Coney Island

Coney Island, also known as Pulau Serangoon, is located off the coast of Punggol in the northeastern Singapore. Originally just 13 ha, the island now spans 100 ha after a series of reclamation projects. A 50-hectare park managed by the National Parks Board was opened on the island in October 2015.

coney island map
coney island park

History of Coney Island

Coney Island was originally known as Pulau Serangoon (sometimes spelled “Pulo Serangoon”), but the popularity of the English name caught on over time. The name, Coney Island, in fact also referred to Pulau Satumu, an offshore island in the southwestern part of Singapore on which Raffles Lighthouse stands. Pulau Ubin lies further northeast of Coney Island, separated by the Serangoon Harbour.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, the island was referred to as Haw Par Island when it was owned by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, who were famed for their Tiger Balm brand of analgesic heat rub. The Aw brothers constructed a 600-square-metre bungalow on the island, which still exists and is now known as the Haw Par Beach Villa.

The island was then sold in 1950 to a businessman, who developed the island into a leisure resort called Singapore Coney Island. Opened by the following year, it was touted as “Singapore’s first island health resort”. Among the facilities available on Coney Island were a dance hall, a restaurant and bar, as well as seaside accommodation. Just three years later, however, the island was put up for auction. By this time, the island was popularly known as Coney Island, though the name Pulau Serangoon was also in use. The island then was much smaller at around 32 ac (13 ha) compared with its size today.

Land reclamation in Coney Island

After the ownership of Coney Island changed a few times, the government acquired the island from a Thai businessman in 1972. Land reclamation was kickstarted in 1975, increasing its landmass to around 154 ac (62 ha). There were tentative plans to develop Coney Island into a recreational spot with chalets, a beach and a marina for pleasure boats. A bridge was also planned to connect Coney Island to Punggol, but this only materialised much later. Meanwhile, visitors had to take a half-hour boat ride from Punggol Point to reach the island unless they owned boats.

After the reclamation, besides some boaters, campers, picnickers or people catching shellfish, there was not much activity and no development was carried out on the island. Furthermore, the pungent smell emanating from the pig farms in Punggol wafted over to the island, making water activities on the island unpleasant.

In the 1980s, plans to connect Coney Island with the mainland by further reclamation were revealed, but this met with some opposition as it was felt that this would result in the island losing its natural feel. Reclamation work to extend the southern part of Coney Island began in the 1990s in tandem with the implementation of the Punggol 21 plan announced in 1996, which included building a 50-hectare park. The southern portion of Coney Island was reserved for residential purposes. The reclamation narrowed the channel separating Punggol and Coney Island to between 100 and 200 m. This body of water, along with part of Sungei Serangoon, was converted into Serangoon Reservoir in 2007.

Coney Island Park
After years of gestation and a 15-month construction, Coney Island Park, which spans 50 ha, was officially opened on 10 October 2015. The park features a two-kilometre-long beach, a boardwalk and basic amenities on the island, which has been enlarged to 100 ha. The island’s natural state was largely retained for the rustic feel, while environmentally friendly features were adopted. These include using rainwater for the toilets, where the water pumps are solar-powered, and recycling timber from uprooted trees to make benches and boardwalks. Neither electricity nor piped water is available on the island.

There are two new bridges on each end of the island – one connected to Punggol and the other to Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park – that visitors can use.

Flora and fauna
Within the Coney Island Park are different habitats such as mangrove swamps, coastal forests and woodlands. While casuarina trees are ubiquitous on the island, it is also home to 86 other tree species, more than 157 animal species and around 80 species of birds, including locally endangered species such as the black-crowned night heron and the spotted wood owl. Coney Island is also a popular stop for migratory birds like the Asian drongo-cuckoo, and nestboxes have been installed around the island for the migratory birds.

The tree species include the last two surviving native cycads on mainland Singapore – one about 3.5 m in height and the other a cluster of more than 2 m in diameter. Cycads are woody plants that reproduce from seeds. Resembling palms, the trees have a stout trunk and a crown of large compound leaves. Cycads once grew in great abundance along the coast of Singapore in Katong, but were threatened by development works. The National Parks Board then transplanted these cycads to Coney Island.

Other wildlife that inhabit the island include a group of smooth-coated otters – a globally threatened species found only in Asia. Its dam is located at the east entrance of Coney Island Park, along Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6. The elusive sultan dragonfly can also be seen on the island. Males have a dark red body, while females are yellow and slightly larger.

The most famous of all the wildlife on the island is the lone Brahman bull, which has made the island its home. It was discovered while the park was being developed and found to be very ill then, but the bull has since been nursed back to health and now roams the island freely. Visitors are advised not to approach, provoke or take close-up shots of the animal.

Future plans
An interim park and an area zoned for sports and recreational purposes are in the pipeline of future developments on coney island.


Fiona Lim

source : NLB