In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.
Mangroves are a group of shrub and tree species that live along shores, rivers, and estuaries in the tropics, subtropics, and even some temperate coastal areas. Although used to describe the species, plant, or forest, the term mangrove is also commonly used collectively to describe the unique ecosystem these plants form.
These inter-tidal forests, comprising salt-tolerant trees featuring a partially exposed network of roots, are possibly the world’s most productive type of wetland. They provide shelter and food for an immense diversity of wildlife. They physically protect coastlines. They provide sustenance, raw materials, and medicine to communities who continue to depend on the land for their livelihoods. They are extremely resilient and are able to withstand the worst of storms, hurricanes, and flooding.
During high tide, the roots of mangrove plants are completely submerged in seawater. And during low tide they are exposed to the sun. While the distinctive roots of mangroves play a crucial role in facilitating the respiration of these plants, their significance extends beyond that singular function.
Mangrove root systems provide a safe haven for fish fry and juvenile animals and host a variety of species, including mudskippers, otters, and water monitor lizards.
Their roots act as natural filters, trapping sediments and pollutants, and enhancing water quality. They protect marine life, and provide a natural buffer against storm surges and coastal erosion.
In the current era where climate change is a pressing concern, mangrove forests stand out for their remarkable ability to efficiently sequester carbon, trapping significant amounts of carbon dioxide by storing carbon in their biomass and the surrounding soil.
However, the combined impacts of rising sea levels and activities such as agriculture, aquaculture, urban development, and harvesting have resulted in the erosion and deforestation of mangrove forests, causing the loss of more than a quarter of these vital ecosystems in the past 50 years. In the 1820s, mangroves accounted for 13 percent of Singapore’s land area. Today, less than 1 percent of the mangroves in Singapore remain.
Approximations suggest that Singapore’s remaining mangrove patches may store 450,570.7 megagrams of carbon, an equivalent to the average annual carbon emissions of 621,000 residents.
The most extensive expanse of mangrove area on mainland Singapore is loacted within Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. They can also be found within areas such as Mandai, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Pasir Ris Park, as well as offshore islands like Pulau Semakau and Pulau Ubin.
There are about 35 mangrove species found in Singapore, here are a few to look out for:
Common name: Bakau Minyak
Scientific name: Rhizophora apiculata
The Bakau Minyak is one of the two most common mangrove species in Singapore and native to Singapore. They have the potential to grow upwards of 30 metres or more. Boasting a smooth dark grey bark that can reach up to 50cm in diameter, the bakau minyak is distinguished by its characteristic arching prop or stilt roots connected to the trunk, along with aerial roots emerging from its branches.
Common name: Bakau Putih, Black Mangrove
Scientific name: Bruguiera cylindrica
The Bakau Putih, also known as Black Mangrove, is another common mangrove species and native to Singapore. These mangroves can reach heights of up to 20 meters but are frequently spotted on nature trails as compact shrubs or modest trees ranging from 2 to 3 meters in height. The trees have a greyish bark and are notably recognised for their lateral roots that stick out from the mud surface, bearing a resemblance to a person’s bent knees.
Common name: Nipah Palm, Water Coconut, Mangrove Palm, Attap
Scientific name: Nypa fruticans
You may already be familiar with this plant based on your knowledge of a popular local dessert. Ice kacang is a local favourite of red beans, creamed corn, grass jelly and the gem of all gems––attap chee, topped with a mountain of ice drizzled with gula melaka. Attap chee is the fruit of the nipah palm. And gula melaka (palm sugar) is made from its sap. The Nipah Palm is a mangrove palm native to Singapore. It is a medium to large-sized stemless palm that frequently grows in small clumps, characterized by its expansive leaf fronds.
If you come across mangroves in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.
Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!