Monday, 23 May 2016

Singapore's Marine Life Conservation Efforts

Sisters' Islands to be heart of marine life conservation
Plans include nursery for corals, turtle hatchery and facilities where people can get close to nature
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From Singapore's first sea turtle hatchery to a floating pontoon with see-through panels, detailed plans to transform Sisters' Islands into the heart of the country's marine life conservation efforts were revealed yesterday.

Announcing these yesterday on St John's Island, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee highlighted how, despite covering less than 1 per cent of the world's surface, Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of hard corals, a third of the world's total.

"We may be small, but we are large in our marine richness," he said, as he highlighted the need to ramp up conservation efforts and to raise awareness among Singaporeans of the life in surrounding waters. "The marine park is meant for Singaporeans, and we hope our people will love it, grow it and take ownership of this park."

The 40ha Sisters' Islands Marine Park, first announced in 2014 and about the size of 50 football fields, comprises the two Sisters' Islands - which are a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier - surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor. Its ecosystem supports corals, anemones, seahorses, fish and other marine life.

With the help of a $500,000 donation from HSBC, a turtle hatchery will be set up on Small Sister's Island by the end of next year.

The island will be a dedicated site for marine conservation and research. It will have a coral nursery where rare corals can be grown before being transplanted onto Reef Enhancement Units (REU) on the reef. Yesterday, HSBC also donated $180,000 for nine REUs under the new Seed-A-Reef programme.

Open to the public, donations of at least $20,000 will pay for an REU - an artificial scaffolding to which corals attach and grow.

To encourage Singaporeans to take ownership of the marine park on the islands, they will be able to also "sponsor" a coral for $200 in the new Plant-A-Coral initiative.

Big Sister's Island meanwhile will serve as a "gateway to the marine park" for the public, said Mr Lee.

It will have facilities where people can get close to nature, such as a floating pontoon, intertidal pools, a boardwalk and forest trails.

Most of these new facilities will be built by the end of 2018.

Ms Karenne Tun, a director at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said each sponsored coral will be grown in aquariums or a coral nursery in the sea from small fragments before being transplanted.

"We will target key species in Singapore that we feel need a bit of help, (or) those that are rare in Singapore," she said, adding that it can take six months to two years for corals to be transplanted, depending on how fast the species grows.

If these programmes are done right, they could have an "add-on effect on the natural reef", said Mr Stephen Beng, who chairs the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore).

Professor Wong Sek Man, director of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Tropical Marine Science Institute, said the upcoming plans on Sisters' Islands will help educate the young on how to protect the environment. "Kids are very curious... to know what kind of marine organisms can be found in the sea. If they can also touch them, it will be very nice," he said.

NUS first-year environmental science undergrad Lim Hong Yao, 22, who has been on a guided walk with NParks to the intertidal area on Sisters' Islands, said the zone is full of wildlife. "Everything is interesting... I've seen corals, hermit crabs, octopus and even stingrays."

• To sponsor a coral, visit

Big plans for the two Sisters
The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016


Early 2018

A floating pontoon will be built adjacent to the jetty. Visitors will also get to observe marine life such as sea fans, sponges and sea anemones through viewing panels on the base of the pontoons.


Forest trails that cut through the island will allow visitors to explore the island and go bird-watching.


A boardwalk along the lagoon will provide sweeping views of the coastline. Visitors can also get up close with coastal flora and fauna.

Intertidal pools will be built along the island's inner sea walls to create an environment similar to natural rock pools, where marine life can be viewed up close at low tide.



The first turtle hatchery here and an outreach facility will be built. The hatchery will be a refuge for rescued turtle eggs, where they can hatch safely.

A coral nursery will be established to safeguard hard corals. The nursery will play an important role in the conservation of coral species, especially in view of rising sea temperatures. Corals undergo bleaching when the temperature of the water gets too high.


Ongoing now

As part of the Plant-A-Coral and Seed-A-Reef programmes, corals will be transplanted onto reef enhancement units, which are artificial structures placed within the reef to encourage coral growth.


Areas will be set aside for coastal plant conservation. These will feature around 30 coastal plant species including critically endangered ones.

The public can visit the coastal plant conservation area on Big Sister's Island. The area on Small Sister's Island will be a dedicated site for research and conservation.

Plans to restore eroded Ubin shoreline
New measures to protect island's flora and fauna amid erosion of its northern shores
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 23 May 2016

More will be done to protect Pulau Ubin's flora and fauna, including plans to restore its northern shoreline, build a coastal boardwalk and support the recovery of endangered plants and animals.

Announcing these initiatives yesterday on Pulau Ubin, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee said more must be done to protect the rich biodiversity teeming on the island.

Noting that Pulau Ubin has more than 720 native plant species and over 500 animal species, including some not found on mainland Singapore, he said: "This is remarkable but we must do more.

"We have plans to restore Ubin's eroding shoreline, which will serve as a base for more of Pulau Ubin's flora and fauna to be restored in the near future."

Shoreline restoration was one of the earliest priorities for The Ubin Project, announced in 2014 to generate ideas from the public on how to retain Ubin's rustic charm.

Erosion has badly affected about 40m of northern Ubin, threatening critically endangered species such as the Eye of the Crocodile tree and leading to the closure of Noordin Beach - a popular camping site - in 2013 for public safety.

A year-long study, concluded this month by the National Parks Board (NParks), found that changes in wave conditions partly as a result of ship wakes, or waves generated by the movements of vessels, as well as changes in land use were among the key causes of erosion.

NParks has identified possible measures to restore the shoreline, such as using man-made rock structures and sand to widen the existing beaches, growing more mangroves and adding wooden poles along the shoreline to mitigate the impact of waves.

NParks will call a tender, and works are expected to start next year and end by 2020.

An impact assessment will be done, said NPark's director for Pulau Ubin, Mr Robert Teo.

"Until we call a tender, we won't be sure how much (the work) is going to cost. It depends on the magnitude of the designs and the amount of work that's going to be done," he added.

A coastal boardwalk of about 500m, part of which will extend into the sea, will be built at Noordin Beach, which will reopen when restoration works are completed. From the boardwalk, visitors can view the island's coastal mangroves and hills.

Yesterday, NParks also unveiled a design for new otter holts - essentially dens for the critically endangered oriental small-clawed otter. By the end of this year, two holts will be installed on the island which will allow researchers to monitor and study otter behaviour.

Other species' recovery efforts include installing 30 bat boxes of six different designs across the island for bats to roost, and reintroducing endangered native orchids to parts of the island.

At the event to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity yesterday, Mr Lee joined more than 100 participants to plant 100 mangrove saplings at the mangrove arboretum in the Ubin Living Lab.

Among them were executive manager Sean Lam, 47, and his wife and son. He said: "This is one of the last places in built-up Singapore where you can enjoy such nature. Without the mangroves, the soil will be eroded and the next generation won't have anything to see."

Beaches here vital to turtles' survival
Many lay their eggs in the sand but the hatchlings risk being trampled on or disoriented by bright lights
By Lin Yangchen, The Sunday Times, 29 May 2016

Singapore's sandy beaches are a popular place for people to enjoy a relaxing day off, but they are also vital to the survival of one of the world's most fascinating creatures.

Throughout the year, endangered sea turtles make landfall on beaches like Changi and East Coast Park to lay their eggs.

The emerging baby turtles, however, risk being trampled on by people or disoriented by bright city lights.

More than 200 turtle hatchlings have been rescued from such predicaments since 2009, according to the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Soon, turtle eggs will have a safe place to develop should they need protection, with plans being hatched for the country's first sea turtle hatchery, supported by a $500,000 donation from HSBC Singapore.

The facility will be set up at the southern lagoon on Small Sisters' Island by the end of next year, and will form an integral part of Singapore's first marine park.

National University of Singapore's (NUS) Mr N. Sivasothi, who has been working with Acres, the National Parks Board (NParks) and volunteers in turtle rescue and release since the 1990s, said: "This initiative will be very helpful in coordinating action and educating people who may not know we have turtles landing on our shores to lay eggs."

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), noted that the effort could facilitate the collection of reliable population data, especially in the face of rising sea temperatures.

Turtle beach sagas have been chronicled in Singapore for about 20 years.

Back in 1996, a group of colleagues having a barbecue at East Coast Park could not believe their eyes when a turtle came up on the beach and laid 100 eggs. One of them said she thought that "it was impossible for such things to happen in Singapore".

In 2006, rollerbladers at East Coast Park raced to rescue about 80 hatchlings crawling haphazardly onto cycling tracks and falling into drains, disoriented by lit lampposts.

Since 2012, there have been 10 reported sightings of turtle hatchlings or adults laying eggs on the shores of East Coast Park and Changi Beach, said NParks, while Acres said it receives about six calls a year related to sea turtle sightings on Singapore's beaches.

When a turtle sighting is reported, an NParks officer will assess the situation on site, and decisions are made based on sound science, in consultation with Acres and NUS where necessary, said Dr Karenne Tun, director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

"It is best to leave the eggs in the natural habitat that the turtle has chosen," said Acres deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.

Eggs are moved only when there are risks such as poaching, predation, pollution or flooding and the risks cannot be mitigated on site.

Ms Boopal added that Acres would look at getting hands-on training from other hatcheries and turtle rehabilitation centres in the region, and adapt it to Singapore's context.

Turtles remain under threat in the region despite the presence of more than 10 sea turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Their eggs are popular as a delicacy in Malaysia, with a study finding that more than 400,000 eggs were traded in the state of Terengganu in 2007. Turtle eggs were sold in Singapore many years ago before it became illegal to harvest them.

With the new hatchery, there will be one more safe refuge where they can develop close to their natural environment.

Mr Beng said that the design of the hatchery, which has not been finalised, should include a buffer zone of native vegetation and reduce light pollution, which can be fatal to nesting females and their young.

Besides hatching eggs and studying local sea turtle populations, the facility will conduct outreach programmes.

HSBC staff will also be involved in habitat maintenance and possibly the collection of eggs.

Said HSBC Singapore chief executive Guy Harvey-Samuel: "Building a sustainable environment requires public and private sectors, NGOs and communities to work together to deliver lasting positive changes."

Mr Beng stressed that outreach activities must be managed carefully to minimise disturbance to the turtles, giving the example of one overseas nesting site where the nesting population crashed following swelling tourist numbers.

"The hatchery must remain a place for the benefit of the sea turtle and not one for human entertainment."

Turtle haven
By Lin Yangchen, The Sunday Times, 29 May 2016

Singapore is in a region considered by the World Wildlife Fund to be one of the world's most important for sea turtles, as it is next to Indonesia whose sprawling archipelagoes host all but one of the world's seven species of these reptiles.

Five turtle species have been recorded in the waters around Singapore, although only two are regulars here - the green and the hawksbill.

The green turtle is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as endangered, while the hawksbill is critically endangered.

Hawksbill populations have suffered from centuries of hunting for their beautiful shells, which are used to make ornaments.

The three other species that have been seen in Singapore are the leatherback, loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that sea turtles demonstrate the interconnectivity of marine and coastal ecosystems.

"The sea turtle relies on our coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves for food and shelter, and needs our sandy beaches for reproduction," he said.

"By conserving our sea turtles and studying them, other marine species and habitats may benefit as well."

In 2010, Underwater World Singapore released 18 hawksbill turtles, eight of them outfitted with satellite tracking devices, in a study of migratory behaviour in collaboration with organisations in Japan and the United States.

One of them travelled more than 2,600km in 83 days, reaching waters near the Philippines.

Coral nurseries bloom under special care in waters off the coast
MPA-funded NUS project part of efforts to protect marine life as new port is built
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2016

In the waters off Singapore's southern coast lie two coral nurseries that are blooming under the tender loving care of a team of eight "gardeners".

The gardeners - marine biologists from the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) - are tending to tiny fragments of coral, each barely the length of a human finger, with the hope of raising them into larger colonies that can be used for reef rehabilitation.

These fragments were sourced from coral which was in the way of a port development in Tuas. At the nurseries off Lazarus Island and Kusu Island, they are mounted on frames made using PVC pipes and stiff mesh nets.

Loose coral fragments can be shifted about by currents, which puts them at risk of abrasion by sand. The structures help prevent this, and also elevate the fragments off the seabed, preventing sediment from accumulating there.

After about six months, when the corals have grown to a suitably large size that allows them to better withstand stress, they are moved out of the nursery and attached to new sites on Kusu Island and Lazarus Island using marine epoxy, a type of glue. Scientists monitor their growth at the transplanted sites for at least two years.

Healthy coral reefs not only draw in marine life, but they are also effective buffers against strong waves and can help filter pollutants from the water, said coral expert Chou Loke Ming, who is heading the project.

Since the project, funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), started in 2013, more than 800 coral fragments have been transplanted to the reefs off Kusu Island and the seawalls of Lazarus Island, both of which are south of the mainland.

About 80 per cent of the transplanted corals have survived, said Mr Lionel Ng, a research assistant at TMSI who is part of the coral nursery team. This is within the expected survival range for transplanted corals, as some may be eaten by predators or die due to stress from the move, he added.

The coral nurseries are part of MPA's efforts to protect Singapore's marine life, even as a new port is being built in Tuas. Between September 2013 and August 2014, MPA also relocated more than 2,000 coral colonies from Sultan Shoal - located south of Tuas - to the waters off St John's Island and Sisters' Islands.

"Coral fragments were inevitable from the major translocation and were a good source of material for research to determine whether they could be used to improve degraded reefs and also to create new reef communities," said Dr Chou, an adjunct research professor at TMSI.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), welcomed the science-backed marine conservation efforts.

"Singapore is at a stage where agencies, including MPA, are taking positive steps to address the impact of development on the environment. Through consultation with subject-matter experts, any efforts to do this is good."

Dr Song Tiancheng, deputy director of engineering at MPA's technology division, said: "We want to make Singapore a world-class port, but this has to be done in a sustainable way, with minimal environmental impact."

Wave of change in marine conservation
Protecting biodiversity now a guiding principle as Singapore grows
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2016

Marine conservation efforts in Singapore have undergone a sea change since the 1980s.

What was a cause championed mainly by conservationists has now become a guiding principle for Singapore as it develops its coasts and people, said marine conservation veteran Chou Loke Ming, an adjunct research professor at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute.

Last month, for example, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced a slew of outreach and research plans for the Republic's marine park, including intertidal pools and boardwalks, that will allow people to get up close with marine life.

The Maritime and Port Authority is also working to save corals in the way of a port development in Tuas, said Prof Chou. It has moved to relocate affected corals, and is working with marine biologists to nurture fragments in coral nurseries.

These measures are vastly different from land reclamation work done before the 1990s.

"The awareness started in the mid-1990s," Prof Chou said. "I'm not too sure why, but I guess the 1992 Rio Declaration, which Singapore supported, triggered it."

In the late 1990s, NParks, whose remit was primarily terrestrial, started getting involved in marine biodiversity conservation, said Dr Lena Chan, group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

In the 20 years since, the marine conservation movement has chalked up many wins.
The mangroves and wetlands of Sungei Buloh were first saved from development in 1993, when it was designated a nature park, and further protected in 2002, when it was given the status of wetland reserve.

In another landmark move, Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa wetlands were saved from reclamation in 2001. "It was the first time that a marine development was deferred in favour of conservation," said crab expert Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

In 2014, Singapore opened Sisters' Islands Marine Park, its first marine park. Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who announced its opening two years ago, told The Straits Times last week: "It was a happy coincidence that we were able to bring everything together in time to announce the launch of Sisters' Islands Marine Park in 2014, just before our SG50 celebrations last year!"

Mr Lee noted that strong ties have been forged among agencies, researchers, blue groups and the community.

Considering Singapore's status as a maritime nation, the recognition of the importance of its marine habitats has been a long time coming.

Singapore's waters are home to 200 species of sponges, over 100 species of reef fish and more than 250 species of hard corals - more than 30 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said: "Knowledge of what we have on and off the coastlines of our main island, and our little ones, encourages us to coexist with the many plants and animals living on our remaining natural areas."

Singapore is on its way to achieving this. Said Prof Chou: "For a small country with limited sea space under intense use, (the change) is to me a crowning achievement."

The 69-year-old has three decades of marine conservation work, and has dedicated his life to achieving his dreams for Singapore, even after he retired last year. He now hopes for clearer waters, improved seawater quality in compromised areas and more local marine biologists in higher positions of responsibility.

NParks announces new conservation, research, outreach and educational plans for Sisters’ Islands Marine Park

Community participates in efforts to enhance Pulau Ubin’s natural heritage as part of the International Day for Biological Diversity celebrations on island

Marine Conservation Action Plan – an Action plan of the Nature Conservation Master Plan (NCMP)

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