By Yasmeen Banu
In January last year, Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced it would construct a new MRT line- the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL). This new line is currently under planning and evaluation, targeted for completion in 2030. This new line will start from Changi, and will pass through Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, before reaching Sin Ming. It will continue to the west, towards areas such as Bukit Timah, Clementi, West Coast and will terminate at Jurong Industrial Estate.
However, construction of this line would mean cutting through part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir. This has remained a concern with Nature Society Singapore and many eco-activists.
One such eco-activist, Teresa Guttensohn, has raised worries about our last remaining natural heritage and the impact the line would make on the rainforest. In June last year, Ms Guttensohn was at Hong Lim Park’s Speaker’s Corner demonstrating a protest performance by being tied to a tree, for 24 hours from 3pm on the 22nd of June to the 23rd of June. The protest performance was to call for urgent action on the issue of planning the CRL line to run underneath the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.
In an interview with Ms Guttensohn, she has provided TOC with enlightenment about the impacts of the CRL line on our rainforest.
What made you do up this petition?
When the announcement for the proposed new Cross Island MRT Line or CRL was first made in early 2013, I felt a deep and urgent fear then: a deep fear that we may lose our last remaining natural heritage and rich biodiversity; an urgent dread for our amazing rainforest animals, plants and ancient trees that could be impacted, damaged, killed, or eventually become locally extinct.
I was filled with sleepless anxiety that Singaporeans and their children would lose something irreplaceable even before they have had a chance to encounter it, that a genuine heritage gem and national asset would be destroyed. I felt that the Government authorities and all Singaporeans needed to know and act on this important issue.
How serious is the Cross Island MRT Line going to affect our natural reserve?
If the alignment of the Cross Island MRT Line goes underneath MacRitchie Forest, the potential disturbance can be considered destructive to the whole fragile rainforest eco-system and animals.
Major concerns are further fragmentation of the forest reserve, possible loss of habitats and endangered communities, soil erosion and stream siltation. For example, frogs and crabs will have trouble breathing when covered in silt. Sedimentation could mean significant loss of freshwater fish and amphibians found only in our pristine forest streams, which could in turn affect birds, reptiles and other animals that feed on them. Some stream fauna are found only in our central nature reserves such as the nationally endangered Temasek Shrimp (Caridina temasek) and Johnson’s Freshwater Crab (Irmengardia johnsoni).
Other possible negative impact could be potential noise pollution effects on sensitive wildlife for which MacRitchie Forest is an important refuge, e.g. rare mammals like the Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), which is internationally endangered, and the Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang). Few Singaporeans have heard of or seen these special and secretive animals. Although we cannot accurately predict or know the actual total impact, we simply can’t take a risk with our forest reserves. Lost ancient eco-systems cannot be replaced.
LTA has put up a bid for tender for the Environment Impact Assessment for the MRT Line. What's your thought on this?
The Cross Island Line Working Group has been in in positive and constructive discussion with LTA for the past six months, and we have submitted a full Biodiversity Report to LTA on 5 Jan 2014, which will serve as a vital reference and input for the EIA process.
The Cross Island Line Working Group Report dated 5 Jan 2014 submitted to LTA was prepared by the following: Tony O’Dempsey, Subaraj Rajathurai, Vilma D’Rozario, Kelvin K.P. Lim, Joseph K.H. Koh, Khew Sin Khoon, Faizah Jamal, Cheong Loong Fah and Marcus A.H. Chua.
On 30 Jan 2014, Mr Chew Hock Yong, CE LTA, had assured the CRL Working Group that that engineering feasibility studies would only commence for Cross Island MRT Line portions outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) at this point.
For me, it is a great relief to learn that no activities within the CCNR would be conducted prior to the EIA consultant providing guidelines on how the activities should be carried out. I am hopeful that the EIA within CCNR can be conducted with non-intrusive investigation techniques and minimal impact. I truly hope that the completed EIA findings will help guide the Government to make a positive decision on the CRL alignment by opting for an alternative route that will save our forest.
Have you been involved in any research on the site?
Yes, but I was only involved in a minor way as a volunteer on wildlife surveys. Since I am not a scientist, but a volunteer nature educator, and am currently based in HK (but will return to Singapore soon in April 2014). I was not able to be as involved in the site research as much as I wanted to be. However, I am a member of the CRL Working Group that has been in discussion with LTA since the launch of the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement.
What are the environmental impacts that would come along with the construction of the MRT Line?
As I am an eco-artist, volunteer environmental educator and wildlife activist, and am neither a trained engineer, geologist nor professional expert in this area etc, I cannot comment on the environmental impact of the whole construction of the MRT Line, but for the proposed CRL segment potentially affecting our nature reserves, please refer to my answer for question 2, thank you.
What do you hope to achieve from this petition?
I truly hope that our earnest voices showing our love and support for MacRitchie Forest will convince our government to conserve our precious natural heritage and national asset by aligning the Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) away from any part of our protected forest reserves.
I am hopeful that the authorities, whilst balancing nature conservation and development, will make the right decision to make the forest our national pride and help stop dwindling global biodiversity.
To view the music video in support of MacRitchie Reservoir, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMKsHZzYMRw
For more information, click here: http://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com
To show support for MacRitchie Reservoir, click here: http://tinyurl.com/lta-crl
To watch Ms Guttensohn’s protest performance poem, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnVvj839a0E
To watch Ms Guttensohn’s speech, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgrKl9GU_xo