by Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Today is World Sea Turtle Day (16 June 2020). As we celebrate Sea Turtles, we remember the magical and fortuitous event which took place at East Coast beach of Singapore just weeks ago on World Turtle Day (23 May 2020). A critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) came ashore to nest!

The tapered head and beak-like jaw of the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are adaptations for it to forage in coral reefs to feed on sponges. Tragically, most sea turtles will ingest plastic in some form during their lifetime. We must keep our oceans and sea shores free of marine litter! PHOTO: Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Nesting in Broad Daylight

To the amazement of the few out exercising at East Coast Park beach during the COVID-19 lockdown, this Hawksbill Sea Turtle dug into the sand and laid her eggs in broad daylight before safely heading back to sea.

The closed beaches, off-limits to humans for their own good, meant more space, peace and quiet for our native wildlife to do their thing.

Sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Hatchlings will return to their natal beaches to lay eggs. However, sea turtles have to compete with humans to find suitable undisturbed beaches to nest on. In Singapore, excessive bright lighting along our beaches discourage nesting and cause hatchlings to wander inland to die.
PHOTO: Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) by Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Flying Foxes Galore

Not long after, another rare phenomenon took place serendipitously on World Environment Day (5 June 2020) – a large colony of about three hundred Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) flew into the rainforest of our Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Wow! Are those birds? Are they drones? Nope, just ‘foxes’ that fly! – Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.).
PHOTO: Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Biggest Bats

With faces that resemble foxes and with a wingspan of about one metre, they are among the biggest bats in the world.

These Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) are members of a large colony which has come to roost in a tall tree in the rainforest on the fringe of Seletar Reservoir Park. As in the recent case of the Openbill Storks who had migrated to Singapore, it is likely that these mega-bats had been forced to leave their original home site in a neighbouring country due to disturbance of the colony, destruction of their habitat, or a lack of food sources. Unfortunately, it is currently not the fruiting or flowering season here in Singapore’s forests, which will make foraging difficult for these amazing flying mammals.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sabrina Jabbar, who first sighted them on 5 June 2020.

Mega-bats Under Threat

Flying Foxes are found in parts of Asia, Africa, Australia and some oceanic islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They can fly long distances to forage for food. In Singapore, resident colonies of the native Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus) have long been extirpated. Many species of Flying Foxes are threatened by hunting, habitat loss and deforestation.

An unprecedented wild sighting in Singapore! A large colony of about 300 Flying Foxes (Pteropus sp.) circling above their tree top roost in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
GIF: Teresa Teo Guttensohn

Time to Turn the Tide for Nature

As we witness more of such phenomenon, and with one million species believed to be facing extinction, will our children and our children’s children be able to see nature’s wonders as we now still have the privilege to enjoy?

If we all act decisively now, there is still time to turn the tide for Nature and ourselves!

“The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable, all come from nature. Yet, these are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message: To care for ourselves, we must care for nature.

It is time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It’s time to build back better for People and Planet. This World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.”

The endangered Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) has serrated jaws adapted for feeding on sea grasses and algae. As they forage, they maintain the health of sea grass beds which provide nursery grounds for marine life, and which are the only feeding grounds of the endangered Dugong (Dugong dugon). Sea grasses were once common here up to the 1960s, with extensive meadows found off the eastern coast of Singapore and its offshore islands. The most damaging impact to sea grasses is total destruction due to land reclamation. We can help to conserve sea grass by not polluting or stepping on seagrass!
PHOTO: Kevin Li (IG: @lkevyn)

Turtle Hatchery

To help save Singapore’s population of sea turtles, a protected turtle hatchery located in Sisters’ Islands Marine Park was launched in September 2018.

What can you do? To contribute to turtle conservation,  volunteer with the ‘Biodiversity Beach Patrol’ by NParks to patrol beaches at night during the nesting season.