Local coral colonies getting a new home

Singapore's coral reefs are among its little known treasures, and some are "moving house" to stay safe.

Some 1,600 coral colonies will be relocated from near the Sultan Shoal - south-west of the country - to near the southern St John's and Sisters' islands to protect them from development.

After all the corals are settled in by August this year, experts will monitor them for five years to make sure that they take to their new home well and remain healthy.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) had found in an environmental impact assessment study in 2012 that the new Tuas Terminal's development near the shoal could harm the corals.

The terminal is part of plans to consolidate Singapore's container port activities in Tuas in the long term, to free up prime land occupied by other terminals.

After the impact study, the MPA hired research and consulting group DHI Water & Environment to carry out a coral relocation programme.

Between last September and March this year, DHI experts and about 20 public volunteers transplanted nearly 1,400 coral colonies out of 1,600.

Although the target does not cover the estimated 2,800 colonies near Sultan Shoal, the relocated corals will include all types of hard corals found near the shoal.

DHI principal marine biologist Eugene Goh said: "Hard corals are the key component of coral reefs, and most of the Sultan Shoal corals are hard corals."

Yesterday, reporters observed the DHI experts and volunteers as they harvested corals near the shoal.

Armed with simple tools such as hammers and chisels, they dived to the seabed about 5m underwater and emerged with the corals collected in baskets.

These will be covered in wet cloth and seawater to prevent them from drying out during the move to their new home.

At the receiving sites, they will be cleaned and an epoxy, a strong glue, will be used to secure them to searocks.

Singapore is home to one-third of the world's coral species.

Ports will face higher standards of marine protection in the future, said MPA chief executive Andrew Tan.

"We want to be at the forefront of these developments, and this will help Singapore differentiate itself from other ports around the world," he said.

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.