WONG PEI TING Today Online 8 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE — The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park has been designated as a public park, making it illegal to fish, collect corals, or moor boats there without the approval of the National Parks Board (NParks).
Laws passed yesterday in Parliament confirmed the status of the 40-hectare area as protected under the Parks and Trees Act. It consists of the sea or seabed around Sisters’ Islands and the reefs off the western coasts of Pulau Tekukor and St John’s Island.
With the changes, NParks will be able to institute new rules specific to marine parks in future, such as restricting diving activities, movement of vessels, or the dropping of anchors at ecologically sensitive areas, so that human activities in the marine park can be regulated.
The site is identified as a rich source of coral larvae, from which the larvae are dispersed to enrich other sites in the southern islands.
Since it would be NParks’ first go at managing a marine park, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said in Parliament that it would be better for the board to “have the flexibility to enact subsidiary legislation governing marine parks”.
This means that the park would be managed in close consultation with the marine conservation and recreational fishing communities, as well as other relevant stakeholders, he said.
Nine Members of Parliament spoke up about the amendments to the Act. Questions on what qualifies as a marine park and how the marine park could be protected were asked.
Nee Soon MP Louis Ng, for instance, sought clarity on whether dead corals, or shells that no longer have shellfish living in them, are protected. Mr Lee said that new rules specific to marine parks would be made in due course.
Nominated MP Daniel Goh expressed concerns that a new clause in the Bill, raised by the Ministry of National Development, allows the Minister to designate any entity to manage a public park, and this could be the start of turning the marine park into an “eco-tourist theme park”.
He asked if the park could be elevated to the status of a nature reserve instead.
In response, Mr Lee said: “(Turning of the park into Disneyland) is certainly not at all in the plans … We will bring together … all the stakeholders who are passionate about our greenery to come together to help us energise, activate, programme our parks, including the marine park.”
Ang Mo Kio MP Darryl David was more concerned about how the area would be developed.
Mr Lee said that there are intentions to make it “a living classroom” for marine conservation, with plans to build a boardwalk, intertidal pools and a floating pontoon at Big Sister’s Island. Small Sister’s Island will host programmes for schools and organisations.
“Even as we want to confer protection on the marine park, make it a sanctuary, we also have to ... (give people the) opportunity to come up close with marine life so they see how valuable and precious this biodiversity is,” he added.
Other amendments passed yesterday under the Act included granting power to NParks officers to enter private property to check on “dangerous” trees or plants, as well as a provision that makes it illegal to release animals into watercourses just outside of nature reserves, if the person knows or ought to know that these watercourses flow into the reserves.
Mr Lee elaborated that the new “power of entry” clause for NParks officers is “intended for NParks to ensure that public safety is not compromised by potentially dangerous greenery (usually trees) that may fall” due to structural weakness or poor health. WONG PEI TING
NParks given more power to protect Singapore's nature reserves
Channel NewsAsia 7 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE: Under new laws passed by Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 7), the National Parks Board (NParks) will have more regulatory and enforcement power to protect Singapore's nature reserves and greenery.
In investigating offences under the Parks and Trees Act, for example, NParks officers will now be able to interview offenders and record their statements.
The agency's officers will also be able to enter homes if the greenery on the premises poses a danger to public safety. This includes trees grown on rooftops and balcony gardens.
Home owners may be issued maintenance notices and non-compliance will be an offence.
These powers will only be exercised "as a last resort", if the occupier is uncooperative, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee during the debate on the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill.
"NParks’ first recourse is usually to engage the occupier to better understand the situation, and persuade him to rectify the situation."
It is now also an offence to release pets like fish and terrapins in streams or drains outside nature reserves, if there is any reason to believe that the creatures might end up in the reserves.
Previously, it was illegal to release animals only in nature reserves.
Mr Lee said that for example, Asian arowana - an aquarium fish that is not native to Singapore - have been released by members of the public in "very sensitive freshwater habitats" like Nee Soon Swamp Forest. "The arowanas then gorge themselves on our highly threatened native fish and crustacean species and cause ecological damage," he said.
He added that other less hardy species are unlikely to survive and very often die a slow and painful death.
The new law also designates Sisters' Islands as a public park, making it an offence to fish, collect coral or moor boats there without permission.
Noting that the area around the marine park is rich in local biodiversity, including coral, anemones, seahorses, fish and other creatures, Mr Lee said: "It is amazing that our waters, which lie within some of the busiest commercial sea lanes in the world, are home to over a third of the world’s total coral species. So protecting the reefs at the Sisters’ Island Marine Park is crucial to our coral conservation efforts."
The law will also allow NParks to make new rules for marine parks in future. These include restrictions on diving and the dropping of anchors at ecologically sensitive areas.
Conservation boost for Sisters' Islands
Fishing, collecting corals or mooring boats within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park without the approval of the National Parks Board will soon be an offence.
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Feb 17;
Underwater life around the offshore Sisters' Islands will now be better protected, after Parliament passed laws yesterday to designate the area as a public park.
This means it will be an offence to fish, collect corals or moor boats within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park without the approval of the National Parks Board (NParks).
The terrestrial areas of the islands are already protected under the law, and the latest change makes clear that the marine and foreshore areas, too, are to be safeguarded.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said during the debate on the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill: "It is amazing our waters, which lie within some of the busiest commercial sea lanes in the world, are home to over a third of the world's total coral species. So protecting the reefs at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park is crucial to our coral conservation efforts."
The marine park, Singapore's first, is a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier and about the size of 50 football fields.
It comprises the two Sisters' Islands, the surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.
Mr Lee said NParks will make new rules specific to marine parks in due course, such as imposing restrictions on diving, and the movement of vessels.
This will be done in consultation with the marine conservation community and other stakeholders, such as boat operators, he said.
The Bill received support from all nine MPs who spoke on it, with many welcoming the preservation of Singapore's natural heritage.
Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if there were plans for other marine parks.
Mr Lee said his ministry would work with nature groups, and use science and technology to determine if other areas should be designated as marine parks.
He added that the Sisters' Islands site was chosen based on the richness of species and habitats there, as well as its importance as a source of coral larvae.
Scientists had found that the reefs there are the "mother reef" of sorts, and the waters around them are the likely source of Singapore's coral diversity.
Another amendment to the Act makes it an offence for people to release animals into water bodies outside nature reserves, if there is cause to believe that the animals might end up in the reserves.
This is meant to prevent the introduction of non-native species, which can upset the balance of the natural ecosystem and harm native species.
First-time offenders could be fined up to $50,000, jailed up to six months, or both. Previously, the law only restricted the release of animals in a nature reserve.
Another update to the law deals with the maintenance of urban greenery, which Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked about.
NParks officers will now have the power to enter private premises to check on the condition of trees and plants if there are public safety concerns.
The officers can also issue notices requiring private property owners to carry out pruning or engage an arborist to conduct detailed inspections, among other things.
Ms Lee wanted to know if NParks would intervene in neighbourly disputes arising from the shedding of leaves from trees.
In response, Mr Lee said NParks will refer such cases to community dispute-resolution channels, as it can take action only when the condition of a tree threatens public safety, or obstructs pedestrians' use of footpaths or the view of road users.
Parks and trees law sees animated discussion over wildlife
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 8 Feb 17;
Green causes have gained prominence here over the past two decades, and yesterday's debate on the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill showed just how passionate some MPs can be about nature and wildlife issues.
The Bill, noted longtime wildlife activist Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), was a "milestone in our efforts to protect Singapore's biodiversity".
He recalled that Acres, the animal charity he started, rescued more than 3,000 wild animals last year alone. Yet the most common response he gets when he tells Singaporeans about this is: "Singapore got wild animals meh?"
Other MPs - nine spoke on the Bill - cited examples aplenty.
Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that in spite of its busy maritime traffic, the Singapore Strait's diverse marine life includes the hawksbill turtle, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, and blacktip reef shark.
Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) noted how, on a recent visit to Thomson Nature Park, he came across the greater slow loris, banded leaf monkey, and the sunda pangolin. His group also chanced on a baby big-eye green whip snake. He hopes more young people can be enticed to visit parks and enjoy the experience.
Their encounters and exchanges in the House are a reminder that a fine balance has to be struck between protecting parks, nature reserves and their flora and fauna as urban development encroaches on their fringes.
Several MPs felt the changes - to protect the first marine park at Sisters' Islands, and to make it an offence to release or abandon an animal into a body of water that leads to a nature reserve - could go further.
Mr Ng wanted the law to prohibit the release of exotic species anywhere - on land and in water. Animals, after all, have the freedom to move to nature reserves.
Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera said the changes did not address the issue of invasive species entering the reserves by chance - such as non-indigenous decorative plants favoured by condominium developers reproducing in the reserves, or exotic pets escaping accidentally.
NCMP Daniel Goh spoke at length about how he was disappointed with the scope and scale of the changes.
He saw the need to designate Sisters' Islands Marine Park as a nature reserve. That would afford it greater protection. He wanted a buffer zone to protect the area in the event of incidents like an oil spill.
And he wondered whether the marine park might, one day, become an eco-tourism theme park - and sought assurances that there were no plans for such a development.
Responding to the MPs, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said Dr Goh's "harbinger of the turning of the marine park into Disneyland... is certainly not at all in the plans".
His ministry, Mr Lee said, would also find ways to keep the younger generation engaged and excited about parks, citing undergraduate Sean Yap who started a Facebook album - Real Life Pokemon of Singapore - to show the similarities between Pokemon characters and native plants and animals here.
Mr Lee also said invasive species are a perennial concern. This is why buffers have been established around nature reserves to protect them "from the dessicating effect of buildings and concrete and traffic". Such buffers also give NParks the opportunity to remove alien species "that have been deliberately or accidentally released from these developments into the nature reserves".
Singapore's approach to nature, while pragmatic and driven by development needs, has sought to integrate development with nature.
As Mr Lee noted, Singapore is a biophilic city. The term describes how humans are hard-wired to need connections with nature and other forms of life.
In some other countries, the approach is to "prohibit a whole series of activities and try to tell people 'Please don't go there, minimise contact, keep a distance, let nature thrive'.
"In Singapore, it's the converse. We're a city in a garden - the city envelops our nature reserves, our nature parks, envelops our biodiversity," Mr Lee said.
"We have to be biophilic ... We have to be good custodians and stewards of our biodiversity - not just keeping it away at arm's length through legislation and prohibition, but to educate, to excite, to enthuse people to care about the plant and animal species that make us a very special place."
Parliament sittings see a stream of students and others in the public gallery, and hopefully those watching yesterday's debate will be spurred to find out more about what and where Singapore's wild animals and plants are.
The protection now afforded to Singapore's first marine park, and more developments to safeguard the natural environment, should give Singaporeans a chance to discover how important it is that nature should retain a central place in a continually developing city.
Wild spaces worth saving
Audrey Tan Straits Times 10 Feb 17;
When Parliament on Tuesday passed laws designating the areas around Sisters' Islands Marine Park as a public park, it was a clear signal that built-up Singapore still has wild spaces worth protecting.
The move will better protect the organisms living in Singapore's murky, but thriving, waters.
Singapore's waters are home to more than a third of the world's total coral species. Most of the country's coral reefs lie to the south of the mainland, where the marine park is located.
Singapore's waters are home to rare marine life, such as the Neptune's cup sponge - a marine organism once thought to be globally extinct.
With the latest change to the Parks and Trees Act, the marine and foreshore areas of the marine park are to be safeguarded too. The terrestrial areas of the islands are already protected under the law.
Among other things, it would now be illegal for people to fish, collect corals or moor boats within the marine park without the approval of the National Parks Board. The stepped-up protection is laudable, but more can be done to give the park the maximum protection under the law.
There are more rules governing behaviour in a nature reserve than at marine parks. For instance, people cannot disturb land, dump things, or carry nets, traps or hunting devices in nature reserves.
Singapore has four nature reserves and more than 300 public parks, including the marine park.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said the Government has sent a number of signals to demonstrate the importance of the areas around Sisters' Islands Marine Park.
These include the recent legislative amendment and announcements in 2014 that highlighted the marine park as a place for the conservation of marine biodiversity.
As the marine park already meets all the criteria for a nature reserve - it is used for conservation and research, as well as for recreational and educational purposes - upgrading its status should only be a matter of time.
WONG PEI TING Today Online 8 Feb 17;