Three marine, coastal sites to be enhanced for recreation

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — Enhancements to draw more visitors to three marine and coastal sites — each with its share of biodiversity offerings — are being planned.

In the coming years, Sisters’ Island Marine Park, which is home to rare species of seahorses, clams and sponges, could feature recreational diving spots and improved walkways and shelters. A floating boardwalk could be built off Labrador Nature Reserve, while Changi Beach Park could offer visitors up-close experiences with marine life.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has these plans in mind, but to ensure the enhancements will not come at the expense of biodiversity, feasibility studies will be done at the three sites identified.

Tender documents the statutory board posted on the Government’s procurement portal last Friday said it wants to enhance biodiversity along the Republic’s coastlines and islands, while making the corals and seagrasses — and the living creatures they attract — more accessible to the public.

Labrador Nature Reserve, for instance, is well known for its coastal vegetation and rocky shore, but its coastal and marine habitats are less known to the public, stated the documents. NParks is exploring options to enhance biodiversity of the shallow water reefs abutting the jetty at the nature reserve and to make them more visible to the public, possibly via a floating boardwalk.

At Sisters’ Islands, there are plans to install fixed and floating coral nursery tables off Small Sister’s island, and to incorporate research and conservation elements in landscaping works. Structures could be built in the big lagoon of Big Sister’s island to allow access to intertidal areas, and recreational dive trails could be installed there.

Changi Beach Park, on the other hand, has an extensive and gently sloping sandy intertidal area with diverse seagrass species. But because most of the seagrass and marine animals can only be seen at the lower intertidal areas, NParks envisions growing the biodiversity at the upper intertidal areas closer to shore so visitors can appreciate marine animals without causing unnecessary damage to the lower areas.

NParks did not explain how the three sites were chosen, but wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai told TODAY that the new Round Island Route recreational corridor would pass through Changi Beach Park.

“For Sisters’ Islands, I guess (NParks) wants to see how people can enjoy it more,” he said. “It’s good that they’re calling environmental impact assessments for these areas... hopefully done by the right people, particularly people with lots of experience with marine life here.”

Having nature areas that the public can use is a win-win situation borne out of necessity, said Mr Subaraj. “Some of us would love to have nature areas that are completely left for nature but that’s not really feasible in a country as small as Singapore. I think the best way is to let at least a part of the area be accessible to the public, and have areas that are out-of-bounds as well.”

Dive instructor Sim Q H, 40, said he would be keen to dive off Sisters’ Islands if possible, given Singapore’s relatively vibrant marine life. Pulau Hantu is currently the most popular local diving spot; an additional area would allow recreational divers to practise their skills without having to pay more to head overseas, although the waters here can be murky and the currents strong, added Mr Sim.

Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director (coastal and marine) at NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre said the feasibility studies would begin next month and are expected to wrap up at the end of the year.

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