RICH BIODIVERSITY FOUND
To prepare for plans to advance Singapore’s food security, SFA’s notice said that an environmental impact assessment was done in order to meet the Republic’s “30-by-30” goal.
This is a 2030 target set by the Government in 2019 to meet 30 per cent of the population’s nutritional needs by producing food locally.
“One of the ways is to produce fish in an environmentally sustainable manner through new sea space tenders from end-2022 onwards,” said the notice.
According to the study viewed by TODAY, marine aquaculture, if done at scale, “is one of the most efficient sectors available for the production of animal proteins”.
The report, which is over 320 pages long and was prepared by environmental consultant DHI Water and Environment, highlighted the rich biodiversity and marine ecosystems found around Singapore’s southern waters.
For instance, located around the three islands are sub-tidal coral reefs – which are known for their relatively high diversity of hard and soft coral species – as well as intertidal habitats such as sandy shores, mangrove forests and seagrasses.
Marine megafauna such as the blacktip reef shark and sea turtles have also been documented within the waters around the southern islands.
Singapore is home to two native sea turtle species, the hawksbill turtle and the green sea turtle, which are listed as critically endangered and endangered respectively on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Other endangered species include the Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin and the fluted giant clam.
WHAT THE REPORT CONCLUDED
In general, the report concluded that the proposed sites are suitable for aquaculture farming, and they do not overlap extensive marine habitats such as corals or seagrass, although they will be near a recreational diving site at Pulau Jong.
To mitigate impact on the environment from aquaculture farms, the report suggested using closed containment systems, where fish and other aquatic animals are grown in tanks, as opposed to an open cage system since the quality of the water discharge can be monitored.
It added that a closed containment farming with an annual production of 18,200 tonnes of aquaculture products is expected to have “limited impact on the ecosystems” at the proposed sites.
As for open cage farming, it is still feasible to have limited impact on the marine environment if the total maximum production of aquaculture products is capped at 22,260 tonnes per year.
That said, the report advised to maintain a buffer of 10 to 20 per cent below the maximum production “in case of unforeseen circumstances”.
It also warned that increasing aquaculture in the southern islands of Singapore may have an impact on pathogen breakout events, and a study on such risk should be considered.
WHAT SCIENTISTS AND CONSERVATIONISTS SAY
By and large, marine scientists and conservationists TODAY spoke with said they do not oppose the plan to have aquaculture farms in the southern waters, as long as appropriate measures are taken to ensure the water quality is not affected.
Mr Kua Kay Yaw, chairman of the Marine Conservation Group at Nature Society (Singapore), said that global supply chain disruptions have brought to the fore the importance of Singapore being able to produce its own food.
And as the proposed farm sites are “located in deeper waters”, he does not foresee it to have a great effect on coral reefs, which are mostly around the fringes of the three islands.
That said, he said that any excess nutrients that enter the water via feed or waste could result in algae blooms, which in turn could affect the nearby coral reefs.
“I think the consensus in the group is that we would like them (aquaculture farmers) to use a self-containment system,” Mr Kua said. “With improving technology, they may even be able to purify the water before it is discharged.”
This was a sentiment the spokesperson for the Marine Stewards, a non-profit marine conservation, agreed with.
Added the spokesperson: “These systems are designed such that there won’t be any escapees that may disrupt local ecology.”
Another area of concern highlighted by Mr Kua is that open cage farms may attract predators to the area, which may pose a danger to members of the public who use the surrounding waters for recreation.
Aside from the increased risk of algae blooms, Dr Toh Tai Chong, marine biologist and senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore, also shared that aquaculture farms can have four other major impacts on the marine ecosystem.
This includes destroying coral reefs to build pilings to keep the fish farms in place and increased boat traffic in the area that can generate waves that may shatter corals.
“Construction of aquaculture facilities may also change the water flow in the area, which may disrupt how marine animals move especially if the young, such as larvae, require movement from one area to the next … the young may not be dispersed far enough and (this can) lead to overcrowding, “he said.
He also added that some fish farms also lay long nets to keep their fish, and these nets may entangle other marine animals, like turtles.