Monday 29 June 2015

Masterplan to protect Singapore's marine biodiversity announced

New blueprint to conserve Singapore's marine heritage
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Coral reefs and other marine habitats will be better protected under a new plan that also maps out ways of re-populating Singapore's waters with giant clams and sea turtles.

The Marine Conservation Action Plan, helmed by the National Parks Board (NParks), is the first official one to protect and enhance Singapore's marine heritage.

It was launched yesterday by Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee at the NParks' Festival of Biodiversity at VivoCity.

It is important for us to conserve our rich and thriving biodiversity. At the launch of the Festival of Biodiversity...
Posted by Ministry of National Development on Saturday, June 27, 2015

Among its projects is one to increase the population of the Neptune's Cup Sponge in local waters. The sponge was thought to be globally extinct in the early 1900s until it was re-discovered off St John's Island in 2011. Singapore is now the only country with a known living specimen.

NParks is working with Tropical Marine Science Institute researcher Lim Swee Cheng on the project.

He told The Sunday Times that researchers hope to understand "basic but important" questions on the animal's biology and ecology, such as how it feeds and reproduces, its growth rate and role in the ecosystem.

"We have been monitoring one sponge and discovered that it is a fast-growing species, contrary to what many scientists thought; it doubled in size in three years," he said.

Under the plan, NParks will also pilot two dive trails to get more Singaporeans interested in marine life.

Complete with 20 underwater signboards that serve as activity stations and markers, they will open at Sisters' Islands Marine Park in September for approved operators to use for tours.

The action plan follows the Singapore Blue Plan 2009 - which called for a full marine survey and marine nature reserves - proposed by academics and civil society groups.

Coral expert Chou Loke Ming, who helped craft the 2009 document, said: "It was a long journey towards the country's first marine park.

"An officially designated plan is certainly needed as a follow-up to ensure that conservation effort is sustained on a permanent basis."

He added that the Sisters' Islands Marine Park is not large, and that it makes "ecological sense" to have a network of small marine parks to maintain biological connections between them.

The marine action plan is part of a broader Nature Conservation Masterplan, also announced by Mr Lee yesterday.

The latter is a framework which all of NParks' conservation work on land and sea will come under.

Dr Lena Chan, director of the NParks National Biodiversity Centre, said it will mean greater integration between different aspects of conservation work, from scientific research to community outreach and sharing of data.

"The masterplan will pull together all these different aspects to make it a comprehensive, systematic and integrated framework," she said.

Mr Lee added: "The master-plan will chart the direction of our conservation efforts for the next five years."

Public can register for Sisters' Islands Marine Park dive trails from 29 October
By Chew Hui Min, The Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2015

Scuba divers can register to explore the underwater trails at the Sisters' Island Marine Park from Thursday (Oct 29).

Two dive windows on Nov 8 and 22 are now open, the National Parks Board (NParks) said in a press release on Thursday.

However, to protect the corals at the marine park, beginner divers will not be allowed to dive the two trails located at Pulau Subar Laut or the Big Sister's Island.

The trips will be conducted by six approved dive operators, who will offer packages priced at different rates.

Interested divers who meet the requirements can contact the dive operators, which are listed on the Sisters' Islands Marine Park website.

To register, divers need to have advanced certification from a reputable international training organisation, and have done at least 20 dives in the past two years, with at least one dive in Singapore.

There are also rules put in place for those who are exploring the trails.

There is a cap of eight divers per dive for each trail, and divers are not allowed to remove any part of the reef - living or non-living.

NParks will determine suitable windows for dives based on the condition of the marine habitat and currents at the site. This is estimated to be two to four days a month.

There are two trails at the Marine Park - a shallow trail at 6m and a deep trail at 15m.

Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs with information on the marine biodiversity and reef features in Singapore waters.

They will be encouraged to contribute towards the upkeep of the dive trails, for example by helping to sweep off accumulated algae on the station signboards using cleaning brushes.

Some stations will engage divers in simple biodiversity or water visibility surveys.

Minister for Family and Social Development Tan Chuan-Jin has tried out the trails. Check out his photos here:

I dived with some of our NParks colleagues at our new Sister's Island Marine Park. Visibility wasn't too bad! And it was...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Thursday, October 29, 2015

Singapore's first Dive Trail opens at Sisters’ Islands
Comprising two trails of about 100 metres in length each, they were developed to showcase and encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore's marine biodiversity.
By Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Nov 2015

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Dive Trail opened to the public on Sunday (Nov 8). Comprising two trails of about 100 metres in length each, they were developed to showcase and encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore's marine biodiversity.

It takes 20 minutes by boat to get to the site, which is located at Pulau Subar Laut, or the Big Sister's Island.

Dr Karenne Tun, Deputy Director (Coastal and Marine) at National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Generally, because of the location of the islands itself, currents can be very, very strong. So what we have done is select the site that has the most suitable windows for diving. So in a month, we'd probably have the best opportunity to dive at this site."

Each diver will also be given a booklet that can be brought underwater. It is filled with activities divers can do along the two trails, which are marked by signboards to explain the types of marine life in the area.

The shallow trail is about five to six metres deep. Divers can get up close to the soft coral reef, sea urchins, and underwater worms. The shallow trail leads into the deep trail, which can go as deep as 15 metres.

A diver, who manoeuvred through the trails on Sunday, said: "It was a positive and interesting dive experience. I didn't expect this in Singapore waters."

WATCH: Get underwater with our reporter Avril Hong as she explores the newly-opened Sisters' Islands Marine Park Dive Trail. - Let's Make Singapore Our Garden
Posted by 938LIVE on Sunday, November 8, 2015

To protect the marine biodiversity, only experienced divers are allowed on the trails. In addition, only dive operators that meet all the criteria set by the National Parks Board can organise dive trips here.

Divers and operators must adhere to certain guidelines, which were set to safeguard the reef. Dr Tun added: "That includes, for example, no touching of animals. Take a photo if you want, but don't touch them.

“Divers need to have at least an advanced level of certification or above so that they are more comfortable diving in an environment that might have slightly stronger currents and low visibility. They also need to have good buoyancy control."

Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs that will bring their attention to the variety of marine biodiversity and reef features present in Singapore’s waters.

Registration opened on Sunday for the next dive window on Nov 22.

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