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  International Herald Tribune 19 Sep 06
Environment and progress can coexist
By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop

Development is not always a one-way process of environmental destruction. The island of Semakau, south of Singapore, is a garbage dump with a difference: an eco- friendly haven in a city state that for decades sacrificed natural habitat to economic growth and urbanization.

Singapore created Semakau as an offshore landfill in 1999, enclosing two smaller islands inside a 7- kilometer, or 4-mile, artificial reef lined with an impermeable membrane and a layer of marine clay. The lagoon so formed is divided into several small ponds where tons of incinerated rubbish are dumped each day.

When it was first created, ecologists protested the destruction of mangroves and coral reefs that fringed the original islands. But the corals and mangroves came back, together with seagrass, fish and bird life, including great- billed herons and Pacific reef egrets.

"The fact is that most animals and plants are surprisingly resilient, especially the fishes. We notice it in Semakau. The reef is coming back. Nature is reclaiming itself," said Peter Ng, a professor of biology at the National University of Singapore.

Paying homage to Semakau's reincarnation as a sanctuary of biodiversity, the government gave its backing last year for the island to become a center for recreational nature studies and biodiversity research.

In another sign of ecological awareness, the government has deferred at least until 2012 a plan to transform Chek Jawa, a richly biodiverse intertidal foreshore area on another island, Pulau Ubin, into a golf course.

"Things have really changed compared with 20 years ago," Ng said. "Back then WWF would have been perceived as a subversive group. The government is trying."

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