The first time I paid attention to mangroves was after the 2004 tsunami, when it was reported that the clearing of mangroves into touristy beaches in Phuket and Krabi had resulted in the disaster being more catastrophic, because the mangroves could have prevented the tsunami from entering so far inland.
Since then, I have made it a point to go for mangrove tours, in Sabah as well as in Langkawi, among other places. The tours were rewarding and therapeutic, breezing in the wind in a small boat and meandering through rivers in search of wildlife.
I didn’t know there were mangroves in Singapore, since most of our swamps have been turned into industrial areas. As early as late 1960s(!), large mangrove areas in Ubin were cleared and turned into aqua-eco ponds for prawn farming. Such farming were not sustainable with the use of artificial feeds and antibotics, resulting in unhealthy water and thus poor yield. The areas were thus abandoned. A ground up initiative involving passionate volunteers, off-shore fish farm owners and the Geography department of NUS have come together to try to restore mangroves to these areas, so as to increase the biodiversity in these water, provide fishes with baby nursery, control erosion and store carbon.(Info courtesy of RUM).
I was fortunate to be invited to a private tour to learn what R.U.M does, and to learn about mangroves. There are more than two thousands species of mangroves, and a mixed community are usually found at different gradients along the banks. Mangroves are like humans, with the mother plant bearing offspring called propagules- baby plants, which drop off and grow immediately into a new plant, without the need for fruits or seeds.
Thus, restoring mangroves does not involve any planting, but it does involve much initial preparation of the site by cleaning up (too much of coastal garbage), site survey to know how much tidal water mangroves like and the appropriate elevation. When site conditions are favourable, regeneration occurs naturally,
Working through bureaucratic Singapore is difficult as we are well aware. There is the NEA, SLA, AVA and Nparks to deal with, all of which have different ideas on what kind of Ubin they want. As we walked along the island through on-going construction last Sunday, I heard many grouses – on the use of gleaming stainless steel on staircase, an eye-sore indeed in a rustic environment; the differing agendas between government agencies; the needless effort to spruce Ubin into another touristy, artificial park. I feel both sympathy and admiration for the group’s passion and enthusiasm. We definitely need more such groups to take ownership of our country and they deserve our support.
If you are interested to learn more, volunteer or take part in their monthly walks, do visit:
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