Singapore's neglected heritage: Cyrene Reef as an example

Liana Tang, Straits Times 23 Jun 08;

WHAT makes Singapore unique? Is it our quaint shophouses, old buildings from colonial times, antique monuments or lush rainforests?

Singapore's heritage is a hotchpotch of cultural relics and natural beauty, and efforts towards their preservation made by the authorities are laudable.

However, I must speak for our more elusive natural heritage sites that are being neglected.

Reefs, seen only underwater or at low tides, are a marine heritage unknown to many Singaporeans.

If you have ever marvelled at the panoramic spreads in National Geographic and curious animals detailed in Sir David Attenborough's travels, know that you can view the same for yourself without even leaving our shores.

One such place is Cyrene reef, a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland.

Located west of Labrador Beach, between Pulau Bukom and Jurong Island, the reef is situated in the middle of a busy shipping lane.

It remains rich in marine diversity despite its proximity to offshore refineries and other developments.

Flaunting a long sand bar flanked by lush sea-grass meadows and lagoons of coral rubble, Cyrene is home to many beautiful marine animals such as the knobbly sea star and colourful nudibranchs.

It is revealed only at low tide. So it is no wonder that the reef remains an enigma to many.

In spite of Singapore's humble size, new creatures are being discovered all the time.

In April, marine biologist David Lane discovered a species of sea star, Pentaceraster mammillatus, on Cyrene reef. It was an intriguing find as it had previously been found only in the Red Sea and western Indian Ocean.

This may be the tip of the iceberg; there could be many more marine creatures waiting to be discovered.

Unfortunately, Cyrene - and other reefs in the Southern Islands - are in danger of being smothered by sediment and pollutants from new developments nearby. This could mean the end of marine life on these reefs.

We painstakingly saved Bukit Timah nature reserve, a tiny patch of rainforest. We preserved a short, 300m stretch of beach along Labrador Park, our last remaining natural rocky shore on the mainland. We saved these areas so that our children may enjoy our natural heritage.

Yes, heritage buildings and national parks are important, but so are our natural reefs and rich marine life. Just because we cannot see them does not mean we can neglect them.

The writer, 24, graduated with honours in biology from the National University of Singapore.

Links to more about Cyrene Reef

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