Singapore is fortunate to sit in the dull epicentre of a seismic region, the dead heart of a rim of fire. Perched atop a shelf that seldom takes the plunge and may not survive higher seas, the island suffers little exposure to the waves that strike, wreck and sweep over the shores of continental masses, turning hills into cliffs and chipping away at land's end in a perpetual cycle of ebb and blow, carving in the process a zone of contention between the earth and its elements, in which life is but a footnote at the base of a rock and a foothold away from ruination.
What natural edifices there were by the coast of a compulsive country have long been eroded by artificial forces; on the mainland, only the modest ridges of Labrador Park remain and even these are succumbing to the tug of commercial gravities. There are thus few places left where bold islanders can seek close encounters with pools in which the world gazes back and wild things are held captive by the face of the moon. One such tub can be found near the beacon at Tanjong Rimau on the western end of Pulau Blakang Mati, a portal of rare clarity into the secrets of life between the tides. Here, there is little silt to burrow into, so nervous gobies, hardy crabs, invisible shrimp and fragile worms take refuge in cloaks of Caulerpa and Padina or streak into tears on the flanks of their cubicle. Button zoanthids, so densely placed their oral discs appear as a puzzle of polygons, carpet the bottom with fleshy stolons. Periwinkles, nerites and onchidiids patrol the outer margins of these receptacles, making short work of damp filaments and mowing fresh sites for settlement by the next wellspring of cyprids and veligers. Occasional middens of broken valves and shattered coils betray the exploits of crabs red in eye and temper, which spend the day in damp cracks and scatter loose pebbles in their noisy, nocturnal forays over the strandosphere.
Smaller basins can be found on Pulau Jong and Lazarus Island, on the upper reaches of the reef flats that still surround the former and skirted destruction by the latter, Some outcrops take the form of miniature mounts, offering no respite for droplets in search of home and granting asylum only to the most hardened beasts. But even hospitable formations, replete with terraces, shelves and gentle depressions, are exacting hosts; boarders must withstand the heat of noonstroke, suffer the sweet flavours of skyjuice and struggle through wide swings in acidity as organic matter breaks down and minerals accumulate in unflushed pockets.
Perhaps the most surprising inhabitants of these tidal plateaus are the actiniarians that tolerate exposure to alien elements, sitting out hours or even days of drought as blobs of gelatinous tissue, some on unshaded surfaces and others in the shadow of smooth boulders. Where there is enough water, however, zooxanthellate polyps unfurl their tentacles and strain the sun, diverting its energies towards building blocks of life aquatic. Clusters of these sea anemones, probably Anthopleura dixoniana and/or A. handi, occupy the balconies of beached rocks at Pulau Sekijang Pelepah, which they share with tiny crabs and unrecognisable colonies. Shiny dots, the egg capsules of wandering snails, disturb the sombre walls of these cavities. But little else, save the vagaries of an environment on the brink of disaster and disregarded by custodians who know far better, threaten the solitude of these bodies of resistance who simply want the right to set foot, look up and bare their stinging arms.