Singapore: First the Haze, Now the Oil spill (long)

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Subject: Singapore: First the Haze, Now the Oil spill (long)
From: "Victor Yue" <>
Date: Sat, 1 Nov 1997 21:05:44 +0800
Hi folks,
As you may know, a major part of S.E. Asia is still in the haze [many
commented that this is a very mild description. :-)] If that is not enough,
Singapore has just experienced (actually 2 weeks ago) the biggest oil spill.

A 20-year-old oil tanker, Evoikos, spilled 25,000 tonnes of marine fuel just
south of Singapore, in the Straits of Singapore.

The Singapore Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) has been busy trying to
contain the oil spill. Some could be finding the way towards the Straits of
Malacca towards Malaysia. Much have been done but one area which local
nature lovers feel that MPA has not done enough is cleaning up the shores
for the birds. As this is the migrating season for the birds, the situation
has become quite acute.

Below is a letter to the Straits Times today (Sat, 1 Nov 97) which I have
extracted from the Straits Times'  Webpage


Oil spill: Do more to save birdlife on islands

WE HAVE carried out a quick survey of the extent of the ecological damage on
the shores of the western group of the Southern Islands, focusing on the

We surveyed the shore birdlife on previous trips, and this has helped us
obtain a reasonably good picture of the current situation.

Attention was focused on the birdlife, as this is the most visible category
of wildlife on the shores and whose survival measures at this stage of the
spill may be more fruitful.

Given the extent of the disaster, the Maritime and Port Authority of
Singapore (MPA) did a good job of containing the extent of the disaster.

Despite the conscientious efforts, however, some of the spill has gone onto
the islands as far north as Pulau Bukom, coating the shoreline at high-water
mark with a thick layer of oil.
The oil collects most heavily on the grassy and rocky shores as well as the
base and roots of mangroves.

In terms of the birdlife, the following were noted:

In the survey, only five species of wading birds were present, and in very
small numbers (about 10 - 20 per cent of those sighted on previous trips).

Under normal conditions, a survey of this sort would yield at least 10 shore

The marked scarcity of migratory shore species may be in part due to the
haze, but there is also a reduction in the number of resident shore species

Only one, the reef egret, of the five resident wading species was seen.

The heavy concentration of oil on the shores may have driven them to seek
refuge in other islands not affected by the spill.

What is of most concern is that none of the endangered great-billed herons
was spotted.
Their population in Singapore is very small, but previous trips had yielded
at least a couple of sightings.

Some of the following species were seen coated with oil -- the reef egret,
the common sandpiper, the little egret and the pied fantail -- all typically
shoreline species.

The cleaners at work at Pulau Hantu informed us that five collared
kingfishers were found dead on the beach, stained with oil.

We are aware that the MPA is doing its utmost to protect and clean up the
affected popular beaches, such as the one at Pulau Hantu.

Efforts are mainly concentrated on the protection of recreational venues
with a purely human orientation, as seen in the quick action in putting up
booms around Sentosa and the Kusu islands.

We are concerned especially that so far no effort has been made to extend
the clean-up operation to Semakau, designated as a "nature area" in The
Singapore Green Plan, which "aims to protect and conserve" and "ensure" that
the 19 nature areas identified in the plan remain "dedicated to the
preservation of nature".

Resources may perhaps be limited, but we urge that some priority be given to
cleaning the shorelines that are important for wildlife as well, for the
following ecological considerations:
It is a matter of life and death for these wildlife.

This is the migratory season and waves upon waves of wading birds will be
passing through these islands, stopping along the coasts to recharge their
energy before moving further south or simply to take refuge here.

The migration is in full swing now.

Birds already affected by the oil will probably not survive for long.
Cleaning the important shorelines will help those that have yet to land
around these parts and so reduce the extent of wildlife casualties.

These shores are the haunts of our two locally rare and endangered wading
species -- the great-billed heron and the beach thick-knee.

These two endangered local species, together with the others, may have taken
refuge in the other islands for the time being, but efforts should be made
to clean up their home grounds so that they can return soon without getting
stained by the oil.

In this way, we can help in the recovery of the other local species as well.

For the birds, intervention can be most fruitful.

They come into contact with the oil only when they use the shoreline for
feeding purposes.
They are directly affected when their feet and bill are coated by the oil in
the course of wading around the oil-stained shore and rocks.

This leads to the matting-up of their feathers when they preen and clean
As long as some of the fish and shore organisms survive and recover, these
birds will have a chance to survive.

This is provided the oil-slick does not get onto their feathers or bodies.

Therefore, we urge the relevant authorities to carry out cleaning operations
on the affected embankments, sandy and rocky shores, as well as the affected
mangroves, of the following sites, and as soon as possible:
1) Pulau Anak Bukom -- an important nesting and roosting site for resident
shore species;
2) The western shoreline of Pulau Semakau -- a "nature area" in The Green
3) Pulau Salu -- haunt of the beach thick-knee, the reef egret and the
great-billed heron; and
4) Pulau Busing -- feeding and roosting ground of the migratory shore birds.

The Conservation Committee
The Nature Society (Singapore)


Victor Yue Seong Swee
34 Upper Cross St #15-168
Singapore 050034
Phone: +65 533-3177

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