FAQ about our reefs

  • Does Singapore have reefs?
  • Can an ordinary person see Singapore’s marine heritage?
  • What’s so special about Singapore’s reefs?
  • Why should we save our reefs?
  • Do Singaporeans care about our reefs and shores?
  • What are some of the challenges in conserving Singapore’s reefs and shores?
  • Is co-existence/a balanced approach to development and conservation possible?
  • How can one person make a difference for our reefs and shores?

1. Does Singapore have reefs?

Even though development has decimated Singapore reefs and only an estimated 10% of our marine natural heritage remains, the answer is an overwhelming YES! The litany of "uniquely Singaporean" statistics for our reefs includes:

More than 250 species of hard corals from 55 genera, which compare favourably with the more extensive reefs of the region
.A4 Poster: The Superb Sisters
More than 120 reef fish species from 30 families, and still counting.

11 out of the 23 seagrass species that can be found in the Indo-Pacific region.
Seagrass surprises
Dolphins and sea turtles are regularly spotted by boaters and divers. Dolphins are usually seen around the Sisters / St John's islands and also off Pulau Satumu (Raffles Lighthouse). Adult sea turtles are regularly seen around Pulau Hantu and Pulau Satumu, and newly hatched baby turtles have been encountered on a regular basis (about 4 sightings a year, at East Park Beach, Sentosa and West Coast Park Beach).

2. Can an ordinary person see Singapore’s marine heritage?

There are many options for the public to see the reefs of Singapore. For scuba divers, the Reef Xplore programme, run by the Hantu Bloggers, offers a guided tour of the underwater diversity of Pulau Hantu.

For non-scuba divers (and even scuba divers!), many volunteer groups run "No need to swim, no need to dive!" guided walks of our shores, including trips by the Naked Hermit Crabs (Sentosa and the Chek Jawa boardwalk), Blue Water Volunteers (Kusu Island) and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (Pulau Semakau).
A4 Poster: You CAN make a difference
Guided walks to other marine related habitats are also carried out at Chek Jawa on Pulau Ubin (where vast seagrass meadows still thrive), at the internationally famous Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (mangroves and shorebirds), together with the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park.

All the guided walks are family-friendly too! More details about regular reef and shores activites.

3. What’s so special about Singapore’s reefs?

In addition to the astounding biodiversity that exists on our reefs, they are also easy to get to! Where else in the world can a visitor quickly go from a high-level business meeting at a world class hotel, to visit a living reef in under half an hour? It only takes 15 minutes to reach the nearest reef by fast boat.
A4 Poster: Singapore has world-class reefs

4. Why should we save our reefs?

Worldwide, reefs provide a range of services. They are a food source for millions of people, and many reefs are also important tourist attractions, making them a critical source of livelihood and income for many coastal communities and industry players. They also provide vital ecosystems services - acting as a carbon sink and shore protections are just two such services.

In Singapore’s current effort to attract global clients of high net-worth, offering a full spectrum of natural attractions in close proximity to world class living conditions would be uniquely Singapore. A higher premium would accrue if Singapore develops urban living in a sustainable manner with sensitivity to existing ecosystems.

Singapore can excel in sustainable development, with the accent on sustainability, and also champion biodiversity conservation. Becoming not only a green, but also a blue city, and a more rounded global hub for environmental studies, research and practices.

In addition, the knowledge and expertise in all of this knowledge and databases can potentially generate revenue in environmentally friendly and sustainable developments overseas.

5. Do Singaporeans care about our reefs and shores?

Yes! About 3,500 volunteers work to provide guided walks, guided dives as well as conduct regular monitoring of seagrasses and reefs and to clean up and collect data on marine debris on our shores.

There is also a growing number of Singaporeans who blog and share photos and stories of their work for the shores. Latest blog entries about our reefs and shores.

Even larger numbers of Singaporeans, residents and visitors (to the tune of 100,000 annually) join these walks to view our shores and reefs. All regular guided tours on reefs are quickly booked within days of being offered. The wait-list for guided walks at Chek Jawa and Kusu Island remain long.
Labrador: A living classroom
Leading organizations have also formed the Singapore Reef and Marine Conservation Committee, which has for two decades, been engaging government to conserve our reefs, particularly in the formulation and implementation of Singapore’s Green Plans.

6. What are some of the challenges in conserving Singapore’s reefs and shores?

Coastal development vs conservation
Singapore has lost much of its natural coastal habitats to development. Ports and container terminals and offshore refineries have resulted in a distinctive, but urbanized skyline. Through mergers and expansions, the once over 60 offshore islands and patch reefs around Singapore have been reduced to about half in number, and many lagoons and public facilities are now scattered through out the existing ones. The coral reefs in Singapore have lost up to 80 to 90% of their live coral cover as a result of the direct and indirect effects of these developments.
A4 Poster: Threats to our shores - Coastal Development and Global Warming
The most significant cause of reef degradation in Singapore is sedimentation, affecting the reefs by causing a slow but steady reduction in live coral cover and by reducing the lower depth limit of coral growth on reef slopes. Sedimentation studies in 1979 and 1994, show sedimentation rates ranging from 3-6mg/sq cm/day in 1979 to 5-45mg/sq cm/day in 1994 (the higher value obtained from localised areas close to reclamation projects). Surveys since 1986 indicated that live coral cover decreased by up to 80% on some reefs, although other reefs registered less impact. The reduction in sunlight penetration has reduced the lower depth limit of coral growth. In the 1980s, coral growth extended to 10m down the reef slopes. Today, growth is restricted to 6m although some coral species still occur at the 8m depth. Visibility has reduced from 10m in the 1960s to 2m or less today. As a consequence, coral growth is restricted to the shallow depths, as opposed to reefs in clear waters, where coral may be found at depths of 20m and more.

Careless treatment of our reefs and shores
Other activities that also have an impact on the reefs include recreational and tourist-related use. Negligent or inexperienced reef-users without proper buoyancy control, can leave a trail of broken corals. Improperly dropped anchors can uproot large coral heads, and indiscriminate collection of marine life on our shores depletes already strained plant and animal stocks, and destructive fishing practices can leave behind abandoned drift nets and fish cages.

7. Is co-existence/a balanced approach to development and conservation possible?

The Semakau Landfill, Singapore’s only existing landfill, was developed and operated in such a way that half of the original Pulau Semakau remained relatively undisturbed. The coastal habitats on the western side of the island are still intact, and nature walks there are an eye-opening discovery of wild mangroves, vast seagrass meadows and amazing coral reefs!
A4 Poster: Pulau Semakau Seagrass Meadows
This know-how will be much sought after as other countries seek to manage the disposal of solid wastes and develop with minimal impact to their large natural reefs and coastal habitats, for tourism or other purposes. Sustainable coastal development can be exported in the same way Singapore has exported the technologies, policies and processes, for dealing with limited water and other natural resources. Habitat restoration and enhancement successes, will also be sought after.
A4 Poster: Cyrene Reef
Every development near the shore should be seen as an opportunity for Singapore to prove that it has the know-how to develop and operate first-world facilities without wiping out natural habitats.

8. How can one person make a difference for our reefs and shores?

We highly encourage interested individuals to simply "Explore, Express and Act".

Explore our shores
Visit our shores and reefs. See them for yourself! Join the many activities for our reefs in 2008. Links to the various activities can be found on our Singapore Celebrates our Reefs blog (http://iyor08singapore.blogspot.com).

Express for our shores
Share your experiences, your hopes and your knowledge about our reefs. Tell your family, your friends and your colleagues! And tell us about it, too!! We'd love to hear from you! Or, if you have your own blog or website, we can add it to the Singapore Celebrates our Reefs blog (http://iyor08singapore.blogspot.com).

Act for our shores
Be a volunteer! If you have a passion for nature, make the time to help out with local conservation groups. Most have activities to suit any contribution of skill, time and energy. Every contribution, large and small, short-term and long-term, can make a big difference.

Here's MORE ways to make a difference for our reefs.

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