Jul 7, 2007

One-third a reef better than none?

As I head out for the Chek Jawa boardwalk launch this morning, the news is out in the media about the fate of the big Sentosa corals.

Here's some excerpts. Full articles on wildsingapore

"Although none of these corals along the resort's shoreline are rare or endangered, RWS made a decision to move them. They are still precious marine creatures, and part of Sentosa and Singapore's natural marine heritage," said RWS' deputy director of projects, Mr Patrick Too.

Consultancy DHI Water and Environment Singapore has been hired to move the hard and soft corals, as well as other marine creatures, to holding sites.

Despite trying to "save as much as possible," DHI estimates some two-thirds of the corals will be sacrificed."

About 12 per cent of the kilometre-long shoreline has a coral fringe and Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS) is moving part of this ecosystem to the Southern Islands.

Which corals will be relocated?

The biggest issue for choosing the right corals to relocate is "they must be 'handle- able', said DHI's head of environmental management services, Ms Sonja Pans. "Our divers must be able to carry them around and that limits each coral's size to a maximum of 50cm in diameter," she said.

The corals are also chosen based on their potential to survive in a new environment.

"We chose them as well in terms of the suitability of survival rate, meaning how likely it is that the coral will survive... if they are really healthy, you want to take them."

At least 200 corals - of some 20 varieties - measuring 30 to 50cm across will be moved in cages over three weeks by marine biologists from consultancy firm DHI Water & Environment.

How will they be relocated?

Over the next month or so, these corals will be stored in several 3-sqm-cages and hauled by a slow-moving boat to the holding sites. To minimise stress, the corals will be submerged at all times, limiting their exposure to air.

A MARINE biologist harvests a hard coral using a hammer and chisel to detach the coral's base from the sea substrate, often natural rock. Each coral could take up to 20 minutes to detach. The base, a skeleton made of calcium, can be as wide as the live coral above it.

To move the corals, marine biologists are underwater for two-hour stretches from 10am to 4pm, when visibility underwater is still good. Two to six biologists will be working on the corals at Sentosa at any given time over the next fortnight.

Where will they be relocated to?

The new home for the coral will be kept a secret. This is to prevent poaching, which has happened in the past, said DHI's Ms Pans.

What happens after the relocation?

In the Southern Islands, the corals will be tagged, and their health and status will be monitored over 12 months.

The survival rate of relocated corals in Singapore is about 80 to 90 per cent.

What about the small animals that live in the reef?

Head of environmental management services at DHI, Ms Sonya Pans, said they are moving a representative sample of the coral, to hopefully regenerate a complete eco-system, including marine creatures like nudibranches or sea slugs, clownfish and starfish that live amongst them.

I guess this was my last look at the baby Nemos on the doomed Sentosa shore...

Other blogs about this development:
Lost on the budak blog


JC said...

Saw the article on the papers this morning. Mixed feeling. Was happy that someone bothers to help out and at the same time sad that more could have been done.

Sure hope those corals and animals moved to southern island can thrive there and left alone.

Ivan said...

Was talking about this with some schoolmates, one of who is now working with URA and apparently sat in at a couple of meetings where the EIA was discussed. She's not really an environmentalist, but the decisions made during those meetings did leave her feeling a little sad.

Oh well, it's better than nothing, I guess. Though I do have this gnawing pain inside, wondering if we could have done more, or whether this was to be the plan right form the start, no matter how much or how little we fought.

I can only hope that even as our remaining natural shores continue to be nibbled away by the soulless, heartless gears of development, that more and more people will come to treasure what we have left.


Ria Tan said...

Ivan, you've highlighted one of the key ways in which we can make a difference.

To raise awareness among decision-makers about our reefs and shores.

JC, I totally share with you the bitter-sweet of what-might-have-been combined with it-could-have-been-worse.

I believe it's important that we learn from this episode so the Sentosa reef would not have died in vain.

And to share this lesson with others too.

This effort will need volunteers, of which both of you are already an active part. Thank you!

Together, we can all make a difference!

Let's remain resolved and move forward positively.