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Opinion: Cross Island, Cross Eyed

Derryn Wong
21/02/2016




Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Photo by the author

The Cross Island MRT shows just how crossed-up conservation priorities are in Singapore  

Singapore – Over the past months, there has been a growing opposition voiced towards the ambitious Mass Rapid Transit project, the Cross Island MRT Line, that is supposed to bisect part of Singapore’s Central Catchment Area.

The uproar is only right and proper. A rail line, underground or not, with or without fancy-worded assurances, that cuts through a supposedly-protected nature reserve is, in no uncertain terms, completely unacceptable.

I don’t think this sort of idea would ever be taken seriously in any other first world country. Imagine if you stood up to seriously suggest that a subway line be constructed under Yellowstone Park, for instance, or Uluru, or a highway over the Great Barrier Reef, for the prime reason that it’s the shortest distance between two points. You’d never finish cleaning the egg out of your hair.

In Singapore, however, the wilderness and jungle is generally viewed as something to be far away from since it’s got no built in air-conditioning and is full of scary things like mosquitoes and endangered species nobody knows the names of, much less what they look like. Not that there’s much of it left, anyway. 

Ignoring the obvious irony of de-forestation, carbon emissions and global warming, aren’t we already dealing with the consequences of multiple generations that have grown up being out of touch with nature?
Juvenile Wagler's Pit Viper in MacRitchie Reservoir Park. Photo by the author
Juvenile Wagler’s Pit Viper in MacRitchie Reservoir Park. Photo by the author

The Central Catchment Area is a big deal, as many writers better than I have already pointed out. There is no cost-benefit analysis to be had here, neither can you put a price of what it, or other nature reserves, are worth to Singapore.

But if you want to deal in extremes, then it’s an easy choice to make: Singapore doesn’t have much ‘real’ natural reserves left to speak of – what little remains deserves to be left exactly as it is. It should also be highlighted that parks and nature reserves are very different things – the former are cultivated and to a certain extent, re-creatable, while the latter are naturally-occurring and once lost.  

As reported in Today newspaper in 2013, “The alignment cuts directly under primary forest and regrowth forests over a century old, according to maps in the position paper.”

Sadly, so-called protected wildernesses are often not so. Poaching in Africa, de-forestation in Indonesia and Brazil, even Australia’s own Great Barrier Reef is threatened by coal activities, allowed by the evil, ignorant (and no longer ruling) Abbott government.

But even if the argument is one about convenience rather than cost, that’s like saying you only burnt the forest because it was in the way, not because we cut down all the trees to sold them for profit. The line between profit and convenience is a fine one and generally paved with the same things that line the road to damnation.

If this MRT line project goes through, then I’m not sure if we’ll all be aware of the heavy irony that will hang on our heads. It’ll be the only country in the world, I’m sure, that has spent a billion dollars to make an artificial garden full of non-native species in the middle of the city, while destroying parts of its own natural rainforest.

We don’t know exactly what effects the drilling will have on the forest, but we can all be sure there will be no absolutely no positives for the reserve itself, or its inhabitants.

As reported in Today’s 2013 piece, the alternative route skirting the reservoir adds only four minutes to the theoretical train line’s travel time. We all know time is precious, but given Singapore’s national character, it’s more of a concern that time is money.

What is the cost of convenience? Imagine living in a house made entirely of clean, sterile concrete and where nothing will grow and thrive, except perhaps the toughest of feral species. Right now the majority of the fauna we commonly see Singapore is feral – cats, dogs, red-eared sliders (aka terrapins – they’re North American), even the colourful, mis-called ‘iguanas’.  

That is a dark vision of the future thay may not come to pass, but if we let ideas like building subway tunnels through protected heritage nature reserves go unchallenged, that’s the sort of Singapore we’ll be inching towards.

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About the Author

Derryn Wong

CarBuyer's chief editor brings 15 years of experience in automotive journalism. Previously, he was the editor for Top Gear Singapore, and a presenter for CNA's Cruise Control motoring segment. He's contributed to The Business Times, Today, and many other publications, and also covered technology as editor of Stuff magazine. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he is the Chief Slave of two cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong

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