Singapore’s Marine Biodiversity – You Have a Hand In It!

By Jonathan Ngiam, a senior Project Officer of National Biodiversity Centre at National Parks Board.

With a total land area of 723 km2 and a 511 km coastline, Singapore is one of the smallest countries in the world. However, her waters and coastline harbour a relatively rich marine biodiversity. Singapore’s waters and coastline is home to 12 of the 23 species of Indo-Pacific seagrass, 31 true mangrove plant species (two-thirds of that in Asia), over 250 species of hard corals (a quarter of the world’s 800 species), over 200 species of sponges, over 60 species of echinoderms, over 50 species of sea anemones (twice that found along the entire western coast of North America) and many other species of marine plants and animals.

Even though this diversity of organisms in our waters can be explained by Singapore being situated in the Indo-West Pacific centre of marine biodiversity, it is encouraging that this diversity can be sustained even with tremendous level of coastal and marine modification in Singapore since the 19th century. This has been made possible through the balanced and whole-of-government approach that Singapore has taken towards economic development, while recognising the importance of environmental protection.

We are not only able to sustain the relatively rich marine biodiversity that has been described earlier, but also been discovering species that are new to Singapore, including species that are even new to science. Within a ten-year period from 2001 – 2010, we have found 48 species of marine animals that have not been recorded before in Singapore, a new record of a critically-endangered mangrove tree and 31 species of marine animals that are new to science. Are there still more to be discovered in our shores and waters? That is one of the objectives of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS) that was launched in November 2010.

Led by the National Parks Board, the CMBS brings together researchers from the National University of Singapore, non-governmental organisations, corporate sponsors and volunteers from the public to survey all of Singapore’s coastal and marine habitats. Over a period of three years, the CMBS will include surveys of our mudflats, sandy and rocky shores, subtidal habitats including the seabed in order to obtain a “stock-take” of Singapore’s marine biodiversity.

Close to 300 volunteers from all walks of life have signed up for the programme, providing the opportunity to take part in field survey which includes scuba-dive surveys of sub-tidal habitats and laboratory sessions for specimen sorting and identification. Volunteers for the ongoing mudflat component of the CMBS have been knee-deep in mud, helping to uncover what organisms are living in the mudflats of Singapore. With the aid of the volunteers, we have so far documented more than 50 species of mudflat organisms.

To volunteer for CMBS, please contact Jonathan.