Nature groups propose changes to alleviate environmental impact in Mandai

TOH EE MING Today Online 29 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — With public consultation on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for development plans in Mandai underway, nature groups have suggested modifications to the proposals to further mitigate any potential impact, while some have also called for more clarity on the level of impact expected.

When completed in 2023, Mandai’s 126ha mega-nature attraction will see a new Bird Park, a Rainforest Park, as well as an eco-lodge and an education centre.

Wildlife consultant Mr Subaraj Rajathurai noted that the building of an eco-bridge for wildlife crossing across Mandai Lake Road — one of the measures that had been announced to safeguard wildlife in the vicinity — would help minimise traffic accidents.

However, he added that Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), which commissioned the EIA, could look into more “green connections” to help animals “safely move from one area to another with minimum risk”.

Such links could include putting up ropes and continuous canopies for arboreal species, such as monkeys, squirrels and civets, to move freely between the trees, and identifying passage ways to prevent animals from going in the wrong direction.

Mr Subaraj also pointed out that while there will be narrow buffer zones, measuring 45m to 50m wide — where no construction or human activity will take place — there still needs to be “sufficient landscape and greenery to play a part in animals’ foraging and moving”.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said while there is “no magic wand” to compensate for habitat loss, the developers could look into various ways of designing the attractions, such as sinking down aviaries to prevent trees from being impeded by large structures, and to allow for wild birds to still roost in undisturbed canopies.

Local conservationist Mr Tony O’Dempsey expressed concerns about locating the bird park next to the nature reserve. This could give rise to scenarios such as wildlife escapees competing with native birds for habitat and food resources, or cross-infections between native birds and captive birds via vectors such as mosquito and lice, he said.

Mosquito fogging near the nature reserve would also affect native insect wildlife there.

“These are things that mitigations, such as cage design, cannot satisfy 100 per cent ... We are taking a big risk,” Mr O’Dempsey said.

More attention also needs to be paid to the existing band of mature fruit and secondary tree species in the area — which provide a conduit for native animals such the Colugo — which would be cleared to make way for the project, he added.

Such a move would leave the eco-bridge as the only connection across Mandai Lake Road.

Citing how trees planted within the eco-bridge and buffer zones might not be tall enough to support arboreal animals, Mr O’Dempsey said other solutions could be found, which “leave the existing forest in place while utilising the surrounding grass land for structures”.

Co-founder of Cicada Tree Eco-Place Vilma D’Rozario said: “To have two large attractions added in, and accommodation on-site so close to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is a great concern ... These are not good practices.”

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chair of the conservation committee at Nature Society (Singapore), noted that greater efforts are needed to quantify adverse environmental impact.

He felt that the EIA’s concluding statement that the majority of the impacts “can be reduced to a residual impact magnitude of small or below” to be rather vague or misleading.

“This means that there are some — maybe a few — that cannot be reduced to this level (small or below). What are these impacts? How serious are they? These, as I see it, are not made clear in the report,” he added.

He said he will be helping the Nature Society to provide a formal and detailed feedback.

Mr Lum added: “In the risk assessment, we can list each of the risks one by one, the results of those impacts, the likelihood of these things happening, and then you can work on a more ecologically sound mitigation ... That becomes a starting point to address these issues more realistically.”

Those interviewed said they were glad that some of the input given by the nature groups was incorporated into the EIA.

Mr Louis Ng, Animal Concerns Research & Education Society’s (Acres) chief executive, said: “It was a more collaborative process, where we involved local experts, people who really understood the animals. We were thankful for that.”

Mr Subaraj added: “We just need to push a little harder, and make the layman understand what we know from years of experience in the field ... (so) we can make it a better place for wildlife.”

Eco-Lodge at Mandai to be 400-room full-service hotel
SIAU MING EN Today Online 29 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — Up to 400 rooms and family accommodation units — alongside a full suite of facilities for banquets and events, a swimming pool and a spa — could be available at the new Eco-Lodge in the mega nature attraction planned for Mandai, when development works are completed in 2023.

And the planned Planet Explorer and Sri Seletar Point education centre will feature an “indoor nature-themed entertainment hub” with galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, and function rooms to host workshops and mini-lectures.

Occupying a 4.65ha plot of land — about the size of six football fields — located next to the Upper Seletar Reservoir, the Eco-Lodge has been conceptualised as a full-service hotel with its own drop-off point, a lobby and reception, food-and-beverage facilities, as well as banquet and events facilities.

“The overall building form and height will be low-rise, respecting existing tree lines and well-integrated with the surrounding landscape. A 15m setback from the reservoir edge will allow for a buffer area of vegetation close to the reservoir to be retained,” stated the report, which was commissioned by Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), which manages the three wildlife attractions already in the area — the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.

The company also shared last month that there are plans to build more permanent accommodation such as tents, rustic cottages and family rooms. The Singapore Zoo already offers overnight camps.

Though the design and construction footprint of the Eco-Lodge had yet to be finalised at the time the report was written, it noted that the construction work for the accommodation is expected to take about four years. The building will be no taller than four-storeys to limit its shading and edge effects on the surrounding forested areas.

Meanwhile, Planet Explorer and Sri Seletar Point will be housed in a three-storey building, and is expected to draw about 25,200 visitors at its peak each day. The exhibitions will feature themes such as conservation, sustainability, natural sciences and biodiversity.

There are also plans to have function rooms to host events, workshops and mini-lectures, as well as training rooms for staff and vets from visiting zoos. Children can also attend classes on conservation at the Forest Kindergarten.

Other facilities in the building include a library, retail stores and offices. Construction work for the Planet Explorer and Sri Seletar Point is expected to take about three years and will be ready after the second quarter of 2022. When completed in 2023, the 126ha mega nature attraction in Mandai will see a new Bird Park — relocated from Jurong — a Rainforest Park, along with the Eco-Lodge and the education centre.

On Tuesday, MPH shared how original plans were modified after the assessment found that the construction and operation of the attractions could have an impact on the habitats, wildlife and vegetation, and cause pollution.

For example, Planet Explorer and Sri Seletar Point were envisioned to be housed in separate buildings along the reservoir edge. But this was tweaked to house them in a single building on a site where a multi-storey car park now sits, to reduce building footprint and avoid any impact on the nearby forested area.