Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 4/2017]
Madam, I stand in full support of this Bill.
I have spent the last 16 years of my life fighting to protect our wildlife here in Singapore. With ACRES, we have rescued thousands of animals, rehabilitated them and working with both NParks and AVA, released them back into the wild where they belong.
Singaporeans continue to be amazed when I tell them that we rescued over a thousand wild animals in Singapore each year. ACRES alone rescued more than 3,000 wild animals just last year. The most common response I get is “Singapore got wild animals meh?”.
I have personally seen the amazing biodiversity we have on this island, I have seen how precious they are and perhaps most importantly, I have seen how fragile they are.
We have much to lose if we our policies are not right and for all the harm that we humans have done to the animals and the environment, it is also only us who can right this wrong and who can protect our ecosystem.
Madam this Bill today signals a milestone in our efforts to protect Singapore’s biodiversity and is a huge step forward.
Protecting our marine ecosystem
A significant step forward is in the protection of our marine ecosystem. If it is hard to create awareness of and protect the biodiversity on land, protect our terrestrial ecosystem, then it is even harder when it come to our marine ecosystem. Simply because what goes on there literally goes on beneath the surface and most people have never seen or heard of the amazing marine life we have in our waters.
As such, I applaud the Bill for the inclusion of “marine parks” in the Parks and Trees Act (or PTA), giving NParks – for the first time – jurisdiction over the seas. This will provide the Sisters’ Island Marine Park with greater protection against destructive behaviour.
Madam, while I stand in support of the Bill, I would like to seek some clarification and also offer some suggestions.
Better clarity with regard to the inclusion of “marine park”
There should be an equivalent to Part III of the PTA with regard to marine parks. There should be a section setting out the objectives of a marine park, similar to Section 7 of the current Act. There should also be provisions setting out what acts are prohibited in a marine park, similar to Sections 8 and 9 of the current Act. Can the Minister clarify specifically what acts are not allowed in the marine park?
What is the status of the land areas of Sisters Island? It is only the marine area (defined in the Bill’s schedule Part III) that is protected as a marine park. But the amended definition of “public park” inserts the word “marine park” in paragraph (a) so it would appear that the landed area in Sisters Island would be a public park?
It is noted that shellfish are protected, as “fish” includes shellfish in the definition. But this protection only applies to acts that are prohibited in sections 8 and 9 and these relate to National Parks and Nature Reserves, not to a Marine Park. Can the Minister clarify if the protection extends to the marine park.
What about shells that no longer have shellfish living in them? The giant clam shells for example. These are also found in our waters. Are these protected? There was a recent controversy over the giant clam shells collected by NUS students on a trip to the Riau Islands.
It is also unclear if corals are protected in a marine park. It may be argued that the definition of “animal” in the PTA is wide enough to encompass corals “…or any other living creature, vertebrate or invertebrate”. While many are living organisms, some corals may be dead. Can these be collected?
Section 14 of the State Lands Encroachment Act makes it an offence to take “corals or shells” from state land but this only applies to taking from the “land”. What about taking from the sea bed? Is this to be considered “land”?
It is best if the law clearly makes it an offence to take away shellfish, shells as well as corals. All these should be protected in a marine park, along with fish and other marine creatures.
It is also unclear if fishing or the taking of any marine life in a marine park is prohibited.
Will there also be prohibitions on throwing down of anchors onto the seabed as these would damage the coral reefs? Or throwing of garbage into the sea?
Protection for NParks coastal parks, nature reserves and Chek Jawa
Next, in order for NParks to fully protect our marine biodiversity from destructive behaviour, could the Ministry look into making similar amendments to extend full jurisdiction by NParks to coastal Nature Reserves: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Labrador Nature Reserve. As well as coastal parks such as Changi Beach Park, Pasir Ris Park, East Coast Park and Chek Jawa.
The experience with the designation of ‘Chek Jawa Wetlands’ in 2007 suggests that amendments to the PTA is necessary to allow NParks to fully enforce the PTA beyond the high water mark.
I understand from the green community that NParks Notice 188.8.131.52 dated 24 September 2007 and Port Marine Notice No 126 of 2007 attempted to designate Chek Jawa Wetlands by demarcating points in the sea and declaring via the Notices that these points were under the PTA.
Probably because there was no actual corresponding amendment to the PTA, in practice, even after the Notices, NParks still has to send all reported misdemeanours beyond the high water mark to MPA to enforce.
NParks could not enforce action on its own against blatant misbehaviour in broad daylight within the designated Chek Jawa Wetlands. These include laying fish nets hundred of metres long, line fishing and laying of traps, speeding boats cutting across the seagrass meadows, boaters and jet skis passing or landing on Chek Jawa and Pulau Sekudu. In most cases, there is little effective follow-up action as these may not be a key focus for MPA which is also under a different Ministry.
These experiences underlines the importance of embedding clear jurisdiction boundaries in the sea through amendments in the PTA, and not just via Notices.
In this light, could the Ministry also look at amending jurisdiction for coastal parks, Nature Reserves (i.e. Sungei Buloh and Labrador) and Chek Jawa, since it is now amending jurisdiction for the Sisters Islands Marine Park?
Prohibiting the release of animals
Lastly, on the amendment to Section 9, which proposes to prohibit the release or abandonment of animals into any river, stream or watercourse which flows into a nature reserve.
I understand that NParks will be putting up “no-release” signs to inform the public of this change. However, it might be difficult to enforce this.
For example, if the public releases the animal further upstream, before the sign is sighted, how will this law still be enforced? How will we assess if the person “reasonably knows” that the body of water flows into or through the nature reserve? A person caught releasing the animal can simply say he or she doesn’t know the river flows into the nature reserve. How will Nparks be able to prove what he or she knows or doesn’t know.
I forsee some technical difficulties with enforcement and thus propose an alternative solution, which is to prohibit the release of exotic species anywhere – on land and in water – in Singapore, and not simply to restrict this to certain areas.
Animals are not stationary and have the freedom to travel from unrestricted areas to nature reserves. Hence, I see little rationale in creating demarcations when prohibiting the release of wildlife.
ACRES has seen first-hand the devastating impacts invasive species can have on local ones – for example, the red-eared sliders which is native to North America, have caused numbers of our local Asian box turtles to drop significantly.
Madam, if we want to protect our local wildlife, we must put a stop to the release of animals anywhere.
Madam, I have had the privilege of experiencing the amazing biodiversity in Singapore and I hope my daughters will continue to have this privildge when they are older.
I was in England recently and I watched a programme on TV about the challenges countries around the world faced in coexisitng with their wild animals. The programme ended by showcasing Singapore and how we have succeeded in protecting our biodiversity and coexisting with our wild animals.
The ball is in our court and let’s make sure we do what is right. After all, “If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.”
Madam, I stand in full support of the Bill.