Turn Pulau Ubin into ecotourism spot?

Regular visitors to Pulau Ubin hope to see as little government intervention as possible. But NMP Faizah Jamal pointed out that some structures, including abandoned kampung homes, are crumbling. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Regular visitors to Pulau Ubin hope to see as little government intervention as possible. But NMP Faizah Jamal pointed out that some structures, including abandoned kampung homes, are crumbling. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

That is one of the ideas to protect island's rustic charm

Pulau Ubin could be promoted as an ecotourism destination, a biodiversity hub or a village where Singapore residents weary of the city can go to relax.

Such were the suggestions in response to the Government's call on Monday for views on how to "sensitively" protect and enhance the isle's rustic character and natural environment.

"We will consult and engage widely. And we will not rush, because the process is as important as the outcome, and we want to hear from as many Singaporeans as possible," Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament on Monday.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, has seen its population dwindle from 2,000 in the early 1950s to just 38 today. But it still draws over 300,000 visitors every year, more than the average of 104,000 who go to isles like Kusu.

Nature groups and experts said more can be done to tell visitors how unique Pulau Ubin is. It could also be made into a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism spot.

Indeed, Pulau Ubin is unique, said nature enthusiast Ria Tan, 52, as it is one of the last few offshore islands with ecosystems no longer common in Singapore.

"It is home to an intact spectrum of habitats, where inland forests merge into mangroves, leading to mudflats, sandy shores and seagrass meadows," she said.

The isle's habitats, heavily affected by activities like granite quarrying, can do with some sprucing up though.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum suggested enhancements such as reintroducing rare plant species and those that have disappeared.

Even as individuals and groups suggested how to enhance the isle off Changi, most also stressed that its charm should be kept.

"There must be a balance between preservation and enhancement. The latter implies possible development works. If so, what sort of works will these be?" said Singapore Heritage Society honorary treasurer Yeo Kang Shua.

Regular visitors to Ubin said they hope to see as little government intervention as possible.

Said heritage enthusiast and naval architect Jerome Lim, 49: "It should not become yet another overly manicured place with large concrete structures and wide concrete pathways that is commercially run or tendered out to the highest bidder."

Cyclist Lee Hui Min, 24, a communications executive, worries that development could make Pulau Ubin look like any other park on the mainland.

But Nominated MP Faizah Jamal, who had asked on Monday for more to be done to conserve Pulau Ubin, said some wooden structures, including abandoned kampung houses on the island, are crumbling. "Not everything can be left alone," she said, suggesting that recycled materials be used to "sensitively repair or rebuild damaged structures".

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who owns a 100-year-old Malay kampung home there, said she also hopes it will be conserved for future generations of Singaporeans to see what village life is like.

While visitors worry about the loss of Ubin's rugged charms, some islanders are glad more will be done to promote it.

Mr Kit Kau Chye, 65, a boat operator and chairman of the Changi Point Ferry Association, said more visitors means more income.

"This can help support our kampung lifestyle and ensure that the kampung is here for the long run," he said.

melodyz@sph.com.sg