Coral reefs here have not given up hope, so we should not give up on them, marine biologist Chou Loke Ming told My Paper.
The professor of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) even hopes that dolphins will return to Singapore waters one day.
The pioneer in reef conservation has been monitoring changes in our marine environment since 1977, when he joined the then department of zoology. He was one of the first to focus his research on coral reefs.
Prof Chou was clearly nostalgic when he spoke about how clear the waters were five decades ago: "I have been involved in coral reef research for a very long time. In the 1960s, when I went snorkelling, the water was very clear. From the surface, you could see right down to a depth of 10m."
Now, marine biologists face the challenge of preserving Singapore's reefs in sedimented and turbid waters. But he is unfazed.
"When you want to restore a reef, you restore it irrespective of the condition it is now in. If we sit and wait, there won't be anything left...we find that our reefs, they have not given up hope, every year you still have the mass spawning, and growth."
While Singapore has lost 60 per cent of its reefs to development, there are still good marine habitats around, including coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses, he said.
And, since the mid-1990s, there has been active monitoring and management of our reefs, said Prof Chou. He will retire from NUS this year, but will continue to be involved in marine conservation efforts.
Now, impact assessment studies are required for all development projects.
The environmental impact of development projects is also monitored in real time through an environmental management and monitoring programme.
"In (the 60s), it was just dump the earth into the sea, and there were no containment measures," Prof Chou said.
"We are now moving into a mode of sustainable development. I'm beginning to see that we are taking steps to really minimise the impact."
This has raised his hopes of improving the ocean environment here.
"I hope to see clearer waters eventually. If we have gone to the extent of recycling water, I would think that a time will come when we can face this sedimentation challenge.
"If the waters become clear again, then you can see more marine life. It will be wonderful if you can see dolphins swimming among the ships."
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