Tag Archives: cross island line

To conserve or not to conserve…

It’s officially been the second year since we have begun this venture and it’s has been a great learning adventure. This semester has been especially wild with the media buzz surrounding the Cross Island Line and all the activities surrounding the March for MacRitchie campaign.

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With seven exciting walks along the Petai Trail conducted this semester, we had a great time bringing participants along the Petai Trail and talk about the various inhabitants that share our nature reserve. From creepy-crawlies like the ferocious dragonfly to furry critters like the Slender Squirrel, there were much to explore in our nature reserve! Ecological concepts were also explored and explained using funny examples.

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The leaf litter plant (Agrostistachys indica) or as we like to call it the kiasu plant, is used to explain the concept of an ecological niche. As an understory plant, it uses a different strategy to survive among the towering canopy trees you usually find in our tropical rainforest. Like us Kiasu Singaporeans, this clever little plant has found a way to survive in this competitive environment. It doesn’t just absorb nutrients from the nutrient-poor tropical soil but also from its leaves. How? With its leaves growing in a spiral, it is able to capture the leaves that fall from its taller neighbouring trees. Using the little rootlets growing on the base of its leaves, it can absorb the nutrients directly as these leaves decomposes [1]. Talking about getting the best of both worlds!

2015.10.18 Petai Ruixiang - dragonfly (unidentified)
Just some of the cool creepy crawlers you can find in the CCNR! (Photo by Rui Xiang)

We also held conservation booths at the NUS campus. Lining up the wooden benches, we managed to display an even larger haul of preserved specimens loaned from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (Thanks again!). Cool jars filled with specimens hovering in ethanol, we were excited to share more about the species that were difficult to spot in the wild and less common to the public eye. The adorable but nocturnal Lesser Bamboo Bat is a prime example. Being one of the smallest bats, it grows only to about 4cm (the size of your thumb)! Usually found roosting in the hollow core of the bamboo, it’s not exactly the easiest creature to find [2].

Students, intrigued by creatures they don’t usually encounter, were eager to learn more about that flora and fauna we can find in our rainforest. Engaging with more than 250 students over those two days, it was encouraging to see the zest our generation had for nature. We hope that students left with a greater appreciation for our nature reserves and a deeper understanding on the Cross Island Line issue. We would like to thank all the participants who came down for our events and we hope that we have managed to incite some passion for our precious nature reserve!

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With the Cross Island Line still lingering at the back of the minds of Singaporeans, there have been many interesting articles that rationalise and reason out why we should conserve what’s left of Singapore’s wildlife. (While it can be argued that nature has no need for humans, that’s a story for another day.) Some might argue that we, nature lovers, tend to preach to the converted, those who are already passionate about the environment. So, here is a attempt to reach out to the stereotypical urban dweller who would rather hang out in a cool air-conditioned shopping mall than trek through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR). Other than the intrinsic value of nature, what other benefits could be used to appeal to the ever-pragmatic Singaporean masses?

With thousands of visitors heading to CCNR annually, water sports and various other recreations activities make the nature reserve a brilliant outlet for stressed-out Singaporeans to take a break from the rat race of work. “Well, Singapore has over 300 parks [3].” you might point out, “I’m sure that there is an entire spectrum of alternative green areas for Singaporeans who want to enjoy fresh air.”

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What can the forest give us? (Photo by Crystle)

What about the ecosystem services that the CCNR provides? As the biggest continuous stretch of forest found in Singapore, it acts as the “green lungs” of our nation among various other valuable services.

“In comparison with the entire of Singapore,”you might object, “the CCNR constitutes a mere 4% of Singapore’s total land area. Does the ecosystem services it provides really make a difference to us?” Well, maybe it doesn’t make as much of an effect to the whole of Singapore but it certainly makes a difference for the residents (both animals and humans) who live near or within the CCNR.

Well, let’s bring up something that hasn’t really been touched upon: the wonder and awe that nature invokes. The natural environment has inspired humanity for centuries. From arts to architecture, natural wonders are so central to our culture and progress that almost every nation in the world has ideas and creations that reflect our awe of nature.

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai (Photo by Met Museum)

“Wait!” you might protest, “Art and all this airy fairy stuff might be very interesting but that won’t be able to fill our rice bowls.” Well, as the wise Robbie Williams once said, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” But I see your point.

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Birds: The first “planes” (Photo by Sandra)

To them, I say: industries have been built on nature. The Wright Brothers, who are widely credited for inventing the first aircraft capable of sustained flight and the father of the aviation industry, were inspired by the flight of pigeons [4]. You might remain unconvinced, after all biomimetics (field of study of designs inspired by nature) is a relatively new term. Has there really been that many innovations evoked from nature to justify saving our natural environment? Singapore’s uniform and ubiquitous HDB blocks resemble lego bricks more than they do rainforest trees.

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Nature as a “think-tank”? (Photo by Mel)

But there is a whole plethora of nature-inspired products that can be found all around us. From the tiny pieces of velcro strapping across the white shoes of primary school students to the giant artificial “supertrees” towering over the Gardens by the Bay, there are numerous instances of innovations that have found inspiration from nature. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how all of us are successes of millions of years of continual R&D process, better known as evolution. We are all “products” that have been ruthlessly and relentlessly refined and prototyped.

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What’s this? Another of nature’s product?

To honour nature, the most experienced designer of us all, we will be releasing a new Nature and Technology series: Biomimicry, bringing the nature to you “innovations” of the forest. These posts will talk about creations that are inspired by the creatures we can find in our very own little island. Look forward to them!

P.S. (We will be conducting walks during the Summer! So, for all those who need a break from the urban jungle, join us at our natural one!)

  1. Wang LK, DCJ Yeo, KKP Lim & SKY Lum. (2012) Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore’s Rainforests. Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore. 298 pp.
  2. Baker, Nick. (n.d.). Bamboo Bats – Tylonycteris spp. Ecology Asia. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/bats/bamboo-bats.htm
  3. National Parks Boards (2015, January 5). Parks & Nature Reserves. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves
  4. The Wright Brothers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2016, from http://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/

Words by: Mel

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Marching for MacRitchie

It’s been a wild month! As part of the March for MacRitchie campaign organised by the Love Our MacRitchie Forest Movement, we have hosted a bunch of cool activities to raise awareness about our natural heritage and the proposed Cross Island MRT Line (CRL).

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Check out our cool specimens!

Through events like conservation booths and guided trail walks, we have sought to ignite a zest for nature. It was fantastic to have so many interested individuals come forth, eager to learn more about the CRL issue and our beautiful nature reserves. From signing the petition (over 11,000 signatures and counting!), to writing postcards and to talking about why they want to conserve our nature reserves, it was heartwarming to see support being so enthusiastically given.

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Just one of the cool postcards designed by our very own Jacqueline Chua

It was also great to see so many participants coming down on our walks, brimming with eagerness and questions. A big thanks to all those who came down to support our events! We hope you walked away having learned something new and rekindled your passion for nature.

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Photos by Juin Bin

As you might know, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been exploring the possibility of constructing the proposed CRL through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CNNR). With the completion of part 1 of the EIA and the recent media hype about the Cross Island Line, there has been a surge of interest in our nature reserves. The countless articles written by people from all walks of life has provided a rich perspective on this issue. If you’re clueless on where to start, we have plenty of recommendations on our Facebook page. It remains ever vital that people are informed about upcoming plans for our forests. After all, you cannot miss what you don’t know.

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Come sssssee about me (Photo by Emmanuel Goh)

CCNR retains one of the few patches of primary forest left in Singapore [1]. This is important as primary forest (untouched jungles) are known to support a rich spectrum of biodiversity unlike most secondary forests (regenerated jungles) [2]. Many cool creatures inhabiting its depths such as the Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Malayan blue coral snake (Calliophis bivirgata).

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Photo by Jeanice Aw

It is also likely that this patch of forest does provide priceless ecosystem services for Singaporeans. Other than acting as the green lungs of earth, forests are able to provide various other benefits such as filtering rain water, resulting in a cleaner and clearer reservoir [3]. This wonderful piece of natural heritage deserves our protection and we continue to stand by the Zero Impact policy. We advocate conserving the ecosystem, avoiding any long-lasting impacts on the environment.

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Photo by Melissa Wong

Through the March for MacRitchie campaign, the word about the CRL issue and the beauty of our nature reserves have spread. However, the fight has only begun! We will continue to seek to reach out to more of our fellow Singaporeans. It is our hope that these few patches of untouched forest with its numerous inhabitants would still be here to inspire generations to come.

References:

  1. Ng, P.K.L. et al. (eds.) (2011) Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore.
  2. Corlett, R. (2014). The ecology of tropical east asia (Second ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681341.001.0001
  3. Chapin, F. S. I., Matson, P. A., & Vitousek, P. M. (2011). Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

Words by Melissa Wong

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.

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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!

EIA (Phase 1) of CRL announced: where do we go from here?

On 5th February 2016, Phase 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). The report concluded that:

  1. Site investigation works will have moderate impact on the environment, if mitigating measures are taken.
  2. As such, soil testing will still go ahead.

Soil testing works involves deep drilling into the ground of the forest, and is done to determine the soil composition of the potential construction site of the Cross Island Line (CRL), as part of risk assessment protocol.

While we, the BES Drongos and other concerned individuals from the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement have been hoping for the forest to be left undisturbed, the fact remains that drilling will still go ahead.

However, as much as we are disappointed with the EIA outcome, our voices have not been ignored. Following concerns from various nature groups, LTA has decided to:

  • Reduce the number of boreholes from 72 to 16;
  • Confine drilling to public trails and non-vegetative areas; and
  • Employ more non-intrusive (no physical alteration) methods in soil investigation.

Furthermore, an alternative route first suggested by the Nature Society is currently being considered as a viable second option. The suggested route will skirt around the nature reserve instead of cutting directly through it, which means less direct disturbance to the forest ecosystem.

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Original route (Green) and proposed alternative route (blue). Image: Today Online

So what can we do? Where do we go from here?

While we can’t reverse the decision made by LTA, if you are concerned about this issue, here’s what you can do to help:

  1. The EIA will be open for public viewing for the next 4 weeks; book an appointment to go down and view it.
  2. Help spread the news and raise awareness! Tell your friends, your family or anyone who you know cares about this. If lots of people go down to view the EIA, it will show LTA how much the public cares.
  3. Voice your support for the alternative route. The alternative route is now our best (and last) bet to reduce significant impacts on the forest.

You can contact LTA [Ms Michelle Chan (email LTA_CRL_CCNR_EIA@lta.gov.sg or call 6295 7437)] to view the EIA and give your feedback. Please note that you can view it by appointment ONLY, at Land Transport Authority, 1 Hampshire Road (Blk 11 Level 4, Room 2), Singapore 219428

In addition, to show your support for the alternative route, you can sign the petition here: http://www.tinyurl.com/lta-crl

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) is home to 400 species of trees, 200 species of birds, 400 species of insects and 150 species of mammals and amphibians. If you’d like to learn more about the biodiversity found in the CCNR, please do sign up for our walks!

For more information on the CRL and CCNR, visit:

Love Our MacRitchie Forest

Straits Times: Measures to lessen impact of MRT works on CCNR

 

 

Discoveries on our Trail by Fire!

Hello everybody! The BES Drongos are quickly gaining traction as they begin their first edition of Trail by Fire – a series of trails where selected members of the public (aka our friends) to join our walks and add that little bit of authenticity to our practice walks. Why “Trail by Fire”? It’s a pun on ‘trial by fire’, nature trail style.

Trail by Fire Group Photo

Last Saturday’s trail saw us encountering new biodiversity, particularly birds! It was the first time that we, the BES Drongos, encountered our namesake – the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo! Its scientific name is Dicrurus paradiseus. The drongo is an immensely interesting bird, and not just because they are our mascot animal. They are visually very distinctive as they have a pair of long unique tail feathers called “rackets” as seen from the photo. They are excellent mimics and can imitate the calls of a variety of other birds, although they tend to attach a metallic ring to the end of the call, which is unique to this bird.

This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Drongos are also sneaky creatures. They are known to practice kleptoparasitism, which means that they often steal prey from other foraging animals such as macaques. One of their favorite tricks is to follow a flock of birds like babblers, and then make an alarm call to scare the foragers away while the drongo picks up the spoils. This is the story behind the BES Drongos’ tagline, “Follow that monkey!”. 

Trail by Fire Entrance

As we were walking through the trail near the entrance to the Petai Trail, we heard a distinctive call that reminded us of a rooster. These were the calls of Red Jungle Fowl, also known as jungle chickens! Red jungle fowl are essentially the ancestors of our domestic chickens, and can be distinguished from them by their white ear flaps.

This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Red jungle fowl also distinguish themselves from their more placid descendants in that they can fly, often flapping their way up trees to escape predators! Their call also differs from domestic chickens in that the end is cut off (sounds kinda like it has a sore throat). An excellent example of this call can be heard in the Youtube video below:

Blue-throated Bee Eater

This beautiful bird perched on the tree overlooking a large water body near the end of the trail is a Blue-throated Bee Eater. This bird is not a permanent resident of Singapore. Instead, it migrates around the SEA region seasonally. They normally visit during their breeding season, although they are sometimes also classified as uncommon winter migrants (that means that they spend time here during winter, but rarely). They are insectivores that favor flying insects, and the one that we saw was eating dragonflies that it picked off from the surface of the water. When taking venomous prey or prey with stings, they will “wipe” their prey against their perch to get rid of the venom or sting. This is probably where they get their name from; they basically specialize in eating stinging insects that other birds find unappetizing.

The photo below is of a bird that is as yet not properly identified because it is unclear, but we suspect that it is a Pin-Striped tit-babbler. During the trail, we may have also seen a forest babbler but failed to get a photo.

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Babblers are common residents in most of our nature reserves in Singapore, including the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. They can be noisy little birds with a distinctive and repetitive call, as seen in this Youtube video:


Babblers are important to note because they are one of the vulnerable bird groups that could be affected detrimentally should the Cross Island Line be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. This is because certain species like Abbott’s babbler can only live in the lower story of mature secondary or primary forest, which is obviously quite scarce in rapidly urbanizing Singapore. Because of their small size, these birds also dislike flying across large open spaces. As fragmentation occurs due to the building of developments across the nature reserve, these birds are unlikely to travel between forest fragments. Thus, their breeding potential is limited and their gene pools are reduced due to less mixing between populations.

Trial by Fire

We hope you have enjoyed this short sharing on some of our discoveries on the Petai Trail at Macritchie Reservoir Park. Each trip is an eye-opening experience and as you can tell from our posts, we never cease to find something new and unexpected each time! More Trails by Fire will take place over the next few weeks. We will be providing more information on the impacts that developments within nature reserves can create, such as forest fragmentation and soil disturbance in future blog posts, so keep an eye out for them. For now, pop by the Love Our Macritchie Forest website, run by the Toddycats, to find out more about how the Cross Island Line can impact the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Credits to Jacqueline Chua for the photos.

For more awesome photos, check out our Flickr page!