It is a truth universally acknowledged that trudging around in the mud is the greatest of joys.
Just kidding I made that up. But I know that deep within you, a wild spirit calls for the embrace of dirt and the salt of the sea. If, like me, you derive considerable happiness from being damp and muddy, you’re probably perfect for the Intertidal Watch.
Heard of citizen science? It’s an initiative undertaken all over the world to involve the public in data collection, mostly through simple surveys that anyone can learn to do. Counting birds, for example. Or butterflies. With the help of volunteers from the public, agencies like the National Parks Board can accumulate comprehensive information about the environment over years and years, something that has become increasingly important as we anxiously observe the effects of climate change taking the world by literal storm. That’s the unromantic and frankly depressing explanation. The romantic explanation is that we all have within us an innate curiosity, a sense of wanting to go out there and discover the world. That’s science at its foundation. It doesn’t matter what you studied or what you’re good at; if you have a clipboard and pen, you can be a scientist.
A citizen scientist, anyway.
The Intertidal Watch is one of those citizen science programmes, created and conducted by NParks. It is an effort to study the biodiversity on our shores during the low tide. That’s when the sea retreats from the land, leaving a few precious metres of muddy beach that’s just teeming with life. Hermit crabs, sea cucumbers – you name it, we’ve spotted it – wriggling on the beach. Volunteers step gingerly around these creatures and take pictures of them like enthusiastic tourists; more importantly, they count and record the species and number of organisms present. This information is then carefully entered into NParks’ database, to be used by conservationists and researchers who make decisions on how to manage Singapore’s coastline.
I myself joined this programme as a volunteer just last year. It was all very simple: I went to their booth at the Festival of Biodiversity, saw a picture of a knobbly sea star and immediately signed up to be on their mailing list. Knobbly sea stars have that irresistible seduction.
Once you’re on their mailing list, you’ll be notified when they conduct a survey or training workshop. It’s best, though not strictly necessary, to go for a training workshop before embarking on your first survey. You’ll learn about the surveying method, how to identify the different types of flora and fauna on the various beaches, as well as how to record information reliably and succinctly. After that, you’ll be ready for your first citizen science experience.
Depending on the time of year and the tides, the survey can be conducted from the middle of the sweltering afternoon to the crack of dawn. At present, the surveys are mostly limited to a few beaches such as Changi Beach and East Coast Park, but plans to include other coasts are underway.
Recycling old plastic bottles and taking showers instead of baths are excellent and necessary ways of protecting the environment, but if you’re itching to do more, why not go out into the environment itself? Not only is it deeply meaningful, you’ll also get to know the side of Singapore that too many people miss out on: its rich and slightly wacky biodiversity. So don’t hesitate! Plan an unforgettable outing with your friends, take your date to see the sunrise and sea cucumbers – all you have to do is drop NParks a little email at Intertidal_Watch@nparks.gov.sg.
Words by: Qiu Jiahui