29 Oct 2018

Great news for Singapore shorebirds: new protected area announced

This month, wetlands containing one of Singapore’s last remaining mangroves have secured protection after years of concerted advocacy. This move will benefit globally threatened birds such as the Chinese Egret and Straw-headed Bulbul.

The Chinese Egret relies on the mangroves and mudflats as a refuelling site on migration © JJ Harrison
The Chinese Egret relies on the mangroves and mudflats as a refuelling site on migration © JJ Harrison
By Shannon Anstee

Often, when we think of Singapore, we think of urban sprawl with sky-high buildings standing tall in a concrete jungle. However, what we often forget to recognise is how important this city is for migratory birds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. Migratory birds can travel from as far North as the Arctic Circle to as far South as Australia and New Zealand. Along the way, these birds rely on stopover sites in China, Vietnam and Singapore in order to rest and feed. These sites are becoming increasingly scarce amidst development and increasing population pressures. As a result, the protection of these natural environments are vital for securing the future and wellbeing of migratory birds.

The Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS - BirdLife Partner) recognises the importance of coastal mudflats within Singapore and has been advocating for their conservation for over three decades. Since the 1980s, they have been regularly monitoring biodiversity and birds in the Kranji - Mandai wetlands and mangroves. They have been working with local conservation groups and researchers at the National University of Singapore to push for its inclusion as a nationally protected area, and recognition as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA).

This month, through the hard work and advocacy of NSS and other stakeholders, the Singapore government has announced their intention to gazette an area of over 70 hectares of coastal mudflats and mangroves in the Kranji- Mandai IBA as a new protected area. The announcement was made at the World Migratory Bird Day activities at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in October 2018. "Although belated, the conservation of Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat is highly laudable on the part of the Singapore government, in consonant with the positive move for nature conservation through the last three decades from Buloh to Ubin to Kranji Marshes - and now Mandai.", expressed Dr. Hua Chew Ho, vice president of the Nature Society (Singapore).

Mud, mud, glorious mud! And underneath, a host of tasty invertebrates © Nature Society Singapore

This much-needed protection helps to secure the future of one of the most important areas of coastal mudflats on the Singapore side of the Johor straits. Mandai Mangrove and Mudflats is one of the few remaining mangrove habitats in Singapore, with an extensive mudflat exposed at low tide. The abundance of molluscs, crustaceans and worms provides rich feeding grounds for the migratory birds that use this habitat as a stopover or wintering site. These include large numbers of Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Pacific Golden Plover and Lesser Sand Plover - not to mention Golbally Threatened species such as the Chinese Egret (Vulnerable) and Straw-headed Bulbul (Endangered).

Mandai Mudflats complement the role of nearby Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which is also used by many shorebird species as a high tide roost. And it’s not just migratory birds: Kranji- Mandai IBA is home to 16 threatened mangrove plant species, as well as endangered seagrass and horseshoe crab species.

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The new park will be open to visitors of the Mandai Mangroves and Mudflats in mid-2022. The park will include amenities such as nature trails, bicycle racks and bird hides. The protection of the area will help strengthen the conservation of wetland biodiversity across Singapore, as well as facilitate research and provide education opportunities that will enhance the knowledge and awareness of migratory birds in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.