A short drive back
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."