Conservationists set out Blue Plan to preserve marine landscape

The living reefs of Pulau Semakau. Protecting habitats like this is a goal. PHOTO: RIA TAN/WILDSINGAPORE

Govt will work with the marine community to realise common goals in ground-up initiative

Conservationists have drawn up an extensive new plan to preserve more of Singapore's marine landscape - from mangroves and seagrass meadows to coastal forests and coral reefs.

Responding to the ground-up initiative, the Government has said it will see how it can work with the marine community to realise common goals.

The third iteration of the Blue Plan makes six recommendations, including improved laws to protect marine environments, formalised management systems for these areas and sustained funding for long-term research and monitoring programmes.

It also advocates better coordination between agencies and researchers, further measures to protect Singapore's remaining marine habitats and the inclusion of information about such habitats in the school curriculum.

More than 100 people contributed to the latest edition of the Blue Plan, including biologists, geographers, environmental lawyers and representatives from non-governmental organisations.

The 220-page plan was presented to Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Mr Lee is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

"The amazing marine biodiversity that thrives along our shores and in our waters is something we should treasure and be proud of," Mr Lee said, noting that progress has been made since the second Blue Plan was launched in 2009.

LEARNING TO VALUE MARINE TREASURE

The amazing marine biodiversity that thrives along our shores and in our waters is something we should treasure and be proud of... You cannot protect what you don't love, and you can't love what you don't know.

SECOND MINISTER FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT DESMOND LEE, who said outreach and education efforts will be expanded to help Singaporeans better appreciate the nation's biodiversity.

 
 

"We will approach the proposals in this Blue Plan with the same spirit of collaboration and openness," he added. "The agencies will study the recommendations in detail and see how we can work with the marine community to realise some of the common goals."

Mr Lee said that apart from funding marine research, the Government will expand outreach and education efforts to help Singaporeans better appreciate the country's biodiversity. "You cannot protect what you don't love, and you can't love what you don't know," he said.

The first Blue Plan was drawn up in 2001, with the second one following eight years later. This year's instalment was led by five marine biologists, including Dr Zeehan Jaafar, a lecturer at the NUS department of biological sciences.

Dr Jaafar said that the previous iteration of the Blue Plan was much shorter and focused primarily on the protection of coral reefs.

A year after it was launched, the National Parks Board led a five-year effort to conduct the first Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey. In 2014, Sisters' Islands were designated a marine park as part of efforts to protect Singapore's coral reefs.

"But, in the past decade, there has been a shift in our research capabilities to look at other marine environments that are equally important, but not so front-and-centre as coral reefs," Dr Jaafar said. "As a result, we decided to relook some of the previous recommendations and fortify them."

One of those who worked on this year's Blue Plan was Ms Samantha Lai, 29, a PhD candidate at NUS specialising in seagrass research. She wants stronger legislation to protect the environment. "Marine habitats are part of our natural heritage," she said. "They are as much a part of our history as any building we have built, and we have so little left of it that we need to protect what there is."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 14, 2018, with the headline 'Conservationists set out Blue Plan to preserve marine landscape'. Print Edition | Subscribe