June 8 was World Oceans Day, a United Nations highlight to place emphasis on World Environment Week as well as the first United Nations Oceans Summit this year. During the summit, scientists, researchers and politicians gathered to discuss the added impact of new climate data, the dangers of crossing the 2°C temperature threshold and in addition, the deadly impact of ocean pollution and overfishing were other issues that were brought up.

Meanwhile in Singapore’s Marine Park, 20 volunteer divers from the community group Our Singapore Reefs set off on June 4th from the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club to clean up and collect marine debris as well as rescue corals in the park. The volunteers collected 72 kilograms worth of debris and rescued 43 corals separated from reefs or in dying colonies. It was the first such event ever planned. The chief executive of the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore highlighted the organisation’s efforts to preserve and protect our waters and encouraged citizen engagement to capture incidents of people polluting local waters.

But since we’re talking about Singapore’s waters, here are a few things you may never have realised about our waters.

1. Singapore is home to a number of coral reefs.

They aren’t massive colonies like in Raja Ampat or Sipadan, but Singapore is in fact home to 250 species of hard corals, as well as supporting a healthy variety of species of marine life at these reefs. The region hosts over 500 species of corals. A good number of these corals can be seen in the marine park.

A mushroom coral, courtesy of Jit Yee from https://blog.nus.edu.sg/yee4r/

2. Diving in the park is not dull at all

For the moment, access to the Marine Park is limited to guided walks by the National Parks Board. No diving is allowed except by authorised operators. Boats are not allowed near the 40 hectare protected marine area that covers the Sisters’ Island, Pulau Tekukor and more at all, unless permitted by NParks. However, waters are surprisingly clear and not choppy at all, despite the park’s’ exposure to the South China Sea and nearby shipping routes.

3. You can take a guided tour to discover the biodiversity of the Marine Park.

Intertidal walks (during the low tide period) are available for booking and take place a few days each month. Guides take you through the rich marine life around us and host up to 45 people at a time. But it’s fully booked up till late August at the moment. Don’t wait.

4. Local marine biologists discovered a sponge that was thought to be extinct right here.

The Neptune’s Cup Sponge

Yeah not the kind you use to wash your cups, but the real natural sponge on which those are based. These porous organisms are unique in that they have no nervous, digestive or circulatory systems; they simply allow water to pass through them and thus get access to food and oxygen, while removing waste from their cells. The Neptune’s cup sponge (cliona patera) was thought to be extinct for 100 years (the last living samples were seen in 1908 in West Java) and are massive one-metre tall and wide sponges. In 2011, two were discovered in Singapore’s waters.

5. Our Singapore Reefs (OSR) was the organiser that led the cleanup project carried out on 4 June.

Image from SeaKeepers Asia

Established just a month ago, the group aims to promote awareness of our marine biodiversity. The initiative works with diving centre The Submersibles, the Tropical Marine Science Institute of NUS, SeaKeepers Asia, NParks and MPA. They cleared 424 pieces of debris weighing over 72kgs, including a car battery, an anchor and a trolley. In fact, NParks just announced the discovery of over 480 rediscovered species of plants and animals over the last five years, along with recovery of 94 species.

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