Pulau Semakau Landfill Tour: Nature Exploration, Bird Watching, Educational Tour

Ben Nature Trekker

Pulau Semakau landfill tour

[2 pictures above courtesy of Nature Trekker]

Thanks to an invitation from Ben from Nature Trekker, I got to visit Pulau Semakau yesterday for a half-day Nature Exploration and Educational Tour, before the island is closed to visitors for the rest of the year!

On the mainland, we often hear about the 3Rs, the importance of recycling, and how much food waste and domestic waste we are generating. But nothing really ‘hits home’ like visiting the Semakau Landfill and realizing how serious the situation is – our offshore landfill is projected to be completely filled by 2035! Are we going to have to ‘convert’ more islands into our landfill sites before we stop asking for “double layers” of plastic bags at the supermarket, instead of bringing our own recyclable totes, for instance?

Recycling bags and bins are provided in public housing and landed property estates, for collection by NEA-appointed Public Waste Collectors. It’s time we take this seriously. Those bags should not be used for anything other than their intended purpose – not as improvised raincoats for young children, nor makeshift picnic mats for our domestic helpers!

*Incinerating rubbish can reduce the total volume of waste by 90%. Even then, our landfill will be completely filled soon! How much waste are we actually producing?!

A Quick History Of Pulau Semakau

By the late 1980s, it was evident that Singapore’s only landfill at Lorong Halus was unable to cope with the increasing volume of solid waste. Thus, the new offshore landfill – Semakau Landfill – was created. Also, the Tuas Marine Transfer Station was built to transfer the waste from the mainland to the Semakau Landfill.

The Semakau Landfill is made up of two islands – Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng – approximately 8km away from Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal. (Pulau Bukom is nearby, and it houses the Shell Eastern Petroleum refinery)

Pulau Sakeng was inhabited by a small Malay fishing community of about 40 families, who were resettled to the mainland in the early 1990s to make way for the development of the Semakau Landfill. Pulau Semakau has been uninhabited since the 80s. Its name is derived from the Malay word ‘Bakau’, which means mangrove, and a prefix “Sri” was added. This eventually evolved to become ‘Semakau’.

Semakau Landfill is Singapore’s only landfill for waste disposal with a  total area of 350 hectares.

More Than Just A Landfill

The Semakau Landfill was officially opened for recreational activities on 16 July 2005. People visit the Semakau Landfill for inter-tidal walks, bird-watching, sport fishing, star-gazing, etc. *The Semakau Landfill is ranked as one of the best stargazing locations in Singapore and the only place in the country where the Milky Way is visible from the ground.

Besides the mangrove swamps, spots for trekking and nature discovery, I love the wide roads, and great, open space!

Pulau Semakau

Bird-watching and Avian Life Photography

Depending on when you visit, you can view different migrant birds. Watch the Reef Egret, Grey Heron, or the Brahminy Kites display their hunting skills!

Bring your binoculars or really good camera lenses!

A speck of brilliant blue amid the greys and greens:

Pulau Semakau bird watching

My Canon 600D is definitely not suited for nature photography. Those with long telephoto lenses will be able to capture the birds in all their splendor.

Another participant:

long lenses

I was very amused by the sight of a bird on barbed wire:

barbed wire



Things To Bring For The Tour:

Binoculars, Camera with long telephoto lenses (200mm and above), a Water Bottle (there is a water dispenser at the Visitor Centre), Raincoat, Mosquito repellent (very important as there are numerous mosquitoes!)

Wear long pants and a tee or a top with sleeves(!), and covered shoes. Black, grey, brown, green are the most suitable colors. *I also brought along my lightweight jacket which turned out to be really useful, as it was rather cold in the briefing room AND the jacket also helped prevent the mosquitoes from biting me later on! 😀

For more information on nature tours at Pulau Semakau, visit http://www.naturetrekker.org.


Food For Thought:

1) There used to be ‘5Rs’ in the past, 2 more than the usual 3Rs we keep hearing about. The other 2 are Repair and Refuse to waste. 😉

2) Is Singapore clean or cleaned?

3) In open-air dumping, plastic bags can take over 100 years to decompose. At Cameron Highlands, what you think is mist is actually methane gas!

Additional Information:

*Pulau Jong, the broccoli-shaped island nearby, is a popular dive site, where the waters are reputed to be crystal clear.

*Pulau Sudong, Pulau Pawai and Pulau Senang are islands on which live firing is conducted. Approach at your own risk! 😉