LTA clarifies how it concluded that measures to protect wildlife from tests for Cross Island Line were a success

Audrey Tan Straits Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has elaborated on how it had earlier concluded that measures to reduce the negative impact of works for the Cross Island MRT line on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) have been successful.

On Thursday (June 28), in response to Straits Times queries, it gave details of how it had monitored animals in the area and noted that similar animals were found before and after the start of soil tests for the upcoming MRT line.

The tests are done to see if a train tunnel can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve for the 50km Cross Island Line, the building of which is feared to have a negative impact on the area's wildlife. Nature lovers have been watching developments closely, and asked how LTA had concluded that the measures were successful.

On Thursday, LTA clarified in an e-mail reply that fauna monitoring works using about 90 camera traps started about three to six months before the soil works started. When the works ended, monitoring lasted about four to six months.

The authority said its findings "suggested that similar animals were present in the areas before and after the works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps".

Other than the Sunda pangolin and lesser mousedeer, which it mentioned in its earlier June 8 statement, LTA said another animal recorded by the camera traps was the common palm civet.

It did not respond to ST's query on the number of animals of each species spotted before and after the works.

Added the spokesman: "LTA continues to work with the relevant stakeholders to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the SI works on fauna activities in the CCNR."

In its statement on June 8, LTA said camera traps have picked up the presence of animals such as the critically endangered Sunda pangolin and the lesser mousedeer at the work sites after the completion of the soil tests. This, according to LTA's director of civil design and land, Dr Goh Kok Hun, "validated the mitigation measures developed".

Measures include reducing the number of boreholes required from 72 to 16, locating the boreholes on existing trails and clearings to minimise the impact on existing flora, and requiring the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, and tanks to collect discharge.

While the measures were initially welcomed by nature groups, they told The Straits Times that more data, and better analysis of the data, was required before a conclusion about the success of mitigation measures is reached.

Nature groups are watching this closely as the debate over the Cross Island Line and whether it will eventually tunnel under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve would set a precedent for where Singapore draws the line between development and conservation.

When the line was first announced by the Government in 2013, preliminary plans showing it cutting through forests in the nature reserve alarmed the nature groups, leading them to propose an alternative alignment skirting the reserve instead.

The authorities are now considering both alignments - a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir, and a skirting alignment that would take a 9km route around it. No decision has been made yet.

Separately, another study is ongoing to assess the environmental impact that would arise from the construction and operation of the MRT line for both routes.

The Straits Times reported in March this year that this study started last year and is expected to be completed later this year.



More clarity needed on how soil works for Cross Island Line affected animals in reserve: Nature groups
Audrey Tan Straits Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Nature groups and experts are calling for more information on how soil investigation works at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve affected native animals.

Without more transparency, it is impossible to tell if or how the animals were impacted, they said in response to a claim made by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that findings on its measures to reduce the environmental impact of soil works "were encouraging and validated the mitigation measures developed".

The tests, which involved boring holes up to 70m underground to extract soil samples, were done to explore if the train tunnel for the Cross Island Line can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve.

The LTA had put in place camera traps and done ground surveys to monitor wildlife for the first part of the tests. There is another ongoing environmental study.

The authorities are considering two alignments for the MRT line, a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir, and a skirting alignment that would take a 9km route around it.

Earlier this month, LTA said that camera traps picked up the presence of animals. Its statement also included two camera trap photographs of pangolins.

On Thursday (June 28), an LTA spokesman said about 90 camera traps were deployed about three to six months before the soil works started in February last year (2017). When they ended late last year, monitoring was done for about four to six months. LTA's findings "suggested that similar animals were present in the areas before and after the works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps", she added, without elaborating on the number of such animals spotted.

The spokesman said LTA will continue to work with stakeholders "to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the soil works on fauna activities".

To reduce the impact of the works, LTA had put in place measures including reducing the number of boreholes and requiring the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, among others.

The measures were welcomed by nature groups, but they told ST that more data, and better data analysis was required.

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesman for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, pointed out that the presence of one Sunda pangolin after the works could not prove anything, if there had been a greater population of pangolins using the area in the first place.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi noted that the soil investigation works for the Cross Island Line had been a serious intrusion into Singapore's protected nature reserve, and it was important that any statement arising from the works be substantiated.

"Right now, other than the two photographs of the pangolins, there is no scientific data to verify if the mitigation measures really worked," he said.

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