Being a land-scarce country of 714.3 square kilometres and having a population density of 7,257 per square kilometer (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2012), every hectare of land in Singapore is extremely important to us. Over the years, widespread urbanisation has led to about 90.2% of our land area being developed (Tan, 2006), exhausting much of our natural heritage in the process. Due to the limited amount of land, our natural heritage is insufficient to provide us with much economical goods; we are thus very dependent on imported food and material from other countries (Tan et al., 2007). Even though these goods and services can be easily enjoyed from nearby countries, our natural heritage is endowed with unique characteristics which provide us with a plethora of services that are irreplaceable by other countries. Hence, I disagree with the classmate’s comment; I feel that it is worth spending money and effort to protect and maintain the remaining biodiversity that we have. The services that natural heritage can provide are the benefits that we people gain from them.
These include provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services. In this paper, I will be elaborating on how these services can be provided by our natural heritage. First of all, provisioning services supply the goods which include genetic resources and natural medicine. Our natural heritage consists of many species which include more than 2,000 native vascular plant species, about 57 mammalian species, 98 reptile species, 25 amphibian species, 355 bird species and many others (National Parks Board, 2009). This rich biodiversity that we possess should be conserved for long-term sustainability of all ecosystems. Some species, like the Singapore freshwater crab Johora singaporensis and aquatic aroid Cryptocoryne × timahensis (Kiew & Turner, 2003), are endemic to Singapore, as they can only be found in Singapore and no other countries (Tan et al., 2010).
These endemic species are especially important as they have very restricted distribution and thus carry more risk of getting extinct. Furthermore, it is estimated that whenever an endemic plant species become extinct, it takes about 10 to 30 endemic animal species with it (Lovejoy & Lee, 2006), which could have a serious impact to our genetic resources. In addition, many useful biochemicals or compounds could be extracted from local species to be made into medicine or pharmaceuticals. For example, studies have shown that gorgonians in Singapore possess antifungal property, which could be useful in the pharmaceutical industry (Koh et al., 2002). This serves as a potential value, and further emphasizes the need to protect our natural heritage due to its rich genetic bank, as much more is waiting to be discovered.
Secondly, our natural heritage also plays an important role in regulation of ecosystem processes, which include water purification, air quality maintenance, climate regulation and erosion control; all of which cannot be directly provided by nearby countries. For water quality regulation, nature reserves that surround 4 of our reservoirs (MacRitchie Reservoir, Lower Peirce Reservoir, Upper Peirce Reservoir and Upper Seletar Reservoir) serve as a water catchment areas which helps to ensure the high quality of water in our reservoirs (National Parks Board, 2012a).
Flourishing ecosystems could also help in maintaining air quality. The trees help to ameliorate the greenhouse effect, by removing excess carbon dioxide and pollutants from the air, which is also known as phytoremediation. Furthermore, trees could prevent soil erosion and reduce surface run-off (National Parks Board, N.D). These free services provided by our natural heritage could be enjoyed only if they are located in Singapore.
Next, our natural heritage can also provide us with non-material benefits such as cultural benefits. These services include aesthetic values, cultural heritage values, educational values, sense of identity and also for recreation. Majestic and mature trees serve as important landmarks for our Garden City. In 2001, the Heritage Trees Scheme was announced to conserve and educate the community on the importance of protecting these trees. Currently, there are 183 Heritage Trees in Singapore, of which, 16 of them could be found in Singapore Botanic Gardens (National Parks Board, 2012b).
One of the most distinctive Heritage Tree is the Tembusu Tree located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens; it has been reported to be more than 150 years old and its photograph can even be found on the back of our $5 bill. These Heritage Trees not only provides us with aesthetic values, they also create a sense of identity for Singaporeans. The natural ecosystems in Singapore could also serve as educational and recreational sites. In fact, National Parks Board had launched a wireless learning trail at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to promote education in parks using new modes of learning that are more engaging for the younger generation (National Parks Board, 2007). The parks and nature reserves also serve as recreational sites for outdoor lovers, which could also contribute to their spiritual welfare. Similarly, some of these values cannot be enjoyed from other countries.
Last but not least, supporting services include nutrient cycling and photosynthesis. Their impacts on people are indirect or long-term, and they are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services. Our ecosystems can also provide us with a balanced cycling of nutrients via the nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous cycles.
For example, Myrica esculenta can associate with an actinomycete fungus to form root nodules that fix nitrogen (Sim, 1991); which contributes to the nitrogen cycle. Plants could also engage in photosynthesis to maintain a balance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which helps to play a part in the health of our environment.
Although Singapore may be a small country, it still has a rich biodiversity that should be conserved and protected. Furthermore, our ecosystems could provide us with a wide range of goods and services, which are all essential to human well-being. Many of these services cannot be enjoyed from nearby countries, for example: our unique genetic resources, regulating services and cultural heritage values. Therefore, we should all play a part in protecting our natural heritage for our future generations.
Kiew, R. & I.M. Turner, 2003. Are any plants endemic to Singapore? The Gardens’ Bulletin, 55(2): 173-184.
Koh, L.L., T.K. Tan, L.M. Chou & N.K.C. Goh, 2002. Antifungal properties of Singapore gorgonians: a preliminary study. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 273(2): 121-130.
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