Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at the 25th Anniversary of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Oct 7, 2018 14:00

I am happy to join you today to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. We are particularly honoured to have ESM Goh Chok Tong here this morning. ESM Goh has supported our conservation efforts at Sungei Buloh from the start. In 1993, he opened Sungei Buloh as a nature park. On its 15th anniversary event in 2008, he unveiled the draft Sungei Buloh Masterplan. Sir, on behalf of the nature community, let me thank you for your support over the years. We are also very honoured today to have the pioneers of Sungei Buloh, the men who helped dream of Sungei Buloh as a haven for birds, and a haven for people to escape the city, to enjoy the outdoors, to appreciate nature. Richard Hale, Subaraj Rajathurai, Ho Hua Chew thank you very much for making all this possible, and working with us, not just in the beginning, but all these years.

Over the years, the community – as embodied by these three pioneers, has played an important role in helping us in our conservation and outreach work. Take for instance, our partners such as: Firstly, our sponsors – HSBC, SPH, Tote Board, Shell and many other organisations, as well as various individuals who have played their part in different ways. Their generous contributions help support conservation efforts and enhancement projects. Secondly, the Friends of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve community, chaired by Mr Tham Pui San. Since 2016, both he and his Friends of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve community have actively partnered NParks to organise various events and programmes for the public, including the week-long “Welcome Waders!” which starts from today. The celebration features exhibitions, talks, and workshops for participants to learn more about the present migratory season for birds. 

Indeed, the Sungei Buloh we know and love today is the result of everyone’s hard work and contributions. You just need to take a look through our new photobook, entitled “Birds of Our Wetlands”, that celebrates 25 years of the Reserve, flip through it and you will know what I mean when I say the community made Sungei Buloh possible.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is an important site for the conservation of native biodiversity. But its intrinsic value extends far beyond our borders. It is our first ASEAN Heritage park, and a major stopover for migratory shorebirds on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Unlike other birds, most shorebirds do not have bright attractive plumage or a melodious call. But what they have embodies is sheer grit and determination. Every year, they complete an amazing journey over thousands of kilometres from tundra to the warmer southern climes, and then back again.

Unfortunately, due to developments elsewhere, many rest stops along their route have been lost or have been impacted. Therefore, Sungei Buloh plays an ever more critical for the survival of these waders. So, despite our small size, and the common belief that we are an urban city only, Singapore can and should continue to serve as a safe haven for these shorebirds, and an important player in the international biodiversity scene.

In this regard, NParks has been tagging the birds to find out more about them, and how we can better play our part in international conservation. As technology develops, tagging has expanded from the use of metal rings, to include coloured flags, radio trackers, geolocators, and now, satellite transmitters. Last year, we attached transmitters to some of these birds. This has provided us with data on where they go, how fast they travel, where they nest and where they rest. Since the start of the migration season last month, these birds have been returning back to Sungei Buloh. I joined some volunteers and NParks colleagues at a shorebird ringing activity recently. From the video we will now play, you can see how they so passionately involve themselves in some of this very tough work. Some of you are amongst us, and I thank and salute you for playing this important task.
This data that you have collected is part of a science-based approach that helps drive our conservation efforts. For instance, through simultaneous surveys, and subsequently by tagging radio trackers on the migratory shorebirds at Sungei Buloh and at an expanse of mudflat just about 3km from here, we confirmed that these two locations – both Sungei Buloh and this mudflat, share an intimate ecological connection and science allows us to verify these things. The latter site is known as the “Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat”. It is at the northernmost point of the Rail Corridor, and is one of the first places I visited with the nature community when I first joined MND in 2013. The memories of that visit, the spectacular shorebirds that just flew overhead, never ever left me. The site is a rich feeding ground for our visiting shorebirds. The birds then move to Sungei Buloh when the tide rises and covers the mudflat. It has the highest diversity and abundance of shorebirds in Singapore at 21 species, with a peak count of 2,025 birds in 2012. In addition, it is home to 29 mangrove species, of which 16 are threatened. Despite being smaller than Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin, the number of true mangrove species within the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat is on par with these sites.

We have some exciting news to share today. After many rounds of consultations and negotiations, and through careful planning and discussions, we have decided to designate the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat as a Nature Park. The decision would not have been possible without the hard work put in by our nature community, and agencies such as NParks and URA – working together with our nature community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has invested their time and energy on surveys, research, and monitoring. Some of you even spent many hours wading through the mud to collect and clean marine litter. It is through your dedication that the birds that visit our shores can continue to thrive here in the future, a future that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can also enjoy.

This Nature Park will be sensitively managed by NParks. We will conduct habitat enhancement measures such as coastal clean-ups and mangrove replanting, and to measure the effectiveness of these measures, NParks will monitor the populations of the birds and mudflat fauna there. We will facilitate research and education opportunities at the Nature Park, and we will also provide opportunities for Singaporeans to experience its unique habitats first-hand without impacting the sensitivity of the ecosystem.

This is in line with our role as a City in a Garden. We are a small city with precious biodiversity surrounded by people and developments, and this requires our conservation efforts to be different from bigger countries. The way in which I’ve just described the management of the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat reflects that continued approach of conservation. It is not one where we put in laws and fences and warning signs, and keep everyone out. Rather, whilst these are sensitive biodiversity areas, we need to bring people in. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, and have an understanding of how to visit and by bringing away with them nothing but memories and photographs; bringing away a passion that Singapore is special, and that a City in a Garden is not just a garden, but a wild Singapore that we keep for generations of Singaporeans. So, we need to actively nurture a love for nature among more Singaporeans, and encourage the community to be good stewards and custodians of our rich biodiversity.

I hope that our friends and volunteers of Sungei Buloh will continue to reach out to your friends, family members, schoolmates, and colleagues. Help us to infect them with an interest in our biodiversity, so that they too develop a love for Sungei Buloh and its surrounding nature areas. In this way, I am sure that we will continue to celebrate Sungei Buloh for many more generations to come. Have a very good morning and enjoy this 25th Anniversary, as we celebrate the spirits of our pioneers. Thank you.