Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Trials & Tribulations of Binjai Stream: Not for the faint-hearted, like, seriously.

Today is probably one of the most Interesting (note the capital I) days of my life.

We met up with Mr. Kwok Chen Ko, a lecturer from Singapore Poly, who does a lot of work on the water quality of streams in Singapore. He is super! Chen Ko invited two of us freshfaced-bushytailed-brighteyed-first-year-going-on-second geography students to a water quality monitoring trip at BINJAI STREAM.

that stream is really ulu. it is set pretty deep in the heart of Bukit Timah nature reserve, not something that hikers usually stumble upon. Reason being:

this is the entrance to the stream.

we walked through one of these tunnels in order to get to the stream. and there were things flying passed our faces/heads (okay dont let your imagination run wild, they are really just swallows not blood-sucking bats) and strange creatures crawling on the walls (okay they are really just lizards and gekkos). The water in there was nearly ankle to calve deep.

oh and, by the way, the tunnel goes under the PIE expressway.

after the tunnel:

not something you would expect to see eh? hahaha with all the concretization of streams and rivers in Singapore, many of us assumed that rivers/streams look like this:

(source: Flickr, Jurong River, visible from the MRT towards Jurong East station)

The first thing i noticed about Binjai Stream is how clear its waters were:

you can totally see the streambed! it is sandy at the bottom, and the water, according to ChenKo, is one of the cleanest around (in terms of dissolved loads -ie. the ions present in the water - and suspended load -ie. the sediments in the water)

I believe that it is this clear as there has been little rainfall lately. During the monsoon months/heavy rainfall, sediments from the surroundings will be washed into the stream, clouding it up. Plus, there are hints of such sediment wash:

also, landslides are prevalent as you go higher upstream. This too, contributes to the amount of sediments in the river.

but i saw something that made me very upset again:

i saw SO MANY half-eaten Durians along the stream that if i ever see or smell a Durian again in my life i swear i will SCREAM. Im really fine with people picking durians and having a durian picnic at Bukit Timah. In fact, i think its a pretty cool and authentic way of eating Durians. but at least dump the shells and plastic bottles!!!

okay so i attempted bravely to ignore the atrocity and continued with our mission at hand:

this is willis measuring the pH of the water, which registered at about pH5.8, slight acidic.

Chen Ko taking a sample for further testing.

Later, we were joined by a group of grasscutters - wow they actually maintain this place!

its good that they are here to clear the path and stuff, but with them walking in the stream, it really murks up the waters at our testing site! look at the water, you can no longer see the streambed.

and theres me, testing the amount of Calcium in the water, the solution was supposed to be pinkish/violet:

#1 - note the clear-ness of the water, this sample was taken before the grasscutters came

#2 - note the murky quality of the water, this sample was taken after the grasscutters came

if you are wondering where the calcium comes from, it comes from the soil. Water (especially in natural streams like this) passes through different layers of the soil before reaching the river, a process we call Percolation, it dissovles and picks up different minerals. and calcium is one of them.

this is the end of our first station, and we move forward. Deeper into the forest, upstream of the river.

The stream looked pretty Friendly at first, flat and sandy riverbed, easy for walking (note willis's shoes are WHITE here):

later we were greeted with our first trial:

this is what i meant by "landslides during the wet season".

those muddy looking walls at the sides will fall if it gets saturated with water. the walls are there as the movement of the water cuts through the soil, and at the same time carry off the sediments. A process know as River Erosion.

Next, we came across this:

Fallen trees are really NOT a stream-trekker's bestfriend.

i assure you, this is NOT the only one we had to cross. i think there was one tree every 5 meters. it was awesome. i felt like Indianna Jones' minion! and at the same time, the river bed was getting all muddy and boggy-like.

however, everything paid off when we saw two small, mini, NATURAL 'waterfalls':
Please Click to Enlarge, small pictures do not do them justice!!!



well.. we climbed those waterfalls too. HAHAHAHAHA. i told you it was an interesting day! if there was more water - ie. higher stream discharge, say during a storm event, these 2 'waterfalls' could have been rapids!

we met some animals along the way. im sure theres a whole lot more, just that we were too preoccupied with the trees and the slippery rocks to notice them. im sorry!

This little toady here jumped on to my shoe! and i thought it was a piece of leaf.

and here's Jiayi's favourite thing in the world, a slug. we also saw one huge Golden-Orb Spider, similar to the ones at Chek Jawa, but it was too high up to take a proper picture ):

a Durian fell from one of the many Durian trees, woah did it make a loud sound. yes folks its the Durian season once again (im not a fan).

Finally, we reached the 'end' of the river:

there's this weird slab of concrete at the end. we were wondering what exactly is it. an old military check point? or some pipe connector that broke?

anyways we got on with work:

Chen Ko Testing the Turbidity (amount of suspended sediments) of the water. Which, registered a much higher reading than that downstream. Hence, there are higher levels of sediments here.

I did the test on Electrical Conductivity which (in laymen) implies the amount of IONS in the stream. This too, registered a higher reading than downstream.

higher amount of suspended load + higher amount of dissolved load = due to more upstream erosion??

anyways, i was all looking foward on the return trip - the same route of fallen trees, marching ants, slugs, leaping toadies and super cool waterfalls.

but chen ko knows another route! a much quicker one that would bring us back to civilization. and we emerge from the forest to this:

this is one of THE main source which contributes to the stream that we were following! we decided to go down and take a look:

WE FOUND A POND! two ponds, to be exact. 10 mins ago we were in that forest, by the way.

this pretty much concludes our water quality testing day. it was a great adventure, really.

You may be wondering why is Chenko collecting these data - he is simply doing so to keep a record of how our environment is behaving. These data may prove to be of great importance in the future, as over time, they could reveal a certain trend, especially when it concerns the water supply.

For the time being, i do hope that the Binjai Stream will remain the way it is - serene, peaceful and wild. untainted by urbanization and concretization (for most parts).
Love, Serene!

Special Thanks to:

Mr Kwok Chen Ko for taking us along with him on this amazing trip!
Mr Willis Sim for getting his shoes dirty (understatement of the century):

his shoes were originally white!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chek Jawa IV: Im a Tabloid Lover, check out these Chocolate Truffle Rocks.

if there is one place i really really really REALLY want to go in Singapore, that would be Pulau Sekudu.

or Frog's Island.The name came from a pretty erm, well.. strange legend of how Pulau Ubin was formed.

Apparently, one fine day, a pig, an elephant and a frog decide to engage in a swimming race to johor (i never knew that elephants and pigs can swim!). all 3 animals lost, and the frog turned into Pulau Sekudu, and the elephant + pig turned into Pulau Ubin.

okay that aside, Frog's Island is really a small, Granite islet next to Chek Jawa:

look at those rocks: the colors, the shape and the placings of the rocks - these arent random! they are carved out after millions of years of weathering.

Dont the rocks look like Chocolate truffle cakes? i believe that the white band is there as during high tide, the sea water covers that particular area, and wave action bleaches it (due to the salt content).. any thoughts?

what exactly is weathering?

in simple terms, its really the disintegration of rocks via natural elements such as water and heat from the sun.

Weathering and Erosion are different in a sense that Erosional processes MOVE materials away from their original spots and weathering does not do that.

i wldnt go into the ghastly details, though i would love to, you'd have to take A-Level geography for that!

I havent been onto the islet YET, as from what ive read, the NParks has made it now illegal to go onto the islet without a permit. For people have been abusing the islet by illegally fishing and harvesting marine life like oysters and clams. good going folks.

anyways, to give you an idea of how the rocks are like on the islet:

(source: Wildsingapore)
these rocks arent here to stay forever, eventually the elements will weather it away into nothing. so it would be good to take a look before they are really gone.

I understand the desire to leave your mark (for i was once an avid doodler on school tables), but OMG DONT PEOPLE GROW OUT OF IT? if you enjoy doodling, do it on a piece of paper.
(and john im sorry it says john, im sure its not you)

you can visit for some REALLY GOOD PICTURES. i was totally blown away.

This rock is found on the main island of P.Ubin:

the vertical lines are really lines of weakness which would allow the entry of water for further weathering.

this is an example of how wave actions and water weather rocks and give them distinctive shapes (once again, ignore the two mad people)- if the rocks were bigger and the waves were stronger, the curved area would have formed a lagoon.

ARRRGHHH! even the rocks arent spared of litter!!!

i know many people do not understand my obsession with rocks.

but if you think about it, rocks are really little bits of historical records of the changes that earth went through, take for example this:

(photo: Vithya)
this is something my friend Vithya saw in India, its termed "Krishna's butterball" - a granite rock perched on a smooth slope. yet it doesnt roll! isnt it a wonder?

no one has any idea how it got there, for its composition is totally different from the other rocks around it. some suggested that it is brought there by Glacial Erosion - which has the capcity to move huge materials. but that would mean that india had a totally diffferent climate in the past! see what i mean now?

(photo: John)
and these are some limestone/chalk cliffs that John visited in Dover, England. these cliffs, too, take millions of years before they become cliffs.

so the next time you kick a stone out of your way, remember, you are really kicking bits of Earth's history!

<3 serene!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Chek Jawa III: Spicy Red Ants, Chocolate Truffle Rocks and Spiders of the Same Age.

hahah okay so we have seen all the intertidal inhabitants, now lets look at some land-based organisms!

Oh before that, CH / SONNENBLUME has very kindly helped me identify some of the intertidal organisms like:This is a Garlic-Bread sea cucumber. Sure does look like a loaf of bread HAHA maybe slighty moldy bread. (more info:

and my super cute tiny crab buddy, which ashton enjoyed chasing around:

is a Sand Bubble Crab.. ah yes now i remember. the tiny circular objects around it are the sand bubbles made by the crab. (info:

(look at the comments of the previous post! Thanks CH / SONNENBLUME!!)

okay back to the main topic. Land-based organisms (if you dont like bugs, im sorry):

This super artistic photo is taken by willis (accidentally), this is a female spider. omg she is about the size of my palm! This spider seems to belong to the Golden orb web spider species but im really not that sure. (info:

the web is HUGE, above us:

we later stumble upon the 3D web:

i wonder how long did it take to build that web. and the male spider is TINY.

can you see that tiny red speck on the web? it is really the male spider (i think you should click to enlarge). ashton decided to ask his famous question "Are the Spiders of the same age?". the guide couldnt answer and the rest of us just burst out laughing. we are STILL laughing abt it if you are wondering.

apparently it is the ONLY male spider left on the web.. the female has eaten the rest of the males after mating with them. basic instinct huh.

next, we saw some crickets:

and also this truly magnificent sight of some cotton stainer bugs (info: mating, note how two bugs seemed to be 'connected' at the back:

(photo by Janette Goh)

and this world famous plant, Eurycoma longifolia, commonly known as the Tongkat Ali, an evergreen plant:

we were told that this Tongkat Ali plant was bald a few weeks ago, aparently some joker decided to harvest it for medicinal purpose and thus, cut off the leaves. what he did not know was that the medicinal properties of the plant lies in its roots. Luckily, Mr. Ali managed to regrow (:

Karin and I got very excited when we saw this:

THE ATAPCHEE!!! the very same one you eat in the Ice-Kachang. Another shot here of fallen atapchees, each husk contains exactly ONE precious atapchee:

Ah, how will we live without the Nipah Palm? it gives us the Atapchee and its leaves and stem were utilised for house building in the past. take a good look at it the next time you go to Chek Jawa, Sungei Buloh or Pulau Tekong, for it is considered endangered in Singapore. (info:

We later saw an Oriental Whip Snake (info:, lazy on a tree:

i wish we could have taken better photos of it, but its too high up!

We also saw one of the Oriental Pied Hornbills (which escaped from Jurong Birdpark to Chek Jawa, it was found with a tag!).. ah it is damn tough to photograph a bird, it doesnt stop moving.

this second photo is taken by Janette:

Apparently Hornbills mate for life, and the good people at Chek Jawa attempted to provide the lovebirds with a nice and comfy 'condominium', which was ultimately rejected:

When i was a kid, what i wanted to do was to be a biologist/ecologist. i somehow mixed biology/ecology up with geography and thus, here i am, doing a BA in geography.

But after this trip, i realised how much i like geograhy better. for it is the geographical processes that create the environment for these organisms to thrive in; it is geography (climate, presence of water) that dictates the distribution of these organisms. can you imagine polar bears in the tropics (lets not talk abt the singapore zoo)?

therefore, i suppose this is where CLIMATE CHANGE will come into place.

(okay note: it is NOT GLOBAL WARMING. because some areas in the world will be cooler than it is now... i get annoyed by that term HAHAHAHA)

with Climate Change, the environmental factors will be altered:
- tide levels will rise, thus, extinguishing intertidal habitats and wiping out the mangroves.
- temperature changes will affect the survival of both land and sea based organisms.

i dont want to jump onto the whole Al Gore and IPCC bandwagon (which i think is slightly alarmist in nature). i wld just like to highlight the POSSIBILTY of this happening.

i cant say that by doing our part (such as stop littering and over consuming) we can definitely stop the change. but i believe that by doing so, we can at least slow down the change to allow researchers some time to alleviate the problem.

but anyways, stay TUNED (happy now jiayi and jiangyang?)... ive got more on Chek Jawa!

Love, serene!