Coney Island to welcome student campers before new OBS campus opens there in 2020

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SINGAPORE - Coney Island will welcome student campers well before the new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus on the island is ready by 2020.

The Straits Times has learnt that a temporary campsite is currently being prepared there for student participants of a national outdoor adventure programme.

During a visit to Coney Island earlier in January, The Straits Times saw that a trail leading to a clearing in a vegetated area near the island's east entrance had been fenced up with an orange cordon. There were also work-in-progress signboards near the site.

In response to queries, OBS said the site will be temporarily used for camping activities under the Ministry of Education-OBS Secondary 3 programme, "as part of the progressive roll-out of activities for OBS participants on Coney Island".

It was earlier announced that OBS will be made compulsory for all Secondary 3 students from 2020 and held at a new $250 million Coney Island campus.

For the sake of the students' safety, some casuarina trees were removed in view of the strong wind season, said OBS.

But efforts were taken to protect the environment.

The campsite, for example, was chosen with the help of consultants and the National Parks Board, and is some distance away from high biodiversity areas such as mangroves, as well as from vegetation of high conservation value, said OBS.

Trees which host the nests of birds known as baya weavers were also retained.

But OBS clarified that works for the OBS campus on Coney Island have not started.

The Straits Times understands that an environmental study is being done to see how the impact of the development on the surrounding nature areas can be reduced.

Coney Island is home to at least 157 animal species, including nationally threatened ones such as the spotted wood owl and the rusty-breasted cuckoo.

National University of Singapore arborist Lahiru Wijedasa, who is not involved in the project, conceded that some trees within the temporary campsite may have had to be removed for the safety of participants.

Casuarina trees have features that enable them to withstand windy coastal conditions, but he added: "Any species, even if it grows up in windy conditions or are adapted to windy conditions, could fall under conditions beyond which they grew up with."

But Mr Lahiru said it would have been better to look at the results of the environmental impact study first before deciding whether to remove the trees.

Mr Loh Chee Hwa, co-founder of environmental and outdoor education company Better Trails, said it was encouraging to see more efforts to engage more young people in outdoor programmes.

But with the expected increase in human traffic, it was also important to preserve the landscape of Coney Island, he added.

He said: "For OBS to embark on this project to build a campus and temporary campsite, I believe a proper environmental study has been conducted and I am confident that they will manage the project in an eco way, and not the ego way."

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