Sisters' Islands to be heart of marine life conservation

An artist's impression of the boardwalk on Big Sister's Island which will provide sweeping views of the coastline.
An artist's impression of the boardwalk on Big Sister's Island which will provide sweeping views of the coastline. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

Plans include nursery for corals, turtle hatchery and facilities where people can get close to nature

From Singapore's first sea turtle hatchery to a floating pontoon with see-through panels, detailed plans to transform Sisters' Islands into the heart of the country's marine life conservation efforts were revealed yesterday.

Announcing these yesterday on St John's Island, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee highlighted how, despite covering less than 1 per cent of the world's surface, Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of hard corals, a third of the world's total.

"We may be small, but we are large in our marine richness," he said, as he highlighted the need to ramp up conservation efforts and to raise awareness among Singaporeans of the life in surrounding waters. "The marine park is meant for Singaporeans, and we hope our people will love it, grow it and take ownership of this park."

The 40ha Sisters' Islands Marine Park, first announced in 2014 and about the size of 50 football fields, comprises the two Sisters' Islands - which are a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier - surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor. Its ecosystem supports corals, anemones, seahorses, fish and other marine life.

With the help of a $500,000 donation from HSBC, a turtle hatchery will be set up on Small Sister's Island by the end of next year.

  • Big plans for the two Sisters

  • ON BIG SISTER'S ISLAND

    Early 2018

    A floating pontoon will be built adjacent to the jetty. Visitors will also get to observe marine life such as sea fans, sponges and sea anemones through viewing panels on the base of the pontoons.

    Mid-2018

    Forest trails that cut through the island will allow visitors to explore the island and go bird-watching.

    End-2018

    A boardwalk along the lagoon will provide sweeping views of the coastline. Visitors can also get up close with coastal flora and fauna.

    Intertidal pools will be built along the island's inner sea walls to create an environment similar to natural rock pools, where marine life can be viewed up close at low tide.

    ON SMALL SISTER'S ISLAND

    End-2017

    The first turtle hatchery here and an outreach facility will be built. The hatchery will be a refuge for rescued turtle eggs, where they can hatch safely.

    A coral nursery will be established to safeguard hard corals. The nursery will play an important role in the conservation of coral species, especially in view of rising sea temperatures. Corals undergo bleaching when the temperature of the water gets too high.

    ON BOTH ISLANDS

    Ongoing now

    As part of the Plant-A-Coral and Seed-A-Reef programmes, corals will be transplanted onto reef enhancement units, which are artificial structures placed within the reef to encourage coral growth.

    End-2018

    Areas will be set aside for coastal plant conservation. These will feature around 30 coastal plant species including critically endangered ones.

    The public can visit the coastal plant conservation area on Big Sister's Island. The area on Small Sister's Island will be a dedicated site for research and conservation.

The island will be a dedicated site for marine conservation and research. It will have a coral nursery where rare corals can be grown before being transplanted onto Reef Enhancement Units (REU) on the reef. Yesterday, HSBC also donated $180,000 for nine REUs under the new Seed-A-Reef programme.

Open to the public, donations of at least $20,000 will pay for an REU - an artificial scaffolding to which corals attach and grow.

To encourage Singaporeans to take ownership of the marine park on the islands, they will be able to also "sponsor" a coral for $200 in the new Plant-A-Coral initiative.

Big Sister's Island meanwhile will serve as a "gateway to the marine park" for the public, said Mr Lee.

It will have facilities where people can get close to nature, such as a floating pontoon, intertidal pools, a boardwalk and forest trails.

Most of these new facilities will be built by the end of 2018.

Ms Karenne Tun, a director at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said each sponsored coral will be grown in aquariums or a coral nursery in the sea from small fragments before being transplanted.

"We will target key species in Singapore that we feel need a bit of help, (or) those that are rare in Singapore," she said, adding that it can take six months to two years for corals to be transplanted, depending on how fast the species grows.

If these programmes are done right, they could have an "add-on effect on the natural reef", said Mr Stephen Beng, who chairs the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore).

Professor Wong Sek Man, director of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Tropical Marine Science Institute, said the upcoming plans on Sisters' Islands will help educate the young on how to protect the environment. "Kids are very curious... to know what kind of marine organisms can be found in the sea. If they can also touch them, it will be very nice," he said.

NUS first-year environmental science undergrad Lim Hong Yao, 22, who has been on a guided walk with NParks to the intertidal area on Sisters' Islands, said the zone is full of wildlife. "Everything is interesting... I've seen corals, hermit crabs, octopus and even stingrays."

•To sponsor a coral, visit www.gardencityfund.org/coral.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Sisters' Islands to be heart of marine life conservation'. Print Edition | Subscribe