A Blueprint For Blue Waters

The 2018 Singapore Blue Plan sets out recommendations for conserving biodiversity in Singapore’s marine environment.

AsianScientist (Dec. 18, 2018) – Singapore may be known as a concrete jungle, but a group of marine scientists wants to draw attention to the blue waters surrounding the ‘little red dot.’ In the third Singapore Blue Plan, launched on October 13, 2018, the group highlights the state of Singapore’s coastal environment and outlines six recommendations for preserving the rich biodiversity of the country’s shores. To find out more about the initiative, we spoke to the Blue Plan’s lead editor, Dr. Zeehan Jaafar of the National University of Singapore.

1. What is the Blue Plan and how was it developed?

Zeehan Jaafar (ZJ): The Blue Plan is a document presented to the government by the community for the conservation of marine areas in Singapore. The Singapore Blue Plan 2018 is the third time the plan has been submitted, the others being in 2001 and 2009.

Starting from October 2017, we engaged over 100 contributors, including academics, stakeholders and environmental lawyers. Based on their responses, we identified high-priority conservation sites that met one or more of the following criteria: high biodiversity, diverse habitat types and high value as national heritage.

2. What are the six new recommendations and how will they improve Singapore’s marine habitats?

ZJ: Our set of six recommendations is a multi-approach strategy towards the holistic management of marine areas through active protection of remaining areas; ongoing scientific studies that can inform management decisions; implementation of sound environmental policies; and education and public outreach.

Recommendation 1 is to establish formal management systems for marine environments with legal provision for Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs), Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), and public participation to promote greater transparency and accountability in environmental governance.

Recommendation 2 is to provide sustained funds for research initiatives and long-term monitoring programs.

Recommendation 3 is to enhance national and international legislation to protect marine biodiversity and environment.

Recommendation 4 is to improve intra- and inter-agency coordination of a public marine database through the resurrection of a lead agency, supported by scientists and senior government managers, with a broad overview on the management and use of natural marine areas and biodiversity.

Recommendation 5 is to protect remaining natural marine habitats from unnecessary biodiversity loss. It proposes three broad areas for immediate conservation priority—Pulau Semakau and adjacent islands, Pulau Satumu and adjacent Pulau Biola, and Pulau Ubin.

Recommendation 6 is to include topics on natural environment and native biodiversity into school syllabus and promote science communication.

3. How will conservation be carried out at the three areas identified for immediate conservation priority under recommendation 5?

ZJ: The Blue Plan and its contributors can only collaborate with government agencies for the implementation of the plan by providing scientific data to back these recommendations and engaging stakeholders to demonstrate the varied uses and functions of these habitats.

Marine scientists will continue their research to understand biodiversity and ecosystem processes at these sites. Stakeholders and nature groups will continue to engage the public through outreach educational activities to increase awareness.

4. How successful were the previous Singapore Blue Plans?

ZJ: I would say that the previous Blue Plans were very successful. The Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (2010 to 2015) and the gazetting of the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park are two direct outcomes of the Blue Plan 2009. Each recommendation of the Blue Plan has many parts that we hope will be equally considered. There are short, mid, and long-term goals of the Blue Plan 2018, so some of the recommendations may take a while to come to fruition.

5. While previous Blue Plans focused on coral reefs, the 2018 Plan focuses on island clusters. Could you elaborate on this shift?

ZJ: While the previous Blue Plans focused primarily on specific coral reef sites, the 2018 Blue Plan recommends three island clusters to be considered for conservation. Habitats included in these island clusters include fringing coral reefs, patch reefs, lagoons, sandbars, rocky shores, mangroves, seagrass meadows and mudflats. The reason for the shift to island clusters is to preserve the connectivity of the habitat types within these islands, allowing for more effective management of these areas through zonation for specific uses (such as no-take zones or areas for recreational diving).

6. As lead editor of the Singapore Blue Plan, what do you hope the Plan will achieve in ten years’ time?

ZJ: For me personally, restoration of ecological processes is more important than that of specific species. To achieve this, the approach towards conservation must be multi-pronged. That is why we have included legislation and science communication in the recommendations. I hope that in ten years, all stakeholders and contributors will be able to collaborate with government agencies to adopt and implement some, if not all, of the recommendations.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Ria Tan.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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