southern shores fact sheet
uniquely Singapore: City reefs a response to plans to develop the Southern Islands
more photos
city reefs index
labrador | sentosa | kusu island | st. john's island | sisters islands | lazarus island
kusu reefs, minutes from the city centre

clown anemonefishes, kusu

sea horse,  sisters islands
yellow-lipped sea snake, sentosa

kusu island is blessed with rich reefs

giant clam, sisters islands

phyllid nudibranch, st. john's

st. john's island reefs, also minutes from the city

flourescent hard coral, sentosa

hard coral, labrador

sisters islands, reefs inside the lagoon

soft coral, lazarus

common sea star, kusu

hard coral, sisters islands

spider conch, lazarus
Uniquely Singapore: City Reefs!
(a personal letter submitted to REACH on plans to develop the Southern Islands announced in 2006, updated May 07)

Our Southern Island reefs are ALIVE!
The reefs in Singapore harbour close to 200 species of hard corals. Amazing marine life abound: such as clown anemonefishes (better known as 'Nemo'), anemone shrimps, sea horses, giant clams, octopus, nudibranchs and more. 111 reef fish species from 30 families were also recorded. Here's photos of our city reefs on Labrador, Sentosa, Kusu Island, St. John's Island, Sisters Islands and Lazarus Island.

Within minutes of the city centre
These reefs can be reached within minutes of the city centre! Where else in the world can a tourist go from a high-level business meeting at a world class hotel to visit a living reef, in under half an hour? Our accessible reefs would be attractive to those with a busy schedule or who would want an easy and quick introduction to tropical reefs.

No need to swim, no need to dive!
Our reefs can be explored at low tide by non-divers, ordinary people and young children. An ideal trip for the family! Regular reefwalks are currently already being held by the Blue Water Volunteers at Kusu Island. Labrador, our last mainland reef, is particularly popular with students.

Spectacular dives too!
Divers can also enjoy spectacular sights on our Southern reefs, such as a wall of sea anemones that are homes to lots of clown anemonefishes. Jani (a marine biologist) has posted on her Blue Tempeh blog, links and photos of dives at all our Southern reefs. There's a lot more to our reefs than most divers imagine.

Sedimentation is an issue
Sedimentation of our Southern waters has reduced visibility from 10m in the 1960s to 2m or less today. Visibility is not ALWAYS bad, there are some periods of good visibility. See discussion on the habitatnews blog and some visits to our reefs with spectacular visibility in Apr 07 here and here.

Although our waters are murky, a wide diversity of marine creatures can still be encountered in our seas. These include regular sightings of wild dolphins and sea turtles.

Imagine if we can improve the visibility of our seas!
Sedimentation is like the Haze. It cuts out sunlight and affects the growth of our hard corals. Hard corals are made up of tiny animals called polyps that harbour microscopic algae (symbiotic zooxanthallae). The algae produce nutrients using sunlight, through photosynthesis, and shares this food with the polyps. Sedimentation also coats the polyps which then have to expend energy to keep themselves 'clean'. More sunlight thus helps corals grow faster and keeps them healthier.

How can we control sedimentation?
The Haze descends upon us when the wind is in the 'wrong' direction. Don't we wish burning wouldn't happen when the wind is blowing in our direction?

In the same way, sedimentation plumes resulting from construction and other coastal activities are spread to our reefs by the water currents. Water currents change with tides and the seasons, just as the winds blow in a different direction with the monsoons.

A proper understanding of currents and water flows should help us time such work and minimise sedimentation plumes. Just as the haze clears when the wind blows in a different direction.

If we can achieve reduced production of sedimentation and/or time it so the plumes are directed away from our reefs, we would have clear waters around our reefs! And our reefs could become as spectacular as any in Malaysia or Thailand.

The price of our reefs
Achieving vibrant living reefs can potentially generate MORE revenue than simply attracting paying visitors. If we can clear up our waters, this know-how will be valued by others in the region who are or will increasingly face the same situation.

Singapore has overcome our limited water supply by developing technologies, policies and processes. These are now 'exported' and Singapore companies are making money doing so. In the same way, overcoming the sedimentation issue can potentially generate revenue and gain Singapore international standing in sustainable development.

Developing our wild places for well-heeled global clients seems be a recent emphasis. Doing so in a sustainable manner with sensitivity to existing ecosystems may bring a higher premium. See Designer villas go green
Cheah Ui-Hoon Business Times 19 May 07.

It seems a shame that in developing artificial marine habitats, we destroy existing natural marine habitats. Often because we don't even bother to find out what is there. See the coral reefs on Sentosa that will be reclaimed for the Integrated Resort.

Wild places are relatively cheaper to maintain. Natural places are horrendously difficult and expensive to duplicate. The costs of running the Zoo, Bird Park, marine parks are not only in terms of money, but also in the lives lost and damage caused through the need to continuously replace animal specimens from the wild. A natural place like Chek Jawa and our Southern shores cost far less but offers far more in terms of spectacular diversity and unending seasonal changes. And it is uniquely ours and ours alone.

The value of our reefs
Beyond the revenue reefs might generate, they provide important value to Singapore and Singaporeans.

Wild reefs are natural classrooms, where learning is spontaneous. In wild natural surroundings, children's natural curiosity get the better of them. In ways hard to duplicate in artificial teaching situations, children on the seashore can explore not only ecology, but also learn about our history and economics (e.g., history of coastal peoples, civilisation in southeast asia and the sea trade).

Building family bonds: A family outdoors becomes a natural family. On a camping trip, shore walk, picnic, boating or dive trip; the parents lead, protect and guide the children. Children spontaneously discover; not only about nature, but also about themselves, one another and their roles in the family. Physical limits of comfort and stamina are tested and overcome. These are the treasured moments of childhood and parenthood. This kind of bonding is hard to duplicate say, in a shopping centre or artificial entertainment centre.

Building bonds across cultures and races: The wonder, awe and enjoyment of nature cuts across barriers. Bonds created in a group outing in the wild go beyond culture and are stronger than any made in an artificial environment. The respect for nature that is the basis of all religions and cultures can form the starting point for better understanding and stronger ties among citizens.

Building bonds to the country: Singapore is in danger of becoming a giant concrete island city with straight line contours under a bubble of airconditioning. Any bits of 'nature' found only in artificial settings, such as marine parks with mechanised creatures.

How can a citizen connect with such a Singapore? The Singapore of his childhood is gone. The new Singapore is sanitary, a Disneyquese virtual reality. No different from any other modern city in the world. Except everything is smaller and more expensive.

How sad if Singaporeans have to escape overseas to have a natural wild experience. The bonding happens elsewhere; the family album is filled with happy moments in Malaysia, Australia, China. Staying in Singapore is equated with the drudgery of work and school. Eventually, only the well-to-do can enjoy a superior experience in wild places.

Even sadder if the Southern Shores is reserved for wealthy tourists. Singaporeans will not even be able to enjoy their own wild places. For simple low-cost pleasures such as fishing, a picnic or camping under the stars.

The ideal nature visitor is also the ideal citizen. Someone who respects other people and lifeforms. He does not litter, vandalise or annoy wildlife and other visitors. He is patient, eager to learn and share with others. He knows he is not the centre of the universe. He knows his actions will affect the lifestyle and surroundings that he leaves to his children. Exposure to wild natural places brings soul to the nation.

Last chance for our magnificent natural reefs? The Southern Islands are the last of our shores currently spared from extensive reclamation.

There was once over 60 offshore islands and patch reefs around Singapore. Since the mid 1970s, most of the southern islands were reclaimed. Some islands were merged as a result and the reef flats of many islands were reclaimed. Many coral reef organisms were smothered by the reclamation, while others were severely affected by the resulting increase in underwater sediments. Since 1986, most coral reefs in Singapore have lost up to 65% of their live coral cover.

Consider price AND value: Let us consider the value of our natural assets and not just their price. Let us not be among those who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Beyond the reefs
Singapore is probably the only place in the world where a tourist can visit a rainforest, a mangrove, a coral reef all within half an hour from the central business district (and a cold beer in a 6-star hotel). More about these wild places.

Yes, our wild places may not rival those of neighbouring countries in size. But ours are strong representatives. And they make a good first introduction to these magnificent and rapidly vanishing habitats. Something that busy business travellers can squeeze into their schedules.

For many visitors, it might be the only opportunity they can get to experience tropical habitats first hand. No doubt, most will also be impressed at how urban Singapore still has so much that remains wild.

Our assembly of natural wild places are unique. We should treasure them and be proud to showcase and share them with the world!

Other responses to the plan
Letters to the media
Blog posts

Media reports on the plan

updated 4 Dec 06

Dolphin sighting in Singapore
on the habitatnews blog

Sea turtle sightings in Singapore
  • Hawksbill turtle hatchling rescue and release at East Coast Park: More photos and lots more details of this on the habitatnews blog
  • Turtles rescued fron drains more photos on the ubin volunteer blog
  • Blue Tempeh meets Aunty Betsy under the sea (Pulau Hantu) photos and story on the habitatnews blog
  • The curse of marine litter and their impact on sea turtles on the habitatnews blog
  • Sea turtle seen on Hantu Bloggers' first anniversary dive on the habitatnews blog
  • RF Xplore explores Hantu with photos of sea turtle and lots of other marine life on The Blue Tempeh blog
  • Wonderful diving at Pulau Hantu with lots of photos of the sea turtle on the Colourful Clouds blog

Related issues

  • What are the considerations in evaluating a proposal to reef rehabilitation? See this PDF document on the Reef Check website "Beware Hype on Artificial Reef Rehabilitiation" a document of the International Coral Reef Initiative which in summary states, among others, that "The most effective mechanism of rehabilitating coral reefs is through mitigation of chronic human disturbances (e.g. sedimentation, pollution and over-fishing), thereby facilitating natural recovery mechanisms and building resilience, to any further disturbances, that will be effective over large areas";

Media articles about the plan
see also Southern Shores Development including the Sentosa IR

Letters to the press about the plan

Blog reponses to the plan

My thoughts about our wild places

uniquely Singapore: City reefs a response to plans to develop the Southern Islands
more photos
city reefs index
labrador | sentosa | kusu island | st. john's island | sisters islands | lazarus island
photos of wild shores of Singapore. Make your own badge here.
search | links | about wildsingapore | email Ria
wildsingapore website©ria tan 2003 www.wildsingapore.com