14 April 2010

A reef in the 'Industrial Triangle' and why we should preserve it

What is Cyrene Reef?

What we refer to as Cyrene is actually properly called Terumbu Pandan, the largest of the three submerged reefs that are collectively called Cyrene Reefs. The other two are the much smaller: Pandan Beacon and South Cyrene.
From MPA's 'Charts for Small Crafts" 2003 edition

Where is Cyrene Reef?

Cyrene Reef lies smack in the middle of the 'Industrial Triangle' in the Southern tip of Singapore.
Cyrene Reef with shipping and petrochemical plants
The huge orange Cyrene Beacon is the only thing that sticks out at high tide.

Cyrene is surrounded on three sides by Pasir Panjang Container Terminal, Jurong Island and Pulau Bukom.

On one side of the Triangle is Pulau Bukom, the site of Singapore's first oil refinery, set up in 1961 by Shell. Today, the 500,000 barrels-per-day Bukom Refinery is the largest Shell refinery in the world, in terms of crude distillation capacity. 90% of Bukom's products are exported. Some activities that can potentially impact marine life include flaring. In 2005, a submerged reef (Terumbu Bayan) near Pulau Bukom was reclaimed for expansion of the petrochemical plant there.
Pulau Bukom from Cyrene Reef
Flaring at Pulau Bukom from the seagrass meadows of Cyrene.
Singapore used to be the world’s third-largest petrochemical refiner, although recently overtaken by huge refineries coming online in China and elsewhere.

On another side of the Triangle are the massive heavy industries on Jurong Island encompassing a wide variety of installations. Jurong Island was formed by reclamation of seven southern islands: Pulau Merlimau, Pulau Ayer Chawan, Pulau Ayer Merbau, Pulau Seraya, Pulau Sakra, Pulau Pesek and Pulau Pesek Kecil.
Jurong Island off Cyrene Reef
TeamSeagrass monitoring the meadows near Jurong Island.

Declared open in Oct 2000, there are now 95 petroleum, petrochemical and chemical companies located on the Jurong Island with more than S$31 billion in fixed assets. Within weeks of declaring the reclamation of Jurong Island completed in Sep 09, there are reports that further reclamation is being considered as land has run out on the Island.
Exploring Cyrene Reef
Exploring the reefs of Cyrene with Jurong Island in the background .

And on the third side of the Triangle are the world-class container terminals at Pasir Panjang. Developed in 1974, the Pasir Panjang Container Terminal is the largest of Singapore's four terminals. Together, the terminals handle about one-fifth of the world's total container transhipment.
Cyrene Reef is next to major shipping lanes
The marine life is too interesting! The huge container terminal is ignored.

Cyrene under siege?

Cyrene Reefs lie just across from the enormous $2 billion Pasir Panjang Container Terminal project. Massive construction include extensive reclamation to build 16 berths along a total quay length of 6km that will increase our port capacity by 50%. Work began in Oct 07 and is expected to be completed by 2013.
This photo is from the table top model at the URA Master Plan exhibition.

The work site is right next to Labrador, and is also near Sentosa's natural shores. This reclamation project is so large that it may even impact Cyrene Reefs.
The work site (in green) in relation to Cyrene (highlighted in yellow).

While $20 million has been spent engaging experts to conduct studies on how these works may affect corals around Labrador, there has been no publicity on whether the review includes impact on other natural shores nearby such as Cyrene Reefs and those on Sentosa.
City skyline from Cyrene Reef
The Pasir Panjang Port expansion project, and city skyline, from Cyrene.

Major shipping lanes criss cross around the Reef, with huge container ships and ocean-going vessels coming really close by.
Container ship off Cyrene Reef
Huge container ships the size of horizontal skyscrapers silently cruise by Cyrene.

Cyrene is at a key maritime crossroads where east-west traffic routes cross north-south traffic routes. About five hundred ships in excess of 5,000 DWT per day transit the waters around the Reefs.

Since 1986, Singapore has been the busiest port in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with an annual average of 140,000 vessel calls. At any one time, there are about 1,000 vessels in Singapore port. Every minute, about 2 to 3 ships arrive or leave Singapore.

Singapore also has more than 80 ship building and ship repair companies, holding about 70% of the world's jack-up rig-building market and over 65% of the global floating production storage and offloading conversion market. Most are found along our Southern and South-western coastline.

Singapore is also a regional cruise centre with about about one million visitors passing through the international cruise terminal (located next to Vivio City opposite Sentosa) from more than 30 international cruise ships making about 400 port calls per year.
Cruise ship passing Cyrene Reefs
Huge cruise ships are often seen passing by Cyrene.

Singapore is also one of the top bunkering (ship refuelling) ports in the world. Annually, about 30 million tonnes of bunkers are lifted in Singapore. This is enough to fill 12 million Olympic-size pools.

A reef in the way?

Here are some records of collisions that are available from an online search.
  • December 1991: a fully loaded 2,680 dwt containership was stranded at the Cyrene Shoal. (from the Kasel Salvage website).
  • 29 Jan 1998: the ferry 'Falcon 5' ran aground on Cyrene Reef in the afternoon as it left World Trade Centre for Kukup (West Malaysia) with 152 passengers and 8 crew (from the MPA website).
  • 5 Dec 1998: the ferry 'Baruna Permai' ran aground at Cyrene Reef in the afternoon, enroute from Singapore to Tanjong Batu, Indonesia with 33 passengers and 7 crew. (from the MPA website).
  • 9 Oct 2000, Cyrene Reef was affected by an oil spill when an oil tanker ran aground off Batu Berhanti Beacon (from the MPA website).

To prevent collisions, a ring of beacons has been set up around the Reefs. Since the last major collision by a ferry in Dec 08, no major incidents have been reported.

Lying so close to these massive world-class industrial facilities, a first-time visitor is often astounded by the marine life on Cyrene.

Why does it make sense to conserve Cyrene?

The presence of such rich biodiversity on Cyrene clearly shows that Singapore has done something right when developing the world class port and petrochemical facilities that surround the Reefs. It shows that Singapore CAN develop without wiping out every last vestige of natural habitat.

These credentials will stand us in good stead when Singapore participates in tenders to build or operate similar facilities elsewhere. In other countries, reefs generate significant income in tourism, fishing or cultural heritage. A recent study showed that in East Asia, annually, coral reefs are estimated to be worth US$112.5 billion. Recent articles show that reefs, seagrass meadows and other coastal habitats have a vital role in carbon capture and climate change mitigation.

As Singapore starts to 'export' our development approaches, being able to prove that our methods are sustainable will put us ahead of the pack in international tenders. Indeed, the PSA Corporation already has many international operations. Currently, PSA International has investments in 28 port projects in 16 countries across Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Being among the large and possibly best submerged reefs in Singapore, Cyrene can also contribute to the Singapore City Biodiversity Index. The index was first raised by Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan at the 9th international Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Minister Mah said “Currently, there are no well-established indices to measure biodiversity in cities. Such a City Biodiversity Index can assist cities in the benchmarking of our biodiversity conservation efforts over time. It can help us to evaluate our progress in reducing the rate of biodiversity loss.”

Minister Mah noted that Singapore has managed to not only set aside 10% of land for parks and nature reserves — it has even increased the green cover to 50%. This is a 10% increase over the past 20 years, despite a 70% growth in population, he said.

Perhaps it is time to extend the City Biodiversity Index to the marine realm? We still have stunning marine biodiversity, despite the extensive development of our coasts and offshore islands. Cyrene is one testament to this.


  1. Any group organize trip to Cyrene? Pls and appreciate your sharing. Much appreciate. Many thanks


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