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Southeast Asia

Singapore : Pulau Ubin


The Republic of Singapore is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 km north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia’s Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait. The country is highly urbanised with more land being created for development through land reclamation. In early 2009, it produced the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint  that maps out sustainable measures that Singapore would undertake until 2030.

Shaped like a boomerang, Pulau Ubin  is 10 sq km and situated just off the northeastern corner of the main island. Palau Ubin was once a cluster of five smaller islands separated by tidal rivers, but the building of bunds for prawn farming has since united these into a single island. Two other islets, Pulau Ketam (Crab Island) and Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island), lie to its south. Ubin is largely a series of undulating, granite hills. In the early days, granite mining supported a few thousand settlers. Much of the original vegetation was cleared for the cultivation of rubber and crops like coffee, pineapple, coconut and jasmine. Today, abandoned granite quarries remain as picturesque relics of Ubin's history, while forests and grasslands have regenerated to cover up the ravages of the past.

A trip to Pulau Ubin is a throwback to Singapore in the 1960's. The island is home to Singapore's last villages or kampongs, and there are still about a hundred villagers living here. In contrast to the modern and efficient public utilities on mainland Singapore, Ubin residents rely on wells for water and noisy diesel generators for electricity. Some villagers depend on traditional farming and fishing for subsistence, while others tend to their shops and restaurants. At the main village, near the jetty, some houses have been converted to bicycle rental shops to support a growing tourism trade. The island has evolved into an adventure getaway with well-preserved natural habitat managed by the National Parks Board  that draws about 300,000 visitors each year. There are eco-trails, shelters, camping sites and other basic amenities. In addition, there is one large resort and training camps operated by Outward Bound Singapore and National Police Cadets Corps.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Currently, Pulau Ubin does not draw electricity supply from the main power grid. It is not economical to lay power transmission cables from mainland Singapore to Palau Ubin due to its modest electricity consumption of around 2,500 MWh per annum with maximum demand estimated at 1.7 MW. The Energy Market Authority (EMA)  has embarked on a pioneering project to transform part of Pulau Ubin into a model ‘green’ island powered entirely by clean and renewable energy.  In November 2008, the EMA thought there was potential to design, build and operate an independent intelligent micro-grid infrastructure with distributed generation and illustrated various options for new technologies. Aside from solar panels and using waste as fuel for energy generation, electricity could also be produced from a hydrogen fuel cell plant, biofuels or turbines powered by wind or waves. These two papers   describe how the whole concept was subsequently implemented, the process of inviting proposals from a pool of international companies as well as the challenges and constraints faced by this project.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Singaporeans enjoy one of the most efficient solid waste management systems in the world. In 2010, a total of 6.5 million tonnes of refuse was generated, of which 3.8 million tonnes was recycled and the remaining 2.7 million tonnes was disposed of at incineration plants and landfill. The National Environment Agency licenses Public Waste Collectors (PWCs) and General Waste Collectors (GWCs) to collect solid waste in Singapore. Besides waste collection services, PWCs also provide recycling services to residents. Currently, about 58% of waste is recycled with the remaining 40% incinerated and 2% landfilled directly. The resulting ash from incineration is subsequently disposed of at the only landfill at Semakau.  Waste such as construction and demolition refuse that cannot be incinerated, is directly disposed of at Semakau. As both incineration plants and landfill are capital-intensive infrastructures and require large tracts of land, it is not sustainable for land-scarce Singapore to continue building incineration plants and landfills to cope with the growing demand for waste disposal. Zero Waste Singapore provides plenty of information on the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) and there are frequent coastal clean ups undertaken on Palau Ubin by those attending the Outward Bound training camps.

Water Management & Security

Permanent streams are rather rare on the island with the notable exception of one at Kampong Melayu that provides some of the water for the village. Streams have also been dammed up to provide a water supply for the Outward Bound School. Other fresh water comes mainly from wells, of which the temple well in the centre of Pulau Ubin village is a prominent example. Sometimes these wells are too close to the sea and suffer from saltwater intrusion. Port of Singapore Authority water tankers can supplement the fresh water supplies in an emergency, but the existence of a deep marine trench has made it uneconomic to bring a pipeline over from the mainland.


Visitors may travel to Pulau Ubin from the main island of Singapore via a 10-minute bumboat ride from the Changi Village jetty. Every bumboat can carry 12 passengers and the captain will wait till his boat has reached the maximum capacity. People who do not want to wait can pay for the whole bumboat and leave without waiting. Pulau Ubin is home to one of Singapore's best mountain bike trails that was built in 2007. The trail is approximately 8 kilometers long and features a wide range of terrain ranging from open meadows to thick jungle. There are numerous steep but short climbs and descents. The trail is well-marked with signs indicating the difficulty level of each section. The vast majority of the mountain bikers that ride this trail bring their own bike, although the rental bikes on the island can also be used.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Upon arrival at the Ubin jetty, visitors can hire a van or rent a bicycle from the main village. For the more adventurous, a walk to Chek Jawa Wetlands would take about 40 minutes. New amenities in Chek Jawa Wetlands include an information kiosk, boardwalk, viewing tower, viewing jetty and a visitor centre with seminar room and workroom. Guided tours are available at Chek Jawa and along the Sensory Trail but there is also a DIY Tree Trail.  This blog keeps those interested in the island informed with the latest news.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

One of Singapore's richest ecosystems, Chek Jawa is a unique natural area where six major habitats meet and mix. This important wetland was slated for land reclamation in 1992 but after carefully considering all public submissions and extensive consultations with scientific experts and relevant government agencies, it was announced in 2001 that reclamation works would be deferred as long as Pulau Ubin is not required for development.

The National Biodiversity Centre,  in partnership with Wildlife Reserves SingaporeNanyang Technological University, and researchers Marc Cremades and Ng Soon Chye, implemented the Hornbill Conservation Project to aid in the breeding and recovery of the Oriental Pied Hornbill which had previously gone extinct in Singapore but has since started to re-establish itself in places like Pulau Ubin and Changi. Hornbills require tree cavities to nest in. However, tree cavities of sufficient size to accommodate the female hornbill and her young are not common in Singapore. The implementation of artificial nest boxes at Pulau Ubin and Changi have been successful and video cameras are even installed within the nest boxes to provide a better understanding of the behavioural and feeding patterns of these birds.

Since May 2009, the National Biodiversity Centre, together with volunteers from the National Parks Board and nature groups such as Wild Singapore  and TeamSeaGrass,  intiated a project to monitor identified populations of Seahorse and Pipefish in several locations including Pulau Ubin for conservation management purposes. The data gathered will help to estimate the population size, growth rate of individuals and track their movements in their natural habitats.

Bird banding has been carried out on Pulau Ubin since 1998 as part of ongoing wildlife surveys. Close to 500 birds from 60 species have been banded, including one that was not previously recorded on the island – the Lanceolated Warbler. The Yellow-vented Bulbul is one of the birds most frequently caught (155 captures), while some of the rarities include, Black-naped Monarch, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Ruddy Kingfisher. Information collected has been useful for assessing the biodiversity richness and health of different areas on the island. There has also been on-going collaboration work with Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore to screen birds caught during the sessions for Avian Influenza, as part of the national surveillance programme against the disease.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

In 2010, climate change made its presence clearly known in Singapore. Flash floods hit Orchard Road not once but twice, resulting in million-dollar losses at the shopping belt. The public and private sectors then embarked on a slew of preventive measures. PUB, Singapore’s national water agency  spent S$26 million to raise certain stretches of Orchard Road by 30 cm. Outside Orchard, the floods also affected low-lying residential areas. A risk map study of Singapore’s coastlines is presently being conducted to map out areas being threatened by rising sea levels, which could lead to a high risk of land loss and flooding. It will also determine how climate change impacts Singapore’s biodiversity and public health. The National Climate Change Secretariat was set up as a dedicated agency under the Prime Minister’s Office with effect from 1 July 2010 to coordinate Singapore’s domestic and international policies, plans and actions on climate change.