Giants in our waters

Biodiversity is found everywhere,

and good places must be shared,

Sharing our knowledge is caring with courage,

so go and be brave, explore there!

While the BES Drongos guide at Macritchie’s Petai Trail, our guides are equally passionate about helping others learn more about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore as well!

Last month, 2 BES Drongos guides joined participants from NUS’s University Scholars Programme on a trip to St John’s Island, located a short 25 minute ferry away from Marina South Pier. St John’s Island forms part of Singapore’s Southern Islands, a planning area comprising of other islands like Kusu Island and the Sisters’ Islands. Geographically, all of them are found just south of Sentosa (see map below).

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Singapore’s outlying islands. The Southern Islands are demarcated by the red border (Image source: https://cdn-az.allevents.in/banners/fa153bd9789f5ec5cdo21d3f528d9c42)

There, students visited St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, which houses the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, and listened to both Dr Serena Teo and Dr Neo Mei Lin who are key staff based at the facility. Students then got to tour the grounds, with the highlight being the Giant Clam Hatchery, which breeds 2 species of giant clams, the Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) and the Boring Giant Clam (T. crocea).

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Dr Neo giving students a tour of the Giant Clam Hatchery (Photo by Angela Chan)

For those who don’t know, Dr Neo is one of the world’s leading scientists in researching giant clams, and was recently named a TED Fellow. Part of her research is to maintain the Giant Clam Hatchery, which grows giant clams until they are large enough to be re-introduced into Singapore waters. In a similar fashion to animal rehabilitation, a hatchery relies on the genetic material of giant clams in the wild to produce offspring, and protect these new clams from predators and other threats, allowing them to grow without interference until they are old enough to defend for themselves.

Why focus on giant clams then? Giant clams worldwide currently play an important role for the coral reef ecosystem, being sources of food with for other marine animals because of its large primary productivity, shelter for a mixture of coral reef fish and epibionts (creatures that live on the clam’s shell) as well as having reef scale contributions by contributing carbonate and regulating eutrophication (acting as a nutrient filter) (Neo et al., 2015). Furthermore, their long lifespans spanning around a hundred years mean they are bioindicators to help scientists understand the health of the coral reef they reside in (“Giant Clam”, n.d.).

However, giant clams are being threatened by multiple drivers, including coral reef degradation, harvesting and aquarium trade, such that might become locally extinct if marine biologists do not intervene (Neo & Todd, 2013). Thankfully with passionate individuals like Dr Neo, and the infrastructure of St John’s Marine Laboratory, giant clams here may just be spared a fate of doom, and we hope that giant clams can soon be found thriving once again!

All in all, I personally enjoyed myself at the facility. Seeing and learning about giant clams for the first time was a good reminder that biodiversity is diverse, beautiful and needs to be shown respect and care for by humans. The island itself also has a pleasant, tranquil feel to it, offering several recreational spaces, many furry felines, and even a beach (on adjacent Lazarus Island) should you want to get yourself ready for the June holidays! The Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre is open 7 days a week and St John’s Island is assessable by ferry 2 times a day on weekdays and up to 5 times a day on weekends.

That’s all for now, stay tuned to our blog for more updates as we talk about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore too!!!

Bibliography

Neo, M. L., Eckman, W., Vicentuan, K., Teo, S. L. M., & Todd, P. A. (2015). The ecological significance of giant clams in coral reef ecosystems. Biological Conservation181, 111-123.

Neo, M. L., & Todd, P. A. (2013). Conservation status reassessment of giant clams (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Tridacninae) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore6, 125-133.

Giant Clam. (n.d.). Oceana. Retrieved 15 March 2017, from http://oceana.org/marine-life/corals-and-other-invertebrates/giant-clam

Words by: Chow Tak Wei

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Whither water?

The 22nd of March is just around the corner, and we all know what a special day that is!

No, you schmuck, I don’t mean International Goof Off Day, though I am glad something like that exists. I’m talking about World Water Day, a day where we celebrate, oh, just the fluid of life that runs through our veins and blesses us with health, wealth, beauty, and all things good on this planet… not a big deal, right?

Of course it’s a big deal. World Water Day was first brought into the world through Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Then, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly gave World Water Day its first theme for celebration. This year, the theme for World Water Day is: wastewater! Amazing! Okay, I admit that it’s not a very sexy topic. It is, nonetheless, a topic worth talking about; the management of wastewater is a major environmental challenge, and geniuses all over the world are cracking their heads open to come up with sustainable solutions to wastewater management.

Some of these geniuses have come up with something so astounding that I’m surprised people aren’t running down the streets shouting about it: poop water. Poop. Faeces, converted into fresh drinking water. Fine, NEWater already does it. What if I told you it also produces electricity? That’s right, folks, your humble little Hershey’s Kisses have the potential to nourish a thirsty family AND power their home. The future is here and it’s one hell of a ride. If you think I’m exaggerating, just take a look at that video where Bill Gates literally drinks water that, moments, before, had been a pile of tepid turds, and then writes “I would happily drink it every day” on his blog. Sublime. If you’re miserably using mobile data on the bus, let me summarise it for you:

Sewage sludge is fed into the Janicki Omniprocessor, where it is first boiled to release water vapour, which is collected to make fresh water. The remaining dry solid is then transferred to a furnace. Hot steam is made from the burning of the solids, and this steam is moved to a steam engine, which creates electricity via a generator. This provides the power needed to work the entire machine, plus a little left over that can be delivered back to the community. The true beauty of this system is that it’s simple and self-sufficient. It is a feasible addition to needy communities with poor sanitation – the owner of this processor would earn from the collection of the sewage, the production of water and electricity.

It turns out that one man’s trash is also that same man’s treasure. Thank you, Peter Janicki.

So we can’t all be like Peter Janicki. That’s okay. The value in the World Water Day campaigns around the world is that everybody can take part in them. In 2014, the UNICEF Tap Project created an app that encouraged participants to go without using their phone for as long as possible. For every 15 minutes spent away from your phone, you contributed a day’s worth of potable water to those in need. In Canada, over a hundred non-profit organisations carried out rain barrel sales across the country. Having a rain barrel in your home means an added source of water, which you can use to maintain gardens, lawns and house plants.

In Singapore, schools, grassroots, corporate and non-governmental organisations launched special events in support of World Water Day. Walks, tours, carnivals, even, yes, yoga class discounts. There really is something for everyone. You can check them out on the official Singapore World Water Day website.

Have a happy World Water Day, and don’t forget to watch the city turn blue this coming Wednesday! Oh, you’ll figure out what I mean.

Words by: Qiu Jiahui

New team, new guides, new initiatives!

It’s just been slightly more than two months into 2017 but we’ve had so much going on! Three walks have already been concluded, and we’ve also had a booth at the Biodiversity Roadshow in NUS. But apart from all the guiding action, BES Drongos has also undergone several revamps!

Our flock has expanded!

As with every new semester, BES Drongos has recruited new members to join our flock. This time, we have a record addition of 15 new Dronglets into our BES Drongos family!

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The 2017 BES Drongos family (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

Our new guides have been all trained up, and are ready to put up a good show for you. Do join us in our remaining walks to catch both them and our more senior guides in action!

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Research and Training Head Xiao Tong giving an introduction on guiding to our new guides (Photo by Angela Chan)
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New guide Dillen honing his skills in front of other new guides (Photo by Angela Chan)

Besides guides, we have also formed up a new writing team and photography team to bring you more insights into our biodiversity and all the action happening at our walks, so stay tuned!

A brand new committee

Just like ecological succession in our forests, change in leadership is also a natural progression for us here at BES Drongos. With committee handovers completed, a new team is born! We have a diverse team comprised of Drongos from Year 1 all the way to Year 3, and we sure hope this diversity will give BES Drongos a breath of fresh air!

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BES Drongos Committee 2017/18 (from left): Nicholas, Angela, Ashley, Sandra, Juin Bin, Sara, Ying Zhi, Tak Wei and Xiao Tong (Photo by Nicholas Lim)

Presenting, the BES Drongos Committee 2017/18:

President: Lee Juin Bin
Vice President: Sandra Chia
Secretary: Chow Tak Wei
Volunteer Manager(s): Sara Choo & Chua Ying Zhi
Research and Training Head: Quek Xiao Tong
Publicity Officer(s): Angela Chan, Ashley Tan and Nicholas Lim

With new blood and a new team, we are definitely stoked for what’s ahead, and we hope you are too!