Semakau corals get new home at Sisters' Islands

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan picking up a seahorse on Big Sister's Island, one of the two islands that make up Sisters' Islands, yesterday. The seahorse is among the many creatures found along the island's coas
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan picking up a seahorse on Big Sister's Island, one of the two islands that make up Sisters' Islands, yesterday. The seahorse is among the many creatures found along the island's coastline.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

SINGAPORE - More than 700 coral colonies have been moved from a lagoon in Singapore's offshore landfill to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

The four-month project was started last September to conserve the corals amid works to expand the Semakau Landfill, an island about 8km south of Singapore now used to hold waste.

To mark its completion, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan handed the last corals to a diver for transplantation in the marine park yesterday.

The corals had grown naturally in Semakau island's southern lagoon, which will be developed into a landfill cell to accommodate waste up to 2035 or beyond.

The site next to the lagoon, where waste is now placed, is expected to be filled by next year.

A coral reef survey, commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA) last March, recommended that 27 different groups of corals in the zone below the low-tide mark, including several rare ones, be conserved.

In September last year, the Neptune's Cup Sponge was discovered by marine biologists in the lagoon. This is the second time this species, thought to have been extinct since 1908, has been seen since it was rediscovered off St John's Island in 2011.

The NEA said yesterday that surveys will continue to be done over the next nine months to monitor the survival and health of the transplanted corals, as well as the water quality and sediment conditions at the marine park.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore would always face pressure to use land for its development. "But even as we do that, it is possible, if we make the effort and if we plan, to conserve as much of our marine and terrestrial biodiversity (as we can)," he said.

Ms Ria Tan, who runs website wildsingapore.com, said: "I'm proud that with the Semakau Landfill, Singapore can show it is possible to develop sustainably despite limited land, without destroying our marine heritage."

audreyt@sph.com.sg