06 November 2008

Our marine biodiversity and sustainable development: feedback session

Are conservation and development compatible? What is the value of our biodiversity? And what regional impacts can our biodiversity conservation have?

These were the issues raised by Shawn Lum, President of the Nature Society (Singapore) at today's feedback session on Sustainable Singapore.

I made an attempt at raising the following issues for conserving our marine biodiversity. But due to the shortage of time, I didn't get to cover most of the points. I'm emailing these to the organiser, uploading it on the Sustainable Singapore website and sharing it with Shawn.

You can still give your feedback too, on the Sustainable Singapore website.

An economic argument can possibly be made for conserving our marine biodiversity, particularly in the context of sustainable development.

Take Pulau Semakau as an example. While the landfill was built by destroying Pulau Sakeng and the eastern half of Pulau Semakau, there was deliberate effort to conserve the living reefs, seagrass meadows and mangroves on remaining part of natural Semakau. This marine biodiversity can be personally experienced through nature walks and drives home the point that it is possible to have a compromise between development and conservation.

Cyrene Reef is another example. It lies in the middle of a triangle with Pasir Panjang Port on one side, a world class container port handling one fifth of global container traffic. On the other two sides, Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom with petrochemical plants that make major contributions to our manufacturing GDP and is among the largest producers of refinery products in the world.
Hard and soft corals on Cyrene Reef, Singapore
Yet, Cyrene Reef remains alive and is in fact a special reef. It has living reefs, vibrant seagrass meadows and is believed to the among the few if only place with a viable population of the big red sea stars (Protoreaster nodosus). A new sea star was also found on Cyrene Reef, a first record for Singapore.

Unlike Pulau Semakau, this special reef exists by accident. Cyrene Reef persists inspite of the developments around it.

How can conserving reefs like Semakau and Cyrene Reef make economic sense?

Say there is a country that would like a world class port, or petrochemical industries or a landfill. And wants it this built near reefs that are important to it for tourism or fisheries. Singapore is already involved in building and managing ports, building green cities.

If we were to include in our bid, the existence of amazing reefs like Cyrene Reef and Semakau, it would surely improve our proposal? Particularly in contracts focusing on sustainable development?

This approach would not only allow us to conserve the value of our own reefs and shores for future generations of Singaporeans, but also share processes with other countries so that they too can conserve their shores and reefs. And Singapore would make money in the process as well.

Thus conserving our reefs might actually generate a longer-term stream of income as validation of our efforts at sustainable development in our bid to replicate these efforts elsewhere. Much in the same way that Singapore is leading in sharing on water issues.

Some areas to consider that might allow us to achieve this:
  • Include our marine biodiversity more deliberately and holistically in the planning process. Unlike our terrestrial biodiversity, marine biodiversity often falls 'between the cracks' so to speak.

  • Work on a better understanding of our marine biodiversity. Perhaps as part of Minister Mah's excellent proposal for a City Biodiversity Index.

  • Greater transparency in sharing mitigation measures used and environmental impact assessments so that there is greater understanding of issues involved in coastal development.
I'm sure there are other issues and efforts that can add further value to our reefs, such as scientific studies on reef recovery and reef health.

You can still give your feedback too, on the Sustainable Singapore website.

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