SINGAPORE - A one-hectare grove on Pulau Ubin dedicated to planting and growing coastal trees for rejuvenating the island's coasts was launched on Saturday (Sept 11).
The new coastal arboretum - which is a little more than the size of a football field - will act as a nursery for about 500 trees, spanning around 70 native species, by the end of the year.
These trees will be later replanted at the island's coasts to help restore Pulau Ubin's coastal habitat, which experts have said has been partially lost over the years to urban development. Some of those trees will be used for habitat enhancement projects on mainland Singapore as well, including Coney Island - another hot spot for coastal trees.
To kick off planting work on the arboretum, 50 coastal trees comprising nine species will be grown there this month.
The new grove is nestled in the Ubin Living Lab, which is located south-west of the island. The laboratory is a facility for field studies and environmental education.
To launch the site on Saturday, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu planted saplings of the critically endangered seashore nutmeg - a native coastal tree previously believed to be extinct - at the nursery.
Saturday also marked Ubin Day, first held in 2002, which aims to celebrate the rich natural and cultural heritage of the biodiversity-rich island.
Mr Lee said Pulau Ubin has always been a "special place filled with rich biodiversity".
"Its many habitat types - from coastal and secondary forests to mangroves and abandoned fruit plantations - support an abundant diversity of native wildlife," he said.
"Conserving (the island's) key habitats and ecosystems through tree plantings and other restoration efforts is crucial in ensuring the long-term survival of rare native species."
Over the last century, many coastal habitats were lost when Singapore was developing, as they were prime areas for settlements and urbanisation.
The Straits Times previously reported that about 16 per cent of Singapore's coasts are mangroves and mudflats, 12 per cent are sandy beaches, and less than 1 per cent are rocky shore habitats.
Mr N. Sivasothi, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences, said: "So, the surviving coastal forests have many species of conservation significance... This nursery at Pulau Ubin is a welcome development to sustain the revival of coastal ecosystems."
He added: "The interesting thing is that (coastal trees) can be hardy roadside trees, too, so some of those plants can appear in urban areas."
Rejuvenating Pulau Ubin's coasts is just one part of the National Parks Board's (NParks) efforts to reforest patches of land on the island.
This year, 3,500 trees will be planted on 12 abandoned sites across the island that were previously used for granite mining, aquaculture, agriculture, and building settlements. Those sites include a part of the Chek Jawa Wetlands, Kekek Quarry and Ketam Mountain Bike Park.
And progressively over the years, the number of new trees at these 12 sites will grow to over 16,000, spanning more than 70 native species, said NParks in a statement. Invasive plant species will also be removed.
NParks said the trees planted in the 12 sites will help to enhance biodiversity and ecological connectivity between those green spaces and the core forests within Pulau Ubin. Ecological connectivity allows birds, insects and the island's notable fauna, such as the greater mousedeer and leopard cat, to move between key habitats.
The planting efforts on the island contribute to the nation's ultimate goal of planting more than a million trees across Singapore over the next decade. The movement, which started last year, has seen more than 241,000 new trees planted.
Ms Fu said that reforestation can play a role in combating the effects of climate change.
"We will continue to leverage technology and nature-based solutions - such as mangroves, reforestation and vertical planting - to lower our ambient temperatures and retain (rainfall) surface run-offs," she said.
Besides greening the island and making it more conducive for wildlife, NParks has not forgotten Ubin's residents and visitors.
The agency, with the help of partners and volunteers, has restored a few kampung houses and made the island more accessible for wheelchair users.
Over the past two years, four kampung houses were repaired and restored, including a bicycle rental shop and a seafood restaurant.
The restaurant, which NParks refers to as House No. 40, underwent extensive repairs. Among other fixes, its wooden floor support, corroded metal roof and deteriorated wall panels were replaced. The house was also repainted.
Pulau Ubin has 67 licensees who own kampung houses and businesses, and NParks said it is currently assessing a few more requests by home or business owners for repair work.
The agency added that it will continue to assess such requests, and assist with repair and restoration works on a goodwill basis, notably for those that may affect safety and need many resources.
Also, NParks has provided all houses with fire extinguishers, and is planning to install hydrants and hose reels.
To make Pulau Ubin accessible to wheelchair users, there will be portable ramps available that can be used to help these people into a van or boat.
For instance, youth volunteers at the island were trained to use the ramps to help a wheelchair-bound resident get onto a bumboat to travel to mainland Singapore for his hospital appointments.
On Saturday, six former Pulau Ubin residents with low mobility were taken to the island for a visit.