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  The Straits Times 18 Jul 05
Bio-treasure Isle
By Sarah Ng

Semakau Landfill, an island where trash is dumped, now open to public to enjoy its rich biodiversity

BY 2045, Singapore will have a brand new island as big as Sentosa - created out of incinerated trash.

But the public won't have to wait that long to enjoy the island. They can now fish, birdwatch and look at the marine life on mangrove mudflats there. Semakau Landfill is the name of this new island, located 7km from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal.

The National Environment Agency is creating it by joining two islands - Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng - with a man-made, saltwater lagoon where the rubbish will be dumped. It is enclosed by a 7km-long rock bund, which is lined with an impermeable membrane and marine clay to prevent the trash from seeping out. The lagoon is also divided into several ponds, into which the rubbish is dumped. Water is pumped out of the ponds and trash is compacted into them. As the ponds get filled up with rubbish, they are turfed over with grass and the island takes shape bit by bit.

The landfill took four years to build, and the first phase of construction cost $610 million. The second phase, which will involve building more ponds, will start after the present 11 ponds are filled. With more waste being recycled, the landfill can now last until 2045.

Despite the trash being dumped there, the island is not smelly. That's because only ash and non-organic waste such as construction materials are put in.

It is also home to rich marine life such as barracuda, trevally, sea bass and milk fish. It also has 54 species of birds such as the endangered great-billed heron, the Pacific reef egret and the Malaysian plover.

Its mangrove mudflats are bigger than 20 football fields and are rich with seagrass, giant sea anemones and sea urchins.

People can visit the island, but they will have to book their visits through three recreational and nature groups - the Sport Fishing Association Singapore (SFAS), Nature Society Singapore and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

The SFAS will conduct monthly fishing trips that cost $40 per person. The other two groups are still working out schedules for guided tours.

The landfill is an example of how a rubbish dump and environment conservation can co-exist, said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. He opened it for recreation on Saturday morning.

Speaking to reporters after a tour of the landfill, Dr Yaacob said: 'One possibility is opening this up to schools for excursions. We can build basic facilities for them to spend the night here so that they can do a bit of stargazing and birdwatching.'

About 350 guests visited the scenic and breezy landfill on Saturday, including 150 people from 40 families who used to live on Pulau Sakeng. They moved to the mainland in 1994 to make way for the project.

Mr Teo Yen Eng, 81, who lived on Pulau Sakeng for more than 30 years with his brother Yen Tek, 74, was among them. The two men used to run a provision shop on the island.

'The best thing about this place is the fresh air and lack of pollution. I'm glad it's still the same now, even though it has become a rubbish dump,' said the elder Mr Teo.

Said another former resident, Mr Haji Chani Dualip, 60: 'It's good that it is now open to the public, so more people can come and enjoy its beauty.'

Those keen on visiting the landfill should contact Sport Fishing Association Singapore at www.sfas.net , the Nature Society at membership@nss.org.sg, or the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at rmbr.nus.edu.sg

More about Pulau Semakau and the wildlife found there
Related articles on Wild shores of Singapore

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