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  Straits Times 17 Mar 07
Build IR, but spare 3ha forest
by Joseph Lai Tuck Kwong

Straits Times 11 Mar 07

Hey, the trees are marked

By Teo Cheng Wee

About 1,000 trees in Sentosa have been marked, but don't worry. They are to be saved when work on the IR begins. Still, some conservation groups are concerned, but a dialogue will thrash things out

TAKE a walk around Sentosa today and you would think that someone has been using its trees for target practice. Painted on the trunks of close to 1,000 trees is a white circle with a dot in the centre, resembling a bull's eye. And since these trees are all located in the upcoming Resorts World at Sentosa site, it looks ominously like they are marked for death.

On the contrary, 'the trees that have been marked are those that will be saved when construction begins', a Sentosa spokesman tells LifeStyle on a walk around the site last Wednesday. 'It's not to say that all the other trees will go, but these are the ones that must not be cut,' he adds.

The chosen trees include a mix of rainforest trees which are about 20 to 25 years old. They were picked for their size, good health and how important the species is. When construction begins, they will either be left in their original site or transplanted and looked after for two to three years in a nursery until they are ready to be replanted.

The markings were completed early this year after Sentosa had spent a few months surveying the flora of the area.

While Resorts World works on minimising the impact that the $5.2 billion integrated resort (IR) will have on the environment, its plans for the resort are being scrutinised by green watchdogs.

The possible damage to the ecosystem has been a worrying issue for nature lovers here as the 49ha site includes about 3ha - the size of four football fields - of coastal forest.

Experts tell LifeStyle that although Singapore is an island, much of its coastline has either been reclaimed or developed - which means that there are few coastal forests left here.

'We've lost most of our coastal vegetation,' says Professor Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at the National University of Singapore. 'The exceptions are in the southern islands and a handful of areas in the north and western shores of Singapore.'

As a rule of thumb, Sentosa keeps 70 per cent of its terrain green - a self-imposed guideline that outgoing CEO Darrell Metzger set when he was appointed in 2002. Resorts World has said it will follow this guideline when it builds its village-themed resort, which boasts a Universal Studios theme park, an oceanarium and a maritime museum.

It recently hired Mr Henry Steed to handle landscaping and flora conservation for the project. The award-winning British landscape architect had previously worked on other local projects with strong conservation angles, notably the Safti Military Institute in Jurong and The Sentosa Resort & Spa, formerly known as The Beaufort hotel.

Furthermore, Sentosa will hold a walkabout and closed-door discussion with interest groups and nature conservationists in a few weeks' time, during which Mr Steed will present his plan and listen to feedback and suggestions. About 20 people will be invited to this dialogue, which includes representatives from the Singapore Environment Council and the National Parks Board, as well as non-governmental organisations like the Nature Society and concerned individuals who have been corresponding with Sentosa on this issue.

Working with nature

ALTHOUGH the dialogue session is still some time away, there is already a hint on the ground of the debate that might take place.

The IR is being built on a plot of land on the northern part of the island. A large portion has already been developed for the now-disused ferry terminal, the musical fountain and failed attractions like Asian Village, Volcano Land and Fantasy Island.

Despite its relatively small size, Dr Ho Hua Chew, chairman of the conservation committee of the Nature Society, says that makes it all the more worth saving, 'since it's what little we have left'.

'Over decades of development, the forest ecosystem on Sentosa has diminished significantly - we won't want it to dwindle further,' he says.

The characteristic look of a coastal forest is a sparse one. Plants grow on sand, mud or rocks, and trees tend to be smaller and shorter as they live in an environment that has dry and salty air, a lack of fresh water and ground that is low in nutrients.

It is known that one concerned conservationist led two educational walks around the affected coastal areas last month, and he feels that the Sentosa forest should be left alone.

But others like Prof Ng take a more practical view, seeing how there 'isn't much of the original vegetation left' after intense utilisation of the site. 'Conservation is important, but - to be blunt - I feel this isn't one of the most important nature spots in Singapore,' he says. 'We can't just say, 'Don't build the IR there', because of a few plants. We should work around it.'

Whatever the feedback, Mr Steed is hopeful that any fears can be allayed when he presents his plan at the dialogue session.

The 60-year-old has lived in Singapore for 25 years and heads the renowned landscape architecture firm ICN Design International. 'We have taken into account all the opportunities presented by the site, namely the existing vegetation and topography. Our strategy is to build new elements around these existing assets to create a harmonious whole,' he says.

Mr Steed adds that the landscaping programme will take just over three years to complete.

Explaining the principle of his work, he tells LifeStyle: 'All of my designs try to work as much as possible with the existing. In other words, we work with the site, not against it.' Whether or not that satisfies the concerned parties, he'll know in a few weeks' time.

Straits Times 17 Mar 07
Build IR, but spare 3ha forest
by Joseph Lai Tuck Kwong

FIRST, let me identify myself as the 'concerned conservationist'' mentioned in Teo Cheng Wee's story on the upcoming Integrated Resort (IR) in Sentosa and its impact on the environment (Hey, The Trees Are Marked, LifeStyle, March 11).

I am also the same botanist who played a major role in the conservation of Chek Jawa's coastal forest and marine habitat in 2001.

Teo's story mentioned that I led 'two educational walks around the affected coastal areas last month' and that I felt that 'the Sentosa forest should be left alone'. The story also said that others, like zoologist Peter Ng, take a more practical view, seeing how there isn't much of the original vegetation left after intense utilisation of the site.

Professor Ng was quoted as saying: 'Conservation is important, but - to be blunt - I feel this isn't one of the most important nature spots in Singapore. 'We can't just say, 'Don't build the IR there', because of a few plants. We should work around it.'

I would like to reassure Prof Ng that I - and other nature advocates - are working precisely around the problem with the authorities.

Our motto is: 'Build the 49ha IR, but spare the 3ha forest.' We can conserve nature without losing businesses, jobs and educational opportunities.

Each forest is unique, and has every potential for richer growth. Together with other forests at Mount Serapong, Mount Imbiah and Siloso, the 3ha forest forms an integral whole for both plants and animals to thrive.

Hence, the 3ha forest is not just about 'a few plants' or a collection of trees. Indeed, the bulk of the forest within the adjacent Labrador Nature Reserve does not have the kind of diversity of coastal plant species found in the 3ha forest, and nowhere on the mainland are there coastal trees of comparable size and majesty.

The forest boasts the richest stand of the rare Dragon Blood Trees found here. It is also a roosting place for the Buffy Fish Owl, Singapore's rarest resident owl. The forest is tucked at the southern extreme of the designated IR plot.

Therefore, if conservation were to go ahead, it would not impede the IR construction at all.

Spare the forest. Do not reduce it to a garden. Three hectares is not much of a land sacrifice, and the IR can still make money. It is a piece of natural heritage we cannot afford to lose.

Authority on tropical plants roped in to keep new resort green Straits Times 2 Mar 07

Joseph Lai had been conducting walks at Sentosa and written articles about the trees there on his eart-h.com website

Not Just 'A Few Plants' How Sentosa Forest or any forest should be defined, Joseph Lai's response to this ST article on his eart-h.com website.

Build the IR, but Spare the Few Plants on the tidechaser blog

Related articles on Southern Islands Development including the Sentosa IR
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