Book launched to commemorate 10th anniversary of Semakau landfill

Cheryl Lim, Channel NewsAsia 8 Aug 09;

SINGAPORE: Developing a country's industry may sometimes pose a threat to its environment. Fortunately, Singapore's landfill island of Pulau Semakau has managed to balance both elements.

The world's first offshore landfill was developed at a cost of more than S$600 million. Other than its industrial purpose, Semakau also has a rich diversity of wildlife and a thriving eco-system.

Since July 2005, the landfill has been opened to the public for various recreational activities. This project has garnered international recognition for its efforts in striking a harmonious balance between industry and nature.

To mark this unique island's 10th anniversary, the National Environment Agency (NEA) launched a book on Saturday tracing its history and development.

Andrew Tan, CEO of NEA, said: "We thought that it was appropriate that we produce this publication that showcases the various species of animals and birds, and insects of the island."

The annual Semakau Run, which aims to raise funds for environmental and charity groups, was also held on Saturday. A record number of 43 companies took part in the event, including co-organiser MediaCorp.

Chang Long Jong, deputy CEO, Television, MediaCorp, said: "MediaCorp has been very, very supportive of the green movement. Our own Saving Gaia and this event are all in line with our efforts to help create a lot more awareness among the community on the need to protect the environment."

Some 150 participants took part in the run, raising S$359,000 in all.

- CNA/so

Semakau not just a landfill but home to species
New book highlights how careful planning of island has led to its amazing biodiversity
Shuli Sudderuddin, Straits Times 9 Aug 09;

Imagine a tropical island dotted with coral reefs, and lush greenery and wildlife on it.

Semakau fits the bill. It is also the world's first offshore landfill and, in fact, is Singapore's only landfill now.

But what is remarkable is that careful design and construction have ensured that the 350ha island, one of Singapore's southern islands, stays pristine and free of the foul smells associated with landfills elsewhere.

It was even praised in the respected science magazine New Scientist in 2007.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Semakau landfill is part of Singapore's sustainable solid waste management system as well as represents a wealth of natural habitats.

To commemorate this 10th anniversary, the National Environment Agency (NEA) launched a book yesterday, along with the Semakau Run, a 5km event organised with Media- Corp on the island itself.

A total of 43 corporations pledged $359,000 in this year's run in support of environmental and charitable groups.

At the launch of the book, Habitats In Harmony - The Story Of Semakau Landfill, NEA chief executive Andrew Tan said: 'This book showcases the various species of birds, sea animals and insects on Semakau. It is a landfill, but no normal landfill - its diversity has been preserved.'

Construction on the landfill started in 1995 and the project cost $610 million.

The landfill project has been divided into two phases, with 11 cells in Phase One.

Each cell is separated from the other with a plastic membrane and clay and is filled with both incinerated waste and non-incinerable waste.

About six such cells, amounting to 90 ha of sea space, have been filled so far.

As the waste is already incinerated to ash, the smell is minimal.

The waste is sent to the island on large barges and some 2,000 tonnes of ash and non-incinerable waste arrive there every day.

Said the landfill's general manager, Mr Ong Chong Peng: 'Lots of careful planning went into it. It's a mix of maintaining a waste management system and nature, right down to sampling the seawater every month to ensure that the water is not contaminated.'

Consultants who contributed to the book agree that the Semakau landfill's biodiversity is amazing for such a small island.

Dr Jean Yong, a mangrove specialist at Nanyang Technological University, said the mangroves on Semakau are becoming naturalised despite some of them being artificially planted.

'A very endangered plant, the Api-api Jambu has been found in the Semakau mangroves. Good mangroves should contain certain species of plants and this is one of them,' he said.

Coral reef specialist Karenne Tun said Semakau's coral cover almost matches that of healthier areas in Singapore.

Veteran butterfly watcher Khew Sin Khoon, who did four half-day surveys there, said: 'Semakau landfill's diversity is impressive. It's small but we found 33 butterfly species there.'

Ms Siti Maryam Yaakub, a doctoral student at the National University of Singapore, who works on seagrass, said Semakau's seagrass meadow is the largest in Singapore and boasts some endangered marine species like the knobbly sea star.

Added Dr Ho Hua Chew, bird specialist and member of the executive committee of the Nature Society: 'Biodiversity has increased a great deal since we started monitoring it in 2004. Then, there were only 66 bird species. Now, there are about 88.'

Said Mr Marcus Ng, 35, the freelance writer who put the book together: 'In the 1980s, the Government had the foresight to preserve the nature areas of the landfill even while a huge civil and marine engineering project was taking place.

'Semakau is what it is today because of this foresight.'

Spot these creatures
Straits Times 9 Aug 09;

Pulau Semakau is host to five significant species:

Great-billed heron - The tallest bird found in Singapore, it can reach a height of 1.2m with a wingspan of 2m.

Despite being rare elsewhere in Singapore, this species is frequently spotted along the coastline of Semakau.

Yellow-lipped sea krait - The locally endangered marine snake's habitat ranges from mangroves to coral reefs. Highly venomous, sea kraits are placid unless roughly handled.

Tomato Anemone fish - This fish lives only in the Bulb-tentacle Sea Anemone and grows to about 14cm.

Indo-Pacific Hump-backed Dolphin - Also known as Pink Dolphins, these mammals are occasionally spotted in the waters around Semakau. They may be seen playing close to the shore or leaping out of the water.

Pale Palm Dart - While this small butterfly is not rare worldwide, it was not known locally until it was sighted in Semakau last year. It feeds on the common coconut palm.

Information from Habitats In Harmony - The Story Of Semakau Landfill

Click on image to enlarge.

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