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Cross Island Line site investigations haven’t driven away rare animals from nature reserve, says LTA

SINGAPORE — Site investigations for the upcoming Cross Island Line (CRL) have not driven away animals such as the critically endangered Sunda Pangolin, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said in announcing “encouraging” findings from the completion of the works to examine the feasibility of two possible routes for the controversial project.

Cross Island Line site investigations haven’t driven away rare animals from nature reserve, says LTA

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) mother and juvenile spotted near Sime Trail in a photograph dated Oct 1, 2017.

SINGAPORE — Site investigations for the upcoming Cross Island Line (CRL) have not driven away animals such as the critically endangered Sunda Pangolin, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has said in announcing “encouraging” findings from the completion of the works to examine the feasibility of two possible routes for the controversial project.

After the investigations, which involved the drilling of boreholes in one of Singapore’s largest nature reserves, camera traps managed to photograph the endangered pangolin and the Lesser Mousedeer, among other animals.

These sightings validated the measures LTA had taken to reduce the impact of its works, said Dr Goh Kok Hun, the authority’s director of civil design and land, in a press release on Friday (June 8).

Conservationists welcomed the news but said they needed more data before they could fully determine the impact on wildlife in the area.

The investigations are part of a major study into two possible alignment options for the 50km CRL, which is due to be completed around 2030.

One option involves tunnelling beneath some of the most pristine ecosystems in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, home to many native plants, birds and other animals. The other option would skirt the nature reserve, but would be more expensive to build.

The first option has drawn opposition from environmentalists and conservationists, who said such a move would seriously damage the reserve and its ecosystem.

The authorities have assured that a decision would not be made without a full range of studies, which include a “robust” two-phase environmental impact assessment.

Site investigations, which took place from May 2016 to September last year, were conducted after the first phase of the environmental study.

The authorities did not previously announce the use of camera traps to monitor the impact of drilling on animals in the nature reserve, which includes the MacRitchie reservoir.

TODAY has asked the LTA about the number of camera traps deployed and where they were located in relation to the boreholes. The frequency of animal sightings before, during and after the site investigation works is also not known.

“It’s nice to confirm that the animals are there but… they’ve always been within the area. The mitigation and all the additional adjustments during the period may or may not have helped in that respect,” said Strix Wildlife Consultancy’s Subaraj Rajathurai.

Mr Subaraj, who is part of a working group of nature experts in talks with the LTA on the CRL, added: “I think the results require a lot more analysis. Nonetheless, the positive we can take out of this is (that) it’s not an empty forest.”

Ms Chloe Tan, spokesperson for the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group, said: “It is encouraging to know that animals are still present in the vicinity of the works. However, we are not able to tell if the site investigation works impacted the wildlife just based on their presence or absence.”

It is important to compare the frequency and distribution of records before and during the works, said Ms Tan, adding: “It would provide much assurance if LTA could make public the full biodiversity monitoring report.”

The CRL will be fully underground and stretch from Jurong to Changi, catering to estates such as Clementi, Bukit Timah, Ang Mo Kio and Hougang.

The second alignment option that the Government is studying will skirt around the nature reserve and serve more commuters in the area. But this option would cost S$2 billion more, and add four minutes to travel time.

The LTA did not say in its latest press release when it will decide on an alignment option. It is expected to do so after the second phase of an environmental impact assessment is completed, studied and discussed with stakeholders.

Phase Two of the assessment will study the environmental impact of constructing and operating the CRL for both routes. It is expected to be completed later this year, said the LTA.

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