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Intertidal Watch

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.

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Ever seen anything so charming? Feel free to marvel at the quaint asymmetry (Photo: Qiu Jiahui)

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.

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See you there! (Photo: Gwendolyn Chow)

Words by: Qiu Jiahui

 

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Movies Galore!

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)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Source: https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2016/11/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-earns-the-lowest-box-office-opening-of-any-harry-potter-movie/)

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)

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The Lorax (Source: https://abstar921.com/2015/11/11/seuss-on-screen-part-4-the-lorax/)

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.

Rio (2011)

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Rio (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwv7wBBkOkA)

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.

Avatar (2009)

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Avatar (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film))

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. 

WALL-E (2008)

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WALL-E (Source:http://www.rotoscopers.com/2015/06/13/pixar-rewind-wall-e/)

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!

Words by: Nur Sabrina Binte Roslan and Ho Lijean

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!

It is the Rooster Year

2017 CNY post.jpgCock-a-doodle-doo~ The year of the rooster is here! In certain parts of Singapore, you can still see the ancestors of the domesticated chicken, which are the Red Junglefowls! For those who have joined us on our walks, you might recall seeing or hearing this bird near the start of our trail. And yes, it is a bird, that CAN fly! Many people think that they can’t fly, but when the Red Junglefowls are disturbed, they can very well fly. They even roosts in the tree.

While the numbers of the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) may appear to be on the rise in Singapore, not every ‘chicken’ that you see may be it! Many are the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus); some are hybrids. The Red Junglefowl is the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken, and can be distinguished by its white ear patches, white rump patch and grey legs. While its call may initially sound like the familiar ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’, listen carefully, and you will realise that it actually ends abruptly (versus the trailing end note of the domestic chicken)! It is believed that the Red Junglefowls on Pulau Ubin are of pure stock, and while individuals (probably) do occur on the mainland together with their domestic counterparts, it is difficult to tell for sure as hybrids can look very similar. One thing’s for certain though, the Year of the Rooster is upon us, and we’d like to wish all a Happy Lunar New Year (else happy holidays)!

Infographics on the EIA

March for MacRitchie ended on a good note last week, with people sharing about the aspects of MacRitchie that they like and have fallen in love with. To follow up with all that has happened, here’s a post reminding us on the importance of MacRitchie and what we can lose with the construction of the Cross Island Line. If you are not familiar with the Cross Island Line issue, you can read our summary over here first.

Now, we all know that MacRitchie is a key area for Singapore’s biodiversity with many of its areas, including those being surveyed during the site investigation, having important ecological values. With over 2000 plants species and 347 species of animals, this area of high biodiversity is considered to be important for conservation.  However, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (that MacRitchie is a part of) faces fragmentation pressures and stressors from human use and developmental works. Fragmentation, the break-up of contiguous land masses, limits wildlife movement and compromises the fitness of individuals. Any additional stresses or threats may affect the wildlife and hence the health of their future generations, as well as genetic variability of small populations. In view of this ecological baseline of MacRitchie and the Nature Reserve, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done to highlight the potential impacts arising from soil investigation works and what can be done to mitigate such impacts.

However, we know that reading through the lengthy EIA can be tiring. So here’s some bite size infographics focusing on the EIA’s main findings in volume III, as a continuation of our previous “EIA101: All you need to know!“.  

1. Soil investigation

2. EIA Infographics_noise

EIA Infographic (Water Quality)

While the mitigation measures are comprehensive, here’s a thought from the monkeys:

EIA Infographic (Future Considerations)

We hope these infographics have been useful to gain a better understanding of what the soil investigations are and what impacts and mitigation efforts they entail. Hopefully, this can help you in developing a more informed standing in this issue as well. Now, if you’ll like to help save our MacRitchie forest, here’s two simple steps that you can take: Spread the word about the issue and sign the petition to re-route the line around the forest! You can also share our infographics about volume III of our EIA on Facebook here.

Last but not least, we will like to acknowledge the following individuals/organisations for their invaluable contribution: Main graphics by Rachel Lee, Jacqueline for her amazing pixelated animals drawings, Lahiru and the Love Our MacRitchie Forest team for feedbacks and ideas on the EIA, Chope for Nature for allowing us to use their summary as reference, and last but not least, a big thank you to all of you for supporting our MacRitchie forest!! 🙂