The Story of Saving Macritchie So Far

Recently, I’ve seen Facebook posts about the Cross Island Line on my newsfeed posted by those outside of my usual echo chamber of environmentally-conscious, nature-loving friends. The Cross Island Line debacle has finally surfaced into mainstream public consciousness. People are talking about the impacts of building an MRT line through a forest our city in a garden. This comes almost two years after it was first announced as part of the 2013 Population White Paper, which led to lively but unsustained conversations about it. A petition started by a concerned individual began to garner signatures. It was discussed at the Singapore Future Sustainability Symposium. Nature groups conducting walks in Macritchie Forest drew attention to the matter by incorporating it in their guide notes. An alternate route was proposed by Nature Society Singapore in a position paper submitted to the government.

Petition
tinyurl.com/lta-crl

What’s changed now? The debate has grown to include interwoven perspectives about our (under)valued biodiversity and natural heritage, treasures for the next generation, benefits of connectivity, difficult questions about development versus preservation, fissured environmental laws, and lessons in stakeholder engagement.

This is in response to the newly-released environmental impact assessment (EIA) report solely on the environmental baseline and soil investigation works that are required for future construction of the line. Notably, this is the first phase of the EIA, upstream of a future study that will assess the construction and operation of the underground train tunnels.

This EIA report has over 1,000 pages and 7 chapters, and is available for viewing at LTA by appointment only. There are no digital copies, making details about the EIA vaguely translated at best – a defensive move given the lack of legal requirement for EIAs to even be produced, much less open to public scrutiny. Information here on the EIA have been personally noted, and I take responsibility for any inaccuracies. [Update 19/2/2016: The LTA has now released the EIA online in full for public viewing here, a move made after the lack of transparency was raised in a letter to the Straits Times.]

The time is ripe for a decision by LTA to select one of two viable options proposed in the report:

Option 1 (Green): 1.8km route cuts across Macritchie/CCNR from the Singapore Island Cross Country Club to the Pan Island Expressway (PIE)

Option 2 (Blue): 9km route skirts around it Macritchie/CCNR from the southeast of SICC, beneath to Lornie Road and parallel to the PIE

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The engineering feasibility of the Cross Island Line likely depends on soil investigation works to map out the geology of the area for both options. For Option 1, the train tunnel ought to go through Bukit Timah Granite for structural stability, and this is the reason why 16 boreholes (instead of 72 originally planned) will be drilled 50-70m underground for analysis.

Importantly, the EIA studied the impacts of soil investigation works on surface water quality (groundwater quality was studied without intrusive testing), ambient noise, vibration, ambient air quality, and ecology and biodiversity.

Option 1 presents particular concerns. Even though a rather robust Environmental Mitigation and Monitoring Programme has been recommended to reduce almost all impacts to acceptable levels of minor to moderate or negligible, there still remains the possibility of accidental events . Uncontrolled site runoff, spills from construction fluids, roadkill and damage to vegetation from vehicle movement could all occur – the likelihood of which could fluctuate based on how well measures are observed.

The language of the EIA has diffused into media reports, with words like impact receiving attention. Translated from the Impact Significance Matrix, impact is a composite of sensitivity/vulnerability/importance of receptor/response and magnitude of impact (with factors of extent, duration, scale and frequency). Typically, we want to minimise impact to minor or negligible, especially if they are in highly sensitive areas such as areas directly within the reserve. The type and likelihood of impact is also important. The phrase “as low as reasonably practicable”, stylised as ALARP, is also mentioned as a caveat to the limits of engineering ingenuity, standards, protocols and emergency action plans to reduce these impacts.

Share this comic by Jacqueline Chua here

The construction of a Cross Island Line is one that has particular pressure points which lie outside the scope of the EIA report:

  1. Macritchie / CCNR is the largest nature reserve in Singapore. While it is gazetted by law, it has not been accorded blanket protection.
  2. The biodiversity and habitats found in Macritchie are unparalleled and scarce. Flora and fauna species are already endangered and cannot be found elsewhere, while the high urban cover of Singapore has reduced primary and secondary forests to these few remaining patches in our nature reserves.
  3. The costs of picking Option 2, the route that skirts around the reserve, have not been clarified by LTA yet.

A concerted move by environmental groups to push for a “zero-impact policy as a starting point to avoid long-lasting impacts on the environment” is making itself visible and vocal on social media platforms, garnering support from the masses with each share and like. The Love Our Macritchie Forest movement, fronted by the Toddycats, the BES Drongosand the Herpetological Society of Singapore, is putting pedal to the metal – or in this case, boots on the ground.

march-for-macritchie

March for Macritchie is a series of guided tours in March initiated by Love Our Macritchie Forest that the general public can sign up for – and decide for themselves the values that they place on biodiversity intrinsically, as educational tools, or for wonder to be experienced by themselves or their children.

“You can’t miss what you don’t know.”

This slogan captures precisely the motivations for me to be part of the Love Macritchie movement. You can’t miss what you don’t know about the local biodiversity housed in our forests – a part of our terrestrial environment that still remains audaciously non-urbanised. And you won’t miss it until it’s gone. (Pictured here are some of the animals found in Macritchie.)

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Such is the impassioned, heartfelt plea from environmentalists such as myself to not only minimise the impact of the Cross Island Line, but to reduce the impact to zero. This is not unachievable, given the fact that there is after all, literally another option on the table present as a thinner (and hence detailing fewer impacts) bound report: the alternate Lornie Road route, Option 2.

Words by: Judy Goh

EDIT: The EIA has now been made available for viewing online here!

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Monkeying Around: Misconceptions about Macaques and how we can make it better

Hi everyone! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Chinese New Year is just around the corner and this year happens to be the Year of the Monkey!

monkeyhome.jpg

Generally, people think that monkeys are adorable, curious, and highly intelligent animals – which is not untrue. However, if you’ve ever been on our guided walks or to MacRitchie Reservoir Park at all, you might have seen people scream and run away at the sight of the monkeys.

This is not without reason: the monkeys at MacRitchie have been known to snatch people’s food, bottles, and bags. Though, what people don’t know is that we created these human-macaque conflicts ourselves and all that’s required to resolve it is a simple change in behaviour. But, let’s start from the top to catch everyone up to speed 🙂

About the monkeys

The monkeys at MacRitchie are called long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) and they are a forest-edge species. What this means is that rather than living deep in the forest, the macaques prefer to live at the edge of the forest, which coincides with the parks and paths that we use for our leisure.

Clarifying misperceptions

  1. “The macaques are aggressive and scary.”

Firstly, it is important to differentiate between aggressive and assertive. Aggressive behaviour includes biting and scratching, while assertive behaviour refers to the baring of teeth, chasing, lunging and/or grabbing. The macaques at MacRitchie are usually assertive and have in fact rarely been observed to be aggressive.

Secondly, whether the macaque is being assertive or aggressive, it is all part of their natural behaviour. Visitors to MacRitchie might have noticed that the macaques often travel in groups. This is their troop. In each troop, there is an alpha male – equivalent to the ‘dad’ of the group, and it is his responsibility to care for and protect his troop. As such, when people or dogs get too close to his family members, it is the alpha male’s instinct to display assertive and/or aggressive behaviours.

  1. “The macaques are attracted only to red plastic bags.”

This is a strange myth and how it started remains a mystery. What we do know is that the macaques are in reality attracted not only to plastic bags of all colours, but also to any bag that is handheld (e.g. reusable bag, shoe bag, tote bag, even backpacks). Even when there is no food present, the very image of a bag carried by its handles and held in a hand results in the macaque associating the bag with food.

  1. “The macaques are relocated when complaints are made about them.”

Many think that when people call AVA or NParks to complain about the macaques being a nuisance in the park, the macaques will then be relocated to another forest patch or the zoo. This isn’t a method employed by AVA or NParks in dealing with complaints as relocating the macaques is simply relocating the problem.

When someone makes a complaint against the macaques, the problem macaque, when identified, is actually culled, or killed. Sometimes, when the problem macaque cannot be identified, more macaques are culled 😦

It is important to be aware of the consequences your complaint might have so that you complain responsibly. Save your complaints for problems that you can’t solve. With that in mind, here are some ways in which you can help play a part in resolving the human-macaque conflict.

Resolving conflict

  1. Be prepared

Imagine this: A macaque approaches and attempts to grab something from you, you scream and run. The macaque gives chase and refuses to give up. In the end, you decide to simply get rid of the monkey by giving it what it wants – throwing your food/bottle/bag at it so it will finally stop pestering you.

The above scenario is one that has been commonly observed. The macaques are smart and they learn from experience. Such submissive human behaviour teaches the monkeys that they are able to easily obtain food. It also results in them associating humans with food, which will only prompt them to approach humans more often and more aggressively.

A study in 2014 (Lai) showed that by simply changing your reaction towards macaques, the macaques will respond submissively and not attempt to grab your items. Some simple acts of deterrence include:

  • Making loud noises at the macaque
  • Making threatening gestures using tools such as umbrellas or sticks (or even your hands)
  • Stomping your feet.
  • NOTE: DO NOT HIT THEM
  1. Avoid conflict altogether

Very simply, this means removing the exposure of any items that might trigger a macaque into initiating interaction with you. Such items include:

  • Food
  • Other food-associated items
    • Bottles
    • Plastic bags of any colour
    • Any hand-held bags (be it tote bags, shoe bags, drawstring bags, backpacks, etc.)

It is encouraged that you do not bring food anywhere near the forest, especially on trails, and when consuming food, please clear your trash responsibly.

In summary

  1. Macaques are simply exhibiting their natural behaviour
  2. It is within our power to help resolve the human-macaque conflict
  3. Make loud noises, threatening gestures, or stomp to prevent the macaque from approaching you and/or grabbing your things
  4. Don’t expose any food or food-related items when in the park and/or near the macaques

Ultimately, MacRitchie is our park, but it is also where the macaques live. They too have a family, and they too need a home. It’s been their home long before it was our park, so let’s all play a part in helping both species to coexist by being more understanding and tolerant towards the macaques 🙂

Words by: Tan Jia Xiu

EIA (Phase 1) of CRL announced: where do we go from here?

On 5th February 2016, Phase 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). The report concluded that:

  1. Site investigation works will have moderate impact on the environment, if mitigating measures are taken.
  2. As such, soil testing will still go ahead.

Soil testing works involves deep drilling into the ground of the forest, and is done to determine the soil composition of the potential construction site of the Cross Island Line (CRL), as part of risk assessment protocol.

While we, the BES Drongos and other concerned individuals from the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement have been hoping for the forest to be left undisturbed, the fact remains that drilling will still go ahead.

However, as much as we are disappointed with the EIA outcome, our voices have not been ignored. Following concerns from various nature groups, LTA has decided to:

  • Reduce the number of boreholes from 72 to 16;
  • Confine drilling to public trails and non-vegetative areas; and
  • Employ more non-intrusive (no physical alteration) methods in soil investigation.

Furthermore, an alternative route first suggested by the Nature Society is currently being considered as a viable second option. The suggested route will skirt around the nature reserve instead of cutting directly through it, which means less direct disturbance to the forest ecosystem.

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Original route (Green) and proposed alternative route (blue). Image: Today Online

So what can we do? Where do we go from here?

While we can’t reverse the decision made by LTA, if you are concerned about this issue, here’s what you can do to help:

  1. The EIA will be open for public viewing for the next 4 weeks; book an appointment to go down and view it.
  2. Help spread the news and raise awareness! Tell your friends, your family or anyone who you know cares about this. If lots of people go down to view the EIA, it will show LTA how much the public cares.
  3. Voice your support for the alternative route. The alternative route is now our best (and last) bet to reduce significant impacts on the forest.

You can contact LTA [Ms Michelle Chan (email LTA_CRL_CCNR_EIA@lta.gov.sg or call 6295 7437)] to view the EIA and give your feedback. Please note that you can view it by appointment ONLY, at Land Transport Authority, 1 Hampshire Road (Blk 11 Level 4, Room 2), Singapore 219428

In addition, to show your support for the alternative route, you can sign the petition here: http://www.tinyurl.com/lta-crl

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) is home to 400 species of trees, 200 species of birds, 400 species of insects and 150 species of mammals and amphibians. If you’d like to learn more about the biodiversity found in the CCNR, please do sign up for our walks!

For more information on the CRL and CCNR, visit:

Love Our MacRitchie Forest

Straits Times: Measures to lessen impact of MRT works on CCNR