'Living gallery' to help conserve mangroves here

Students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and NParks staff planting mangrove tree saplings at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve yesterday. A 5ha area at the coastal trail will have, in two years' time, 2,000 native trees across 35 true species - those that grow
Students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and NParks staff planting mangrove tree saplings at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve yesterday. A 5ha area at the coastal trail will have, in two years' time, 2,000 native trees across 35 true species - those that grow only in mangroves or intertidal conditions.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

An area will be set aside at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve for a living gallery of mangrove trees, comprising about half of the true species in the world, in a move to conserve these plants.

The 5ha area at the reserve's coastal trail will include a nursery and have, in two years' time, 2,000 native trees across 35 true species - those that grow only in mangroves or intertidal conditions.

The collection of trees, or arboretum, is an initiative to conserve Singapore's dwindling mangrove species. They now cover about 0.5 per cent of Singapore's land area, compared with 13 per cent in 1950.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, director of conservation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said that just like any other plant, young mangrove saplings are susceptible to being eaten up by animals in the intertidal area or swept away due to water currents.

"What we want to do is to nurse them in the arboretum, in the nursery... until they are of suitable size (and) they are big enough to withstand all these physical conditions," said Mr Wong. "Once they are about 1m, or big enough, we will plant them into the intertidal area or into the mudflat in such a way they can withstand the conditions, or elements of the sea."

The mangrove species which will be planted include the globally critically endangered Eye of the Crocodile, or Bruguiera hainesii. Singapore has 11 of these in places such as Pulau Ubin, and none in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve; there are only about 200 trees of this species globally.

According to the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website, mangroves can store three to five times as much carbon dioxide as tropical trees, easing the effects of climate change. NParks also noted that their roots offer hiding places for young fishes and shrimps, and their branches offer shelter and nestling areas for birds such as herons.

Mangrove planting at the new arboretum is well under way, as 80 students planted some 200 mangrove saplings yesterday.

Institute of Technical Education College East student Tan Yong Qing, 22, together with his schoolmates, planted about 30 saplings. "This is the first time we are doing this... It makes you feel good because you're helping nature," he said.

During the launch of the arboretum yesterday at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan planted a locally endangered mangrove tree called the Dugun with Mr Haruhisa Takeuchi, Ambassador of Japan, and Mr Yuzaburo Mogi, honorary chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors of Japan soya sauce maker Kikkoman. Kikkoman Singapore created a $500,000 sponsorship for the mangrove arboretum to mark its 30th anniversary.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline ''Living gallery' to help conserve mangroves here'. Print Edition | Subscribe