Parts of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve could be sinking or rising, according to the preliminary findings of a study started in 2011.
Eight monitoring stations had been set up on the reserve's mangroves and mudflats, and land at all eight points had both sunk and risen over the last 21/2 years, said Dr Dan Friess from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Geography.
He noted that the situation is dynamic, and more data is needed over a longer period of time to discern trends, but land sinking could affect the composition of mangroves in South-east Asia and possibly lead to their loss in the long run.
Dr Friess explained that land elevation changes are due to a complex array of factors, including tides and depositing and eroding sediment.
"We don't know enough now to be able to say anything conclusively, but Sungei Buloh is leading the region in even having such a study in the first place to figure out how to manage such changes," he said.
Dr Friess, who studies mangroves and coastal management, was speaking at the Symposium on Intertidal Conservation in South-east Asia on Thursday.
The two-day event held at the reserve in north-east Singapore ended yesterday.
One key issue was the loss of tidal wetlands and how that has harmed migratory birds which rely on them as stopovers.
The National Parks Board (NParks), which oversees the reserve, declined to give specific measurements of the study so far, but the reserve's deputy director Sharon Chan said it maintains mud ponds where birds can feed.
Singapore is among the 22 countries along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which some 50 million birds use each year.
The 10,000km flyway extends from Arctic Russia and North America to the southern limits of Australia and New Zealand. It encompasses all of South-east Asia and Sungei Buloh is an important stopover.
Dr Richard Fuller from the University of Queensland, Australia, was among several experts who said protecting the birds would require international cooperation. "We need to identify and protect the really important sites, work out where best to allow coastal development, manage catchments and create new tidal flats," he said.
The symposium was organised by NParks, NUS, the Nature Society, Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and conservation group BirdLife International.
This article was first published on June 14, 2014.
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