Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Measures to preserve Ubin's rustic charm

PM lauds community's efforts; island can be a 'cradle for sustainable living'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2014

THE preservation of Pulau Ubin will be the main focus of a new initiative that will see the Government working with the community to retain the island's rustic charm.

Part of the plans include studies to tackle shoreline erosion, which is as bad as 40m in northern Ubin, planting trees and supporting the recovery of endangered plants and animals.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who is overseeing the effort, said these are the first wave of ideas thrown up by the Ubin Project, announced in March to generate ideas from the public on how to sustain Ubin's special character.

More than 2,000 ideas have come in, and a Friends of Ubin Network (FUN) was formed for discussions between concerned citizens and the authorities.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held up these efforts as an example of how Singaporeans can do their part for the environment and Ubin when he visited the island for Ubin Day - last celebrated over a decade ago - where volunteers organised tours and talks for the public.

Ubin Day was first held in 2002, and ended after its second run the next year. Its comeback this year was suggested by FUN.

"We can do much more," said PM Lee in a short speech, before he set off for a tour of the island.

These include preserving nature and biodiversity, documenting Ubin's heritage and culture, pursuing outdoor activities, and making Ubin a field lab as well as a "cradle for sustainable living".

"I'm glad that through this we have involved many Singaporeans interested in Ubin to come up with ideas and to pool the ideas so we can do something about it."

PM Lee recalled how he made trips to Ubin for seafood and cycling and spent 17 days on the island as a teenager on a course at Outward Bound Singapore. "I've accumulated many good memories of Ubin, like many Singaporeans. And I hope our children, too, will also have the chance to do the same as they grow up," he said.

He paid tribute to volunteers who ensure that the island "continues to be part of our shared heritage and shared memories".

New and surprising things continue to be discovered on Ubin, he added, singling out its rich biodiversity like the Chek Jawa wetlands, hornbills and endangered mangrove trees like the Eye of the Crocodile, a target of recovery efforts. Out of 200 such trees in the world, two can be found on Ubin.

The island had in the past seen nature lovers and civil society groups disagreeing with the Government over reclamation plans for the Chek Jawa wetlands on its eastern tip. In 2001, the Government made a rare U-turn and said it would preserve the habitat.

Zoologist Joseph Koh, a FUN member, said the Ubin Project was a "profound signal from the Government on the direction of Ubin". It was important for citizens interested in Ubin "to encourage the Government along this path and to help propel this process of Government actively engaging civil society".

PM Lee said Ubin was a key example of how "every Singaporean has an important role to make this a liveable and sustainable city", urging people to continue giving ideas and visiting the place. "Look around and ask yourself: 'What can I do to make our environment better, to make Ubin a more interesting place?' Imagine it, commit yourself to it, and we will partner you to make it happen."

More visitors likely but 'numbers will be managed'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2014

SEAFOOD restaurant owner Tan Chee Kiang, 67, expects his business to be buoyed by the new plans for Pulau Ubin in the next few years.

But even as the Ubin native looks forward to larger crowds, he said this should not come at the expense of the island.

"If they come here to experience our lifestyle, our kampung life, it's okay. But they cannot come here and ask for all the comforts they have on the mainland," he said. "They cannot change the island, they cannot be selfish."

For the 30-odd remaining residents like Mr Tan and the 2,000 to 3,000 visitors to Ubin every weekend, the island's charm lies in its laid-back lifestyle. Fleets of bicycles ply the sandy roads, and its haphazard smattering of squat buildings is a glimpse into Singapore's past.

The opinions of residents like him were not forgotten under the Ubin Project, where government officials reached out to civil society and the public for ideas on shaping Ubin's future while preserving its past, some of which were unveiled on Ubin Day yesterday.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told reporters yesterday that islanders have been part of the engagement process, with several of them in the Friends of Ubin Network (FUN). It brings together naturalists, heritage experts, sports enthusiasts, researchers and students.

Mr Lee acknowledged that the new initiatives to sustain Ubin's rustic charms will draw more visitors, but said the authorities will "manage the numbers".

They may, for instance, restrict numbers to areas whose biodiversity may be sensitive to overwhelming crowds, either through guided tours, or allowing only researchers to frequent these spots.

Ubin resident Ahmad Kassim, 79, said the new efforts will let more people learn about Ubin life.

"More people coming to the island means we islanders won't feel lonely," he added.

One of the new programmes announced yesterday was a monthly kampung-themed tour of Ubin.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Heritage Board will also come up with a set of guidelines to restore buildings while retaining their charm.

Students can also build bat boxes or otter dens for breeding, while educators will help develop the curriculum for a new centre for field studies and education.

Volunteers will also play a key role in these efforts. One of them is 17-year-old Choo Yi Feng, a FUN member and National Parks Board volunteer, who started helping out in primary school. The youth said the new efforts strike a balance between development and conservation.

"In Ubin, there are some natural processes that will happen to cause the infrastructure or the architecture to collapse," he said. "It's good that there are some plans for restoration and repair."

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