The third iteration of the Singapore Blue Plan was presented to Second Minister for National Development and Minister for Social and Family Development, Desmond Lee, at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on 13 October 2018.
Building on the second Singapore Blue Plan submitted in 2009 (the first Singapore Blue Plan was submitted in 2001), the Singapore Blue Plan 2018, which was drawn up by science and expert contributors as well as stakeholders, campaigns for the conservation and sustainable use of the marine ecosystems and resources in Singapore through an action plan jointly executed with government agencies and stakeholders.
The Singapore Blue Plan lists out six broad recommendations, distilled from dialogue with contributors, stakeholders and the community, for conserving coastal and marine ecosystems in an integrative and sustainable manner.
Recommendation 1: Establish formal management systems for marine environments
Marine spatial planning (MSP) is a process that brings together multiple users and stakeholders of the ocean, including energy, industry, government, conservation and recreation, to make informed and coordinated decisions on how to use marine resources sustainably. Similar to land-use planning but for marine waters, MSP usually uses maps to more comprehensively identify how and where a marine area is being used and what natural resources and habitat exists in that area.
The Singapore Blue Plan 2018 calls for a MSP regime to be formed within Singapore’s existing integrated urban coastal management framework. This is especially important for ecologically sensitive areas. This MSP regime should also have legal provisions for Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs), Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and inputs from the public so that there is greater transparency and accountability in the way we police and protect our environment and the way we conserve and promote the sustainable use of our coastal and marine environment.
The Singapore Blue Plan 2018 also calls for an EIA law matching the scope and content of international standards to be put in place. This is to ensure there is adequate protection and study of the risks of impacts on depleted, threatened or endangered species and rare and fragile ecosystems. The plan also calls for a legal framework to be set up to monitor components of coastal and marine biodiversity. These monitoring records should also be made available to the public.
Recommendation 2: Provide sustained funds for research initiatives and long-term monitoring programmes.
After the submission of the second Singapore Blue Plan in 2009, the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS) was organized by the National Parks Board and National University of Singapore from 2010 to 2015. More than 350 surveys were conducted in coastal and marine areas within the Johor and Singapore Strait from the depths of 0 to 200 metres. The survey, however, revealed that there is more diversity to document. A good example of this is the lack of knowledge on the diversity and distribution of several groups of marine organisms like copepods, flatworms and insects.
Sustained funding support is needed to regularly monitor and assess natural and artificial coastal habitats and to sustain long-term monitoring of environment parameters and marine organisms. There is currently little knowledge on the connectivity of organisms and habitats in Singapore. This knowledge is crucial to ascertaining local and regional source and sink areas — the source is a high quality habitat that on average allows a population to increase while the sink is a low quality habitat that, on its own, wouldn’t be able to support a population (The source-sink dynamic is a theoretical model used by ecologists to describe how a quality of a habitat can affect the population growth or decline of organisms). This long-term monitoring of environment parameters and marine organisms is integral to our ability to record how how marine ecosystems adapt and respond to impacts over longer time scales. It is also crucial to our ability to predict changes in the health of our marine ecosystems.
Marine sciences have already benefitted tremendously from National Reseach Foundation’s Marine Science Research and Development Programme (MSRDP) and Technical Committee for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (TCCME). However, for marine science in Singapore to remain resilient and successful, there needs to be a variety of funding sources in place, including continued support from agencies.
Recommendation 3: Enhance legislation to protect marine biodiversity and environment
There needs to be updates to current legislation and administrative practices to plug gaps in regulation and detection of offences. One example is the Wild Animals and Birds Act (“WABA”) which can be amended to include aquatic and marine animals. The Fisheries Act can also be changed to include the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea Act offences on marine pollution applicable to fishing vessels. In this way, pollution offences can be brought under the jurisdiction of the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (“AVA”). “The storage and disposal of wastes, the import of live specimens of alien species by fish farms and the indiscriminate disposal or abandonment of fish culture equipment can be regulated by the Fisheris (Fish Culture Farms) Rules and the Fisheries (Fishing Gear) Rules”.
AVA species-specific product codes should be updated to better manage the trade of endangered marine flora and fauna and regulate illegal sales. There also needs to be new legislation put in place to better regulate current and emerging threats.
Singapore should also increase our commitment to international cooperation by implementing international treaties such as the 1979 Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and its relevant Memoranda of Understanding. Other such treaties include the 2003 Protocol to the 1992 International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, the Protocol of 1996 to amend the 1976 Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims and the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea and its 2010 Protocol. And lastly the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and its 1996 Protocol.
Recommendation 4: Improve intra- and inter-agency coordination of public marine database
There needs to be streamlining of the processes and improvement of the coordination between the various agencies and researchers. This will greatly improve the management of marine areas and resources. There should be a lead agency or a coordinating organisation, supported by scientists and senior government managers, acting as a focal point or representative group with a broad overview of the management and use of natural marine areas and biodiversity. The organisation must include the principles of marine spatial planning, manage EIAs related to marine areas, coordinate scientific information and efforts and oversee public participation. The successful application of these ideas from the point of permit application to the completion of a research project will definitely be a big help in attaining our research goals.
Recommendation 5: Protect remaining natural marine habitats from unnecessary biodiversity loss
The protection of natural marine habitats must not be restricted to one great site but must be expanded to protect as many habitats as possible. This is because the results of the CMBS have revealed that the marine habitats found in Singapore, despite being small and fragmented, are each unique and house a lot of biodiversity. All pristine natural areas should ideally be protected from further development so that they can continue to serve as safe refuge for marine organisms. We are at present not able to quantify the intangible ecosystem goods and services that these habitats provide us with. The Singapore Blue Plan 2018 has prioritised three areas for immediate conservation — Pulau Semakau and its adjacent islands Pulau Hantu and Pulau Jong, Pulau Satumu and the adjacent Pulau Biola and Pulau Ubin and its intertidal and subtidal marine areas (including Tanjung Chek Jawa). All these areas should each be designated as a Marine Reserve.
Lazarus Island, St. John’s Island, Kusu island and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve should also be given elevated protection status. Lazarus Island, St. John’s Island and Kusu island are established sites for coral nurseries as their shoreline offers ideal sheltered areas for coral growth. By designating these areas as No-fishing Areas, we can bolster their rehabilitiation. and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve should also be accorded elevated protection status. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve should have its boundary lines expanded to include its adjacent mudflats as the health of these mudflats are interdependent on their adjacent mangrove systems.
Recommendation 6: Include topics on natural environment into school syllabus and promote science communication
Although Singaporeans are islanders who enjoy coastal parks, fishing and diving at the southern coral reefs, most of us are not aware of how much our lives are intertwined with the marine ecosystem and we are mostly ignorant about the ecosystem processes around these natural areas too. In addition to increasing science communication through various engagements with the public, we need to educate our students about the basic concepts in natural history in school. The syllabus of primary, secondary and pre-university levels should include topics on biodiversity and the natural environment which systematically approach larger environmental issues. It is only through education that our population will start supporting conservation and embark on environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Our success as a “Garden City” should be expanded to include the sea.
Singapore Government Pledges Support
Upon receiving the 220-page, Mr Lee has espoused the Government’s support for further funding on marine research as well as an expanded outreach and educational efforts to enable Singaporeans to better appreciate Singapore’s biodiversity.
Mr Lee announced that the government will approach the proposal laid out in the Singapore Blue Plan 2018 with the “same spirit of collaboration and openness” the government has shown towards the Blue Plan over the years. He also confirmed that the various agencies concerned will study the recommendations in close detail over the next few months and work together with the marine community to realise the common goals laid out.