After months of planning and procrastination, we finally got off our butts and hopped on a ferry to St John’s Island for an island excursion.
With just a few clicks on the internet, we found out that it is pretty easy to get there. Ferries to St John’s Island run from Marina South Pier (last MRT station on the North-South Line). There are two ferry providers, Singapore Island Cruise and Marina South Ferries, with ferries that run from the mainland to St John’s Island, Kusu Island and even Sister’s Island (for Marina South Ferries). Cost of a round-trip ticket ranges from $15-18 per adult and $12 per child.
And so, bright and early one Sunday morning, we set off to catch the earliest 9am ferry to St John’s Island.
During the ferry ride, we were treated to gorgeous views of our green isle – views that we usually would not get the chance to admire.
St John’s Island was a mere 30 minutes ride away, and before we could get enough of the beautiful Singapore coastline views, we were blown away with yet more alluring views of the Southern Islands – Sentosa, St John’s Island, Lazarus Island, Sisters’ Island, and more.
We were brimming with anticipation as we disembarked from the ferry and set foot on the island.
There waiting to welcome us were a couple of familiar faces – a family of Pacific Swallows (Hirundo tahitica) enjoying the sea breeze by the dock.
Before setting off on our island expedition, we thought it would be a good idea to consult the island map and familiarise ourselves with the St John’s Island Trail route.
Just as we were about to set off, we were delighted to be greeted by some of the feline residents of the island.
St John’s Island is sometimes also known as Singapore’s cat island, because there used to be more than a hundred cats living on the island. However, the cat population has declined in recent years, probably due to a successful sterilization program.
Along the way, it will be hard to miss the St John’s Island Lodge, which comprises a holiday bungalow and a campsite, reminiscent of the school camping trips that we used to take when we were kids. We just might come back one day to experience an overnight stay on the island.
Rambling along the St John’s Island Trail, the rustic charm and peaceful atmosphere slowly percolated through our veins and we felt our worries and stress gradually leave our bodies.
The beautiful beaches are one of the main draws for the tourists that come to visit the Southern islands.
Fishing is also a popular activity for those who are angling for a catch or two.
The island trail brought us to the sites of several heritage trees, where we could appreciate the magnificent trees that stand rooted all over the island.
One of these heritage trees that we got acquainted with is the Machang Pulasan (Mangifera magnifica), a large tree in the mango family that has a massive trunk with a dense and domed-shaped crown, and can reach up to 40-metres in height. The fruit is used to make sambal and the wood is used as timber. This species is classified as Critically Endangered in the wild population in Singapore.
Another majestic specimen that we came across is the Sea Fig (Ficus superba), a large strangling tree that can grow up to 30-metres tall. In a country where fig trees are in abundance, the Sea Fig is surprisingly uncommon in Singapore and its conservation status is Endangered.
The numerous flowering plants with their bright cheery flowers attract not only us humans but also the birds.
Nectar-loving birds such as the Brown-throated Sunbirds (Anthreptes malacensis) gravitate towards these flowering plants, and we in turn gravitate towards these birds.
Following the trail of the birds, we slowly made our way towards the Tropical Marine Science Institute, which houses an impressive marine research facility that does research and conservation work on the rich marine biodiversity in Singapore’s waters.
Little did we know that Singapore’s waters are home to more than 250 hard coral species (a third of the world’s total), more than 100 species of reef fish, 200 sponge species and 12 seagrass species!
In the little viewing pool inside the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, we could “dive” without getting wet, and get up close to the reefs, sponges and reef fish.
What caught our eye were a couple of Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) clowning around among the tentacles of the carpet anemone. It was quite entertaining to watch them rub their bodies and heads against the carpet anemone and go round and round in circles.
We learnt that the clownfish and the sea anemones have a symbiotic and mutualistic relationship. The sea anemone protects the clownfish from predators, as well as providing food through the scraps left from the anemone’s meals, and functions as a safe nest site. In return, the clownfish defends the sea anemone from its predators and parasites. The sea anemone also picks up nutrients from the clownfish’s excrement.
Other marine animals that we can observe in the viewing pool include the sea cucumbers, sea urchins, star fish, damselfish, and hermit crabs.
Outside the Marine Park, we continued to wander around the coastal forests, where we spied on a family of Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) monkeying around the Casuarina trees.
St John’s Island and the neighbouring Lazarus Island are home to coastal forests, which contain plants that thrive close to the sea and can survive in harsh sandy or rocky environments. In the past, Lazarus Island was also home to a thriving coastal community that dwelled in houses next to the sea and made a living from its waters.
Next, follow us as we hop over to Lazarus Island to explore this wild and untouched beauty.