Losing the ‘hawaii of Singapore’: ‘long Island’ Project Off East Coast Worries Sea Sports Lovers

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SINGAPORE: Sea sports enthusiasts in Singapore are worried and saddened by the prospect of their activities along East Coast Park’s shoreline being affected by the “Long Island” proposal.

Singapore on Tuesday (Nov 28) announced plans to reclaim 800ha of land – about twice the size of Marina Bay – off the island’s east coast as part of the Long Island concept.

The decades-long project aims to protect Singapore’s coastline from rising sea levels caused by climate change, and could also provide more opportunities for waterfront living and jobs.

The government will be carrying out technical studies and public consultations for the project, which would create an enclosed water body in front of East Coast Park, transforming the area into a freshwater reservoir.

While authorities have said this reservoir could host activities like canoeing and dragon boating, the fate of other water sports such as sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing is less clear.

This is because images of the planned reservoir, which were published by the media on Tuesday, appear to show that it is too narrow to support wind-based activities, sea sports enthusiasts told CNA.

While “flat water” activities like canoeing and dragon boating may be allowed on the reservoir, they are concerned this may not be the case for wind-propelled sports.

Wind flow may also be obstructed in a closed reservoir, especially if high-rise buildings are built in the area, they said.

“THE ONLY PLACE LEFT”

East Coast Park is currently home to water sports facilities like Constant Wind Sports Centre, PAssion Wave @ East Coast, and Aloha Sea Sports Centre.

Constant Wind director Ho Kah Soon started sailing as a teen in 1975, and sea sports have been a fixture of his life since then. The 64-year-old now does stand-up paddling weekly, and also windsurfs.

While Constant Wind has not been engaged by the authorities on development plans, Mr Ho expects it to be affected by the reclamation, based on images of Long Island published in the media. The centre is located close to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

“We’re so sad that this is going to happen,” he said. “This is like a Hawaii of Singapore. And this is the only place left, and it’s going to be taken away.”

The east coast is the only place in Singapore where activities like sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing can be done, according to Mr Ho. This is because it is free of sea lane traffic, and the waters are safe and clean.

He contrasted this with Singapore’s north-west coast, where there are crocodiles, and the south-west coast, where port facilities limit the sea area that can be used for recreational use.

Occupational therapist Chen Changwu, 46, who windsurfs every week, said that while wind-propelled sports can be done off Changi Beach, it does not have facilities to store equipment. It is also good for only one of Singapore’s two monsoon seasons, when wind speeds pick up.

Sentosa is not suitable due to strong currents around the island, he added.

Aloha Sea Sports assistant general manager Max Ong said that the wind tends to be disrupted in a closed reservoir as opposed to the open sea.

To his knowledge, there is currently no freshwater catchment area in Singapore that allows windsurfing and stand-up paddling.

There are also concerns that Long Island could affect the sailing community.

Singapore’s national sailors have excelled in recent competitions, picking up three gold medals at this year’s SEA Games, and two silvers and two bronzes at the Asian Games.

President of Singapore Sailing Dr Lincoln Chee, whose federation is also located at East Coast Park, said the Long Island project can have a “significant impact” on the sport.

While the sailing community is supportive of measures to protect Singapore’s coastline, the east coast is the “most accessible area” for recreational sailing and national training, he said. It is also “critical” from the perspective of accessibility, safety, reasonable winds and currents.

“Sailing requires open waters and beyond the Long Island are shipping lines which may be a danger and a conflict,” he said.

Dr Chee stressed the need for early and deep consultations on Long Island with various water sports communities.

“We look forward to discussions with the various agencies to creatively find a way to meet national security and the health and well-being of our maritime traditions,” he said.

“After all being decades away, perhaps there will be technological advancements, which we can’t know now, that would allow the current attributes of east coast to be preserved without us being too dogmatic or inflexible to adapt.”

HOPES FOR LONG ISLAND

Windsurfers Mr Ho and Mr Chen both expressed hope that Long Island will have facilities along its reclaimed coastline so that sea sports enthusiasts like themselves can still have access to open water.

Long Island is expected to add around 20km of new coastal and reservoir parks, tripling the length of the existing waterfront area along East Coast Park.

But both are concerned about not having any access to the waterfront during the reclamation period, before any potential facilities are open.

Mr Ho said he hopes the reclamation can be done in phases so that recreational sea users can have access to Long Island’s waterfront while the reclamation of the rest of island continues.

Both men also pointed to the community that has grown around Singapore’s sea sports pursuits for decades.

Mr Ho recalled that for a time in the 1980s, Singapore’s east coast housed the largest windsurfing centre in the world, storing about 800 boards.

Mr Chen said he and fellow members of PAssion Wave @ East Coast recognise and are supportive of the need to protect Singapore’s coastline from sea level rise.

But they fear the development of Long Island could erode the community that has built up around the sea sports centres over the years, leaving the future of such sports uncertain.

“(We’re) worried that these plans will affect our next generation, where they will not have the opportunity to explore sea sports,” he said.

AGENCIES WILL STUDY IMPACT ON SEA SPORTS, RECREATION

Responding to CNA’s queries, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), national water agency PUB and SportSG said on Thursday that agencies will study the impact of reclamation and construction works on sea sports and recreational activities that need sea access.

“Where there is disruption, we will work with stakeholder groups to explore how to make the necessary adjustments or identify other sites where these groups can continue to participate in these activities,” they said in a joint reply.

The agencies noted that sea sports currently take place in a variety of places apart from the east coast, including the waters off the coast of Sentosa.

They also said they are mindful of potential concerns by various stakeholders.

“That is why we are starting planning and engagement early. As works are not expected to start in the near term, there is time to work through possible options and transition plans (where applicable) with affected parties.”

On the possibility of Long Island’s reservoir being used for recreational acitivities, PUB said it will need to monitor the water quality of the future reservoir to determine the permitted activities.

Water activities such as sailing, kayaking, dragon boating and rowing could be allowed, said PUB. These are currently allowed in existing reservoirs such as Marina, Bedok, MacRitchie, Pandan and Lower Seletar.

“Primary contact activities which face a greater risk arising from frequent immersion in water would need to be assessed based on water quality guidelines,” the agency said.

Source: CNA