Tag Archives: conservation

Look At All This Global Warming

The other day I stumbled upon this on my twitter feed:

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Ironically, she’s making quite a good statement about climate change!

While I strongly believe that climate change deniers constitute a very vocal minority with an oversized internet megaphone, I still physically cringed when I saw that tweet. Fortunately, there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that global warming is a real issue which can manifest itself in many ways (including more intense weather conditions like the blizzard the girl is posing in). In fact, there is an entire international group dedicated to quantifying climate change and its implications on the world – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is UN’s massive team of scientists dedicated to conducting research on climate change; their main goal is to churn out reports that can inform governments on the ‘what’s, ‘why’s and ‘how’s of everything related to climate change. Just last year, they published SR15, a report which was honestly quite scary for someone like me who had only just begun to learn about the environment in depth.

Essentially, the report concluded that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C instead of 2°C by 2030 (at the very latest) or we risk causing too much irreversible damage. The entire report itself is way too comprehensive and detailed for any average person to fully read through, which means that even their executive summary is 30 pages long!

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From the official IPCC website (click to be directed)

For Singapore and the SEA region in general, the main concerns include climate change’s impact on marine biodiversity and ecosystems. To put things into perspective, it is predicted that by 2050, a global temperature rise of 1.5°C will drive the decline of 70% to 90% of all coral reefs; with a rise of 2°C or more, more than 99% are at risk! It is indeed quite disheartening to think that it is possible see the loss of such large ecosystems in our lifetimes.

Beyond the risk of species extinction and shrinking marine populations, this may also affect our local food supply. With increasing ocean acidification and rising sea levels, global warming has already been observed to cause declines in the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture; considering the fact that crop yields and the nutritional value of these crops are also expected to diminish, this spells some trouble for global food security.

Apart from affecting marine resources, SR15 studied over 10,000 species and found that among them, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their habitat ranges. This is definitely not surprising when you look at the spate of recent extinctions and a growing list of endangered species.

There are other implications as mentioned in SR15, of course, and I would recommend anyone truly interested to read the executive summary. Otherwise, here are some pretty neat infographics by WWF:

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Source: WWF at COP24

Fortunately, Singapore takes climate change quite seriously. In fact, the recent Singapore Budget 2019 addressed a bit of how our country has and will continue to adapt and mitigate. Quite in tandem with what SR15 suggests, we have a mix of adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to global warming. For instance, the budget includes how we have some infrastructural adaptations to rising sea levels and also some mitigation measures like restructuring diesel taxes. Notably, last year’s plan to implement a carbon tax has finally been implemented at the start of 2019.

As average Singaporeans, there’s so much we can do to contribute to the cause! Besides the usual advice of going vegetarian or using less disposables, it is also important to be open minded and help spread the good word to those that are not aware of the pressing issues surrounding climate change. Perhaps this is best done by inspiring a love for nature in them first, and perhaps this can be done by inviting them for a nature walk with us!

Written by: Afiq Sulaiman

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Finding Samurai

They can’t say for sure how old he is, or how healthy he is. They’re not certain which trees he sleeps in at night. But they know he is alone, and that’s how they knew to call him Samurai.

The Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group couldn’t exist without pure optimism. Deforestation and urbanization have pushed the native critically endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur population further and further into the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, where they have dwindled down to fifty individuals. On top of that, the working group discovered in early 2018 that a male individual had been separated from his troop, and was wandering an isolated patch of forest alone. During my brief time as an intern at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), I stumbled over roots and pricked my fingers on thorns as I followed the volunteers, combing the forest patch, mornings and afternoons, day after day, for the slightest sign of him.

Here’s what it all comes down to: we need every single Raffles’ Banded Langur out there; every individual that carries the genes of the Presbytis femoralis femoralis is precious. A lost male is a lost parent is a lost generation. Samurai has to be taken out of that isolated forest patch where no one but a troop of wary macaques even remotely looks like him, and returned to his own troop.

The key is the sleeping tree. When a volunteer spots him resting on a tree, a ribbon goes around that trunk. Sometimes the trees are so old that it takes two of us on either side, giving its wide girth as tight a bear hug as we can manage, so that our outstretched fingers can meet each other just long enough to pass the ribbon over. We do this over and over, because we’re not sure which ones he sleeps in at night, which ones he naps in, and which ones he just plain sits and takes a dump in. Most shifts, we don’t even see him, just the bounce in the canopy as he bolts from our sight, leaving us with a heavy rustling. But once the all-important tree is identified, a team of specialists will sneak into the forest before dawn and gather around it. They will scan the overhead boughs for Samurai’s sleeping form. They will aim and shoot a tranquilizing dart, and if all goes well, he will be falling into a net and whisked away before he even begins to understand that something’s out of the ordinary.

Once he’s determined to be healthy, he will be reunited with his troop. That is, if all goes well. If they ever find his sleeping tree. If he doesn’t get spooked and abandon his usual haunts. It would all be so much easier if they could just read his mind, but you don’t try to get into the head of a wild animal the way you invent gadgets to translate dog barks. You observe and take notes and do what you can, because you weren’t evolved to be best buddies or to gently place your hands palm to palm like in Tarzan. You’re just two components of the same world. In Singapore, not many of us become close friends with our neighbours. But we sweep the corridor and press the lift button for each other and turn down the music at night.

On my last ever shift, I was re-entering the forest for a second round, and a silhouette leapt from a disturbance in the canopy and landed on a branch just a few metres from me, low enough that I only had to raise my head a little to see. My eyes were caught off guard and unfocused, but I remember that our gazes met. I turned to softly call my companion, and then he was already nothing more than the sound of branches crashing in the distance. You must have seen the ubiquitous Long-tailed Macaque before, so imagine this: twice as large, black hair instead of brown, tinged very slightly with purple. Limbs somehow stockier. Tail always longer than you expect; white smudges on the abdomen and the inner sides of the arms and legs. Quiet, inscrutable.

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Photo: Sabrina Jabbar

Written by: Qiu Jiahui

 

The Not So Common Common Myna

Don’t worry, it’s not a typo error. It is true that Common Myna are not a common sight anymore, sadly. Common Myna are native to Asia, so you might wonder what happened to them. I’ll go into that soon but before that, let me introduce you to them!

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Common Myna (Acridotheres Tristis) by smarko on pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/common-myna-acridotheres-tristis-1367119/

“Wait, isn’t this the bird I see all over Singapore? I’m sure I see some in my neighbourhood. Who says it’s not common?”

Did that thought come to your mind? I honestly won’t be surprised if it did because I thought the same way too, but no! These birds are different from the one you see around which are the Javan Myna.

Let’s spot the differences between the Common Myna and Javan Myna!

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Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus) from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Javan_myna

Have you spotted the stark difference? Take a closer look at its eyes. You would have noticed that the skin near the eyes of the Common Myna is yellow. To me (someone who isn’t a bird person), that is one way to differentiate between these two birds. Or you could take a closer look and realise that the Javan Myna is mainly black in colour while the Common Myna is actually a dark brown. But then again, birds move, and I’m pretty sure black and dark brown are not very easy to tell apart from a distance, so let’s stick with the yellow skin around the eyes.

Now that we have learnt how to tell these 2 birds apart, would you have wondered if these 2 similar looking birds with similar names have a special relationship? Well, yes, they do! But it’s somewhat like a “you go, I stay” kind of relationship. Remember when I said that Common Mynas were actually uncommon in Singapore? Well, they were common once, until the Javan Mynas came and took over, becoming the ‘common’ mynas we see in Singapore today. How did the Javan Mynas do that? They have found ways to adapt to the urban landscape of Singapore where they can build their nests anywhere (Meng, 2011) and feed on not just insects and fruits but also, our leftover food (Yap, 2002).

Such braveness in “hunting” for food and resourcefulness in ways of survival have led Javan Myna to become one of the, if not the most common bird in Singapore. Singapore is indeed a competitive society and we all need the right attitude to survive, be it humans or animals!

Here’s a fun fact: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed Common Myna to be the 3rd most invasive species in the world (Yangchen, 2016) although the situation in Singapore is the exact opposite!

References

Meng, A. L. (2011, April 21). Lessons from two Mynas. Retrieved from Stir-fried Science: https://blog.science.edu.sg/2011/04/21/lessons-from-two-mynas/

Yangchen, L. (2016, April 22). The javan mynah: Today’s pest, tomorrow’s food? Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/the-javan-mynah-todays-pest-tomorrows-food

Written by: Thang Hui Lin

 

Award-winning video game is a dream for the nature lover

Diving. It looks so good, and costs so bad. If you’ve ever dreamed of being surrounded by colourful fishes and accidentally kicking corals (a painful memory of mine), but have been unable to for whatever reason, you still have the next best thing: a $20 video game on the Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows and Xbox One. A simple image search of the game will flood you with the happy chaos and bright colours of a thriving ocean – and you haven’t even played it yet. Players experience diving freely through pristine waters, unencumbered by oxygen tanks and ear-popping pressure. You can explore caves and swim through seagrass. You can – yes – grab hold of a dolphin and let it take you on a ride, all while the joyful calls of its pod surround you.

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Released in 2016 by developer Giant Squid, Abzû is hailed for its awe-inspiring beauty and breath-taking soundtrack, but it’s not just another pretty game for virtual tourism. It carries a message. A game like that, at a time like this, when human society is struggling to catch up with its own waste and consumption, when the environment is at breaking point, couldn’t not. Anyone who reads the news – who lives on earth – would notice the lack of trash bobbing in the water, the missing smokestacks on the horizon, and they’d get to experience what marine life would be like without human influence. That is, briefly – the game has a story to tell.

Without spoiling too much, Abzû is adamant about our duty to preserve and return life back to the oceans. But it doesn’t execute this message through guilt and blame in the way many environmental news articles and stories (deliberately or not) do. So few of us now have the privilege of meeting nature face to face, and that affects the way we see ourselves in relation to the environment. There’s no denying the awkwardness in trying to get a city dweller to care about some blue whale a million miles away that they’ve never seen. Abzû gives you a chance to fall in love with the ocean. The game features species of marine creatures from real life, telling us the names of each animal as we swim alongside it. The profound intimacy that the player gets is beyond statistics and reports and academic journals. It’s emotional.

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https://www.trustedreviews.com/reviews/abzu

Another aspect of the game that many environmentalists will appreciate is its rejection of anthropocentrism – seeing humans as the centre of the world. Neither does it swing in the other extreme. There’s a deliberate emphasis on togetherness, on the harmony between creatures that vary as dramatically as each colour of the rainbow. And that diversity includes our four-limbed, finless protagonist. At the same time, the player is constantly reminded of their staggering insignificance compared to the leviathans of the deep. Some have raised the player’s lack of control over the game as a flaw (the gameplay mechanisms are simple and repetitive), but maybe it’s the perfect metaphor for our relationship with nature. As the protagonist dives alongside a whale, looking into its eye that’s as big as her torso, it’s difficult not to think about how tiny she is. Her speed of travel underwater is frustratingly slow compared to all the marine creatures gliding effortlessly past. When she grabs hold of a fish to ride it, she goes faster, but loses all control over her direction. This all contributes to the timely reminder that we’re small, but not alone.

Whether you enter this game as an environmentalist, a marine expert or somebody who’s never been to the ocean, the story and experience are one of a kind, so don’t let anyone’s solemn analysis of its real-life relevance stop you from picking it up. That said, I highly doubt that anyone could complete this game and go on without having an extra tenderness for the ocean in their heart. Everyone’s tired of hearing and reading about environmentalism. It’s time they felt it.

Watch the official trailer here.

Source: I played the game and it was incredible.

Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 4: The Vertebrate Wet Collection

Warning: This article contains pictures of dead animals. They are super dead.

What is the difference between the vertebrate and invertebrate wet collections, you ask? Not much, they’re all… wet. But perhaps one of the striking things about the vertebrate wet collection is that many of the specimens tend to be bigger. We’re reaching the territory of mammals, birds, fish, snakes and more.

IMG_5564andmore.jpgMiddle row, left: Notice those flaps on the side of its body? That’s a Javanese flying squirrel, which can glide through the air by stretching out that loose skin.

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IMG_5553.jpgOh, this is from that movie! Finding… what was it, Fabio? Finding Chico?

You’ll notice that some of these animals could also be found in the dry collection. As mentioned, whether a specimen is preserved dry or wet depends on the researcher or collector’s aim. Though a wet specimen may be more likely to discolour over time, this won’t happen for animals like birds, as their colours mostly come not from pigments, but from microscopic structures (structural colour) in their feathers that absorb and reflect light.

IMG_5575.jpgThat’s how this bird from the 1960s is still killing it.

IMG_5568.jpgThis bat is dubbed ‘Yoda’ because, look at that serene little face. This bat is saying, “Relax. You can do it.”

IMG_5600.jpgSpecimens like this native leopard cat are generally the work of local taxidermists.

Apart from the compactors, the wet collection also has a store of steel tanks for the animals too big to fit into jars.

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What are those big black contraptions that look like the things they put over your head at the hair salon? Like the jars, the steel tanks are filled with large amounts of preserving alcohol, and boy is it nasty when you open the lid. To protect the people working with these specimens, those flexible fume hoods suck up the evaporated alcohol escaping from the tanks, and no one has to breathe them.

This concludes our tour of the LKC Natural History Museum’s archives. Our natural history museum, together with natural history museums across the globe, is a beacon of scientific progress, conservation and education. So next time you come for a visit, remember to blow a kiss upwards for all the specimens and researchers making the world a better place. And if you’d like to contribute to this endeavour, take your friends and family (and dates) to the museum to learn more about our environment! You can also donate to the museum’s Endowment Fund here.

We’ve done a walkthrough of most of the archives in the museum, but exactly what sort of research do the curators get up to in there? Stay tuned for upcoming bonus posts featuring cool gadgets and even cooler people!

Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 2: The Dry Collection

Warning: this article contains pictures of dead animals. If you’re a little squeamish, maybe give this one a pass.

There are two main ways of preserving specimens – dry and wet. Dry specimens can stay preserved simply by staying in a cool and dry environment. That’s why the temperature and humidity levels are rigidly controlled in the dry collection.

IMG_5430.jpgI’d say this is a good place for an Instagram photoshoot.

The dry collection is located on one of the upper floors of the museum itself. It is a labyrinth of metal cabinets known as compactors, all arranged in straight rows. Each compactor can be moved left and right simply by turning a wheel, so that they can be jam packed together to conserve space. When anyone needs to use a particular cabinet, they can simply move them apart again to open the doors. It’s chicken soup for the neat freak’s soul.

The dry collection hosts a mind-boggling variety of specimens. The pale remains of corals!

IMG_5443.jpgBirds, mammals, sea shells, eggs, even nests! Even poop! Scientists really go for anything, huh?

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ezgif.com-video-to-gif (4).gifObjectively? Probably the coolest drawers you’ll ever pull open.

There’s also a little herbarium, which seems indistinguishable from an ordinary office filing cabinet at first. Plant specimens are dried and pressed, much in the same way you see artists pressing flowers poetically into the pages of books. They’re sealed in Ziploc bags for future reference.

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Because my hands are too crude and clumsy, I didn’t get to open them. But, you know, they’re plants, but flat.

Keep reading to continue our tour at the wet collections!

 

Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 1: The Cryogenic Collection

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is an oft recommended destination for family day trips and romantic dates, with its awe-inspiring displays of towering dinosaur skeletons and quaint collections of delicately shimmering insects. What most visitors don’t know about is the vast archives containing hundreds of thousands of specimens hidden only a few floors above. The collections of natural history museums are rarely limited to what visitors can see. Dedicated to cutting edge research, they also serve as a storage space for specimens collected, and as a research facility for the scientists studying them. In this six-part feature, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of what goes on behind those closed doors. Let’s take a look at the hoard!

The first stop is the Cryogenic Collection, located not within the museum’s main building, but in an unassuming office beneath the old Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), just underneath the Science Library in the Faculty of Science, within the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.

You’ll probably recognise the term “cryo” from science fiction stories, like Interstellar, where the astronauts preserve their bodies by entering long term “cryosleep”. Stemming from Greek origins, the term “cryo” means “cold”, while “genic” means “having to do with production”. Calling the cryogenic collection “cold” would be a gross understatement, though.

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These giant vats are filled with liquid nitrogen, which as you may know, is very, very cold. In fact, liquid nitrogen boils at 77.09 Kelvin, or -196 degrees Celsius. The contents of the cryogenic collection themselves are kept in a cloud of evaporated nitrogen vapour at around -178 to -190 degrees Celsius.

Much in the same way the dinosaur embryos were preserved in Jurassic Park, the nitrogen vats (affectionately nicknamed Humpty and Dumpty) protect the blood and tissue samples stored within them from degrading – pretty much forever. These samples are not completely submerged in liquid nitrogen. Instead, they are stored in little tubes and racks, which are then stacked in neat little towers within the vats. A pool of liquid nitrogen at the bottom of the vat evaporates, which produces a cooling effect that keeps the environment extremely cold.

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Those cute strawberry shaved ice colours? Yup, it’s blood.

Now, what’s so precious about some bits of blood and tissue? We can keep the bodies of specimens in cupboards and jars to study their physical appearance, but the preservation process sometimes involves the use of formalin and denatured ethanol, chemicals which aren’t great for preserving the DNA within. Tiny amounts of blood and tissue are enough to serve as a record of the genetic makeup of the organisms we need to study. The museum’s cryogenic collection mostly contains genetic records of species found in Southeast Asia, including some from Singapore, such as Sunda pangolins, Smooth-coated otters, and the locally endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur. With more genetic data from these animals, we can compare how certain aspects of their DNA vary from individual to individual, or how they change over time. This can ultimately inform future conservation efforts.

animals.jpgRight to left: Sunda Pangolin, Smooth-coated otter, Raffles’ Banded Langur, all native to Singapore.

Each blue tray contains about a hundred specimens, and each tower contains twelve trays. That adds up to over twenty thousand samples, and the vat isn’t even full yet! (By the way, Humpty is still empty.) The future is indeed bright for these cold boys. Oh, and I also had the pleasure of meeting their roommates Fat Boy, Skinny Girl, Olaf, Jack Frost, and Freya, who are all freezers. It’s a full house in here.

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With so many friends, the curator never gets lonely.

Keep reading to continue our tour of the natural history museum!