SINGAPORE - A comprehensive biodiversity survey on the Southern Islands has discovered several rare and endangered species there, including the oriental magpie-robin and spotted wood owl.
The Southern Islands Biodiversity survey looks at the terrestrial and marine habitats of more than 10 islands south of mainland Singapore.
Preliminary findings show that while some of these islands are small and have a history of human activities on them, they are still able to support rich coastal habitats that contain rare and endangered species previously unknown to the area.
These habitats range from coastal forests and mangroves to intertidal flats, subtidal reefs and shallow seafloor areas.
The National Parks Board (NParks) and the Friends of Marine Park community gave this update on Sunday (Dec 13) at the halfway mark of the two-year study, which covers the islands that make up Sisters' Islands Marine Park, well known islands such as Sentosa and Pulau Semakau, as well as smaller and lesser-known islands such as Pulau Biola and Pulau Jong.
The islands in Sisters’ Islands Marine Park and St John’s Island cluster, for instance, range from about 2.7ha to 75.1 ha in size – the equivalent of about two to 75 football fields.
Some of the islands, such as Pulau Salu and Keppel Island, have never been surveyed before.
The survey, which incorporates data from recent baseline studies carried out by NParks in recent years, began in January to facilitate better conservation efforts and safeguard the ecosystems for future generations.
Some of the nationally endangered species found include the oriental magpie-robin, which was newly recorded on Pulau Tekukor, as well as the spotted wood owl and the great-billed heron, which were recorded on Sisters' Islands.
The nationally vulnerable textile cone snail, which is highly venomous in order to quickly immobilise and kill its prey, was newly recorded on Lazarus Island this year. Once common in Singapore, cone snails are now rarely seen.
The nationally vulnerable smooth-eyed ghost crab, which can be found on the higher shores of sandy beaches, was also newly recorded on Lazarus Island.
Previously recorded at East Coast Park and Sentosa, its distribution in Singapore is not well understood as it is rarely sighted.
A number of nationally critically endangered and endangered plant species were also newly recorded on various islands within the St John's-Sisters' Islands cluster.
Some coastal plants are now rare or extinct on the mainland. For example, the locally critically endangered Seashore Nutmeg was newly recorded on Kusu and Sisters’ Islands. It can also be found on St John’s and Lazarus Islands, as well as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.
Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said studies such as the Southern Islands Biodiversity survey are essential for understanding the area and developing practical conservation strategies to protect it.
These efforts will also go towards ensuring future generations can continue to enjoy and appreciate Singapore's rich biodiversity, she added.
Moving forward, NParks will be deploying a remotely operated vehicle for seafloor surveys within areas of biodiversity interests at depths of 20m to 50m.
It will collect data via visual and acoustic mapping of the seabed through the use of side-scan and multi-beam sonars, together with photo and video footage.
These surveys will add to existing data that was collected during the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey in 2010 to 2015 and enable NParks to acquire baseline data to aid in long-term monitoring of the seafloor environment.
Such data will help NParks in coming up with strategies for its management and conservation.
In addition, Singapore has gathered records of the global movements of a critically endangered turtle species for the first time.
In a pilot earlier this year, NParks attached satellite trackers to the carapaces of two nesting hawksbill turtles that came ashore, enabling researchers to better understand the travel patterns of nesting turtles.
Based on the signals recorded so far, the turtles swam along the eastern shores of Singapore before journeying to Riau in Indonesia, and are currently in their feeding grounds off Batam.
NParks will install more of such trackers on nesting turtles during the next nesting season. The information collected from such trackers will be used for conservation management and land use planning in Singapore.
Noting that the turtles visit Singapore more frequently than originally thought, Dr Tun said: "That would give us a better understanding of the turtles' movement, and also help us in the conservation of this particular species."