17-years of Sharing Singapore Reefs

Date March 22, 2020

Today, we celebrate how our local community has come together over 17 years to recognise the wonders of our little reef!

17 years ago, when our tiny team of volunteer guides were haphazardly trying to pull a volunteer organisation together, divers sneered and scoffed at how anyone could have a desire to dive in “pea soup”. We were asked, “What difference can you make?” while others recommended, “Wouldn’t it be better to get ang mohs (foreigners) to be vocal about Singapore reefs since the government seemed to care more about what foreigners wanted?”

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It was difficult! But we soldiered on! Whether we had ten divers or just two, the Hantu Blog’s pioneer volunteers made a commitment to get a boat out to Hantu reefs every weekend, some weeks, even twice a weekend, just to SHARE the wonders of local reefs, DOCUMENT our local marine biodiversity, and TALK about the threats and uncertain future of Singapore reefs.

Chay Hoon

Our volunteers worked out at sea and in the middle of urban centers to raise awareness about our reef! Some of the people we met in the city had never explored Singapore shores. One visitor asked if reefs could be found in our reservoirs! There was very little exposure to what reefs were, let alone that you could find them here in Singapore!
Chay Hoon at Envirofest 2008.

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Our reefs are for everyone! Not just divers! Our volunteers took schools, youth and corporate groups to visit Pulau Hantu during the low tide. In this particular visit, our guide Lam Pei Min holds up a ghost fishing net that was entangled on our shallow reefs. Together with the students, they worked to slowly and carefully remove sections of the net from our reef, releasing any entangled wildlife they encountered.

tiger tail seahorse

It was a huge moment when we documented our first Tigertail seahorse. Before this post in 2004, that seahorses were an animal you could encounter in local reefs was comparable to a myth. This encounter helped spur a wave of excited divers who wanted to see one for themselves! In the years that followed, some guides became really good at spotting seahorses, and that got even more divers excited to join our trips to see one!

The Hantu Blog didn’t just put eyes on our marine wildlife. During crisis events, our volunteers helped monitor impact simply by visiting our reefs regularly. Up until the Hantu Blog began it’s volunteer guided dive trips, no other group visited our reef frequently and regularly.

Thanks to local champions like Kelvin Pang who started the SG Macro Photographers Facebook Group, this rapidly growing interest to photograph some of Pulau Hantu’s charismatic creatures had helped build a new community of reef enthusiasts that enjoy learning and sharing about local reefs! They started the hashtag #welovehantu on Facebook, and Kelvin Pang even published his own photo book! In 2004, few would have imaged there was anything worth photographing in local waters!

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Together, this diversifying community of local reef enthusiasts have already began to document more rare and wonderful wonders in Singapore reefs – from Saddleback anemonefish (above).

Tiger Shrimp

To tiny tiger shrimp!

Photo: Ann Tan, 2020

Beautiful Godiva nudibranchs, seen here on a hydroid with a tiny marine snail.

Lucky ones get to sneak a peek at mating octopuses!

And if you look in unexpected places, like right in the marina, you might be so lucky as to see a translucent elongated flounder!

We have come a long way! Hantu exists as a reef with her wildlife because people love her this way! But our work is not over!

Cuttlefish

Our reefs continue to face modern threats and she stills risks being forgotten unless we make Singapore reefs a part of our national consciousness. Perhaps in the future, even non-divers might be able to name a handful of marine creatures that can be found in Singapore reefs, like these cuttlefish which are common, but which also never cease to amaze!

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And know that several species of anemonefish call Singapore waters home! (Or perhaps the more discerning diver might take an interests in the host anemones instead!)

Frogfish

Whether you fancy the colourful or the camouflaged, whether you dive alone, with friends or with the Hantu Blog, keep DISCOVERING, SHARING, and TALKING about our reefs.

Compared to 10 years ago, there are so many ways the whole family can discover Singapore shores! Meet marine scientists in their office at Sister’s Island Marine Park. Local marine scientists help us understand more about our reefs, and establishments like SIMP help generate nation-wide awareness and opportunities to participate in the protection of our precious local shores!

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers, divers, students, parents, scientists, photographers and journalists who have been curious and committed to bring clarity to local waters. Keep exploring, and happy 16th Anniversary!

Hunters in murky waters

Date January 22, 2020

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Veteran diver, Toh Chay Hoon, has completed more than 800 dives in Singapore waters! “I stopped logging after my 300th dive, and that was many many years ago!” But on special, albeit low visibility days, she still gets enthralled by something new or unexpected. Above: A cool cuttlefish remains still even as our diver Chay Hoon moves within inches from it.

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Favourite moments from 2019

Date December 1, 2019

What makes Pulau Hantu special? “It is an island with dive sites situated right next to a very busy city such as Singapore,” shares diver Veronica Alcantara, who did her first dive in Singapore at Pulau Hantu. “On 19 May 2018,” she remembers exactly. “I have dived at Pulau Hantu 63 times since. I haven’t dived anywhere else in Singapore except in the pool! I enjoy going to Hantu because of the wide variety of nudibranchs, and the convenience of going there. When I only have a weekend for rest and recreation, I don’t have to travel for hours to immerse myself in a beautiful sea.”

Kissing Doto sp.

Meeting two Doto nudibranchs “kissing” was Veronica’s favourite moment from 2019.

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Sea Snails, Ostracods, and the Oldest Penis on Earth

Date November 2, 2019

Ostracod

You’ve probably never heard of an ostracod. Why would you? It’s a tiny creature, about the size of a mustard seed, and nothing much more than a head. It is not exactly the thing that many divers go looking for when they are out on the reef. While ostracods are not popular, they truly are fascinating. Since one (above) was recently photographed on Pulau Hantu’s reef, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to dedicate a post to this seemingly benign creature. Above photo: Toh Chay Hoon Read the rest of this entry »

Traits of Shapes

Date October 14, 2019

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In a recent blog post, I spoke to Hantu Blog volunteer Gina Tan about some lesser-known insights related to the shapes of coral. Samuel Chan is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore’s Reef Ecology Lab. After reading our post about coral shapes, he reached out to us to clarify some of the points we mentioned and shed more light on the fascinating traits of coral shapes! Photos by Nicholas Chew/Toh Chay Hoon/Debby Ng Read the rest of this entry »

Shapes of Coral

Date October 7, 2019

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You may have heard of boulder corals and soft corals, but did you know there were “runners”, “vines” and “trees” too?



I recently had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with Hantu Blog volunteer, Gina Tan. We spoke about sinking corals, butterflyfish and coral spawning. I was absolutely fascinated by her insight and unique views of the life history of reefs and wanted to learn her opinion about how our reefs, and in particular, Singapore reefs, might have adapted over time to become what we see today! Read the rest of this entry »

Cryptics, Mimics and Camouflage

Date July 29, 2019

Fishes at jetty

She looked down and saw “so many fishes!” Singapore’s relentless nudibranch hunter (armed only with a camera and a pair of superhuman eyes) spent a weekend with the reefs of Pulau Hantu and saw many creatures, great and small! Some where “pretending” to be something they are not, many were hiding, and others sat right out in the open because they were top predators! All photographs by Toh Chay Hoon. Read the rest of this entry »

Great Expectations

Date July 9, 2019

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Hearing about our volunteer, Nicholas Chew’s, experience of a coral spawning dive reminded me of Jane Goodall’s story about watching a hen lay an egg. Photos by Nicholas Chew. Read the rest of this entry »

Reef Walker

Date May 27, 2019

Ribbon Worm

Nudibranch enthusiast Toh Chay Hoon, has been diving and walking Singapore reefs for over a decade. The two ways of discovering our reef offer very different perspectives, and an opportunity to encounter different wildlife! Creatures that live in the intertidal zone (and that includes coral) have to be able to tolerate fresh water better than their deeper counterparts (because fresh water floats above salt water). Because wildlife in the intertidal zone differs from those that live in the deeper parts of the reef, they find interesting ways to live and feed – like the ribbon worm above! These spineless creatures may not look impressive, but it has a cousin from the North Sea that can grow to 60m! Despite their benign appearance, ribbon worms have highly developed muscles that allow them to contract their bodies, shrinking to a tenth of their extended length when threatened.
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Singapore Reefs In A New Light

Date May 13, 2019

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In ultraviolet or in darkness, corals have many amazing surprises to reveal when we find new ways to look at them. Hantu Blog volunteers gathered to visit our reefs on this particular weekend for the chance to observe one of natures wild and natural wonders – mass coral spawning. Observing this natural phenomenon demands tremendous patience – corals don’t send out memos about when they are going to release their eggs and sperm en masse. In fact, we have yet to learn how different coral colonies coordinate their spawning. All we can do now is to watch in awe. Above: Observing coral colonies under blue or ultraviolet light allows us to perceive the fluorescent pigments that act as sunblock for the coral and its symbiotic zooxanthellae. Photo: Laval Foo/Hantu Blog
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