I finally had the chance to visit this latest water attraction in Singapore. It is not in Sentosa but right in the middle of Punggol Reservoir surrounded by Sengkang, Anchorvale and Punggol housing estates. Publicised since at least 2007, the Sengkang Floating Wetland was finally launched in Nov 2010 by PUB (Public Utilities Board). See PUB press release 07 Nov 2010: Wet and Wild
Figure: PUB poster on "Sengkang Floating Island" (circa 2007)
Figure: A map showing the floating wetland (in green) in the middle of Punggol Reservoir with Anchorvale Community Club in the east and Sengkang Riverside Park in the west
What I found highly useful are the numerous signboards describing the wetland, how it works, the importance of the watershed (covering Punggol, Anchorvale and Sengkang) and the various water plants grown on the wetland itself.
Figure: This is probably the best take-home message from the signboards. It actually shows the delineation of the watersheds (light blue)for all 17 reservoirs (dark blue) in Singapore. Of particular interest are the white areas which represent non-watershed areas i.e. rainwater falling in these areas do not go into any reservoir. A good guess would be about 70% of Singapore's land area is used to collect rainwater. Another interesting point is Changi Airport area is NOT a watershed though the airport itself harvest rainwater for its own water demands. See previous post - How to reduce flooding in Singapore? Harvest more rainwater!
Now, a floating wetland is a kind of constructed wetland but unlike the traditional constructed wetland, it floats on the surface of a water body rather than acts as a container for the water body. Flotation is achieved using a mat of polymeric material which acts as a substrate for water plants to grow and at the same allows the roots to penetrate into the water column. PUB already has several of these floating wetlands (in a smaller scale) in other reservoirs - Lower Seletar, Pandan. (Update: Sengkang Wetland is based on BioHaven floating islands which have been used in other countries.)
Figure: A mini floating wetland at Pandan Reservoir
Figure: A conventional constructed wetland in Mississippi (http://coastal.msstate.edu/cwres.html)
Constructed (and floating) wetlands are usually designed to clean up the water, improving water quality. The roots and the underside of the polymeric mat tend to accumulate a layer of biofilm containing bacteria, fungi and algae which help in the decomposition of organic matter, nitrogen (e.g. ammonia) and phosphorus compounds. The water plants themselves also can absorb nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as certain heavy metals. Their roots extend into the water column not just for aesthetics but they can also filter and trap sediments. Such a use of plants to clean up the environment is known as phytoremediation. For a more complete discussion, check out this post - Before you write off a plant as a weed, read this
Besides the benefits of cleaning up water and providing a refuge for wildlife, a floating wetland has several advantages over a conventional constructed wetland. It is easily fabricated elsewhere and several units can be joined together to make a large wetland in actual deployment. It can be conveniently placed in existing water bodies without excavation and retrofitting of the existing landscape. If you find lake X has poor water quality, just push a few floating units into the lake. And when they have accomplished their tasks or if problems crop up, they can be conveniently removed as if they were never there in the first place.
However, a key design of constructed is the depth and width of the water body. For the plants (and associated biofilm) to work their magic, the water has to pass through the zone of influence of the roots. A lone floating wetland in the middle of a wide and deep river is not likely to have enough juice to clean up the river. I am not sure how deep the Punggol Reservoir is but if it is like most reservoirs, probably a few metres deep. I doubt the roots can reach to such depths. Also, when I look at the map of the Sengkang Floating Wetland (see above), it appears exactly like a lonesome patch of greenery surrounded by a swath of blue. Can it really improve the water quality? If yes, how much? (As a side note, I may be conducting water quality monitoring workshops here so perhaps, the water quality data can provide a better picture.)
Anyway, water cleaning efficiency aside, Sengkang Floating Wetland is an excellent showcase of Singapore's focus on active, beautiful and clean water.
Figure: A boardwalk connects the floating wetland to the 2 banks and allows visitors to get up close and personal.
Figure: Viewing the floating wetland and boardwalk from Anchorvale CC. Notice Sengkang flats in the distance

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