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 weather.gov.sg 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)

Advertisement

One thought on “My feedback to Housing & Development Board (HDB) for Bayshore environmental study

  1. Pingback: Self-reflection on why I write feedback on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) – jimmytst editorial & photography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s