Keppel Discovery Wetlands to open at Botanic Gardens in early 2017

Come early 2017, members of the public will be able to learn about one of Singapore's most endangered natural habitats in the comfort of the Botanic Gardens, with the opening of the Keppel Discovery Wetlands near the Tyersall Avenue entrance.

The 1.8ha attraction, being set up in partnership with Keppel Corporation as part of the Gardens' new Learning Forest, offers a "user-friendly" setting for people to get close to plants associated with freshwater swamp forest.

It was launched on Saturday (Aug 27) by Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong said the Botanic Gardens may have been inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, but it is "just the start of a lifelong journey".

"We need very careful deliberate planning to conserve the botanical wealth and the beauty of the Botanic Gardens for future generations," he added.

The project is an effort to restore wetlands found in the area long ago that had been drained by about 1920.

Keppel has committed S$2.08 million to support the restoration efforts under the Garden City Fund.

Keppel Corporation chairman Dr Lee Boon Yang said: "We are starting on a very interesting and brave new project...We believe that Singapore's natural heritage is a precious resource and all Singaporeans share a responsibility to care for the environment.'

Professor Leo Tan, chairman of the Garden City Fund, said the wetlands will give the public an opportunity to learn about Singapore's native biodiversity and conservation efforts. He added: "We hope that Keppel's support could inspire more organisations to join us in conserving our native flora and fauna for future generations."

The Wetlands will also facilitate research in restoration ecology.

More than 200 species of plants have been chosen for cultivation at the site to help conserve native species and highlight distinctive characteristics of plants living in freshwater swamp forest habitat.

Singapore has lost much of this habitat to development. The remaining patch of natural freshwater swamp forest in Nee Soon in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is in a restricted zone near a military live-firing area, and the dense vegetation and wet conditions make it difficult for people to appreciate.

Singapore Botanic Gardens group director Dr Nigel Taylor said the team restored flood conditions at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands by constructing weirs to impede drainage and accumulate water.

Most of the water comes from direct rainfall and overland flow, while some originates from a natural spring at the foot of a slope nearby.

Dr Taylor said about the spring: "It supplies about an Olympic swimming pool's worth of water every month."

This is actually a relatively small contribution of water, but it becomes important during dry seasons, he explained.

Other features of the Keppel Discovery Wetlands include the Botanists' Boardwalk, lined with plants discovered by such botanical greats as Henry Ridley and EJH Corner, and the Orchid Islands showcasing orchid species that make their home in freshwater swamp forest.

Boardwalks and an elevated walkway will allow visitors to learn about the natural heritage without getting their feet wet.

To mark on Saturday's (Aug 27) occasion, Mr Wong, Dr Lee and Keppel Corporation chief executive Loh Chin Hua planted a Keppel Tree, or Stelechocarpus burahol.

Fruits of the tree are said to have been a favourite of Javanese princesses in the old days.

Nearly 50 Keppel staff also attended the event and planted various tree species at the site to kick off a volunteer programme where Keppel employees would help plant trees over the course of the development.