Tag Archives: Singapore

Giants in our waters

Biodiversity is found everywhere,

and good places must be shared,

Sharing our knowledge is caring with courage,

so go and be brave, explore there!

While the BES Drongos guide at Macritchie’s Petai Trail, our guides are equally passionate about helping others learn more about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore as well!

Last month, 2 BES Drongos guides joined participants from NUS’s University Scholars Programme on a trip to St John’s Island, located a short 25 minute ferry away from Marina South Pier. St John’s Island forms part of Singapore’s Southern Islands, a planning area comprising of other islands like Kusu Island and the Sisters’ Islands. Geographically, all of them are found just south of Sentosa (see map below).

sgmap for clam post
Singapore’s outlying islands. The Southern Islands are demarcated by the red border (Image source: https://cdn-az.allevents.in/banners/fa153bd9789f5ec5cdo21d3f528d9c42)

There, students visited St John’s Island National Marine Laboratory, which houses the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, and listened to both Dr Serena Teo and Dr Neo Mei Lin who are key staff based at the facility. Students then got to tour the grounds, with the highlight being the Giant Clam Hatchery, which breeds 2 species of giant clams, the Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) and the Boring Giant Clam (T. crocea).

TMSI tour
Dr Neo giving students a tour of the Giant Clam Hatchery (Photo by Angela Chan)

For those who don’t know, Dr Neo is one of the world’s leading scientists in researching giant clams, and was recently named a TED Fellow. Part of her research is to maintain the Giant Clam Hatchery, which grows giant clams until they are large enough to be re-introduced into Singapore waters. In a similar fashion to animal rehabilitation, a hatchery relies on the genetic material of giant clams in the wild to produce offspring, and protect these new clams from predators and other threats, allowing them to grow without interference until they are old enough to defend for themselves.

Why focus on giant clams then? Giant clams worldwide currently play an important role for the coral reef ecosystem, being sources of food with for other marine animals because of its large primary productivity, shelter for a mixture of coral reef fish and epibionts (creatures that live on the clam’s shell) as well as having reef scale contributions by contributing carbonate and regulating eutrophication (acting as a nutrient filter) (Neo et al., 2015). Furthermore, their long lifespans spanning around a hundred years mean they are bioindicators to help scientists understand the health of the coral reef they reside in (“Giant Clam”, n.d.).

However, giant clams are being threatened by multiple drivers, including coral reef degradation, harvesting and aquarium trade, such that might become locally extinct if marine biologists do not intervene (Neo & Todd, 2013). Thankfully with passionate individuals like Dr Neo, and the infrastructure of St John’s Marine Laboratory, giant clams here may just be spared a fate of doom, and we hope that giant clams can soon be found thriving once again!

All in all, I personally enjoyed myself at the facility. Seeing and learning about giant clams for the first time was a good reminder that biodiversity is diverse, beautiful and needs to be shown respect and care for by humans. The island itself also has a pleasant, tranquil feel to it, offering several recreational spaces, many furry felines, and even a beach (on adjacent Lazarus Island) should you want to get yourself ready for the June holidays! The Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre is open 7 days a week and St John’s Island is assessable by ferry 2 times a day on weekdays and up to 5 times a day on weekends.

That’s all for now, stay tuned to our blog for more updates as we talk about biodiversity in other parts of Singapore too!!!

Bibliography

Neo, M. L., Eckman, W., Vicentuan, K., Teo, S. L. M., & Todd, P. A. (2015). The ecological significance of giant clams in coral reef ecosystems. Biological Conservation181, 111-123.

Neo, M. L., & Todd, P. A. (2013). Conservation status reassessment of giant clams (Mollusca: Bivalvia: Tridacninae) in Singapore. Nature in Singapore6, 125-133.

Giant Clam. (n.d.). Oceana. Retrieved 15 March 2017, from http://oceana.org/marine-life/corals-and-other-invertebrates/giant-clam

Words by: Chow Tak Wei

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A Tribute to Singapore’s Chief Gardener, Lee Kuan Yew

“If a garden is well maintained and neatly landscaped, there must be a dedicated and efficient gardener.”

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)

goodbye

From Garden City to City in a Garden, Singapore has been utterly transformed by the work of our late founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, whom we dub affectionately our Chief Gardener.

In Chapter 13 of his book From Third World to First, Lee Kuan Yew details his experiences and intentions in transforming Singapore’s physical landscape into a tropical garden city, an “oasis” as he called it.

During those early days, the challenge of improving the living environment of Singaporeans was intricately connected to the push for modernity, particularly the behaviour of the people. In the quote below, Lee Kuan Yew promoted environmental education in schools and cultivated a sense of pride for our green surroundings:

“Perseverance and stamina were needed to fight old habits: People walked over plants, trampled on grass, despoiled flowerbeds, pilfered saplings, or parked bicycles or motorcycles against the larger ones, knocking them down. A doctor was caught removing from a central road divider a newly planted valuable Norfolk Island pine which he fancied for his garden. To overcome the initial indifference of the public, we educated their children in schools by getting them to plant trees, care for them, and grow gardens. They brought the message home to their parents.” 

Despite all odds, his ambitious plans of improving environmental quality were successful. Most notably, the Singapore River cleanup of the 1980s and the construction of reservoir and canal networks are outcomes we continue to appreciate today. In a moving story about the Red Box that Mr Lee carried with him, Minister Heng Swee Keat writes that Mr Lee saw trash floating in the Singapore River, and immediately sought to do something about it.

Lee Kuan Yew became our Chief Gardener when he saw the value of the shade provided by street trees and roadside vegetation. He set in place tree-planting programmes, which are ubiquitous in community gatherings even today. His vision of a lush, thriving city is what we see today in our streetscapes of verdant sidewalks planted with familiar Angsana trees, Yellow Flame trees and others. These trees mitigate the temperature increases caused by the urban heat island inevitably enveloped the city as urbanisation reduced vegetated land cover.

“I have always believed that a blighted urban landscape, a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. We need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits.” 

– Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 1995

While one may argue that garden may not necessarily mean nature, and that street trees are not ecologically sufficient, there has been a shift in perceptions to embrace urban biodiversity conservation. Today, NParks, Singapore’s statutory board for providing and enhancing greenery in our urban environment, has advanced the vision of a Garden City into a City in a Garden.

Lee Kuan Yew’s key contributions to the biodiversity community are undeniable, as a leader who valued greenery and vegetation even when development priorities came first, and set in place the institutions that would champion the cause for biodiversity later on. To that, we salute our Chief Gardener, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Other Tributes: 

NParks: A Special Tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew The Man Behind the Greening of Singapore

Otterman’s Blog: A message to the biodiversity community about our Chief Gardener 

Channel NewsAsia: Mr Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s ‘chief gardener’: Khaw says in teary tribute

Words by: Judy Goh | Graphic by: Jacqueline Chua

Pangolin Party

To celebrate World Pangolin Day, the BES Drongos are proud to present a special post on pangolins! (so many P words in one sentence.) So first things first: What the heck is a pangolin?

Copyrighted to Wild Singapore

Pangolins, or scaly anteaters, are probably the weirdest and least understood mammals in our tropical forests today. There are a total of eight species of pangolin that can be found from Africa to Asia, and one species, the Sunda pangolin, can be found in Singapore’s forests, including MacRitchie! Unfortunately, these creatures are nocturnal and are very shy, so the likelihood of seeing one as you walk along the trails is very low. In an odd twist of fate though, pangolins have been known to wander into the residence halls of NTU, much to the confusion of resident students.

Copyrighted to Singapore Post

Looking at this creature, a lot of people think that it is a reptile instead of a mammal. And such sentiments are pretty understandable, seeing as this is the only scaly mammal in the world.The pangolin is covered in rather distinctive overlapping scales, making it look like an artichoke on legs. The scales themselves are made of a material called keratin, which makes up a whole bunch of tough things like our fingernails and rhino horns. These scales have to be tough, as the pangolin uses them to protect itself against predators… by curling into a ball.

pangolin day
Copyright Jac Chua 2015

This is actually a surprisingly effective strategy on the pangolin’s part; it turns out that its scales are so hard, that it can even survive an attack by a hungry lion. In fact, this is such an iconic strategy employed by all pangolins that its name was was derived from the Malayan phrase “Pen Gulling”, which means “Rolling Ball” [1]. Does this sound familiar? Well, it turns out that the pangolin is closely related to the armadillo, who also famously rolls up into a ball to escape danger.

So, if the pangolin rolls up to protect itself, what are those impressive claws on its forelimbs for?

For digging! The pangolin is a great lover of eating ants and termites, and in order to get to its lunch, it has to dig them out. Coupled with its long and sticky tongue, the ants rarely ever stand a chance against the eating machine that the pangolin is. Surprisingly, the pangolin has no teeth, so in order to grind up its dinner it swallows stones to crush its prey within its stomach[2].

Unfortunately for the pangolin, having such large, clumsy claws makes it very hard for it to walk, and as a result pangolins tend to be very slow moving. However, a few species of pangolin, like the Sunda pangolin, have evolved to make the most of it by learning how to climb trees!

Copyrighted to Ecology Asia

Tree-dwelling, or arboreal pnagolins have also evolved to have a prehensile tail, which means that its tail is strong enough to wrap around branches like a fifth limb. This long and muscular tail is also a useful spot for baby pangolins to piggyback on. Baby pangolins, incidentally, are also known as pangopups. Try saying Pangopup Piggybacks on a Pangolin very fast. What a tongue twister!

Copyrighted to Firdia Lisnawati 2014

Unfortunately, it turns out that this wonderful creature is one of the most illegally trafficked in the world. It is a common belief across most of China and Southeast Asia that pangolin meat and scales have medicinal properties for a whole range of ailments from asthma to acne, and as a result they sell for ridiculously high prices on the blackmarket. Even though all pangolin species are protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), which means they cannot be legally traded, entire stretches of Southeast Asian forests have been emptied of this animal, and as a result poachers have turned to Africa to satisfy the demand for pangolin meat and scales here in Asia. In an ironic twist, because pangolin products are becoming so valuable, it has eating pangolins have become akin to a status symbol in certain parts of Asia, driving the demand even higher[3]. Warning; do not click this link if you don’t think you can stomach the sight of pangolin fetus soup.

Copyrighted to National Geographic

So what can we do? Well, for starters, we can all raise awareness about this curious, fantastic animal through social media, and never support the consumption of pangolin products, be they in the form of medicine or food. If you are on holiday and you see pangolins for sale, you can also use the Tangaroa Illegal Wildlife trade reporting app to notify the authorities.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed this post about pangolins as much as we enjoyed writing it! If you are interested in finding out more about pangolins, please visit our friends over at The Pangolin Story to find out about local pangolin conservation efforts, and check out Save Pangolins for even more resources. Together, we all can save the precious pangolin from peril too!

References:

  1. Chakkaravarthy Q. A. (2012) Research and Conservation Needs of the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata). Proceedings of the Third Seminar on Small Mammal Conservation Issues 2012: 50-55
  2. Forestry administration of Cambodia and Conservation International-Cambodia (2008) Pangolin conservation stakeholders workshop. 8–10.
  3. Chin S.Y and Pantel S. (2008) Pangolin Capture and Trade in Malaysia. Proceedings of the Workshop on Trade and Conservation of Pangolins Native to South and Southeast Asia: 143-160

Words by: Jacqueline Chua