Most of the 62 small islands considered part of Singapore are well off the tourist trail, but Pulau Semakau has a waiting list of eager visitors. Considering this island is used as Singapore’s landfill, why would anyone want to go here?
The Pulau Semakau landfill is a unique environmental experiment and one of Singapore’s land reclamation projects designed to increase the size of the tiny country. In 1999, a water-impermeable border was built around Pulau Semakau and the neighbouring island Pulau Sakeng, enclosing the two small islands and the sea between them. The lake this created was then divided into smaller cells, and one by one they are being filled in with ash from incinerated garbage. Based on the current rate at which Singaporeans throw things out, the island should be “finished” by 2045.
You might expect an island made from burnt garbage to be stinky and dirty, but Pulau Semakau is scenic and the only smell is the salty sea air. The island is home to important ecosystems like mangrove forests and without humans living on the island the wildlife has flourished. Nothing was planted on the new land but, thanks to seeds spread by birds and strong winds, it’s already lush with tropical plants. The shallow water around the island is also rich with life including corals, starfish and seahorses. Even dolphins have been spotted swimming around Pulau Semakau.
Pulau Semakau was opened to the public in 2005, but you still need to join an organised tour and arrange it well in advance. Tours generally include round-trip ferry transfers, a guide and a presentation about the island’s construction at the visitor centre. Washrooms can be found near the jetty, but you’ll need to bring your own drinking water and a snack.
If you’re interested in visiting Pulau Semakau, contact one of the interest groups below.
* For fishing trips: Sports Fishing Association
* For overnight camping trips: Singapore Astronomical Society
* For bird-watching trips: Nature Society of Singapore
* For intertidal walks: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 3rd December, 2015.