Researchers looking to transplant garden city concept to Singapore waters

Towards a marine paradise
Amresh Gunasingham, Straits Times 4 Jul 09;

SINGAPORE'S famed garden city could one day face some underwater rivalry.
Researchers hope to add life to the dull slabs of rock and concrete which form the sea walls, jetties and piers surrounding up to 70 per cent of the island's coastlines.

They are looking at whether the methods used so successfully to green our urban jungle could help cultivate a colourful, vibrant seascape from scratch.

Twenty scientists from the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) of the National University of Singapore and planners from the Housing Board and Surbana International Consultants started a feasibility study a year ago.

The three-year project is funded by a $1.4 million research grant from the Ministry of National Development.

'The research is to determine if the concept of gardens and urban landscaping can be applied to man-made structures in the marine environment,' said the principal investigator, Dr Serena Teo from TMSI.

Similar studies are being conducted in cities like Okinawa in Japan.

Factors such as the topography of a wall, how much shade it can give, and density of crevices determine how 'hospitable' it is for biodiversity to thrive.

Reclaimed land accounts for a quarter of Singapore's land area. This figure is projected to rise and more man-made structures such as sea walls and jetty pilings will be built, Dr Teo said.

Sea walls are strong coastal defence structures that reduce the effects of waves, prevent coastal erosion and limit damage caused by tropical storms.

Adding corals and other vegetation to such walls will boost their effectiveness as a coastal defence structure, she said.

During the 2004 tsunami, for example, coastlines fringed by mangroves and coral reefs were found to have suffered less damage. Organisms typically known to thrive on sea walls include corals, sponges, seaweeds, molluscs and crustaceans.

The researchers estimate that Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of corals, although more than 75 per cent is being lost to coastal development activities such as dredging, large-scale construction works and the clearing of mangrove forests.

The hope is that the project will make room for sea creatures that once thrived here, and help people connect with the marine environment, said another researcher, Dr Tan Koh Siang.

Professor Chou Loke Ming of the biological sciences department, NUS, noted the importance of striking a balance between development and conservation.

'Singapore may not depend on its ecosystem for food or building materials, but it still plays an important role for the environment,' he said.

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PDF from the Straits Times.