Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve



Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) is Singapore’s first wetland nature reserve.1 It was officially opened on 6 December 1993 as the Sungei Buloh Nature Park,2 and gazetted as a nature reserve on 1 January 2002.3 Located at 301 Neo Tiew Crescent, the SBWR presently spans 202 ha of mangrove swamp, mudflats, ponds and rainforest along the northwestern shore of Singapore, providing a range of habitats for a wide diversity of flora and fauna.4 Every year, thousands of migratory birds visit the wetland reserve, which is situated along their migratory path from the northern hemisphere, to roost and feed.5

History
The Sungei Buloh area, comprising some 457 ha of mangrove swamp, was designated a forest reserve as early as 1890. It held this status until 1938, after which it was gradually developed for farming use. Ponds were dug for farming freshwater fish and the land was used to grow vegetables and cash crops such as rubber and coconut, as well as the rearing of ducks, chickens and pigs.6

The area was ideal for prawn farming due to the rich organic nutrients present in the waterlogged and muddy mangrove swamps.7 The mangroves were cleared in the mid-1980s for this purpose, leaving exposed mudflats that became feeding and roosting grounds for shorebirds.8 The birds also fed on the marine life that was left exposed when the prawn ponds were drained for harvesting.9

Road to conservation
In 1986, birdwatcher Richard Hale saw flocks of waders flying from the Strait of Johor towards Sungei Buloh. He later met with ornithologist Christopher Hails, who was working with the Parks and Recreation Board (now the National Parks Board), as well as some members of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), to tell them of his discovery. None at the time had heard of the birdlife at Sungei Buloh.10

When it was subsequently revealed that the government had earmarked Sungei Buloh for agrotechnology development, a group of six – Clive Briffet, Hails, Hale, Rexon Ngim, Ho Hua Chew and R. Subaraj – comprising members of the society’s bird group conservation committee put forth a proposal in December 1987 for the creation of a 318-hectare nature reserve in Sungei Buloh.11

A conservation area in Sungei Buloh was proposed based on four objectives: (1) it would be a centre for education in the natural sciences, geography and other related disciplines; (2) the site would be improved so as to attract more birds and wildlife; (3) greater public awareness of environmental conservation could be achieved; and (4) it would be a tourist attraction.12

An illustrated pamphlet detailing the richness of the birdlife at Sungei Buloh was prepared along with the proposal and distributed to government officials – ministers, permanent secretaries and members of parliament – other organisations and members of the public.13

Subsequently, President Wee Kim Wee, among other government officials, agreed to visit the site.14 At the time, 126 species of birds had been sighted in the area, constituting 42 percent of all bird species recorded in Singapore.15

On 8 April 1988, then Minister for Foreign Affairs and National Development S. Dhanabalan announced that 85 ha in Sungei Buloh would be set aside for a bird sanctuary. While this fell considerably short of what was originally proposed, the reduced scale was deemed adequate to support birdlife based on a study conducted by Christopher Hails.16 This concession from the government was seen as a milestone in the development of nature conservation in Singapore, as it was the first time Singapore had set aside land for nature conservation since its independence.17

An area of 87 hectares was eventually designated for the Sungei Buloh Nature Park in 1989.18

Planning and construction
Tasked with developing the new nature park, the Parks and Recreation Department aimed to increase the number and diversity of wildlife at the site and to provide public education and recreation.19 Costing S$8.5 million, development of the nature park included the construction of footpaths, shelters, and boardwalks over the mangrove swamps, a visitor centre, wooden screens, bird observation hides and a viewing tower.20 The planning and construction of the sanctuary involved collaboration between government agencies and experts from the Malayan Nature Society and other overseas nature groups.21

Development work was undertaken with great care so as to preserve the ecological integrity of the site – for example, the boardwalk was built by hand without the aid of heavy machinery so that the mangrove plants would not be damaged.22 The main bridge connecting the visitor centre to the rest of the park is intentionally angled at one point for the same reason.23 Compatible natural materials such as timber were used in the construction of the park’s facilities.24 Some landscaping work was also carried out – for example, the main lagoon and two other ponds were enlarged to different depths and reshaped to provide a more suitable and spacious habitat for the birds.25

The Sungei Buloh Nature Park was officially opened by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 6 December 1993.26 The park attracted 17,000 visitors in its first month and welcomed its 100,000th visitor on 4 December 1994.27 Jurong Bird Park was appointed to manage the nature park in its early years but it is now run by the National Parks Board.28

Birdlife and ecology

The SBWR is a haven for migratory birds such as sandpipers, plovers and egrets that journey from their breeding grounds in Russia, Mongolia, northern China, Japan and Korea every winter in search of warmer climates and better feeding opportunities in the southern hemisphere.29 This migratory route is known as the East Asian Australasian Flyway.30 Over 200 species of birds have been recorded at SBWR, about half of which are migratory birds.31

Apart from its seasonal visitors, the SBWR is also home to resident birds such as herons and kingfishers, not to mention a diverse range of wildlife that can be found all-year round such as mudskippers, tree-climbing crabs, spiders, monitor lizards, otters, wild boars and crocodiles.32 Fifty-three species of native mangrove flora, which makes up 85 percent of extant species in Singapore, can be found in the SBWR.33

Conservation and outreach efforts
The SBWR runs a number of conservation and outreach programmes involving the general public, volunteers, schools and corporate sponsors. Bird counts and bird banding are frequently conducted to identify the species and numbers that make use of the site and chart the movements of birds along the flyway.34 The quality of water in the ponds, rivers and sea within the reserve is also closely monitored with regular sampling and analysis.35


The SBWR works regularly with volunteers, students and other partners to remove litter washed up on the coast.36 There is also an ongoing drive to replant and enhance the natural flora of Sungei Buloh with native species, particularly the mangroves that used to be found in Singapore and the epiphytes – plants that grow on a host plant – that once thrived in the area.37

In 1997, the Sungei Buloh Nature Education Fund was set up by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) with an initial donation of S$120,000 to promote greater awareness of nature among local schoolchildren.38 This was followed by the launch of the Young Naturalists Programme in 2001, also in collaboration with HSBC, which encourages children to learn more about the wetland.39

Further developments and international recognition
On 1 January 2002, the park, was officially gazetted as a nature reserve and renamed Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) to reflect its new status. The area was also enlarged to 130 ha.40

That same year, the SBWR was recognised as a site of international importance for migratory birds when it was inducted by Wetlands International into the East Asian Australasian Shorebird Site Network, which includes Kakadu National Park in Australia and the Yatsu Tidal Flats in Japan.41 In 2003, the SBWR was also declared an ASEAN Heritage Park.42

In 2003, the two-kilometre Kranji nature trail was added as a green corridor to connect the reserve to Kranji Reservoir Park.43 This nature trail has since been transformed into an extension of the SBWR as part of the Sungei Buloh Master Plan that was first unveiled in 2008.44 The masterplan envisions Sungei Buloh as a centre of excellence in wetland management, conservation, nature education and research,45 and proposes the segmentation of the reserve into different zones of activity.46

Opened on 6 December 2014, the new 31-hectare extension features a coastal boardwalk, a brand new visitor centre, walking trails, wooden lookout points and more child-friendly amenities such as an obstacle course and play area.47



Author
Janice Loo



References
1. Parks and Recreation Department. (1994). Parks and Recreation Department Annual Report FY1993/1994. Singapore: Parks and Recreation Department, p. 10. (Call no.: RCLOS 790.068 SIN)
2. Government of Singapore. (1993, December 6). Speech by prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, at the opening of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park at the visitor centre, Sungei Buloh Nature Park on Monday, 6 December 1993 at 4.30 pm [Speech]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
3. National Parks Board. (n.d.). Media factsheet. Retrieved from NParks website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/news/2014/12/factsheetsbwr_past_present_and_future.ashx?la=en
4. National Parks Board. (2015, October 21). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Retrieved from NParks website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr
5. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
6. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
7. Lim, H. C., & Goh, C. (2000). Prawn farming at Sungei Buloh Nature Park.Wetlands, 5(1). Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves/sungei-buloh-wetland-reserve/wetlands-newsletter
8. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 41. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
9. Lim, H. C., & Goh, C. (2000). Prawn farming at SungeiBuloh Nature Park. Wetlands, 5(1). Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves/sungei-buloh-wetland-reserve/wetlands-newsletter
10. Hale, R. (2004, January–March). From backwater to nature reserve. Nature Watch, 12(5), 2–4. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
11. Hale, R. (2004, January–March). From backwater to nature reserve. Nature Watch, 12(5), 3–4. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW); Lee, S. H. (1987, December 14). Bird lovers submit proposals for 300-ha nature reserve. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Hale, R. (2004, January–March). From backwater to nature reserve. Nature Watch, 12(5), 3. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
13. Hale, R. (2004, January–March). From backwater to nature reserve. Nature Watch, 12(5), 3. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
14. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
15. Sharp, I. (1993). Sungei Buloh Nature Park: The Great Experiment. Nature Watch 1(1), 24. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
16. Government of Singapore. (1988, April 8). Speech by Mr S Dhanabalan, minister for foreign affairs and national development, at the official opening of SIA/SIABC at SMA House, Orchard Road on Friday, 8 April 1988 at 10.00 am [Speech]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Govt gives green light for bird sanctuary. (1988, April 9). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Wee, Y. C., & Hale, R. (2008). The Nature Society (Singapore) and the struggle to conserve Singapore’s nature parks. Nature in Singapore, 1, 44. Retrieved from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nis/bulletin2008/2008nis41-49.pdf
18. Sharp, I. (1993). Sungei Buloh Nature Park: The Great Experiment. Nature Watch 1(1), 24. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
19. Nathan, D. (1992, June 27). Bird sanctuary ready for nature lovers in ’93.The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Chong, E. (1989, February 19). Strictly for the birds. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 44. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
22. Tan, C. (1993, December 11). Enjoy the wildlife at Sungei Buloh Nature Park. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
24. Sharp, I. (1993). Sungei Buloh Nature Park: The Great Experiment. Nature Watch 1(1), 26. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
25. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU); Sharp, I. (1993). Sungei Buloh Nature Park: The Great Experiment. Nature Watch 1(1), 25. (Call no.: RSING q508.5957 NW)
26. Government of Singapore. (1993, December 6). Speech by prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, at the opening of the Sungei Buloh Nature Park at the visitor centre, Sungei Buloh Nature Park on Monday, 6 December 1993 at 4.30 pm [Speech]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
27. Parks and Recreation Department. (1994). Parks and Recreation Department annual report FY1993/1994. Singapore: Parks and Recreation Department, p. 17. (Call no.: RCLOS 790.068 SIN); National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
28. National Parks Board. (n.d.). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR): Past, present and future. Retrieved from NParks website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/~/media/nparks-real-content/news/2014/12/factsheetsbwr_past_present_and_future.ashx?la=en
29. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 28. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN); Gan, J., Tan, M., & Li, D. (2009). Migratory birds of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Singapore National Parks Board, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 GAN)
30. Gan, J., Tan, M., & Li, D. (2009). Migratory birds of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Singapore National Parks Board, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 GAN)
31. Gan, J., Tan, M., & Li, D. (2009). Migratory birds of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Singapore National Parks Board, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 GAN)
32. National Parks Board. (2015, October 21). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr; Ang, J. (2004, December). Wild boar sightings! Wetlands, 10(3), 9. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP)
33. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
34. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, pp. 48, 50. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN); Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 145. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
35.
 National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
36. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 51. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN); Community Involvement Programme at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. (2004, December). Wetlands, 10(3), 4, 8. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP)
37. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 52. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
38. $120,000 for Sungei Buloh Nature Park. (1997, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 60. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
40. National Parks Board. (2003). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve – A decade of wetland conservation. Singapore: National Parks Board, p. 9. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 SUN)
41. Neo, H. M. (2002, December 8). Sungei Buloh on world map as important site. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Parks Board. (2015, October 21). Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Retrieved from National Parks Board website: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr
42. ASEAN Secretariat. (2003, December 20). ASEAN Declaration on Heritage Parks.Retrieved from the ASEAN Secretariat website: http://www.asean.org/news/asean-statement-communiques/item/asean-declaration-on-heritage-parks-2; ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity. (2015). ASEAN Heritage Parks. Retrieved from the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity website: http://chm.aseanbiodiversity.org/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=110&current=110
43. On the Kranji nature trail. (2003, December 31). Today, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Chiang, G. (2008, December 7). Sungei Buloh to create more buzz. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Chua, E. K. (2010). Wetlands in a city: The Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Singapore: Simply Green, p. 161. (Call no.: RSING 333.918095957 CHU)
46. Chiang, G. (2008, December 7). Sungei Buloh to create more buzz. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
47. Wee, L. (2014, December 7). Get closer to nature. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.




Further resources
Hale, R. E., et al. (1992). A proposal for a nature conservation area at Sungei Buloh. Singapore: Bird Group Conservation Committee, Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch). Available via PublicationSG.


Lim, W-C. (2008, May 22). Plans to up countryside charm in two areas. The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Nathan, D. (1994, February 13). Wetland nature park faces damage – from humans. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singh, S. (2005, April 14). Wetland splendour. Today, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Subaraj, R. (2015, August 16). The man behind Sungei Buloh. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Sungei Buloh Nature Park.(1998). A guide to Sungei Buloh Nature Park. Singapore: Sungei Buloh Nature Park.
(Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SUN)

Tan, C. (1993, December 7). New Kranji sanctuary offers much to behold. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 31 December 2015 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
Recreation>>Places of Interest
Streets and Places
Science and technology>>Biology>>Ecology
Wetland conservation--Singapore
Sports, recreation and travel>>Travel>>Asia>>Southeast Asia
Nature Reserves
Natural areas--Singapore
Mangrove conservation--Singapore
Nature>>Nature Conservation>>Nature Reserves
Places of interest
Nature and Environment

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