Saving corals

Keppel Land building homes for man and marine life

Keppel Land condo project includes effort to house corals

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Harbours and docks may seem the least likely place for a healthy marine ecosystem, yet that is exactly what developer Keppel Land hopes to achieve.
Marine life is thriving in "condominiums" - artificial reef structures made of fibreglass - in the waters around Keppel Land's waterfront condominium Corals at Keppel Bay.
Marine life is thriving in "condominiums" - artificial reef structures made of fibreglass - in the waters around Keppel Land's waterfront condominium Corals at Keppel Bay. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Marine life is thriving in "condominiums" - artificial reef structures made of fibreglass - in the waters around Keppel Land's waterfront condominium Corals at Keppel Bay.
Warmer seas hurting corals. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Marinas, docks and harbours may not sound like the ideal homes for marine creatures, but property developer Keppel Land has taken up the challenge: It wants to build homes not only for people but also for marine life.

To do this, it has embarked on a project to enhance the existing marine habitat in the waters around King's Dock, next to its upcoming waterfront condominium Corals at Keppel Bay.

Naturally-occurring hard corals that are unattached or overturned due to natural processes are first picked up from around Keppel Island and grown in a nursery. They are then transplanted onto artificial reefs at the new site in the Keppel Bay waterfront precinct.

In April, 10 underwater "condominiums" were completed. These are artificial reef structures made of fibreglass, which provide a substrate where transplanted corals are attached.

Marine biologist Brian Cabrera from consultancy DHI Water and Environment, which was appointed by Keppel Land for the project, said marine organisms can naturally be found in the area.

"But by providing more substrates, it adds complexity to the reef and encourages more marine habitat formation. These reef enhancement structures also serve as fish-aggregating devices and should improve natural coral recruitment," he said.

Mr Cabrera and his colleagues will be doing their first monitoring dive next month to document the health and growth of the transplanted corals and provide the necessary maintenance, such as cleaning sediment.

When The Straits Times joined the marine biologists for a dive on Monday, fish such as the monocle bream, orange-spotted rabbitfish, pipefish and copperband butterfly fish were seen flitting around the arms of the transplanted branching coral. Butterfly fish, in particular, are a good sign as they are usually found in healthy reef environments, said Mr Cabrera.

Mr Tan Swee Yiow, president of Keppel Land, Singapore, said: "True to its name, Corals at Keppel Bay, apart from featuring world- class waterfront homes, also provides an underwater sanctuary for marine life to thrive."

Work on the project started as early as 2014 when Keppel Land appointed DHI to helm it.

Marine biologists first collected fragments of coral measuring roughly 10cm from the waters around Keppel Island. They were then nurtured in a coral nursery for about 16 months. During this period, they grew to about five times their original size. Biologists then attached them to the fibreglass structures using marine epoxy cement.

The coral project is Keppel Land's latest initiative to protect the marine life around Keppel Island Bay.

The Marina Industries Association had last September touted the developer's Marina at Keppel Bay as Asia's first fish-friendly marina, in recognition of marina operators who work to improve fish habitats.

Among other things, boat owners are encouraged to use biodegradable washing liquids and detergents when cleaning their vessels. Fishing is also not allowed. The measures are part of Keppel's City Reef project, which aims to nurture a kaleidoscope of marine life under its pontoons. As a result, marine creatures such as jellyfish and harlequin sweetlips are thriving there.

Coral expert Chou Loke Ming, an adjunct research professor at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Tropical Marine Science Institute, said there are benefits to nurturing a healthy marine ecosystem, whether man-made or natural.

"It will help to make the water clearer by filtering pollutants from the water, and also attract more marine life and become biologically productive. People can look and enjoy the splendour of life thriving in sea."

Assistant Professor Huang Danwei from the NUS Reef Ecology Lab added: "Many marine organisms are effective indicators of water quality. A thriving marine ecosystem in a marina, for example, indicates an environment that is probably safe for recreation."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline Keppel Land building homes for man and marine life. Subscribe