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  The Straits Times 6 Mar 06
Reclaimed land under threat
by Radha Basu

SINGAPORE has spent billions reclaiming precious land from the sea. Now, it seems, some of the land is under threat.

Severe erosion over the past few years has caused parts of the reclaimed shoreline along the East Coast Park and Pasir Ris to recede.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) told The Straits Times it has commissioned a detailed survey to study the extent of the damage and to recommend measures to help solve the problem.

Surveys mapping the physical contours of the beaches and surrounding waters are under way. The final report may take up to two years to complete, said a BCA spokesman.

One possible reason for the excessive erosion is that the breakwaters - stone and concrete structures built to protect the beaches - have not been as effective as expected, said Prof Tan Soon Keat, a coastal engineering expert from Nanyang Technological University. When the beaches were first reclaimed, the elevated breakwaters were intended to protect the shore immediately behind them, leaving natural erosion to occur along the unprotected parts.

However, it now appears that in some parts of the beaches, including the Costa Sands area at East Coast Park, erosion may have occurred even behind the breakwaters, causing chunks of the shoreline to recede.

This could be because the height and force of the waves have been greater than anticipated. 'In areas, the waves could have gone over or around the breakwaters, causing portions of the beach directly behind these structures to erode,' said Prof Tan. 'This is something that was quite unexpected.'

In countries with abundant land, such unexpected erosion could be ignored. 'But it could pose problems in land-scarce Singapore,' said Prof Tan.

The precise extent of the erosion is not known, but to anyone familiar with the East Coast and Pasir Ris parks, the signs of the sea's silent plunder are all too obvious.

At both, about a tenth of the shoreline has been cordoned off with brightly coloured ropes. At East Coast Park, bold red-and-black signs saying 'Danger - Please keep away from unstable coastline' warn passers-by. Signs have also gone up near the popular Marine Cove area, which is peppered with eateries, and near the Sea Sports Club.

Behind the McDonald's restaurant in the Marine Cove area, benches are less than a metre from the gnawed-at grassy parkland. A jogging track has been cordoned off, after erosion brought the sea to within 1.5m of the concrete path. Near the Sea Sports Club at East Coast, as well as at Pasir Ris, weather-beaten trees are poised precariously near the edge of the water. The sea has washed away the soil, exposing their roots to the sun and wind.

An academic who has studied erosion along the East Coast Park shoreline for the past five years, says the problem appears to have worsened over the past couple of years.

'Parts of the (park) are clearly sinking,' said Teh Tiong Sa, a retired associate professor of coastal systems with the National Institute of Education. Remedial action could, of course, prevent further damage. '

You could keep dumping sand from time to time to widen eroded beaches,' said Prof Teh. 'A wide beach is the best protection.'

Prof Teh said the authorities should take care not to build park amenities too close to the shoreline.

The National Parks Board (NParks), which maintains both parks, said it does take into consideration, the 'potential impact of erosion' during routine upgrading works, where amenities, such as benches or barbecue pits, are sometimes repositioned.

A spokesman said NParks was working with the BCA to monitor the coastline and see how it can be restored.

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