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  Straits Times 29 Oct 07
Undersea garden takes root
S'pore Poly team creates marine site off Labrador for corals to regrow
By Shobana Kesava

A GARDEN - not for humans but for sea life - has taken root in the waters off Labrador Park.

It is where conditions have been created to attract sea creatures, and where corals moved from other places can establish themselves.

The marine garden is the work of a team from the Singapore Polytechnic, led by Captain Frederick Francis, a lecturer from its Singapore Maritime Academy. His team of 68 staff, students, volunteers and divers began its work in August last year with $145,000.

Its mission: To research and build artificial coral reefs, relocate corals endangered by changed shoreline and water conditions, and to check how they were adapting to their new sites.

The team moved about 150 corals from Sentosa, where one of Singapore's two integrated resorts is being built, and another 800 from another part of Labrador Park, where new power and water cable lines are being laid by the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA).

The dredging would have damaged the corals and muddied the waters, threatening their survival had they not been moved.

MPA also undertook a $2 million project to save the corals affected by its cable-laying. It consulted scientists, carried out a study on the project's impact on the environment, and moved about 40 per cent of corals in the path of its cables to a safe area before dredging began. The rescued corals are now underwater at a safe distance from the dredging. MPA's scientists will monitor their health until they are returned to their original site by the end of next year.

The polytechnic's haul is also safe. Capt Francis explained that his team had installed artificial reefs called seacils, which give the corals concrete frames on which to grow. They sit on the seabed at an angle so fine sand and sediment do not collect on them.

The seacils, first tested by the polytechnic in 2002, were last year stacked atop large PVC tubes, which form honeycombs for marine creatures to swim through, hide from predators or breed.

Capt Francis plans to install lights on the structures to draw more creatures to them so the garden will establish itself faster.

He hopes that life in the garden can be viewed by visitors to the area - even non-divers: 'Maybe we can have underwater cameras connecting the sea garden to an LCD screen in a conservation showcase hut on the jetty.'

The National Parks Board has said it will monitor the polytechnic's experiment to gauge how well marine life flourishes.

Dr Nigel Goh, assistant director of NParks' Biodiversity Centre, said it was unlikely the seacils would be permanent, given that the area is a conservation site.

'We come from a perspective of ensuring no harm to existing life in our reserves,' he said, but added that NParks would be interested in following up if the polytechnic's project enhanced marine life.

Large debris at Labrador explained? on the wildfilms blog
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