations are to be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. You can register for only ONE additional person in your registration.
Please include the following details in your registration:
Date of guided tour you are signing up for: 21 Feb 2015 @ 430-700pm
Name of additional participant:
Please note the following important points:
Only successful applicants will be notified. Only applications submitted from 10am on 1 January 2015 with complete details will be considered. Should more than two names be submitted in a single registration, only the first two names will be considered for registration. General enquiries about Sisters’ Island Marine Park should be emailed to Kwan Siong at email@example.com. [End of Update]