Saving MacRitchie

Two weeks ago, a crucial development occurred in the quest to preserve MacRitchie Reservoir for future generations: the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the Land Transport Authority for the potential effect of soil testing for the Cross Island Line on the nature reserve was released.

There are several reasons why this EIA is so important. While it only records the impact of soil testing – not even the whole MRT line itself – nevertheless it represents the first official acknowledgement by the government of the impact the line could have on our reservoir. It’s also the first test of whether what countless groups – from the Herpetological Society of Singapore to the Jane Goodall Institute to the NUS Toddycats to the BES Drongos – have done over the past years has had any real effect in terms of publicity. The best thing any member of the public can do for MacRitchie is to raise awareness of its fragility – a primary goal of this blog from the beginning. That’s what these groups have worked towards, guiding walks, holding workshops, manning booths.

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So what did the EIA find? It summed up the impact of soil testing on the reserve in one word: “moderate”. But first, let’s examine what soil testing means.

Soil testing is, essentially, figuring out whether the ground is conducive to an underground MRT line – whether it’s silty or waterlogged or hard granite. It entails holes. Lots of holes – each 10 cm in diameter, stretching down for 70 to 100 meters. Holes in straight lines, going through the forest; holes that require heavy machinery to drill, and therefore roads for the heavy machinery. It’s a testing method riddled with pitfalls for the biodiversity of MacRitchie. No one reacts well to having their home disturbed, least of all wildlife, and less still when it’s a bulldozer doing the disturbing.

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The EIA said that the impact of this on the wildlife will be “moderate”, which seems an innocuous enough word on face value. But what does moderate mean? The dictionary says “average in amount, intensity, or quality”. So an average impact – but what is an average impact? It’s not a severe impact, but it’s not exactly a minimal impact either

And that’s the problem: that there is an impact. The thing is, with rainforests, you can’t think in the short term. Small things add up. Erosion: little by little, a hill chips away, till there’s nothing but a pile of rubble where it used to be. A few breeding members of a population disappear, and soon, numbers are dropping faster than they can reproduce. The capacity of forests to recover from intrusion is one that should never be tested to the limits.

Moderate could mean a lot of things, and there’s no telling what it might mean for MacRitchie in 50 years.

The EIA does propose an alternative that skirts the reservoir, instead passing under homes and businesses, which might require some acqusition of land. This has raised hackles in people whose houses might be threatened. There is no pretending to understand the value of the memories of a home; it’s a price that cannot be paid in dollars or any human currency. But there is also no pretending to understand the value of trees, of birds, of the bugs and the snakes and the spiders: the value, not of a garden, but of the wild, pure and raw and primal and something older and greater than us all.

And what so many groups and dedicated individuals have worked towards is getting us to realize that – and it’s worked. The reaction to the EIA over the past week has been nothing short of amazing, with a talk held by the Nature Society garnering over 100 visitors crammed into a room expecting much less, with countless people writing to their MPs, with Saving MacRitchie and all the other groups even being featured in a Straits Times article. It’s resulted in the EIA, in an unprecedented move from the LTA, being placed online for public viewing in all 1000 pages of its glory rather than requiring a trip akin to Arthur’s at the beginning of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy to see.

March for MacRitchie will begin March 1st, a month-long series of events and walks designed to raise awareness of this beautiful, beautiful place. See more information on the Love Our MacRitchie Forest Facebook page or visit the Love MacRitchie website.

We have to realize Singapore is not ours. It belongs every bit as much to the colugos that glide Venus Loop, the racquet-tailed drongos singing the forest alive, the trees whispering primordial songs to the wind. A nature reserve is called a nature reserve for a reason. So let MacRitchie stay MacRitchie.

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Let’s save it.

(What else can you do? Write to your local MP, or the Minister of Transport at Minister of Transport, 460 Alexandra Road #39-00 PSA Building Singapore 11996, khaw_boon_wan@mot.gov.sg. Other options? Sign the petition here. And sign up for one the walks hosted regularly by the Jane Goodall Institute, the Herpetological Society Singapore, the BES Drongos, and the NUS Toddycats!)

This is also the 100th post on my blog – so, thank you, for letting me get this far.

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