NEW development plans on the drawing board, including the damming of Sungei Khatib Bongsu to form a reservoir, look set to wipe out a number of natural habitat sites that were previously thought to have been earmarked for preservation.
The moves, confirmed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) late yesterday, took environmentalists by surprise as those affected were listed in the 1993 Singapore Green Plan as important nature areas.
But there were indications that the flora and fauna would be affected last month when the habitats were mysteriously left out of the URA's draft of the Master Plan - the blueprint which will guide Singapore's land use over the next 10 to 15 years.
While the plan listed sites such as Bukit Timah nature reserve, Kranji mangroves and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve as nature areas, it omitted the mangrove-rich areas of Sungei Mandai, Sungei Khatib Bongsu and Pulau Semakau.
Also left out were marine sites off the shores of St John's Island, Pulau Hantu, Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sudong - all of which are popular with divers because of the underwater coral reefs.
Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the URA disclosed that the affected areas were indeed 'committed for strategic and long-term developments'. Sungei Khatib Bongsu, which is near the Lower Seletar Reservoir, will be dammed up to form a reservoir as part of plans to meet Singapore's long-term water needs, it said.
But the Public Utilities Board is looking at ways to minimise the likely impact of the proposed developments and to rehabilitate existing bio-diversity in the affected areas, it added.
The URA did not spell out concrete plans for Sungei Mandai, except to say that the area surrounding it is earmarked for future development. It also had few details on what would take place at the coral sites.
But it said that being an international port, 'we need our waterways for anchorage and maritime navigation. We may also need to reclaim land to meet our land-use needs'. Pulau Semakau, now a landfill, will be developed for 'infrastructure and industrial uses'.
Nature lovers say the marine sites should be left alone as they are rich in corals. Compared to larger regional countries, Singapore has a high proportion of hard corals. There are about 150 such species found in reefs here, compared to 200 in Malaysia and 300 in the Philippines and Indonesia.
To date, Singapore has already lost 60 per cent of its coral reefs to reclamation.
The news dismayed Nature Society's conservation committee chairman Ho Hua Chew: 'We're definitely unhappy that the sites are no longer treated as nature areas. The Master Plan should uphold the nature sites endorsed in the Singapore Green Plan.'
The society intends to appeal to the URA, which did say yesterday that it would 'preserve these sites for as long as they are not needed for development'.
It also reiterated that in 'land-scarce Singapore, we have to adopt a pragmatic approach to balancing nature conservation and other development needs'.