National survey on marine life to start next month

It will be first such study in region; information collected will go into public database
Grace Chua Straits Times 9 Jul 10;

A THREE-YEAR national-scale survey of marine life here, the first such exercise in South-east Asia, will be done here from next month.

It will make an audit of plant and animal life, starting with that in the mangrove mudflats to the zone between the high- and low-tide marks, the offshore coral reefs and even the sea floor, 20m down.

Doing it will take many hands - the National Parks Board (NParks), local scientists, green groups, non-governmental groups, volunteers and students, backed up by international experts.

The information collected will go into a national, public database, said Dr Lena Chan, deputy director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

This knowledge will come in useful, for example, in supporting policy recommendations regarding protected areas or how industry can be developed with minimal harm to marine life, she explained. 'The data will help with decision-making as well as policy formation, based on sound science. Without that, we are just working in a vacuum,' she added.

The money for the project will come in part from oil major Shell, which donated $500,000 for conservation activities in May. Of this sum, $300,000 will pay for bringing in foreign expertise for the study. The remaining cost, a not-yet-finalised sum, will be borne by the Government and other contributors such as corporate sponsors.

The project is being undertaken a year after civil society groups presented a marine conservation Blue Plan to the Government, in which they called for such a survey and a formal recognition of the richness of this island's reef habitats.

Already, more than 60 per cent of coral reefs here have been lost to development, and the survival of the rest may be threatened by factors such as climate change and pollution.

But still, the remaining 5 sq km to 10 sq km of reefs harbour at least 250 species of hard coral, 120 species of fish and 12 species of seagrass, putting Singapore nearly on a par with the rest of South-east Asia's marine biodiversity hot spots.

The problem though is that Singapore's limited land space means that every bit of land, including that on the coast, is in demand for some kind of commercial activity, so the need to preserve the health of the plant and animal ecosystem needs to be balanced against the economic imperative, said Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum.

NParks said the time was ripe for such a survey. It cited factors such as the rising public interest in biodiversity, existing research, the availability of private sector funding and the Government's backing for initiatives like the Blue Plan.

On Wednesday, it met civil society groups, environmentalists and academics in a closed-door session to discuss details of the survey.

Academics and environmentalists hailed the study as 'a great move' and 'a step forward'.

Mr Francis Lee, a contributor to the Blue Plan and chairman of International Year of the Reef 2008 Singapore, said: 'We are grateful to the Government for responding so positively to the Blue Plan 2009 and, in particular, this proposal to survey and conserve our reefs.'

National University of Singapore (NUS) marine biologist Chou Loke Ming welcomed the funding for the project and the chance 'to do a systematic, intensive survey to really understand what we have'. Most studies done so far have been limited in area and scope, and areas such as the Johor Strait and the tiny southern island Pulau Jong have not been studied extensively, he noted.

NUS biologist Peter Ng noted that Sweden and Taiwan have also undertaken comprehensive studies of their plant and animal life, and China is doing a long-term one.

People who wish to volunteer for the survey may send an e-mail message to Wild Singapore at; companies keen to help fund the project may contact NParks' Garden City Fund at

Related links
More about the Mega Marine Survey on the wild shores of singapore blog. Register your interest to volunteer here.

NParks Media Factsheet 8 Jul 10;

Background - Why the survey
Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world. Yet we have very rich marine biodiversity. Singapore’s waters harbour some 250 species of hard corals, or a third of the world’s hard coral species. Half the number of seagrass species in the Indo-Pacific region can be found within Singapore’s waters. More than 100 species of inter-tidal sponges have been recorded and many more are likely to be observed in the survey.

We have achieved this through delicately balancing development and biodiversity conservation, and it is something that we will need to continue to do given our limited space and resources.

In order for Singapore to remain a sustainable coastal city as we continue to urbanise, we need to better integrate the management of our coastal and marine environments. The starting to this is to know comprehensively and understand our marine biodiversity ie what we have, where they are and how best to conserve them.

What is the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey
The Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS) will take stock of Singapore’s marine ecosystem and species diversity, species distribution and abundance.

It will be led by NParks and will bring together the larger community of experts from tertiary institutions, NGOs and individual enthusiasts. Shell Eastern Petroleum (Pte) Ltd has donated $500,000 for conservation activities, of which $300 000 will go towards bringing in scientific experts for this survey through NUS. NParks is currently coordinating the logistics of the survey.

We are now in discussion with various interest nature groups such as Blue Plan Group which includes among others, RMBR, Wild Singapore, NSS, Blue Water Volunteers, NTU/NIE, Habitat News. We are very encouraged by the many offers of assistance made by groups that can contribute expertise, boats, equipment and volunteer time. Members of the public who are keen to volunteer their time for the survey can contact Wild Singapore at Corporations that are keen to support this project can contact the Garden City Fund.

The CMBS is scheduled to start in the later part of 2010 and will be carried out in phases over three years.