Wednesday 29 November 2023

Long Island to be reclaimed off East Coast could add 800ha of land, create Singapore’s 18th reservoir

Singapore to start environmental and engineering studies into "Long Island" off East Coast from early 2024
By Ng Keng Gene and Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2023

Three tracts of land could be reclaimed off East Coast Park in the coming decades, creating about 800ha of land for new homes and other amenities, as well as a new reservoir.

Called the Long Island, these land tracts – collectively about twice the size of Marina Bay – are Singapore’s response to the threat of rising sea levels and inland flooding in the East Coast area.

Land in the area is largely lower than 5m above the mean sea level, the extent that sea levels are projected to rise to by the end of this century if extreme high tides coincide with storm surges.

On Nov 28, National Development Minister Desmond Lee announced that public agencies will carry out technical studies for the Long Island project over five years, starting from early 2024.

Over the next few years, members of the public will be consulted for their ideas and suggestions for the project, which will take several decades to plan, design and develop.

The current plan is for three elongated tracts of land to be reclaimed in the area, extending from Marina East to Tanah Merah. The easternmost land tract will start from Tanah Merah, while the westernmost tract will be an extension of Marina East. Between these two tracts, a third tract will be reclaimed.

A large tidal gate and pumping station will be built in between each new land mass. These will control the water level in a new reservoir bordered by East Coast Park and the new land masses, and, in the process, reduce flood risks in the East Coast area.

National water agency PUB said the reclamation project is likely to create Singapore’s 18th reservoir.

Like the gate at Marina Barrage, the two gates at the new reservoir in East Coast will open to release excess storm water into the sea during heavy rain when the tide is low. At high tide, the pumps will be used instead to release the storm water.

Mr Lee said the new reservoir can also be used for water activities such as canoeing and dragon-boating.

Besides offering flood protection and increasing Singapore’s freshwater supply, the project will help meet future development and recreation needs, said Mr Lee.

Waterfront homes are expected to be built on the reclaimed land, along with amenities and industrial facilities. About 20km of new coastal and reservoir parks could be added, tripling the length of waterfront parks in the East Coast area, he said.

Plans for reclamation off East Coast were first unveiled in 1991, as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Concept Plan. It was envisioned then that a series of reclaimed islands would provide waterfront housing and leisure opportunities.

At the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said reclaiming a series of islands offshore and linking them up with barrages could protect existing low-lying areas and create a freshwater reservoir.

URA showcased a possible concept for reclamation works at its long-term plan review exhibition in 2022.

In his speech on Nov 28, Mr Desmond Lee said the Government has been studying various coastal protection options, including building a sea wall up to 3m tall that would stretch from Marina East to Tanah Merah.

The wall would be accompanied by 12 sets of tidal gates and pumping stations – one set at each of the 12 existing outlet drains along East Coast. The gates would stop seawater from flowing inland during high tide, while the pumping stations would pump storm water from the drains into the sea when the gates were closed.

Mr Lee said this option is technically feasible but not ideal for East Coast Park, as large stretches of the park would have to be closed to the public when building the sea wall. When completed, it would permanently limit park users’ access to the waterfront for recreation and sports.

The 12 tidal gates and pumping stations would take up a lot of space within East Coast Park – about the area of 15 football fields – resulting in the loss of existing greenery and recreational facilities.

Mr Lee noted that the public hopes to retain unimpeded access to the waterfront, as well as preserve the heritage and recreation spaces along the coast.

A more optimal solution is to integrate coastal protection measures with reclamation plans for the area, he added.

Ensure Long Island project doesn’t harm marine life at East Coast, Southern Islands: Experts
By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2023

Measures to protect sensitive marine habitats in East Coast need to happen from day one, say experts, to minimise the impact of the future Long Island project on sea life, which has made a comeback from a previous reclamation.

The Long Island construction not only risks disturbing turtles, corals and seagrass at East Coast Park, but may also affect the rich marine life of the Southern Islands, which are less than 10km away from the mainland, they noted.

From early 2024, government agencies will embark on extensive environmental and engineering studies for the future Long Island development off East Coast Park. Plans for the development include three masses of reclaimed land covering around 800ha, with a reservoir in between.

This massive project will take several decades to plan, design and build, and will be the East Coast area’s defence against sea level rise and inland flooding, while meeting future land use needs and water supply.

The westernmost tract of land will extend from Marina East, while the easternmost tract will extend from Tanah Merah.

“I feel the Long Island development is relevant to Singapore’s needs, as the planning investigates multifunctional optimisation of the land and seascape changes, including protection against sea-level rise,” said Emeritus Professor Chou Loke Ming from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Biological Sciences.

Prof Chou – alongside other marine biodiversity experts including Mr Lester Tan, chairman of the Marine Conservation Group at Nature Society (Singapore) – stressed that the seaward part of the Long Island should incorporate eco-engineering and nature-based solutions, so that the future land masses can be conducive for marine creatures’ relocation or return after the reclamation.

“Nature-based solutions will be best to compensate for the loss of marine life from the Long Island footprint. If tidal conditions require armoured protection such as sea walls, then design it to incorporate large tidal pools, bays or lagoons that can enhance marine biodiversity.”

The experts also suggested planting mangroves and building artificial coral reefs, which can serve as living breakwaters and armour against storm surges and rising sea levels.

The last major reclamation in the south-east between the 1960s and 1980s – which gave rise to Marine Parade and East Coast Park – wiped out much of the teeming intertidal habitats and marine life there. But in recent decades, nature has made a comeback along the artificial shoreline.

Corals have recolonised man-made sea walls along the coast and at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, which also has some seagrass patches nearby.

The shore between the National Service Resort and Country Club near Tanah Merah and the National Sailing Centre is known to be a nesting hot spot for critically endangered hawksbill turtles and the coastal horseshoe crab, said Mr Tan.

A rock wall habitat at Marina East Drive comprising a sandy beach and an intertidal area is a refuge for nesting Malaysian plovers – a locally critically endangered bird – and migratory shorebirds, he added.

“All these will be, unfortunately, habitats that we may lose with the Long Island construction,” he said.

Reclamation has already claimed about 60 per cent of Singapore’s original coral reefs. With habitat change from seawater to freshwater when the reservoir is built, water movement will also change.

Even if biodiversity-rich sites are avoided during reclamation, seagrass and corals – home to a host of marine creatures – are very sensitive to sedimentation, noted Mr Muhammad Nasry, executive director of environment group Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity.

“Sand dumping makes the water cloudy, which limits light penetration and can significantly impact the survival of organisms that depend on photosynthesis,” he added.

As part of the five-year environmental and engineering studies, innovative and cost-effective nature-based solutions will be explored for the Long Island.

Another biodiversity hot spot that could be affected is the Southern Islands – home to the largest diversity of marine life in Singapore and its remaining healthy reefs.

Dr Jani Tanzil, facility director at St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, said sediment plumes and other pollutants spilling over from works could impact the Southern Islands, including the Republic’s only marine park – Sisters’ Islands Marine Park.

Apart from standard environmental mitigation measures such as using sediment curtains to control pollution and accounting for the changes to water movement due to construction, Dr Jani hopes that construction timelines can work around periods that are more sensitive for marine life, such as during a marine heatwave or a coral spawning season.

Coral larvae formed in the southern waters float around the entire southern coast, so any changes in hydrology may affect where the larvae can settle and colonise, said Mr Ho Xiang Tian, co-founder of environmental group LepakInSG.

The authorities have also been eyeing the southern waters to set up fish farms in the future, which, if not managed well, can also add pressure to the marine environment.

Noting this, Dr Jani pointed out that there must be a whole-of-government approach in managing not just land use but the seascape as well.

Long Island reclamation plan the right solution to meet Singapore’s long-term needs: Experts
By Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2023

Reclaiming land off East Coast Park for coastal protection is the right approach that will also meet the country’s other long-term needs, said experts in the wake of an announcement that public agencies will study in detail plans to build a Long Island in the coming decades.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee said on Nov 28 that the authorities will soon begin extensive environmental and engineering studies on the reclamation plans, which are expected to yield about 800ha of land that will protect the East Coast area from sea-level rise and create space for development as well as a new reservoir.

Professor Yong Kwet Yew of the National University of Singapore’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said the two main drivers of the project – future land needs and protection against sea-level rise – require a long-lasting solution.

It makes economic sense to address them simultaneously through reclamation, he added.

Prof Yong, who chairs national water agency PUB’s Coastal Protection Expert Panel, warned that should nothing be done to protect the East Coast area, it would suffer beach erosion and eventually be a victim of permanent flooding due to sea-level rise, resulting in the loss of space.

He said studies will need to be carried out to ensure the impact of reclamation on marine ecosystems and maritime activities is kept to a minimum.

The National Parks Board should be as involved in planning for reclamation as agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and PUB, he said, noting that there are opportunities to protect and nourish the marine ecosystem while developing the Long Island.

Professor Chu Jian, chair of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, said the authorities should explore innovative reclamation solutions, for instance by avoiding dredging – the removal of silt and sediment from the bottom of the sea – when building sea walls.

In-depth studies could also help planners avoid reclaiming land close to where corals and seagrass are flourishing, he added.

Prof Yong said the authorities could time reclamation works in accordance with land use and coastal defence needs over the next 15 to 25 years.

Given that about 800ha of land – twice the size of Marina Bay – may be reclaimed, works will be carried out in stages, similar to past reclamation along the eastern coast.

Between 1966 and 1985, 1,525ha was reclaimed between Tanah Merah and Marina South.

The engineering challenges should be no different from previous reclamation work done in East Coast, said Prof Yong, aside from the landfill taking place in deeper waters for this project.

On developing the Long Island, Ms Iyn Ang, managing director of urban planning, landscape and interior design firm CPG Signature, said planning for infrastructure, including essential networks such as transport systems, roads, utilities and drainage systems, is crucial for any successful reclamation project.

Planners will have to balance between catering for future generations and mitigating environmental impact, she said, adding that the reclaimed land should ideally provide for new jobs and lifestyle improvements.

Ms Christine Sun, senior vice-president of research and analytics at OrangeTee & Tie, said the reclamation project is likely to have limited impact on the housing market now. Long-term impact will depend on specific development plans.

She noted that some homes that currently have sea views will instead have reservoir views in the future.

That said, East Coast residents could benefit from more recreational facilities, as well as quicker commutes to work if new offices are built on the Long Island. More will also benefit from having waterfront views from their homes, Ms Sun said.

Given that the reclamation project will be decades in the making, Dr Harvey Neo, professorial research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, said the Government has to sincerely engage citizens to convince them that the project is necessary and compelling.

Noting that many might not live to see its completion, he said the Government cannot assume that all will be equally enthused and committed to a future that is beyond their lifetime.

“The time horizon for planning the future is probably much shorter for individuals, compared with the Government; nor are individuals and the Government necessarily aligned when it comes to the things that matter for the future,” said Dr Neo.

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