NParks launches Singapore’s first turtle hatchery at Sisters’ Islands Marine Park
29 Sep 2018
The use of technology, research and community involvement will complement efforts to improve the survival rates of critically endangered native turtle species
The National Parks Board (NParks) launched Singapore’s first turtle hatchery at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park today. The hatchery is strategically located on Small Sister’s Island, a protected area zoned for conservation and research. There are two species of turtles that are native to Singapore – the Hawksbill turtle and Green sea turtle – both of which are critically endangered. Supported by HSBC’s 150th anniversary Community Fund through the Garden City Fund, the hatchery will also provide research opportunities for scientists to study local sea turtle populations. Outreach and education programmes will also be organised at the hatchery.
The turtle hatchery consists of two sections: A turtle field station and an incubation sand pit area. The turtle field station is a hub for hatchery-related activities, volunteer training, as well as curated educational and research programmes. The incubation sand pit area comprises three non-magnetic metal cages, where the turtle eggs will be kept. The cages will be partially buried in the sand and will protect the incubating eggs against predators, such as monitor lizards.
Smart technology, such as Bluetooth water level data loggers and temperature sensors, will be used to support the operations of the turtle hatchery and enable remote monitoring of various environmental conditions, with the aim of increasing hatching success.
Bluetooth water level sensors will monitor the water levels around the nests to ensure that the incubating eggs will not be negatively impacted by saltwater intrusion. Nest temperatures will also be monitored remotely to ensure that the eggs, whose viability is temperature dependent, will develop and hatch successfully.
Most of the nests that are transferred to the hatchery are at risk from human disturbance or predators like monitor lizards. The rest of the nests will be left to incubate and hatch where they are laid, and NParks works with volunteers and site owners to monitor and protect the nests from human traffic and predators. NParks also worked with the Mon Repos Turtle Centre in Queensland, Australia, as part of capacity building efforts for the new turtle hatchery.
Turtle field station at the turtle hatchery
(Photo credit: National Parks Board)
Conserving Singapore’s native turtles and other marine biodiversity
The turtle hatchery, located on Small Sister’s Island, is integral to the conservation of Singapore’s native turtles. Small Sister’s is an ideal location because it is centrally located between East Coast Park and the rest of the Southern Islands, where the majority of turtle nesting activities have been recorded since 2005.
In 2016, NParks initiated a turtle management programme to monitor and conserve Singapore’s turtle populations. Prior to the programme, only 66 turtle sightings were recorded from 2005 to 2016. These sightings included nesting turtles, underwater sightings, as well as hatchlings. Since 2017, NParks has already recorded 80 nesting-related sightings across nine locations. The increase in sightings is due to an expansion of monitoring effort with the support of trained volunteers and sightings reported by informed members of the public.
The recent nesting activities are almost exclusively by the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. This is possibly due to the abundance of sponges and live rock that can be found in Singapore. NParks has observed shallow seafloor areas with high densities of sponges which provide suitable habitats and feedings grounds for the Hawksbill turtle.
These sightings show that Singapore’s coastal areas continue to support the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle species despite urbanisation and busy waterways. The turtle hatchery will therefore help to mitigate risks to the species in urban Singapore. With only a handful of turtles from each clutch of between 100 and 150 eggs surviving till adulthood, locating the hatchery along the shores of the protected Sisters’ Islands Marine Park plays a crucial part in increasing their chances of survival.
NParks has also initiated a host of research projects in collaboration with partners from various Institutes of Higher Learning as part of efforts to conserve Singapore’s coastal and marine habitats and the biodiversity they sustain.
One such project is the new mega-marine fauna monitoring project, which uses acoustic sensors to track underwater fauna. This project, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore, offers the possibility of continuous, cost-effective observation of underwater fauna, including turtles, regardless of daylight hours available or weather constraints.
Community involvement key to biodiversity conservation
NParks recognises that the community can play an important role in marine turtle conservation. The hatchery will help to improve the capacity of committed volunteers to assist in turtle conservation work. It provides a platform to train them on how to locate and identify turtle nests, safety transfer the eggs and relocate them to the hatchery. After undergoing advanced training, these regular volunteers will be able to count the number of hatchlings, take the necessary measurements and help release the hatchlings out to sea.
NParks will continue to work closely with the Friends of the Marine Park, volunteers and various stakeholders to further expand Singapore’s marine turtle conservation programme, and in doing so, actively contribute to regional and global efforts to protect the critically endangered marine turtle species that call Singapore’s waters home.
“Economic development is underpinned by the health of the world's ecosystems and resources. Many of the world's major ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots are under strain from climate change and other local factors. It is our commitment to contribute to the health of our ecosystems and resources as well as to the long-term prosperity of the communities we serve. HSBC is pleased to support this project to promote public awareness about these concerns, and to form partnerships with other organisations to conserve biodiversity which will benefit generations to come,” said Mr Tony Lewis, Area Head, HSBC Securities Services.
The community can call the NParks helpline at 1800-471-7300 to report sightings of turtles on Singapore’s shores. Divers can upload photos of turtles’ side profiles to SGBioAtlas mobile application to help NParks monitor them. Facial scale patterns in turtles are akin to fingerprints in humans, and do not change much over time. The photos contributed will enable NParks to track the turtles’ movements and populations.
Information accurate as of 29 September 2018.