Notes from my volunteer photography assignment for Pulau Ubin Cleanup (26 November 2022)

I was privileged to participate in the Pulau Ubin cleanup event as a volunteer photographer, witnessing the commendable efforts of the organisers and other participants in helping to make the environment cleaner and more conducive for flora, fauna and humans.

On our way to Kampong Mamam beach, we saw long-tailed macaques gathering and watching us inquisitively as we prepared to start picking up litter in the forest.

These primates have been recognised by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be globally endangered early this year, due to habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade, culling, exploitation, and so on.

Despite their apparent common status in Singapore, there is still a need to ensure that they have a safe and clean environment to live in.

Some of the macaques appeared to have been conditioned to approach human visitors boldly in search of food, probably because they have been fed previously or they have learnt to pick up trash disposed indiscriminately by inconsiderate visitors on the island.

Though our efforts to clean up the environment may be seen as a band-aid solution to a deeper issue of human negligence and disregard for ecological health and sustainability, I hope that this event can also serve as a means to promote nature awareness and education for the general public.

For advisories on what to do when you see a monkey in the forest or neighbourhood, click here.


My feedback to Housing & Development Board (HDB) for Bayshore environmental study

Here is my feedback to HDB for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on Bayshore forest.

I appreciate that the EIA and Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP) have been arranged for the regenerating scrubland and secondary forest in Bayshore area, which I noted has been fully reclaimed from the sea by the 1980s and zoned for development in 2003.

Firstly, according to the executive summary page 1, the “baseline ecological surveys were conducted between 25 April and 21 July 2022”. Given the considerable size (31.4 ha) of the study area, which is about the same size as Dover forest (33 ha), and the fact that the survey was conducted outside the bird migratory season (September to March), I think that the 54 avifauna species recorded in the EIA may not be fully representative of the bird demographics that use Bayshore forest as a core habitat and/or ecological corridor or stopover between the forested areas around Sungei Serangoon water catchment area in the north and the linear forests south of East Coast Parkway (ECP).

Bayshore forest may serve as a core habitat and stopover for resident and migratory birds. For instance, the vulnerable Buffy fish owls have been spotted in the eastern side of Singapore, and it is not inconceivable that they may use Bayshore forest as a feeding ground and/or ecological corridor too. (Map adapted from URA/NParks for illustration only)

During my short recce at Bayshore area on 21 November 2022, I saw some birds resembling parakeets flying around Upper East Coast Road (though I couldn’t make out their exact species from a distance). Together with other vulnerable species such as Rusty-breasted cuckoos and Red-legged crakes as well as endangered Blue-crowned hanging parrots, Changeable hawk-eagles, Oriental magpie robins and Red junglefowl, these birds may have nesting or roosting sites within Bayshore area.

The scrubland may double up as a freshwater marsh during rainy seasons, acting as a carbon sink and a refugium for waterbirds such as the vulnerable red-legged crakes. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

If the entire forest were to be decimated for housing and road development, many of these birds would become homeless and would be forced to relocate to other forests where they have to compete with other forest-dependent birds for food and shelter.

Some of these birds may also be forced to nest or roost in roadside trees close to houses and apartments in urbanised or residential areas, such as Bedok, Siglap and so on, where they may face fierce competitions from urban-adaptive birds such as Javan mynahs, or they may be considered a nuisance by human residents, due to noise (like in the case of parakeets, as many of them were recently captured and/or culled in Choa Chu Kang, unfortunately due to their being displaced from Tengah forest as a result of deforestation and habitat loss in the vicinity).

Secondly, I noted from page 1 of the executive summary that “the Developments are located primarily on reclaimed land with an exotic-dominated secondary forest”. To me, land reclamation does not necessarily give humans the right to own the land, as it ultimately belongs to Mother Nature, to whom we owe our existence. We also owe our ability to reclaim the land partly to other countries where sand mining was carried out. As noted in an article, “instances of land erosion, community displacement, floods, or droughts in obscure parts of our Southeast Asia neighbours — all of which can be linked to Singapore’s land reclamation pursuits.”

Therefore, could we rethink our relationship with the reclaimed land of Bayshore, just like we have chosen to conserve most of the forest in Coney island which was mostly reclaimed too, and enhance the biodiversity of Gardens by the Bay which was also created on reclaimed land?

My fauna sightings include dragonflies, spiders, a snail shell and a palm civet’s poop. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Thirdly, during my recce at Bayshore forest on 21 November afternoon, I encountered many mosquitoes in the stretch of the forest between Bayshore MRT station construction site and ECP, and I had to swat at the mosquitoes that were biting my arms every few minutes.

Despite the presence of dragonflies, which are natural predators of the mosquitoes and other insects, the mosquitoes appear to proliferate in the area, most probably due to the forest ecosystem having been disturbed by the ongoing construction works in the vicinity.

A dragonfly seen in Bayshore forest. Since the profusion of mosquitoes is a sign of a disturbed ecosystem in this forest, restoring ecological health through habitat enhancement, such as improving water quality for frogs and incorporating dragonfly ponds (like the one in HDB’s Punggol Northshore), is vital to control the disease-carrying mosquito populations. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

We need healthy ecosystems, such as the relatively undisturbed mature secondary forests in Windsor nature park and Bukit Batok nature park, where frogs and dragonflies thrive, in order to curb mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively. You need not have to take my word for it, as you could visit the aforementioned forests and check for yourself, for we cannot care for what we do not know experientially. I believe that your forest experiences will tally with the observations below:

“Urbanization, habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, as well as chemically-intensive landscape management and agriculture have all led to disruptions in ecosystems. While mosquitoes can readily breed in poor-quality sites created by human disturbance, other organisms, including many of the predators that naturally control mosquitoes, require higher quality habitat. Pesticides that are used to try to control mosquitoes may actually be making matters worse as mosquitoes become resistant to the pesticides, while natural predators and other invertebrates are killed or harmed, which throws aquatic food webs out of balance.” (“Ecological mosquito management” by City of Boulder Natural Climate Solutions)

Therefore, could we apply similar ecological mosquito management, such as the one recommended in section 1.2.10 “Biodiversity-sensitive insect pest control practices” in Springleaf forest EIS report commissioned by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and also conserve and restore at least 20-40 percent of the forest to improve ecological health and support natural predators and other invertebrates such as spiders, so as to control disease-carrying mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively?

Poop of a palm civet, who plays an important role in the ecosystem as biological pest control and seed disperser for maintaining and improving the health of Singapore forests, as seen in Bayshore forest. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Fourthly, since palm civets live in Bayshore forest, as noted in the EIA report and evidenced by the presence of their poop on the forest floor, it would be good to not only ensure they have sizeable habitats to live in, but also to build drain culverts or tunnels to enable the civets and other ground-dwelling creatures, such as monitor lizards, otters and snakes, to move or escape to the wooded area across ECP for their long-term survival.

Otherwise, the civets will be forced to move to residential areas nearby where they have been sighted more often in recent years, as noted by Ms Xu Weiting, an instructor (ecology, evolution and biodiversity) at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences: “The seemingly high encounter rates could be a combination of factors, which include increased awareness of local wildlife over the years, ease of reporting sightings on social media and also clearing of forest patches, which has led to civets dispersing out into nearby areas.”

Culverts act as underpasses for animals that prefer more privacy, like the common palm civet. (Photo of NParks poster by Jimmy Tan)

Although certified wildlife handling contractors or animal management specialists will be at hand to help relocate the animals to safer grounds during the construction phase, extra care should be taken to prevent or minimise incidences of roadkill and human-wildlife conflicts as a result of the forest-dependent animals being displaced from their habitats.

This is because the animals may end up injured or dead if they are not shepherded or captured for release under safe conditions, as illustrated in a recent case of a palm civet having to be euthanised after getting burnt on a hot stove in a coffee shop during an apparently botched attempt by the contractor to capture it.

My flora sightings at Bayshore forest include fish-tail palms, bird’s nest ferns and angsana trees. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Last but not least, while certain native flora species, such as fish-tail palms and bird’s nest ferns, may be common species, they are essential for supporting native fauna, including endangered species, thus ensuring functional biodiversity and optimal ecological health in Bayshore forest. As also noted in Tengah North Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report (page 185), “it is important to recognize that both common and rare species contribute ecological functions in an ecosystem.”

Fruits of a fish-tail palm provide food for a wide variety of common and uncommon wildlife species. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

For example, the fruits of fish-tail palms, which are found growing in Bayshore forest, provide food for squirrels, palm civets and a variety of birds, including the critically endangered Oriental pied hornbills (who may use Bayshore forest as a stepping stone in the East Coast vicinity even if they are not recorded in the EIA report), who are also seed dispersers.

Bayshore forest is one of the few remaining relatively biodiverse forests in the eastern part of Singapore that are dense and sizeable enough to cool the urban heat island effect considerably in the surrounding area. According to NParks, “denser tree canopies reflect radiant heat and cool our surface and ambient temperatures through shade and evapo-transpiration, and help to mitigate the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect and climate change.” (Maps by and NParks)

In summary, given the urgency of climate emergency, threat of biodiversity loss and public health risks, may we implement or adapt the following measures?

1. Conserve at least 20-40 percent of Bayshore forest so that the densely growing trees can cool the rising urban heat island effect, mitigate floods and rising sea level along the East Coast, support forest-dependent birds and other wildlife, promote ecological health and prevent dengue outbreaks, as well as protect residents’ physical health and mental well-being.

The forest and marsh in Bayshore can function as a nature-based solution to help mitigate floods to some extent by absorbing excess water. (Map from the Straits Times, 19 August 2019)

2. Build in advance drain culverts across ECP to connect Bayshore forest and East Coast park woodland to ensure safe movements of palm civets and other animals.

3. Restore some degraded parts of the forest and create dragonfly ponds to support natural predators of mosquitoes and other pest insects, so as to prevent dengue and other disease outbreaks effectively, without resorting to harmful chemical pesticides (which inadvertently make mosquitoes more resistant).

4. Build taller buildings and redevelop brownfield sites elsewhere if need be, in order to optimise land use and ensure sustainable development, besides adopting a more sustainable economic model such as degrowth or Doughnut.

5. Implement measures to discourage short-term property investment/speculation that artificially boosts housing demand and makes it more difficult for genuine long-term home buyers (such as young couples getting married and starting a family) to buy a new Build To Order (BTO) flat, such as extending the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) from 5 years to 10 years or longer.

Over-emphasising subsidised public housing as asset investment has its drawbacks, such as inflating housing demands (mostly by property investors eager to make quick profits who sell their flats upon fulfilling the 5-year MOP), which result in oversubscribed new BTO flats in popular housing estates, and habitat loss and fragmentation for the flora and fauna wherever the forests are cleared for housing development, thus reducing our climate resilience and compromising our well-being and long-term survival. (Article by the Sunday Times, 20 November 2022)

Thank you for reading.

(Last updated on 12 December 2022)

My feedback to Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) on Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP) Land Preparation Works at Kranji Woodland – Environmental Study Report

Dear Sir/Madam,

Here is my feedback concerning the Fauna Baseline Study Report dated 5 September 2022. I noted on page 22 of the report that 206 fauna species were recorded in the Project area, with a total of 15 species of conservation signatures and two species of interest.

Kranji woodland, as seen on 19 February 2021 (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Since a total of 362 trees exceeding girths of 1 m in Kranji woodland were cut down in 2020 before NParks could study on further measures to be put in place to safeguard wildlife, public safety, public health and ecosystems, it is possible that the Project area would have been more biodiverse if part of the forest had not been prematurely cleared (which compromised the results of the environmental study report).

As also noted on page 61, though mammal species of conservation significance such as Sunda pangolin and long-tailed macaque were not recorded during the field assessment, they are identified to be likely present at the Project area.

I noted on page 10 of the report that the AFIP is established as a pilot cluster to catalyse innovation in the food- and agri-tech ecosystems, by bringing together high-tech urban indoor farming (agriculture and aquaculture), food production including alternative proteins, and associated research and development (R&D) activities.

Since AFIP developments may include indoor plant factories, aquaculture hatcheries, insect farms and innovative food manufacturing industries, I wonder how much the Project area will be deforested and concretised with cement and asphalt surfaces?

Should we at least retain 30-50% of the existing forest in Kranji woodland as part of nature-based solutions to mitigating climate change, which are highlighted by National University of Singapore (NUS) at the United Nations climate change conference COP27?

Not only a dense forest can cool the urban heat island effect up to 300+ metres, according to a research study, it can support biodiversity to ensure there are pollinators, seed dispersers and decomposers necessary for agriculture, especially permaculture or organic soil farming.

A food forest cools the microclimate and supports biodiversity, including birds and butterflies (which are pollinators) as well as frogs and dragonflies (which are natural predators of insect pests such as dengue-carrying mosquitoes). (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Although indoor high-tech farms may generate higher crop yields, an overreliance on indoor food farms could negatively impact Singapore’s future food security, as such facilities are often energy-intensive, and require imported seeds, substrates and fertilisers which are vulnerable to geopolitical forces, as compared to a regenerative, biodiverse, climate resilient food forest.

(To be continued)

Loss of ecological connectivity along Bukit Batok Nature Corridor is a serious concern, in view of Singapore’s commitment to sustainable development

Sustainable development should prioritise climate resilience, biodiversity protection and people’s well-being, not just having more housing or wider roads

Over the past decades, Singapore has witnessed a number of negative environmental impacts of rapid deforestation and urbanisation, such as floods, landslides, animal roadkill, human-wildlife conflicts and disease outbreaks – many of which are unprecedented.

One root cause of such environmental problems is capitalism, which is recognised to have generated massive wealth for some, while also devastated the planet and failed to improve human well-being at scale.

Lately, I learnt that an alternative economic model is gaining traction in today’s world, in which we are grappling with climate change, biodiversity loss, and threats to our well-being.

It is called the Doughnut economic model, conceived by Oxford University economist Kate Raworth for promoting respect for our social foundation and ecological ceiling.

The doughnut economics conceptual model. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It has been adopted by major cities, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Melbourne, and has also been proposed by Red Dot United (RDU) and Singapore youths’ 2022 SG Green Policy Paper, in the hope to address the issues of widening inequality and climate emergency.

After all, a growing GDP doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful society when the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, or when environmental degradation affects our well-being, quality of life and survival.

Those of us who are less well-off are also more vulnerable to the negative consequences of human-induced climate change, due to lack of or inadequate access to air cooling and/or healthcare services.

To date, six of the nine planetary boundaries, including climate change and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed, according to researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Disruption of ecological connectivity between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok being cleared for roadworks is regrettable

In the light of the aforementioned environmental impacts, I am deeply concerned about the clearance of a patch of secondary forest in Bukit Batok during the ongoing road-widening works, which was done without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Not only it results in a loss of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, cooling of urban heat island effect and prevention of soil erosion and landslides, it also disrupts safe movements of wildlife between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor.

Notably, the loss of about 1 ha of the forest in this area is equivalent to 483 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (or the equivalent of the annual emissions of over 150 cars), if we consider the fact that Singapore has lost 201 ha of tree cover, equivalent to 97,200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, last year.

Annual tree cover loss through deforestation in Singapore from 2001 to 2021 (Source: Global Forest Watch)

While we note from a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman that “detailed environmental studies were not needed when the project was first proposed in 2016 as the works mainly impacted the fringes of secondary forest dominated by rubber trees”, and that “the project will cater to the expected increase in traffic in the vicinity”, many things have changed since 2016.

Expected increase in traffic in the vicinity is questionable

Firstly, more people have been studying and working from home ever since the Covid-19 pandemic took place in 2020, and this trend is likely to continue as many schools and companies have learnt to be flexible in dealing with any such future pandemics.

Secondly, LTA has been promoting their vision for a car-lite Singapore since 2016, such as encouraging more people to walk, cycle, share cars or take public transport.

So, it is questionable as to whether traffic will increase in the vicinity as much as it was expected in 2016, since car drivers can choose to use greener transport modes, or travel via alternative routes, or adjust their travelling schedules to avoid any peak hour congestion where possible.

As a resident of Bukit Batok, my own observations show that the roads around Bukit Batok nature park have light traffic most of the time, and the peak hour traffic in the morning and evening seldom builds up beyond each cycle of traffic light changes at the road junction (see below videos for reference).

Another resident of Bukit Batok also noted that “the roadworks may be necessary, but it seems the road is being made unnecessarily wide, considering that the traffic jam occurs at only certain hours of the day”.

Moreover, in my feedback to LTA via One Service app in February 2022, I wrote that the Right Turn storage lane from Bukit Batok East Ave 6 to Bukit Batok East Ave 2 could be extended to accommodate more vehicles, so there was no real or urgent need to widen the road to the extent of encroaching on the existing pavements and trees.

The lack of space in the Right Turn storage lane results in a gap in the middle lane of Bukit Batok East Ave 6 when vehicles are waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Extending the storage lane can significantly ease traffic congestion during peak hours without having to widen this road. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)
The Left Turn slip road along Bukit Batok East Avenue 2 can accommodate one more lane to ease the short traffic jams during peak hours (which usually happen only on weekdays), so the trees along the edge of Toh Tuck Forest on the opposite side of the road junction need not be removed for road widening. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

While I understand from LTA that the widening of the junctions within Bukit Batok leading to Hillview and Dairy Farm is meant to enhance connectivity and support the growth in new and future residential and commercial developments in these neighbouring areas, I wonder how many people buy property just to sell them in 5-10 years upon meeting the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) to make quick profits, instead of staying long-term?

“Many of my peers who are also applying for a BTO unit or have already booked one seem to have this more dispassionate view: They believe it is a no-brainer that one should sell a BTO unit as soon as possible, while it is still relatively new, so as to reap sizable profits.”

– Ng Jui Sen “Adulting 101: My first BTO flat — a home to sink roots and build a family or a money spinner?” (TODAY, 31 July 2021)

Such a situation will invariably (and artificially) boost housing demands (whether for long-term homes or short-term investment or upgrading), and property developers will constantly need new land space or forests to clear to build more Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and condos. Is that sustainable, as compared to redeveloping previously developed or under-utilised lands (and perhaps also lengthening the MOP for new BTO flats in former forested lands to discourage people from speculating in property at the expense of the forests)?

Also, although Singapore’s population growth rate has risen from 1.3% in 2016 to 3.4% in 2022, most of the growth comes from PRs and non-citizens, including wealthy foreign investors who tend to make bulk purchases of private properties, and many investors may buy the properties to rent or sell them for quick profits instead of staying there long-term.

Thus, if we keep building on new condos in the vicinity to cater to such frivolous housing demands instead of redeveloping brownfield sites for genuine home buyers, we not only may make it more difficult for Singaporeans to find affordable public housing given the space constraints, but also unwittingly sacrifice our precious few forest habitats to widen roads mainly to cater to the rich and privileged who drive cars.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in ecologically sensitive areas should be mandatory

In recent years, the Ministry of National Development (MND) has been strengthening EIA frameworks, such as in 2020 when Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spelt out that an environmental study must be done if the development works are located close to an area of ecological significance, such as the nature reserves, nature areas, marine and coastal areas, other areas of significant biodiversity or with potential trans-boundary impact.

While LTA has done well to ensure that an EIA was done for the North-South corridor project in Sembawang woods, and for the Cross Island Line projects in Central Catchment nature reserve and the forested areas in Eng Neo Ave, Turf Club, Clementi forest, Maju forest and Windsor nature park to mitigate environmental impacts, it is regrettable that they neglect to do so for the road widening project between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor, as both nature areas have been studied and established to be highly biodiverse and ecologically sensitive.

We have seen how over the years previous development projects done in forested areas without any EIA have serious negative impacts on wildlife and human residents, such as in Punggol, Pasir Ris, Tampines and Hougang.

For example, the loss of forest habitats in Punggol and Pasir Ris have resulted in human-wildlife conflicts, resulting in injuries to unfortunate passers-by caused by the displaced wild boars, and the injured residents had to bear medical costs and possibly experienced post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time.

The loss of secondary forests, such as in Tampines bike park and in Hougang, have also contributed to flash floods during intense rain, causing vehicles to stall and resulting in inconvenience, distress and costs of damage for the drivers.

All these negative impacts on humans and the environment might have been prevented if an EIA had been conducted and there were mitigation measures (such as wildlife shepherding and retaining of sizeable forested areas to minimise the effects of habitat fragmentation and loss) in place.

As it were, the lack of an EIA for the road widening project in Bukit Batok to mitigate environmental impacts of the forest fragmentation is disappointing, as it suggests a disregard for climate change mitigation, wildlife movements, ecological connectivity, and human safety and well-being.

As colugos live on tall trees and move between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest, they may suffer chronic stress, fertility problems and change their migration routes in response to the construction noise and loss of tall trees along the road in the vicinity. Furthermore, if the forest patch next to Bukit Batok hillside nature park (which is part of Bukit Batok nature corridor) is cleared for housing development, it will further disrupt ecological connectivity and affect safe movements of wildlife. (Sources: NParks, ST Graphics, HDB, Our Singapore Facebook page)

Already, an uncommon native Sunda colugo, an arboreal forest-dependent animal that lives and glides among trees, was found to be stranded in a car park next to Block 271, Bukit Batok East Ave 4, late last month. It is likely to have been affected by the loss of mature trees between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest due to the roadworks, which suggests that the mitigation measures LTA had discussed with NParks have not worked as well as they should.

As noted by National University of Singapore (NUS) biology lecturer N. Sivasothi, “the affected forest patches are located near the intersection of the Bukit Batok and the Clementi nature corridors, which might impact on the wildlife moving between western catchment forests to the central nature reserves.”

“These nature corridors are important pathways for animals to travel between areas of high biodiversity, which help rejuvenate green fragments. If the link is broken, green fragments become cut off from ecosystem functions available in a mature forest.”

– Mr Sivasothi, “Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok cleared for roadworks” (The Straits Times, 26 October 2022)

If naturalists and nature groups had not spoken up about this issue, I wonder if LTA and National Parks Board (NParks) would have reinforced their efforts to mitigate such impacts?

Both Bukit Batok hillside park Hill 1 and 2 (which include new HDB BTO sites) are part of Bukit Batok nature corridor, as identified by NParks’ Ecological Profiling Exercise.

In addition, given the fact that an EIA is being carried out along Bukit Batok nature corridor (which Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) Hill 1 and 2 are a part of) since end 2021 and is expected to take about 15 months upon commencement, shouldn’t the respective agency or contractor allow for the proper environmental studies to be done, to ensure wildlife, flora and fauna could be properly managed, before deciding whether (and how much) to clear or conserve any part of the forest (like in the case of the erroneous clearance of part of Kranji woodlands last year)?

Wouldn’t the ongoing removal of vegetation at BBHP Hill 2 (as well as the planned deforestation for the November 2022 launch of BTO site in BBHP Hill 1) further disrupt ecological connectivity, which might also further impact the wildlife (such as the uncommon native Sunga colugos, critically endangered pangolins, forest-dependent palm civets, endangered long-tailed macaques, etc) moving between western water catchment forests (via Tengah nature way and Bukit Batok nature corridor) and the central nature reserves?

The collage of photos show soil erosion and loss of ecological connectivity in Bukit Batok nature corridor over the past couple of years. The landslide at Bukit Batok nature park in September 2021 may be seen as a consequence of our planetary boundaries, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, having been exceeded. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Early this month, at the time of writing, representatives from Singapore are attending the COP27 United Nations climate talks in Egypt – can we really present our revised climate targets on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 with a clear conscience when we continue to clear carbon-absorbing forests right in our own backyard for road widening to accommodate more vehicles (many of which are carbon-emitting)?

Similarly, how can naturalists, nature groups and the general public have trust in our governance of wild green spaces if the authorities fail to respect NParks’s Ecological Profiling Exercise in the aforementioned nature corridors?

I believe that Singapore can do better than merely coming up with promising solutions that may end up being little more than greenwashing than actually dealing with the environmental problems.

In view of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health crisis facing us, may I recommend the following solutions to prevent incidents, such as the clearance of part of a wildlife corridor, from happening again?

  1. Create or appoint an independent, non-governmental agency or organisation with regulatory teeth to ensure that there are proper checks and balances regarding environmental studies, since NParks may not have sufficient clout to enforce their own regulations when it comes to working with other government agencies, such as LTA and Housing & Development Board (HDB).
  2. Consult nature groups at the earliest possible stage of any development project involving ecologically sensitive nature areas, so as to ensure accountability and transparency of the relevant policies and mitigation measures.
  3. Adopt the degrowth or Doughnut economic model to ensure that we respect our social foundation and ecological ceiling, so that every Singaporean will lead their life with dignity, opportunity and community within the means of our environment.
  4. Increase MOP from 5 years to 10 or more years for new BTO flats (especially those that will be built in greenfield sites), so as to discourage people from buying new property purely for short-term investments and profits at the expense of the forests and forest-dependent wildlife.
  5. Avoid any further deforestation along Bukit Batok nature corridor (including BBHP Hill 1 and 2 area) and in Tengah forest, so as to maintain ecological connectivity, climate resilience and a liveable environment for humans and wildlife between Western water catchment and Central catchment nature reserve, and focus on redeveloping brownfield sites elsewhere.

P.S. To support the conservation of (the rest of) Bukit Batok Hillside Park area so as to ensure a sustainable future, click here.

To support the preservation of at least 30-50% of Tengah forest so as to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency, click here.

My Cross Island Line Phase 2 (CRL2) Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Feedback to Land Transport Authority (LTA)

Dear Sir/Madam,

It is heartening to know that “extensive engagements were made with stakeholders (including Nature Groups) to discuss measures to reduce environmental impacts during the EIS process, including the design optimisation of worksites as a method of Impact Avoidance / Elimination”, as mentioned on page 2 of the “Non-technical summary for the EIS of CRL2”.

I learnt that these measures include relocating the upcoming Maju station to protect the flora and fauna in Maju forest, and realigning the tunnels between King Albert Park station and Maju station to reduce the ecological impact on wildlife.

Even so, I am concerned to learn that “the nearly 2,000-page study found that the CRL could still have a major environmental impact on several forested areas near Eng Neo Avenue Forest, Clementi Forest and Windsor due to irreversible habitat loss.”

Several questions came to mind, which I hope LTA and other relevant agencies could address, and which I hope are not too late or inconvenient to ask, considering the fact that we are facing climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health challenges in the Anthropocene:

Firstly, when the Cross Island Line was first announced in 2013, were the plans based on any public survey to ascertain if there was sufficient demand from residents in the affected areas for MRT connectivity, in view of the controversy over the alignment of the line’s Bukit Timah stretch crossing the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and MacRitchie Reservoir?

Part of the controversy centres on whether the protection conferred on nature reserves under the Parks and Tree Act extends for the entire infinite depth of the State-owned land below the surface of the reserve.

If there was no public survey or consultation done prior to the environmental groups voicing their concerns about the encroachment of the planned MRT line in the central nature reserve, other than the initial reason given that “the line was planned to relieve congestion on the existing East West Line”, I wonder what would be the economic imperative(s) that drove the CRL plans?

For example, would the planned CRL construction be driven by the “growth-at-all costs” capitalistic economic model that Singapore has been subscribing to, which would lead to a constant need to clear existing carbon-sequestering regenerating secondary forests for more housing, transport network, and other aspects of high consumption lifestyles (such as house flipping with no intention for long-term stay or little regard for habitat loss resulting from building new flats, condos, roads, MRT stations, etc), even if there is a low population growth rate?

If so, what if we were to adapt and adopt viable alternative economic models that respect planetary boundaries and de-prioritise limitless economic growth, like that of New Zealand and doughnut economics, as recommended by Singapore youths’ Green Policy Paper 2022?

Would we still need to proceed with the development of the CRL2 line as planned, and could we also revise or postpone the development of the CRL3 and the remaining phase of Jurong Region Line (JRL), if any, indefinitely until there is a definite demand from stakeholders, including residents in the affected areas, since CRL3 and JRL lines may adversely impact more forests and wildlife, such as in the highly biodiverse Western water catchment area, in the future?

Similarly, could I request that LTA work with other agencies such as Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Housing & Development Board (HDB) to restrict any future housing developments around the new MRT stations, such as Turf City and Maju stations, to only previously developed lands because we do not want to end up with another undesirable scenario where more forests have to be sacrificed (resulting in ever-increasing habitat fragmentation and dwindling biodiversity, as well as rising urban heat island effect) like in the case of Dover forest, which is located next to Dover MRT station, whereby Dover Forest East is planned to be mostly cleared for public housing?

Global Forest Watch Singapore deforestation stats

Annual tree cover loss through deforestation in Singapore from 2001 to 2021 (Source: Global Forest Watch)

Secondly, while it is good that Singapore has revised our climate targets on achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it is worrying that Singapore has been experiencing an increase in tree loss through deforestation in the past decade. In 2021 alone, Singapore has lost 201 ha of tree cover, equivalent to 97,200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Could LTA account for the carbon emissions that will be caused by the resultant forest habitat loss from the construction of CRL2 line, such as getting the polluting companies to bear the environmental costs proportionately, whether in the form of carbon tax or equivalent for channelling the funds to help the less privileged or protect nature areas, as a necessary part of upholding climate justice?

Thirdly, page 5 of the “Non-technical summary for the EIS of CRL2 – Windsor and Eng Neo Avenue Forest” notes that species of conservation significance, such as globally and nationally critically endangered Sunda pangolin and nationally threatened near threatened Sunda colugo, inhabit the forests in the study areas.

Although there are no stations located within the section of the alignment under this EIS, I noticed that the worksites are intended for the Tunnel Boring Machine launching activities near Eng Neo Avenue Forest and for the CRL facility building at Windsor nature park.

Incidentally, in 2015, I came across a dead pangolin along Dunearn Road near Kampong Chantek (about 200-300 m from Turf City), which is likely a roadkill. Earlier this year, a pangolin was spotted at an MRT station in Bukit Timah area. These sightings suggest that pangolins are vulnerable to becoming roadkills when they happen to venture onto roads in the vicinity.

Thus, I wonder how the pangolins would be affected by the upcoming construction of Cross Island Line (CRL2) MRT station in Turf City and underground tunnels in the vicinity.

Being nocturnal animals that burrow underground, the pangolins can be hard to track and monitor for their safety, and workers who are not trained in recognising such endangered wildlife might not realise how the digging activities in the ground may result in accidental injury or even death if a pangolin (or pangolin mother and child) happens to be moving within the construction sites.

Since Eng Neo Avenue forest used to be part of the Central nature reserve before becoming severed from the main nature reserve by the construction of Pan Island Expressway (PIE) years ago, and since the pangolin population in Singapore was estimated to be only around 100 in 2021, any further encroachment on their natural habitats, including Eng Neo Avenue forest, Windsor nature park, Tengah forest, etc, must be given serious attention to ensure that the pangolins do not eventually become extinct, just like the other native wildlife that Singapore used to have, including the cream-coloured giant squirrel and forest gecko (which might have become extinct as a result of the construction of Bukit Timah Expressway that separated Bukit Timah nature reserve from Central catchment nature reserve since the 1990s).

As noted in Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore’s Rainforests, isolated populations of plants and animals could experience an erosion of their genetic diversity and experience inbreeding depression, which could lead to decreased survivorship.

Therefore, may I recommend that LTA and other relevant agencies compensate for the loss and/or disturbance of forest habitats, by building eco-link(s) across PIE to connect Eng Neo Avenue forest and Central catchment nature reserve, whether in the form of a wildlife bridge or culvert or both, so as to facilitate safe movements of pangolins, colugos, etc should they need to escape and seek refuge from future human disturbances and ground vibrations caused by the planned construction in the vicinity?

Eco-links can help facilitate safe movements of our fauna species, such as pangolins, colugos, deer and snakes, and ensure healthy genetic exchange and improved survivorship. In particular, colugos have been found impaled on a wire fence outside Swiss Club (about 200 m from Turf City) in recent years, which may testify to their perilous journeys between CCNR and Eng Neo Avenue forest. (Illustration by Jimmy Tan; not drawn to scale)

If cost is an issue, could we get corporate sponsorship from companies that wish to be part of environmental sustainability for building the eco-links?

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to receiving responses from LTA to the feedback and plans when ready.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Tan San Tek

(Last updated on 17 November 2022)