A coastal cleanup date with Ridge View Residential College students in Feb 2015

I am taking some 100 Ridge View Residential College students to the beach next year as part of their core module GEM1917 Understanding and Critiquing Sustainability. Tasked with a marine life/marine pollution component through lectures/tutorials and field trips, I was motivated to have them tackle a beach cleanup after watching some other students fumble the use of wheelbarrow.

The lesson was simple – undergrads need to get their hands dirty for a realistic grasp of issues. In other modules, they have indeed gained confidence through exposure and acquired competence after analytical work. it’s not exactly blood sweat and tears, but baby steps at least.

So to the beach with this lot but they should organise the data-collecting coastal cleanup themselves. It’s not rocket science but the details can make or break an op.

The joint outing should be conducted after some exposure to ideas in a lecture and a tutorial. January can still be wet but February (Week 4) is a typically dry post-monsoon month, with little danger of lightning threat. Just as well since the long shore at the potential sites of Pasir Ris 6 or Tanah Merah 7 are without shelter.

A tidal height lower than 1.0 metres will allow them to interact with an adequately exposed shore. Thanks to friends at NParks via FTTA Gavan Leong, a hourly tide-table was procured and examined.

The only suitable dates seem to be during NUS’ Recess Week in late February, right after Chinese New Year. Many may be away during the long weekend, so an 8.00am start on Thursday 26 February 2015 beckons.

2015 Feb Tide Table Tanah Merah  RVRC

NUS VPN on OSX Yosemite? Install Juniper Pulse!

It’s the time of the year to use NUS’ Integrated Mark Management System (IMMS) to upload exam and assignment marks for each module. I need NUS VPN in order to access IMMS at home and I was prompted to upgrade Juniper’s Network Connect application and would seemingly end up in a loop with Java. All very frustrating.

Even after the application of not a few sudo commands, and visits to a few forums, it finally seemed clear that Network Connect is incompatible with OS X Yosemite. Aaargh!

Juniper Pulse was suggested instead and happily as I began searching, an email from NUS Comcen directed me to their e-guides page where the Juniper Pulse installer has been made available, along with a step by step e-guide if you need it.

EGuides | NUS Computer Center

Installation and establishing a connection was simple:

  1. Click the pkg icon to download the installer into your Downloads folder (or your browser’s default download folder).
  2. Open the disk image file on your Desktop and Finder sidebar and run “JunosPulse.pkg”.
  3. A few straightforward installation steps are required take before completion.
  4. Open Juniper Pulse in your Application folder, or from the new icon in your menu bar (go to Finder first if your menu bar is crowded).
  5. Add a new VPN profile with these parameters: use type: UAC or SSL‐VPN; provide your profile with a name and the server URL is https://webvpn.nus.edu.sg
  6. Connect and save settings on your mac.
  7. Provide your userid and password as prompted (you can also save this).

You should be a happy camper once more!

21st Anniversary of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve this Sat – the new extension opens!

Another break from marking, this time with NUS Toddycats as we roll out our annual Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk. It’s a sold out walk with more than 100 registered just two days after we emailed NUS staff via department secretaries.

This year we will merge with Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve’s 21st anniversary celebrations which features the opening of a 31-ha extension. So it will be a shorter walk but there is much to ogle at! Long-awaited views to enjoy and new spaces which promote the outdoor experience. It will be there first time back for many of us after two years and the reaction of our visitors will serve as a recce for future trips! [For details, see the NParks Fact Sheet].

There is considerable an enthusiasm for nature walks and since we share stories which include aspects of hoister, nature and the environment of Singapore, we intend to do more in line with the SG50 celebrations. The nature community takes this seriously, as we want to ensure Singapore will have still have all this and more in SG100!

Meanwhile, congratulations to the many NParks team members over the years who put this together. We can hardly wait for Saturday morning!

Map from NParks (click for larger view)
SBWR with extention

Do note that Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve has two entrances now:

  1. Neo Tiew entrance – this leads to the new Wetlands Centre @ Buloh = the old visitor centre on the eastern bank of the Sungei Buloh Besar, with a few more facilities.
  2. Kanji entrance – this is opposite Kanji Reservoir Car Park B on the western bank of the Kanji River. It leads to the New Visitor Centre @ Kranji = the old PUB building near the start of the old Kanji Nature Trail

“Sungei Buloh reserve extension to showcase trails, guided walks,” by Valerie Koh. Today, 20 Nov 2014.

SINGAPORE — Visitors to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve will be able to step on mudflats, cross a suspension bridge and take a stroll along a coastal boardwalk, once a new 31ha extension opens on Dec 6.

The grand opening, which coincides with the reserve’s 21st anniversary, will also see the launch of six new guided walks around the wetlands. The extension at Kranji Way, which includes mangrove and coastal forests, will have three nature trails totalling 1.65km and a new visitor centre.

Visitors can make their way across the 120m suspension bridge in the heart of a secondary forest and spot birds and insects in the mid-canopy region and forest floor.

Those looking for a more immersive experience can step on mudflats during low tide to look for crabs, worms and mudskippers.

Of the six free guided walks that the National Parks Board (NParks) is introducing — on top of an existing guided tour — two will cater to children under 12. During those two tours, led by students from Regent Secondary School, the children will be taught to identify common species of flora and fauna found at the reserve and the need for conservation.

The six walks, lasting one-and-a-half hour each and led by public and student volunteers, will be held on Saturday mornings on a rotational basis.

Each walk can accommodate up to 15 participants.

The wetland reserve sees an average of 100,000 visitors each year, but NParks hopes that the opening of the new ecological space will draw more people to the area.

Ms Sharon Chan, the reserve’s deputy director, said: “Over the years, we’ve seen a rising number of visitors going to the reserve. With these numbers, there will be an impact on the wildlife found there. We thought it’ll be a good idea to expand so that we can reach out to more people.”

The expansion plans took into account comments from the public.

“We do take note of the feedback … that the reserve is not very accessible, so we’ve brought it closer to people by building the extension closer to Kranji Reservoir Park,” Ms Chan said. Visitors can access the extension via a new entrance to the reserve at Kranji Way. The current entrance at Neo Tiew Crescent remains.

See the NParks media release of 20 Nov 2014 with links to a fact sheet and a brief about the guided walks.

Map from the NParks media release
Map from 20141120-Media Factsheet_SBWR-Extension

Semester end – a race to the finish: marking, collation, verification and what not

Before the final push, it is important to summarise the race to the finish for the three modules I run this semester with eh FTTAs – LSM1103 Biodiversity, LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment and LSM3261 Life Form and Function.

The marking load is less demanding this year due to smaller classes – 240 first year biodiversity essays, 154 x six short answers and 71 x six short answers and one essay. Open-ended questions punish the marker but are an interesting insight into the students’s mind and will result in tweaks or changes to the pedagogy of the modules the following year.

Mark, mark, mark, then page and script summations, verification, transfer to excel, verification then upload to the system.

After marking there is consolidation of assessments, verification, submission to the IMMS system, verification before checks by the DBS Exam Task Force. It’s my twice-yearly workout on Excel.

Then I put away my local disk image and it’s feedback for some assignments and the exam, and a final email to the class before we part ways. Unless, of course, they join Toddycats for the Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk or research students for fieldwork.

LSM1103 Biodiversity, 240 students
2014 11 27 14 42 47

LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment, 154 students
2014 11 27 15 01 33

LSM3261 Life Form and Function, 71 students
2014 11 27 15 31 48

NUS PEACE Therapy Dog Programme – relief for stressed-out students!

I was glad to hear that the NUS PEACE Therapy Dogs Programme once again conducted another successful session of stress relief for exam-pressured students. This is possible because of the kind support of Therapy Dogs Singapore, an NPO made up of volunteer dog owners.

This programme is in its second year now and this was the third time the programme has been run, with the support of NUS’ Office of Student Affairs.


Ironically Mary Rose Posa and myself could not join the students as we highly stressed staff advisors were busy wrestling our semestral responsibilities which have plagued us since late July. There is light ahead in the tunnel though and time to sleep in mid-December!

The Therapy Dog Programme is one of a three special programmes run by NUS PEACE members, the other two being Cat Cafe and Paw Friends.

See: “Dogs melt away exam stress for NUS undergrads,” by Jalelah Abu Baker. The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2014.


Photos from NUS PEACE Therapy Dog Programme.

Erica Sena Neves on “Disease ecology & risk from small mammal-borne pathogens” (Wed 26 Nov 2014: 10am @ CF2)

Disease Ecology and Risk from Small Mammal-borne Pathogens in Singapore
Erica Sena Neves
Graduate Student,
Dept. of Biological Sciences, NUS

Wednesday 26 November 2014: 10.00am
Conference Room-II (S1, Level 3, mezzanine)
Supervisor: Asst Prof Bickford, David P


Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) pose a significant public health challenge globally, with severe economic, social, and health consequences. The frequency of epidemics caused by newly emerging and re-emerging pathogens and the likelihood of rapid global spread have increased dramatically in recent decades, with Southeast Asia considered a hot spot for future emergence events.

Small mammals play an important role in the maintenance and transmission of several pathogens, and they have been the source of pandemic outbreaks, causing periodic global and regional outbreaks of pathogens like hantaviruses and leptospirosis. Singapore is an ideal site to study the risk of EIDs exposure and infection from small mammals – it has lost nearly all of its original habitats and suffered a consequent loss of wildlife diversity, and this is worrying because biodiversity loss has been correlated with increased EIDs risk.

In this study, I propose using a combination of field surveillance, ecological analysis, laboratory diagnostics, evolutionary genomics, bioinformatics, and predictive modeling and mapping to identify pathogens present in Singapore small mammals.

Wild Otters – a new otter conservation NGO from Goa, India

Atul Borker writes from Goa, India to inform us that he has started an NGO called Wild Otters “with a vision of long term otter conservation work”.

Working in Goa (India), they are finding the remnant populations of small-clawed and smooth-coated otters in the wild, conducting field visits for the public, building community support and conducting school and public education.

Visit the webpage at wildotters.com. How lovely for otters!

Wild Otters | About us

Wild Otters

Location of Goa, India.

Thanks to Nicole Duplaix, IUCN Otter Specialist Group, for forwarding the news.