Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister of State for National Development, at the Launch of the Festival of Biodiversity 2014 on 12 July 2014, 11am
11 Jul 2014
President Tony Tan
Mr Kenneth Er
Friends of the nature community
Ladies and gentlemen
1. A very good morning to all of you. I am pleased to be here with everybody at the launch of the Festival of Biodiversity 2014. We are all extremely privileged to have with us, for the third year running, our President, to launch and grace the pinnacle event in our biodiversity calendar. Sir, we are very privileged and honoured by your presence today.
Festival of Biodiversity – A Collaboration with the Community
2. Since 2012, the National Parks Board (NParks) has been collaborating with the Biodiversity Roundtable - a partnership of nature groups and the National University of Singapore (NUS) - to hold this annual Festival. The Festival of Biodiversity is a celebration of the community’s efforts to conserve Singapore’s natural heritage. This year, almost 40 partners, including non-government organisations (NGOs), interest groups, schools, organisations and individuals, are involved in the Festival. Some of these partners have been supporting the Festival since its inception in 2012. Today, we also have students from 9 schools with us, running our children’s workshops and participating in the exhibitions. I am delighted and very proud of the time and effort put in by all of you to spread the conservation message among Singaporeans. This is a true measure of how much our natural heritage on our island city matters to you.
Biodiversity Conservation – A Constant and Conscious Choice
3. As a small country, we are always innovating to make the most of our limited land resources. Even as we intensify our urban land use, we will set aside 9% of our land for our nature reserves and parks by 2030. This is a conscious choice – one which is never easy, especially when you consider the competing uses for housing, industry, defence and transport infrastructure. We consciously do so for the benefit of all Singaporeans, because a connection to nature is a must-have, not a good-to-have.
4. In fact, Singapore has done more to conserve our natural heritage than a nation our size might be expected to do. We have a land area of slightly over 700 square kilometres. Yet on our small island, more than 10 types of ecosystems can be found. The Chek Jawa wetlands in Pulau Ubin alone has 6 different habitats. On this little red dot, we have primary and secondary forests, rivers, mangrove forests, inter-tidal mudflats and coral reefs, teeming with wildlife and thousands of different plant and animal species.
5. We have protected more than 3,300 ha (or 33 square kilometres) of our land in four nature reserves which represent our key indigenous ecosystems, like the primary lowland forest in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the freshwater swamp forest in Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the mangrove forests in Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, and the coastal hill forest in Labrador Nature Reserve. We have also designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity that will be retained for as long as possible. These places are full of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered – whether it is the sight of a spiderweb gleaming like a necklace, the smell of the fruits, flowers and damp forest soil, the sound of the crickets singing in the leaves, or the sighting of a species (such as the Straw-headed Bulbul) that is globally vulnerable and nationally endangered. Nature can awake that sense of wonder which makes the world such a marvellous place.
Community Involvement in Biodiversity Conservation
6. Besides retaining our nature reserves and nature areas, we are actively conserving and rejuvenating their flora and fauna. NParks has been replanting our forests, restoring our habitats and recovering native species such as various birds and dragonflies. Many of you in the community have been volunteering your efforts in this area, and working alongside NParks. Collectively as a society, we are contributing to the protection of our shared natural heritage.
7. More and more, the Government is involving the community to protect our biodiversity, because it belongs to all of us. One recent example is what we’re doing for Pulau Ubin. Over the years, NParks has been working with the community to preserve the thriving biodiversity on Ubin, and sensitively provide access so that the public can learn more about the richness of our biodiversity while enjoying the island. Earlier this year, I shared that we would be consulting widely on how we can further enhance its rustic charm and natural beauty. Just One-and-a-half months ago, we launched a microsite to allow everyone to submit ideas on what they would like Ubin to be. We have received good feedback, so keep the ideas coming. There is an exhibition here on The Ubin Project where you can also give ideas. I encourage all of you to pay a visit and tell us, among other things, how to enhance its natural environment and the overall visitor experience.
Sisters’ Islands Marine Park – Singapore’s First Marine Park
8. Thanks to the partnership between the Government, our nature interest groups and the community, more and more Singaporeans now know that we have a treasure trove hidden in our forests and terrestrial nature areas. Fewer, however, know that we are equally blessed in our seas, which are among some of the busiest waters in the world. For instance, we have more than 250 hard coral species in Singapore’s waters, which accounts for about a third of the world’s total. Most of these are located in waters off the Southern Islands, which are also home to colourful reef fish, giant clams, sponges and other marine organisms.
9. We have conserved significant natural habitats on land, and we will now do more, in a completely new area. We will conserve areas of rich biodiversity in our seas as well. Today, I have the pleasure of announcing that NParks will be establishing Singapore’s first marine park – the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. This new marine park will span about 40ha, around Sisters’ Islands and along the western reefs of St John’s Island and Pulau Tekukor.
10. What will we be doing to the waters around these islands? For almost a year, we have been asking our marine nature groups this important question. Together with representatives from WildSingapore, the ToddyCats, and Nature Society Singapore, we have come up with some ideas. Remembering that the charm of the Sisters’ Islands is in their undeveloped character, and that the marine environment is fragile, we think that our first marine park can serve three objectives, where the activities can be carefully managed and any new facility that is built is done so in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner.
11. First, outreach and education. The best of nature is hidden, but we will make it easier for you to find and study them. NParks is working with the marine nature groups on guided intertidal walks and dive trips where you can be awed by the variety of coral, fish and other marine life in our waters. For a start, we will be organising guided walks at Big Sister’s Island starting from next month.
12. NParks will put in place basic facilities for outreach and education activities on St. John’s Island, such as educational storyboards and classrooms where we can conduct workshops, talks and camps. The marine park should be an opportunity to teach our young the wonder of biodiversity, and give them a sense of curiosity and discovery. The park will not just be an outdoor classroom, but an underwater one as well.
13. Second, the marine park can help our conservation efforts. Maritime activities within the marine park will have to be properly managed so that it can continue to be a marine life sanctuary. It will be a place where rare and locally-endangered marine species can be carefully cultivated and restored.We will establish nurseries to conserve marine organisms such as giant clams and corals, and reintroduce them into Singapore’s waters.
14. Third, the marine park will be used for research. With our diversity of marine wildlife, the marine park has so much potential for us to learn about our tropical marine ecosystems. The research findings can contribute to NParks’ understanding on how to conserve such marine environments, and play a small part in the preservation of fragile marine ecosystems elsewhere.
15. In closing, I would like to thank each and every one of you, our community partners, who have contributed your time, effort and ideas at today’s Festival and the design of the new Sisters’ lsland Marine Park. You have played your part to protect our natural heritage, both on land and in the sea, and to generate Singaporeans’ interest in our natural endowment. With the new Sisters’ Island Marine Park, I hope that even more Singaporeans of all ages will enjoy and value our natural richness. I look forward to seeing even more of you at next year’s Festival of Biodiversity.