Singapore Budget 2014: Ministry to seek ideas on protecting Pulau Ubin

While Pulau Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 in the 1950s to 1970s to just 38 today, more than 300,000 visitors throng the island every year to enjoy its rustic setting and nature.
While Pulau Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 in the 1950s to 1970s to just 38 today, more than 300,000 visitors throng the island every year to enjoy its rustic setting and nature.ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Consultation exercise will focus on nature, heritage, education aspects

Lovers of Pulau Ubin will be asked to give their ideas on how the popular island can be protected and enhanced.

The Government hopes that a wide range of people, from island residents to interest groups and experts, will give their views in an upcoming consultation announced in Parliament yesterday.

It wants the process to address "nature and heritage conservation, and... education and nature-based recreation on the island", said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April last year when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 households would be evicted so an "adventure park" could be built.

The Government clarified shortly after that the island will be kept in a "rustic state for as long as possible".

Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today, but more than 300,000 visitors throng the place every year.

Mr Lee told Parliament yesterday that preserving and enhancing Pulau Ubin's rustic character and natural environment while sensitively providing access for the public require help from all Singaporeans.

He noted how the National Parks Board (NParks) has worked with researchers and nature groups to study its biodiversity.

In 2003, for instance, NParks conducted a survey with the help of butterfly enthusiasts and documented more than 100 species.

The enthusiasts - who call themselves ButterflyCircle - advised NParks to plant Butterfly Hill, a knoll made out of wasteland left over from Ubin's granite quarrying industry. The knoll is home to over 130 species today.

Mr Lee, who will be leading the project and the conversation, said the ministry will build on these efforts, adding that it will "consult and engage widely". More details on the project will be announced later this year.

During the debate, Nominated MP (NMP) Faizah Jamal asked for more to be done to conserve places such as Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. She also called for a national nature conservation policy where, among other things, there is a fair distribution of nature areas across the island.

Nature groups and wildlife enthusiasts said the Pulau Ubin initiative is a step in the right direction. For years, it has lacked a central body to coordinate efforts to enhance its green and rustic character, said the Nature Society (Singapore).

"This process will allow the Government to take into consideration the multiple views on what Ubin can grow to become - like a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism site," said society vice-president Leong Kwok Peng.

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who opens her 100-year-old Malay kampung on the island a few times a month to visitors, hopes the authorities will also consider conserving the kampung homes. "The kampung vibe and the people living here are integral to the island's identity," she said.

melodyz@sph.com.sg