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Govt unveils plans to better protect Pulau Ubin

SINGAPORE — Plans are afoot to better protect and restore Pulau Ubin’s nature and heritage spaces, with the Government announcing its first phase of initiatives yesterday.

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SINGAPORE — Plans are afoot to better protect and restore Pulau Ubin’s nature and heritage spaces, with the Government announcing its first phase of initiatives yesterday.

These plans, culled from over 2,000 ideas and suggestions gathered through the Ubin Project launched in March, include enhancing natural habitats to support recovering species of plants and animals — which will provide opportunities for volunteers and the community to be involved in research and the establishment of habitats — and setting up a centre for field studies.

Guidelines will also be developed to restore existing buildings and structures on Pulau Ubin. Given the loss of coastal habitats and vegetation due to the erosion of the island’s shoreline, the National Parks Board (NParks) will also be calling for studies to identify long-term measures to protect and restore the shoreline.

The plans were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Pulau Ubin during Ubin Day, which was organised by about 20 community groups including Team Seagrass, Nature Society (Singapore) and the Butterfly Circle to showcase the different facets of the island to the public.

The Pekan Quarry on the island is among the areas that are set to be enhanced. Floating wetlands and nesting platforms will be installed to encourage the nesting and roosting of birds such as herons. Amenities such as boardwalks will also be built for visitors, to be ready by the third quarter of next year.

NParks has also identified certain species for recovery programmes. They include an endangered mangrove tree, a terrestrial orchid and rare seagrasses. Certain bird species such as the Baya Weaver and the Red-Wattled Lapwing, as well as bats and otters have also been selected.

To encourage research and education, a new centre for field studies, education and outreach will also be built on the site of the former Celestial Resort. Mooted by a group of educators, the centre will be equipped with field study labs, classrooms and accommodation.

On the heritage front, the authorities will be partnering tertiary institutions and non-governmental organisations to identify and map the island’s past and heritage elements in a cultural mapping project, on top of the restoration guidelines.

To encourage environmentally and socially responsible behaviour while on the island, a code of conduct — the Ubin Way — will be developed by some of the Friends of Ubin Network (FUN) members. FUN, formed earlier this year, comprises naturalists, heritage experts, sports enthusiasts, researchers, residents and students, and has been active in the Ubin Project.

Speaking at Ubin Day yesterday, Mr Lee commended the collective effort involved in developing a vision for the 10.2 sq km island — about the size of Changi Airport — that would honour the past, treasure the present and shape its future.

Pointing to the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint that was launched last month, he said the initiatives for Pulau Ubin were a prime example of how every Singaporean has an important role in making the country more liveable and sustainable.

Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee, speaking to reporters, assured that the authorities would manage the number of visitors, as numbers are set to rise. About 2,000 to 3,000 people visit the island each weekend.

For areas of biodiversity that are more sensitive, the number of visitors may be restricted by limiting access only to researchers or those on guided tours. While no cap has been set on the number of visitors, Mr Desmond Lee pointed out that the area is naturally restricted by the number of boats that can ferry people to the island.

Most residents TODAY spoke to welcomed these initiatives, which they said would improve their business. Mr Tan Chee Kiang, 67, felt the new initiatives would preserve the kampung spirit of the island. Pulau Ubin is unique and should be kept the way it is instead of turning it into another Sentosa, said Mr Tan, who is the owner of a provision shop and seafood restaurant on the island.

Last year, residents of the island were alarmed to receive a notice from the authorities that led many to believe they were facing eviction to make way for development. The authorities later apologised, saying the notice could have been better worded.

While these are positive initiatives, Nature Society (Singapore) conservation committee vice-chairman Ho Hua Chew felt that to ensure these efforts do not go to waste, the island needs a “stronger protection status”.

Last month, TODAY reported that the nature group has called for Pulau Ubin to be given the same level of protection as a nature reserve. The island is currently designated a nature area, but can be developed if the need arises.

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