First national dialogue on how to protect Singapore's coastline from rising sea levels

80 participants turned up for Our Coastal Conversation, a national dialogue session organised by PUB. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Preserving fun activities were not foremost on Ms Kong Man Jing's mind when she considered how best to protect Singapore's coastline from rising sea levels.

But after the environmentalist spoke with fishing enthusiasts and sailors at Singapore's first coastal protection dialogue on Saturday morning, she realised that wanting to protect fun activities was as valid as her desire to protect natural spaces on the coastline.

Ms Kong was one of the 80 participants who turned up for Our Coastal Conversation, a national dialogue session organised by national water agency PUB at the Environment Building on Scotts Road.

The participants came from all walks of life - from ordinary Singaporeans to environmentalists and even an oceanographer.

The dialogue also comes under the Forward Singapore Steward Pillar, which aims to build consensus amongst Singaporeans on national policies.

Ms Kong, who makes nature videos on her YouTube channel Just Keep Thinking, said that while she is concerned about the effects of rising sea levels on biodiversity, she realised that there are people who are equally concerned over how coastal protection measures will impact their ability to pursue recreational activities such as fishing and sailing.

For instance, they worry over how coastal development may obstruct ports where fishing and sailing boats presently dock, which will make it difficult to get to sea.

Thus, Singapore's search for the best way to protect its shoreline would have to incorporate not only environmental perspectives but also everyday concerns, she said.

The findings from the dialogue will also contribute to PUB's study - launched in May 2021 - on how best to protect Singapore's south-eastern shoreline from sea-level rise. This includes the areas of Changi, the stretch between the East Coast area and Marina Bay, and the Greater Southern Waterfront district.

The event was attended by Minister of Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, both of whom participated in the conversations.

The participants expressed their hope that nature-based coastal protection measures would be used and that key recreational and personal property would be safeguarded, amongst other things.

While these discussions have been opportune for voicing various perspectives, oceanographer Danielle Su, 32, said that they have also been a vital space to discuss policy trade-offs.

For example, Dr Su acknowledged that the intertidal zone - the wildlife-rich area where the ocean meets the land between high and low tides - will likely disappear when sea levels rise by a metre in 2100.

As a result, these zones may not be considered essential for a future coastal protection strategy.

Citing her sentimental but doomed attachment to the intertidal zone, Dr Su said: "So what's the best way forward? Should we try to protect the coast by attempting to keep everything the same, or do we have to embrace the mindset of change?"

She added: "These places where we grew up may not be the same for future generations, and we have to learn to let them go."

In a closing remark, Mr Tan said that discussions about Singapore's national development are fraught with deeply important priorities competing for limited space.

Mr Tan said: "Is heritage important? Yes, it is. Is nature important? Biodiversity? Yes. All these things are important, but (Singapore's space) is only like that."

However, Mr Tan said that these dialogues are vital for Singaporeans to articulate their desires for the Republic's future, while learning to be pragmatic with what aspects of their dreams can be kept.

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