Resistance and Recovery: Singapore’s Heritage Biodiversity

Urban Ecology Class at Chek Jawa Wetlands. Photo Cred: Dr. Tom Schultz

Singapore is an extremely forward looking country, whether that be in industry, technology, or even environmental values. But sometimes there is a discontinuity between maintaining growth and preserving one’s natural environment. For instance, one of our stops today was to the famous Chek Jawa sand flats off the island of Palau Ubin. This site is known for it’s once great biodiversity value to the region. With sediment runoff and pollution from growing industry in Singapore and surrounding countries, Chek Jawa has now lost 70% of its biodiversity. A fate which Dr. Dan feels will last for a long time, as he believes that most of the biodiversity will not return. However, with an overwhelming number of people coming to visit Chek Jawa when they learned that its fate may be worsened by land reclamation (as in covered by an expanding land mass), the government decided to forgo burying Chek Jawa. In recent years a certain amount of species has begun to return and recover. Carpet anemones, which once covered the region, are now able to withstand the sedimentation by puffing up their bodies to slough off the excess debris. These animals are also followed by an increase in tube worms and sea cucumbers.

MEM/MBA Student Sidney and a wild boar observing each other carefully. Photo Cred: Dr. Tom Schultz

Even Palau Ubin itself, an island resistant to development off the coast of Singapore, is like a step back in time. As you move through the island, most of what you see is undeveloped land with a sparse distribution of rustic huts that fit very well into the landscape. Today, we were particularly lucky on our walk as we saw a plethora of island creatures. Wild boars quickly crossed the lane as we passed by; monkeys munched on some fruit with the rest of their troop; and we even spotted up to three Pied Hornbills, a bird once extinct across Singapore. Due to these type of creatures, and both the sentimental and environmental significance of Palau Ubin, it seems that development will be kept at bay and the biodiversity of the island will remain intact and perhaps even flourish.

A small island eatery as you enter Palau Ubin.

In the urban centers of Singapore, they still try to maintain or recreate biodiversity that may have once been lost. Our visit to the Botanical Gardens today showed us just this, as we walked past dozens of tropical plants and flowers, as well as numerous heritage trees which all have some particular significance to the island. Forty-seven of these heritage trees are within the Botanical Gardens, with some being as old as 200 years. With this significant history, and the gardens role in conservation and education it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

Various flowers at the Botanical Garden.

Singapore faces the unique challenge of balancing economic and industry growth, on a very small portion of land, while trying to take pride in the quality and functionality of the environment that surrounds them. In a time of progress, Singapore seems to be resistant to development in their natural areas of importance and recovery, in terms of allowing natural biodiversity to return or protecting its functionality. Singapore prides themselves in having not just a long lasting ecological future, but ecological heritage as well.