Since Singapore is a very small nation that is almost entirely defined by its urban core, it has few natural resources to either exploit or defend and no indigenous cultures to speak of. However, travelers who are environmentally conscious may find Singapore interesting in surprising ways. The government is responsive to the call of environmentalists and has designed and implemented a number of innovative ways to solve the very real environmental and resource management issues that plague countless urban centers around the world.
Local legend has it that a prominent monk warned (then) Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that, as Singapore develops, he must be careful to protect the forests. According to the monk, Singapore, whose name in Sanskrit means "Lion City," gets its power from the lions that once supposedly roamed here. To take away the trees will destroy the lions' habitat and force them to move elsewhere. It is a lesson in feng shui that Lee took to heart, as evidenced by the trees, shrubs, and flowering plants that have been incorporated into the urban design at almost every turn.
To learn about Singapore's unique approach to environmental sustainability, start at the Marina Barrage, 260 Marina Way (tel. 65/6514-5959; www.pub.gov.sg/marina), the massive hydrodam that is transforming Singapore's downtown city core into the world's largest urban reservoir. The dam can be toured, but equally interesting is the Sustainable Singapore Gallery located within the dam, a brilliant display that outlines the government's efforts toward environmental sustainability. The gallery is open Monday to Friday 9am to 9pm but is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free and there is a free shuttle to the Barrage from Marina Bay MRT.
In addition to water resource and waste management, the Singapore government has initiated monetary incentives for land developers that incorporate green technology into the design and construction of all new buildings, and to those who renovate older buildings to similar standards. There are talks to make green buildings mandatory in the near future.
Outside the city center, Singapore also has a number of nature reserves. Of particular interest is Bukit Timah Nature Reserve -- Singapore is one of only two cities in the world with primary rainforest located within city limits -- and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a mangrove forest that protects an awesome number of migrating birds. The National Parks Board has guided tours by park specialists on selected weekends. Check out the schedule at www.nparks.gov.sg.
The Singapore Zoo has also been affected by global environmental concerns and has decided that, though it will support its current polar bear and Arctic exhibits, once these animals have lived their lives, they will not be replaced, and the zoo will focus on wildlife native to warmer climates.
Animal rights have a way to go when it comes to the rights of sharks. Shark's fin soup is still a delicacy and is a staple in every Chinese restaurant here. Be warned.