Address By Mr Mah Bow Tan Minister For National Development At The Launch Of The Chek Jawa Wetlands On Saturday, 7 July 2007 At 9am, Pulau Ubin

7 July 2007

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning. I am glad to be here with you this morning to enjoy the rustic charm of Pulau Ubin.

Pulau Ubin is a lovely place that evokes fond memories of the old Singapore kampong life for many of us. It is also a haven for many of our ecological treasures. The jewel of the crown is undeniably where we are now - Chek Jawa, which is home to several different ecosystems such as the mangroves, rocky shore, coral rubble and sea grass lagoon, all within a 1 square km area. Many of the flora and fauna found here are no longer common in Singapore, and are fast disappearing elsewhere in the world.

Some of you may remember the news some months back, that the record heavy rainfall in December last year significantly altered the salinity of the water in Chek Jawa, and adversely affected its marine life. I am happy to start this morning with the good news that the marine life is recovering and in much better shape now.

Singapore's Rich Natural Heritage

Singapore has a rich urban biodiversity which must not be taken for granted. While we have developed very rapidly as a city to keep up with global economic competition, we have not forgotten to set aside green spaces and nature areas to create a quality living environment. Through such efforts, we have managed to conserve a very rich biodiversity in our densely-populated urban environment. Our birdlife, for instance, is extremely rich. As pointed out by Professor Ng Soon Chye, who shared his observations in the Asian Geographic (2006): "Singapore has nearly 350 species of birds and this is about 60% of the 568 species listed in Great Britain or 75% of the 467 species found in France".

Giving us more cause for celebration is the fact that we are continuing to discover new species and re-discover species that we thought were extinct here. In an ongoing 2-year survey of our nature areas by NParks and its volunteers, the team has discovered 35 new plant and animal species that have not been previously recorded in Singapore. The team has also found 7 plant and animal species previously thought to be extinct locally. Here on Pulau Ubin, our native Oriental Pied Hornbill is establishing a healthy colony after disappearing for more than 80 years.

New Amenities At Chek Jawa

I am sure that many of us are familiar with the history of Chek Jawa. In 2001, the Government put on hold reclamation plans at Chek Jawa. Since then, more than 20,000 people have visited Chek Jawa under the managed guided walks system set up by NParks and its volunteers.

To protect the fragile ecosystems at Chek Jawa and yet allow visitors to enjoy it, the Government invested $7million to put in place a sustainable visitor management plan for Chek Jawa. We have built new amenities, such as boardwalks, a viewing tower and visitor centre, so that more people can visit this treasure trove. Now, the public can do DIY tours of Chek Jawa without severely affecting its ecosystems.

At this point, I wish to commend the Chek Jawa development team for supporting MND's effort to promote sustainability in the built environment. Environmentally friendly features were integrated in the design of the new amenities, including the use of energy efficient lights, motion sensor lights, and solar powered battery cells. The design of the visitor centre also made use of natural ventilation and daylight.

I was told that significant effort was made to ensure that the construction work was done with minimal impact on the environment. During the conversion of the former British cottage into the visitor centre, extra care was taken to protect a family of rare Malayan False Vampire bats that had made the old water tower its "home" for many years. To protect these bats, the old water tower was left untouched and a new one was constructed. A family of Pouched Tomb bats was also found roosting in the chimney of the cottage. Work near the chimney was carried out with extra care. I understand that both species of bats are still around.

For all these efforts, I am happy to note that the Chek Jawa Wetlands development was conferred the Green Mark Gold Award.

Partnership With People & Private Sectors

Government efforts aside, many committed individuals and groups have banded together to serve the worthy cause of sustaining conservation efforts. I am heartened to hear that many volunteers, who were involved in the 2001 appeal to conserve Chek Jawa, are still tirelessly co-managing the place with us today.

One group that deserves special mention is the Chek Jawa Working Group, which comprises representatives from NParks, Singapore Environment Council, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Nature Society Singapore. They have contributed valuable views and expertise on the long-term sustainable management of Chek Jawa.

Private corporations have also stepped forward to do their part in environmental stewardship. One such example is HSBC, which has been a steadfast supporter of nature conservation and outreach programmes in Pulau Ubin. They have sponsored $800,000 for various initiatives, including the setting up of the Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub, the HSBC Gallery and the interpretative signage along the new boardwalks that depict the story of Chek Jawa and its fascinating inhabitants. Beyond monetary sponsorship, HSBC's volunteers also contributed towards NParks' conservation and outreach efforts by planting some 200 trees and leading guided walks at Chek Jawa. I am heartened by their strong corporate social responsibility and hope that other organisations will also step forward.

Finally, I would like to thank all individuals who have supported us in various nature conservation and outreach programmes. Moving forward, the people-private-public sectors need to continue this close partnership to sustain our precious natural heritage. This is the only way to ensure that our future generations too can enjoy the treasures that we have today.

On this note, I wish you a pleasant day ahead. Thank you.

See also "Champagne at Chek Jawa." by N. Sivasothi. Habitatnews, 07 Jul 2007,
and the NParks Media Release, 07 Jul 2007.

Chek Jawa webpage | Habitatnews webpage