Urgent need for action in region to address global biodiversity crisis: Local experts

Johora singaporensis, or the Singapore freshwater crab, which has been identified for species recovery efforts.
Johora singaporensis, or the Singapore freshwater crab, which has been identified for species recovery efforts.PHOTO: DANIEL NG/NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

SINGAPORE - Despite conservation efforts within the country, 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 on Monday (May 6) that painted a grim picture of the state of ecosystems worldwide.

Up to a million species on earth are well on their way to becoming extinct due to human activities, according to the report.

Assistant Professor Janice Lee of the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University 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 on our island such as the Oriental pied hornbill and the smooth-coated otters, which are inspiring success stories for the region."

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.

In Singapore, as part of its Nature Conservation Masterplan, the National Parks Board (NParks) has in place 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 also implement species recovery plans for 50 plant and 10 animal species belonging to the rare and threatened varieties by 2023.

The statutory board monitors Singapore's biodiversity conservation efforts through the use of the Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, an internationally-recognised tool that assesses the status of biodiversity in urban areas.

Associate Professor Edward Webb of the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore said: "It's important that we think about what's happening inside Singapore in terms of how it's conserving biodiversity, but we can't lose sight of the fact that we're set within a region.


"The real tragedy is in some of the region around us, and we can't blind ourselves to that. And I think Singapore needs to engage more as a 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. According to the report, about 50 per cent of agricultural expansion that took place in the tropics between 1980 and 2000 came at the expense of intact forests.

Dr Lee said: "While we have done our best to protect primary forests in Singapore, we could value-add by protecting primary forests in the region."

She explained that natural habitats across South-east Asia were destroyed to make way for agricultural expansion, caused by the demand for agro-commodities such as coffee, cacao, rubber, and palm oil.

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 the production standards of these agro-commodities and reduce damage to ecosystems, Singapore needs to implement sustainability standards in their trade and financing.

She urged governments in the region to enforce laws for preserving natural habitats and for companies to ensure that 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.

"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 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.

"In the field, outside our wildlife parks, we support over 40 wildlife conservation projects across South-east Asia with funding and veterinary expertise."

"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.