Aug 22, 2008

Second chance for Singapore to save its rare species

Chay Hoon shares some of her thoughts about our precious wildlife in this Straits Times article today.

Second chance for Singapore to save its rare species
The rediscovery of 'extinct' wildlife serves to motivate nature enthusiasts
Kimberly Spykerman, Straits Times 22 Aug 08;
full article also on the wildsingapore news blog.

WHEN it comes to wildlife native to these shores, it seems people here just do not know enough, grumbles Miss Toh Chay Hoon, a 31-year-old nature enthusiast.

In her spare time, the accountant does her bit to introduce people to the flora and fauna here by leading nature walks on offshore islands such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Semakau.

She recalled an incident at Changi Beach last year, when a beach-goer found a threatened species of marine snail commonly known as the Bailer Snail, so named because its large shell is said to have been used to bail out water from leaky boats.
She said with dismay: 'He was going to take it home and cook it - even after I told him it was an endangered species! People have to learn to appreciate animals in their natural environment.'

People here are not aware of the rich variety of animals and plants in these parts, largely 'because because they don't get out there and explore', she said.

And given that some animals native to these shores have staged a 'comeback' in recent years, nature enthusiasts like her believe it is time Singaporeans sat up and took notice of the creatures that share their environment.

Miss Toh, for one, is always on the lookout for a great find.

In June last year, she thrilled the local scientific community by spotting the multi-armed starfish called the Basket Star while on a pre-dawn trip to the coral reefs off Sisters Islands.

A relative of the common Sea Star, it had not been seen in waters here since 1896. Its distinguishing feature is the basket-like shape formed by its many arms.
Miss Toh said of her find: 'I never expected to see a Basket Star. Till then, the only one I'd seen was a skeleton at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity.'

She left the fragile starfish where she found it, and came away with just memories and a few photographs.

Aug 15, 2008

A saltwater lake at the Southern Islands?

Here's some recent info and comments in the print media about our Southern islands ...

Lianhe Zaobao 14 Aug 08
translation from the colourful clouds blog


(Man-made seawater lake/lagoon may be constructed in waters around the southern islands?)

("If the idea of the man-made seawater lake/lagoon can be implemented, it will inject a unique style to the southern islands. In addition, it may help fetch a better price if the Government sells the lots for tourism development in the future." Said Mrs Pamelia Lee, ex-managing director of Sentosa and southern island development project, in an interview with Zaobao.)

(Mrs Lee, who has been handling the southern island development project since the 80's said that she had consulted the views of professional consultants regarding the building of embankment to form a huge lake/lagoon. And technically speaking, it should not be a problem.)

(If such is a case, tourists will be able to enjoy various water sports activities surrounded in blue water safely. Picturesque Houseboats can also be built within the lake/lagoon.)
(She said that the islands will be able to provide more space for tourists to do boating/other water sports as well as constructing houseboats if the lake/lagoon is built. She also mentioned that the lake and houseboats that she has in mind are very different from those currently found in other resorts in some parts of the world.)

(It is understood that the plan needs the approval by Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore(MPA) in order for it be able to implement.)

Keep southern islands' natural and spiritual wealth
Letter from Malcolm Tan, Straits Times Forum 14 Aug 08;
also on the wildsingapore news blog

I REFER to yesterday's article, 'Southern islands at crossroads'. I read with alarm that the departure of Mrs Pamelia Lee as managing director of Sentosa Leisure Group (SLG) may jeopardise the eco-paradise potential of the southern islands. It is indeed sad to learn that Mrs Lee seems to be the 'lone voice' in SLG, fighting for the preservation of the natural heritage of the southern islands.

I have stayed on St John's Island and crossed to Lazarus Island many times, and my photos attest to the fact that the two islands have much natural and spiritual wealth to offer Singaporeans and foreigners that cannot be found elsewhere on the mainland. Amid our hectic urban schedules, my friends and I have always found our spiritual refuge on the two islands with their many naturally therapeutic highlights.

The seas around the two islands are amazingly clear at certain times of the year and support much marine fauna and flora that are rare on the mainland. Many of these can be seen clearly on an especially low tide. One of our last stretches of natural coastal rocky shores in Singapore is also found here, with plenty of intact seashells lying buried in the soft sand. There is even a stretch of naturally soft sand bar on Lazarus Island, where one can walk to an outlying rock without getting completely submerged, even at high tide.

Moreover, nowhere else in Singapore can one see as many as 18 Brahminy Kites soaring gracefully in the air, spotting for prey and even occasionally diving down to the sea to take fish out with a quick and well-timed swoop. Add to these, the spectacular 'red ball' sunset over the open sea and the occasional sighting of pink dolphins in the water and one can understand why these islands are so magical.

The many Singaporeans and foreigners I met on the islands all agreed the authorities should preserve them in their natural state for posterity. It would be sad indeed if these islands are converted into another casino or another rich man's exclusive playground. That would be the sad day when most ordinary Singaporeans like me cannot claim the southern islands are part of our homeland as we have no access to their natural beauty. When that happens, the authorities should not be surprised if some of us choose to seek 'greener pastures' elsewhere. For we would then have truly seen that this country is an elitist one, where only dollars and cents matter, despite all the recent hype about the importance of work-life balance, nature conservation and eco-tourism.

[update: Sentosa announces new shore attractions in 2009 and new master plan by end of the year. More on the wild shores of singapore blog]

Aug 13, 2008

Fate of the Southern Islands

Today's article about the fate of the Southern Islands suggested a review of plans and developments on Kusu, St John's, the Sisters Islands, Kias, Lazarus and Seringat ...

Southern islands at crossroads
Fate of eco-paradise in the balance after fervent champion's departure
Serene Goh, Straits Times 13 Aug 08;

THE vision of the southern islands as an eco-paradise hangs in the balance with the departure of their champion, Mrs Pamelia Lee.

Sentosa Leisure Group (SLG) announced last week that Mrs Lee would be 'stepping aside' as managing director of the six-island cluster after 17 years on the project.

Her last day was July 31. The group's management has yet to announce a successor, or if there would even be one.

Pundits and eco-enthusiasts have raised concerns about whether the next head will share Mrs Lee's passion for nature conservation.

Last year, The Straits Times reported rumours in the tourism industry of a possible third casino to be housed on the islands - Kusu, St John's, the Sisters Islands, Kias, Lazarus and Seringat - perhaps by 2016.

It was a move Mrs Lee opposed. She felt the unspoilt nature of the islands could be preserved while generating revenue through eco-getaways or boutique residences.

When asked, the 66-year-old tourism veteran shied from hints that a difference of opinion had led to her parting ways with the group.

SLG also declined to comment on this at its low-key farewell for Mrs Lee, and remained tight-lipped about plans for the Southern Islands.

It would only say: 'There is no change to how the development is being handled and we will provide an update at an appropriate time.'

Mrs Lee had led efforts to lay the islands' basic infrastructure for development, including reclamation works, island links as well as the construction of a submarine trench for power cables, all completed in 2006.

She told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday that she had hoped to place the project, finally, in the 'gentle hands' of a developer who would undertake construction that would 'fit, not fight' the green environment there, a counterpoint to Sentosa's playground for the masses.

New inhabitants might be happy to walk, ride bicycles and dwell in houses 'no taller than coconut trees', she said, 'or stop and watch a sunset or a hermit crab running on the sand'.

In December 2006, investors voiced concerns that it would be complicated to maintain the islands' pristine environments while generating maximum yields, Mrs Lee said then.

Then in April last year, the Southern Islands' development was put on ice, with little explanation from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). The temples on Kusu and St John's swimming lagoons and trekking routes were left as existing attractions.

More than a year later, this delay has become the reason for Mrs Lee's departure.

With the islands' infrastructure completed, her work is done. Further developments of the islands can proceed only in tandem with a concrete plan from a developer.

The fate of the Southern Islands lies in the hands of SLG's new CEO Mike Barclay (Sentosa press release about Mike Barclay, PDF file). He takes over on Aug 25.

What were the developments to these southern islands?

Kias and Seringat used to be submerged reefs like Cyrene Reefs.
from the Southern Islands Development Guide Plan (DGP) 1996

These submerged reefs were buried and reclaimed to form Kias-Seringat through reclamation completed in 2000.Lazarus Island was connected to St. John's island by a causeway.

In 2000, the plan was to offer visitors a Mediterranean resort-like setting only 17 minutes away by ferry, patterned after Italy's renowned vacation spot, Capri. Details later revealed included plans for a five-star 290-room hilltop hotel, a three-star 170-room beachfront hotel, 70 waterfront homes and 1,700 units of housing. (from Various plans for Southern Islands, by Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper, 31 Mar 04)

When plans for the Integrated Resort on Sentosa was announced in 2004, "an MTI spokesman said these plans for the Southern Islands will be 'reviewed'". At that time, there was even talk of a road from Sentosa to the islands, or a causeway, like the one linking the mainland and Jurong Island. (from Road to link Sentosa to St. John's Island? by Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper, 31 Mar 04)

In 2004 it was announced: "Soon you may be able to sun-tan on a pristine new beach a short ferry ride away. Given that trash is often found on mainland beaches, you'll be glad to know that an 800-metre long beach on Pulau Seringat in the southern islands is almost complete." (Our newest man-made beach, by Teh Jen Lee The New Paper, 24 Sep 04)

Thousands of cubic metres of sand were imported from Indonesia to make the beach. The sand was checked for sandfly eggs so that visitors will be spared the insect's bites, which can be itchy. Another $120 million was spent to bring water, electricity, gas and telecommunication infrastructure from Sentosa to the islands. (from The newly redeveloped St John's and Lazarus islands have beautiful beaches and sparkling waters, by Teh Jen Lee The New Paper 2 Dec 06)

In 2006, massive landscaping was reported of the 1km reclaimed beach on Lazarus to simulate a natural environment so that it would look 'natural and wild'. 5,000 lorry-loads of soil measuring two storeys high when piled up were brought in by barges, an entire coconut plantation in Malaysia was bought, about 1, 000 trees was trucked and shipped to the island. To meet the 36 cubic metres of water needed every day to keep the plants growing, a 400-sq-m-wide pond was created to collect rainwater and ground water tapped. This was part of the $60 million worth of reclamation and infrastructure work on the southern islands of Pulau Seringat, Kias, St John's, Lazarus, Kusu and Sisters' islands. (from Lazarus beach makeover wins firm top landscaping award, by Tan Hui Yee The Straits Times 13 Dec 06)

In Dec 06, it was announced that Singapore Tourism Board (STB) may launch a request for concepts, possibly in the first quarter of 2007. One idea is to develop the islands into a 'premium resort', a getaway for the rich. Other ideas include eco-tourism and cultural tourism, and even possibly a third casino in Singapore, although it is not known if STB would consider offering a casino licence to any developer of the islands. (from The newly redeveloped St John's and Lazarus islands have beautiful beaches and sparkling waters, by Teh Jen Lee The New Paper 2 Dec 06)

More media articles

Investor feedback to plans for Southern Islands, Dec 06
  • No new plans for Kusu temple despite resort move
    Ansley Ng, Today Online 1 Dec 06
  • All powered up and ready for offers, Infrastructure in place, time is right to attract investors, Serene Goh, The Straits Times 1 Dec 06
  • Targetting nature lovers and the well-heeled, The Straits Times 1 Dec 06
  • Investors give positive feedback to the Southern Islands' development, May Wong, Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 06
Playground of the rich, Nov 06
  • Southern Islands may be next big tourist attraction, One plan being considered: Make them a getaway for the rich, Krist Boo, The Straits Times 29 Nov 06
  • STB plans to develop Southern Islands into tourist attraction, Jeana Wong Channel NewsAsia 29 Nov 06
  • Kusu: Playground of the rich? Tourism Board looks into ideas to develop S'pore's six southern islands to attract the super-rich, Ansley Ng, Today Online 29 Nov 06
  • Southern Islands could be premium resort: STB, Super-exclusive haven for billionaires, location for third casino are some possibilities, Arthur Sim, The Business Times (Singapore) 29 Nov 06
Third casino? Jan 07
  • Asia's mini-Monaco by 2015? STB to put out feelers for interest in developing the Southern Islands into an exclusive yet accessible resort, third IR unlikely, Tor Ching Li, Today Online 19 Jan 07
  • Southern Islands home to third IR? Smaller, more luxurious resort will feature F&B, spa, health and beauty facilities
  • By Arthur Sim, Business Times Singapore 18 Jan 07

[update: Sentosa announces new shore attractions in 2009 and new master plan by end of the year. More on the wild shores of singapore blog]

Aug 9, 2008

Wild Day at Reef Celebrations

Bright and early Saturday morning and the crowds started as soon as Reef Celebrations opened its doors.Here's an enthusiastic visitor who came by bicycle!
The colouring station was a hot favourite!Jun shares about Singapore's first coral nursery to the young visitor.Debby of the Hantu Bloggers shares with more young visitors about Pulau Hantu.More young visitors at the TeamSeagrass booth!

In fact, young visitors were a big part of the people who came to Reef Celebrations!They made themselves at home at Kok Sheng's talk about "Life and Death on Chek Jawa".

But everyone of all ages enjoyed the exhibits, like this one by the Toddycats.The talks were really well attended!Sijie and Chee Kong shared about our special Knobbly sea stars on Cyrene in their talk about "Wishing on a Star".During the talks, the kids asked the best questions! Here is Jeff explaining to the question by a child "How do you breathe underwater?". Collin brought the dive gear displayed at Jun's booth so that Jeff could show how it was done.
Shufen shared about our "Green, Mean, Photosynthesizing Machines", i.e., seagrasses.

We were very fortunate today to have YC to be our MC for the talks. He also brought his MP3 player to provide background music! Something we totally forgot about! Thanks YC.

Our Celebration Guestbook is a puzzle mainly so that we can scan in everyone's comments later (which will happen after we get some sleep).
And Marcus was among the most hardworking of photographers today.

Everyone is working very hard.Sijie is quickly polishing up his talk, while Andy had brought his laptop to download the phenomenal amount of filming he did today.Debby and Jeff are also busy working on their talks. Jeff seems to be having issues with his computer.Jeff takes the opportunity to learn from Siva about how to twitter. So now Jeff is no longer a dinosaur. He is now a twit!

With the large crowds of family groups, it was wonderful to have Vilma and friends of Cicada Tree Eco Place and the Raffles Institution people provide exciting programmes for the kids with the theme MAD for turtles (Make a Difference for turtles).There were all kinds of games to help kids understand the threats to sea turtles and what we can do to make a difference.
Story-telling about turtles by Vilma herself.Which was really captivating!Chay Hoon's pretty marine themed pebbles are big hit. Chai Joo, Vilma and Chee Kong hold some examples.
The colouring station was a BIG hit with the kids.

The wonderful drawings of marine life and nudibranchs drawn specially for IYOR by Chay Hoon are simply irresistable.Even the volunteers HAVE to have a hand at some.And who is responsible for the "fiery" nudi?The artists with their handiwork.Obviously very proud of it.Abby does a more muted version.

Before we packed up the booths, the volunteers went around to one another's booths. Something they didn't get to do during the day as they were busy with their own.The folks from the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation shared about their work. They are completing year fourteen of an ongoing expedition to map and monitor the world's coral reefs. To date, PCRF's research vessel is the only ship continually at sea studying coral reefs on a planetary basis.Kelly from the Underwater World Singapore explained their latest Young Marine Biologist Award launched as part of IYOR.

We were very fortunate to have Abigayle today to tell us more about the work of the Blue Water Volunteers.
Jun shared about the coral nursery and the intriguing coral exhibits.The Toddycats shared about their very popular exhibits! We finally got to have them all to ourselves.And we finally got a good look at the entire Adopt a Star booth without the crowds of people wanting to adopt them. Here is November sharing about the Stars.

And we had a good look at Debby's booth and she was in the middle of blogging about the event! How cool is that?!We posted the latest programme events on a whiteboard, that many people kept adding pictures to.In fact, the pictures morphed quite a bit throughout the day. See if you can spot the changes!

What a wild and wacky time we had at Reef Celebrations today!

More blog entries about the day!

Wildfilms at Reef Celebrations, 9 Aug (Sat)

wildfilms is contributing to this effort with clips to be shown between talks, as well as photographs at some of the exhibits.

We'll also be there to share about our beloved shores, as we put on some of the many other marine hats that we wear. So please come! We'd love to meet you.

9 Aug (Sat): Reef Celebrations!

The marine community celebrates our nation’s priceless reefs this National Day with the Singapore launch of International Year of the Reef!

Everyone is invited!

With a slew of activities for all, come find out about Singapore's living shores and how you can make a difference for them.

A shore fun day for the entire family! Kids' games and activities so even the youngest ones (aged 4-8 years) can learn about our marine life and what we can do to help.

Be a Star! Adopt a unique Singapore star and learn more about Cyrene Reef, a major Knobbly Nursery.

Our reefs revealed! As volunteers share about our reefs and shores and the work they have been doing. A rare opportunity to meet ALL major marine groups active on our shores and find out how you too can make a difference.

Exciting exhibits! See Singapore’s living shores without getting your feet wet. Find out about the latest marine projects, and threats to and work done for our shores. Come see rarely seen specimens, including a baby dugong by the Toddycats!

Special talks throughout the day! Come find out if there are any reefs left in Singapore and about diving Singapore's wild reefs at Pulau Hantu. Learn more about our Knobbly sea stars; how is Chek Jawa doing after the mass deaths in 2007?; and about our wild and wacky seagrass meadows. Film clips about our amazing marine life will also be shown throughout the day.

Time: 10am-5pm
Venue: Function Hall, Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens (above Taman Serasi foodcourt), more about getting there.

Aug 8, 2008

A wild day at the IYOR launch

Way before the launch begins (but AFTER a good lunch), a whole bunch of shore volunteers gathered to put together the IYOR launch.Jeff is obviously already feeling tired even before we begin.Soon we find out why. The panel frames are quite fiddly to put together. Meanwhile, Marcus is taking lots of (no doubt embarassing) 'behind the scenes' photos.
Siti, the Mistress of Ceremony was busy polishing up her script.

While there was a flurry of packing doorgifts, putting up exhibits and a million other things which I forgot to photograph.

In almost no time at all, the exhibits were up!Here's the Toddycats with the infamous baby dugong.Debby of the Hantu Bloggers is already hard at work even before the doors open.TeamSeagrass has an exhibit of live seagrasses!There's an exhibit about our first Coral Nursery.And the 100 Stars of Cyrene!
These 100 unique Singapore stars are up for adoption!
There's lot of fabulous goodies like stickers for visitors.Car decals and MORE stickers.
Even before we can begin, we have young visitors coming into the room to view the exhibits.
And leave heart-warming comments in the Celebration Guestbook.
Wildfilms is present to document the talks!
All too soon it was time to start welcoming the guests to the launch. Francis gives the welcome address, with massive documentation by seriously armed photographers.At all corners of the room!The room is totally packed out, with standing room only! Siva gives a very inspiring and insightful talk about the marine community (of people, that is).To the delight of the VIPs and audience.Prof Chou Loke Ming gives an equally thought-provoking talk about our reefs from way back in the past to now, and explored the future for our reefs.Meanwhile, at the back of the room, the Star Ladies are getting ready to present the 100 Stars of Cyrene for Prof Chou to name and thus launch IYOR.November introduces the Adopt a Star programme and conducts the launch ceremony.Then it was time for Francis to present tokens of appreciation to the VIPS. I bet it's the first time they received funky underpants in public!

Then the party really began as everyone enjoyed the exhibits, caught up with one another, queued up to adopt a star and generally had a great time!

The Reef Celebrations continue on 9 Aug (Sat)! Come to the Botanic Gardens for a day of MORE fun and celebrations of our reefs and shores. More details on the Singapore celebrates our reefs blog.