The Straits Times - AUG 10 1998
No change to islands' conservation plans
Southern Islands will still be a marine nature area despite the temporary detention centre on St John's Island
By DOMINIC NATHAN
THE status of Singapore's southern islands as a Marine Nature Area will not be affected by plans to put up a temporary detention facility on St John's Island, said planning authorities.
However, the public will no longer be allowed to visit the island once the detention centre is in operation.
Prison authorities could not say when this would be. "It will be used when needed," a spokesman said.
The other four island groups in the Marine Nature Area -- Sisters' Islands, Lazarus Island, Kusu Island and Pulau Seringat -- will remain in their natural state for now. In 1996, the islands were designated a Marine Nature Area by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which meant that all development proposals for them had to be assessed by the National Parks Board (NParks), to ensure that as much of their natural environment was kept intact as possible.
Replying to Straits Times queries over the latest move, the URA said that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was making contingency preparations on St John's.
"The preparation involves some fencing and minor repair works to the existing buildings on the island," said the URA spokesman.
MHA said last month that the detention centre would house illegal immigrants who might spill over from Singapore prisons, now stretched by the waves of arrests of overstayers and illegals. The prisons will also have to cope with housing hardcore drug addicts who now have to serve longer jail sentences. St John's Island has been used as a detention facility before. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was used as a drug rehabilitation centre and, later, to house Vietnamese refugees. It is now a resort island with four holiday camps and a bungalow. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people visit the resort every month. With the latest move, NParks said that steps would be taken to ensure that rare and endangered plant species found on or around the detention centre on St John's would be conserved or salvaged for re-planting on other sites within the island.
Copyright © 1998 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.
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