For us shoretrippers, this is the year of the lady who wrestle a lion and entered the realm of legend and lore. A triangulated patch of seagrass, coral fringes and soft sand nestléd between the west coast port, the smoke stacks of Jurong Island and Bukom's crude bunkers, Cyrene Reef is a remnant from another age, when turbaned pirates in red oil cloths lurked by the Dragon's Teeth between Labrador and Pulau Belakang Mati and royal exiles ruled in decadent seclusion on the Forbidden Hill of petty kings.
Like the Singapore Stone and Batu Berlayar that guarded the old harbourfront, Cyrene faces a similar fate as men of progress hurl themselves into the future, prizing not the past until such time when so little remains to be cherished that replicas in plastic or gardens of gilded trees must be recreated to evoke second-hand memories.
Even compared to shores like Chek Jawa and Semakau, Cyrene offers a unique richness owing to its position as a reef that is normally subtidal rather than littoral. Thus, when the tide sloshes away on mornings when the sun and the moon collude in line, the reef emerges with a rapidity that can take both creatures and cruise vessels by surprise. Shrimp, jellyfish, crabs, cowfish, sea hares, urchins, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, sponges, sea horses and marine snails find themselves stranded on the sand or in shallow pools under limp drapes of seagrass.
Sea stars flock to Cyrene with unseemly abundance. Deserving their name for once, common sea stars with arms five and four swarm the sand bar, seeking to bury themselves in plots not already taken by pairs in an armlock of passion. In stark contrast to their rarity on mainland shores, the stars here have such strength in numbers that many spill over into the seagrass meadow, away from their usual haunts of silt and mud.
More at home above the creeping rhizomes of turtle grass and crunchy coralline algae are chunkier asteroids with munchable monikers. There are cakes, cushions and chocolate chips in crunchy shapes resembling extruded breakfast cereals but with a hide too hard and spiny for teeth other the fused fangs of a triggerfish. Evidence of tetraodontiform activity can be seen in individual stars with missing arms and lost knobs. Each knobbly sea star seems unique with its own shade of red or rust and configurations of horns in varying shapes and sizes.
Near the end of two short hours and after dozens of encounters with stars at every other step, Vyna stumbles upon a quarry only slightly less elusive than men of safe names. Bearing an evil mien of metallic grey lined with a wardress of creamy gems, this star is a fresh find in local waters, attesting to the secrets that still dwell within these dredged and damaged seas. A find of sheer luck, the unfortunate echinoderm and the deathsong of its discovery offer an ounce of hope that this patch reef will find more fans and perhaps earn the favour of power before its fortune runs dry and the stars vanish into the dark under a hole of black gold.