Lifeline for offshore marine research unit

Lifeline for offshore marine research unit
The Tropical Marine Science Institute has a change in directorship. Professor Peter Ng has now been succeeded by Professor Wong Sek Mun. financial problems that beleaguered the institute has also now been overcome, with them managing to tie up with AVA to pay for electricity and water cables. this reduces the need to spend large sums on running the diesel generator.

Singapore's only marine academic research station has overcome its money woes and found a way to prevent its centre from being shut down.

Its lifeline is a set of cables and water pipes that, when up and running, will provide potable water and electricity from a nearby grid to its offshore facility on St John's Island.

This means that by 2016, the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) will no longer have to pay through its nose for generator maintenance, diesel fuel and fresh water.

"Diesel is expensive, and as seawater is corrosive, it is a nightmare to maintain the generator," said Professor Peter Ng, who stepped down from TMSI's helm in September, after six years as director.

The St John's facility was established in 2002 to study aspects of marine biology such as aquaculture, giant clams, corals and ecotoxicology. TMSI's other centre in the NUS Kent Ridge campus focuses on environmental modelling, climate change and underwater communications, among other things.

But since 2010, the offshore research facility has been beset by rising operating costs, such as running boats to and from the island, security and, most notably, diesel for the lab's generator.

This year, for instance - out of a total institute budget of $1.9 million, operating costs amounted to more than $1.7 million. About half of this was spent on diesel alone. In addition, fresh water had to be trucked in from the mainland by boat, adding to costs.

In January, the St John's laboratory looked set to close its doors for good, as it was unable to cover its operating costs.

Back then, lead researchers had been told by the university not to accept new projects involving the lab, as it was "no longer financially possible or justifiable to continue operations on (St John's Island)".

But there has been a last-minute reprieve.

Professor Ng suggested tapping the output from nearby Kias Island, a reclaimed shoal that could supply power to St John's, Pulau Seringat and Lazarus Island, three linked islands.

Cables had been installed there in 2006 as part of plans to develop the area for high-end resorts or housing, although those plans are now on hold.

The cost of building a sub-station and laying additional cables about 1.5km to 2km in length is high, at $6 million to $8 million.

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