Nov 25, 2007

Updates on large concrete slabs on Labrador shore

The Straits Times has reported on the issue today: Nature lovers fear coral project will cause damage, But NParks says it is not true that artificial reef structures harm the environment by Shobana Kesava, Straits Times 26 Nov 07;

Some excerpts from the report...

National Parks Board (NParks) spokesman George Tay said: 'The project is not harming the environment, since the artificial reef and garden sit on the sea floor, away from the natural coral reef zone of the nature reserve.'

Asked about the structures on the shore, their creator, a volunteer on the SP team, Mr Charles Rowe, said that was where the team has been building them since March last year. When completed, they are moved out to sea.

Captain Frederick Francis, who heads the SP volunteer team, confirmed that the team had been asked by NParks to remove the structures from the beach. He maintained that the structures were not damaging marine life, and that sea grasses and algae can be seen growing on the beach.

Professor Leo Tan, former chief of NParks, said, while those trying to do good for the environment should not be discouraged, experiments should be monitored more closely, with NParks, scientists and sociologists working with them.

Prof Tan, himself a marine biologist, said: 'The only way to find the right technique to regenerate corals is to conduct experiments like this, but the project's methodology has to be made clear and follow-through must go on for up to 10 years before we know if an experiment is a success.

'Projects should not just be praised at the outset and forgotten.'

Here are some further updates on what was seen on the shores following the earlier post about large debris on Labrador.

I had raised the issue about the concrete slabs on Labrador to Singapore Polytechnic on 30 Oct. More than a week later, the slabs were still on the shore.

Seen on Labrador's intertidal shore on 11 Nov 07 (Sun) :
One large triangular slab (about 2.5m on each side) near the high shore.

And two large rectangular slabs (about 2m x 6m) at the low-water mark near the jetty legs, but not under the jetty. One of the two rectangular slabs was under water even at moderate low tide. All three slabs appeared to comprise of PVC pipes with plastic sheeting attached to the pipes with cable ties and ropes, and a layer of concrete between the pipes.

Are these rectangular slabs the "two larger moulds to build it" mentioned in the ST article of 26 Nov?

So the seacils (the triangular slabs) were built on the intertidal? This zone of the intertidal is generally only exposed for a 1-2 hours for super low spring tide that happens only 3-4 days a month. And this low tide is usually not during daylight. It seems a rather odd place to "build" seacils.

The ST article mentions that "that was where the team has been building them since March last year. When completed, they are moved out to sea." So after the seacils are built on the intertidal, these large and heavy structures are moved out to sea over the lower reef flats and the reef crest to a subtidal area? How was this done without dragging the large heavy structure over seagrasses and corals already on the shore?

And if the rectangular slabs are where the seacils were built, why was a seacil left on the high shore near the entrance to the beach since early this year?
Here is a wide view of the two rectangular slabs (left side of the photo, under the jetty), with the location of the triangular slab in circled in white near the entrance to the shore.

Seen on 25 Nov 07 (Sun): The same three slabs were still there. But some had the PVC pipes removed.

This is what the triangular slab looked like on 11 Nov (Sun).
And what it looked like on 25 Nov (Sun).
The PVC pipes on the edges of and across the slab had been removed by cutting away the ropes and cable ties. The concrete slab and its component parts remained on the shore.

Without the PVC edges, the slab is starting to disintegrate.
As the component parts of the slab break off, these will soon litter the shore.
Pieces of string will entangle animals and plants. Plastic sheeting will envelope animals and plants. Heavy chunks, as they move up and down with the tides and the waves, will rub away at the seagrasses and other marine life on the shore.

One of the rectangular slabs also had its PVC pipes removed from the edges and centre by cutting away the cable ties and ropes.
But the concrete slab remained on the shore.
Again, the components could be seen: plastic sheeting, netting and various bits of rope and ties.
The rectangular slab furthest away from the shore still had its PVC pipes.
The rectangular slabs are right next to a large patch of Sickle seagrass (Thalassia hemprichii).
Sickle seagrass is relatively rare, even on the famous seagrass meadow at Chek Jawa.
Labrador has the largest Sickle seagrass patch on the mainland.

According to the ST article: "Captain Frederick Francis maintained that the structures were not damaging marine life, and that sea grasses and algae can be seen growing on the beach."

Seagrasses cannot grow UNDER the slabs. Does the presence of seagrasses on the shore mean that there has been no damage to the shore? What is the current seagrass cover compared to the period BEFORE the slabs were put in place? Does the study team have data to show that seagrass cover has not been affected?

Other debris seen on the shore on 25 Nov 07 (Sun)
Long lengths of PVC pipes loose on the shore. Moving up and down with the tides and the waves.And the signboard for an experiment, that previously was seen nailed up on the jetty. Now lying on the shore.

Labrador shore is currently under severe stress from the massive construction going right on the shore.
There has recently also been several landslides on the shore.
It's a pity that the struggling marine life also has to cope with large slabs of concrete that will soon start to fragment and abrade the shore.

And just as we were leaving, we saw the piles of PVC pipes left lying right at the gate to Labrador shore.As the sign says, Labrador is the ONLY mainland shore accessible for various uses.

Those who are environmentally aware will surely agree that everyone who uses Labrador shore should abide with the spirit of the NParks sign and do their part to conserve the shore.

Updates on interaction with Singapore Polytechnic on the issue:

On 30 Oct, I sent an email to Singapore Polytechnic Corp Comms informing them that I had posted photos of large debris on Labrador and asking two questions:

(a) Are the equipment depicted in my photos related to any projects by Singapore Polytechnic?

(b) What steps have been put in place to ensure that Cpt Francis' project as outlined in the ST article does not result in damage to Labrador? (Undersea garden takes root S'pore Poly team creates marine site off Labrador for corals to regrow by Shobana Kesava Straits Times 29 Oct 07)

On 7 Nov, Singapore Polytechnic suggested a meeting to discuss the issue. I replied that I would only attend if I was not required to agree to non-disclosure of the meeting's discussions.

On 21 Nov, when I asked about the meeting, I was informed that it was decided not to have the meeting and that the issues I raised had been addressed in the interview by Straits Times with Cpt Francis.

On 21 Nov, I also offered to give Singapore Polytechnic a free public talk about our shores to SP staff and students. I was informed that I would first have to submit my presentation materials for submission to SP management to review. I have offered them a CD of the entire presentation. I am currently awaiting their response to this offer.

On 26 Nov, I also emailed Singapore Polytechnic about the issues mentioned in this blog entry.

Share your thoughts?
If you have thoughts or questions about the issue that you would like to raise with Singapore Polytechnic, the person I have been communicating with on this is Kenny Chua Kenny has been very helpful and nice so please be gentle in your comments. You might also want to send it to the Singapore Poly feedback form on their website (although it didn't work when I tried using it for my first submission).

MORE details
Large versions of all photos of these slabs have been posted to flickr.
More about the Labrador marine life you could see in the past.
See also photos of Labrador marine life during happier times.

Also discussed on these forums
clubsnap forum
sgscuba forum (login required)
fins online forum
the singapore daily
NUS facebook

Other posts about the issue
Labrador Park seashore enviroment ... with CONCRETE?!! on the justindive blog
Is the Labrador talk really that cheap?
another view of someone who attended Cpt Francis' briefing on the justindive blog

Other points of view
Talk is cheap! on the moment in time blog
The Seacil reef of blog ignorance on the(new)mediaslut e-zine

Links to more
Artificial Reef Revitalises Marine Life by Kwang Wei TJAN and Lay Leng TAN on the Innovation Magazine website: Singapore researchers and volunteers lay down artificial reefs to create thriving marine ecosystems.


sgbeachbum said...

Perhaps The SP Project Team can explain :-
1. why they decided to deliberately dump the unwanted parts within the intertidal zone, and
2. whether they had obtained permission to do so from MPA, or NParks or any other entity.

A straightforward reading of the newspaper article today shows that the SP Project Team has basically admitted to deliberately and with full knowledge dumping unwanted (and damaging) items on our shores without any intention whatsoever to properly remove them. And this has gone on for months and months and months...and seems to be still continuing.

The authorities should give serious thought to taking action on this as it sets a very bad precedent for Singapore and at a gazetted nature reserve at that.

The success of the seacils at the deeper part of Labrador is a separate issue from that of these items which have been dumped on purpose. Hopefully, at least the deep end ones are a success! Brownie points for everyone! It would seem that SP has taken a very narrow approach to conservation (building a reef) and ignored a holistic approach (ensuring that the entire ecosystem is cared for). We should learn from this and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

The authorities should not set a negative precedent for such wanton acts of dumping. i.e. "as long as they are seen to do something helpful at the deep end, they can be allowed certain liberties about the parts of the ecosystem nobody else could possibly be interested in or which could be of little or no significance at all."

Immediate remedial action should be taken. Building an artificial reef should not be an excuse for dumping rubbish onto any of our shores...even the protected ones regardless who the project sponsors are.

Perhaps SP should take part in next year's ICCS?

Ivan said...

Hi Ria,

I forwarded this to so that the readers there would be updated.

It's interesting that you posted a link to a blog with a very different point of view; not too sure if he's managed to really get a clear picture of what's been going on before he made some of his statements.

I too hope that the Seacils offshore will be a success. But such projects should never have to compromise or adversely impact the health of the nearby ecosystems, which is what appears to be happening here.


sgbeachbum said...

Some interesting facts :-
1.The Singapore Government (LKY’s time) reputedly spent $10 million to clean up it’s waterways in the 1980s.

Our Environmental Policy (Since 19 May 2005)
Singapore Polytechnic will protect, care for and continually improve our environment by complying with relevant legislation and requirements, and maintaining an effective Environmental Management System that enables us to create a cleaner and healthier environment for ourselves and future generations.


Note that Parliament decided on two separate occasions to legislate that no one should dump anything on Singapore’s shores.

Restricted activities in respect of trees, plants, etc., in national parks
and nature reserves
8. —(1) No person shall, except with the approval of the Commissioner
granted under section 12 and in accordance with the terms and conditions of
such approval, carry out any of the following activities within any
national park or nature reserve:
(a) cut, collect or displace any tree or plant or any part thereof;
(b) affix, set up or erect any sign, shrine, altar, religious object,
shelter, structure or building;
(c) clear, break up, dig or cultivate any land;
(d) use or occupy any building, vehicle, boat or other property of the
Board; or
(e) wilfully drop or deposit any dirt, sand, earth, gravel, clay, loam,
manure, refuse, sawdust, shavings, stone, straw or any other matter or
thing from outside the national park or nature reserve.

(2) No person shall carry out any activity within any national park or
nature reserve which he knows or ought reasonably to know causes or may
cause alteration, damage or destruction to any property, tree or plant
within the national park or nature reserve.

(3) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) shall be guilty of an
offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $50,000
or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both and, in the
case of a continuing offence, to a further fine of $500 for every day or
part thereof during which the offence continues after conviction.
(4) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply to —
(a) the Commissioner, an authorised officer or a park ranger acting in the
performance of his duty under this Act;
(b) any other officer or employee of the Board acting in the performance of
his duty under this Act or any other written law; and
(c) any police officer or workman assisting a person referred to in
paragraph (a) or (b) to carry out his duty.

Prohibition against throwing refuse, etc., in any public place
17. —(1) No person shall —
(a) deposit, drop, place or throw any dust, dirt, paper, ash, carcase,
refuse, box, barrel, bale or any other article or thing in any public place
(b) keep or leave any article or thing in any place where it or particles
therefrom have passed or are likely to pass into any public place;
(c) dry any article of food or any other article or thing in any public
(d) place, scatter, spill or throw any blood, brine, noxious liquid, swill
or any other offensive or filthy matter of any kind in such manner as to
run or fall into any public place;
(e) beat, clean, shake, sieve or otherwise agitate any ash, hair, feathers,
lime, sand, waste paper or other substance in such manner that it is
carried or likely to be carried by the wind to any public place;
(f) throw or leave behind any bottle, can, food container, food wrapper,
glass, particles of food or any other article or thing in any public place;
(g) spit any substance or expel mucus from the nose upon or onto any street
or any public place; or
(h) discard or abandon in any public place any motor vehicle whose
registration has been cancelled under section 27 of the Road Traffic Act
(Cap. 276), any furniture or any other bulky article.
(2) No person shall drop, deposit or throw any refuse or any other matter
or thing in any channel, drain, lake, reservoir, river, stream or
watercourse or upon the bank of any of the same or in any part of the sea
abutting on the foreshore.

(3) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) shall be guilty of an

The next series of low tides are around 23rd Dec to 26th Dec. Hopefully, SP can get their act together by then and arrange for a total removal of all the deliberately abandoned items including all the little bits which may have broken off.