Pulau Semakau



Pulau Semakau is popularly known as one of the southern islands off the main island of Singapore. In the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) 1997 Concept Plan, however, Pulau Semakau was identified as one of the western islands.1 Located approximately 8 km south of Singapore, Pulau Semakau was once home to a Malay village on the western side of the island and a small Chinese village at the south-western end.2 The island  was merged with Pulau Seking (also known as Pulau Sakeng) in the 1990s to form Singapore’s first offshore landfill.3 The landfill began operations in April 1999.4

History
The name Semakau likely came from the word bakau, which is Malay for “mangrove trees”.5 The island was already inhabited in 1844 based on a report that recounted a pirate attack on the villagers.6 Evidence gathered during an archaeological visit to the island, however, showed that the island may have been occupied even earlier. The team, accompanied by archaeologist John Miksic from the Department of History at the National University of Singapore, visited the island on 21 September 1991, before it was converted into a landfill. They found a kilogram of broken china and clay pottery along the beach, behind rocks and in the mangrove swamps. Some of the blue-and-white porcelain pieces were identified as 18th-century Qing porcelain. The oldest pieces, part of a clay jar, could have been from the 12th century as they were similar to those uncovered at Fort Canning on the main island of Singapore. Miksic believed that there should be more digs to determine whether there were more artefacts, or if the pieces were washed ashore from elsewhere.7

In 1955, the population of Pulau Semakau was about 780. This number increased to 1,600 in the 1960s when the villagers from nearby Pulau Bukom relocated to the island due to the development of petrochemical facilities on the former. Most of Pulau Semakau’s islanders were fishermen.8 The island had a Malay school, a community centre, a mosque, a football field as well as Muslim and Chinese burial grounds.9

Once a year, the islanders of Pulau Semakau, together with those from Pulau Sudong, Sakijang Bendera (now known as St. John’s Island), Pulau Seking (now merged with Pulau Semakau) and Pulau Seraya, used to organise an annual sports meet known as Pesta Five S. The islanders from each island took turns to host the games which stretched over a few weekends. Pesta Five S included games such as tug-of-war, soccer matches and sampan races.10

On 29 July 1975, parliament passed the proposal for the reclamation of Pulau Semakau in order to develop the island into a petrochemical complex. The reclamation proposal was put forth by then Minister for Law and Environment, E. W. Barker, and was scheduled to start in 1976 at an estimated cost of S$150 million. The reclaimed land, together with 29 ha of the island’s dry land, was to be “alienated to the Jurong Town Corporation”.11

In 1977, about 200 families on Pulau Semakau were resettled on mainland Singapore. This was after the island was earmarked for a petrochemical complex. The plan was, however, not carried through.12

Becoming a landfill
The development of Pulau Semakau into a refuse landfill was first outlined in parliament by then Minister for the Environment Minister, Ahmad Mattar on 14 February 1989, stating that it may be necessary to dispose of garbage on off-shore islands after 1997 due to land constraints on the mainland.13

Singapore's non-incinerable waste was previously dumped at two landfills located at Lim Chu Kang and Lorong Halus at Tampines. In 1989, the waste produced in Singapore was 1.9 milliion tonnes annually, and was expected to grow to 2.3 million tonnes a year by the turn of the century. It was foreseen that both landfills would reach full capacity by the late 1990s.14 As no other suitable landfill sites could be found on the main island, a decision was made to create a landfill site by enclosing the waters between the eastern part of Pulau Semakau and the western part of Pulau Seking with a 7-kilometre bund.15 It was projected that sometime in the 21st century, the two islands would be merged by the landfill for new development to take place.16

On 25 July 1994, parliament approved the reclamation of the foreshore and seabed east of Pulau Semakau comprising an area of about 350 ha required for the offshore landfill. Estimated to have a holding capacity of 63.2 million cu m, the landfill was projected to cost S$1.36 billion.17

Construction of the Semakau Landfill began in 1995. It is the world’s first man-made offshore landfill created entirely out of sea space. Operations at the landfill started on 1 April 1999, a day after the Lorong Halus dumping ground was closed.18 The landfill is envisaged to have a lifespan of 47 years if Singaporeans are able to recycle more and reduce waste from 1.1 kg a day per person to 0.9 kg.19

In 2011, the development of phase II of the landfill started. In order to maximise capacity and reduce costs, the multiple landfill cells designed in phase I were replaced with a single large cell.20 The completion of phase II in 2015 provided an additional 16.7 million cu m of landfill capacity –  which is equivalent to about 6,700 Olympic-size swimming pools – to meet Singapore’s waste disposal needs up to at least the year 2035.21  A renewable green energy system, comprising a wind turbine and solar panels, was installed earlier in 2006 to enhance the sustainability of the landfill.22

Protecting the natural environment
The announcement of the construction of the landfill led to calls for the protection of the marine life around the islands of Semakau, Sudong, Pawai and Senang, with the development of either a marine reserve or park. Caution during reclamation of the islands was also highlighted to prevent silting and destruction of coral reefs.23


To safeguard against polluting the sea, the construction of the Semakau Landfill included measures to ensure that the ash and non-incinerable waste would not contaminate the surrounding sea.24 The 7-kilometre bund surrounding the landfill site covering part of the sea off Pulau Semakau and the former Pulau Seking was lined with an impermeable layer of clay that prevented leachate (liquid that drains from a landfill) from leaking into the surrounding sea.25 The various measures taken to protect the marine environment resulted in the seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs along Semakau’s western shores remaining largely intact.26

Unfortunately, during construction of the first phase of the landfill, 13 ha of mangroves were destroyed. To replace the lost mangroves, the National Environment Agency planted 400,000 mangrove saplings on 13.6 ha of specially created mud-beds. The mangroves are thriving, and act as a biological indicator giving early warning if toxins leak into the sea.27

Another measure taken to protect Pulau Semakau’s ecosystem and biodiversity was the harvesting and transplanting of over 700 colonies of corals to Sisters’ Island during the development of phase II of the landfill. This took place from September 2014 to January 2015. Fish in the area were also caught and transferred to the open sea. Cliona patera, commonly known as the Neptune’s Cup Sponge, was discovered in the landfill lagoon on 12 September 2014 during a routine harvest. It measured about 450 mm in height and 150 mm in diameter at its widest point. First recorded within Singapore waters in 1908, the sponge was widely regarded as extinct until another discovery in 2011 near St John’s Island. The sponge found at Pulau Semakau was moved to the waters of the island’s Marine Park.28

Today, the marine ecosystem on and around the Semakau Landfill is found to be teeming with marine life such as sea anemones and the barracuda, and birds like the endangered great-billed heron.29 The landfill also serves as an attraction to educate the public on the need to manage Singapore’s waste in a sustainable manner, and has been opened to interest groups such as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Nature Society (Singapore), Sport Fishing Association (Singapore) and Astronomy Society of Singapore for recreational activities since 2005.30



Authors
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Noorainn Aziz




References
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). (1997). Central water catchment, Lim Chu Kang, north-eastern islands, Tengah, western islands, western water catchment planning areas: Planning report 1997. Singapore: The Authority, pp. 20–23. (Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. Great Britain. Hydrographic Dept. (1946). Malacca Strait pilot, comprising Malacca Strait and its northern approaches, Singapore Strait and the west coast of Sumatra. London: Hydrographic Dept, p. 184. (Call no.: RCLOS 623.8929595 GRE-[GBH])
3. Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 3–5. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG); Savage, V. R. & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 309. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
4. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
5. Savage, V. R. & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2013). Singapore street names: A study of toponymics. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 309. (Call no.: RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
6. Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
7. Adventurers find ancient artifacts on Semakau. (1991, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
8. National Library Board. (2014). Hands: Gift of a generation. Singapore: National Library Board, p. 34. (Call no.: RSING 959.57002 HAN-[HIS])
9. Southern Islands Celebration Committee. (1966). Southern Islands celebrate peace and one year of independence: Souvenir programme. Singapore: Southern Islands Celebration Committee. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN); Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
10. Wee, L. (2015, April 12). Southern comfort. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1975, July 29). Reclamation at Pulau Semakau (Vol. 34, cols. 1175–1176). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00056138-ZZ&currentPubID=00069316-ZZ&topicKey=00069316-ZZ.00056138-ZZ_1%2Bid034_19750729_S0005_T00291-motion%2B
12. Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
13. Plans for dumping rubbish offshore. (1989, February 15). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Cua, G. (1990, June 23). S$13.2m consultancy deal for landfill project signed. The Business Times, p. 2; Lee, H. S. (1989, February 11). Big off-shore dumping ground plannedThe Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 107. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
16. Lee, H. S. (1989, February 11). Big off-shore dumping ground plannedThe Business Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1994, July 25). Reclamation (Pulau Semakau) (Vol. 63, cols. 148–149). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064229-ZZ&currentPubID=00069720-ZZ&topicKey=00069720-ZZ.00064229-ZZ_1%2Bid035_19940725_S0004_T00221-motion%2B; S$1.8 b to be spent to clear rubbish. (1997, January 29). The Straits Times, p. 39. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J. & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s Journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
19. Cua, G. (1993, September 23). Tenders in 94 for a S$1b P Semakau landfill project. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Wee, C. F. (2015, July 12). Biggest rubbish dump grows bigger: Semakau Landfill adds new section, enabling it to last until at least 2035. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
21. National Environment Agency. (2015, July 11). Phase II Semakau Landfill ready to meet Singapore’s waste disposal needs to 2035 and beyond [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, December 2 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/phase-ii-semakau-landfill-ready-to-meet-singapore-s-waste-disposal-needs-to-2035-and-beyond; Wee, C. F. (2015, July 12). Biggest rubbish dump grows bigger: Semakau Landfill adds new section, enabling it to last until at least 2035. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

22. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
23. Chia, M. (1989, November 14). Varsity don calls for sanctuary to save marine life. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ng, M. F. C. (c2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 18. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
25. Tan, Y. S. (1999, August 30). Recycling effort not without hope. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
26. Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
27. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN); Wang, L. K., & Yeo, K. H. R. (2011). Living shores of Pulau Semakau. Singapore: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, p. 14. (Call no.: RCLOS 508.5957 WAN); Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
28. National Environment Agency. (2015, July 11). Phase II Semakau Landfill ready to meet Singapore’s waste disposal needs to 2035 and beyond [Press release]. Retrieved 2016, December 2 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/corporate-functions/newsroom/news-releases/phase-ii-semakau-landfill-ready-to-meet-singapore-s-waste-disposal-needs-to-2035-and-beyond
29. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 109. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN); Ng, M. F. C. (2009). Habitats in harmony: The story of Semakau Landfill. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 26–29. (Call no.: RSING 333.95095957 NG)
30. Tan, Y. S., Lee, T. J., & Tan, K. (2009). Clean, green and blue: Singapore’s journey towards environmental and water sustainability. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 363.70095957 TAN)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
 

Subject
Singapore offshore islands
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Fills (Earthwork)--Singapore
Law and government>>National development>>Land use
Islands--Singapore