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Straits Times, 4 Jul 05
Two groups fear new Shell plant will endanger marine life
Pulau Hantu one of Singapore's last marine beauty spots
By Radha Basu
TWO local marine conservation groups have written to oil giant Shell to raise concerns over its plans to build a petrochemical plant on reclaimed land near Pulau Hantu, one of Singapore's last remaining sites teeming with marine life.
The Blue Water Volunteers and Hantu Bloggers fear the colourful sea creatures and age-old coral in the area will die if the reclamation proceeds without proper environmental safeguards.
Both groups, one of divers and the other of nature enthusiasts, were formed last year to make Singaporeans aware of their diverse but fast-disappearing marine wealth.
In a letter to Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang, the groups pointed out that Singapore has already lost more than 65 per cent of its live coral cover.
Coral reefs, which are known as the rainforests of the ocean, are fertile spawning grounds for a variety of sea creatures.
Continuous reclamation work around the Southern Islands in past years, the groups said, has increased sediment in the water, reducing visibility from more than 10m in the 1960s to no more than 2m today.
'In light of this, we are dismayed to learn that yet another reef, which existed from even before Singapore was founded, is going to be destroyed,' said the letter, signed by Blue Water Volunteers coordinator Loh Tse-Lynn and Hantu Bloggers founder Debby Ng.
Members of the two groups have dived in the area, sometimes as often as once a week. When contacted, a Shell spokesman told The Straits Times the company is in discussions with the Economic Development Board to set up a petrochemical cracker - part of a refinery - on reclaimed land on Pulau Ular, near Hantu. The land will be reclaimed by JTC Corp, as part of a government plan to create more land for the chemicals industry.
The spokesmen added that environmental care and responsibility are part of Shell's commitment to sustainable development. 'We'd like to assure the public that we'll act responsibly in conducting our business activities.
' Acting responsibly, said eminent National University of Singapore marine expert Chou Loke Ming, means using silt screens - which block sediment from reaching the coral - as well as relocating rare species of coral elsewhere. JTC said it is likely to do that, if the project, which is still in the planning stage, gets the final go-ahead. Reclamation is yet to start.
A spokesman said JTC will consider closing the water channels around the reclamation area by building 'bunds' or embankments to prevent the silt from spreading towards Hantu, besides studying whether any coral needs to be relocated.
This is heartening, said the conservationists, adding that they would like to be briefed on more details of the reclamation activities. 'We want to know the extent of reclamation planned and the possible impact involved,' said Ms Loh.
Blankets of silt churned up by reclamation activities could block access to both sunlight and food, smothering the coral reefs to death, she said.
Divers in the area have spotted rare sea creatures such as the gorgonian shrimp and bob-tailed squid. Dolphins, black-tipped reef sharks and different types of clownfish have also been seen.
'Despite the silt, sometimes you see some incredibly rare and beautiful creatures in Singapore's waters,' said Ms Ng. 'We simply don't want to let them die.'
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