Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at the Launch of 5th International Mangrove, Macrobenthos and Management Conference (MMM5)

Jul 1, 2019 15:55

A very good morning to everyone. I am glad to join you this morning at the launch of the 5th International Mangrove, Macrobenthos and Management Conference. I’d like to wish all our friends from the global scientific community who have flown into Singapore for this conference a very warm welcome.

This is the first time that this conference is being held in Southeast Asia – a region that holds the largest area populated by mangroves and mangrove species diversity in the world. 

This significance is reflected in the huge interest in this conference. This year, we see entries by 321 participants from 38 countries on their research efforts on mangroves – the largest number in the history of the conference so far!

Importance of mangrove forests

Mangrove forests are acknowledged as one of the world’s most productive types of wetland. They serve as a source of food and nursery ground for numerous marine organisms and function as an excellent carbon sink.

They also store three to five times as much carbon per hectare compared to tropical forests, and prevent coastline erosion, protecting coastlines during storm surges and shielding seagrass beds and coral reefs from the effects of siltation.

It is therefore important for us to safeguard and protect as much of our mangrove forests across the world as we can.

Mangrove deforestation here in Southeast Asia accounts for most of the world’s mangrove loss. We therefore need to work closely as a community to not only stop this loss, but reverse it through effective intervention.

It is therefore timely that this conference is being held in Singapore, which is a microcosm of many of the issues we face here in Southeast Asia. We can learn from our international colleagues and see how we can improve our own management of this important ecosystem, right here in our city-state.

Conserving our mangroves through research, technology and science-based management is important. Here in Singapore, mangrove research and conservation efforts have a long history, with researchers describing new species of bivalves in Singapore since the early 1840s. Today, we have built up a good body of ecological and geographical mangrove research and conservation. 

In our conservation work, we are guided by our Nature Conservation Master Plan, which has four main pillars, such as the protection of key habitats, species recovery and habitat restoration, applied research and lastly, public support.

Our Nature Conservation Master Plan charts the course of Singapore’s biodiversity conservation efforts. This is led principally by the National Parks Board (NParks) – our national agency in charge of enhancing the greenery and biodiversity in Singapore.

We have a few remaining mangrove habitats in Singapore. This includes the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat (MM&M), located in the north-west of Singapore. This is home to 29 mangrove plant species, of which 16 are threatened. 

Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat will be conserved as a nature park to strengthen the conservation of wetland biodiversity in Singapore, and will be opened to the public in mid-2022.

This 72.8-hectare nature park is located close by the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR). The Reserve was previously aquaculture ponds, which has long since been repopulated by mangroves. It is one of our key nature reserves with an extensive mangrove forest spanning 202 hectares. The nature park will enhance our Reserve’s ecological capacity in the conservation of wetland and migratory birds.

If you stroll along SBWR and MM&M today, you may be surprised to learn that as recently as the 1980s, much of the mangroves at SBWR were cleared to create prawn farms while MM was a bustling fishing village! 

This is a key example of how science informs our city planning and conservation strategies. To ascertain the importance of Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat as a complementary habitat of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, NParks developed a predictive agent-based model for mangrove propagules. 

The model demonstrated to policymakers and city planners that the mangroves at Mandai are potentially important sources of propagules that seed downstream mangrove areas including the Wetland Reserve. 

Together, SBWR and MM&M play an important ecological role as a roosting and feeding ground for migratory birds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. 

We also have several programmes aimed at conserving and rehabilitating mangrove areas in Singapore. We launched the mangrove arboretum at Sungei Buloh in 2015 to conserve mangrove plants native to Singapore. 

The SBWR mangrove arboretum includes many mangrove trees native to Singapore that are critically endangered. It serves as a focal point for mangrove conservation, research and education. It includes about 35 native mangrove species. 

I understand that some of you will be visiting Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserves, and hope you will take the opportunity to visit the mangrove arboretum. 

Another project that is ongoing is the Coastal Protection and Restoration of Mangrove Biodiversity at Pulau Tekong. 

It involves a combination of hard and soft engineering solutions to arrest coastal erosion and restore the mangrove areas at the north-eastern coastline of the island. Between 6,000 to 8,000 mangrove saplings were planted along a 1.9 km stretch of this coastline. 

We also have a species recovery programme, which includes mangrove species. This focuses on the conservation of species that are endemic, native or critically endangered, such as the Mangrove Firefly and Crab Apple Mangrove, for example.

We aim to increase population numbers and help them survive various climate change scenarios. We will conduct research to understand their ecology, and enhance their habitat to allow them to thrive.

We continue to see amazing discoveries being made during surveys of Singapore’s mangroves. For example, Dr Patrick Grootaert, an esteemed researcher in the field of entomology from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, regularly collaborates with local biodiversity researchers. He found rich and diverse fauna in his study of mangrove insects in Singapore, such as numerous new species of mangrove long-legged flies.

Going forward, we will continue to improve our data gathering and analysis with the help of technology. This will help us to better design ecologically-sound management plans and adapt more appropriately to changing environmental conditions based on sound science.

Support of the community

We are all familiar with the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”. I would like to expand on that concept to the way that we approach nature conservation: “It takes a community to protect a forest”. 

Our efforts to protect mangroves in Singapore would not be possible without the support and involvement of the much wider community, and it is very apt that the theme of this conference is 'Mangroves and People'.

For example, the Restore Ubin Mangroves (RUM) group is a partnership between researchers, community groups and government agencies, established in 2014, which aims to restore our mangrove forests on Pulau Ubin through science-informed methods, and outreach efforts to the wider community. 

Dr Dan Friess, Associate Professor of NUS’ department of Geography, and the chair of the organising committee of this conference, is an important member of this group.

Members of RUM also include the Marine Conservation Group of the Nature Society (Singapore), the Gamefish and Aquatic Restoration Society (GARS), fish farmers around Pulau Ubin represented by Sea Angels, the Mangrove Lab (from the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore), founder of WildSingapore Ms Ria Tan, and my colleagues at NParks.

I thank all of you for your tireless efforts in protecting our precious mangroves, which can help mitigate the existential threat of climate change, and for your effort in helping us to restore them.

I understand that there will be a field trip to Pulau Ubin on Wednesday where some of the efforts of the RUM initiative will be featured.

The public also plays an important role in conservation of our natural habitats, including mangroves. Citizen scientists help to survey the biodiversity of our native ecosystems, including mangrove forests.

Over the last few years, NParks has initiated a nationwide BioBlitz programme, involving the community as citizen scientists to document biodiversity in both urbanised and nature areas. 

Volunteers also conduct outreach activities such as public walks and talks to help raise awareness about Singapore’s mangroves and other natural heritage, as well as corporate partners have supported mangrove research and habitat enhancement efforts.

All of us have a part to play in the conservation of our mangrove habitats and I hope that as the experts in this field, you will be able to inspire more people to step forward and join in this effort.


I would like to thank everyone once again for coming together as a global community to share your knowledge to advance our understanding of mangrove ecosystems and how to conserve them in light of the challenges that climate change poses to all of us. 

Thank you, and I wish all of you a fruitful conference.