Hope for coral reefs in Singapore

Just one species gone; concerted effort can reverse extinction trends
Shobana Kesava, Straits Times 16 Aug 08;

JUST one coral species out of more than 250 has disappeared from Singapore waters in over 100 years, despite the fast and furious pace of urban development here.

Quantity-wise, the figures are dire: About 60 per cent of local reefs has already been destroyed, and another 15 per cent is expected to be wiped out through current coastal development. However, the rich diversity present makes experts hopeful of reviving the reefs.

Professor Chou Loke Ming, a marine biologist with the National University of Singapore (NUS) said a concerted effort made now by the Government, business sector and those in civil society can reverse current trends towards extinction.

Speaking last Saturday at the second International Year of the Reef

(IYOR2008) event, the pioneer conservationist said that to make this happen, 'development agencies must treat reef protection as a real exercise and not just for public relations, and draw up improvement plans at the same time as their development plans'.

Before the latest study by NUS, scientists had thought at least 50 species had been lost to development work.

Prof Chou envisions a marine paradise by 2018, with many large young thriving reefs lining Singapore's shores. He noted that restoration efforts had begun over the last decade.

One example is on Pulau Semakau, where screens were set up to protect existing sun-loving coral reefs from being choked by sedimentation during the creation of a landfill there.

Another is the work by Keppel Industries, NParks and NUS teams to build a coral nursery near the Southern Islands using fibreglass as a base for coral fragments to grow.

'Today's restoration efforts are a start but they still have to go beyond saving small coral colonies here and there,' Prof Chou said.

Environmental companies which can take on such work, he said, should also be given ample time to carry out assessments and save more corals standing in the way of land reclamation.

'Two weeks is not enough to tell them to get organised, and to take what coral they can before closing the whole place.'

To reverse the damage done, Prof Chou suggested a mix of preserved natural, newly created and restored sites, supported by development agencies.

Already, better private-public sector partnerships are springing up, he said, with resorts in Bintan and One deg 15 Marina interested in saving corals.

Sentosa Development Corporation has even considered how to grow corals in its canals. He added: 'We have a rich heritage; why squander it?'

Prof Chou's audience was made up largely of nature enthusiasts from non-governmental organisations as well as those from the Government and business community who support conservation issues.

About 500 visitors attended the weekend event at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Chairman of IYOR2008 Francis Lee said a proposal from the people, private and public sectors to conserve Singapore's marine life will be submitted to the Government by the end of this year.


Video clip of Prof Chou Loke Ming's keynote address
on the singapore celebrates our reefs blog.

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