Let us not confuse landscaping with conservation

Many Seychellois have been to Singapore and amidst the frenetic shopping have found time to admire the landscaping of this city state. Billed as the Garden City, Singapore has planted hundreds of thousands of trees and bushes around tourist centers and elsewhere. It is said that our recent landscaping efforts in Seychelles are inspired by Singaporean achievements.

This type of beautification is aesthetically pleasing and needed in urban areas, but should not be confused with environmental conservation. This is because in many cases alien plants are being planted and propagated. Some of these plants are invasive and may spread into natural areas either naturally or through man-made means.

Another problem which is not obvious is that landscaping may take priority over conservation and may even mask the real problems to do with wildlife. In Singapore this is exactly what happened. We may admire the greenery of the Garden City but what most of us do not know is that the country has lost more than 95 percent of its natural environment because of development. Hundreds of plant, butterfly, fish, bird and mammal species have disappeared because of this.

The species that Singapore has lost as a result of habitat destruction include 4,866 plants, 627 butterflies, 234 fish, 111 reptiles, and 91 mammals. The loss of, what scientists have termed, "many remarkable species" in Singapore has had a huge impact on the environment. For example, these scientists say, birds that feed on fruits are critical for the ecosystem because they disperse seeds and the disappearance of these birds could have a "snowball effect" by causing fruit trees to dwindle, which affects insect populations and those of other plants.

Reading a report entitled “Catastrophic Extinctions Follow Deforestation in Singapore” written by scientists from Australia and Singapore, I am struck by the speed and scale at which natural habitats and species have disappeared, not only in Singapore but in Southeast Asia as a whole. Singapore is one of Southeast Asia's most developed countries but rapid development and industrialization in the rest of region means that more plants and animals will vanish in many countries.

My plea to our people here is to understand the difference between beautification efforts and conservation. Landscaping can never take precedence or importance over protection of the natural environment. We need to protect our animals, plants and habitats many of which are found nowhere else on earth. Even if this is for purely economic ends, than so be it. A preeminent international expert in tourism once asked me this  rhetorical question- why should tourists come to Seychelles if it looks like Singapore? Why indeed.

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Seychelles Nature, Green HealthClimate Change, Biodiversity Conservation & Sustainability Organisation

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