reprieve for Pulau Ubin
When the URA Concept Plan of 1991 was released, amongst the most notable
issues was the reclamation of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. In the Year
'X' when the population reached 4 million, reclamation to these islands
would lead to housing for 400,000 people. An assurance was given that
the natural character of these islands would be retained for as long as
The Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) and several other civic groups composed
of trekkers, artists and the general public argued the case for conservation
of Pulau Ubin as a whole for the past 10 years. All were in agreement
of retaining the 70's like charm of the island as a weekend getaway for
stressed city-dweller with riches of culture, history and natural history.
In the meantime, fears were of "improvement works" that would turn the
island into another Sentosa and thus destroy most of its character. Changes
began in recent years: the number of island residents were reduced, squatters
forced out, roads paved and vehicles licensed. More changes were to follow,
and the charm of the island seemed to degenerate. Then, in a press release
on 20th July 2001, the URA stated that they 'have no plans to develop
Pulau Ubin' and that it was 'the intention is to leave it in its natural
state for as long as possible.' The temporary nature of this state of
affairs was emphasised, in light of limited land resources. This did not
include the coastline.
Chek Jawa - how did we miss this?
What about Chek Jawa, a rare habitat in Singapore described by the current
NSS President Dr Geh Min as a 'gift from heaven'? How did such an area
get missed by the natural history community? In debates over the past
decade, the name has not been a familiar one.
The reasons are numerous. Faced with the formidable threat of reclamation
and development, the strategy generally adopted appears to have been directed
to saving the whole island, thus losing out on specifics like Chek Jawa,
despite promoting Ubin.
Pulau Ubin was marketed as a microcosm of history, culture and natural
history. In impressing upon others the third element - the biodiversity
value of the island, there was a reasonable reliance on 'charismatic megafauna'
- the largest, most colourful and cutest animals and plants that the public
could identify with. Additionally at the time, most of the expertise of
campaigners in the principle and veteran NGO, the Nature Society (Singapore)
(NSS), lay with vertebrate animals, particularly birds and mammals.
Invertebrates remain relatively poorly identifiable to this day, for they
are the largest group with often tricky nomenclature that stumps even
an expert taxonomist. A relative lack of popular literature and their
less than appealing appearances rate them a poor second in popularity
contests with the vertebrates.
Lack of a public access to the area was a significant problem. The path
land leading to the coast was marked "private property", and most NSS
members would have respected such boundaries on Pulau Ubin. A map of Pulau
Ubin published in the society's Nature Watch magazine does not reflect
the true nature of the site. Ironically it is the resettlement of these
residents and/or "squatters who are affected by reclamation work" that
has finally allowed easy public access to Chek Jawa.
By the time the 2001 Concept Plan was announced, URA proudly announced
the retention of Pulau Ubin's character for as long as possible. But reclamation
plans were underway, and all awoke to the bittersweet discovery of the
unique marine ecosystems of Chek Jawa.
||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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