Parliament: Sisters' Islands Marine Park to be given protection as public park under amended law

Parliament passed laws to designate Sisters' Islands as a public park, on Feb 7, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Marine life at the Sisters' Islands will now be better protected, after Parliament passed laws on Tuesday (Feb 7) to designate the area as a public park.

This means it will be an offence to fish, collect corals, or moor boats within the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, without the approval of the National Parks Board (NParks).

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said during the debate on the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill: "It is amazing that our waters, which lie within some of the busiest commercial sea lanes in the world, are home to over a third of the world's total coral species. So protecting the reefs at the Sisters' Island Marine Park is crucial to our coral conservation efforts."

The Sisters' Islands Marine Park, a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier, is Singapore's only marine park. It is the size of 50 football fields and comprises the two Sisters' Islands, the surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

The terrestrial areas of the islands are already protected under the law, and the latest change makes clear that the marine and foreshore areas too are considered a type of "public park" to be safeguarded.

The move received support from all nine MPs who spoke on it, with many welcoming the preservation of Singapore's natural heritage.

Mr Lee said NParks will make new rules specific to marine parks in due course, such as imposing restrictions on diving, the movement of vessels, and the dropping of anchors.

"As we are managing a marine park for the first time, we think it will be better for NParks to have the flexibility to enact subsidiary legislation governing marine parks," he said adding that this will be done in consultation with the marine conservation community and stakeholders including recreational fishermen and boat operators.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if other areas were being considered for marine parks.

To this, Mr Lee said his ministry would work with nature groups, and use science and technology to determine if other areas should be designated as marine parks.

The Sister's Islands site was chosen based on the richness of species and habitats there, as well as its importance as a source of coral larvae he added.Scientists had found that the reefs in the marine park were Singapore's "mother reef" of sorts.

Other amendments to the Act had to do with the protection of Singapore's nature reserves.

One of them makes it an offence for people to release animals into water bodies outside nature reserves, if there is cause to believe that the animals might end up in the reserves. First-time offenders could be fined up to $50,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

Previously, the law only restricted the release of animals in a nature reserve.

Mr Lee said this is meant to prevent the introduction of non-native species which can upset balance of the natural ecosystem and harm native species.

He cited the example of the Asian arowana, an aquarium fish that has made its way into sensitive freshwater habitats here after being released by people into water bodies. "The arowanas gorge themselves on our highly threatened native fish and crustacean species," he said.

Another update to the law deals with the maintenance of urban greenery. NParks officers will now have the power to enter private premises to check on the condition of trees and plants to safeguard public safety.

If the trees or plants found within private property pose a danger to people, owners will be issued maintenance notices to carry out pruning or engage an arborist to conduct detailed inspections, for instance.

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