Intertidal Walk at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park

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.

Map of Sisters' Islands Marine Park (Photo by NParks)

Map of Sisters’ Islands Marine Park (Photo by NParks)

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Map of Sisters’ Islands

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)

The Day

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.

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New rainboots for the kids and booties for myself

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.

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Collin, our very nice and helpful NParks rep

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Chartered airconditioned ferry courtesy of NParks

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Leaving Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal

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View of Singapore mainland on route to Sisters’ Islands

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.

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Jetty at Big Sister’s Island

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View of Small Sister’s Island from jetty at the big one

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Can you spot the turbulent water in the channel?

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Storm clouds approaching towards us. Again, can you spot the turbulent water in the channel?

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.

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Long-tailed macques foraging for food from the rubbish bins

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This is Ria, our very experienced local nature guide volunteer. K took an instant liking to her.

When all was ready, we proceeded our walk inland towards the other side of the island at the big lagoon area.

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Walking towards the big lagoon

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.

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One group moved off ahead of us. That spot is where the giant clam and brain coral lays.

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.

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Here we are at the home of the giant clam, soft corals and brain coral

Big fat 5-spotted shrimp (see the tail) hosted by anemone

Mating pair of starfish (male is smaller and on top, hanging on tightly to the female at the bottom)

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Mating pair of starfish (male is smaller and on top, hanging on tightly to the female at the bottom)

Underside of a starfish. See the tube feet.

Watch how the above starfish flipped itself over from upside down position.

Sensorial experience with the starfish in the outdoor environment

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Sensorial experience with the starfish in the outdoor environment

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Moon Snail half buried in sand

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A kind of anemone

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  🙂

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Soft yellowish nudibranch with black-lined skirting

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.

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An abandoned shell left behind by it’s owner which has molted

An abandoned shell left behind by it’s owner which has molted

An abandoned shell left behind by it's owner which has molted

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!  🙂

That's my K enjoying some thrashing around in the water

That’s my K enjoying some thrashing around in the water

Group photo (23 Nov 2014 : 430pm), courtesy of Ria from Wild Singapore

[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 marinepark@nparks.gov.sg.
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:

Name:
Contact number:
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 koh_kwan_siong@nparks.gov.sg. [End of Update]

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About SAys! Happy Mums

We are a Singapore Mum Blog hosted by BFFs Shirley & Audrey. We blog about our children, parenting and family lifestyle. Most often than not, we find ourselves immersed in family and kids entertainment and can't escape from the lure of great food!

26 thoughts on “Intertidal Walk at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park

    • Yes dear. I read that registration for Dec group is now thru email then wait for confirmation letter. For my Nov group, i camped at my PC from 1145pm til 245pm…Just to keep refreshing my browser…..Can cry! Its great that NParks has listened to feedback 🙂

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  1. Pingback: (2015) June Holidays Do What | SAys! Happy Mums

  2. I always love to see kids learning in a natural environment. Looks like the trip is quite difficult to register? Hope we will get to chance to visit the islands soon.

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  3. I have always wanted to go visit the Sister island!! My nearest destination was the Lighthouse which I enjoyed a lot! Thank you so much for sharing this.. I hope to bring my kids to the island if only we can register with the right dates!

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