Every fortnight we feature a seagrass meadow from around the world. This week, Ria Tan takes us on a tour of Cyrene Reef in Singapore. Ria is an avid naturalist and runs the wildsingapore webpage. In addition to hanging out in seagrass meadows, she enjoys exploring new intertidal reefs and has recently taken to trudging around in mangroves.
People normally assume that the best seagrass meadows are found in shallow, sheltered, clear waters far away from human impact and industry. That’s not the case in Singapore, a small island nation sitting at the tip of the Malayan Peninsular. One of Singapore’s best seagrass meadows is surrounded by massive petrochemical industries, a world class container terminal and major shipping lanes in one of the world’s busiest ports. Cyrene Reef is a 1km by 500m submerged reef with astonishing marine biodiversity!
On one side of the Triangle is Pulau Bukom, the site of Singapore’s first oil refinery, set up in 1961 by Shell. Today, the 500,000 barrels-per-day Bukom Refinery is the largest Shell refinery in the world, in terms of crude distillation capacity. On another side of the Triangle are the massive heavy industries on Jurong Island encompassing a wide variety of installations. Some industrial activities that can potentially impact marine life include flaring. Developed in 1974, the Pasir Panjang Container Terminal is the largest of Singapore’s four terminals. Together, the terminals handle about one-fifth of the world’s total container transhipment. Cyrene is at a key maritime crossroads where east-west traffic routes cross north-south traffic routes. About five hundred ships in excess of 5,000 DWT per day transit the waters around the Reefs.
Despite it’s location in the middle of this ‘Industrial Triangle’, Cyrene Reef is home to vast meadows with 7 seagrass species! Long ribbons of Enhalus acoroides are particularly spectacular when in bloom!
Cymodocea serrulata covers large areas of Cyrene Reef. These seagrass meadows are home to large numbers of Knobbly sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus). A study of these sea stars found that the presence of juveniles, subadults and adults, which indicates a healthy level of recruitment at Cyrene Reef. And that Cyrene Reef may be the only sustainable population of knobbly seastars left in Singapore today.
Cyrene is one of the few locations in Singapore where Syringodium isoetifolium is abundant. Other seagrass species on Cyrene include Cymodocea rotundata, Thalassia hemprichii, Halodule uninervis and Halophila ovalis.
Besides massive industries, frequent dredging also takes place near Cyrene Reef. Meanwhile, further reclamation is being considered at nearby Jurong Island. Just last week, a large fire broke out at the Shell refinery on Pulau Bukom close to Cyrene Reef. The fire raged for 30 hours before it was put out. It remains to be seen whether this massive industrial accident has impacted marine life on Cyrene Reef.
Cyrene Reef is one of the major sites monitored by the volunteers of TeamSeagrass, a collaboration with the National Parks Board
(NParks) and international Seagrass-Watch, the largest scientific,non-destructive, seagrass assessment and monitoring program in the world. TeamSeagrass includes about 100 volunteers from all walks of life who have been monitoring Singapore’s meadows since 2007. The data they collect is submitted to NParks for a better understanding and management of Singapore’s seagrasses and shores, and to Seagrass-Watch thus contributing to global understanding of the world’s seagrasses.
TeamSeagrass also gives ordinary people the opportunity to see first hand, some of Singapore’s best shores. Volunteers also have the satisfaction of making a difference for Singapore’s marine biodiversity.
Besides monitoring, TeamSeagrass volunteers also participate in other outreach efforts such as public exhibitions and in giving talks. TeamSeagrass also has a blog and facebook page for online outreach. This is one of the posters of seagrasses on Cyrene used in TeamSeagrass public exhibitions.
There is also an effort by a small team of volunteers to raise awareness of Cyrene Reef. The focus currently is to bring decision makers and selected corporations to visit the Reef and see it for themselves. Thus far, visits have been arranged for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, NParks and JTC (which manages Jurong Island).
Hopefully, these and other efforts to document and share Cyrene’s treasures will help protect this miraculous reef in the middle of an Industrial Triangle!