29 November 2017

Mudflats of Singapore - Kopi Tiam of the Sea

Mudflats teem with delicious burrowing life. Noodly worms. Crunchy clams. Yummy little crab snacks.
Mudflats at Changi Creek, easily viewed from the boardwalk.
Shorebirds gorge on them at low tide. At high tide, fishes swim in to gobble them up.


These in turn are hunted by crocodiles in the water, and eagles in the sky.
Living crocodile at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, 8 Mar 2015
Crocodile at Sungei Buloh from the Main Bridge.

Abundantly stocked mudflats are vital 'fast food' stops for shorebirds. Especially migratory birds that travel thousands of miles. Without mudflats, these birds may die along the way.
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Egrets hunting on a mudflat at Sungei Buloh.

Mudflats form as silt settles when currents slow down as a river reaches the sea. Especially in sheltered lagoons. Mangroves usually grow on the landward side of mudflats. The fine sediments create a layer that appears solid, but is actually super soft. To walk on mud at low tide, it's good to be a mudskipper!
Giant mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri)
Giant mudskipper tracks to its burrow, at Sungei Buloh.

Or have very long toes to distribute your weight across the soft mud, like the egret.
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Egret hunting at Sungei Buloh.

Humans are not very well adapted for working on mudflats. As volunteers discovered during the Mega Marine Survey to find out what lives in Singapore's mudflats. When it's too soft, you need to move on your knees to distribute your weight.
Mega Marine Survey: Walking on our knees
Volunteers at Pulau Semakau for the Mega Marine Survey.

Sometimes, the only way to avoid sinking is to lie down!
Mega Marine Survey: Ubin Min-Expedition, Mar 2012
Volunteer at Pulau Ubin for the Mega Marine Survey.

Here's how muddy humans will get on some of Singapore's mudflats.
Drawing by Rene Ong.


Threats to Singapore mudflats

Most of Singapore's mudflats were buried in reclamation, or converted for aquaculture. As Singapore's rivers were dammed to form reservoirs, Singapore's remaining mudflats were 'starved' of inflows of sediments from rivers. With less inputs of mud, the flats become vulnerable to erosion.
Erosion has exposed roots of this mangrove tree
Complete loss of mud under mangrove tree at Kranji Dam.


Mudflats to visit

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve's Mud Experience is designed  specially for kids and the young-at-heart. To get a closer look at mud and even get your feet wet at high tide, if you like.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: Mud Experience

You can also view mudflats from many other places at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The Main Hide allows you a closer look at shorebirds feeding on the mudflats. On the Main Bridge at low tide you can see crocodiles and more. Elsewhere, look closely for little crabs and other critters.
Kids enjoying shorebirds at Sungei Buloh


Kampung at Seletar Dam is a series of houses on stilts with extensive wooden boardwalks over mudflats. The area is private property, so don't trespass. If you're friendly, they may let you in. There are some really huge mudskippers here. The vast mudflats on the seaward side are popular with shorebirds at low tide.
Kampung at Seletar mangroves


Changi Creek boardwalk along Telok Paku Road-Nicoll Drive takes you along a tiny sliver of mangroves and magnificent mudflats. At low tide, get a glimpse of large frolicking mudskippers. At high tide, see fishes in the water. If you're lucky, you might spot otters.
Changi Creek mangroves


Kranji mudflats: To visit, join the regular Horseshoe Crab Research and Rescue effort by the Marine Conservation Group, Nature Society (Singapore). Help release horseshoe crabs trapped in nets and learn more about our mudflats and mangroves.
Coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas) trapped in abandoned fish net at Berlayar Creek


This article is written for Celebrating Singapore Shores as part of International Year of the Reef 2018.

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