Singapore's southern Sisters' Islands, and the waters around them, will be the site of the country's first marine park.
The 40ha park, the size of about 50 football fields, will include the western reefs and intertidal zones of nearby Pulau Tekukor, a former ammunition dump, and St John's Island, which currently houses research and recreational facilities.
Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee announced this yesterday morning at the annual Festival of Biodiversity, a nature-education fair held at the VivoCity mall this weekend.
"With the new Sisters' Island Marine Park, I hope that even more Singaporeans will enjoy and value our natural richness," he said. "The charm of the Sisters' Islands is in their undeveloped character, and... the marine environment is fragile."
Apart from letting more people enjoy its charms, designating the area a marine park also means that research and conservation activities will be ramped up there.
The area was picked for its variety of habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass areas and sandy shores, and is rich in marine life such as sponges and giant clams.
In 2011, for instance, the neptune's cup sponge, long thought to be extinct here, was rediscovered off St John's Island.
The Sisters' Islands have been marked out as a marine nature area in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Parks and Waterbodies Plan since it was introduced in 2003. Nature areas are high-biodiversity areas that are kept as long as possible till they are needed for development.
As a public park, the marine park will be managed by the National Parks Board (NParks), which will take over from Sentosa Development Corporation.
People will be able to sign up for guided walks from next month by visiting www.nparks.gov.sg/sistersislandsmarinepark.
The details are being worked out, said National Biodiversity Centre director Lena Chan, but there are plans for downloadable trail guides, explanatory signs and live streaming of the islands' wildlife.
Currently, there are no regular ferry services to Sisters' Islands and boats need to be chartered for those who want to get there.
Other activities planned for next year include workshops, camps and talks at an outreach and education centre on St John's Island. The National Biodiversity Centre's coastal and marine deputy director, Dr Karenne Tun, said NParks would be doing a feasibility study to fully map the islands, take a census of reef life and work out how many visitors can be allowed without harming wildlife.
NParks also plans to use the park for research and conservation, and to reintroduce giant clams and corals to its waters. Those lobbying for Singapore's blue space to be better protected were encouraged by the news.
Said Professor Barry Halliwell, deputy president for research and technology at the National University of Singapore (NUS): "Marine biologists have long advocated for the establishment of such a park and this is very good news.
"NUS and NParks have collaborated on many projects over the years and we look forward to more joint projects after the marine park is established."
Nature enthusiast Ria Tan, 53, who runs popular wildlife site wildsingapore.com, said: "It's the first marine park that Singapore has, so it's something to celebrate. And hopefully it's the first of more."
But she raised concerns about fishermen using driftnets which entangle horseshoe crabs and other marine life. In response, Dr Chan said details of the budget, manpower and enforcement plan for the new park were still being finalised. Dr Tun said NParks would work with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to engage fishermen on the issue.
In 2009, civil society groups presented a Blue Plan to the Government, calling for several areas including Sisters' Islands, Pulau Hantu, Cyrene Reef and Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa to be formally designated high-biodiversity areas.
Dr Tun would not say if there was scope for other marine parks. "The role now is just to make this park a success," she said.
Limited spaces for guided walks at low tide on Aug 14 and 15 are available.
This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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