As sea levels rise, Singapore prepares to stem the tide

With climate change will come rising sea levels, and while Singapore has taken steps to brace itself against the consequences, some experts say more can be done.

Sea levels are projected to rise between 0.25m and 0.76m towards the end of the century, according to Singapore’s Climate Action Plan published in 2016 by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS).

As a low-lying island, the rise in sea level poses the most immediate climate change threat to Singapore, it said. Much of the country lies only 15m above the mean sea level, with about 30 per cent of the island less than 5m above the mean sea level.

So the authorities have been preparing early to safeguard Singapore.

In 2010, the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) carried out shoreline restoration works to stabilise a section of the beach at East Coast Park. This consisted of large sand-filled bags, laid several metres into the ground to be level with the low tide, helping to reduce sand erosion.

In 2011, the minimum land reclamation level in Singapore was raised from 3m to 4m above the mean sea level.

And last year, Singapore raised the coastal Nicoll Drive in Changi by up to 0.8m.

A 1km stretch of Nicoll Drive, next to Changi Beach, will be elevated by 80cm to prepare for rising sea levels due to climate change. PHOTO: ST FILE

 

The BCA is now conducting the Coastal Adaptation Study (CAS), which aims to safeguard the country’s long term coastal protection needs, and is expected to be completed by end 2017.

Today, over 70 per cent of Singapore’s coastline is protected with hard structures such as seawalls and rock slopes. While lauding the efforts, experts have pointed out various ways in which these can be boosted.

Visiting associate professor at the University of Adelaide Wong Poh Poh, who also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, believes that another approach which could help is the use of amphibious architecture, which he points out is cheaper than raising land or building sea walls. Such buildings stay on the ground during dry times. But when water comes, they float on the surface, while their foundations anchor them to the ground.

He gave the example of amphibious homes in Maasbommel, the Netherlands, which have concrete barges anchoring light timber-frame construction on top.

Prof Wong also feels that Singapore should incorporate more natural methods using mangroves to protect coastlines. He stressed the importance of mangroves which help to dissipate waves and trap sediment, potentially serving as a flexible form of coastal defence while preventing erosion.

An Indonesian boy plants a mangrove at Ujong Pancu beach in Aceh Besar, Aceh province on April 22, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
“Utilising mangroves is not only less costly, if the process is done carefully, they are still able to be effective in protecting shorelines to keep up with rising sea levels, which hard methods such as sea walls are not able to adapt to,” he said.Assistant Professor Dan Friess, a mangrove expert at the NUS Department of Geography, explained: “Mangrove restoration isn’t new in Singapore, with examples on Pulau Semakau and Pulau Tekong, and steps are currently underway to assess the potential for restoration on Pulau Ubin too.”

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the NUS Department of Geography pointed out that not many other countries have “similar constraints” like Singapore in terms of preparing for climate change – given its unique geographical circumstances as a low-latitude island city-state.

More research is needed to look at the impact of climate change on various parts of the urban system, noted Ms Helena Hulsman, associate director of Singapore operations at Deltares, which jointly undertakes applied research in water, subsurface and climate change with NUS under the knowledge alliance NUSDeltares.

Ms Hulsman suggested looking into coastal protection solutions through “building with nature”, giving examples of successful pilot studies of ecologically optimised coastal protection solutions in the Netherlands, using natural processes to increase wave dampening, reduce erosion and enhance soil stability.

Dr Aron Meltzner of Nanyang Technological University’s Earth Observatory of Singapore said there are overseas examples that Singapore can learn from. These include the Maeslant storm surge barrier in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, which augments a system of levees and dikes already in place, and the Thames Barrier, which is a movable flood barrier in the River Thames east of Central London.

A sailing ship travels past the Thames Barrier on its way upriver in London, Britain. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

There were regional fluctuations in sea levels long ago not due to global warming, and that could happen again in the future, exacerbating the effects of sea-level rise, said Dr Meltzner.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the NUS Department of Geography said in order to truly combat the problem of rising sea levels, more can also be done to “address the root cause of climate change” by relying more on non-fossil fuel energy sources such as solar energy or hydroelectric energy.

Ms Ria Tan, a nature enthusiast who runs the wildsingapore.com website, believes that the public and the Government need to have more conversations about these issues and how to solve them.

“I feel that more engagement has to be done in the face of rising sea levels as it is also a pressing issue that Singapore faces. More discussions and attention in this area can better allow agencies to understand the concerns of citizens and educate them on the issue, just like how the issue of water is heavily discussed,” said Ms Tan.

Prof Wong agrees that more open discussions have to be held by the Government with various groups within societies such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens. He also feels that more people have to be trained to gain an expertise in climate change adaptations.

He said: “There is a lot more work to do if we truly want to combat rising sea levels and climate change.”

Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/

Hurricane Matthew’s Aftermath

A week after Hurricane Matthew (Oct 2016) hit Haiti, the death toll had climbed to 1,000 people, and United Nations agencies struggled to bring aid to devastated communities. The scope of the destruction on the Caribbean island nation is so dramatic it can be seen from space.

nanfort_oli_2016286.gif

One of the most obvious changes is vegetation loss – this includes the loss of farmland that Haitian’s require for food (many farmers are subsistence farmers)

Another obvious change: the amount of sediment coursing out of the rivers and streams. This is seen from the visible change of the waters in the bay seen above, as exposed soil is washed to rivers and eventually the sea without the protection of roots of vegetation.

Source: http://landsat.visibleearth.nasa.gov/

 

Threats to Singapore Coast – oil Spills

Oil spills cause not only enviromental damages to coastlines but also economic impacts and potentially threats to food security especially in coast countries like Singapore, where fish farms are found out at sea.

A day after two ships collided in Johor waters, oil patches were found along coastlines in the north-eastern part of Singapore, while an 800m stretch of Changi Beach was closed on Thursday (Jan 5) to clean up the oil spill.

A second fish farm in the affected area also reported fish deaths from the spill, although the authorities said most farms were spared and impact on supply was “minimal”. Nonetheless, some farms have been told to suspend sales, until food safety tests are completed.

When TODAY visited Mr Timothy Ng from 2 Jays Pte Ltd at his farm off the north-western coast of Pulau Ubin, cleaning personnel could be seen working to remove swathes of black oil.

This was “the largest such incident” to hit his 12-year-old farm, which is among those hit with a suspension. A visibly-disappointed Mr Ng said he could not do much with his fish stock now, except to put aerators into the fish cages to pump in fresh air.

“We cannot feed any fish now, since the food will be contaminated, so for now, we will just have to wait and see,” said Mr Ng, adding that “no more than 10kg” of fish had already died due to the oil spill.

His farm has around 10 tonnes of fish and seafood, and four employees.

Source: Todayonline

 

Shrimp farming in Honduras

honduras_l7_1999319.jpg

While shrimp aquaculture has provided economic options in developing Latin American countries, the industry creates some environmental and social problems. Mangrove destruction degrades water quality, reduces habitat for fish (pitting shrimp farmers against those whose livelihood depends on fishing), increases the risk of inland flooding, and displaces coastal communities.

Eutrophication can also occur.

The ponds themselves can contaminate the surrounding environment with too many nutrients (from fish meal fed to the shrimp), waste, and antibiotic residues.

Shrimp farming can affect other fisheries as well.

Also, the industry relies heavily on wild-caught shrimp, either larvae that have reached a given level of maturity or else pregnant females, which are transferred to the protected ponds. When done on industrial scale, the harvesting of wild shrimp in the Gulf can harm other fisheries because the nets pull up fish or other aquatic creatures that die and are discarded. National and international programs are underway to make shrimp farming both economically viable and more environmentally sound.

Where do the shrimps we find in Singapore come from?
Are they farmed sustainably? Or do the same problems seen in Honduras occur?

Why the South China Sea matters – Part 2 of the South China Sea dispute

A continuation from the Spratly Islands dispute post

Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 9.57.16 PM.png

Nat Geo Reporter Rachel Bale reports her investigation into giant clam poachers on reefs in the South China Sea, like those on the Spratly Islands, in the video below:

In 2012 Philippine authorities found a Chinese fishing boat loaded with corals, live sharks, and giant clam shells at Scarborough Shoal, some 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast.

The government contacted Gomez with a question. Why in the world would the Chinese have so many giant clam shells? Gomez didn’t know, but he soon found out. A friend gave him a tip, advising him to visit the port town of Tanmen, on the island of Hainan.

When he got there, he was flabbergasted: “Rows and rows of shops selling nothing but giant clam carvings, giant clam shells, and corals,” he says. “There must have been, I would guess, a mile and a half of stores.”

It turned out that the giant clam handicraft market in China had exploded, and the South China Sea was its epicenter.

By the late 1990s Hainan fishermen had overfished their coastal waters. Their catches were getting smaller, and they were looking for ways to supplement their income, says Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The government helped them out with a special fuel subsidy to travel more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) south to the Spratly Islands, as well as subsidies for bigger and better boats.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-giant-clam-poaching-south-china-sea-destruction/

Corals in Singapore – Wild Singapore and Reef Ecology Lab

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-8-04-35-pm

Wild Singapore discusses the rich diversity of wildlife our sunny island has.

See the link above for one post explaining Singapore reefs and an account of the recent mass coral bleaching that has been observed:

Devastating world wide mass coral bleaching was declared in October 2015, eight months before it first happened in Singapore, by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The third global mass coral bleaching event in recorded history, scientists warned it could result in the biggest global coral die-off. The only two previous such global events were in 1998 and 2010, when every major ocean basin experienced bleaching. Singapore’s reefs also suffered mass coral bleaching then.

As bleaching events occur more frequently and closer together, corals have no time to recover. Some scientists believe that continued global temperature rise would lead a point when every year is a bleaching year by around 2030. This may lead to complete global loss of coral reefs by the middle of this century.

Reefs in Singapore.singaporemap

The Reef Ecology Lab also conducts research on the Reefs of SG and the region. Click on the link to see a short description of the SG reefs and their threats – one threat, land recalamation, is quoted below:

The most significant cause of reef degradation in Singapore is sedimentation. Land reclamation, dredging of shipping channels and dumping of earth spoils, have increased the sediment load. Loss of coral reefs to land reclamation have occurred along the southwest coast of the mainland and on several of the offshore southern islands. Increased sedimentation have affected the remaining reefs in two ways:

(1) by causing a slow but steady reduction in live coral cover, and
(2) by reducing the lower depth limit of coral growth on reef slopes.

Surveys since 1986 indicate that live coral cover have decreased by up to 20% on some reefs, although other reefs register no impact. The reduction in sunlight penetration have furthermore reduced the lower depth limit of coral growth. In the 1970s, coral growth extended to 10 m down the reef slope. Today, growth is restricted to 6 m although some coral species still occur at the 8-m depth.

Sources:
1) http://coralreef.nus.edu.sg/singapore.html
2) http://wildshores.blogspot.sg/2016/08/mass-coral-bleaching-in-singapore-why.html#.V-ZrsJN970E

Spratly Islands Dispute – Death of the corals

The Spratly Islands are one of many islands found in the South China Sea that are part of the regional territorial dispute between nearby countries like China, Vietnam, Philippines.

All claim to have claim to various islands within the South China Sea, the largest claim being China’s ‘nine-dash line’:

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Other claims include:

Up to 5 countries are claiming parts or all of the Spratly Islands – China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Why are the Islands important?

In terms of national security, these islands are important due to their location in the South China Sea, where many merchant ships pass through to deliver  goods, people, and energy products to Asian-Pacific countries. By controlling these islands, the country in question would be able to ensure the safe passage of their goods.

In terms of energy security, the Spratly Islands are considered indispensable to countries in the region due to the potential sources of natural gas and oil found under the islands’ seabed. Whichever country wins the dispute would have the right to explore and develop these resources for their own domestic consumption. This would help in diversifying a country’s energy portfolio while making them less vulnerable to foreign oil and gas markets. At this time, however, the amount of recoverable oil and gas that these islands contain have not been fully proven.

Beyond this, whichever country gets control of the islands will also have control over activities within the area – including fishing. Economically, the fishing industries of countries in the region can be very severely affected.

Source: http://energyinasiablog.com/2011/10/the-spratly-islands-dispute-defining-sea-lane-security/

Environmental impact so far?

China has been very active within the disputed islands and in recent years have constructed artificial islands within the disputed zones.

Satellite imagery from 30 March, 7 August 2014 and 30 January 2015 shows the extent of Chinese progress in building an island at Gaven Reefs in the Spratly Islands.
Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/28/asia/china-south-china-sea-disputes-explainer/

With the building of such islands on what used to be reefs, comes massive damage to reef systems, as discovered by experts:

Marine biologist John McManus said Chinese poachers had been using the propellers on their boats to destroy coral reefs at disputed islands Spratyls and Pag-asa, referred to as Thitu in China.

According to data, coral bleaching and reef scarring are evidence of systematic crushing through repeated scratching or scraping by Chinese poachers to harvest giant clams.

McManus added that aside from discovering the poaching method, the data also links the destruction of the corals to China’s construction of artificial islands.

“They said their scientists went there. They looked around and they say ‘Oh, this is all dead coral.’ It was! It’s the truth—it had been killed by the Chinese fishers,” he said.

Source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/582462/scitech/science/chinese-poachers-destroyed-coral-reefs-in-spratly-pag-asa-islands-us-biologist

It doesn’t look like we are anywhere close to any solution to the dispute, those most agree that any solution should only come with negotiations and not military action. Until that happens, it is doubtful the reefs will be left unscathed.