Am I turtle-y enough for the turtle club?

Feb. 28, 2019

Every day is an adventure in the Urban Tropical Ecology course, with most days averaging over 12 km of walking. Today, we took more of a turtle’s pace, slowing down to smell the roses.

Our day began at Marina Bay South Pier. While we waited for our ferry to our day of island hopping, students explored the Singapore Maritime Gallery. The Singapore Maritime Gallery tells the story of how modern Singapore came to be: from the dawn of maritime Singapore as a pre-colonial 14th century port to the founding of Modern Singapore when Raffles established a British East India Company Trading Post in 1819, drawing in traders with the allure of a free port in a “strategic location and deep harbor”. The museum boasts how technology and the maritime industry has changed over time, from the creation of steamboats vastly decreasing travel time for passengers and goods alike, to enhanced working conditions for port workers. Singapore is now home to the largest common-user terminal, built in 1997 as an expansion to Jurong Port. Flying into Singapore over a week ago, the large shipping containers on vessels certainly stood out. These containers are all in the Combi Terminal area of the Jurong Port and are one of the cornerstones of Singapore’s present economic success.

Our day continued with a visit to St. John’s Island and Tropical Marine Studies Institute, where we were greeted by Priscilla Seah and Theresa Su. These wonderful marine scientists taught us about their jobs and the ecology and conservation plans of Singapore.


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Today I learned:

  • The four strategies to handle climate change are: accommodating (building on higher land), retreating (building further inland, defense (hard armoring, breakwaters), and reclamation. Reclamation was a new term for me, despite having focused much of my studies on climate change. Reclamation is adding material to expand land area and height. Due to the ever growing population of Singapore residing in a small coastal city-state, Singapore is using reclamation as a main strategy to increase their land area by purchasing land from neighboring countries. Lazarus Island, next to St. John’s Island, is one such reclaimed island. Lazarus was originally two separate islands before they were joined by material purchased from Indonesia and Malaysia a decade ago. Scientists were instructed to move as much biodiversity as possible from the portion of the ocean due to be filled in to St. John’s Island.
  • Fish aggregating devices (FADs) can be good, too! I’d only known about the FADs that were used in destructive fishing practices prior to today. Theresa and Priscilla showed us examples of the FADs used to provide shelter and proliferate fish populations on Singaporean reefs.
  • Singapore’s marine plans and protections have some room for improvement. Theresa was a contributor the bottom-up Singapore Blue Plan 2018, a blueprint for how to improve the nation’s marine planning and conservation by providing information on the status of marine ecosystems, existing legislation, and recommendations for allies, academics, and government agencies. This plan is considered “bottom-up” because it was created by stakeholders, rather than a government agency.


And now to my favorite part of the day…. Kusu Island.

Why was it my favorite, you ask?


“Kusu” translates from Chinese to “Tortoise” and to say that I was excited to see some turtles would be an understatement.


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The island has a “tortoise shelter” area which is, quite unfortunately, currently overrun by invasive red-eared slider turtles. I love sliders as much as the next turtle gal but red-eared sliders are native to my old stomping grounds, Florida, and are most definitely not native to Singapore. Besides sliders, there were some Malayan box turtles and other native terrapins. Despite the name, there were no tortoises to be found (at least, that we could see). I would like to think the turtles accepted me as one of my own as I spent my last half hour on the island sitting on the edge of their shelter, basking in their splendor.


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Besides the many turtle statues and living turtles on Kusu, there is also a Chinese temple and 152 steps up a hillock leading to a Malay shrine. The welcome sign states that “During the Kusu Festival in the Ninth Lunar Month every year, thousands of devotees make their pilgrimage to the island to pray for good health, peace, happiness, good luck, and prosperity.” On our way back down those 152 steps, we saw a couple of macaques… and might’ve had some orange peels tossed our way as well.

The day ended with a beautiful ferry ride back to Marina Bay South Pier, followed by dinner at Lau Pa Sat food court, the food center prominently featured in “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Photo credits to Tom Schultz

Don’t monkey around and miss future updates on Urban Tropical Ecology 2019… Coming soon to a blog near you.