GE3255 Aquatic, Riparian and Coastal Systems

Restoring Singapore's Mangrove and River Ecosystems

Returning to nature at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

What used to be a practical, concrete canal has turned into a lush, meandering waterway that we see at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio (BAMK) Park today. My NUS GE3255 Aquatic, Riparian, and Coastal Systems module went to the park to explore the restored Kallang River. We discovered that the park designers had used a combination of plants, natural minerals such as rocks, and civil engineering techniques to soften the river’s edges to give it a natural look yet still prevent erosion and expand flood control greatly.

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A City in Nature: How Singapore’s Rivers are Making a Comeback

Fig. 1. Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Photo taken by Kathryn Tang.

Can you believe that there used to be natural rivers and streams flowing through Singapore? Beautifully clear waters, riverbanks lined with lush flora, animals freely dwelling in their native habitat – a little hard to imagine in our modern city-state. Though we already enjoy many benefits from being a “City in Nature”, river ecosystems are something that, though originally part of our island, remain sights that average Singaporeans must travel to see – either in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or by outside of Singapore.

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Landward to Seaward

As a landscape architecture student who has had experience designing for freshwater ecosystems and urban waterways, I was excited to get my feet wet in the intricacies of the tidal recharge and discharge which mangrove ecosystems are built upon. Our field trip to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve with my NUS GE3255 Aquatic, Riparian, and Coastal Systems module succeeded in answering some of my curiosities as I saw the land’s transition with my own eyes, and then some!

Fig. 1: A view of the main bridge which spans across the vast central river channel

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Staying Rooted Amidst Adversity – A Closer Look at the Flora and Fauna of the Mangroves in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Back when I was working for the National Parks Board, I wrote a promotional article about Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) for its 25th anniversary. My field trip with my NUS GE3255 class was truly a reflective experience as I walked down memory lane in the process. Unfortunately, despite the positive experience and the desire to return, life kept getting in the way until now. Even after four years, it is still one of the most serene places yet to escape the concrete jungle of Singapore.

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Tough Trees need protection too!

Did you know that out of 70 true mangrove species in the world, 35 species can be found in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) alone? What makes SBWR even more unique is that it is the largest mangrove forest left on mainland Singapore.

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Diving into the Depths of the Kallang River’s Restoration

As we met Dr. Coffman and started our exploration of the Kallang River with my NUS GE3255 project group, it seemed as if we were seeing the past and the present at the same time.

The restored river was slowly flowing into the surviving remnants of its channelized past.

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Despite the government’s efforts to make Singapore a City in Nature, we cannot ignore the reality that Singapore is still a densely populated urban environment. Nature in Singapore is tightly controlled; the coasts are protected by seawalls, rivers are mostly canalized, and vegetation in parks is carefully planted and maintained. However, tucked up on the Northern coast of the island is the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. A nature conservation area where nature has been allowed to run a little wilder and you can find a surprising array of flora and fauna.  Recently, my classmates and I from GE3255: Aquatic, Riparian, and Coastal Systems had the chance to visit Sungei Buloh and get a close look at some of these fascinating plants and animals.

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Not your Typical Superhero: Mangroves

The beautiful mangroves of Sungei Buloh (Source: Cheah Esther)

Mangroves are the fighters of the plant world. As some of the only terrestrial plant species to tolerate saltwater, they have learnt to thrive in high-saline, waterlogged conditions by developing a series of adaptations. On our NUS GE3255 Aquatic Ecosystems field trip to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR), we learnt about some of the wonderful adaptations, or superpowers, of these heroes. Let me introduce them to you!

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Why Singapore’s Sungei Buloh mangrove wetland ecosystem is noisier than Germany’s Spreewald wetland – An introduction to the native tropical mangrove ecosystem in Singapore

Upon my arrival at the Sungei Buloh wetland reserve (SBWR) this September, I had only visited a mangrove forest in Tainan, Taiwan on a boat briefly. I was really looking forward to my first in-depth field excursion to a mangrove forest with Prof Gretchen and my NUS GE3255 class. Coming from Germany, my understanding of ‘the forest’ consisted of seasonally lush green places, emitting calmness, peace, and serenity – accompanied by occasional bird sounds or other animals’ presence. But this association changed after arriving at the SBWR and being overwhelmed by the sound of cicadas. 

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Build mud castles, save Singapore’s mangrove soil!

Mud, sludge, dredge, blubber… sometimes we try as much as we can to avoid touching this suspension of clay, silt, and water, sometimes we put it on our faces and claim that it is healthy for our skin. Well, one thing is for sure, the muddy soils in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) are healthy for the mangrove ecosystem! On the Mangrove Boardwalk in one of the last mangrove ecosystems of Singapore, you can take a close look at the creatures that actually build their homes in the muddy tidal creeks. The most interesting animals hiding in the mud of the reserve are the mud lobster (Thalassina gracilis and anomala) and the tree-climbing crab / mangrove crab (Episesarma singaporense). These crustaceans help to sustain the soil of the Singaporean mangroves.

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