Nature lovers and birdwatchers will have a new park to visit when the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat opens to the public in mid-2022.
Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee announced yesterday that the mudflat, located about 3km to the east of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, will be designated a nature park as part of efforts to strengthen the conservation of wetland biodiversity in Singapore.
The 72.8ha park will sit along two upcoming recreational routes; it will form the northernmost point of the Rail Corridor, and an eco-discovery corridor as part of the Park Connector Network's Round Island Route.
The National Parks Board (NParks), which took over the management of the mudflat this month, will provide a minimal level of amenities to minimise visitor impact to the mudflat. These could include a nature trail, bicycle racks and bird hides that will give visitors a panoramic view of migratory birds feeding at the mudflat.
Speaking at the 25th anniversary celebration of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve yesterday, Mr Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, said the reserve and mudflat serve as important resting and feeding stops for birds flying south for the winter.
Migratory shorebirds travel thousands of kilometres from as far north as the Arctic Circle to as far south as Australia and New Zealand, making stops along the way in countries such as China, Vietnam and Singapore to refuel.
But with many rest stops along their route lost or affected by developments overseas, Sungei Buloh, a major stopover, plays a "critical role for their survival", said Mr Lee.
"Despite our small size, Singapore can continue to serve as a safe haven for these shorebirds and an important player in the international biodiversity scene," he said.
Data collected by NParks shows that the reserve and mudflat share an "intimate ecological connection", and the new nature park will provide more research and education opportunities, he said.
The move to conserve the mudflat was hailed by nature groups as an important step in preserving Singapore's natural heritage.
Dr Joseph Koh, chairman of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said the nature community had lobbied for many years to have the area protected.
"I'm glad to see it's finally happened... The place is special because it is species-rich and has a few mangrove trees that are found nowhere else in Singapore," he said.
Mr N. Sivasothi, senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore's department of biological sciences, said that he felt "euphoric" to hear the announcement.
"Either side of Kranji (Reservoir) is now conserved," he said, adding that Sungei Buloh is very small on its own, but taken together with the mudflat, there is much more potential for a healthier mangrove ecosystem.
"The management layer that NParks will bring in will make a lot of difference," added Mr Sivasothi, a member of the Nature Society.
NParks' group director for conservation Adrian Loo said NParks can now take action against poaching as well as facilitate research in the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat, which is home to rare plant and wildlife species.
Dr Loo noted that the mudflat and Sungei Buloh play complementary roles - birds have been observed to roost at Sungei Buloh, and to feast on the rich feeding grounds of molluscs, crustaceans and worms on the mudflat during low tide.
Migratory birds such as the whimbrel typically begin to arrive in Singapore around September and make their return journey in April, he said.