27 June 2015

NParks' Marine Conservation Action Plan

NParks announced a Marine Conservation Action Plan today. I have been assured that the marine community will be consulted on these eventually.
Kids enthralled by the fascinating display that represents
the new dive trails to be opened at the Sisters Islands Marine Park.
I am particularly intrigued by the "Indicative conceptual enhancement plan for Labrador Nature Reserve". The image attached to the NParks Press Release is too low res to see what exactly is planned for this shore.
Also plans to install "Fish Aggregating Devices: A fish aggregating device is any structure that is used to attract and aggregate fish. Fish aggregating devices can be floating or fixed, depending on the environmental conditions and their purpose. They are widely used as a tool to aid small-scale fisheries to target and catch fish species that otherwise would be difficult. They can also be used to effectively restore and enhance fish biodiversity in target conservation areas."

Here's more about the Plan from the NParks Press Releases posted on the NParks website.

Marine Conservation Action Plan – an Action plan of the NCMP
NParks Press Release 27 Jun 15;

The Marine Conservation Action Plan (MCAP) takes reference from the Nature Conservation Master Plan (NCMP), and encapsulates NParks’ efforts at conserving Singapore’s marine biodiversity.

Singapore has coastal and marine habitats distributed along the northern coast, northern offshore islands (Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong) and the southern offshore islands which are home to a rich amount of biodiversity including:

More than 250 species of hard corals (32% of hard coral species found worldwide);

  • Over 100 species of reef fish;
  • About 200 species of sponges; and
  • 12 seagrass species

The following are some of the programmes and initiatives that NParks has under the MCAP.

Programmatic Plans

A) Species Recovery

I. Reintroduction of the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas)

The largest species of bivalve mollusc in the world, these Giant Clams can grow up to 1.2m in size. This species is no longer found in local waters. However, there is historical evidence that Tridacna gigas used to grow in our waters, as realised by the archaeological discovery of the shells in various places in Singapore.

NParks is currently working with Dr Neo Mei Lin from the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) to reintroduce these iconic marine animals back into our local waters. Currently, six individuals have been successfully relocated from the TMSI aquarium to a natural reef area at Small Sister’s Island where they are being closely monitored.

The Giant Clam specimens were first transferred from the tanks in TMSI to buckets and transported by boat to Small Sister’s Island. During the boat trip, the Giant Clams were continually flushed with fresh seawater to ensure that they were kept moist at all times. The specimens were then transferred onto baskets and lowered into the water using a lift bag. Finally, researchers transferred them to a suitable site with a low amount of silt so the clams can be placed stably. Introduction of these clams to other reefs will be carried out if the reefs are assessed to be suitable for their growth.

II. Neptune’s Cup Sponge (Cliona patera)

The Neptune’s Cup Sponge is one of the larger known sponges. It is so-named due to its wineglass shape and can grow up to a metre in height and diameter. The specimen that was first used to describe this species was collected in Singapore waters in 1820. It was thought be extinct since early 1900s until it was rediscovered in Singapore in 2011. Singapore is currently the only country that has a known location with a living specimen of the Neptune’s Cup Sponge.

The Neptune’s Cup sponge has been successfully transplanted to the Marine Park in early 2015. Over the next few months, NParks will be working with Mr Lim Swee Cheng (TMSI) to experiment with a new propagation technique for the sponge. If propagation of this sponge is successful, NParks will work towards slowly increasing the population of the Neptune’s Cup Sponge in our local waters.

III. Coral Gene Bank and Nurseries

A coral nursery will be set up at Sisters’ Islands to collect all 255 species of corals found in Singapore waters. The nursery plays an important role in the conservation of corals, especially in view of rising sea temperatures. Corals undergo bleaching when the temperature of the waters gets too high. This means that they lose a major source of food and are more susceptible to disease. With the creation of a coral nursery, rarer corals that are threatened with coral bleaching can be moved to a controlled environment which would help to ensure their survival.

IV. Turtle Hatchery and Outreach Facility

A turtle hatchery - Singapore’s pioneer sea turtle conservation project will be set up at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. Sponsored by HSBC, the Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles will be the key species covered under the project.

The hatchery will provide a safe refuge for rescued and collected turtle eggs, giving them a chance to hatch safely. This is important as only a few from each clutch of 100+ to 200 eggs make it to adulthood. The hatchery would also provide research opportunities to study local sea turtle populations.

Feasibility studies are currently underway to assess the conditions of the shore on Small Sister’s Island for the creation of a nursery.

Education and outreach programmes will also be put in place to create awareness of our local marine biodiversity. These include visits to the turtle hatchery, involvement in egg collection and transfer to the hatchery and habitat maintenance.

The $500,000 sponsorship from HSBC will support the building of a facility for overnight visits during hatching periods and for outreach programmes that are conducted on the island, over a period of five years. Educational signs and materials will also be developed for the outreach facility. HSBC staff will be involved in habitat maintenance and possibly collection of eggs when they are found and reported by members of the public.

B) Habitat Enhancement

A biodiversity enhancement unit is any designed structure that enriches and enhances existing biodiversity in the marine habitats. Through the installation of such units, NParks also hopes to increase visibility and accessibility of marine biodiversity to the general public. Enhancement units can be as simple as a structure that provides surfaces that are suitable for marine organisms to settle and grow on. Some examples of biodiversity enhancement units are listed in the table below.

Biodiversity Enhancement Unit

Tidal Pool Units
Made of concrete suitable for the marine environment, these units retain seawater at low tide. This creates a habitat similar to natural rock pools, providing an additional hiding place for marine organisms.

To design the units, researchers first had to study the natural rock pool habitats for features that made them suitable habitats for marine organisms. These include the presence of crevices, grooves and pits found in the rocks. The features were inputted into a software programme (CASU) which then created a design that would most closely mimic a natural habitat. Multiple designs can be created based on the different features inputted into the software.

Fish Aggregating Devices
A fish aggregating device is any structure that is used to attract and aggregate fish. Fish aggregating devices can be floating or fixed, depending on the environmental conditions and their purpose. They are widely used as a tool to aid small-scale fisheries to target and catch fish species that otherwise would be difficult. They can also be used to effectively restore and enhance fish biodiversity in target conservation areas.

BioBoss Tiles
BioBoss tiles are concrete structures (200x200x32mm) that were also created using the software CASU. These tiles are incorporated into the seawalls, providing microhabitats for marine organisms, and hence increasing biodiversity on these coastal defences.

These tiles were designed in a collaborative project between NParks and NUS.

Floating Pontoon
A floating pontoon that serves as a biodiversity enhancement unit is similar to the usual floating pontoons one sees at Marinas but with modifications to encourage biodiversity. NParks is working with consultants to design these pontoons to maximise biodiversity enhancement potential.

I. Changi Beach Park

Tidal pool units will be placed on a portion of the seawall at Changi Beach Park, Car Park 5 (CBP CP5) and will be ready by the end of the year. A total of 15 tidal pool units, with 3 different designs, will be installed at the area.

Placement of the tidal pool units on CBP CP5 seawall
Figure 1: Placement of the tidal pool units on CBP CP5 seawall.

Natural rock pool at Pulau Biola
Figure 2: Natural rock pool at Pulau Biola

II. Labrador Nature Reserve

Floating pontoons will be installed outside of the inter-tidal areas at Labrador Nature Reserve (LNR), parallel to the shore and aligned with the existing jetty. Construction of these biodiversity enhancement units will begin in mid-2016.

Indicative conceptual enhancement plan for LNR
Figure 3: Indicative conceptual enhancement plan for LNR

III. Sisters’ Islands Marine Park

BioBoss tiles will be placed along the smooth surfaces of the existing rock bunds to attract different marine organisms. Apart from this, other enhancement measures such as floating pontoon, tidal pools and fish aggregating devices will also be installed around Sisters’ Islands.

Installed BioBoss plot configurations
Figure 4: Installed BioBoss plot configurations of (A) ‘Low’, (B) ‘Medium’, and (C) ‘High’ fragmentation levels on the seawalls at Pulau Hantu. (D-F) Close-ups of BioBoss tiles.

Community Stewardship Plans

Sisters' Islands Marine Park Dive Trail

A new pilot dive trails has been developed off Sisters’ Island. Trial dives have been conducted over the past few months to assess the suitability of the routes as well as to test out the user friendliness of the underwater signs. These dive trails vary in level of difficulty and cater to divers of different levels.

The diorama that has been set up at Festival of Biodiversity 2015 offer a glimpse of what the dive trails will feature.

Dive trails will be ready for public access by end September 2015.

Sisters' Islands Marine Park Dive Trail
NParks Press Release 26 Jun 15;

To encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore’s marine biodiversity, NParks will be opening Singapore’s first dive trail located at Pulau Subar Laut or the Big Sister’s Island, Sisters’ Islands Marine Park in the third quarter of 2015. The creation of the Park was first announced at the Festival of Biodiversity 2014, and since then, NParks has initiated public activities like the monthly guided intertidal walks as well as the soon-to-be-launched dive trail. These low-impact activities will continue while NParks undertakes a feasibility study that will help us plan sustainable activities within the Marine Park while enhancing the existing habitats and the biodiversity they support.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Pilot Dive Trail will be marked with underwater signboards that will serve as both station markers and underwater educational resources. Divers will also be encouraged to contribute towards the upkeep of the dive trails, for example, by helping to sweep off accumulated algae on the station signboards using the attached cleaning brushes.

NParks will be conducting pilot dives with a selected group of leisure divers with varying levels of experience to assess the suitability and functionality of the dive trail and to implement activities that will provide the best dive experience.

Shallow and deep trails

Two separate trails with varying depths have been established at the pilot site. Approximately 100m in length, the shallow trail will take divers around a circuitous loop to a maximum depth of 6m, and the deep trail will reach a maximum depth of 15m. Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs which will bring their attention to the variety of marine biodiversity and reef features present in Singapore’s waters. To encourage participation in our Citizen Science program, some stations will engage divers in simple biodiversity or water quality surveys. The minimum requirement for those who wish to dive at the trails is an Open Water Diver certification.
click on image for larger view

About the Shallow Trail

The Shallow Trail is characterised by higher light levels and consequently higher hard coral cover as compared to the Deep Trail. Some corals along the Shallow Dive Trail were salvaged from reefs in Singapore that were threatened or designated for reclamation. They were relocated to the reef at the Shallow Trail and their condition is currently being monitored.

About the Deep Trail

The Deep Trail is characterised by lower light levels as compared to the Shallow Trail. It is located towards the end of the reef slope of the Big Sister’s Island, and reaches a maximum of 15m depth. Visibility — which is affected by the amount of suspended particles and algae in the water — is also lower at the Deep Trail.

Dive windows and regulations

NParks will work with dive operators to facilitate guided dive trips at the Pilot Dive Trails that they can offer to their diving customers. NParks will regulate the diving activities based on suitable dive windows and will maintain a cap on the number of divers allowed during each window to ensure minimal damage to the reefs and avoid overcrowding at the trails. Dive windows will be limited to periods when currents are suitable for diving, which will be determined using hydrodynamic predictions for the site. It is estimated that there will be several days with suitable dive windows in any given month.

To ensure dive safety while safeguarding the reef habitat, only dive operators that meet all necessary criteria and who agree to adhere to regulations will be approved to conduct the guided dives. Regulations that include prohibitions on the removal or collection of any living or non-living components of the reef will be imposed to safeguard the reef habitat and biodiversity within the Marine Park. The cost of the dive trips will be set independently by operators, and may differ based on the types of packages and the services they offer.

Visitor information

The pilot dive trail will be ready for public access by end September 2015. Interested members of the public can sign up for the dive trails by contacting the list of approved operators, which will be finalised and announced on the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park website.

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