Pulau Ubin offers more than a nature trek, say experts at symposium

Eileen Poh Channel NewsAsia 18 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: Pulau Ubin is known for its rustic charm, rich biodiversity and greenery, but nature and heritage experts at a discussion said the island has more to offer.

The experts were speaking at the first Pulau Ubin Symposium, which was organised by the Ministry of National Development (MND) to raise awareness of the heritage and biodiversity of the island. About 150 members of the public, including those from nature groups, turned up at the session on Saturday (Oct 18).

Participants at the symposium said the island, which is frequented by cyclists and nature lovers, offers more than just a nature trek. Some of the ideas raised to preserve and enhance Pulau Ubin include having a heritage trail for its temples and shrines, a history tour of the island's granite quarries and a home stay at one of the old village houses.

The symposium is part of the larger Ubin Project, an on-going initiative which was started in March by MND to collect the public’s views on how to maintain and improve the island. But some participants are concerned about how such plans will affect the island. "What frightens me most is the attempt to try to be everything to everyone. We don't want a monster like Sentosa,” said a volunteer at Chek Jawa.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said: "If you don't step in sensitively, intervene gently, it will be an empty island. It will be a green island, of course - for those of us who love nature, happy to see forests re-generating, covering what used to be farms, what used to be quarry sites. But it is more than just that. Ubin is a lot more.

“There is a lifestyle, there is a history, there is an existing community, and values with which people used to interact with each other that is so invaluable and ephemeral, that can be lost if we are not careful. So we don't want it to be an empty island, we don't want it to be a museum, we don't want it to be just a nature area. It is so much more."

Mr Lee said he met the island's residents recently, and the issue of continuity and succession was also raised by them. He said the islanders have also requested for more amenities such as food and beverage outlets and medical facilities. “Visitors come on certain days, they find nothing to eat, they go back early and the islanders lose the business. And the islanders themselves, sometimes they have nothing to eat as well. So they have asked, can we have more small cafes, or kopitiams on the island," Mr Lee said.

- CNA/nd