Wave of change in Singapore marine conservation

Protecting biodiversity now a guiding principle as S'pore grows
Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Jun 16;

Marine conservation efforts in Singapore have undergone a sea change since the 1980s.

What was a cause championed mainly by conservationists has now become a guiding principle for Singapore as it develops its coasts and people, said marine conservation veteran Chou Loke Ming, an adjunct research professor at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute.

Last month, for example, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced a slew of outreach and research plans for the Republic's marine park, including intertidal pools and boardwalks, that will allow people to get up close with marine life.

The Maritime and Port Authority is also working to save corals in the way of a port development in Tuas, said Prof Chou. It has moved to relocate affected corals, and is working with marine biologists to nurture fragments in coral nurseries.

These measures are vastly different from land reclamation work done before the 1990s.

"The awareness started in the mid-1990s," Prof Chou said. "I'm not too sure why, but I guess the 1992 Rio Declaration, which Singapore supported, triggered it."

In the late 1990s, NParks, whose remit was primarily terrestrial, started getting involved in marine biodiversity conservation, said Dr Lena Chan, group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

In the 20 years since, the marine conservation movement has chalked up many wins.

The mangroves and wetlands of Sungei Buloh were first saved from development in 1993, when it was designated a nature park, and further protected in 2002, when it was given the status of wetland reserve.

In another landmark move, Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa wetlands were saved from reclamation in 2001. "It was the first time that a marine development was deferred in favour of conservation," said crab expert Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

In 2014, Singapore opened Sisters' Islands Marine Park, its first marine park. Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who announced its opening two years ago, told The Straits Times last week: "It was a happy coincidence that we were able to bring everything together in time to announce the launch of Sisters' Islands Marine Park in 2014, just before our SG50 celebrations last year!"

Mr Lee noted that strong ties have been forged among agencies, researchers, blue groups and the community.

Considering Singapore's status as a maritime nation, the recognition of the importance of its marine habitats has been a long time coming.

Singapore's waters are home to 200 species of sponges, over 100 species of reef fish and more than 250 species of hard corals - more than 30 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said: "Knowledge of what we have on and off the coastlines of our main island, and our little ones, encourages us to coexist with the many plants and animals living on our remaining natural areas."

Singapore is on its way to achieving this. Said Prof Chou: "For a small country with limited sea space under intense use, (the change) is to me a crowning achievement."

The 69-year-old has three decades of marine conservation work, and has dedicated his life to achieving his dreams for Singapore, even after he retired last year. He now hopes for clearer waters, improved seawater quality in compromised areas and more local marine biologists in higher positions of responsibility.

Coral nurseries bloom under special care in waters off the coast
MPA-funded NUS project part of efforts to protect marine life as new port is built
Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Jun 16;

In the waters off Singapore's southern coast lie two coral nurseries that are blooming under the tender loving care of a team of eight "gardeners".

The gardeners - marine biologists from the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) - are tending to tiny fragments of coral, each barely the length of a human finger, with the hope of raising them into larger colonies that can be used for reef rehabilitation.

These fragments were sourced from coral which was in the way of a port development in Tuas. At the nurseries off Lazarus Island and Kusu Island, they are mounted on frames made using PVC pipes and stiff mesh nets.

Loose coral fragments can be shifted about by currents, which puts them at risk of abrasion by sand. The structures help prevent this, and also elevate the fragments off the seabed, preventing sediment from accumulating there.

After about six months, when the corals have grown to a suitably large size that allows them to better withstand stress, they are moved out of the nursery and attached to new sites on Kusu Island and Lazarus Island using marine epoxy, a type of glue. Scientists monitor their growth at the transplanted sites for at least two years.

Healthy coral reefs not only draw in marine life, but they are also effective buffers against strong waves and can help filter pollutants from the water, said coral expert Chou Loke Ming, who is heading the project.


We want to make Singapore a world-class port, but this has to be done in a sustainable way, with minimal environmental impact.

DR SONG TIANCHENG, deputy director of engineering at MPA's technology division.
Since the project, funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), started in 2013, more than 800 coral fragments have been transplanted to the reefs off Kusu Island and the seawalls of Lazarus Island, both of which are south of the mainland.

About 80 per cent of the transplanted corals have survived, said Mr Lionel Ng, a research assistant at TMSI who is part of the coral nursery team. This is within the expected survival range for transplanted corals, as some may be eaten by predators or die due to stress from the move, he added.

The coral nurseries are part of MPA's efforts to protect Singapore's marine life, even as a new port is being built in Tuas. Between September 2013 and August 2014, MPA also relocated more than 2,000 coral colonies from Sultan Shoal - located south of Tuas - to the waters off St John's Island and Sisters' Islands.

"Coral fragments were inevitable from the major translocation and were a good source of material for research to determine whether they could be used to improve degraded reefs and also to create new reef communities," said Dr Chou, an adjunct research professor at TMSI.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), welcomed the science-backed marine conservation efforts.

"Singapore is at a stage where agencies, including MPA, are taking positive steps to address the impact of development on the environment. Through consultation with subject-matter experts, any efforts to do this is good."

Dr Song Tiancheng, deputy director of engineering at MPA's technology division, said: "We want to make Singapore a world-class port, but this has to be done in a sustainable way, with minimal environmental impact."

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