Urgent call for Singapore to help safeguard region's biodiversity

The Sunda pangolin, the only species of pangolin native to Singapore, is among critically endangered land and freshwater vertebrates in South-east Asia which are getting emergency conservation attention.
The Sunda pangolin, the only species of pangolin native to Singapore, is among critically endangered land and freshwater vertebrates in South-east Asia which are getting emergency conservation attention.PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Despite conservation efforts within Singapore, there is an urgent need to look towards the region when dealing with the global biodiversity crisis, local experts say.

They were responding to a United Nations report released yesterday that painted a grim picture of the state of ecosystems worldwide. Up to a million species are well on their way to becoming extinct due to human activities, said the report.

Assistant Professor Janice Lee of Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment said: "Singapore has come a long way in terms of nature conservation and has been very active in local conservation efforts. This has led to the recovery of some species here, like the Oriental pied hornbill and the smooth-coated otters."

However, Dr Lee stressed that Singapore needs to play an active role in safeguarding not only the country's ecosystems and biodiversity, but also the region's.

As part of its Nature Conservation Masterplan, the National Parks Board (NParks) has initiatives to conserve natural habitats and promote species recovery. NParks committed itself this year to planting more than 250,000 native trees and shrubs in the nature parks and open areas within the nature reserves over the next ten years.

It will implement recovery plans for 50 plant and 10 animal species, which are rare and threatened, by 2023.

Associate Professor Edward Webb of the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore said: "The real tragedy is in some of the regions around us. I think Singapore needs to engage more with the region and it needs to support better management of land."

In the report, habitat loss was highlighted as the No. 1 cause for species loss. It said about 50 per cent of the agricultural expansion that took place in the tropics between 1980 and 2000 came at the expense of intact forests.

Dr Lee said that natural habitats across South-east Asia were being destroyed to make way for agricultural expansion, due to the demand for agro-commodities such as coffee, cacao, rubber and palm oil.

  • Key figures from UN report

  • A global report released in Paris on Monday has painted an alarming picture of the state of ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide.

    The 1,800-page United Nations report - which drew from 15,000 scientific literature and government sources - revealed key figures outlining the harm that humans have inflicted upon plant and animal species in the last five decades.

    Up to a million species on earth are well on their way to becoming extinct due to human activities, the report said, among other dire consequences that are predicted to take place in the next few decades unless "transformative changes" are made in the way people live.

    The disappearing flora and fauna is not just a loss of nature, but will directly threaten the survival of mankind, experts warned.

    Many of the ecosystem services on which mankind depends are rendered by processes that occur in nature, such as water purification, waste breakdown and crop pollination.

    Some key figures from the report:

    • Up to one million species - out of the estimated eight million on earth - are threatened with extinction, including more than 40 per cent of amphibian species, more than a third of marine mammals and a tenth of insect species

    • 75 per cent of terrestrial environment and 40 per cent of marine environments have been severely altered by human actions

    • More than 85 per cent of wetlands present in 1700 were destroyed by 2000

    • About 60 billion tonnes of renewable and non-renewable resources are extracted annually worldwide, up almost 100 per cent since 1980

    • About 50 per cent of agricultural expansion took place at the expense of forests

    • More than 80 per cent of global wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment

    • 300 to 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other industrial wastes are dumped into the world's waters every year

    • There has been a tenfold increase in plastic pollution since 1980

    • A 100 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions since 1980 has raised average global temperatures by at least 0.7 deg C

    Vanessa Liu

She said Singapore plays a key role in the trade of agro-commodities that has been shown in studies to be a major driver of tropical deforestation.

She added that in order to increase production standards of these agro-commodities and reduce damage to ecosystems, Singapore needs to implement sustainability standards in trade and financing.

She urged governments in the region to enforce laws for preserving natural habitats and for companies to ensure their supply chains are free from deforestation.

Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Park Holdings - the parent entity of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) - said WRS recognised that Singapore was in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

He added that WRS was committed to being an "active leader" in the protection of biodiversity in Singapore and South-east Asia. He said: "We work together with the international zoological community and other key stakeholders to coordinate our species conservation efforts, through joint planning activities, internationally managed breeding programmes and collaborative field conservation projects."

WRS hosts the secretariat for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Species Action Partnership, an alliance of conservation organisations which focuses emergency conservation attention on critically endangered land and freshwater vertebrates in South-east Asia, including the Sunda pangolin, the only species of pangolin native to Singapore.

"Outside our wildlife parks, we support over 40 wildlife conservation projects across South-east Asia with funding and veterinary expertise," said Mr Barclay.

"These projects focus on species that are under threat from habitat loss, hunting and illegal wildlife trade."

Correction note: The article has been edited to reflect the correct time frame in which NParks has committed itself to planting more than 250,000 native trees and shrubs. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2019, with the headline 'Urgent call for S'pore to help safeguard region's biodiversity'. Subscribe