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.
How time flies! It seems like just yesterday when the idea of having a nature guiding group was conceived by a few Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) undergraduates wanting to share their love for nature with the public. 3 years down the road and having trained generations of BES students, let us now take a trip down memory lane to see how BES Drongos has grown over the years.
Follow that monkey?
Ever wondered how our namesake came about? Well, we named ourselves after the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), one of a few iconic birds in the Central Catchment area. These birds are extremely intelligent, with the ability to mimic the alarm calls of other birds so as to scare them away and steal the food left behind by them. Sneaky, but also really clever, aren’t they?
Our first ever public trail launch on 4 October 2014 was rained out on; what a way to begin! Nevertheless, our opening weekend on 11 and 12 October 2014 received fabulous support. Since then, Drongos has reached out to more than 500 participants over 3 years, and we certainly hope to see more of you at our trails!
Besides bringing people close to nature, we have also brought nature closer to people. Drongos has regularly held conservation booths to showcase our local biodiversity to the masses. With specimens from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, the public has never failed to be amazed by what’s out there in the wild in Singapore.
Booth at NUS Central Library on 3 November 2015
Booth at NUS University Town on 16 February 2016
On the web
Apart from physical outreach, we believe in the power of social media to garner support for our cause. Our Drongos don’t just guide; many have different talents in photography, drawing and writing!
Below we present to you a small selection of artwork by our resident artists, but be sure to check out our Facebook page and WordPress for more amazing content!
National Day 2015 (By Jacqueline Chua)
Valentine’s Day 2016 (By Jacqueline Chua)
Valentine’s Day 2017 (By Ashley Tan)
World Pangolin Day 2017 (By Ashley Tan)
Over the years, the Drongos flock has expanded, with volunteer guides from all batches of BES. We are also currently training up a new batch of guides, so do look forward to seeing them on our trails!
Looking forward, we are excited to be taking part in more outreach events to bring our love for nature to more people. For one, BES Drongos will be taking part in the NParks Parks Festival 2017 at Pasir Ris Park taking place on 28 October. We also have 2 more public trails happening on 21 October and 4 November, so do sign up for an enriching time with us!
With that, our #throwback is over but we look forward to many more great years ahead for BES Drongos. And we certainly hope YOU will be a part of this exciting journey ahead!
According to TimeandDate, 2017, the UN General Assembly recommended all countries to introduce a new annual event in 1954 in hopes of promoting fraternity and understanding between children all over the world.
That’s right! This event is called Universal Children’s Day! The UN General Assembly also suggested all countries to set an appropriate date with respect to their own country. Singapore has, since 1961, set Children’s Day as October 1. It was only in 2012 that the Ministry of Education decided to move this event to the first Friday of October (Chew, 2016).
Let’s now delve into the event with some interesting facts of young of animals and how we can relate to them (Because hey, why should they be excluded?):
Young Orangutans stay with mum until they are seven or eight, having the lengthiest childhood among great apes (Beening, 2015). That is almost twice or more the amount of time for human babies to become fully weaned (two to four years)!
Once born, a giraffe calf can stand up and walk in one hour (Beening, 2015)! Humans need about a year after birth before they are able to walk. This could be because giraffe calves have to be able protect themselves in the wild while human babies are protected from birth.
Young Panamanian golden frogs, unable to defend themselves unlike the fully toxic adult, hide until they do so with their skin secretions (Beening, 2015). Humans do not have toxic skin secretions to protect ourselves even as we mature but we do have plenty of places to hide in, like buildings, all our lives!
At about five months, rhino calves begin the growth of their iconic horns (Beening, 2015). While humans do not have a “iconic” body part, one of the most important body part, the brain, grows to 80% of adult size by age two, imagine the amount of nutrients we need from birth till then!
Dogs have 28 teeth as puppies but mature to have a full 42 (James, 2014). Humans however start with only 20 when young (10 on top and bottom each) and 32 when grown up.
Before eggs hatch, chicks can “talk” to one another and mum by cheeping through the egg (James, 2014). Imagine if humans could do that! Too bad fetuses only communicate by kicking~
If a squirrel finds an abandoned squirrel baby, it will adopt the orphan (James, 2014). I believe humans do have this culture too, in a place called the orphanage.
Young chimpanzees make dolls using sticks and rocks, then have fun with them by scolding, feeding, and cuddling them (James, 2014). Looks like we aren’t the only ones with toys! Animals have their own version of Barbie dolls too.
Many eagle chicks perform homicide on siblings to gain access to more and better food from mum (James, 2014). Aren’t you glad this does not happen to us? Phew.
Young elephants suck their trunks for comfort (ViralForest, 2015). This might be similar to how it is a natural instinct for human babies to suck and therefore leading to the invention of pacifiers!
There you have it! Happy Children’s Day to all!! 😀
The time of the year that the moon is at its brightest, roundest and fullest has finally come! Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of the loveliest Chinese festivals. For Chinese families, it’s a day for family gathering, moon-gazing and of course, indulging in delicious mooncakes.
When it comes to Mid-Autumn Festival, what comes to your mind must be mooncakes, lanterns, and (maybe) the legends related to it. However, this post is not going to be about any of them! Because today, October 4th, is also World Animal Day! World Animal Day is a social movement which aims to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe, making the world a better place for all animals (find out more here: https://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/). So, to celebrate both the Mid-Autumn Festival and World Animal Day, let us tell you about the story of the moon and the animals associated with it ~
Chapter 1: The Time Keeper
Most animals, including humans, have bodily rhythms governed by the sun. However, the moon also controls several mysterious circadian clocks in many animals, both marine and land, and especially nocturnal creatures.
How does the moon clock work? The moon provides time cues to animals via two ways: changes in moonlight and tides. These two environmental cycles are the result of the lunar cycle (the number of days required for the Moon to orbit around the Earth) and the lunar day (the number of hours required for the Moon to travel by the same spot on Earth). These environmental changes can be perceived by animals and plants, cueing them to behave in certain ways and perform certain activities at certain timings to survive in the wild.
During full moon, corals are all ready to make babies
For hundreds of species of corals, the full moon sets the great atmosphere for lovemaking. Corals keep close watch for changes in moonlight. As the full moon arrives, corals release huge amounts of eggs and sperm into the water at the same time – a mass-spawning event and one at the most massive scale on Earth. This mass coral spawning event just happened in Singapore in April 2017!
Researchers had found that corals are able to perceive the blue region of the visible light spectrum and are extremely sensitive to the spectra that match that of the blue moonlight. By synchronizing spawning, the free-floating sperm and eggs have a higher chance to come into contact with one another and undergo fertilisation in the vast ocean. This lovemaking event always occurs on or near a full moon.
Turtles ride waves onto shore during high tide to lay eggs
While the moonlight tells corals when to spawn, tidal changes inform sea turtles on when to lay their eggs. Females of most species come ashore at night during high tide to lay their eggs on the beach.
Light changes during the lunar cycle not only represent time cues to many species, but also affect the animals’ use of senses.
Chapter 2: The Compass
Not only do species rely on moonlight to tell time, some also use the moon to navigate their way to find food and go back home!
“Just keep walking, just keep walking”
Under a dark night sky, newly hatched baby sea turtles depend on moonlight reflecting off the ocean surface to guide them toward the sea. Just in August, 32 Hawksbill turtle hatchlings were sighted at Each Coast Park, trying to find their way to the sea!
Hawksbill turtle hatchling at East Coast Park in August (Source: NParks Facebook)
Besides sea turtles, dung beetles also use polarized moonlight as a compass to roll its ball of poop in a straight line in order to escape competitors.
Chapter 3: A fine dinner under the moonlight
Dining under the moonlight may be a romantic scene to us, but how is it like in the animal kingdom?
Let’s play hide and seek
Full moons shine extra light onto the landscape. Many predators in the animal kingdom take advantage of this, and find it easier to spot and hunt their prey. Nightjars and owls were found to be more efficient in foraging when there is moonlight, and avoid activity at dark nights. It may seem that predators have an edge as the moon brightens. However, many prey have also stepped up their game. During bright nights, prey dramatically reduce their night activity and go into hiding. There are also prey which find it easier to detect and evade predators, and are daring enough to increase activity levels. Doodlebugs, the larvae of dragonfly-like insects called antlions, dig bigger holes to trap insect prey during full moon nights as the prey are more active.
Light is important to both humans and wildlife. Lightbulbs are seen as one of the greatest inventions of all time. However, in today’s world, our use of light has become so excessive that it is disrupting the natural patterns of light and dark, altering the behaviour of wildlife and functions of ecosystems. The baby sea turtles found at East Coast Park were found to be circling on the beach. The bright streetlights were distracting the hatchlings, and they were unable to follow the moonlight to the sea.
Every flip of a light switch is contributing to altering natural patterns of mating, migration, feeding, and pollination, at a rate which species are unable to adapt. Not only does ecological light pollution affect wildlife, studies have shown that it has profound impacts on human health too. Nocturnal light disrupts our sleep and confuses our circadian rhythms. After all, humans are animals as well.
As you enjoy your mooncakes and appreciate the full moon tonight (if it is visible), we hope that this post will increase your appreciation of the importance of the moon to both humans and wildlife, and encourage you to reduce and fight light pollution!
Who doesn’t like to watch films? Films are not only entertaining; they can also be meaningful and mirror what is happening in reality. There is a long list of eye-opening and impactful documentary films about conservation. But did you know that there are many popular entertainment movies which have a (hidden) conservation or environmental-related message that you might have missed? Get some popcorn ready, because we are going to recommend some great movies to watch in a different light!
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
This spin-off of the phenomenal Harry Potter franchise introduces us to the troubling wizarding world in the 1920s through the adventures of Newt Scamander, a magizoologist, in New York City. A large part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them explores the conflict between the magical and non-magical world as well as the threats from the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. However, there is also a charming message about conservation behind the film. Magical creatures face various threats from humans, and many are perceived wrongly and negatively by humans. As a zoologist, Newt argues for the preservation and respect of the magical animals. Having travelled to different continents to document magical creatures and their natural habitats, Newt hopes to provide the world with a better understanding of the nature of various creatures and their conservation. The stories of the magical creatures and Newt’s adventures in the film reflect many threats faced by wildlife in the real world and challenges in the field of biodiversity conservation.
The Lorax (2012)
In Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, Ted lives in a walled society where trees are artificial and air is a commodity. In a bid to win the affection of a girl named Audrey, Ted embarks on a quest to fulfil her wish of seeing a real tree. The story follows his adventures as he discovers the reason for his society’s poor predicament: environmental collapse attributed to a ruined businessman, the Once-ler. Driven by money, the Once-ler ignored warnings from the Lorax, guardian of the forest, and wiped out all the Truffula trees for his own Thneed business. Dr Seuss’ story portrays and warns of the dangers that corporate greed can bring to both humans and the environment. Not only that, the story also shows how the customers’ demand for Thneed contributed to the destructive actions by the Once-ler, highlighting that rampant, unsustainable consumerism is responsible for the state of our environment.
There is more to this movie than the love story unfolding between two Spix’s macaws, Blu and Jewel, in Rio, Brazil. Their dangerous adventures take place against a backdrop of illegal wildlife trade of endangered birds. In the movie, Blu and Jewel were captured by a young boy and sold off to group of smugglers in Brazil’s slums. This hints at the realities of illegal wildlife trade of endangered animals, which is often lucrative and appeals greatly to those with poor financial circumstances. The harsh conditions that smuggled animals often experience were also portrayed in various dialogues and scenes in the movie. In addition, the movie touches on the cross-border nature of illegal wildlife trade as it follows Blu and Jewel’s efforts to escape from being smuggled overseas.
This science fiction is set on a moon of a planet far away from Earth called Pandora. It tells of the clash between humans and the Na’vi (local people). This was a result of the humans seeking a largest deposit of unobtanium mineral under the Hometree of the Na’vi people. Taking a deeper look at the story, it reflects how mankind treats nature and others. We are using up the Earth’s natural resources unsustainably. Often, indigenous communities are displaced and marginalised in the quest to access new resources. Avatar urges us to stop our damaging ways towards the environment, and live sustainably, or we risk driving ourselves towards a bleak future.
In a distant future, Earth has been abandoned by humans. All that remains of the planet is unlimited mounds of garbage and the unlucky robot responsible for cleaning this impossible mess. WALL-E is an adorable story about saving the Earth and robots falling in love. WALL-E is our #1 choice — amazing, visionary, hilarious and sad — Walt Disney managed to paint a picture of an apocalyptic future dominated by endless landscapes of garbage and completely devoid of life (save a lovable cockroach) and make it entertaining. Despite the fact the Pixar downplayed the environmental message in the media (lest they turn off GOP-voting parents) it is clear that the last robot on earth, though mute, does indeed have a message.
You might just sit on the couch and escape into a disaster flick or two in the coming weeks, but hopefully these movies will also inspire you to take action in some way and keep Mother Earth at the forefront of your mind. Think we missed any? Let us know of any movies which you find interesting with an environmental message!
We’ve reached the end of May, and what better way to say goodbye to this month than to celebrate World Otter Day? This year, World Otter Day falls on the 31st of May, and we hope that you’ll be motivated to learn more about these otterly adorable creatures after reading this post. World Otter Day was created with the intention of raising global awareness on these river-loving animals. This is due to the myriad of threats that otters increasingly face such as habitat destruction, hunting and road deaths. Before we talk more about otters, let’s start off with a joke:
Otters are carnivorous mammals that belong to the weasel family, which includes animals like the badger and wolverine, and there are 13 otter species which can be found all over the world. In North America, you can find the charismatic sea otters, who are often seen relaxing while floating on water. They even hold hands with one another while they’re sleeping to prevent themselves from floating away! In South and Southeast Asia, you can find the Oriental Small-Clawed otter, which is the smallest but one of the more social species among all the otter species.
In our own island home, we’ve become enamoured with the otter families that elicit squeals of excitement whenever they are spotted. These families comprise of smooth-coated otters, which as the name suggests, have smoother and shorter fur as compared to other otter species. These adventurous otters have been seen exploring places such as St Andrew’s Junior College and the i Light festival at Marina Bay, proving themselves to be highly adept in navigating our urban landscape.
Other than providing us with an overwhelming amount of cuteness, otters also play significant roles in their ecosystems as well. In the case of sea otters, they significantly influence sea urchin and kelp populations. Sea otters munch on sea urchins which consume kelp. By eating the sea urchins, sea otters keep the populations in check, which prevents kelp forests from being overgrazed on by sea urchins. It’s important to maintain healthy kelp forests as they are rich sources of nutrients to fish and other marine organisms.
Sadly, most otter species are facing falling population numbers and this can be attributed to a few reasons. One major reason would be pollution which contaminates water bodies where otters are mostly found. Harmful chemicals from the run-offs can accumulate in the otters and their prey are affected by the pollution as well, jeopardising the food sources of the otters.
You may be wondering, how can I contribute to World Otter Day? Well, even a small action is pretty significant! You could aim to spread the message about otters to people around you and raise awareness on their situation. Another simple way of contributing would be being considerate towards our local otters (and all other wildlife in fact!). Some tips include giving the otters adequate space upon encountering them and keeping our waterways clean to give them optimal habitats to thrive in. With that, happy World Otter Day and enjoy the rest of this week 🙂
It’s mid-week already, but this time it’s not just any typical Wednesday, but Vesak day! So, you may ask, what exactly is Vesak Day about? And why are we even writing about a religious festival on a website dedicated to Singapore’s biodiversity? Well, Vesak Day is observed by Buddhists to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhists would refrain from killing and many times carry out ‘Mercy Release’.
Firstly, what is mercy release? Basically, mercy release involves the release of animals kept in captivity such as the pets sold in pet stores and live fishes kept in restaurants. While at first glance, such acts may truly be benevolent and liberating, a deeper analysis proves otherwise. In fact, statistics released by NParks show that about 80-90% of the animals freed into the wild perish within a day (Heng, 2016). Doesn’t sound very liberating, unless death is your idea of liberation (instead of the conventional concept where animals are returned to their proper home – the great wilderness).
In fact, this tradition of mercy release has spurned off a darker side taking advantage of an activity borne out kindness for animals. In some places where the animals are bought from vendors specialising in this ‘trade’, the animals are recaptured after being released, thereby continuing a vicious cycle of catch and release. That’s not all. The animals that do survive being suddenly freed into the wild compete with native species for resources, upsetting the already delicate balance of Singapore’s wildlife. Common examples of non-native species include the Red-eared Slider and the American Bullfrog.
However, you can help put an end to this! For one, you could start by telling your friends and family about the consequences of mercy release. If people are not deterred by the ecological harm brought about by this activity, one should also note that animal abandonment is a crime under the Singaporean Law. Under the Parks and Trees Act, one could be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to half a year or even both if caught releasing animals for the first time (National Parks, 2015). Also, if you wish to know more, NParks is currently holding Operation No Release this weekend in the various parks and nature reserves where they reach out to the public on this issue. Alternatively, after being armed with the knowledge listed above, you could sign up to volunteer with NParks to engage the public about mercy release and animal abandonment! 🙂
In conclusion, we need to realise that not all actions borne out of virtuous intentions have good results. In the case of mercy release, such acts may in fact do more harm than good. However, we can still do our part to help animals on this Vesak day through actions such as being vegetarian or donating to animal groups that fight illegal wildlife trade (Actman, 2017).