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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!! 🙂 

The Story of Saving Macritchie So Far

Recently, I’ve seen Facebook posts about the Cross Island Line on my newsfeed posted by those outside of my usual echo chamber of environmentally-conscious, nature-loving friends. The Cross Island Line debacle has finally surfaced into mainstream public consciousness. People are talking about the impacts of building an MRT line through a forest our city in a garden. This comes almost two years after it was first announced as part of the 2013 Population White Paper, which led to lively but unsustained conversations about it. A petition started by a concerned individual began to garner signatures. It was discussed at the Singapore Future Sustainability Symposium. Nature groups conducting walks in Macritchie Forest drew attention to the matter by incorporating it in their guide notes. An alternate route was proposed by Nature Society Singapore in a position paper submitted to the government.

Petition
tinyurl.com/lta-crl

What’s changed now? The debate has grown to include interwoven perspectives about our (under)valued biodiversity and natural heritage, treasures for the next generation, benefits of connectivity, difficult questions about development versus preservation, fissured environmental laws, and lessons in stakeholder engagement.

This is in response to the newly-released environmental impact assessment (EIA) report solely on the environmental baseline and soil investigation works that are required for future construction of the line. Notably, this is the first phase of the EIA, upstream of a future study that will assess the construction and operation of the underground train tunnels.

This EIA report has over 1,000 pages and 7 chapters, and is available for viewing at LTA by appointment only. There are no digital copies, making details about the EIA vaguely translated at best – a defensive move given the lack of legal requirement for EIAs to even be produced, much less open to public scrutiny. Information here on the EIA have been personally noted, and I take responsibility for any inaccuracies. [Update 19/2/2016: The LTA has now released the EIA online in full for public viewing here, a move made after the lack of transparency was raised in a letter to the Straits Times.]

The time is ripe for a decision by LTA to select one of two viable options proposed in the report:

Option 1 (Green): 1.8km route cuts across Macritchie/CCNR from the Singapore Island Cross Country Club to the Pan Island Expressway (PIE)

Option 2 (Blue): 9km route skirts around it Macritchie/CCNR from the southeast of SICC, beneath to Lornie Road and parallel to the PIE

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The engineering feasibility of the Cross Island Line likely depends on soil investigation works to map out the geology of the area for both options. For Option 1, the train tunnel ought to go through Bukit Timah Granite for structural stability, and this is the reason why 16 boreholes (instead of 72 originally planned) will be drilled 50-70m underground for analysis.

Importantly, the EIA studied the impacts of soil investigation works on surface water quality (groundwater quality was studied without intrusive testing), ambient noise, vibration, ambient air quality, and ecology and biodiversity.

Option 1 presents particular concerns. Even though a rather robust Environmental Mitigation and Monitoring Programme has been recommended to reduce almost all impacts to acceptable levels of minor to moderate or negligible, there still remains the possibility of accidental events . Uncontrolled site runoff, spills from construction fluids, roadkill and damage to vegetation from vehicle movement could all occur – the likelihood of which could fluctuate based on how well measures are observed.

The language of the EIA has diffused into media reports, with words like impact receiving attention. Translated from the Impact Significance Matrix, impact is a composite of sensitivity/vulnerability/importance of receptor/response and magnitude of impact (with factors of extent, duration, scale and frequency). Typically, we want to minimise impact to minor or negligible, especially if they are in highly sensitive areas such as areas directly within the reserve. The type and likelihood of impact is also important. The phrase “as low as reasonably practicable”, stylised as ALARP, is also mentioned as a caveat to the limits of engineering ingenuity, standards, protocols and emergency action plans to reduce these impacts.

Share this comic by Jacqueline Chua here

The construction of a Cross Island Line is one that has particular pressure points which lie outside the scope of the EIA report:

  1. Macritchie / CCNR is the largest nature reserve in Singapore. While it is gazetted by law, it has not been accorded blanket protection.
  2. The biodiversity and habitats found in Macritchie are unparalleled and scarce. Flora and fauna species are already endangered and cannot be found elsewhere, while the high urban cover of Singapore has reduced primary and secondary forests to these few remaining patches in our nature reserves.
  3. The costs of picking Option 2, the route that skirts around the reserve, have not been clarified by LTA yet.

A concerted move by environmental groups to push for a “zero-impact policy as a starting point to avoid long-lasting impacts on the environment” is making itself visible and vocal on social media platforms, garnering support from the masses with each share and like. The Love Our Macritchie Forest movement, fronted by the Toddycats, the BES Drongosand the Herpetological Society of Singapore, is putting pedal to the metal – or in this case, boots on the ground.

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March for Macritchie is a series of guided tours in March initiated by Love Our Macritchie Forest that the general public can sign up for – and decide for themselves the values that they place on biodiversity intrinsically, as educational tools, or for wonder to be experienced by themselves or their children.

“You can’t miss what you don’t know.”

This slogan captures precisely the motivations for me to be part of the Love Macritchie movement. You can’t miss what you don’t know about the local biodiversity housed in our forests – a part of our terrestrial environment that still remains audaciously non-urbanised. And you won’t miss it until it’s gone. (Pictured here are some of the animals found in Macritchie.)

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Such is the impassioned, heartfelt plea from environmentalists such as myself to not only minimise the impact of the Cross Island Line, but to reduce the impact to zero. This is not unachievable, given the fact that there is after all, literally another option on the table present as a thinner (and hence detailing fewer impacts) bound report: the alternate Lornie Road route, Option 2.

Words by: Judy Goh

EDIT: The EIA has now been made available for viewing online here!