SINGAPORE - Marine habitats such as coral reef or sandy seabed ecosystems, and the plants and animals associated with them, will be better protected under a new Marine Conservation Action Plan launched by the Government on Saturday morning.
The first-of-its-kind action plan will set out conservation projects, including species-recovery efforts that aim to increase the population of endangered native species like the giant clam and the Neptune Cup Sponge. The sponge was thought to be globally extinct since the 1900s, until it was re-discovered off Singapore's St John's Island in 2011.
A turtle hatchery sponsored by HSBC bank will also be set up on the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, which was announced last July. The $500,000 hatchery will nurture green and hawksbill turtles to repopulate the seas.
Under the plan, the National Parks Board (NParks) will also be piloting initiatives to get more Singaporeans interested in marine life. Two dive trails, complete with 20 underwater signboards that serve as activity stations and markers, will be open for approved dive operators to take scuba divers on dive trips in September 2015.
Approved dive operators must agree to abide by a code of conduct, such as ensuring their divers do not collect or intentionally disturb marine life, and that they have good buoyancy control - a key skill in avoiding kicking up sediment and destroying marine creatures. A finalised list will be put up on the Sisters' Islands Marine Park at a later date, NParks said.
The two dive trails are located at different depths, and will expose divers to different types of marine life, from hard coral that grow at shallower depths of 4 to 6m, to sea fans that populate the sea floor 16m under.
The action plan is Singapore's first official blueprint for marine conservation, following the 2009 Singapore Blue Plan proposed by academics and civil society groups.
Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee announced the new action plan at the NParks annual Festival of Biodiversity at VivoCity on Saturday.
He said: "The seas around Singapore are rich in marine biodiversity: for example, hard coral species recorded in Singapore waters make up about 30 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide. This is remarkable, considering that we take up less than one per cent of the world's surface area."
The Marine Conservation Action Plan is part of a broader Nature Conservation Masterplan - a framework under which all of NParks' conservation work on land and sea come under. This includes land projects such as species-recovery efforts for the two newly discovered Hanguana (a type of flowering herb) plant species found only in Singapore, and the Eye of the Crocodile, one of the world's most endangered mangrove species.
By putting all the projects under one masterplan, there will be greater integration between different aspects of conservation work, from scientific research to community outreach and sharing of data, said Dr Lena Chan, director of the NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.
"The Masterplan will chart the direction of our conservation efforts for the next five years, and help to bring us closer to our vision of being a City in a Garden," Mr Lee said.