Saturday, October 25, 2014

Changi Beach Practical

As part of LSM1103 Biodiversity, we headed down to Changi Beach for a practical session yesterday! It was a fun and fruitful session, with lots to see and learn. We first did a seining activity, where we dragged a seine along the intertidal zone of the beach to observe the marine life there. There was not just plenty of seaweed, but also sea anemone, filefish (leather jackets), tripodfish, prawns, pipefish, crabs and even scorpionfish!

That's me on the left carrying out the seining activity!
We also went to the rocky shore to observe other forms of marine life, such as barnacles, crabs, sea stars and hermit crabs. 
Hermit crab and sea star


A crab found hiding under a rock
Singapore is teeming with biodiversity, if only we would open our eyes to see! Yet these natural wonders are not appreciated by all. During the practical, we saw a man picking up a bag full of what appeared to be molluscs along the rocky shore. Our Teaching Assistant said that the man was probably going to sell them. It is upsetting to see how some people take advantage of what's bequeathed upon us for their own financial profit. There is definitely much work to be done regarding the environment in Singapore, and I believe this is where we BES students come in to create positive change :)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When will we stop?

The state of deforestation in Singapore is no longer something new. But did you know about the serious consequences of such deforestation? In a paper titled "Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore", Brook, Sodhi and Ng document the local extinctions related to habitat loss over the years, and the results are shocking.

With over 95% of our natural forests lost, the observed percentage of loss in biodiversity was at least 28%. But that's not all. The researchers' estimate that the possible total local extinction, whether recorded or unrecorded, may be as high as 73%!

Sad, isn't it, that we have let so much of our natural biodiversity go for the furthering of humankind's existence. While we expand our homes, we selfishly take away the homes of many species, and even cause their extinction. Reading this paper really makes me wonder: do we humans really need so much to sustain ourselves?

I am also reminded of a video I saw in class in ENV1202, which shows man's relationship with his environment.

 
So when will we stop?
 
References:
Brook, B. W., N. S. Sodhi & P. K. L. Ng, 2003. Catastrophic extinctions follow deforestation in Singapore. Nature, 424(6947): 420-426. 
 
 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cross-Island Line: Is it crossing the line?

Yet another new MRT line to add to the network of trains in Singapore. The Cross-Island Line was proposed by the Land Transport Authority on 17 January 2013, but it is not without controversy. Since its announcement, there has been much disagreements over the alignment of the line since the line is proposed to cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

The CCNR contains some of the most unspoiled ecosystems in Singapore, including two patches of primary forest and four natural stream systems. Building the Cross-Island Line through the CCNR would negatively affect the habitats of the precious biodiversity found in the forests there. Furthermore, cutting through the CCNR would inevitably lead to forest fragmentation, preventing individuals from mating across isolated patches. (Love Our MacRitchie Forest, 2013)

In that regard, it is heartening to see several environmental groups stepping up to prevent the destruction of our forests. For one, the Nature Society (Singapore) published the Cross-Island Line Discussion and Position Paper in response to the announcement to build the line. The Nature Society (Singapore) proposed 2 alternative alignments for the line, which would only add a mere 4 minutes of travel time.

Another initiative launched is the Love Our MacRitchie Forest campaign, which is about promoting an appreciation for the forests in MacRitchie, so as to garner support for the re-routing of the Cross-Island Line. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending a Love MacRitchie walk organised by Love Our MacRitchie Forest. Surprisingly, the walk was guided by none other than NUS students! Their passion and love for our precious biodiversity really inspired me. I saw many species of flora and fauna, and this diversity is something I never thought existed in Singapore!

That's me on the far right at the walk! :)
(Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/habitatnews/14141444913/in/set-72157644489430316)

I am genuinely happy to see different groups taking ownership of the biodiversity in Singapore and doing all they can to protect it. Singapore is not only the bustling metropolitan we know of; it is also home to many species of plants and animals. As much as we have a right to a home, these plants and animals deserve a proper home too.

References:
Love Our MacRitchie Forest, 2013. Why Love MacRitchie Forest?. URL: http://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com/why/ (accessed on 5 Oct 2014)
 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Living Fossils found in Singapore!

Have you guessed already by now the topic of this post? Yes, I'll be talking about horseshoe crabs, or "living fossils" as they are known because they have been around for the past 400 million years, before dinosaurs even existed!

Around the world, there are only 4 species of horseshoe crabs, out of which 2 can be found in Singapore! The species that can be found in Singapore are the Mangrove Horseshoe Crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the Coastal Horseshoe Crab (Tachypleus gigas) (Lee, 2014). As such, there is considerable interest in the conservation of horseshoe crabs in Singapore.

Personally, I have taken part in the Horseshoe Crab Rescue & Research Programme organised by the Nature Society (Singapore), in the Mandai mudflats. I have seen for myself how hardy these creatures are, having survived mass extinction with little morphological evolution. Sadly, irresponsible abandonment of fishing nets in the mudflats has resulted in the decline in horseshoe crab population. Due to their morphology, with their jointed appendages and long tail, horseshoe crabs get easily entangled in fishing nets. Unable to move and feed, they can only wait for death.

(Source: http://mygreenspace.nparks.gov.sg/living-fossils-horseshoe-crabs/)

During the rescue of horseshoe crabs, I saw the sheer numbers of them being caught in abandoned fishing nets. While some were still struggling for survival, many others were dead, having dried out when the tides receded. Regular volunteers of the programme shared about the interesting observation of how there would always be many more males than females caught in the nets. As they explained later on, once a female horseshoe crab gets caught in the nets, the pheromones released by the females would attract males towards them, leading to several more males getting caught in the nets as well. Unfortunate, isn't it, that a species that has survived millions of years could die out while responding to acts of nature, simply because of mankind's irresponsible behaviour?

References:
Lee, I. S. H., 2014. Living Fossils: Horseshoe Crabs. My Green Space. URL: http://mygreenspace.nparks.gov.sg/living-fossils-horseshoe-crabs/ (accessed on 28 Sep 2014)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Can we do more for our Mangroves?

In a research paper titled "Mangrove conservation in Singapore: A physical or a psychological impossibility?" published in 2000, author Liow Lee Hsiang argues that mangrove conservation in Singapore is largely inadequate. She argues that this is due to a lack of public awareness on mangroves in Singapore. Moreover, mangroves have been undervalued in terms of their intrinsic and practical values. Liow highlights the sheer lack of scientific baseline data on mangroves, and hence a general lack of interest in this area.

14 years down the road, in 2014, can we say much has changed? A quick Google Scholar search of "mangroves in Singapore" yielded 9,630 results, and is some evidence of studies on mangroves in Singapore. Yet, has this translated into policy changes to protect mangroves?

While Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve remains a nature reserve, there is still a dismal lack of work done to conserve other mangroves in Singapore. The neighbouring Mandai mudflats may not be as well-known as Sungei Buloh, but it is home to the largest concentration of horseshoe crabs in the world, as well as two-thirds of Singapore's mangrove species (Chua, 2013). Yet, there is no legal protection for the site, and it is listed as a reserve site by the government. This means that the site could be used for future development, and we could risk losing more of our biodiversity there!

Why is it that despite the increase in studies on mangroves and the increasing clarity on the value of mangroves in Singapore, there is still so little being done to save them? Perhaps it is not a lack of awareness as Liow posits; rather it is the lack of political willpower to save mangroves, given so many competing demands for land and resources. Yet I wouldn't blame the government for all of this - after all, policies are somewhat a reflection of what the people want. I think we need to see ourselves as a part of nature and not separate from it, before people would be willing to do anything at all for the environment.

References:
Chua, G., 2013. Calls to save Mandai site that's rich in biodiversity. The Straits Times, 7 October 2013. URL: http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/case-you-missed-it/story/calls-save-mandai-site-thats-rich-biodiversity-20131011 (accessed on 28 Sep 2014)

Liow L. H., 2000. Mangrove conservation in Singapore: A physical or a psychological impossibility?. Biodiversity and Conservation, 9: 309-332. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Singapore: What is there worth conserving?

World Rhino Day falls on 22 September, and this year, the Singapore Zoo will launch a rhinoceros conservation awareness campaign, titled Rhinos in Trouble: The Hornest Truth, from 20 September to 20 October 2014. Strange, isn’t it, that Singapore is campaigning to conserve rhinoceroses, when they can only be found in captivity in the zoo?

Indeed, Singapore is often seen as a less than ideal place for conservation efforts, with its limited land size and natural biodiversity. In fact, a commonly heard question is, “Singapore is so small, what is there to conserve?” Or, indeed, what difference would it make in the world to conserve anything in Singapore, since we are but a little red dot? Well, in my opinion, Singapore is small, but sure can do big things with regards to the environment.

For one, the rhinoceros conservation campaign in Singapore aims to raise awareness about the plight of rhinoceroses in the wild. Wildlife Reserves Singapore works closely with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and Wildlife Conservation Society (Vietnam) to stamp out illegal trade of rhino horns. So how useful and significant are Singapore’s efforts in this area that seemingly does not concern us?

Well, Singapore is in fact a significant stakeholder in wildlife trade. With her porous ports and strategic port location, Singapore makes for an ideal transit point for wildlife trade. In fact, in January this year, eight pieces of rhinoceros horns weighing a total of about 21.5kg were confiscated at Changi Airport by the Singapore authorities. Contrary to popular belief, there is indeed much Singapore can do to support conservation efforts worldwide.

Furthermore, with Singapore serving as a regional hub for many businesses and industries, there is no doubt that she plays an important role in serving as a hub for conservation efforts in the region and in the world. For instance, the World Wildlife Fund in Singapore is active in conservation programmes in over 22 countries in the Asia Pacific region and works to deliver positive and lasting change in this region. With Singapore’s human capital and knowledge resource, there is certainly much she can contribute to global conservation efforts.

Conservation work in Singapore does not take the form which we commonly perceive, simply because the nature of Singapore is indeed different from other countries. But that definitely doesn’t make conservation in Singapore any less significant, because although Singapore does not directly conserve wildlife or biodiversity, she is an important rallying force for global conservation efforts, and that should not be discounted.


References:
Wildlife Reserves Singapore, 2014. Rhinos in trouble: learn the hornest truth at singapore zoo’s rhino conservation awareness campaign. Wildlife Press, 19 September 2014. URL: http://wrscomsg.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/rhinos-in-trouble-learn-the-hornest-truth-at-singapore-zoos-rhino-conservation-awareness-campaign/ (accessed 21 Sep 2014)

World Wildlife Fund. Conservation work in Singapore. URL: http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/singapore/ (accessed 21 Sep 2014)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rankings, rankings...

As I was researching for last week’s blog post, I discovered insights about how politics and media come into play regarding environmental issues, so I thought it’ll be good to share about it this week! I guess environmental issues are truly multi-faceted and as BES students, what better topic to share than about the interdisciplinary nature of these issues?

Remember how Singapore was ranked the worst environmental offender in 179 countries in a study? Well, the Singapore government sure did not take that well. In fact, the study was heavily criticised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources for being unfair due to Singapore’s limited land size. The authors of the paper, though, stood by it, saying that data do not lie.

Look at the headlines of this newspaper article published in The Straits Times!
(Source: http://newshub.nus.edu.sg/news/1005/PDF/ENVIRONMENTAL-st-14may-pB1.pdf)
While I did further research, I found another article on Google, also published in The Straits Times. This article was about Singapore coming in 4th in the 2014 Environmental Performance Index. But the first result that came out in Google was not the website of The Straits Times; rather, it was that of the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore in Cairo (under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)!

Here’s a screenshot of the webpage:
 
(Source: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/overseasmission/cairo/press_statements_speeches/embassy-news-and-press-releases/2014/201401/press_20140128.html)
Both were research papers; both were rankings – yet they were treated with a vast difference. Why so?

Environmental issues are indeed not as simple as they seem, especially when factors such as politics and the economy come into play. When the country is portrayed unfavourably in rankings, the reaction of the government to such data is markedly different from when it is the opposite. Why the huge discrepancy in reaction, to pretty much the same thing – data and rankings? Perhaps because of the increasing representation of environmental issues on the media, data can no longer be treated simply as such. Political and economic ramifications deem it necessary for various parties, particularly the government, to influence public perception so as to reduce unfavourable outcomes.

This leaves me wondering – why can’t we recognise and accept these purportedly “unfavourable” data and work towards improving ourselves, instead of remaining in denial? To me, tackling public perceptions rather than problems in the environment itself is simply a stop-gap measure; there simply cannot be any progress if we choose to remain in denial of the presence of problems. Yet, I do acknowledge that it is perhaps too na├»ve to believe in the simplicity of the matter when there are so many more factors at play with regard to the environment than can be covered within a short blog post.
Issues related to the environment are never easy to tackle. Perhaps, then, it is up to us, the future generation, to address these problems. I find it apt to end this post with a famous quote from Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I believe we have a great role to play in the future of our country, and even in the future of our mother Earth.