A very good morning to everyone and thank you for joining us at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery, which was opened in 2015. I think some of you joined us for the opening.
We established the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park in 2014 because the wealth of marine biodiversity in our waters – which are some of the busiest waterways in the world, is our living, natural heritage and needs to be protected, nurtured, researched and celebrated. But because we are a biophilic City, the centre of gravity of our conservation approach cannot be to keep people away from nature. Instead, we want to instil a sense of wonder and appreciation among Singaporeans for our green and our blue areas. To this end, NParks has established dive trails and guided walks within the Marine Park.
I am therefore very happy to launch the St John’s Island Trail today. This 2.8km walk will take visitors through a variety of eco-systems on the island, including mangroves, coastal forests, and intertidal zones. Do look out for rare native species like the Great-billed Heron, colourful crustaceans, and even our Heritage Trees. If you are really lucky, as some of our nature lovers here are, you might even spot a Hawksbill Turtle or even some Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins playing off the coast!
You may also be fascinated by the history of St John’s Island. In the mid-19th century, the island was used to grow crops. Later, it became a quarantine centre, then a detention centre, and later an opium rehabilitation centre. Today, it has become a “centre” for nature lovers. But if you go along the trail you can learn more at the 15 stations along the trail, which will also take you near the houses of long-time residents of this island. They were the caretakers of the island when it was under Sentosa’s management; and with the assistance of the Singapore Land Authority, they are staying on the island after their retirement. I understand that they are happy to share their stories, so please do visit them to get a first-hand account of the island’s heritage.
I am also happy to inform you that the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery has been refurbished with new interactive exhibits. One of them is an immersive 3D dive experience along the coral reefs at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. I know not all of us dive, but by donning a Virtual Reality headset, anyone can now explore the reefs without putting on a tank and going under water. Another new feature is a 5-metre long tidal mangrove mesocosm – which we saw just outside. For the first time in Singapore, visitors can observe what happens within a habitat that is usually submerged. NParks has within the mesocosm, tried to establish a set-up that which in a way mimics that habitat, but with glass sides, you are able to see what normally happen in that environment.
We have come a very long way together since the Marine Park was first established and announced. All of you here – partners, stakeholders and friends – have contributed very greatly to this project. But we are not done yet. There is still much to do in terms of conservation and especially outreach. In this regard, I am happy to formally announce the formation of the “Friends of the Marine Park Community”. Formally because, they have already been working very hard for the last few months. This community brings together boaters, divers, dive operators, scientists, fishermen, kayakers, and educators, amongst many, to pursue the common goal of managing the Marine Park as a place for all, and in a community-based fashion.
I am therefore very happy that so many of you have already agreed to join. Please ask others to volunteer too, and add to the vibrancy and the dialogue and conversations that takes place. And to get us off to a solid start, Mr Stephen Beng, the Chairperson of the Marine Conservation Group under the Nature Society of Singapore, has agreed to become the first Chairperson for the Community. Thank you Stephen. I know that the Community will flourish under your stewardship. In fact, I understand that you and the community have already been working on several programmes: like partnering dive professionals to maintain the dive trail, and developing guidelines for kayakers who wish to enter the area. I also hear that you are already planning activities to celebrate the International Year of the Reef next year – a very exciting milestone.
I would also like to thank two more individuals for taking up leadership roles in other Friends of the Parks Communities. They are Mr Joseph Koh, Chairman of Nature Reserves Scientific Advisory Committee, who has kindly agreed to lead the “Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Community”. And Mr Tian How Ming, he is an NParks volunteer leader, who has agreed to head the “Friends of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park Community”. Thank you Joseph and How Ming for stepping forward and stepping up.
I hope that many more people will help champion our blue and green spaces. Everything that you all do, helps. No contribution is ever too small. This could be as simple as building awareness by bringing your family and friends to St John’s Island, to stepping up to form a Friends of the Park Community at a place near your home. This is a collective effort, so we can only succeed by working together.
Let me conclude by thanking everyone once again for being here to support our Marine Park. We have come a long way, ever since it was advocated many years ago through one of the International Year of the Reef and the Blue Plan, through the announcement of the Marine Park, through the opening of the Public Gallery, through the amendment of the Parks and Trees Act, to the formation of the Community, and the Community is now hard at work drafting the regulations which we hope will be embodied and accepted by all communities. So that this becomes a Park that we all want to cherish, we all want to protect, and that we all want to celebrate. Enjoy the trail today, come walk with me. Thank you.
Source: Ministry of National Development, Singapore