03 September 2011

Speak up for our shores! Feedback on 'City in a Garden'

Singapore is an island! Surrounded by the sea which is full of marine biodiversity! The "City in a Garden" concept shouldn't be limited to terrestrial biodiversity. It would be wonderful if Singapore's marvellous marinelife can also be a part of it!
This is my contribution to NParks' request for feedback to the 'City in a Garden' concept.

From the NParks feedback site:
At the National Day Rally 2011, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about “building to keep Singapore special and exceptional”. He said, “We’re going to have parks and gardens in the heartlands. And we’ll link them all up to create a City in a Garden”. What are your views? How would your City in a Garden be like?
As there is a 2,000 character limit to the feedback, here is the summary that I posted on the site. With the full version in this post.

NParks sincerely would like more feedback particularly on marine issues. Please do take the time to share your thoughts to the feedback site.

Summary feedback

Singapore is an island! Surrounded by the sea which is full of marine biodiversity! The "City in a Garden" concept shouldn't be limited to terrestrial biodiversity. Singapore has wild mangroves, vast seagrass meadows, picturesque rocky shores and natural cliffs, amazing reef flats and astounding reefs!

Aren’t all our shores reclaimed and dead?
They're very much alive! Wild reefs bursting with life abound even in the middle of our port. Wild dolphins, sea turtles and otters are regularly spotted in our waters.

What’s so special about Singapore’s shores?
Easy to access! But also vulnerable to destructive activities. Uniquely Singapore! Our shores make Singapore special. In under half an hour, visitors can go from a business meeting at a world class hotel to visit a living reef or mangrove!

Can an ordinary person experience Singapore’s marine heritage?
Yes! “No need to swim, no need to dive!” Grandmas, small kids, everyone can visit our shores on guided walks.

Do Singaporeans care about our shores?
3,500 volunteers and 100,000 visitors a year say they do! There is a small but growing community of people active in marine issues and NParks plays a lead role in many initiatives. Bravo!

Why should Singapore value our reefs and marine habitats?
Beyond coral-hugger arguments, protecting our shores can make Singapore Real BIG Money. Read more!

Can Singapore afford NOT to learn more about our natural shores?
With current concerns about rising sea levels, can we ignore our shores?

What are some of the threats to Singapore’s reefs and shores?
We don’t have to bury our shores to kill them.

Come see our shores for yourself!
I’d gladly give a talk or organise a walk for you and your colleagues.


Full feedback:

Singapore is an island surrounded by the sea which is full of marine biodiversity! The "City in a Garden" concept shouldn't be limited to terrestrial biodiversity. It would be wonderful if Singapore's marvellous marinelife can also be a part of it!

Aren’t all our shores reclaimed and dead?

Singapore has lots of living natural shores! Although many of our shores have been affected by development, reefs have crept back into artificial swimming lagoons, marine life reappeared on reclaimed land, mangroves have settled naturally on our seawalls. It's good to know that in 2008, a three-year project was started to develop a "colourful, vibrant seascape" on Singapore's sea walls, jetties and piers. It would be great if the findings could be revealed and applied. More about this in Can beautiful marine life settle on our artificial shores?

Singapore has good representatives of all major tropical marine ecosystems: wild mangroves, vast seagrass meadows, natural sandy shores, picturesque rocky shores and natural cliffs, amazing reef flats and astounding reefs that are easy to dive.

One of our many spectacular shores is Cyrene Reefs, even though it is right in the middle of the Industrial Triangle of major shipping lanes, massive industrial installations at Pulau Bukom and Jurong Island, and opposite busy world-class container terminals.

The vast reefs of our Live Firing Islands have long been protected by virtue of land use and are considered among the healthiest of our reefs. They may even be in better condition than many other islands elsewhere in Peninsular Malaysia and nearby Indonesia which have not been protected from human exploitation.

Singapore also has vast seagrass meadows, on Chek Jawa in the north and Pulau Semakau and Cyrene Reefs in the south.

Wild dolphins are regularly sighted in our Southern Islands. Sea turtles are also still seen by divers at Hantu and baby sea turtles spotted hatching on the East Coast! Otters are regularly seen on many of our off shore islands and even mangroves on the mainland. Dugong feeding trails have recently been observed on Chek Jawa and even Changi!

What’s so special about Singapore’s shores?

Singapore's shores are easy to get to! Shores easily accessed by the public are surprisingly full of interesting marine life. These include Changi, Pasir Ris, Punggol and even some parts of East Coast Park. Even muddy shores such as those at Kranji and the north are popular with families who enjoy 'mucking' around. Our shores are a great outdoor classroom and a relaxing get-away to pursue more natural pleasures. To avoid people 'loving the shore to death', it would be ideal to manage access and control the more destructive activities such as driftnetting.

Uniquely Singapore! Our shores make Singapore special! Where else in the world can a visitor quickly go from a high-level business meeting at a world class hotel to visit a living reef or mangrove? In under half an hour? The reefs of the Southern Islands are just 15 minutes away from the mainland by fast boat.

How do our reefs compare? The reefs in Singapore harbour close to 200 species of hard, which given the size of reefs and conditions present here, compare favourably with coral species richness in the more extensive reefs of the region. from the Coral Reefs of Singapore website, Reef Ecology Study Team, NUS

Can an ordinary person experience Singapore’s marine heritage?

“No need to swim, no need to dive!” Many volunteer groups provide guided walks on boardwalks and low tide walks for ordinary people. An ideal trip for the family, bring grandma and the little kids! (more details of these activities below).

In addition, there are regular dives at Pulau Hantu offered to the public by the volunteers of the Hantu Blog.

Do Singaporeans care about our reefs and shores?

Yes! About 3,500 volunteers every year work quietly to provide guided walks, guided dives, conduct regular monitoring of seagrasses and reefs, and to clean up and collect data on marine debris on our shores (breakdown of volunteers below). The recently launched Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore led by NParks has rapidly attracted more than 300 volunteers!

An estimated 100,000 Singaporeans, residents and visitors visit our shores every year (details below). There is overwhelming interest in guided shore walks. All regular shore walks are quickly booked within days of being offered. The wait-list to view Chek Jawa remains long, even though it has been a decade since the shore walks were introduced, and long after skeptics said interest would wane.

There is a small but growing community of people who actively work on marine issues. They include NParks staff, other government staff, educators, corporations and many volunteers from all walks of life. I am particularly heartened by the many recent initiatives by NParks National Biodiversity Centre in surveying marine biodiversity, improving management of our marine biodiversity, and establishing intergrated coastal management practices. I look forward to collaboration in more of such initiatives!

Why should Singapore value our reefs and marine habitats?

Coral-huggers would of course say our shores are a priceless part of our natural and cultural history, as well as an outdoor classroom where children learn naturally, and a place where families can bond naturally.

If asked to put a price to this value, a coral-hugger might point out the ecosystem services provided by the reefs, the possibility of bio-products to be derived from reefs or argue that our living reefs will be valued by global clients of high net worth.

But can our shores make Singapore some real Real BIG Money?

Elsewhere in the world, reefs provide critical income through tourism, marine products or provide vital ecosystems services such as protection from extreme weather.

Singapore’s shores don’t seem to perform these roles. Are they thus useless and can be put to better use as reclaimed land?

Singapore faces severe limitations in land, water and other resource constraints. We have been forced to overcome them in a sustainable manner. Many other countries will soon face the same constraints, on a much larger scale.

Our living reefs and shores are testament to Singapore’s sustainable approach to development, undertaken long before it became fashionable.

For example, Semakau Landfill was developed and operated such that half of the original Pulau Semakau remains relatively undisturbed. So much so that nature walks are currently conducted of Pulau Semakau’s wild mangroves, vast seagrass meadows and amazing coral reefs!

Every development that impacts our shores should be seen as an opportunity to prove that we can develop and operate first-world facilities without wiping out natural habitats. This approach can be scaled up to meet the needs of other countries whose natural shores DO provide real income and high value ecosystems services.

A headline of the future?


“Singapore wins multi-billion dollar project to build eco-port

Singapore beat other major contenders to build a port next to pristine marine habitats important to the host country for tourism and fisheries.

The clincher: Singapore’s Cyrene Reef, a rich patch reef in the middle of the port area. This proves that Singapore has the know-how to build and manage world-class facilities in a sustainable manner.”

Can Singapore afford NOT to learn more about our natural shores?

With current concerns about rising sea levels, there is much to gain in learning everything we can about our marine habitats. Coral reefs are naturally growing ‘sea walls’. Similarly with mangroves. Do we know enough about the role of natural coastal ecosystems in flood control? Can we afford not to find out?

What are some of the threats to Singapore’s reefs and shores?

Coastal development has destroyed shores
We have already lost much of our natural reefs to reclamation. How much have we lost? "There were once over 60 offshore islands and patch reefs around Singapore. However, since the mid 1970s, most of the southern islands were reclaimed. Since 1986, most coral reefs in Singapore have lost up to 65% of their live coral cover". from Coral Reefs of Singapore, Reef Ecology Study Team, NUS

Coastal activities kill our shores
We don’t have to bury our shores to kill them.

Murky, sediment-laden water is bad for marine life. Why? Corals and many important marine organisms need sunlight for good health and growth. Sediments smother marine life, making it hard for them to feed and reproduce. Just like the haze, murky waters make marine life ill.

Where does the murky water come from? High levels of coastal activity (shipping, dredging, dumping of spoils at sea) and other careless coastal development results in plumes of sediments that can affect a vast area. In the same way that burning in faraway lands can result in haze in Singapore.

How murky is our waters today? "The high turbidity of our waters restrict light penetration and reef life ends at a depth of only 12m. Sedimentation rates ranged from 3-6mg/cm2/day in 1979. In 1994, these increased to 5-45mg/cm2/day (the higher value obtained from localised areas close to reclamation projects). This reduced visibility from 10m in the 1960s to 2m or less today. As a consequence, the reef is very compact, as opposed to reefs in clear waters, which can be found at depths of 20m and more." from Coral Reefs of Singapore, Reef Ecology Study Team, NUS

Come and see our living shores for yourself!

I gladly give a fuller introduction of the shores to you and your colleagues. I could give a talk, and/or arrange a walk on any of our marvelous shores.

I look forward to sharing more of our living shores with you!

Ria Tan

More background on visitorship to and volunteers for our shores

Visitorship to our shores

Chek Jawa: about 20,000 people annually
from "Chek Jawa guided tours no longer free", Shobana Kesava, Straits Times 12 Dec 07

Sungei Buloh: about 80,000 people annually
from National Library Board infopedia by Pwee, Timothy and Pak, Peter Yew Guan

Kusu Island: about 300 people annually

Pulau Semakau: about 300 people annually

Pulau Hantu dives: about 150 people annually

Volunteers on our shores and their activities The internet resources of these groups also provide outreach on the shores. Hit rates (where available) as at Aug 2011 are indicated.
NParks is a leading provider of guided walks with a large number of volunteers covering many marine locations including Chek Jawa, Sungei Buloh, Admiralty Park, Pasir Ris Park.

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore
about 3,500 volunteers in 2010.
Conducts data collection of marine debris on our shores.
http://coastalcleanup.nus.edu.sg/ (32,000 hits)

Blue Water Volunteers about 100 volunteers
Conducts guided walks at Kusu Island, underwater reef surveys and guided dives at Singapore’s reefs, as well as outreach through talks and exhibitions.
http://www.bluewatervolunteers.org

TeamSeagrass (with NParks) about 100 volunteers
Monitors the seagrass meadows at 6 locations as well as outreach through talks and exhibitions.
http://teamseagrass.blogspot.com (57,000 hits)

Naked Hermit Crabs about 40 volunteers
Conducts guided walks at the Chek Jawa boardwalk every month, and family walks at Sentosa’s natural shores during the school holidays as well as outreach through talks and exhibitions.
http://nakedhermitcrabs.blogspot.com (49,000 hits)

LinkHantu Bloggers about 30 volunteers
Conducts guided dives at Pulau Hantu as well as outreach through talks and exhibitions.
http://www.pulauhantu.org

International Year of the Reef 2008
Representatives from about 30 groups have come together to organise activities for this international event.
http://iyor08singapore.blogspot.com/ (74,000 hits)

In addition, personal blogs about our shores posted by these volunteers and other nature lovers are an additional source of immense outreach. Here's the latest posts about our wild shores.


This feedback is based on the feedback I submitted to the URA Draft Master Plan 2008. I not only got a nice reply from URA but a URA team also eventually visited Cyrene Reef thereafter! So speaking up does make a difference!

Please do share your thoughts on our marine life to the NParks 'City in a Garden' feedback site.

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