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  • Writer's pictureRick

Pulau Ubin: Chek Jawa, Last Wetlands of Singapore

If you have not read the first part of the Pulau Ubin posts: Pulau Ubin: Island Paradise of Singapore, do read it first. It contains information on getting to Pulau Ubin and around the island.

Chek Jawa is one of Singapore's richest ecosystems with wide arrays of animals. The wetlands have six major natural habitats - mangroves, coastal forest, coral rubble, sandy beach, rocky beach and seagrass lagoon. Boardwalks were constructed for visitors to visit the wetlands without causing damages to the habitats, including stepping on sea creatures on the seashore.

This natural area was slated for land reclamation in 1992 but the plan was deferred after requests from the public to preserve it. Note that reclamation work is deferred only for as long as Pulau Ubin is not required for development. It may still be re-use by the government for other purpose in future. So, do treasure the last wetlands of Singapore while it is still around.

Map & Trails

The recommended trails for Pulau Ubin are shown here for convenience. For more details, do read the first part of the Pulau Ubin posts. From the pier near the village, follow the purple trail to Check Jawa and note the one-way sign along Jalan Durian. Chek Jawa trail is shown in orange.

Note that Chek Jawa's opening hours is from 8:30am to 6:00pm.

Chek Jawa Visitor Centre

This Tudor-style house is currently serving as Chek Jawa Visitor Centre. Nobody knows exactly why this pre-war structure was built here. It has two storeys with few rooms, an open lawn at the back and a pier (off-limit to visitors). You might want to explore this house before moving on to the wetlands.

The best time to visit the wetlands at Chek Jawa is during the super low-tides (below 0.5m), but they don't happen every day. Don't be disappointed if your schedule does not coincide with the low-tides, Chek Jawa has boardwalks above the submerged wetlands and through a mangrove swamp nearby. You can still explore the area and look for wildlife.

If you are really interested to set foot on a wetland, check the date and tides information at NParks website. You will need a guide to go down to the exposed land mass and to get you off the land before the tides return in two hours. It will be cheaper to form a guided group than to hire a guide to yourself.

Below are some photos taken during a super low-tide:

A heron hunting for fishes.

Orange fiddler crabs, about the size of a Singapore 20-cent coin, on the sandy beach when the tide retreats. One of the reasons why you are not supposed to step off the boardwalk is to avoid stepping on and killing creatures like them.

Carpet anemones that became visible after the tide retreats from the seagrass lagoon. If you are lucky, you may spot starfishes, seahorses, horseshoe crabs and many more sea creatures strangled on the shore by the retreating tide. But not to worry about the stranglers, the tide will be back in about an hour.

Coral rubble exposed in low waters. There are blue, purple and yellow-coloured corals below the boardwalk and more further out to sea.

New additions to Pulau Ubin (specifically Chek Jawa): two baby sea eagles.

Beautiful sun rays breaking through the clouds after a light rain. This was taken on the boardwalk above the wetlands and seagrass lagoon.

Pulau Ubin Chek Jawa

Leaving the wetlands, do continue on the boardwalk through the mangrove swamp. There are more to see there.

There are numerous nipa palm trees in the mangroves. The young seeds are edible and is usually sweetened after processing. Do not cut the fruit up and put the gelatinous pulp in your mouth, they are not processed and could be sour. It is also an offence to damage floras in a nature park.

If you order ice kacang at the ice desserts shop in Ubin village or any food centres on the mainland, you will be able to try the nipa palm seeds (or attap chee). That's the two pulps on the spoon.

A water monitor lizard lazying on a mud mound. The swamp is their natural habitat. Usually in the afternoon, they will be sunbathing in open spaces where there are more sunlight.

You need to be very lucky to see a mud lobster out in the open for they are usually inside mud mounds during the day. The picture above shows the pincers of a mud lobster pushing wet mud out of its new burrow.

A tree-climbing crab on a mud mound. Try finding one on a tree but keep to the boardwalk. Stepping on the mud mounds can kill crustaceans living in them.

A non-venomous bronze-back snake spotted on the boardwalk. Why is it on the boardwalk? To get to the other side, of course. Snakes do hunt in the mangroves too. And some water snakes are venomous, but they won't bite unless being provoked. This is another reason to keep to the boardwalk.

The 7-storey watch tower, or Jejawi Tower, in the mangroves offers a wide view of the surroundings and canopy of the coastal forest. It is also a good place to watch for the sea eagles, kingfishers and other birdlife and, sometimes, the hornbills. Put on sunblock if you are going to wait under the sun, the watch tower is not sheltered.

You will probably spot more interesting things and wildlife than us. Good luck.

Heading Back to The Jetty

You need to vacate Chek Jawa by 6:00pm or the security guard may lock you in and let the mosquitoes feast on you through the night. It can happen if you purposely evade the guard when he makes the last round to clear visitors from the premise.

Anyway, if you rent a bicycle and leave Chek Jawa at 6pm, you are left with 30 minutes to reach the village to return it. If you are not familiar with the return path, you may need longer time to get back. Also, you may be the last few visitors to leave the island, especially on weekdays.

If you have not read Part 1 of the Pulau Ubin post, do read up on the section on getting back to mainland Singapore after Chek Jawa.

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