Visiting the mud with the biodiversity class

One of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) dropped the binocular lens caps onto the mangrove during our recce of Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve , so I went to retrieve. Waste not, want not!


Photo by Civetgirl Xu Weiting.

In August I learnt through ICCS Changi Beach updates that the stretch of beach which we typically use for our first year biodiversity (LSM1103) class would be closed for improvement works until the first quarter of next year.

We evaluated alternatives and realised there are many reasons why Changi Beach 1 was such a successful practical venue – it was tucked away in a safe alcove for students to debs, the beach was next to the carpark, there was space for buses to park and safely pick up students, change facility was located nearby, the beach was safe with no stone fish, it had a shallow shore, soft-bottom habitats to provide interesting fauna and was 45mins away by bus for a four-hour practical).

Hard-pressed to cope with the semester’s workload in several modules and find shore recce dates when we could all go, we made a few checks and decided to abandon the search for an alternative seine site this semester – and probably next semester too.

Shortly after we decided this last week, the Full-Time TA Amanda (“Small Mammal”) Tan and I jumped into a cab to check out Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve for capacity, route, relevant content and quality of experience. We can’t get 275 students muddy (too much impact to site) but decided that half of the class, in groups of 12, led by a TA, would be able to observe wildlife quietly along the trails without significant impact. We informed SBWR that the class will visit over two Friday afternoons – Session A on 12 Oct 2012 and Session B on 2 Nov 2012.

Thus it was to Sungei Buloh that we brought the TAs for an orientation on 11 Sep 2012. During the bus journey there, we realised the practical could adapt the Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk which I have conducted at the reserve since 1997.

The TAs will provide a stronger slant that the anniversary walk towards taxonomic groups and their biology. Students will be familiar, having reviewed specimens of major phyla in a lab practicals by then. And in the lectures, Group A would be up to the ‘wormy phyla’ by the time they visit while with Group B, I would have started on the chordates. They already have an online reference too.

So why were the TAs totting binos? Well, I’m hoping to use the LSM2251 Ecology binos – we are about 30 units short f equipping each student, but a recently approved equipment budget will see to this.

So this batch will get a head’s start to binocular use and bird observations in LSM1103, and will be able to take it further in LSM2251 the following year. The binos will be used to observe fish and crabs as well as birds.

It seems like a plan. We regret missing the wonderful experience of immersing students in water to observe fish and other creatures during the seine, but a quick survey of students during the Essay 1 Review Tutorial suggests that up to 80% of students have not visited the reserve before.

It will be an eye opener.

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