Cleaner water bodies drawing more otters here

DPM Teo (in black shorts) at a PA event yesterday where PA made Ottie the otter its new mascot. Ottie is based on the smooth- coated otter, one of two types here.
DPM Teo (in black shorts) at a PA event yesterday where PA made Ottie the otter its new mascot. Ottie is based on the smooth- coated otter, one of two types here.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Otters disappeared from Singapore waters from the 1970s due to habitat loss and land reclamation works. It was only in 1998 that a pair of otters were spotted making the Sungei Buloh wetland their home.

There are now at least 50 otters here. They have thrived partly due to the country's efforts to clean up its water bodies and partly because otters have been forced out of the neighbouring shores of Johor which have undergone development.

"The otter is a particularly pertinent reminder of the need to continue preserving our environment so that we do not lose these beautiful creatures again," said a spokesman for the People's Association (PA).

The PA made Ottie the otter its new mascot at the launch of the second tranche of Project Blue WaVe, an islandwide environmental conservation movement, yesterday at Punggol Waterway Park. Ottie is a cartoon version of the smooth-coated otter, one of the two types of otters found here.

In 2014, the PA broadened the reach of its Water-Venture centres beyond just promoting outdoor water sports. It started getting Water-Venture committees involved in organising activities and educational programmes that highlight environmental issues.

Since then, about 800 residents and students have taken part in 50 eco-centric events. They have picked up litter at four beaches and paddled in kayaks to clean up three reservoirs.

For the second phase of this project, PA hopes the public will raise ideas they are interested in and take charge of volunteering and driving the activities. It intends to roll out 75 ground-up initiatives and double the number of participants.

Deputy Prime Minister and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Teo Chee Hean, who launched the project, paddled out with residents in Punggol Reservoir yesterday morning.

"The project is very important as we have more water resources in Singapore and residents need to understand how to use and maintain them well," said Mr Teo.

"Even today as we were on the waterway, we saw some flotsam, styrofoam packets, plastic and so on. So we hope more of our residents will help to look after the waterways and make sure that they are clean and available for all of us."

Mr Max Khoo, 23, a member of a group of otter enthusiasts and researchers called Otterwatch, said marine litter has already affected otters here.

Last year alone, there were otters found with rope and raffia string around their bodies and neck. Another otter was hurt by a fish hook at Marina Bay and a baby otter at Kallang River was filmed vomiting styrofoam that it had ingested.

Said Mr Khoo, an undergraduate: "Clean waterways are not only for people to enjoy. They are homes to creatures that were once extinct in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Cleaner water bodies drawing more otters here'. Print Edition | Subscribe