Relocating corals at Sultan Shoal

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Corals near one of Singapore's lighthouses, Sultan Shoal, are being moved in a conservation project to protect them from development works for the future Tuas Terminal.

Just over half of the estimated 2,800 hard coral colonies on the reef will be relocated, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said divers have completed about 80 per cent of the move so far.

For the past seven months, marine biologists and volunteers have been diving into the waters around Sultan Shoal -- a rare sight in an area normally closed to the public.

Volunteer diver Debby Ng said: "So many sea cucumbers totally littering the reef. The reef had lots of anemonefish... which was really nice to see, so a lot of activity under water."

It is no ordinary fun dive. With chisel and hammer, divers harvest coral from the reef piece by piece, transport them to their new home, and reattach them to the seabed with underwater cement.

From Sultan Shoal in southwest Singapore, the corals will be moved to three different sites on the Sisters' Islands and St John's Island.

"We have one of the busiest ports in the world, so a lot of shipping," said DHI Water & Environment’s principal marine biologist Eugene Goh, who is leading the relocation project. "The waters around the southern islands of Singapore also experience strong currents very often, so that's something we need to plan for before we go diving."

What is being moved are mostly hard corals, the building blocks of a coral reef.

The living tissue is only a very thin layer on the top of the coral. The bottom is the skeleton, and it is literally rock. So the process of removing coral from the seabed, if done carefully, does not actually damage the coral.

Mr Goh said the transplanted coral have about 70 to 80 per cent chance of survival, but moving coral is still a last resort for conservation.

He explained: "You can't totally transplant a reef. It's just not feasible; there are organisms that are just not transplantable."

Even so, relocation may be the Sultan Shoal corals' best bet for survival, as development works for the future Tuas Terminal begin in surrounding waters.

A long-term project, the Tuas port is expected to consolidate all of Singapore's container port activities, currently spread over four locations: Tanjong Pagar, Keppel, Pulau Brani and Pasir Panjang.

The first set of berths at Tuas is expected to start running in 10 years' time.

MPA’s chief executive, Andrew Tan, said: "Singaporeans have reached a stage in development where they would like to see not only a city like ours being globally competitive, but also paying attention to identity, values, environment.

“So I think what we're doing is totally aligned with what Singaporeans would expect, and I think the best part is we're working together to make it all possible."

With coral reefs in decline worldwide, what remains of Singapore's coral reefs today are valuable for their biodiversity, said National University of Singapore’s department of biological sciences Professor Chou Loke Ming.

He elaborated: "Our reefs have been reduced, but whatever has remained is still representative of a very high diversity of corals. 250 species, compared to 600 in the whole of Southeast Asia."

The project team will monitor the health of both the transplanted coral and the Sultan Shoal reef over the next five years.

- CNA/gn

Local coral colonies getting a new home
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Apr 14;

Singapore's coral reefs are among its little known treasures, and some are "moving house" to stay safe.

Some 1,600 coral colonies will be relocated from near the Sultan Shoal - south-west of the country - to near the southern St John's and Sisters' islands to protect them from development.

After all the corals are settled in by August this year, experts will monitor them for five years to make sure that they take to their new home well and remain healthy.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) had found in an environmental impact assessment study in 2012 that the new Tuas Terminal's development near the shoal could harm the corals.

The terminal is part of plans to consolidate Singapore's container port activities in Tuas in the long term, to free up prime land occupied by other terminals.

After the impact study, the MPA hired research and consulting group DHI Water & Environment to carry out a coral relocation programme.

Between last September and March this year, DHI experts and about 20 public volunteers transplanted nearly 1,400 coral colonies out of 1,600.

Although the target does not cover the estimated 2,800 colonies near Sultan Shoal, the relocated corals will include all types of hard corals found near the shoal.

DHI principal marine biologist Eugene Goh said: "Hard corals are the key component of coral reefs, and most of the Sultan Shoal corals are hard corals."

Yesterday, reporters observed the DHI experts and volunteers as they harvested corals near the shoal.

Armed with simple tools such as hammers and chisels, they dived to the seabed about 5m underwater and emerged with the corals collected in baskets.

These will be covered in wet cloth and seawater to prevent them from drying out during the move to their new home.

At the receiving sites, they will be cleaned and an epoxy, a strong glue, will be used to secure them to searocks.

Singapore is home to one-third of the world's coral species.

Ports will face higher standards of marine protection in the future, said MPA chief executive Andrew Tan.

"We want to be at the forefront of these developments, and this will help Singapore differentiate itself from other ports around the world," he said.

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