Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These are methods most are familiar with at the mention of conservation. But when it comes to the marine environment, many become unsure. That's why Keppel Land has taken the initiative to cultivate corals in King's Dock at Keppel Bay.

To shed light on the importance of conserving the marine environment, Keppel Land Live spoke with Ong Chin Wei Desmond, Environmental Biologist, Ecological Habitats and Processes at DHI Water & Environment (S) Pte Ltd.

Thanks for taking time off to speak with us, Desmond. Let's dive into the topic of the day. Experts refer to corals as the rainforests of the sea. Just how important are corals to marine life?

There are numerous reasons why corals are important to marine life. Besides providing structural habitats for thousands of different marine species, corals also ensure a thriving population by serving as nurseries. Adding on, corals assist in carbon and nitrogen-fixing, providing essential nutrients needed in marine food chains. And are especially important in protecting coastlines from erosion and loss of land caused by wave action and tropical storms. Furthermore, they protect intertidal mangroves and seagrass habitats, which are also homes to juvenile coral reef organisms.

What is the present state of Singapore's marine life?

Singapore's location at the edge of the global centre for marine biodiversity is best demonstrated by its coral reef habitat. Despite its limited extent, the reefs support a relatively high biodiversity despite constant coastal development work and other anthropogenic threats such as seabed dredging and land reclamation.

Striking a balance between the need for development and conservation in Singapore is a constant challenge. Because of the development activities over the past 50 years, Singapore’s coral reefs have been severely impacted by habitat loss and sediment-induced degradation. The present reef area at 13.25 km2 is radically reduced from an estimated 39.85 km2 in 1953, with decreases in intertidal and subtidal coral reef areas by over 61% and 89% respectively since 1953.

Nevertheless, from recent species distribution assessments in 2009, Singapore reefs host 255 hard coral species, which is approximately one-third of the world hard coral diversity and 100 species of reef fishes. This is in part due to the annual coral mass spawning events that contribute to the seeding of local reefs. Yearly monitoring of the mass spawning events conducted by local researchers also indicated that coral larval sources are not limiting. However, coral larvae end up recruiting on loose rubble or unstable substrate, thereby affecting their post-settlement survival rates.

We know marine conservation is vital. But just how important is it?

Marine conservation looks at conserving existing physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem function by limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, restoring damaged marine ecosystems and preserving vulnerable marine species.

The marine environment is Earth's largest life support system as it contains the largest ecosystems on Earth. The diversity and productivity of the world's ocean is a vital interest for mankind. Our security, our economy, and our very survival all require a healthy ocean.

To illustrate just how much we, humans depend on the ocean, I'll give you a few examples. The ocean contributes half of the oxygen we breathe. It contains more than 97% of the world's water supply. A sixth of the animal protein we consume comes from the ocean. It's a promising source of new medicine to combat various human diseases. Not to mention, a healthy ocean can also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the impact of climate change.

If we continue to pay less attention to the marine environment, what's the worst that could happen?

If conservation is not undertaken, it is possible that the security, economy and survival of mankind will be threatened. If we continue to pay less attention, it will result in the destruction and degradation of the marine ecosystem, which will cause a cascading negative effect on the entire Earth.

How can Singapore's marine life benefit from this project?

This is the first marine conservation project undertaken by a private developer as part of its commitment to achieve the National Parks Board (NParks) LEAF certification award. The fundamental objective of the project is the improvement and enhancement of the marine habitat at King's Dock and the waters surrounding the Keppel Bay developments. This was achieved through cultivation of corals at a nursery at Pulau Keppel and their subsequent transplantation onto reef enhancement structures located at King's Dock.

At a local level, this project will definitely benefit marine life in King's Dock and its surrounding area. The installation of reef enhancement structures and subsequent transplantation of corals at King's Dock will provide structural homes to marine organisms. It'll also act as nurseries for smaller fishes before they head out into the open sea. Lastly, overall biodiversity in the area will be increased.

Corals transplantation is just one way of contributing to marine conservation efforts. What are some other ways people can do to help?

People can do their part in marine conservations through various efforts that can be taken place at home, or at various marine habitats. Furthermore, it will be good if they can share the importance of the marine environment and information of various marine conservation efforts with their friends and families.

At home or at a personal level, people can reduce their contributions to pollution, greenhouse gases and climate change. Here are some of the things they can do: cut down on their carbon footprint through energy-saving practices and avoid excessive, unnecessary consumption of materials and goods. Reduce the amount of trash they produce, reuse materials that are not spoilt and recycle various trash products. Avoid restaurants or shops that do not sell sustainable seafood.

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