Sleeping under the Stars on Pulau Semakau

Ever wondered where rubbish goes to?

The Semakau Landfill serves as Singapore’s dumping ground of incinerated garbage and non-incinerable waste. The island as you see now, is reclaimed from 2 islands: Pulau Semakau and a smaller island called Pulau Sakeng. To create the required landfill space, a 7 km perimeter rock bund was built to enclose a part of the sea off Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng. The Semakau Landfill is expected to meet Singapore’s need for landfill space beyond 2045.

The Semakau Landfill only allows limited visits with certain interest groups (the Nature Society, TASOS, Sport Fishing Association, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research), and entry requires indemnifying the organising group and the National Environmental Agency.

At Semakau: a barge carrying incinerated waste, pulling into a covered berth for unloading the waste which will later be transported to the tipping site.

I went for a star-gazing trip with TASOS over the weekend.  We took the boat from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal at 5pm. On reaching the island, we were led inside the administration building and were shown a corporate video about Semakau Island. This massive waste management project was only conceived in 1999 and is a unique offshore landfill, probably one of its kind worldwide.

Sitting outside the admin building, enjoying the sunset, with fighter jets rehearsing for National Day flying past a few times.

Later, the TASOS members gave us a briefing about stargazing. After a light self-packed dinner, we were bussed off 3km away to the southern spot of Semakau, away from the city glare, in preparation for nightfall. Semakau is a chosen spot for stargazing because it is one of the least light-polluted places in night-lights bright Singapore. The southern part faces the sea, away from the city. Unfortunately, a brightly lit large vessel decided to park directly right in front of our stargazing spot!

The vessel looks pretty innocuous now, but by night fall, the glare from the lit decks was hard to miss.

Nonetheless, it was a good night with clear skies for the most part until early morning. We managed to see the “teapot”, Sagittarius, Saturn, the “double double”, M27 (?), some nebulae and Jupiter even after dawn, all with assistance of the TASOS members. I cannot for the life of me ever memorise the sky map.

The moon, at about 10.20pm.

UFO. Just kidding. It’s a very poor photo of Saturn. One could see it very clearly through the telescope though.

The moon, at about 1.30am.

Although sleeping in the administration building was an option, everyone in the group stayed outdoors to enjoy the fresh air. My friend and I didn’t bring a tent, so we were literally sleeping UNDER the stars. Although it’s not quite like sleeping on a slumberland mattress, it was quite liberating to sleep out in the open, with no shelter or protection whatsoever apart from a windbreaker.  We were blessed with good weather and clear skies throughout the night until early morning when the haze began to set in. Nonetheless, I under-estimated the night temperature, having unwittingly chosen a very windy spot to sleep; the madly-spinning wind turbine should have given me a clue.

Sleeping under clear skies.

By day break, we saw the star that is closest to Earth!

Sunrise (at about 7.30am), in a shroud of haze that is to linger throughout the rest of the hot & humid day.

Prior to this trip, my imagination was running wild of what the offshore landfill would look like: images of wastes piles, with strange fantastic organisms growing on top crept into my mind… after all, Pulau Semakau is also known for its “bio-diversity”. In reality, although some people encountered sandflies, I wasn’t even bitten by a single mosquito. The island also houses mangrove plants and an array of bird species (I’m told the Nature Society conducts guided bird-watching trips). The trip there really proved to be an eye-opener: contrary to popular belief that a landfill or dumping ground would be smelly and dirty, the island is clean and the breeze is refreshing. Conclusion: Singapore’s landfill is just as clean and green as the rest of Singapore!

Plenty of vegetation on Semakau

 How to get there:

Take boat from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal. Some online resources say West Coast Pier, although that information is probably outdated.

Entry to the island is restricted; one needs to go with designated interest groups as permitted by NEA.

If going for stargazing, a deck chair, tent or ground sheet for lying down would save a lot of pain from craning one’s neck the whole night.


4 thoughts on “Sleeping under the Stars on Pulau Semakau

  1. bookjunkie

    Found this post so fascinating. Had no idea you could come face to face with the planets in Singapore. Wonderful photos! How did you manage to capture these through the telescope?

    1. plumerainbow Post author

      I like how you put it, “come face to face with the planets”.
      It wasn’t easy through the telescope; had to really make sure the camera was not moving, and I was really not used to adjusting the tripod. Someone managed to take a rather defined shot of saturn through… of all cameras… an iPhone!


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