On Good Friday morning, dawn came over Hantu like a ghastly spectre of blinding gold and shimmering grey, casting shadows over the surrounding towers of industry that loom and encircle this island of lost spirits. The long weekend had beckoned early and we found a veritable village encamped by and around the jetty of Pulau Hantu Besar, feasting and feeding on the bounty of the waters. To sidestep the humanity, we disembarked from the little-used jetty at Pulau Hantu Kecil, where there were but a trio of sleepy anglers. In the dying hour of the dark, the smoking stacks glitter and release their nocturnal emissions, turning the sky a shade sadder with clouds of charmless colour.
In the lagoon between the two islands, safe from wayward plans for now, clusters of tape seagrass (Enhalus acoroides) sequester the muddy substrate with their rhizomes amidst branching colonies of sponges and a good sprinkling of shallow water corals, now reticent after a likely night of eruptive passion. On the soft shore, sand stars clamber over each other in a spiny embrace of arms locked and languishing in the morning sun. Filter-feeding worms in red, yellow and white fan out of their hollow homes for a planktonic meal, while sessile carpets of cnidarian tentacles occupy gaps between the rubble like throbbing deathtraps.
A reef egret stalks by the seawall, finding easy prey in the shoals of gobies, perchlets and cardinalfish left in shrinking pools by the retreating tide. Also predators are the stoic nudibranches that cling to a trail of slime in their search for a spongey snack. Beady-eyed gong gong snails scrape around with their radula for algae and organic detritius. Worm eels of all sizes also prowl the bottom, snaking their way into every passing hole and crevice, braving bites from fuming residents too big too swallow.
Mangrove trees command the upper reaches of the lagoon and the exposed flats around their aerial root systems are home to armies of stalk-eyed fiddler crabs. Only the males boast the vastly enlarged claws that they brandish like flags to warn off rivals and draw the ladies into their holes of crabby love. My ducky shadow prompts a swift scattering of the troops into their hideouts but unleashing my own organ of sexual prowess helps to attract the curiosity of a few fellows who got roped in for an involuntary photoshoot. Elsewhere, Andy found a trap with a heavily gravid swimming crab (Portunus sp.) that was still alive, albeit missing a few limbs.
The sea right below both jetties beckon with a rare richness. The water is crystal clear and huge schools of reef fish gather over the coral and seagrass, revelling in the sunshine and swift current. Yellow soapfish hover by the vertical pillars, while jumbo damselfish and tomato-sized clownfish dart between the mounds of polyps and undulating weed. A needlefish plucks tidbits from the surface with its stiletto beak. Hantu is a world apart from Singapore's standard shores of murk, silty and sediment. But with luck, the future shall promise a full reckoning whereby such natural aberrations from unsustainable imperatives will at last give way to needs that last barely a lifetime. After all, what's there to sea when there's a fortune to be made in