Monday, May 31, 2010

Chek Jawa, 31 May 2010: Post Oil Spill Report

I am very happy to bring you good tide-dings! Chek Jawa looks no worse for wear. She looks great! [Above photo is the same oil-filled beach published in the newspapers!]

I believe the impact had been quite minimal and the stupendous effort by MPA and Nparks had been enormously successful. The speedy deployment and coordination of the clean-up of Chek Jawa was carried out so admirably. Both agencies should deserve our utmost praise and admiration. So too are our intrepid volunteers who responded so expediently to put on boots, gloves and shovel to the oil slick at the earliest hour of the spill. Bravo!

Chek Jawa... as usual... bring out the very best in everyone. Singaporeans... be proud.

It is a good time to thank and appreciate the many (I think 100) foreign workers deployed at Chek Jawa clean-up. Their service and contribution to our society is so so invaluable.

Photos below: Chek Jawa looking good and pristine as ever. When you look at the pure white sand and the unstained rocks and roots of mangrove trees... and the clear water at the shore... you can easily imagine Chek Jawa smiling at all of us! : )

Friday, May 21, 2010

Buchanania sessifolia: The Other Sparrow's Mango

The Sparrow's Mango (Buchanania arborescens) or Otak Udang (meaning "prawn's brain") is a tree of the rocky coastline. Some of these trees can still be found in Changi Village along the coastal boardwalk at Fairy Point. It is the tiniest 'mango' one could ever imagine; a fruit would sit perfectly on the ball of your last finger.

The early Malays who lived as they did intimately with the rain forest, recognized quite accurately the relatedness of plants in their midst and instinctively assigned vernacular names which today we know reflect natural groups now put systematically into genera and families of modern-day plant classification. This is some mean feat and profoundly so by the fact we know now that Mango Family Anacardiaceae is most abundantly represented in South-east Asia. With some 250 species out of 600 worldwide found here, South-east Asia should rightfully be crowned 'Mango Kingdom'. In the rain forest where they are found, many are awesomely tall giants. They have tiny flowers which are disproportionately nectariferous; E. J. H. Corner aptly described them as 'honey-sweet'.

So there are Otak Udang trees of the coastlines, and yes, there are also Otak Udang Tajam trees of inland forests. For this International Day of Biodiversity 2010, I have chosen to share this little known tree with all my nature-loving friends out there who are fervently documenting life in the intertidal plain and in the rain forest of Singapore. The unfamiliar Otak Udang Tajam (Buchanania sessifolia) - like so many plants rare and vulnerable - is ours to protect and conserve.

Today is a day we should remind ourselves not to be complacent even if there are sufficient cause to celebrate our extent biodiversity. The danger of habitat fragmentation or destruction is ever-present and every concern individual needs to be vigilant.

[Photo above: green fruits of B. sessifolia; ripening red.]

Underside view; on close-up examination, minute hairs can be found on the midrib.

Pointy leaf-tips.

Swollen red leaf-stalk.

[Footnote: Sometimes, B. sessifolia is written as B. sessilifolia.]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Orania sylvicola: Palms Punctuated but Keystone

Palms are ever-present in the Lowland Dipterocarp Forest but they do not dominate like Nipah would in mangrove. The many species we have do not colonize, and even if they do sometimes, like the lofty Ibul or Orania sylvicola (featured here), they remain considerably small and limited.

I really like to think of palms as punctuation marks - small but significant - spatially spread out amongst the letters of woody trees in the sentence of a rain forest. With a minor stroke and a simple dot or two here and there, these punctuation marks breathe life to the sentence with eloquence and depth of texture and intonation. Collectively, the palm population is like that. Add all these unobtrusive individual palms in the rain forest together, you will quickly realize what a reckoning force they are. They give life to the forest.

Like energy bars they provide bountiful supply of nectar and pollen to a whole range of beetles, bees and flies throughout the year. These tireless workers swarm as cars and trucks would to patrol stations. The power food they get from palms fuels in no small part the dynamism of the entire forest ecosystem through the myriad services that they provide as pollinators of other plants, for example.

Palms also provide fruits all year round for birds, civet cats and many other arboreal creatures such as monkeys. Their leafy crown is a roosting haven for bats, snakes and lizards, and under their often broad leaf-bases the flying lemurs wait out the day in shade and security. And colonies upon colonies of ants have made rattans (climbing palms) their ubiquitous home.

So it can be seen how keystone palms are - as keystone as fig trees. When reforesting disturbed areas it bears well to remember to introduce native palms as second-stage planting under re-established trees.

In present-day Singapore, the Ibul palm (reaching 20m) are exceedingly rare and hard to find; the showy golden-brown leaf-bases is often hidden high up in the sub-canopy and obscured from view by the leafy crowns of smaller understory trees below. We are indeed fortunate to have a few living specimens extent in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve today.

Silvery greyish-brown leaflets with drooping tips.

Close-up of jagged leaf-tips.

Greyish trunk with warty protuberances.

Adventitious roots seeking the earth beneath the leaf litter.

Immature green fruits with 3 petals.

Mature fruits are highly poisonous.