Joseph Lai first discovered Chek Jawa’s rich marine biodiversity during a nature walk in the remote easternmost tip of Pulau Ubin in 2001. It was low tide and the intertidal zone was teeming with marine life, not seen anywhere off the main island of Singapore (Tan & Yeo, 2003).
The Nature Society (Singapore) had always taken the lead in lobbying government to conserve nature areas. Chek Jawa was an exception. The society had by then learnt the wisdom of working closely in a non-confrontational way with government. After all, the initial success with Sungei Buloh was followed by a series of proposals being rejected because of media confrontations.
The society “made discreet enquiries at a high level…” and found “that Chek Jawa was slated for land reclamation within a year” (Geh & Sharp, 2008).
The society was not at first seen publicly as being involved (R. Tan, J. Lai, N. Sivasothi, pers. comm.). Furthermore the Conservation Committee declined to participate, for after all it’s strong point was birds, not marine organisms. The society’s Marine Group similarly did not participate. However, many members could not resist getting involved, but in their personal capacity.
Volunteers like Joseph Lai, N. Sivasothi and Ria Tan came forward spontaneously, to help collect, identify and catalogue the organisms. This was followed by a publicity blitz on the internet, an illustrated account in the Asian Geographic (Sivasothi, 2001) and a very successful series of public exhibitions.
Once aware of the rich marine biodiversity, hundreds of people visited the area. These included the then National Development Minister, Mr. Mah Bow Tan. He was visibly impressed and belatedly announced a reprieve for Chek Jawa (Wee & Hale, 2008). And for once the Nature Society was caught with its pants down.
Only then was the society roped in to join the same volunteers and the National Parks Board to implement a sustainable guiding system for the long term. Further volunteers were recruited and provided field training. Chek Jawa remains popular with nature lovers until today.
According to Tan (2006/2007): “The reprieve of Chek Jawa … unlike previous successful nature conservation efforts, the credit was not attributed to any one environmental civil society organizations (ECSOs) but to a collective effort between individuals and institutionalized groups.”
2nd April 2017
Secretary, Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) 1978-1990; Founding President, Nature Society (Singapore) 1990-1995
1. Min Geh & Ilsa Sharp (2008). Singapore’s Natural Environment, Past, Present and Future: A Construct of National Identity and Land Use Imperatives. In: T.-C. Wong et al. (ads.), Spatial Planning for a Sustainable Singapore. Springer Science + Business Media B. V. (LINK).
2. Tan, Ria & Allan Yeo (eds.), 2003. Chek Jawa Guidebook. Simply Green, Singapore. 219 pp.
3. Sivasothi, N., 2001. Chek Jawa .– lost forever? Asian Geographic 10 : 12.–25.
4. Tan Peng Ting (2006/2007). “Saving Chek Jawa”: Social capital and networks in nature conservation. An academic exercise submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Social Science (Honours). Department of Geography, National University of Singapore.
5. Wee, Y.C. & R. Hale, 2008. The Nature Society (Singapore) and the struggle to conserve Singapore’s nature areas. Nature in Singapore 1: 41-49 (PDF).