Pulau Pawai

by Cornelius-Takahama, Vernon

Pulau Pawai is an island located south-west of Singapore. Known as Alligator Island during colonial times,1 the island was described as having a conspicuous summit of about 147 ft, and was extensively fringed with coral reefs. A large reef found in 1946 separates Pulau Pawai and Pulau Sudong.2 The island’s land area has increased over the years – measuring 68.8 ha in 19803 and 111.9 ha in 2002.4

In 1898, the governor of the Straits Settlements officially marked out 18 acres (7.28 ha) of Pulau Pawai as a village site for the Malays.5 The islanders were fishermen by profession.6 A report in 1925 noted that poultry farming was attempted on the island by Messrs. Futcher and Foston.7

Significant developments

Protecting the ecosystem
The waters around Pulau Pawai and the Southern Islands are home to some of Singapore’s best coral reefs.8 In 1934, N. Smedley,9 the officiating curator of the Raffles Museum and Library spent four days on Pulau Pawai collecting the littoral fauna of the coral reefs as specimens for the museum.10

However, the marine life in the Southern Islands became threatened by the reclamation and industrial development of the islands. This led to a suggestion by Associate Professor Chia Lin Sien from the National University of Singapore in 1989 for the development of a marine park around the islands of Pawai, Semakau, Sudong and Senang, to conserve the marine ecosystem of those islands.11 Calls to protect the coral reefs continued and culminated in the Blue Plan of 2009, which is the most comprehensive proposal to save the reefs to date.12

In 2007, experts from the Singapore Herbarium at the Singapore Botanic Gardens rediscovered a small bean tree with thick woody pods on Pulau Pawai. Last seen more than 50 years ago, the plant species was thought to be extinct.13

As reported in The Straits Times on 24 May 2008, the discovery of the Giant Mud Creeper in Pulau Pawai and Pulau Semakau by a survey team from the National Parks Board (NParks) represented a new record for Singapore. As the population of this species is very small, it was recommended for listing as an endangered species to guide conservation efforts.14

Water activities
Together with the other Southern Islands such as Pulau Sudong, Pulau Senang and Sisters’ Islands, Pulau Pawai was featured in The Straits Times in 1967 as one of the most popular spots in Singapore for activities such as underwater exploration and fishing underwater with spear guns and scuba equipment, as well as water sports like skin diving.15 The islands were popular spots for such activities until the 1980s.16

Live Firing
Pulau Pawai is one of the southern islands used exclusively for live-firing military exercises17 under the administration of the Ministry of Defence.18 In 1971, it was announced that Pulau Pawai would be gazetted as firing grounds for use by military personnel. The whole area of Pulau Pawai, Pulau Berkas, as well as parts of Pulau Senang, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Sakeng and Pulau Sudong were declared the “Southern Islands Live Firing Range.”19 A typical day in Pulau Pawai begins with officers setting up targets, ensuring that the area is free of trespassers, and informing airbases that the island is ready for the drill. Boat patrols are also deployed around the island which is off-limits to the public.20


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

1. Island Skeleton Mystery. (1937, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Buckley, C. B. (1902). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: (with portraits and illustrations) from the foundation of the settlement under the Honourable the East India Company, on February 6th, 1819, to the transfer of the Colonial Office as part of the colonial possessions of the Crown on April 1st, 1867 (Vol. 2). Singapore: Fraser & Neave, p. 520. Retrieved from BookSG.
2. Hennessey, S. J. (1946). Malacca Strait pilot, comprising Malacca Strait and its northern approaches, Singapore Strait and the west coast of Sumatra. London: Hydrographic Dept, p. 185. (Call no.: RCLOS 623.8929595 GRE-[GBH])

3. Ministry of Culture. (1980). Singapore facts and pictures. Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 243. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SMCFFS)
4. Ministry of Culture. (2002). Singapore facts and pictures. Singapore: Ministry of Culture, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SMCFFS)
5. Untitled. (1898, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore. 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)
7. Untitled. (1925, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Veloo, R. (1991, October 6). Set up marine parks to save corals reefs, conservation group urges Govt. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Colonial appointments. (1932, April 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The fauna of Singapore. Many new specimens for the museum. (1934, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Chia, M. (1989, November 14). Varsity don calls for sanctuary to save marine life. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chua, G. (2009, April 24). Blue Plan to save Singapore’s biodiversity-rich coral reefs ready. The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Bean tree with thick woody pods. (2007, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. SPECIES (2008, May 24). The Straits Times, p. 75. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Pestana, R. (1967, June 4). Away from it all – on sunlit waters and tropical islets. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Dive into a world of sea sports. (1982, April 11). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Wai, R. (1985, January 10). Isle in the line of fire. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Reef Ecology Lab, NUS (2016). Coral Reefs of Singapore. Retrieved 2016, October 22 from the Reef Ecology Lab, NUS website: http://coralreef.nus.edu.sg/localities/localities.html#mindef
19. Firing grounds for SAF (1971, February 16). Singapore Herald, p. 3; Live firing (1979, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 14; SAF MILITARY EXERCISES (2005, December 30), The Straits Times, p. 8; 'Live firing' on Pulau Pawai (1980, March 9). The Straits Times, p. 4; Live firing exercises (2009, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 9; Live-firing (1979, April 24). New Nation, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Wai, R. (1985, January 10). Isle in the line of fireThe Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 23 November 2018 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.


Environmental protection
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Singapore offshore islands
Nature and Environment
Military training camps--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Military Sites
Military facilities
Law and government>>Security>>Army