SINGAPORE: The bare and sandy seabed around Sisters’ Island may soon be teeming with marine life, with the installation of a reef structure on Thursday (Nov 8).
The 10m-high concrete and fibreglass structure will act as “artificial reefs” for marine flora and fauna to colonise.
Its bumpy surface, made from recycled stone fragments, will help encrusting organisms such as barnacles or shellfish to attach themselves and grow. The fibreglass pipes will also increase sheltered areas for fishes.
This is the first of eight structures that will be lowered onto the seabed to create Singapore’s largest artificial reef habitat, in a collaboration between government agencies JTC and National Parks Board (NParks).
The towering structure is designed to allow marine organisms to occupy the entire water column, from just under the surface of the water to the seafloor. This will allow a variety of marine life at different depths to create their own habitats.
Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine branch at the National Biodiversity Centre, said she expects to see the first signs of marine life on the structures within the first three to six months of installation.
“We expect the first things to grow to be the algae … Then barnacles will come in and start settling. Over time, other species will start to settle ... and they will displace some of the early colonisers until it comes to a stable equilibrium. That will be anywhere from a couple of years,” Dr Tun said.
The seven other structures will be installed in the same area by the end of 2018 to form the JTC-NParks Reef Garden. Altogether, the project is expected to contribute about 1,000 sq m of additional reef area by 2030.
The materials used were tested and have proven to be “very good” for reef restoration purposes, said Dr Tun. These structures are projected to last about 100 years, with minimal repairs or maintenance needed, she added.
Attention was also paid to minimise disruption to the seabed by using steel anchor pins, said John Kiong, deputy director for JTC’s engineering and operations group.
“The steel anchor pins help to lock the structure in place. The structure sits on the seabed itself with its own self-weight so no piling works are required,” Mr Kiong added.
Stephen Beng, chairman of the Friends of the Marine Park and Nature Society’s Marine Conservation Group, said that the community had provided input to guide the project.
“It’s something we’ve been asking for a long time,” Mr Beng said.
“We asked questions on the composition of the materials, for example. Whether it was resilient to time and change and whether there was enough flow for the corals to grow,” he added.
The eight reef structures will complement ongoing reef enhancement efforts to safeguard about 250 hard coral species found in Singapore waters. They account for 32 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who was Guest of Honour at the event, said that healthy coral reefs can benefit Singapore in many ways, including protecting shores against erosion and storms, sustaining marine fisheries and serving an important source of novel compounds from which biomedical projects can be developed.
Hence, there is a need to look into the long-term conservation and management of Singapore’s coastal and marine environment.
“There is no silver bullet to overcome our environmental challenges. What we often need is a range of multi-disciplinary solutions involving expertise from different parties,” Mr Tan said.
The artificial reefs will provide opportunities for research and test-bedding of technologies that will contribute to coral reef diligence. There are also plans to establish a coral nursery for conservation purposes within the reef garden, said NParks.
“All of these efforts will contribute to expanding our knowledge and understanding of Singapore’s marine habitats and the biodiversity they support,” Mr Tan added.
Eleven companies had contributed S$290,000 through the Garden City Fund to the S$1.6 million project.