Once upon a time, all of this was water, I think as I sink my feet into a patch of perfectly manicured grass that has been replanted from elsewhere. I gaze up at the lofty skyscrapers of the Marina Bay Financial Centre that stand proud and tall in my home city of Singapore.
I am standing on manmade land, I think as I gaze out at the abundant ocean that covers some 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Earth Day went by recently. As everyone talked about going green, I couldn’t help but wonder–what about going blue? Why is this large continuous body of water that is vital to life on earth so incredibly ignored? Just because She is no longer a visible part of our daily lives the way She used to be, doesn’t mean She’s no longer responsible for the functioning of a healthy ecosystem in which all life can thrive. Out of sight does not mean out of mind. The ocean is the subconscious mind of the physical earth. It is what governs and rules over life on planet earth–without us consciously realising it.
I love the Ocean. No matter where I’ve ventured or where I’ve visited, the very act of being by a body of seawater has always felt sacred and stirred deep memories within my psyche. According to the theory of evolution, life began in the sea. Even if we are not inclined towards believing in such theories, the ocean is the womb of life. A womb we ignore and forget to take care of and honour.
Land reclamation is the process of creating new land from the ocean, the rivers and the lakes. The most basic method involves filling the area with large amounts of heavy rock and cement, and then filling it with clay and soil. In its early days, land reclamation was used mainly for agricultural purposes–but a lot has transpired since then.
In the 1970s, the world’s first major land reclamation project effectively extended the Port of Rotterdam. Other cities soon followed suit; including Hong Kong, Singapore and even the port cities on the coast of mainland China. As time went on, land reclamation was also used to create artificial islands entirely from scratch. The creation of new land from the ocean leads to both the destruction of existing marine habitats as well as the creation of never-before-seen habitats that could have taken millions of years to form naturally. Migratory seabirds, in particular, seem very fond of coastal regions that have been reclaimed from the sea.
The story of land reclamation in Singapore began in 1822, when it was a new British colony. The British flattened a hill and put the contents of this said hill along the banks of the Singapore River–creating the area that is known today as Boat Quay. The city-state is only three-fifths the size of New York City and land is arguably Singapore’s most scarce and cherished resource.
Fast forward approximately two centuries and the ultra-modern and ultra-sleek towers of the Marina Bay Financial Centre stand tall on land that was once water. Even the area surrounding Arab Street, where I grew up, was a beach once upon a time. The world class facilities at Singapore’s Changi Airport, too, sit on a plot of land that was once water.
Land reclamation is usually part of a comprehensive project–which ranges from the expansion of a port to the construction of residential and commercial buildings. Land reclamation has also been used for beach replenishment as well as shore and dune replacements in places like the Maldives which have previously been ravaged by storms and erosions. In some instances, artificial islands have also been built as a form of ‘environmental compensation’ for migratory birds and marine life.
Land reclamation and the creation of artificial islands is not technically new. This land-creation technique goes all the way back to Ancient Egypt. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit Lake Titicaca in South America, you will see small communities living on floating islands, subsisting as their ancient ancestors once did.
Given the growing world population as well as the growth in world trade–I foresee this trend of land reclamation as eventually leading us down the path of looking for alternative sources of ‘real estate’ to meet the needs of a burgeoning population.
The real question is–how can we balance our human concerns with the needs of the environment and all life forms on earth?