Sisters' Islands Marine Park designated for research, conservation activities

The marine park’s location was chosen due to the islands' rich marine biodiversity. Scientists hope the conservation of the reefs can help flourish the rest of Singapore's waters.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 29 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The Sisters' Islands Marine Park, unveiled in July 2014, has been designated for research and conservation activities of Singapore's marine life, as part of the Marine Conservation Action Plan.

The marine park is Singapore’s first and spans about 40 hectares around the islands, which include the western reefs and seashore areas of Pulau Tekukor and St John's Island.

The islands are quietly nestled in the southern shores of Singapore and provide a quaint respite from the bustling city life. Legend has it that two sisters, Minah and Lina, drowned in these waters and turned into two islands - Pulau Subar Laut and Pulau Subar Darat - or the Sisters' Islands.

The marine park’s location was chosen due to the islands' rich marine biodiversity. Scientists hope the conservation of the reefs can help flourish the rest of Singapore's waters.

"Some of the research we have done indicate that Sisters’ Islands, compared to all the other islands, has the potential of being the strongest source reef for Singapore, which basically means, if we can improve the biodiversity here, it will be a place that seeds other areas,” said Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the National Biodiversity Centre at National Parks Board (NParks). “So our main goal is to keep Sisters a thriving biodiverse community that will then continue to populate the other reef areas in Singapore."

The islands are most popular during low tides, when visitors can see all the marine life at the intertidal area. To encourage a deeper appreciation of Singapore's marine biodiversity, NParks recently opened up two dive trails to the public.


It takes about 15 to 20 minutes by boat from Sentosa to the dive site at Sisters' Islands.

The trails provide divers the chance to get close to a plethora of marine life. They are guided through 20 stations marked by signboards which highlight different types of marine creatures nearby. Visibility may not be as excellent as other dive sites around the region, but dive enthusiasts say the marine life there is abundant.

"In a place like the Marine Park we've got interesting life that comes from a healthy reef like this,” said Mr Stephen Beng, director and owner of Sea Hounds, one of the approved dive operators. “So some of the things that we enjoy are schooling fish, like parrot fish, and angel fish also among them. We've got really cool invertebrates like salt blade shrimp that hang out on a whip coral. We've got the elusive tiger tail seahorses and our own species of hippocampus guda. And a lot of nocturnal guys that hang out only at night."

To protect the marine biodiversity, only experienced divers are allowed on the trails. Only dive operators certified by NParks can organise these trips.

"Dive operators must respect the fact that this is a marine park first and foremost and so there shouldn't be this commercial pressure to bring people out to this reef, this really special reef, and conduct training for example,” said Mr Beng. “So there must be a preparedness in terms of people bringing divers out as well as divers themselves."


The Marine Park is also home to the endangered Tridacna Gigas, or Giant Clams.

The giant clams are the largest species of bivalve mollusk in the world and can grow up to 1.2 metres in size. They are no longer found in Singapore, but there is historical evidence that they used to grow in local waters.

The clams are now being re-introduced into Singapore waters by scientists from the Tropical Marine Science Institute. They have been working on the project since 2009.

“In 2009, when I started my PhD, I conducted a comprehensive survey on what giant clam species we have in Singapore,” said Dr Neo Mei Lin, a research fellow at the Tropical Marine Science Institute. “Apart from doing reef surveys to find out what do we have now, I did a literature survey as well.

“During that period of time, we encountered some people from the museum and they actually shared with us a very important piece of information, which is an excavation somewhere near the current site of People's Association. They actually found a whole mass of giant clam shells. And not just any kind of giant clam shells, but shells of about 80-90cm. And that's a very strong indication that that's a very important species, which is Tridacna Gigas, a species that wasn't recorded in Singapore for almost 50 years or so."

Six of Tridacna Gigas clams have been successfully relocated into the reef at Sisters' Islands. They were imported from the Philippines, and harvested at the Tropical Marine Science Institute located at neighbouring St John's Island.

It took two years for the clams to be acclimatised before they were carefully placed back into their natural habitat.

The park has also been welcomed by the public. Since its opening in 2014, more than 1,200 people have taken part in the guided intertidal walks. Many have also visited the Marine Park Public Gallery located at the more accessible St John's Island.


To minimise impact on the untouched islands, NParks is also looking at sustainable activities with the least urban footprint.

"Out here you hear the waves crashing, you look at the beautiful vegetation. We don't want to take that away from the people. We don't want to create an artificial park within Sisters'. We want to keep it as natural as it is now,” said Dr Tun. “So the feasibility studies will help us look at the best way to maintain the charm of the Sisters but at the same time provide facilities that people can use to minimise impact as well as enjoy the natural environment better."

Among some of the park's future plans is a turtle hatchery.

“There are quite a few sightings of turtle on east coast, East Coast beach and Changi, and quite a few incidents where turtles have been found dead by the beach and that's basically because they've been impacted by vessels moving around,” said Dr Tun. “We do realise that turtles do come to Singapore quite often I think within this year alone there have been four sightings. What we thought, working with experts is to set up an area where we could collect the eggs found on the beach, bring it here and hatch them out in controlled environments that will ensure maximum survivability."

The hatchery will be located at the smaller island, which will be closed off for research and conservation. The larger island will remain as a gateway for the public to explore its rich marine fauna and flora.

- CNA/ek

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