Between 1987 and 1989, Prof D H “Paddy” Murphy mapped the mangroves of Singapore with tape and compass and a team of students assistants as part of a baseline mangrove inventory for the ASEAN-Australian “Living Coastal Resources of Southeast Asia project. Many of us earned our spurs and our $13/day pay for mapping and inventorying mangrove plants. Murphy kept on mapping after the project with smaller and smaller teams and I helped out until the early 90’s, sometimes venturing back in the terretrial forest where he originally began all this work.
The insight was tremendous, as was the impact – an appreciation for every tiny speck of mangrove which had survived development.
Education and research were obvious choices to help express this appreciation, and support for conservation in a variety of ways.
A blight on all these mangrove patches even then was trash from the shore and the sea. With increasing awareness and appreciation for our lost natural heritage, willing hands are not in short supply. However, a sensitive approach is necessary as the soft mud and the fauna and flora would be heavily impacted by well-meaning but trampling feet and equipment.
So it is with tender loving care that carefully calculated numbers of volunteers have executed mangrove cleanups in Singapore. Mangrove cleanups require planning for safety and impact, coordination and training, so a lot of effort is invested in any single cleanup. Ideally those of us who revelled in the mud and had sufficient knowledge of sites were best suited to sensitively coordinate willing volunteers. We began in 1997 and in 2006 summarised 10 years of cleanups by some 2,500 volunteers with this poster – for a conference I was ironically too ill to attend.
This annual cleanup effort as part of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore continued and at an increasing number of sites mostly in the north-west where our (relatively) glorious patches of mangrove reside in the Johor Straits – Lim Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang East, Sungei Buloh East, Kranji, Kranji East, Kranji Bund and Sungei Cina. Once a year was simply not enough and seven years ago, we began National Day coastal cleanups at Lim Chu Kang mangrove and some enthusiastic Organisers took up the challenge to remove trash sensitively as a Year-Round Coastal Cleanup.
However, small mangrove patches along our southern shorelines persist, refugia from the development of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and barely eking out an existence in tiny strips. These were not forgotten, and were mapped by Murphy’s crew in the 1980’s. Having survived ruthless development, they are all the more precious on their own right and as a source of germplasm.
When our itsy-bitsy Science Centre Singapore mangrove guidebook was published in 1999, some of these maps which Murphy painstakingly prepared and which Cynthia Lee, his able assistant, inked, were nestled into its pages. I made sure to retain Cynthia’s squiggly handwriting in appreciation.
One such inclusion was the Sungei Pandan mangroves, and this is the map:
These precious patches were not forgotten. First though, the Johor Straits mangrove cleanups had to be stabilised, and capable and experienced Organisers and Site Captains recruited and trained over time. I only felt confident to turn our attention to Sungei Pandan in 2008 – and did so only at “SP2” (of D H Murphy’s nomenclature). Sungei Pandan SP2 is the second patch of mangrove on the west bank of Sungei Pandan, after the water control gates which separated freshwater from brackish water.
Seven years later, the accumulated trash from the Sungei Pandan SP2 mangrove patch has been cleared. We even use it for teaching students about mangroves now, having reduced the mosquitoe population which used to breed in the rain water collected by the trash. The Site Captains who lead the site now are experienced and there is a team of three of them now.
So it is finally time to examine the other two precious patches of mangrove on the map – SP1 and SP3. They are still alive and while minuscule, are still able to imbue me with peace and calm. It is now time for some tender loving care, to be administered by new, appreciative hands.
Surprises await as we maintain, nurture and recover habitats.
The smooth-coated otter at Sungei Pandan, Jun 2014 [Photo by Airah Awek]