The Ubin Project Update: What Singaporeans Want

By Shermaine Wong

Singapore, 30 August 2014. Last Saturday saw Gaia Discovery’s founder, Mallika Naguran, planting new trees at Tanjong Tajam, Pulau Ubin. It was the first of a series of reforestation efforts led by National Parks Singapore (NParks), together with the OBS Alumni, Singapore Scouts Association and the Friends of Ubin Network.

Friends of Ubin is a project set up by the Ministry of National Development (MND) to preserve and enhance the island. Pulau Ubin has a long and rich history, therein lies its uniqueness as it retains much of its old rustic charm and biodiversity.

Pulau Ubin, one of Singapore’s better known islands after Sentosa (and arguably Tekong), is the second largest island (the result of the merging of five islands) off Singapore’s shores. Granite mining used to be carried out at Pulau Ubin where granite was mined to make floor tiles or jubin in Malay. Hence, ‘Ubin’ was derived from a shortened form of jubin.

Between the 1950s to early 1970s, the island saw a population of 2,000. After commercial crop cultivation and rubber tapping concluded in the 1980s and the last operational granite quarry shut in 1999, the island’s population gradually fell.

In 2012, there were only 38 residents in 24 households remaining. Previously slated for industrial and infrastructure development in URA’s Revised Concept Plan 1991, Pulau Ubin has been designated as a recreational area since the cancellation of the Tanjong Chek Jawa reclamation project.

Village Head House (also No. 427 Pulau Ubin). This blue house belongs to the late former village head of Pulau Ubin, Mr Lim Chye Joo. Image from MND.Uses of Pulau Ubin has changed since its earlier years, it is now a place for Singaporeans to return to a rustic past for a day as it retains its kampong allure and rich biodiversity. Singaporeans can also visit it for recreation, be it leisure cycling or mountain biking, and sailing or kayaking.

In recognition of Pulau Ubin’s unique rustic charm and it being an enjoyable destination for Singaporeans (with about 2,000 visitors each weekend), MND has started the Ubin Project as a way of building on their existing efforts and explore new means to sensitively enhance the island. The project welcomes citizens to share their memories of and ideas for Pulau Ubin.The once thought to be extinct Greater Mousedeer (Tragulus napu) was rediscovered on this island only in 2008. Photo courtesy of Marcus Chua.

Feedback from the public have included constructing more walking and cycling trails, in addition to a building a field research centre for scientists and nature lovers at Pulau Ubin. The creation of a cultural map of the island, as a way of recording and understanding the different layers that underlie the island, such as its historical, social and religious practices, was another suggestion.

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), which is behind this suggestion, has described it as gathering ‘the conditions of the people and the social, cultural, economic systems, networks and ways of life, from a holistic viewpoint’.

“Since launching the Ubin Project, we have received many interesting ideas on how to enhance Pulau Ubin. Many people have expressed their support to keep Pulau Ubin rustic and natural. But they also recognise that this does not mean leaving Ubin alone. In fact, many have called for more tree plantings and habitat enhancement, so that the rich biodiversity on the island can continue to thrive," said the Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee. 

"A number of suggestions for greater access to nature and nature-based recreation were also received. We are considering these ideas carefully and will see how some of these ideas can be implemented sensitively to enhance the visitor experience on Ubin. Some, like today’s reforestation, are activities that we have been carrying out regularly, and can be continued, perhaps with greater involvement of the community. Other ideas will need more time to implement,” he added. 

The Ubin Project has seen 54 ideas submitted so far. Among the suggestions are opening a quarry swimming hole that is open to the public, have kampong-style resort homes for visitors and establishing a wellness retreat center.

Have a suggestion for preserving and enhancing Pulau Ubin? Head over to the MND's The Ubin Project microsite to make your suggestion.

Photos courtesy of Marcus Chua and MND.