More clarity needed on how soil works for Cross Island Line affected animals in reserve: Nature groups

A jogger running along the Sime Track in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Nature groups and experts are calling for more information on how soil investigation works at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve affected native animals.

Without more transparency, it is impossible to tell if or how the animals were impacted, they said in response to a claim made by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that findings on its measures to reduce the environmental impact of soil works "were encouraging and validated the mitigation measures developed".

The tests, which involved boring holes up to 70m underground to extract soil samples, were done to explore if the train tunnel for the Cross Island Line can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve.

The LTA had put in place camera traps and done ground surveys to monitor wildlife for the first part of the tests. There is another ongoing environmental study.

The authorities are considering two alignments for the MRT line, a 4km route, half of which would be under the nature reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir, and a skirting alignment that would take a 9km route around it.

Earlier this month, LTA said that camera traps picked up the presence of animals. Its statement also included two camera trap photographs of pangolins.

On Thursday (June 28), an LTA spokesman said about 90 camera traps were deployed about three to six months before the soil works started in February last year (2017). When they ended late last year, monitoring was done for about four to six months. LTA's findings "suggested that similar animals were present in the areas before and after the works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps", she added, without elaborating on the number of such animals spotted.

The spokesman said LTA will continue to work with stakeholders "to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the soil works on fauna activities".

To reduce the impact of the works, LTA had put in place measures including reducing the number of boreholes and requiring the use of enclosures to reduce engine noise, among others.

The measures were welcomed by nature groups, but they told ST that more data, and better data analysis was required.

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesman for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, pointed out that the presence of one Sunda pangolin after the works could not prove anything, if there had been a greater population of pangolins using the area in the first place.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi noted that the soil investigation works for the Cross Island Line had been a serious intrusion into Singapore's protected nature reserve, and it was important that any statement arising from the works be substantiated.

"Right now, other than the two photographs of the pangolins, there is no scientific data to verify if the mitigation measures really worked," he said.

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