Friday, November 05, 2010

Last of our Pioneers

Pakcik Ali Bin Montail, deputy headman of Pulau Ubin, and owner of the blue coffee shop by the Ubin main jetty, passed away on the morning of 30 October 2010. He was 76. Pak Ali was battling cancer in the last leg of his life.

I first read of Pak Ali before I even met him, tasted his wife's wonderful cooking and visited his establishment before I had the honor of being introduced to him. Certificates of honor grace the walls of his coffeeshop. You can see his active service to the people of Ubin through the commendations of his glory days.

Pak Ali was one of "The Spirited Pioneers" featured in the special edition "Nature Watch" magazine by NSS on Pulau Ubin in 1995. It wrote this of Pak Ali,

"From the late 1960s to the 1980s, the younger generation in Ubin began to move to the mainland. It became an unstoppable trend. An islander that seems to have reversed the trend is 61-year-old Ali Bin Montail, the Deputy Headman of Ubin.

Ali had been working on the mainland as an engine driver until 1965 when he returned to Ubin to live and work, also as an engine driver, for Gim Huat Quarry until his retirement in 1986.

Ali had been born in swampy Kallang Rokok (Kallang Basin) and he had been brought to Ubin by his parents when he was a baby.

"We were very poor", Ali recalls. There was no opportunity for him to go to school. When he was growing up, he helped his father tap rubber and fished to supplement their income. After the war years, Ali worked as a vehicle mechanic earning about $2 a day. The hardworking Malay mechanic caught the attention of a British Engineer, Reiner, who advised him to take up night classes.

Ali took his advice and was later encouraged to study for the engine driver's certificate. This professional qualification enabled Ali to earn his living, first with the British RAF power station, and later with the Chinese quarry on Ubin.

Ali got married when he was in his early 20s and he has seven adult children. Like Lim Chye Joo (late headman of Ubin), the affable and energetic Ali threw himself into community service. He served in the Ubin Volunteer Special Constabulary in his younger days and since the late 1970s, he has been tirelessly involved in community centres of Changi and Pulau Ubin.

More than this, Ali also took the initiative to supply the villagers clustered around the main Ubin jetty with electricity. He did this voluntarily for 14 years until TAS took over. For his unstinting service to the community, Ali was awarded the Public Service Medal (in 1983). The indefatigable Ali now runs a food shop in Ubin's main village. He serves fantastic mee siam."
Over time as I began to be more familiar with Ubin and its residents, I have come to associate Pak Ali with a kindly smile and the fantastic lontong that his wife whips up every Sunday. The wonderful cookies they offer to visitors at his coffee shop during Hari Raya. The friendliness of his family.

You will be sorely missed.

RIP Pak Ali.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"Native Trees of Pulau Ubin"

If you are interested to know more about the native flora of Ubin, the best person to hear from would be Mr Ali Ibrahim, a NParks Pulau Ubin Conservation Officer. Ali has had over 25 years of experience with plants, and many of those years were spent with Ubin flora.

I had the privilege of going on a plant survey on Ubin with Ali once [photo on right] and can attest to his wealth of experience and knowledge. Not to mention, he also has some amazing tales about Ubin itself but that's another story for another day.

Talk Synopsis
Pulau Ubin is greener today than in the 1960s. The native trees that have survived the ravages of the past, can still be found on the island. Many of these have grown into majestic, landmark trees and serve as signposts of Ubin's natural history. Come for this interesting talk by Ali Ibrahim, Pulau Ubin Conservation Officer, with over 25 years of experiences with plants.

Time: 10-11.30am
Venue: Pulau Ubin, Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub. More on how to get to Pulau Ubin.

Related Reads:
10 Apr (Sat): Talk on "Native Trees of Pulau Ubin" on Wild Shores of Singapore

Sunday, January 03, 2010

34 Ubin House

taken over

Grant Pereira's GVN Green House is now known as 34 Ubin House. It's care and charge has now been taken over by the Nature Society (Singapore) who has taken over the temporary occupation license (TOL) with SLA.

Use of the house is still currently undetermined. Will update further when more is known.

looking inside

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Red tide affecting Pulau Ubin

Recently it's hit the news that massive algal bloom, also known as red tide, has affected the waters surrounding Pulau Ubin, Changi and Pasir Ris. There are several ways in which harmful algal bloom could cause mortality in marine organisms. According to Wikipedia's entry on algal bloom, these include:
1. the production of neurotoxins which cause mass mortalities in fish, seabirds and marine mammals
2. mechanical damage to other organisms, such as disruption of epithelial gill tissues in fish, resulting in asphyxiation
3. oxygen depletion of the water column (hypoxia or anoxia) from cellular respiration and bacterial degradation
Human consumption of seafood which has been affected by these algal bloom can also be potentially deadly. Seafood lovers, do take note!

As we know, large number of fish farms have been established in recent years by AVA in the straits of johor near Pulau Ubin. This red tide has also hit the fish farm resulting in large losses. Although reports in the news points to oxygen depletion, I wonder if there are possibilities of neurotoxins in the water or mechanical damages as pointed out earlier. As reported in the Wild shore of Singapore and God's wonderful creations, non-fish marine organism have remained unaffected.

Photo by Caroline Chia, Straits Times, "Plankton bloom hits Pulau Ubin fish farms"

Interestingly, some farmers would quoted to have "pumped seawater from greater depths to the surface to aerate the water there, and lowering nets so the fish swim in the more oxygen-rich water lying deeper in the ocean." However, the upwelling of seawater would also bring up the nutrients that usually lie at the bottom. Could this have fed more nutrients for algal growth?

Further on wikipedia, in occasions of hypoxia (or a depletion of oxygen in water), "fish kills can occur and invertebrates like worms and clams on the bottom may be killed as well." Crustaceans like crabs and shrimp would also be found dead. So far I have yet to read reports of dead crustacea or has any one spotted some? There could also be death not washed ashore. A healthy aquatic environment should have 80% dissolved oxygen and most fish cannot live with only less than 30% oxygen dissolved in the water.

There are also natural occurrences of oxygen depletion:

"Water flowing from a river into the sea is less dense than salt water. When this water does not mix with the underlying saline water, it sets up a stratification that results a decrease in vertical mixing. As a result, there is less supply of oxygen from the surface to the bottom, and the oxygen concentration in the bottom layer may become low enough for hypoxia to occur. Hypoxia is particularly problematic in shallow waters of semi-enclosed bodies of water like the Waddenzee or the Gulf of Mexico where land runoff is substantial. In these areas, a so-called "dead zone" can be created."

Interestingly, our straits of johor is relatively stagnant due to the presence of the causeway blocking off circulations in our straits. But Ubin being closer to the sea and to the mouth of Johor River, it is more likely that AVA's report of high freshwater discharge from monsoon storms into the sea could have caused this "natural" occurrence. The freshwater discharge "floats" on top of the saltwater. In this case the water at the bottom has less oxygen so for the fish farmers to lower their fish into the bottom or for them to bring water from the bottom to the top seems to defeat the purpose.

Let's just hope that this does not become a permanent dead zone. According to wikipedia's section on "solutions for hypoxia", it would appear that "air injection" rather than "pumping seawater to the surface" for "aeration" would do a better job.

If nothing else, let's hope that this incident would not result in another 2007 chek jawa mass mortality due to johore flood waters. It's amazing how the same excessive freshwater would result in such different events just 2 years apart. In fact, every year we suffer from similar monsoon freshwater discharges into our straits but why such a reaction this time round? Or could it be that we never noticed before due to the lack of fish farm with thousands of reared fish vulnerable to these natural changes? Perhaps when we situate our aquaculture facilities, we never took into consideration these seasonal fluctuations? Perhaps it's time we start! Most importantly, it's important that these human interferences such as aquaculture fish farms do not exacerbate the problem and result in negative impact on our already vulnerable marine ecosystems and wild population of marine life. Fingers crossed, nature will find its own equilibrium and return our waters back to normalcy soon!

Below are related news report:
"Fish farms in west spared from plankton woes", Irene Tham, Straits Times 3 Jan 10
"Plankton bloom hits Pulau Ubin fish farms" Melissa Sim, Straits Times 2 Jan 10
"200,000 fish in farms off Pasir Ris dead", Carolyn Quek & Jessica Lim, Straits Times 1 Jan 10
"Johor fishermen cry foul over dead fishes", Moh Farhaan Shah, The Star 1 Jan 10
"Dead fish on Pasir Ris beach", Straits Times 29 Dec 09

Ria Tan of WildSingapore offers her take on the situation:
"Dead fish zone" hits Pulau Ubin, 2 Jan 2010, Wild shores of Singapore
Why are there so many dead fish on Pasir Ris, 30 Dec 2009, Wild shores of Singapore
A closer look at dead fish found on Pasir Ris, 30 Dec 2009, Wild shores of Singapore
Dead fish at Pasir Ris, 29 Dec 2009, Wild shores of Singapore