Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Pulau Ubin


Pulau Ubin, literally translated as 'Granite Island' in Malay, is one of the larger islands (1020 ha) found off the northeastern coast of Singapore. Formerly made up of four smaller islands separated by tidal rivers, the island is now one continuous land mass due to bunds built for prawn farming. One can still find Singapore's last remaining villages on this island, where island residents still rely on generators for electricity and wells for water. Pulau Ubin is a hotspot for recreation (cycling, jogging, picnic) and nature-related activities (birdwatching, nature walks), with visitorship reaching a peak of more than 380,000 people in 2007.

As suggested from the island's name, a major component of the landforms on Pulau Ubin is granite. Granite batholiths were formed on this island, together with larger ones at Bukit Timah, during a mountain building event (the Thai-Malay orogeny) in the Mesozoic Era approximately 260 million years ago. Hence, granite cliffs and granite boulders with distinct solution grooves can be seen on the shores of the island. Due to the economic value of granite, quarries were opened on this island to mine for the rocks. This was the main economic activity for the thousands of people who once settled on this island in the 1960's. It was only until 1999 that the last quarry on Pulau Ubin was phased out. Today, one can still find lakes formed years after the quarries were abandoned. Grasslands and forests also regenerated, slowly covering the mining history of Ubin.

On top of the unique habitats which the cliffs and quarries provide, there is a great variety of other habitats on the island, ranging from open countries and secondary forests to mangrove and coral reefs.

Among the many coastal habitats on the island, Chek Jawa (an intertidal shore on the island with rich biodiversity) is probably the one that received the most public attention. Saved from a proposed land reclamation under public pressure in 2001, the shore is a popular spot for public guided walks organised by NParks to educate people about intertidal diversity and ecology. One of the largest patches of seagrass in Singapore (approximately 50 ha) is also found here.

The mangrove forests on Pulau Ubin are one of the larger and more significant stands remaining in Singapore. The rare mangrove tree species Bruguiera hainesii (previously undocumented in Singapore) was first seen in the magrove forests of this island. Once in a while, a fortunate visitor would get a glimpse of the critically endangered Smooth Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). It is also here that probably the only functioning prawn ponds in Singapore still operate.

As a result of human activities in the past and recent years, much of its original forests were destroyed and secondary forests have developed in their place. In particular, the secondary forests on the western end of the island is stagnating at the early stage of 'Adinandra belukar', whereby the community is dominated by the scrub plant Adinandra dumosa (Tiup-tiup). It is hypothesised that such stagnation could be due to soil degradation or limited seed dispersal from sources in primary forests. Under a project by NParks and ButterflyCircle, some of the secondary vegetation on a small hillock (Butterfly Hill) was actually manually replaced by flowering plants to attract butterflies.

Besides guided walks available for Chek Jawa, there are also guided tours conducted by NParks volunteers to walk visitors through the Sensory Trail. Along this trail, one can touch, see, smell, and even taste many familiar fruit plants, herbs and spices including pandan, coffee, jasmine, and coconut. These serve as reminders about the 'kampong' or village past of the island, where orchards, plantations and farms were once abundant.

Though many wildlife were lost over the years on the island due to human activity, there were pleasant surprises in recent years. Many species of bats (some of which rare) such as the Greater Bamboo Bat (Tylonycteris robustula), the Common Long-tongued Fruit Bat (Macroglossus minimus), and the Malayan False Vampire (Megaderma spasma) are among the various ones recorded on this island. It was on this island that the Greater Mousedeer (Tragulus napu), once thought to be locally extinct in Singapore, has been rediscovered during a study done by NUS and NParks researchers in 2008. The Singapore Hornbill Project, under the collaboration of NParks, NUS, Wildlife Reserves Singapore and independent researchers, has also successfully brought back the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) to Pulau Ubin and Singapore.

Getting there

Visitors have to board a 12-seater bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal ($2.50 per person, one way; additional fees are charged for bicycles). The boats operate from dawn to dusk. Trips after dark are by special request with the operators.

Other Resources

National Parks Board. Pulau Ubin. http://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_visitorsguide&task=parks&id=29&Itemid=73. (Accessed December 2011).


Ng, P. K. L. & N. Sivasothi (eds.), 1999. A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I, Singapore Science Centre, Singapore, 168 pp.

Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (eds.), 2011. Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development, Editions Didier Millet, Singapore, 552 pp.

Related Images

Related Documents

  • Rediscovery of Greater Mouse Deer, Tragulus napu (Mammalia: Artiodactyla: Tragulidae) in Pulau Ubin, Singapore.
    Chua, M., N. Sivasothi & R. Teo (08 Sep 2009)
  • Orthoptera in Pulau Ubin
    Tan, M. K. (07 Oct 2010)

    A preliminary inventory of the common species of Orthoptera found in vegetation in Pulau Ubin is presented here. In particular, managed and spontaneous vegetation along the Sensory Trail were investigated. Pulau Ubin, being identified as a nature area (URA, undated), may function as a wildlife refuge for orthopteran species that may otherwise be rare in the urbanised Singapore mainland. However, with an increase in the percentage of built-up area (Sha, 2002), urban development on the island remains a threat to the biodiversity in Pulau Ubin. Therefore, the objectives of the paper are to inform the public of the orthopteran diversity in Pulau Ubin as part of Singapore’s natural heritage and to emphasise the need to “hang on” to (Chang, 2005) that which remains.

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