All posts by besdrongos

ALL IN ONE PITSTOP FOR BIODIVERISTY

If you have only recently taken an interest in the biodiversity of Singapore, you may be wondering where to explore to see our local flora and fauna. Fret not, however! In recent years, a slew of new nature parks has been established and they offer an easy yet interesting experience for the uninitiated.

Figure 1. A trail in Windsor Nature Park. Source: Me

One such park would be Windsor Nature Park. With its freshwater streams, secondary forest and old settlements, there is a variety of wildlife to be seen, especially if one goes earlier in the morning. Before it was turned into a park, it was previously a rubber estate from the early 20th century up to the 1970s. [1] Work to turn it into a nature park started in 2015 and it was officially opened in 2017. [2] The park boasts a variety of flora and fauna, some of which are endangered. [2]

Figure 2. Map of Windsor Nature Park. Source: https://butterflycircle.blogspot.com/2018/09/butterfly-photography-at-our-local.html

Having been there several times, the park still surprises me with interesting finds on every visit. The park also contains freshwater streams, a habitat which can be considered a rarity in Singapore. The route I would normally take from the entrance is Venus Loop, Squirrel Trail, Drongo Trail, Venus link and then Venus Loop back out to the entrance. Along the way, several habitats can be seen, including freshwater streams, secondary forest and abandoned plantations. The freshwater streams are of importance since they have largely been obliterated in Singapore over the last two centuries. [3] Their clean, soft and mildly acidic waters are a refuge for a myriad of flora and fauna.

Figure 3. Two-Spot Barb (Puntius binotatus). Source: Me

The presence of the freshwater streams means that some of our indigenous fish species can be seen as compared to the exotic species which dominate urban waterways.  On one of my trips, I managed to catch a glimpse of this school of juvenile Two-Spot Barbs (Figure 3). These young fishes were darting about, swimming up and down the water column. One interesting fact about this species is that only the juvenile fishes have the attractive 2 spots on its body. As they mature, the 2 spots fade away. In some cases, the adults are almost completely silver in colour. [3]

Figure 4. Possible Pygmy Halfbeak (Dermogenys pusillus). Source: Me

Walking a little further along the stream, I chanced upon this halfbeak. They are named as such because their lower jaw protrudes out much more than their upper jaw, an adaptation for feeding from the water’s surface. [3] Although I could not positively identify it, it was likely to be a Pygmy Halfbeak (Figure 4) rather than a Forest Halfbeak (Hemirhamphondon pogonognathus) given that the latter is much rarer and likely to be confined to less disturbed forest streams. [3] Nonetheless, it was still an interesting find.

Figure 5. Cryptocoryne griffithii. Source: Me

Aroids refer to a broad group of plants which includes some that we are familiar with, such as the money plant and yam. Further down the stream, I caught a glimpse of the endangered aquatic aroid, Cryptocoryne griffithii. The common name in Malay is “Keladi Paya”, which literally means “swamp taro”, thus reflecting its relationship to the aroid family as well as its preference for aquatic habitats.  This species is found in Singapore, the Riau Islands, the southern part of Peninsula Malaysia and Kalimantan. [4] They grow only in forest streams where the water is soft and acidic, another reason why such habitats should be conserved. [4] Being small plants, they were quite easy to miss, especially since they were growing among the larger and taller Cryptocoryne pontederiifolia, a naturalized aquatic aroid from the same genus and originally from West Sumatra.

Figure 6. Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). Source: Me

Figure 7. Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). Source: Me

Moving on to the secondary forest portion, I was hoping to see some interesting bird species. Unfortunately, as it was later in the morning, the weather was starting to become quite warm and most of the birds were less active. However, I still managed to spot a Red Junglefowl (Figure 6) foraging along the trail, as well as a lone Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo (Figure 7) perched on a tree and preening its feathers.

As I headed towards the entrance, I noticed that several species of native plants had been planted, possibly as some sort of habitat enhancement work.

Figure 8. Leea rubra. Source: Me

Figure 9. Alpina aquatica flowers, with fruits in the background. Source: Me

Some of the plants were blooming profusely. The red flowers of the Leea rubra attracted plenty of pollinating insects. Meanwhile, along the water’s edge, the aquatic ginger (Figure 9) was also flowering. The Leea rubra was previously declared nationally extinct and it is heartening to see them being replanted in some of our parks and gardens. [2] Meanwhile, the aquatic ginger is critically endangered locally and they could be of value for homeowners who have ponds and wish to grow some native marginal plants along the edges.

While this nature park may not contain the richest in terms of biodiversity when compared to more mature forests in the Central Catchment area, it has its value because of the presence of different ecological habitats in such a small area. As such, it is suitable for the uninitiated who may want to explore different habitats without the need to hike long distances. Moreover, it is also easily accessible by public transport. If you are a budding naturalist, do check out this amazing place and you will not be disappointed!

References

[1]: Neo, L., Yee, A. T., Chong, K. Y., Yeoh, Y. S., & Tan, H. T. W. (2014). THE VASCULAR PLANT FLORA OF ABANDONED PLANTATIONS IN SINGAPORE IV: WINDSOR FOREST. NATURE IN SINGAPORE, 93-109. Retrieved from https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/app/uploads/2017/06/2014nis093-109.pdf

[2]: NParks opens Windsor Nature Park, Singapore’s sixth nature park, and announces plans for a new Rifle Range Nature Park. (2018, July 09). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.nparks.gov.sg/news/2017/4/nparks-opens-windsor-nature-park

[3]: Ng, P. K., & Lim, K. K. (1995). A guide to the freshwater fishes of Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.

[4]: Cryptocoryne griffithii. (2003, January). Retrieved November 14, 2020, from https://crypts.home.xs4all.nl/Cryptocoryne/Gallery/gri/gri.html

Our Forests At Risks

Another of Singapore’s few remaining forests is at risk of being lost, and it needs all the help it can get! 

Photo provided courtesy of Mr Sydney Cheong (ttscheong@hotmail.com)

The forest in question is a patch of recovering secondary forest that is sandwiched between Dover MRT and the Ulu Pandan PCN. It is currently gazetted by URA as a ‘Residential’ zone and is slated to have its Eastern half be developed into a new HDB estate. Work begins after the 16 January this year, and we do not have much time left. Despite this, we believe we should fight for every square inch of forest till the bitter end. 

This is not the first time this patch of forest has faced the risk of deforestation. Previously in 2009, a section of this forest was cut down to make way for Ghim Moh Link, and according to the Environmental Survey done by AECOM, has not successfully preserved the canopy density of the Eastern half of the current forest. Worse still, unregistered deforestation activities have been carried out as late as 2014, which have yet to be followed up with since the forest is not a gazetted Protected Area.

A Grenadier dragonfly, one of the near-threatened species found. An indicator of clean freshwater bodies. Photo: Elliot Ong

This forested area while small, is anything but insignificant. The AECOM Environmental Survey done found that this forest:

  • Is home to one of 19 mature White Fig (Ficus virens) individuals in Singapore
  • Is frequented by 18 of 158 recorded animal species that are locally threatened or near-threatened animal species, of which:
  • A number of forest specialist species like the Glossy Swiftlet, Saturn and Common Faun butterflies hint that the forest may serve as a wildlife connector
  • Regulates water temperature to the Ulu Pandan Canal which may have an influence on wildlife downstream at the Ulu Pandan Reservoir
  • May have remediative effects on water pollutants carried by streams flowing through the forest toward the Ulu Pandan Canal and PCN

Oriental Magpie-Robin (Photo by Benjamin Seah)

Blue-Crowned Hanging Parrot (Photo by Elliot Ong). Both locally endangered birds sighted frequenting the Dover forest

We believe that while AECOM has done a rigorous and much needed survey on the significance of this forest, that there are many more findings yet to be found and more data needed on the environmental regulating effects this forest provides. These effects are key to understanding how this forest contributes to the liveability of the environment for people around the Ulu Pandan, Clementi and Buona Vista areas; as well as the significance of this forest for surrounding parks, wildlife habitats, and nature reserves.

Help out by expressing your opinions to HDB and providing your feedback here.

Provide your input for a resident-initiated survey on park and nature reserves here.

Read more on the AECOM Environmental Survey here.

And of course if you happen to be a resident within the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council, do write and provide your feedback to Mr Christopher de Souza at mps@ulupandan.sg 

Your actions today can influence how we all live in the future, and whether what little remains of Singapore’s forests will survive to see another day.

Written by: Samuel Lee

Coral Reefs in Singapore

Importance of coral reefs

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth. According to Scripps Institution of Oceanography (n.d.), they support more species per unit area than any other marine environment. This includes around 4,000 species of fish and 800 species of hard corals (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, n.d.). Beyond this, corals provide coastal protection by reducing about 97 percent of energy from waves. They therefore play a vital role in protecting coastal communities from violent storms. Coral reefs also provide jobs and income to fishing communities who depend on them for fishing and coastal protection. Many local economies earn income through diving tours, fishing trips and other tourism-related businesses. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is worth more than $100 million (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, n.d.; Veron et al., 2009). Furthermore, as corals have very sensitive living conditions, corals have developed chemical compounds to defend themselves (NOAA, n.d.). Scientists posit that these chemical compounds present in coral reefs have the potential to create the next great medical breakthrough (NOAA, n.d.). Reef organisms have been used to treat certain cancers such as leukemia and other tumours. Therefore, it is clear that we need to protect coral reefs as it plays multiple important roles for humans. 


What coral biodiversity does Singapore house and where to find them

Map of coral reefs in Singapore (Loh et al., 2006, as cited in Reef Ecology Lab, n.d.)

While many may not be familiar, the coral biodiversity in Singapore is in fact diverse, where 255 species of hard corals and 111 species of reef fish are located in Singapore’s waters (Huang et al., 2009, as cited in Reef Ecology Lab, n.d.). As seen in the map above, most of Singapore’s reefs are found in the waters near the Southern Islands while some coral patches can be found in intertidal zones, such as Changi beach and Labrador Park. 

More images of coral biodiversity can be found here: https://coralreef.nus.edu.sg/gallery/fishes.html

Recent developments in coral restoration program in Singapore 

A 10 metre tall man-made reef structure installed in Sister’s Island Marine Park. Source: (Ong, n.d., as cited in Teh, 2018)

Due to the years of land reclamation, shipping activities and other developments in Singapore’s waters, it is estimated that Singapore has lost more than half of its reefs (Reef Ecology Lab, n.d.).This was also exacerbated by increasing sea surface temperatures which eventually led to mass bleaching in 2016.

As such, in late 2018, Singapore installed a 10 metre tall man-made reef structure in Sisters’ Island Marine Park, which is known to be the largest man-made reef structure ever, to promote coral growth. This project will potentially allow up to 1,000 square meters of new coral cover by 2030 (Teh, 2018). 

This project will include eight reef structures and each of these 10 metre tall structures will form house corals and act as a sanctuary for other marine organisms to reside and thrive in (Teh, 2018). What’s great about these structures, apart from promoting coral biodiversity, is that they are made of recycled materials such as concrete and fibreglass pipes.

What part can we (the public) play in their conservation

The National Parks Board has a local plant-a-coral initiative held where individuals can donate, with a minimum of $200, for NParks to plant a coral into our reefs. NParks will also send a photo update of your sponsored coral every 6 months for 3 years. 

Individually, we can practice environmentally-friendly habits such as picking up litter, not littering and reducing our use of plastic. We can also encourage our friends and family to avoid littering as excessive trash in our waters can degrade our reefs and the biodiversity it houses. Finally, we can also lend a hand by volunteering for coastal clean ups, or even giving guided trails in Sister’s Island Marine Park, which help more people gain awareness of our local coral biodiversity.

More information on how to apply can be found here or on their Instagram page: @sgmarineparks

I hope this post has provided you interesting and educational information on coral reefs in Singapore! Thanks for reading! 

Written by: Letitia

References: 

Coral Guardian. (n.d.). Why are coral reefs so important?. Retrieved from: 

Graham, N.A.J., Nash, K.L. (2013). The importance of structural complexity in coral reef 

ecosystems. Coral Reefs 32, 315–326. Retrieved from: https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1007/s00338-012-0984-y

NOAA. (n.d.). The Importance of Coral Reefs. Retrieved from: 

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_corals/coral07_importance.html

Reef Ecology Lab. (n.d.). Coral Reefs of Singapore. Retrieved from: 

https://coralreef.nus.edu.sg/singapore.html

Scripps Institution of Oceanography. (n.d.). Value of Corals. Retrieved from: 

Teh, C. (2018). Singapore’s largest reef structure installed. Retrieved from: 

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/singapores-largest-reef-structure-installed

Veron, J. E. N., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Lenton, T. M., Lough, J. M., Obura, D. O., 

Pearce-Kelly, P., . . . Rogers, A. D. (2009). The coral reef crisis: The critical importance of<350 ppm CO2. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58(10), 1428-1436. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.09.009

Wee, L. (2017). Sisters’ Islands Marine Park has more to offer than just dive trails

Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/coral-islands

Instagram Eco-Warriors

In recent years, social media has been increasingly used by environmentalist groups as a platform to promote their cause. The advent of social media has enabled the communication of information to be easier and more efficient as a wider range of audience can be reached within a shorter period of time. As such, it is a powerful tool to be used by Eco-Warriors to raise awareness and push for change within communities. Today, we take a look at 4 local sustainability groups which have taken their efforts to Instagram!

Green Nudge (@greennudgesg)

Green Nudge is a group which focuses on achieving zero waste in Singapore. They occasionally partner with companies and event organisers to carry out initiatives that help reduce the amount of waste generated at events! Past initiatives include coastal clean-ups as well as waste binning efforts at the Standard Chartered Marathons. If you would like to get involved in their initiatives, do follow their Instagram account for event recruitment updates! Their account also regularly posts information regarding waste in Singapore as well as provide you with tips on how to reduce it. If you are unable to help out in their events, you can also attend their Green Con(versations) webinars from the comfort of our home to learn more about waste management in Singapore!

The Sustainability Project (@thesustainabilityproject_)

If you have been searching for a shop to purchase your sustainable products from, you can try The Sustainability Project! This local business started in 2018 and aims to provide a platform for you to purchase a wide range of sustainable products to help you in your journey in achieving zero waste! To find out more about their products, check out their Instagram page where details of their products are posted. While this initiative is a business, the founder strongly believes in educating customers on the importance of ‘buying what you need’. This is done via the ‘#productconsiderationchecklist’ series of Instagram posts which you can use to find out whether you really need to buy certain products! Also, do look out for their occasional gems of knowledge in the form of educational posts that can teach you more about waste reduction 😊

Edible Garden City (@ediblegardencity)

Here’s one for the green thumbs! Edible Garden City is a social enterprise which advocates for urban farming in Singapore. They have built over 200 food gardens around the country which supplies greens to F&B outlets in order to reduce the carbon footprint and improve the food security of Singapore. In addition, they also conduct various farming workshops and educational programs, such as the Junior Urban Farmer Camp which seeks to give children a 3-day hands-on experience in farming. Recruitment details for these events are regularly posted on their Instagram page so do look out for them if you are interested! Their Instagram page is also filled with farming tips and posts that introduce followers to the range of greens that are planted in their urban farms. To give the public a more in depth understanding of the inner workings of their farms, Edible Garden City occasionally organises exciting tours of their farms (details on Instagram)!

Package Pals (@package.pals)

Is your room filled with your unopened packages from 11.11? Are you feeling guilty about the packaging waste that you have created? Fret not, Package Pals has got you covered! This initiative was set up during the Circuit Breaker period by 3 youths who have a passion in waste reduction. Package Pals aims to help extend the lifespan of the packaging used by online shops by collecting and redistributing used packaging back to business so that they can be reused! Through the use of Instagram, Package Pals wishes to raise awareness about the waste issue in Singapore as well as provide waste reduction tips so that their followers can take action too. If you would like to donate your used packaging or are a business looking to participate as a partner to receive used packaging, you can refer to their monthly Instagram recruitment shoutouts. Don’t say ‘bojio’! However, do note that Package Pals has certain requirements for the condition of and type of packaging that you can donate. Details can be found in the link in their bio!

These 4 sustainability groups have done an excellent job in creating initiatives that help educate the masses on the importance in tackling environmental issues. Each of them have also provided a variety of opportunities that enable the masses to take action. Do consider following their Instagram pages and participate in their events if you have some spare time on your hands! 😊

Written by: Wei Qiang

Upcycling and my Hobby

It was during the days of circuit breaker, that I first started integrating upcycling with my hobby. The latter was toy photography, and it involved bringing miniature figurines to life via the lens of a camera and the magic of photo-editing. Usually, the backdrop of my shots would be that of nature. I would wonder around the secluded green spaces of Singapore (e.g. little dirt paths, open grass spaces), taking shots of figurines as they ‘interacted’ with their surroundings.

These photography sessions were relaxing getaways that allowed me to explore my creativity whilst immersing myself in nature.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when the circuit breaker measures kicked in. Outdoor toy photography did not fall under the category of ‘essential activities’, so for the time being, it had to be given up. This was probably the biggest challenge for me. I was so used to shooting in the outdoors that I did not have a clue as to how to incorporate my hobby in the indoors. The amenities of my house were too oversized to be used as backgrounds, too inauthentic in scale to the miniature figurines for producing a great photo.

It was during this initial frustration that I noticed the amount of packaging waste my household had been generating, as a result of our shift to online shopping. We weren’t the only ones. After the circuit breaker went into effect, Singaporean households generated approximately 11% more waste than in prior months (Liu, 2020). My family was accumulating and recycling mountains of cardboard boxes and Styrofoam packaging. However, unbeknownst to us at the time, not all of these items were actually recycled!

According to the National Environment Agency, in 2019 only about 44% of cardboard and paper were recycled, while only 4% of plastics (and Styrofoam is one of them!) were recycled (National Environment Agency, 2019). Assuming Singapore’s 2020 recycling rates are similar to its previous year’s, that meant a good portion of our packaging waste wasn’t actually recycled, even if we intended them to be.

This was when I started looking into upcycling, which is method of reducing household waste by converting it into a new and usable product (youmatter, 2020). I started finding other uses for my household’s packaging waste, specifically, looking at how they could solve my photography background issues. Eventually, an idea hit me! Gathering my required materials, I went to work. This was what I came up with!

With the unused packaging, I made a hanger diorama for my toy photography! The base is made from Styrofoam, spray-painted silver to give it a metallic glean. The cardboard pallet fastened to the diorama’s mid-section serves as an observational post and is meant to resemble a control tower. Lastly, the painted cardboard on the lower left-hand corner is a pair of blast doors.

The entire process was required little more than paint, glue, and a little ingenuity! It was a really fun passion project to undertake, so much so that I started making additional dioramas!

I was surprised at how versatile these materials could be! Blank pieces of Styrofoam became detailed, miniature brick walls with just some cutting and painting.

Pieces of cardboard could become window panels, shuttered warehouse doors, or even building signage. Plastic bits from model kit frames could be used as pipes running along the sides of buildings!

The creation of these dioramas kept me busy during the circuit breaker period, enabling me to not only find a new creative outlet, but to also practice upcycling and give new life to waste materials that were previously meant for the bin! It also enabled the continuation of my toy photography from the indoors!

Overall, it feels great to be able to implement good environmental practices like upcycling with my hobby. It’s simple, cheap and has limitless potential! Moreover, it reduces the amount of waste we introduce back into our environment, reducing our negative impact on it.

What are some of your own upcycling ideas? Be sure to share them in the comments down below!

Written by Joseph Wee

References

Liu, V. (7 May, 2020). More trash in past month, but fewer waste collectors amid Covid-19 circuit breaker. Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/more-trash-in-past-month-but-fewer-waste-collectors

youmatter. (21 January, 2020). Upcycling Definition. Retrieved from youmatter: https://youmatter.world/en/definition/upcycling/

National Environment Agency. (2019). Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling. Retrieved from National Environment Agency: https://www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/waste-management/waste-statistics-and-overall-recycling