Speech by Deputy Prime Minister & Coordinating Minister for National Security S Jayakumar at the WWF 2008 Asian Panda Ball
Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien
James Leape Director-General of WWF International
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to be here this evening at the WWF 2008 Asian Panda Ball.
Singapore is honoured that the WWF has chosen chose Singapore as the first country in Asia to play host to this prestigious event. WWF has had a presence in Singapore since 2006. In its two and a half years here WWF Singapore has embarked on a number of projects focused on industry outreach and in engaging media and companies on issues of corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability. These include closed-door workshops on the impact of business activities on conservation efforts; conservation-related field trips for corporate employees, and the “Singapore Corporate Club”, which aims to raise environmental awareness amongst corporation staff and clientele. Such initiatives must be encouraged and we in Singapore look forward to working in continued partnership with the WWF.
The focus of this evening’s Panda Ball is on the WWF’s work in the Coral Triangle, a delicate ecosystem that spans the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific regions. Considered the “Amazon Rainforest of the Oceans”, the Coral Triangle area boasts the world’s richest concentration of coral and marine life such as fish, crustaceans, iridescent corals and marine plants. This ‘nursery of the seas’ supports large populations of turtles and tuna. Some 120 million people in the region are also dependent on its health for their food security.
Singapore is committed to playing our part to help preserve the marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle. Singapore possesses more than 250 species of hard corals, which translates into about 25 per cent of all hard coral species in the world. This is in spite of almost all our coral reefs lying along one of the world’s busiest trade routes. This is testimony that it is possible to pursue economic development in an environmentally sustainable manner.
To maintain the health of our coral reefs, last year our National Parks Board, together with the Keppel Group, the National University of Singapore and the National Environment Agency, launched a coral nursery initiative off Semakau Landfill to preserve Singapore’s reef system by regenerating naturally broken-off coral fragments into larger coral colonies. Care was taken during the landfill’s development to protect mangrove plantations, bird species, and surrounding coral reefs. The coral nursery at Semakau Landfill celebrated a milestone in April this year. New corals grown in the nursery were successfully transplanted to coral reefs off Singapore’s southern coast.
Semakau Landfill is but only one example of the many efforts taken since Singapore’s independence to make our dense and land-scarce island-city liveable. Over the years we have cleaned our waterways, improved water resource management, undertaken reforestation and pursued marine conservation. These efforts have continued apace with various initiatives to educate and challenge Singaporeans to play their part. But with urbanisation occurring on an unprecedented scale the world over, clearly more can still be done. The beauty and marine biodiversity of this region is under threat from over-fishing and destructive fishing.
The region’s terrestrial environment is also threatened by overdevelopment and other unsustainable economic practices. Forests are still felled indiscriminately through slash-and-burn techniques in many parts of Southeast Asia. Such practices cause the region to be periodically enshrouded by smoke haze, and also results in the loss of vital carbon sinks. These serious threats to the environment reflect the difficulties facing many countries around the world in finding an appropriate balance between development and environmental protection.
Finding this balance requires the commitment and political will of governments as well as the involvement of NGOs and international environmental organisations such as the WWF. The WWF’s Coral Triangle initiative has helped to improve the delicate balance between the needs and livelihood of the region’s fishing community and those of the coral reef ecosystem. We should continue to support WWF’s many valuable projects in this area which, among other things, attempt to replace destructive fishing practices with sustainable ones by implementing incentives for sustainable fishing.
Singapore will continue to working with our regional partners as well as international and non-governmental organisations to protect the ecosystem and biodiversity of our land and territorial seas. Organisations like the WWF play a crucial role in raising public awareness on conservation and biodiversity, and in implementing practical solutions that benefit both humanity and nature. We look forward to working in closer association with the WWF and other organisations in the future.
I wish the WWF a successful Panda Ball and all distinguished guests an enjoyable evening.