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Reclamation since the beginning
So what's the fuss about?

Outdoor classroom

How did we miss Chek Jawa?

Lessons learnt

Articles cited or referred to
by N. Sivasothi
photos by Alan Yeo

A short drive back in time
Uncle Chu's van jostles through an old quarry road in the darkness and past long-abandoned rubber plantations. Disembarking, we stumble through a path peppered with a well and wild boar footprints, through the ruins of an old wooden house and jetty which used to belong to the family of Uncle Chu's wife. Reaching the shore, we fan out under the starry sky over the exposed lagoon of sea grass, sand and mud flats hemmed in by sand bars, rocky shores, beaches and mangroves.

We have arrived at Chek Jawa, and in a few steps, have stepped back in time to Singapore in the 70's.

In the early hours of the cool dawn, the shoreline is bursting with crabs, worms, octopi, sand dollars, sea stars, bristle stars, sea grass, molluscs, barnacles, algae, sea anemones, sponges, sea cucumber and fish. A precious and incredible scene in 21st century Singapore, nestled away in the far reaches of the eastern end of Pulau Ubin, an island situated off the north-east of the main island.

The visitors savour what is one of the first and last visits to Chek Jawa. The coast has been scheduled for reclamation after the government's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) issued the Concept Plan of 1991. Recent concessions to the island environment of Pulau Ubin in the revised Concept Plan of 2001 have not spared the intertidal zone.

Reclamation since the beginning
Reclamation activity began with the history of modern Singapore (mangroves in the Singapore River were amongst the first to go) continuing to the present day. From the 1960's to the early 1990's, land reclamation increased the original land area of Singapore by one-tenth, altering most of the southern and north-eastern coasts and six reservoirs were formed by damming rivers draining to the north and west coasts in the early 70';s and 80's. Modern Singapore is a product of massive changes such as these.

Singapore's population density is greater than 6,000 per square kilometer, more than Hong Kong's and only exceeded by Macao and Monaco. The URA Concept Plan 2001 proposes the possible land use model for the country, and is based on a population of 5.5 million by 2040 - a 37.5% increase. Yet reclamation will only increase land area by another 15 per cent.

Faced with facts like these, is there any place in Singapore for nature areas? Few envy the URA's responsibility, so how do we rationalise this with our way of life?

Dominic Nathan discussed "when and how do we determine that there is a need to encroach into a nature area" in 1999. He suggested that "options are very much restricted by existing planning guidelines and inertia on the part of major developers in both the public and private sectors." The Ministries of Environment and Defense, he pointed out, found novel approaches (including going underground) to recover land reserved for military uses, airports and sewerage treatment plants.

Architect Tay Kheng Soon had apparently suggested utilising the space over expressways, occupying 5 per cent of the total land space. This could release 3,225 ha., which conservative calculations suggest a housing potential some 645,000 people. Significant when you realise this works out a potential capacity greater than that provided by the reclamation of both Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

He then points out that unanswered suggestions such as these lead to "nature lovers concluding that when mangroves are filled in and trees cut down, it is because the authorities have taken the easy option."

so what's the fuss about?>>
  Sivasothi, N. 2001. Chek Jawa, lost forever? Asian Geographic, 10: 12-25.
This article appeared in Asian Geographic: Journal of our Environment (Sep-Oct 01 issue)

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