ecosystems | rocky | sandy | seagrass | coral rubble | coral reef
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Sandy shore ecosystem
updated Dec 08
A natural sandy shore may appear dead, but is actually full of life if you take a closer look!

Sandy ecosystems may be found near the high water mark, as well as on large sand bars that may form further away from 'dry land'.

What is sand? Sand is made up of broken bits of rocks and shells and bones of sea creatures. Together, sand grains form an entire galaxy of invisible life in the sand. Each grain is surrounded by a thin film of water. Swimming about in this film are microscopic lifeforms. These microscopic lifeforms are eaten by tiny animals, which in turn are eaten by larger ones. Many food chains on a shore depend on such humble creatures. In Singapore, the sand grains of most of our natural shores are mostly made up of quartz grains.

Sandy shores are often bare of seaweeds and seagrasses because the shifting sand grains provide an unstable substrate and there is less nutrients. But shores which are a little muddy or silty will have more plants.

Where are the animals? Underground! Most sand-dwellers burrow deep into the sand to stay moist and cool at low tide. Here, they are also safer from predators. Living in sand is like living in moving sandpaper. Sand particles are abrasive and move with the currents. Many sand dwellers thus live in protective tubes or shells.

Home in the sand: A stretch of natural sandy shores may be home to a vast variety of animals. On the surface, the most obvious large animals may be peacock anemones and carpet anemones. You may also see busy fiddler crabs, sand bubbler crabs and soldier crabs. More placid sand dollars and Common sea stars may be just beneath the surface. As well as large Ball sea cucumbers and tiny Button shells. Burrowing deeper into the sand are a wide variety of clams, as well as tubeworms.

Sometimes, you may come across 'craters' in the sandy shore. These are believed to be created by sting rays who stir up the sand during high tide in search for buried prey.

Please be gentle when looking at animals on the sand bar. Don't dig up animals, they may get hurt. If you pick up animals found on or near the sand surface, be sure to put them back exactly the way you found them.

Where can we explore natural sandy shores in Singapore? There are few natural sandy shores left in Singapore as most of these have been reclaimed. Among our northern islands, there are natural sandy shores on Pulau Ubin, the most famous being the one at Chek Jawa. Also at Pulau Sekudu. Natural sandy shores can also still be found on Sentosa, Pulau Semakau and Cyrene Reefs. The sandy shores of Pasir Panjang (meaning 'long sandy beach' in Malay) have been reclaimed and our container port is now located there.

Most of the sandy shores on the mainland are reclaimed land. But after many years, life has returned and these shores now have quite an interesting variety of marine life. In the North, these include Pasir Ris (which means 'narrow sandy beach' in Malay), Changi with a long stretch of reclaimed land on the East Coast. Many of our Southern islands also have sandy reclaimed shores.

Natural sandy shore of Cyrene Reefs.


Hardly bigger than the sand balls they create,
Sand bubbler crabs may be common on a shore.


Sand stars
are commonly seen
on many of our northern sandy shores.

Tubeworms may be found in vast
stretches of the sandy shore.

'Craters' left behind by feeding stingrays?
Chek Jawa, May 02
Thousands of tiny Button snails may be
buried just beneath the sand surface.

Links

References

  • Tan, Hugh T.W. L.M. Chou, Darren C. J. Yeo and Peter K.L. Ng. 2007. The Natural Heritage of Singapore. Second edition. Prentice Hall. 271 pp.
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