Chek Jawa



Chek Jawa is an intertidal flat located at the remote easternmost tip of Pulau Ubin, one of Singapore’s offshore islands. Although only about a square kilometre in size, Chek Jawa comprises six distinct ecological habitats, each supporting a unique ecosystem of wildlife. In 2002, reclamation of the area was slated to start, but was deferred following a strong campaign mounted by nature lovers and conservationists.

Ecology and biodiversity
Located on the easternmost tip of Pulau Ubin, Chek Jawa is an intertidal flat of about 1-square-kilometre.1 It is a coastal area that is covered by water at high tide, but exposed when the water recedes, revealing the various wildlife species living in the sand and mud.2 Within the area are six unique ecological habitats: coastal forest, mangrove, sandy beach, sandflats (lagoon), coral rubble and a tiny island known as Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island.3

Some of the flora and fauna that can be found at Chek Jawa include stick insects, flying dragons, oriental pied hornbills, jungle fowls, wild boars, otters, seashore nutmeg trees, sea anemones, seahorses, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, cow fish, octopuses, stingrays, starfishes, decorator crabs, shellfishes, seagrasses, seaweed and sponges.4 According to marine biologist Tan Koh Siang of the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, Chek Jawa represents one of the few remaining estuarine ecosystems left in Singapore. An organism unique to these ecosystems is the large starfish of the genus Protoreaster.5 Much of Chek Jawa’s rich biodiversity, such as the abundant seagrass, can be observed during low tide.6

Reclamation controversy
In 1992, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) approved a plan to reclaim the eastern tip of Chek Jawa. This plan was mentioned in both the 1997 development guide plan and the Master Plan 1998.
7 The reclamation was meant to create “reserve land” that would eventually be used for military training.8

In early 2001, the National Parks Board (NParks) approached the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) to conduct a salvage collection at Chek Jawa before reclamation began. A salvage collection is a documentation exercise to record and preserve everything in the threatened ecosystem.9 Over six days in May, July and August 2001, the RMBR made field trips to Chek Jawa to survey the biodiversity, photograph the area and collect sample specimens.10

On 11 May 2001, the URA held a public forum chaired by then Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan to discuss land use in Singapore and the Concept Plan 2001.11 At the forum, Lai spoke up about Chek Jawa, drawing public attention to the issue for the first time.12 The Chek Jawa issue was subsequently reported in the media, prompting a flurry of letters to the press from both members of the public and nature groups which described the appeal of Chek Jawa and advocated for its preservation.13 They argued that Chek Jawa would make a great outdoor classroom due to its unique ecological makeup.14 They also cautioned that land reclamation would extinguish all life in the area, including the rare flora and fauna unique to Chek Jawa.15

Shortly after, on 27 July 2001, the URA replied, via a letter published in The Straits Times forum page, that reclamation of Chek Jawa would proceed as planned.16 The URA explained that the land to be reclaimed would be used for military training, which is part of a long-term plan to ensure that Singapore has sufficient land for military training purposes. The URA also cited a study commissioned by the Housing and Development Board which posited that the reclamation would not have any significant impact on the dugong (an endangered mammal that mainly subsists on seagrass) population, because the seagrass in Chek Jawa was found to be patchy and there did not appear to be a resident dugong population.17 The URA further explained that the area around Chek Jawa did not have established coral reefs nor reef communities, and gave the assurance that NParks would transplant the affected plants to other parts of the island.18

The public campaign to save Chek Jawa gained prominence in the second half of 2001, as nature lovers, teachers and Pulau Ubin residents wrote many letters to the press and the relevant ministries, urging the government to review the reclamation plans.19 In the meantime, the URA received field data and detailed reports on Chek Jawa’s biodiversity.20 

The RMBR and the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) organised public tours of Chek Jawa during this period. The response was overwhelming, with over 1,000 people turning up for the walks on 20 October 2001.21 Other aspects of the campaign to save Chek Jawa included public petitions, distribution of leaflets, talks, photo exhibitions and the publication of articles in the NSS magazine Nature Watch and Asian Geographic: The Journal of our Environment.22

Deferment of reclamation
On 20 December 2001, a few days before the reclamation was scheduled to begin, Mah met representatives of nature groups and interested members of the public to discuss ways to protect Chek Jawa’s wildlife.23 On the same day, the Ministry of National Development (MND) announced that the reclamation of Chek Jawa would be deferred for the time being so that the ministry could consult with relevant experts on how best to protect Chek Jawa's marine life such that it would not be affected by the reclamation.24

Subsequently, a press release issued by the MND on 14 January 2002 announced that reclamation works on Pulau Ubin would be deferred for as long as the island is not required for development. The ministry also added that it was not cost-effective to reclaim a small area of Pulau Ubin, following recommendations by the National Institute of Education, RMBR and NSS that reclamation, if any, be limited to only a very small area so as not to harm Chek Jawa’s fragile ecosystem.25

In the same statement, NParks also announced that a committee – comprising representatives from the NSS, RMBR and other experts – would be formed to establish a plan for the maintenance of Chek Jawa’s ecosystem.26

Regulating visitors
After news broke of Chek Jawa’s impending reclamation, large numbers of visitors descended on the area, hoping to see Chek Jawa before it was reclaimed, despite the MND’s advice against visiting the place.27 The large crowds caused undue stress on the ecosystem, prompting NParks to implement various measures to reduce visitor numbers.28 These include a booking system for visiting; designated routes; the mandatory company of guides; donning proper footwear such as rubber boots; and rules against littering, touching or collecting specimens.29

Suspension of tours and reopening
In late March 2007, NParks suspended guided tours to Chek Jawa in order to give the wetlands time to recover after being badly affected by heavy rains. The rains had altered the salinity of the water surrounding Chek Jawa, resulting in the death of much marine life.30

In July that year, Chek Jawa was reopened to the public and tours resumed. The reopening was accompanied by the launch of new facilities – a 1.1-kilometre boardwalk, a 20-metre-tall viewing tower, and a visitor centre with a viewing jetty – to facilitate and enhance visitors’ learning and appreciation of Chek Jawa’s biodiversity.31 CPG Consultants were the architects behind the S$6.2-million redevelopment.32 In 2007, the repurposed Tudor-style visitor centre was named one of six winners of the URA’s Architectural Heritage Awards.33

Since the reopening, visitors can either conduct their own tour of Chek Jawa, or join a guided tour. Paid guided tours are only available during low tide, and need to be booked in advance with NParks.34

Recent developments
A recent threat to Chek Jawa occurred on 26 May 2010 when two large vessels collided off the Changi coast, discharging 2,500 tonnes of crude oil into the sea and creating an oil slick that spread to Chek Jawa.35  Volunteers were recruited to clean the affected shoreline and the oil slick.36

Although the reclamation of Pulau Ubin has been deferred since 2002, the release of the January 2013 white paper on population elicited concerns from environmental groups.  There were fears that the accompanying land-use plan and the proposed reclamation of Singapore’s coastal and marine areas might affect Chek Jawa.37 Under the plan, Chek Jawa and parts of Pulau Ubin are still marked as reserve sites for reclamation.38 Unlike Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Chek Jawa does not have any legal protection, and remains vulnerable to development.39



Authors

Vina Jie-Min Prasad & Jaime Koh



References
1. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, R., & Yeo, A. (Eds.). (2003). Chek Jawa guidebook. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHE)
2. Tan, R., & Yeo, A.  (Eds.). (2003). Chek Jawa guidebook. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHE)
3. Lai, J. (2001, December). Chek Jawa’s wet wonderland. Wetlands, 8(3). Retrieved from Mangroves of Singapore website: http://mangrove.nus.edu.sg/pub/wetlands/text/01-8-3-1.htm; Tan, R., & Yeo, A. (Eds.). (2003). Chek Jawa guidebook. Singapore: Simply Green, pp. 5–6. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHE)
4. Lai, J. (2001, December). Chek Jawa’s wet wonderland. Wetlands, 8(3). Retrieved from Mangroves of Singapore website: http://mangrove.nus.edu.sg/pub/wetlands/text/01-8-3-1.htm; Tan, R., & Yeo, A. (Eds.). (2003). Chek Jawa guidebook. Singapore: Simply Green. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHE)
5. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
6. Lai, J. (2001, December). Chek Jawa’s wet wonderland. Wetlands8(3). Retrieved from http://mangrove.nus.edu.sg/pub/wetlands/text/01-8-3-1.htm; Tan, R., & Yeo, A.  (Eds.). (2003). Chek Jawa guidebook. Singapore: Simply Green, pp. 9–10. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHE); Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Ang, H. S. (2001, July 27). Chek Jawa reclamation decided after careful study. The Straits Times, p. 25; Ang, H. S. (2001, February 14). Ubin land reclamation work behind moves. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lim, L. (2001, December 21). Ubin’s nature beach gets a reprieve. The Straits Times, p. 5; Ang, H. S. (2001, July 27). Chek Jawa reclamation decided after careful study. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. N. Sivasothi. (2002, April). Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin: From research to education. Alumnus. Retrieved from Chek Jawa website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/articles/Chek_Jawa,_Pulau%20Ubin-from_research_to_education-Alumnus_Apr2002.pdf
10. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2001). Presenting the Concept Plan 2001. Retrieved from URA website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/skyline/2001/04_Jul_Aug/presenting_the_concept_plan.pdf
12. Mr Joseph Lai. (2006, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Wee, L. (2001, July 8). Chek out this hidden Eden. The Straits Times, p. 9; Min, G. (2001, July 16). Chek Jawa’s natural beach should be preserved. The Straits Times, p. 14; D’ Rozario, V. (2001, December 28). Chek Jawa an ideal outdoor classroom. The Straits Times, p. 18; Leong, K. P. (2001, December.24). Chek Jawa unique ecosystem. The Straits Times, p. 14; Chiang, M. Y. (2001. December 24). Tread gently. Today, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
14. Wee, L. (2001, July 8). Chek out this hidden Eden. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Chua, E. C. (2002). Chek Jawa: Discovering Singapore’s biodiversity. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHU)
16. Ang, H. S. (2001, July 27). Chek Jawa reclamation decided after careful study. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ang, H. S. (2001, July 27). Chek Jawa reclamation decided after careful study. The Straits Times, p. 25; Min, G. (2001, July 16). Chek Jawa’s natural beach should be preserved. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ang, H. S. (2001, July 27). Chek Jawa reclamation decided after careful study. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, L. H. (2002, January 2). Anatomy of a U-turn. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Pulling together to turn the tide for Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 18; Chua, E. C. (2002). Chek Jawa: Discovering Singapore’s biodiversity. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHU)
22. Paradise found – and lost. (2001, October 27). The Straits Times, p. L21; Tan, C. M. (2001, August 17). Sad tale of Chek Jawa. Today , p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chua, E. C. (2002). Chek Jawa: Discovering Singapore’s biodiversity. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHU)
23. Lim, L. (2001, December 21). Ubin’s nature beach gets a reprieve. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2001, December 20). Deferment of reclamation works at Tanjung Chek Jawa [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Ministry of National Development. (2002, January 14). Deferment of reclamation works at Pulau Ubin [Press release]. Retrieved from Chek Jawa website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/articles/defer/21.htm
25. Ministry of National Development. (2002, January 14). Deferment of reclamation works at Pulau Ubin [Press release]. Retrieved from Chek Jawa website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/articles/defer/21.htm
26. Ministry of National Development. (2002, January 14). Deferment of reclamation works at Pulau Ubin [Press release]. Retrieved from Chek Jawa website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/articles/defer/21.htm
27. Lim, L. (2001, December 29). Loving Chek Jawa to death. The Straits Times, p. 1; Lim, L. (2001, December 21). Ubin’s nature beach gets a reprieve. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG..
28. Chua, E. C. (2002). Chek Jawa: Discovering Singapore’s biodiversity. Singapore: Simply Green, pp. 23, 80. (Call no.: RSING 333.91716 CHU); Sivasothi, N. (2002, April). Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin: From research to education. Alumnus. Retrieved from Mangroves of Singapore website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/articles/Chek_Jawa,_Pulau%20Ubin-from_research_to_education-Alumnus_Apr2002.pdf
29. Lau, F. K. (2001, December 27). New rules for visiting Chek Jawa. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Boon, C. (2007, March 25). No more Chek Jawa tours – for now. The Straits Times, p. 64. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Tay, S. C. (2007, July 8). Chek Jawa’s back. The Straits Times, p .51; Hooi, A. (2005, April 30). Boardwalk to get you close to nature in Ubin. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Zachariah, N. A. (2013, November 2). Flying the local flag. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Chek Jawa Visitor Centre. (2007, October 6). The Straits Times, p. 109. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Zul Othman. (2007, October 2). Architectural honoursToday, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2007, October 1). URA unveils six winners for the 2007 Architectural Heritage Awards. Retrieved from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: http://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/media-room/news/2007/oct/pr07-105.aspx
34. National Parks Board. Pulau Ubin. Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/cms/popup/pulau-attractions.html
35. Liew, H., & Amresh, G. (2010, May 27). Slick stains 7.2km of beach. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Chua, G. (2010, May 29). Oil spill hits Chek Jawa, Changi Beach. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Ee, J. W. W. (2010, May 30). Volunteers help clean up shoreline. The Straits Times, p. 8; Chin, D. (2010, May 31). No more oil stains at beaches along Changi and East Coast. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tan, W. (2013, February 4). Nature group concerned about impact of MRT line. Today; Woo, S. B. (2013, February 7). Nature forgotten in all the number crunching. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
38. Ministry of National Development. (2013, February 9). Our land use plan. Retrieved from Ministry of National Development website: http://www.mnd.gov.sg/landuseplan/
39. Chong, T., & Yeo, K. S. (2013, April 18). Pulau Ubin and the unsettled S'pore psyche. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



Further resources
Chek Jawa Homepage. (n.d.). Habitatnews. Retrieved from Habitatnews website: http://chekjawa.nus.edu.sg/

Wild Singapore. (n.d.). Chek Jawa. Retrieved from Wild Singapore website: http://www.wildsingapore.com/places/cj.htm



The information in this article is valid as at 16 October 2014 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
Nature conservation
Streets and Places
Capes (Coasts)--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
Chek Jawa (Singapore)
Science and technology>>Agriculture>>Horticulture
Nature>>Nature Conservation
Nature and Environment