Pulau Sudong



Located off Singapore’s south coast,1 Pulau Sudong was classified as one of the Western Islands in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s 1997 Concept Plan.2 A 1946 survey of the Singapore Strait described the island as measuring about 55 ft high to the top of the trees, lying at the eastern end of an extensive reef that dries from one to five feet.3 In 2013, the island measured 208.5 ha.4 Since the 1980s, the island has been designated as a live-firing area by the Singapore Armed Forces.5

Background
The word sudong has the same meaning as tudong, which in Malay means “something that is used as a cover”.6 The name is believed to have been derived from the shape of the island with its surrounding reef.7 In 1940, Pulau Sudong – together with Pasir Panjang, Pulau Bukom Kechil (now merged with Pulau Bukom through reclamation) and Pulau Blakang Mati (now known as Sentosa) – came under the control of the Singapore Rural Board (SRB). This was to allow SRB to exercise sanitary control over these islands, due to their proximity to the other islands which had already been designated as official rural areas.8 The government malaria research station was once found on Pulau Sudong in the late 1940s.9


Islanders
 

Pulau Sudong had a stilt village and its inhabitants were Malays except for about four Chinese families who owned shops there.10 In 1960, the number of inhabitants on the island stood at 393.11 They made a living by fishing as well as collecting corals and weeds from the sea that they then sold to business firms in Singapore.12 In the 1970s, on the assurance of a steady income, many islanders were drawn to work on Pulau Bukom, which had been developed as a petroleum tank depot and oil refinery.13

In 1960, it was reported in The Straits Times that experts believed Pulau Sudong was slowly sinking. This was based on a theory that the island was sitting on a coral mass that was subject to constant erosion.14 The islanders had received a similar warning 10 years before from H. J. C. Kulasinga, a former member of the SRB who suggested that the inhabitants move to Pulau Pawai. Even though they were alarmed by the warnings on both occasions, the residents were unwilling to leave the island.15

In 2015, about 150 former islanders of Pulau Sudong, who were resettled on mainland Singapore in the 1970s, voiced their desire to return to the island for a day. Most of these islanders were resettled in the West Coast area, and had petitioned their Member of Parliament, S. Iswaran, who then conveyed the request to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). MINDEF’s spokesman acknowledged receiving the request on the same day, and stated that it was “evaluating the request”. In addition, with Pulau Sudong being a restricted military training area used for live firing and manoeuvring, the spokesman also advised the public to keep clear of the island on the grounds of safety.16 

Island sports
An annual sports meet known as Pesta Five S was formerly hosted by the islanders of Pulau Sudong, together with those from Pulau Semakau, Sakijang Bendera (now known as St John’s Island), Seking and Seraya. The residents of each island took turn to host the games which stretched over a few weekends. Pesta Five S included games such as tug-of-war and soccer, as well as water sports such as sampan races.17 The islanders of Pulau Sudong hosted one of the last few Pesta Five S in 1975, which was opened by then Minister for Culture and Social Affairs Othman Wok.18

In 1967, Pulau Sudong, together with other Southern Islands such as Pulau Pawai, Pulau Senang and Sisters’ Islands, were identified as the most popular spots in Singapore for sports such as underwater exploration, skin diving, and fishing underwater with spear guns and scuba equipment.19

Resort development plans
In April 1976, it was reported that the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) was planning to reclaim Pulau Sudong and nearby Pulau Biola to pave the way for development projects. The reclaimed land was to be developed into recreational areas by the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), so as to make up for the loss of recreational land resulting from the airport development in Changi.20

On 23 July 1976, then Minister for Law and Environment E. W. Barker proposed in parliament for Pulau Sudong to be turned into a recreational area, and then into an industrial area at a later stage. The reclamation of approximately 242.82 ha of the foreshore and sea-bed at the island was approved in parliament. The project was to be undertaken by the PSA, and expected to take some three years to complete at a cost of S$64 million.21

In October 1976, PSA awarded contracts to two local firms – Toa Harbour for the reclamation and Swee Construction for shore protection works on Pulau Sudong. Toa Harbour was also tasked to construct two lagoon beaches on the island.22 Although reclamation works on the island started by December 1976, concrete plans to convert the island into recreational centres remained on the drawing board.23

Live firing area
On 24 July 1982, SDC announced that Pulau Sudong was closed to the public with immediate effect and until further notice. This was for the public’s safety as the island fell within the live-firing zone of exercises conducted by the military.24 Two years later, a suggestion was made for MINDEF to assume full control of Pulau Sudong, since part of the island was already used for live-firing exercises.25

In 1985, MINDEF announced that it had decided not to take over the island. The ministry felt that it was too costly to develop as well as inconvenient for training purposes due to its distance from the mainland.26 Pulau Sudong was finally gazetted as a live-firing area for the Singapore Armed Forces’ military exercises in 1989, joining Pulau Pawai and Pulau Senang. This meant that the entire island could be used for such military exercises.27

Coral reefs
The rich marine life around Pulau Sudong was highlighted in February 1989 as ideal for conservation work by the Reef Ecology Research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The team produced a report based on a survey of the reefs off Pulau Sudong, which showed that underwater visibility was only 2 m. This was a stark contrast to an average underwater visibility of 8 m in the mid-1960s.28 In November that year, Associate Professor Chia Lin Sien from the Geography Department of NUS suggested the development of a marine park around the islands of Sudong, Pawai, Semakau and Senang to conserve the marine life. 29 Calls to safeguard the coral reefs continued over the years and culminated in the Blue Plan, which was the most comprehensive proposal to save the reefs.30

In 2013, the National Environment Agency had plans to start work on phase two of the Semakau Landfill to meet Singapore’s projected waste disposal needs up to 2035 and beyond. The agency advertised for a contractor to generate a proposal to monitor the project and limit its impact on marine life near the islands. Pulau Sudong, Pulau Senang and Pulau Pawai were not included in the document, leading to calls for similar steps to be taken to protect the marine ecosystem of the three islands.31



Author

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama



References
1. 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]); 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. 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)
3. 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., Admiralty, p. 217. (Call no.: RCLOS 623.8929595 GRE-[GBH])
4. 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])
5. Government of Singapore. (2016, March 31). SAF military exercises. Retrieved 2016, November 16 from MINDEF Singapore website: https://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/press_room/events_and_activities/2016/31mar16_activity.html#.V9oKZnYrLIU; Pulau Sudong now a live firing area. (1989, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. 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]); Rajib, B. (1990, October 9). What’s in a name. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singam, S. D. R. (1962). Malayan place names. Kuala Lumpur: Author, p. 248. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 RAJ)
7. Rajib, B. (1990, October 9). What’s in a name. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singam, S. D. R. (1962). Malayan place names. Kuala Lumpur: Author, p. 248. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 RAJ)
8. Board “acquires” more islands. (1940, April 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Singam, S. D. R. (1962). Malayan place names. Kuala Lumpur: Author, p. 248. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 RAJ); 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]); Hill, P. (1948, November 15). The Island Malaria Miracle of Pulau Sudong. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Khoo, B. L. (1972, March 18). Discovering the corals. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Pulau Sudong slowly sinking. (1960, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Khoo, B. L. (1972, March 18). Discovering the corals. New Nation, p. 7; 300 islanders live by collecting sea weeds, corals. (1960, December 5). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Khoo, B. L. (1972, March 18). Discovering the corals. New Nation, p. 7; The day Pulau Seking came alive. (1984, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Pulau Sudong slowly sinking. (1960, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Khoo, B. L. (1972, March 18). Discovering the corals. New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Zaccheus, M. (2015, March 30). Former islanders ask to return to Pulau Sudong for a day. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
17. Wee, L. (2015, April 12). Southern comfort. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

18. Rasmikan Pesta 5 ‘S’. (1975, November 1). Berita Harian, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Pestana, R. (1967, June 4). Away from it all – on sunlit waters and tropical islets. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Plan to turn two islets into holiday resorts. (1976, April 12). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1976, July 23). Reclamation at Pulau Sudong (Vol. 35, cols. 996–997). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00056359-ZZ&currentPubID=00069330-ZZ&topicKey=00069330-ZZ.00056359-ZZ_1%2Bid021_19760723_S0005_T00141-motion%2B; Pulau Sudong holiday resort project. (1976, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Three firms awarded $57 m contracts by PSA. (1976, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Holmberg, J. (1976, December 3). Islands in the sun. New Nation, pp. 10/11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Pulau Sudong closed. (1982, July 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Proposal to use Pulau Sudong for live firing. (1984, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Mindef won’t take over Pulau Sudong. (1985, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Pulau Sudong now a live firing area. (1989, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Loh, T. L. (1989, February 27). Divers pick out coral reefs worth preserving. The New Paper, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Chia, M. (1989, November 14). Varsity don calls for sanctuary to save marine life. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Chua, G. (2009, April 24). Blue Plan to save Singapore’s biodiversity-rich coral reefs ready. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Feng, Z. (2013, August 2). NEA plan seeks to limit damage from landfill expansion. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



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
Military training camps--Singapore
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Singapore offshore islands
Law and government>>Security>>Army
Islands--Singapore