Singapore's Sentosa Cove waters turn pink, smell rotten; one resident calls it an ‘environmental disaster'

Waterways in the South Cove segment of Sentosa Cove turned pink (left) after scores of dead fishes (right) were seen last week. — Picture courtesy of The Heron of the Green Barrels via TODAY
Waterways in the South Cove segment of Sentosa Cove turned pink (left) after scores of dead fishes (right) were seen last week. — Picture courtesy of The Heron of the Green Barrels via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Jan 14 — In what one resident called an “environmental disaster” at his doorstep, waters at a canal in Sentosa Cove turned pink as it continued to emit a foul sewage-like smell from Tuesday.

This was a week after scores of fishes in the waterway started going belly-up.

Up until yesterday, the mystery remains unsolved while residents there are still disturbed by why this has happened. 

The National Environment Agency (NEA) told TODAY that what caused the fishes to die and the change in the colour of the waters is as yet unknown. Investigations are ongoing.

“There is no indication of any industrial or marine pollution that could have impacted the waters in the surrounding area. There were also no reports of dead fishes at other public beaches in Singapore over the last weekend,” NEA said, adding that it has collected several water samples since Jan 9 and is analysing the results.

Residents told TODAY that the unusual sight and smell came even while the area’s management moved to perform a major clean-up of the waterway when the dead fishes turned up last Saturday.

The affected waterway is located at the residential enclave’s South Cove.

They said that the management had reassured them in a letter on Monday that “things should return to normal within the next few days” because it is a “daily affair” that fresh sea water is being pumped into the waterways.

In the letter seen by TODAY, Knight Frank Property Asset Management, writing on behalf of Sentosa Cove Resort Management, had said that the situation was contained at South Cove and that the North Cove waterway was not affected.

It stated that the management’s term contractor had spotted a dozen dead fishes and detected a slight smell in the waterways during its daily routine cleaning of the South Cove waterways last Wednesday.

When Knight Frank and the contractor inspected the area together, nothing unusual or alarming was found, it noted.

However, over the next two days, the management received two reports of dead fish and foul smell in the waterways, leading to the “largest clean-up and haul of dead fish” last Saturday, Knight Frank said in the letter.

By Monday morning, the contractor had not found any more dead fishes, and the foul smell, which it presumed came from the dead fishes, had “cleared up”.

Still, for “hygiene reasons”, residents are advised to refrain from engaging in water sport activities, including canoeing, kayaking or using stand-up paddles in the waters.

Knight Frank also said that water samples were collected for tests and investigations were ongoing.

“We will update residents once we have determined the root cause and the follow-up remedial actions to be taken,” it said.

Sentosa Cove Resort Management told TODAY that it had advised residents to refrain from water sport activities in the waterway, adding that it “will continue to monitor the waters”.

In its reply to TODAY’s queries, NEA said that it had received several reports from residents about the sightings of dead fishes in Sentosa’s South Cove waters on the morning of January 9. 

It was then alerted on the evening of Jan 12 that the water there “appeared a purplish-pink colour”.

The agency and the National Parks Board are assisting Sentosa Development Corporation in their investigations into the possible causes of the dead fishes and the coloured water, it said.

The ‘pink’ waterways along the residential enclave of Sentosa Cove. — Picture by The Heron of the Green Barrels via TODAY
The ‘pink’ waterways along the residential enclave of Sentosa Cove. — Picture by The Heron of the Green Barrels via TODAY

The water was black. It’s dead’

Dan Paris, whose balcony at Turquoise condominium directly faces the affected South Cove waterway, said that a “distinct sewage kind of smell” was in the air in the middle of last week, before the waters turned pink this week.

The 54-year-old who works in business development said that the smell got more repulsive over the days, leading to residents shutting their balcony doors and writing to the Sentosa Cove Resort Management for an explanation by last Thursday.

Before there was a substantial response, “the scale of the disaster became real” last Saturday as hundreds, if not thousands, of dead fishes started floating in the waterway. Footages of fishes struggling for air began circulating in the community, he said.

“It is an environmental disaster,” he added.

“Monday morning, the water was black. It’s dead. Then late Monday morning, the smell came back, and I watched this strange ‘sliming’ that ended up with the whole lake turning pink.”

He said that it is important to pinpoint a cause since the ecosystem there is not a “dead water system” but teeming with marine life as it is linked to the open sea.

“We were very worried. We are used to seeing otters, monitor lizards (and fishes jumping out of the water)... It is part of the lifestyle here.”

One theory that emerged was that the waterway is experiencing an algae bloom due to excessive bacteria present in the waters, Paris added.

The foul smell was still lingering in the air yesterday morning, but it was no longer present when he returned home in the evening.

The waters were still pink.

Another South Cove resident Marc Lansonneur, 56, who works in a bank, said that this was the first time in his six years living on Sentosa Island that such an odd event has happened. 

“I have been walking my dogs every day near this lagoon, and I was very sad early Sunday morning to find all the dead fishes floating. Hundreds of them. Many species have been living in these lagoons,” he said.

“I am definitely very keen to know the reasons for this event.”

North Cove resident Wade Pearce, 33, said that the situation had improved when he visited the site yesterdat, but a stagnant, almost stale “sulphurous type of smell” was still in the air. 

 Pearce, the founder and director of leisure marine activity directory Singapore Marine Guide, was the first to post the photo of the water on Facebook, along with photos of the dead fishes that were captured by residents.

His post, put up on Tuesday night, has been shared more than 200 times by 8.30pm on Wednesday.  —  TODAY

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