Sentosa au naturel

The island is more than glitzy resorts and sandy beaches, with lots of flora and fauna on offer
Sarah Roxanne Sim Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

Think of Sentosa, and glitzy resorts and tourist spots come to mind. Yet, scattered among the fancy hotels and crowded theme parks are the island's hidden secrets - endangered trees, cheeky critters and beautiful plants.

In January this year, the Sentosa Development Corporation - known as Sentosa Leisure Group with its subsidiaries - was named a finalist in the Tourism For Tomorrow Awards, a worldwide travel industry accolade for sustainable tourism efforts.

The corporation, tasked with developing Sentosa as an attraction since 1972, was up for the Destination Stewardship Award, a category open to any country, region, state or town that protects its natural and cultural heritage while promoting itself as a vacation spot. This year's award eventually went to the Peaks of the Balkans committee, responsible for creating a 192km hiking trail across the mountains of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.

While Sentosa's charms are more modest, compared to the formerly war-torn region's transformative tourism feat, it is the result of decades-long planning which fiercely guards its green areas, despite the temptations of lucrative over-building.

The 10-year Sentosa Green Plan was launched in late-2009 to help ensure that at least 60 per cent of the 500ha island is made up of flora, fauna and open space. Currently, that figure stands at 58 per cent, estimates the Sentosa Leisure Group's environmental sustainability manager Lieow Shao Wei.

Ms Lieow says: "In Singapore, we may not have pristine lakes or big mountains like The Rockies in Canada. When most people think of Sentosa, they think of going to the beach or going to the attractions. Very few people think of exploring nature here.

"That is how we approach sustainability in terms of nature. It may not be a main draw yet, but it is something that goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the activities on the island."

Despite major developments and high visitorship on the island over the years (19 million visitors in 2011), deliberate steps have been taken to preserve the island's rich heritage and island charm. The island's ecological efforts are reflected in its meticulous land planning and usage as well as island operations.

Developers on the island are given strict guidelines by Sentosa Development Corporation. Luxury resort Capella Singapore, which opened in 2009, was made to build around five heritage trees on its compound. And Resorts World Sentosa moved more than 200 trees at its site and replanted them in other parts of the island, in order to conserve the wildlife and minimise the environmental impact of constructing the integrated resort.

As a result, pockets of Singapore's natural heritage have been preserved, dotting the island formerly known as Pulau Blakang Mati. The isle is home to 30 heritage trees. Four of these - namely, an Angsana, a Common Pulai tree, an Indian Pulai, and an cempedak tree - are the largest of their kind in Singapore. The island also harbours numerous species of wildlife, such as the Oriental Magpie-Robin and the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which are listed in the Singapore Red Data Book compilation of threatened wildlife here.

Nature Society Singapore's president, Dr Shawn Lum, sees the corporation as having a long-term plan for its green areas - one that balances "expansion of facilities and attractions" with careful management of "its green inheritance".

"Sentosa is home to very diverse and beautiful natural habitats, such as rocky shores and several distinct kinds of forests," adds Dr Lum.

Bearing this observation out, some visitors say they are drawn to Sentosa as much for its lush greenery and myriad animals and insects, as they are to its man-made entertainment.

On a Tuesday afternoon, Indonesian tourist Anita Ng was reading up on the wildlife in Sentosa at the Sentosa Nature Discovery, a small hub for nature lovers and rookies alike to learn more about the wildlife found on the island.

Ms Ng, 35, a housewife on her maiden trip to Sentosa, says that the wildlife is an "added bonus" to the activities on the island. She adds: "I was surprised by how green it is here. The balance of nature and fun activities is what makes Sentosa interesting and special."

Hit the eco trails
Straits Times 12 Apr 13;

TANJONG RIMAU

Where: A five-minute walk from Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort. The coast, which is the last remaining natural coastline on Sentosa, is behind the hotel.

What: Wildlife enthusiasts can glimpse monitor lizards and kingfishers and anemones such as the sea mat zoanthid at Tanjong Rimau, a relatively unspoilt shore.

Expect to see a 7ha forest, filled with trees such as the podocarpus polystachyus, commonly known as the sea teak, perched atop a cliff that Nature Society Singapore experts estimate has been holding up since the pre-Jurassic era.

If you are lucky, and have eagle eyes, you may even spy a macaque strolling by, or a sea cockroach darting across the sand.

Info: Call Sentosa on 6736-8672 or e-mail nature@sentosa.com.sg to schedule a free guided tour. As the area's colourful rocks are slippery, the occasional high tides can pose a danger to the uninitiated. Visitors should join the Sentosa team's guided tour instead of going unaccompanied.

JUNGLE NATURE TRAIL

Where: Starts from the tram roundabout near Rasa Sentosa Resort and the Flying Trapeze at Siloso Beach, and ends near the Resorts World Sentosa development.

What: This relatively short nature trail, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, offers a taste of the six main trails on the island such as the two segments that make up the 620m-long Imbiah Loop.

Just five minutes away from Tanjong Rimau, it offers a leisurely stroll surrounded by greenery. Squirrels and geckos can be spotted amid unique trees, such as dragon blood trees which produce red sap, thorny Nibong palm trees, and the Litsea Elliptica, commonly known as Medang trees.

Mr Daniel Seah, 58, an arborist with Sentosa Leisure Group, says visitors are often surprised to find out that Litsea Elliptica is often used in traditional medicine to treat fevers, headaches and stomach ulcers.

You can rent a hybrid bicycle for $15 an hour from the Segway Hub at Beach Station, and explore the island in an eco-friendly way.

Info: Take the Sentosa Express monorail service to Beach Station. Hop on the Siloso Beach Tram from Beach Station and get off at stop 4A near Rasa Sentosa Resort. The first train leaves Sentosa Station at VivoCity at 7am, and the last train leaves Beach Station at midnight. The Beach Tram service runs from 9am to 10.30pm from Sundays to Fridays, and from 9am to midnight on Saturdays.

SENTOSA NATURE DISCOVERY TRAIL

Where: Imbiah Lookout, near the Merlion

What: Visitors who want to be nature detectives can head to this attraction.

Converted in 2009 from a defunct monorail station, this hub for nature lovers has walls of information on the island's wildlife - from animals to insects and plants.

Visitors can also take a stroll down the 200m-long boardwalk, which is built out of recycled timber over the old monorail tracks.

Tembusu trees flank the boardwalk, and along the way, visitors can spot everything from colourful cotton stainer bugs to Oriental Magpie-Robins, which are an endangered species of birds listed in the Singapore Red Data Book of threatened wildlife here.

The boardwalk ends near a nature trail at the top of the Imbiah rainforest, one of two green lungs on the island.

Designated by Sentosa Development Corporation as nature zones, these large areas - with Mount Imbiah spanning 15ha and Mount Serapong spanning 25ha - must remain undeveloped.

History buffs can take a stroll to the top and explore colonial-era military forts and bunkers there.

Info: Take the Sentosa Express to Imbiah Station. Take the escalator at the Merlion Plaza up to Imbiah Lookout.

Related links
More about Sentosa's natural shores on wildsingapore and wild shores of singapore

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