Creating a Coral Paradise in Singapore Within 10 Years

ZaoBao.com 12 Aug 08;
translation from the ashira blog

Members of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) Singapore Organising Committee have a dream, and that is to create a coral paradise in Singapore within the coming years.

Professor Chou Loke Ming (Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore) believes that even though it would be difficult to achieve the aim of "Singapore, Coral Paradise 2018", it is not impossible. If this dream can be achieved, Singapore's marine life would be revived, with all kinds of fish returning, allowing us to become a diving hotspot.
He expressed these thoughts during the launch of the International Year of the Reef (IYOR).

IYOR is celebrated once every 10 years, and the first IYOR was launched in 1997, with the aim of raising awareness about the destruction of coral reefs. At that time, various groups from over 50 countries were involved and more than 100 research publications arose from the event.

The various groups and organizations taking part in this year's IYOR are equally enthusiastic and passionate, and comprise of many NGOs, water activity interest groups, individuals, as well as the National Parks Board.When interviewed, the chairman of the IYOR Singapore Organizing Committee, Mr Francis Lee, mentioned that, "The protection and conservation of Singapore's green spaces has been done very well, and air quality has been managed adequately. However, when it comes our marine heritage, too little has been done."

Development of the Blue Plan
With this aim in mind, the committee drafted a Blue Plan 5-6 years earlier, with the hopes of being able to work together with the government in conserving Singapore's marine life.

This year, the committee will once again draft out a new Blue Plan, including discussions/suggestions on how to allow ordinary people to treasure the ocean, as well as to share the knowledge of marine ecology with fishermen and divers alike. For example, if a caught fish is deemed too small, the fishermen could release them back to the sea.

The Chairman of the Blue Plan cluster, Mr Farid Hamid, states that the committee aims to submit the Blue Plan to the government by the end of this year, and have various discussions with the government, including a proposal for marine protected area(s), similar to Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, situated on mainland Singapore.

Situated in the south of Singapore, Sisters' Islands and Pulau Hantu are both within the consideration of the Blue Plan. These two islands are established offshore leisure grounds.

The committee members also aim to organize the existing database of our coral reefs, as well as to update the information, with the eventual aim of setting up a national database of Singapore's coral reefs.

60% of our local coral deaths due to reclamation works
Professor Chou also notes that the Tuas-Jurong area of Western Singapore originally possessed a large area of coral reefs but is now reduced to 40% of its original area.

Sedimentation reduce photosynthesis
Around 60% of Singapore's coral reefs have been destroyed between the 1970s and 1990s, with the main culprit of this destruction being sediments resulting from reclamation works.

Some of these sediments assumulate on the coral reefs, smothering the hard corals, and reducing light penetration which in turn decreases photosynthesis within the corals, leading to the eventual death of these coral colonies.

In addition, when the sediments settle on the seabed, they would also cover any coral larvae (and gametes) present, preventing the growth of new coral colonies.

Mr Ivan Choong, an avid diver who dives frequently in Singapore, said that the silt accumulating in on the seabeds of local waters can be as deep as a human's arm length, and the visibility of local waters are generally low. He notes that when diving locally, visibility is usually around 3-5m, and that he can only see the vague shadow (lacking a distinct outline) of his dive buddy.

Having just returned from Christmas Island, Ivan observed that in comparison, the waters there are still crystal clear even at depths of 30-40m.

Decrease in population but diversity still maintained
Even though Singapore's coral reefs have decreased in numbers, the types of corals that have persisted are largely intact. Professor Chou said that despite having experienced so many years of harsh conditions, only one out of the 251 species of hard corals found locally has gone extinct. This is a pleasant surprise, giving hope and confidence in the dream of a local coral paradise.
Little facts about hard corals

  • Corals are animals, not plants
  • Many individual coral polyps form a single coral colony
  • The intestinal cavity of individual coral polyps contain unicellular sumbiotic algae (zooxanthellae). These algae make use of sunlight that penetrates the water for photosynthesis, and their waster products act as nutrients for the coral
  • Corals absorb calcium that is present in seawater, secreting this calcium in the form of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) skeletons
  • Coral mass spawning occurs annually in Singapore on the nights of full moon during the months of March-April
  • Coral reefs are natural habitats that support one of the greatest number of plant and animal species on earth, and are thus, of utmost importance to biodiversity.

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