Nature's magic in metropolis

Nature lover Jonathan Tan would love to take his Korean friend to the Chek Jawa Wetlands on Pulau Ubin, an island off Changi Point in eastern Singapore.
Nature lover Jonathan Tan would love to take his Korean friend to the Chek Jawa Wetlands on Pulau Ubin, an island off Changi Point in eastern Singapore.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Singapore Invites, launched by the Singapore Tourism Board, encourages residents and people from around the world to invite their family and friends to experience Singapore together. In the third of a five-part series, nature lover Jonathan Tan shares a side of the country where different ecosystems co-exist in a harmonious manner

With its vibrant ecosystems and rich biodiversity, Singapore is a paradise for nature lovers, according to Mr Jonathan Tan, 20, a full-time national serviceman.

The seed of love for all things nature was planted after a school trip to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean when he was 16 years old.

There, he saw migrating red crabs earn their own "pedestrian" crossings, and something about how people on the island live as one with wildlife struck him.

The trip inspired him to seek out nature in Singapore, and as far as he is concerned, he has struck gold.

"We are in a modern metropolis where we have rainforest, coral reefs and mangroves within half an hour of the city centre," Mr Tan said, referring to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Southern Islands and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

UNEXPECTED FINDS

What you hope to see, you don't see. Instead, what you aren't looking for just appears in front of you. That's kind of the magic of it.

MR JONATHAN TAN, a full-time national serviceman, on what draws him to Singapore's nature reserves Brought to you by the Singapore Tourism Board

Further from the city centre are the Chek Jawa Wetlands on Pulau Ubin, an island off Changi Point in the eastern part of Singapore. There, Mr Tan, an aspiring ecologist, providesguided tours.

Chek Jawa is home to rich biodiversity, he said. When the lagoon there experiences low tide, marine life such as starfish, sea cucumbers and sea anemone can be spotted amid one of the largest seagrass meadows in Singapore.

At the same time, hornbills, sea eagles, snakes, monkeys and wild boars also make appearances.

"Animals here are used to humans, so they don't run away, whereas in other countries, where they are hunted, they hide," he said.

Chek Jawa is one of the places that Mr Tan would like to take his Korean friend, whom he has not seen for about two years, if she visits Singapore.

"It is where land and sea come together. They are not separate, but parts of a whole," he said, adding that one can find six different ecosystems, including mangrove forests, rocky shores and extensive seagrass beds, existing together.

One of his most memorable sightings on Chek Jawa is the blue dragon, a sea slug known for its electric blue feather-like covering.

It is such chance meetings that make places of nature so special. "What you hope to see, you don't see. Instead, what you aren't looking for just appears in front of you. That's kind of the magic of it," he said.

Those who are really lucky may even get to see sea snakes and dugongs, he added.

Chek Jawa is a 45-minute hike from the Pulau Ubin jetty. Bicycle rental and taxi services are also available for a small fee. A one-way ferry trip to Pulau Ubin from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal costs $3.

Besides Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin has other charming spots, too.

Abandoned quarries are good for spotting birds such as herons, and the Ketam Mountain Bike Park is the perfect environment for birds such as the blue-throated bee-eaters and baya weavers.

Durian lovers can also feast on the King of Fruits when it is in season - Ubin residents sell the creamy fruit from their own trees.

Apart from Pulau Ubin, other nature sites that Mr Tan would take his Korean friend to are the Southern Islands, the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

On the fringe of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve are two trails, the Venus Loop and Mandai Forest, that are accessible at night. Visitors may chance upon owls, the sambar deer and civet.

On the beauty of Kusu Island, which is part of the Southern Islands, Mr Tan said: "You can be looking at coral in front of you, and further in the background are skyscrapers, the city and the Singapore Flyer."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Nature's magic in metropolis'. Print Edition | Subscribe