In Singapore's most ambitious undersea conservation effort to date, stretches of artificial reefs that will ring the Southern Islands are being put up for adoption.
For $360, donors will get to be surrogate parents to a 70cm circular reef home - a hollow dome-shaped fibreglass structure which will be anchored to the seabed in 5m deep waters.
Coated with limestone, the reef home will allow coral to easily attach itself.
If the adoption efforts are successful, about 2,000 of these reef homes will cover 20,000 sq m or one-fifth of the shallows around the handful of Southern Islands - Kusu, Lazarus, St John's and Seringat - which have been developed and linked through reclamation.
The reef project, which brings together a resort developer, conservationists, the local scientific community and now, the public, hopes to restore much of the coral life here in the decades to come.
Mrs Pamelia Lee, managing director of Southern Islands Development, which comes under the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), said: 'Since the tree-planting exercise on the island of Singapore has been so successful, why don't we do it with our reefs as well, and give people a sense of ownership of our natural underwater heritage.'
The $360 donation will cover the cost of producing the reef home and for divers to fasten them to the reef. SDC will cover the cost of monitoring the corals and providing ground support.
Professor Chou Loke Ming, an internationally-known marine expert with the biological sciences department of the National University of Singapore, said: 'Prior to this, reef conservation was done in bits and pieces; now we have the chance to really make a difference on a large scale.'
He has reason to be optimistic.
In earlier projects initiated by the Singapore Tourism Board in 2001 and continued by SDC, about 150 of the 50cm-high reef homes were planted in the cluster of Southern Islands including Lazarus and Kusu islands.
Although coral is notoriously slow-growing, some species settled in and grew up to 10cm after three years, quite an achievement considering the areas around the fibreglass structures remained barren. The structures also provided a home to baby fish, and trapped sediment, which kills coral.
The areas fringing Singapore's over 50 southern offshore islands are home to about 200 species of hard coral - a quarter of the global total, as well as 20 species of soft coral and more than 130 types of fish.
Although urbanisation has wiped out over 60 per cent of the reefs, the estimated 30 sq km left is almost as species rich as ever, said Prof Chou.
He said the Southern Islands project is proof that development and conservation do not have to be mutually exclusive, as steps can be taken to save the flora and fauna at the same time.
Bird and plant life on the islands have been saved and the use of silt screens during reclamation work protected existing corals from being smothered.
'A lot of people say our reefs are dying, but they have not been completely wiped out despite the intense use of our waters,' said Prof Chou. 'It's not a question of...creating instant reefs, but my feeling is it's not too late to save them.'
For more information on sponsoring a reef home, call Mr Howard Shaw, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council on 6337-6062 or 9636-0400.
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