It was his first time out on a new kayak in Bedok Reservoir and it ended with him in severe pain and bleeding profusely.
Mr Kian Wai Seetoh, 19, fell in the water after his kayak capsized near a pontoon several metres away from the shore.
As the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) student tried to climb onto the pontoon, he felt pain and realised something was biting the toes of his right foot.
The incident happened last September as Mr Seetoh and his poly mates were gearing up for the POL-ITE competition.
Since then, there have been more cases of leg injuries, prompting national water agency PUB to suspend water activities for a month recently.
Recalling the incident, Mr Seetoh, a biotechnology student, told The New Paper yesterday that soon after he fell into the water, he felt what seemed like the scales of a fish brushing against his leg.
He then felt a fish biting his toes.
"The pain wasn't sharp. It was like the feeling you get when you get a blue-black bruise so I didn't expect it to bleed so much.
"When I got bitten, I pulled my leg out of the water. Then I saw the cut and the blood. It was gushing out. The whole pontoon was covered in blood," he said.
When he got out of the water and onto the pontoon, he was shocked to see gaping cuts around his toes on his right foot and blood spilling out.
He then tried to call for help.
His teammate, Ms Janice Ng, 19, said: "I saw him waving his hands trying to call for help. The pontoon was covered with blood. He was in shock."
Another teammate rowed out on a boat and took Mr Seetoh back to shore.
Taken to hospital
Soon after, his father arrived to drive him to Singapore General Hospital, where he was given 13 stitches for his wounds.
It took three weeks before he could walk normally again.
Mr Seetoh was not the only victim of the mysterious attacks in Bedok Reservoir.
Two of his teammates also sustained cuts after their vessels capsized.
One of them, Mr Nicholas Ong, 19, suspects that he was bitten by a turtle, judging from his wounds. "His cut looks like ones you get when you've been pinched really hard. (He) went under the same pontoon I did," said Mr Seetoh.
Since then, the TP canoe team has changed its training schedule, cutting down from six times a week to once a week.
The school has also ruled that either a teacher or coach must be present for them to train in the water.
Asked if he was now afraid to step into a kayak again, Mr Seetoh said: "Not really because once you get your balance right, the chances of you capsizing are very low.
"I started training again after four weeks."
In response to queries by TNP, a spokesman for national water agency PUB said: "Following the incidents, PUB had advised schools and the water sports operators to remind their participants to exercise care when in the water and to wear covered footwear and avoid submerging their feet in the water, where possible.
"This is because some fish or turtle may bite when disturbed or when protecting their young.
"There has not been any incident since Dec 14 and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."
Possible culprits: catfish, terrapins, or rocks
The PUB suspended kayaking, dragon-boating and canoeing in Bedok Reservoir from Dec 17 to Jan 16 after complaints of injuries that could have been caused by bites from freshwater turtles or fish such as the toman.
A PUB spokesman told The Straits Times it had advised water-activity operators to tell participants to exercise caution and to put on proper footwear.
The public is also reminded not to release animals into reservoirs, she added.
During the suspension, several fishes, including a tarpon, African walking catfish, armoured sucker catfish and peacock bass, were caught, said the PUB.
An expert told The New Paper that none of these fishes are indigenous to Singapore and they had probably been released into the reservoir illegally.
Dr Tan Heok Hui, a lecturer at the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "All these are non- native species that have been introduced into Singapore's waters. Introduction into urban reservoirs is usually via release by humans, either intentional or accidental."
Nature conservationist and advocate Ben Lee said: "For religious purposes, some people believe that releasing fish into water is a good deed since the fish will be saved from human captivity.
"I have witnessed a group of more than 10 people, each with a bucket of hundreds of fish, wanting to release them into one of our reservoirs."
The introduction of new species could affect the ecology of the reservoir, he added.
"If you put more alien species into the reservoirs, it will result in increased competition and affect biodiversity. There will be a lack of food and space for our local species, so it's not good for the overall ecosystem," said Mr Lee.
"The catfish can be a menace to humans because it has poisonous spikes that can pierce and cause puncture cuts on the feet," he added.
After viewing photographs of the wounds of Temasek Polytechnic students Nicholas Ong and Kian Wai Seetoh, Dr Tan said: "The small scrapes could also be from rough rock edges or small teeth plates that some catfish have.
"(As for) the larger gashes, (they) may indicate a wider cutting or biting edge, but the size is exaggerated by the human pull-away response. This could be caused by either fish or terrapins."
Those who illegally release animals or fish into reservoirs can be fined $50 for the first offence and $200 for the second. Subsequent offences will be prosecuted and offenders can fined up to $3,000.
Fish caught by PUB in Bedok Redervoir
SIZE: Can grow to 120-250cm
ORIGIN: One species native to Atlantic Ocean and the other to the Indo-Pacific Oceans
DIET: Insects, fish, crabs and grass shrimp. Adults are carnivorous
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay millions of eggs a year
ARMOURED SUCKER CATFISH
SIZE: Can grow up to 61cm
ORIGIN: Tropical north-eastern South America
DIET: Algae, aquatic plants and small crustaceans
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females lay 300 eggs on average
GIANT SNAKEHEAD (OR TOMAN)
SIZE: Can grow up to 1m and weigh 15kg
ORIGIN: Fresh waters of South-east Asia
DIET: Fish, amphibians and crustaceans, but they sometimes have an appetite for birds and small mammals
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay up to 15,000 eggs at once and can mate five times in a year
SIZE: Up to 74cm
ORIGIN: Native to Amazon River and South America
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay 9,000 to 15,000 eggs
AFRICAN WALKING CATFISH
SIZE: Up to 60cm
ORIGIN: South-east Asia
DIET: Omnivorous; smaller fish, molluscs, aquatic weeds
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females lay 5,000 eggs on average
This article was first published on Feb 25, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.