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Nature lovers flock to Chek Jawa
Hundreds show up after the beach gets reprieve,
but NParks warns: They may put marine life and vegetation in danger

By Liang Hwee Ting, Straits Times, 24 Dec 01

On-line version on Straits Times Interactive

It was threatening to rain again and the muddy path leading to the beach was ruining perfectly good shoes. But Mr S.G. Tan, 38, and his family ignored this and trudged on. The engineer was eager to visit Chek Jawa - a natural beach on the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin, home to a variety of marine creatures. He said: 'We've read so much about this place - the debates in the newspapers and, finally, the decision to keep it. We came to see why so many people are fighting to preserve it.'

The site made news last week when the Government deferred an earlier decision to carry out a reclamation project there. Clearly pleased with the reprieve, hundreds of nature lovers flocked to the beach over the weekend to have a look at the site.

One visitor was Tanjong Katong Girls' School student Yap Kai Lin, 16, who was there with a friend. She had been to Chek Jawa twice. Each time, there was something new to see. At low tide, in knee-deep water are carpet anemones, multi-coloured peacock anemones, sand stars, sand dollars (disc-shaped members of the starfish family), sponges, sea cucumbers, seahorses, coral fishes and an assortment of crabs, including the rare horseshoe crab. Said Kai Lin: 'We're here to show our support for this lovely little paradise we've grown to love.' It took them two hours, on bicycles, to get to Chek Jawa from the ferry drop-off point - 2.7 km in all. Others covered the distance on foot.

On Sunday, when The Straits Times team visited the beach, there were easily 200 people. The island sees about 2,000 visitors on a weekend.

But this puts marine life and vegetation there in danger of being destroyed. Said a National Parks Board spokesman: 'We would like to advise people not to rush there all at once. Chek Jawa is going to be around for a long time.'

Mr Yeo Chong Huat, a driver of a private van on Pulau Ubin, said the crowds could get worse next week, when the tide reaches an all-time low. 'You won't get to enjoy the beach when it's too crowded,' he warned.

Two people, however, found a way to beat the daytime crush. Ms Thiri Kay Khine, 24, a sales executive, and friend Stephane brought their own camping gear and stayed overnight near the beach. She said: 'It's really beautiful out here at night. The skies are clear and you can see the stars.'

SAVED: Public interest helped

Reclamation works to convert Chek Jawa—a mud flat situated at the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin—possibly into a military training ground was approved in 1992.

When this came to public attention earlier this year, environmentalists and concerned individuals wrote to the Ministry of National Development urging a rethink of the reclamation plans.

Last week, the ministry decided to defer the reclamation works, after extensive consultations among various government agencies, such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the National Parks Board, the Housing and Development Board, as well as marine-life experts from the National University of Singapore.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan also met nature-group representatives and interested members of the public to discuss how best to protect the marine life at Chek Jawa.

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