How (the haze and) I killed Singapore’s International Coastal Cleanup 2015

Since mid-August, I had been monitoring the conditions of the transboundary haze pollution in Singapore. I wanted to provide appropriate advise to the more than 60 Organisers I coordinate, who lead some 3,500 coastalcleanup volunteers. In addition, there are some 650 undergraduate students and TAs heading out to the field for modules at NUS which I coordinate.

The International Coastal Cleanup is a global annual exercise conducted every September. In Singapore, some 3,500 volunteers would work along our shores, engaged in marine trash cleanup work for up to two hours. This can be strenuous, especially to our urban citizens unfamiliar with manual labour!

First I informed Organisers that they should look out for poor conditions in the days leading to the event. At the worst, we would have to cancel everyone’s long-scheduled cleanup – despite the fact preparations had begun early in the year.

I reiterated that the ICC movement prioritises health of volunteers and any Organiser, who is primarily responsible at a site, should be comfortable about cancelling their event in the event of declining air quality. I also highlighted the need to identify vulnerable individuals and to take care to attend to those first.

[“ICCS Haze Advisory for Organisers: At air quality readings above 100psi, please consider cancelling your event!“]

That advisory, in addition to prevailing conditions of poorer air quality, was enough for half the groups to pull out. The others decided to wait for the morning of the 19th of September 2015, before making a decision.

The MOM guidelines that we had been referring to decide if an outdoor event was to go ahead were based on 24-hour PSI values – the previous 24-hours! These values do not reflect the actual conditions on the ground which can change dramatically in hours. I had been comparing readings with actual ground conditions and realised the more reflective guide were the 1-hr PM2.5(µg/m3) concentrations, which NEA had begun publishing from 2014.

So I issued a second advisory. This time the suggested upper limit for field work was a 1-hr PM2.5 value of 55.5 (µg/m3). This as based on US EPA guidelines which are based on 24-hour values, so were highly conservative. But I decided to err on the side of caution.

I also explained why I had not suggested donning N95 masks and working – unfamiliar individuals who rarely use masks would find these impeded breathing, and in any case, are often not properly worn. With safety of highest concern and with large groups of varying familiarity with health and safety issues, adopting a conservative guideline was a better strategy.

[“Haze Advisory to Organisers, update: Only hourly PM2.5 concentrations are suitable for a rapid response (and values > 55µg/m3 are unhealthy)“]

Finally the day of the cleanup arrived. And the 1-hr PM2.5 pre-dawn values had persisted above 100µg/m3 all morning. There were still Organisers working in the early morning to her volunteers up buses – they had persisted until the end in the hope of improved conditions. To them I issued my third email about the haze and took an additional step: I announced that ICCS could not accept cleanup data from that morning, to safeguard volunteers’ health. This was to safeguard against an enthusiastic organiser who who might abandon safety guidelines. Marine trash would just have to be tackled another day.

[“Cancelled – all cleanups on morning of Sat 19 Sep 2015: haze at unhealthy levels“]

In 2015, I had been organising coastal cleanups int he hope of protecting marine ecosystems for 18 years. I had begun coordinating ICCS in 2000. There was only one year in which Organisers had called off the event along beaches due to severe storms with my full support.

This time the cancellation was complete across all sites, on mangroves and beaches around the island. I cancelled practicals too, so the long-awaited LSM1103 Biodiversity practical to Changi Beach was cancelled, as were all independent research projects by the LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment class.

When it came down to it, though, the cancellation was easily done, in the interest of a coordinator’s primary responsibility – volunteer and student safety. Our thwarted hopes were simply victim to another of man’s impact on the planet, the 2015 Southeast Asian haze.

We will battle on!

St Andrew’s alumni unhappy over mixed development name [Channel NewsAsia] / Thanks for the name change!

Updates – Thank you MCC Land and Street and Buildings Names Board!

This is regarding the development along Meyappa Chettiar Road, next to St. Andrew’s Village where St. Andrew’s Junior School, St. Andrew’s Secondary School and St. Andrew’s Junior College are located.

I hope MCC Land (Singapore) and the Street and Building Names Board can reconsider the names.

St. Andrew’s School was founded on 8 September 1862 by Rev Edward Sherman Venn of the Anglican Church.

The name of a new development in Potong Pasir has raised the ire of some members of the St Andrew’s school community. The project includes a condominium called The Andrew Residences and a mall, The Andrew Village.

“It’s really taking away from our history, just for the convenience or expediency of having a name for this commercial entity,” said school alumnus, Mr Isaac Leong.

“The names are not copyrighted, so they can name it anything they like,” said former teacher Yee Teck Peng. “But the developers should be sensitive to the feeling, the ethos, the heritage, the environment, they should consider all these if they are building the mall and naming it ‘Andrew’.”

The development, comprising a condominium named The Andrew Residences and The Andrew Village mall, is set to be complete in 2019. 

Full article and video at “St Andrew’s alumni unhappy over mixed development name,” by Kenneth Lim. Channel NewsAsia, 23 Oct 2015.

St Andrew s alumni unhappy over mixed development name  Channel NewsAsia

Recover the Cmd-[1..9] bookmark shortcut in Safari which ver 9.0 sets to tab switching instead

Even if you have not switched to El Capitan, chances are your Safari browser was updated to version 9.0. If you have been using Command–[1..9] to bring up favourites, you will find this no longer works but instead, switches between tabs.

To recover this function, go to Safari’s preferences > Tabs and turn off the default mode.


Monkeygirl Joys Tan on the brink of making the jump to El Capitan!
2015 10 23 11 49 23

Mentioned this earlier this month on twitter, but worth putting it down on the blog.

Kallang River’s smooth-coated otters at St. Andrew’s Village


This is a photo of Bishan5 taken at Kallang River near the Jacob Ballas Bridge of St. Andrew’s Bridge. the family group have been moving between Lower Pierce and Kallang and leaving the vicinity of the river to explore adjacent areas for days.

This lovely photo was taken by Jeffrey Teo and kindly sent to the principals of St. Andrew’s JC, St. Andrew’s Secondary School and St. Andrew’s Junior School – Mrs’ Lee Bee Yann, Lucy Toh and Wong Bin Eng.

St. Andrew’s is fortunate to have the river in such a lovely condition, and this is due to the efforts of so many people before us. It was a black, anoxic and unyielding river in the 70’s when I was a student there. But now, we have otters!

The school is not indifferent to the work of predecessors – the school hymn says,

“They reaped not where they laboured,
We reap what they have sown;
Our harvest may be garnered,
By ages yet unknown.”

The river presents challenges still – the otters have been entangled in raffia, hooked by an illegal fishermen and were chewing on and vomiting out styrofoam. We still have lots of work to do along the river.

See also:

  • The cleaning up of Singapore River and Kallang Basin (1977-1987) [link]
  • Otter Watch – Otters in Singapore [link]

Keith Hillier nature guide and volunteer manager extraordinaire, RIP

NewImageI was notified by How Choon Beng via What’sApp of the obituary for Percy Keith Hillier.

Keith Hillier was a lovely gentleman, active in managing volunteers in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Singapore Botanic Gardens and he also ran some activities for Nature Society (Singapore). He was also member of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR) Master Plan Working Group in 2008-2010.

He burst into the scene when he decided to volunteer after he half-retired and was such a warm figure to everyone he met. Ria Tan chronicled Keith in her Wild People series from 2004 – his photo above is from that post, made 11 years ago.

Of working for nature, he said,

“It proved to be a very satisfying job – there was almost always at least one person in each group that I took round, that expressed appreciation for new insights into nature that I had imparted. “

He was a volunteer manager, which are a rare breed and we loved how he did this, sweetly querying guides about their next duty if they’d been away for awhile. How to resist such a charming invitation?

I am thinking of his congenial laughter now. Every time I bumped into him, he’d have warm words for me, we’d have lovely chat and I’d leave feeling uplifted and motivated about nature in Singapore.

We were blessed to have him. He will be truly missed, by all of us.

20151022 KeithHillier

See “RIP Keith Hillier – Mentor to nature volunteers,” by Ria Tan. Wild Shores Singapore, 23 October 2015.

S. K. Ganesan writes,

“I am very sad to hear this. Keith came here from UK to serve his National Service during the Malayan Emergency. He loved the forest and my first trip to Gunung Panti was with him in 1990. He once told me that he was chased by an elephant who was with her calf at Panti! Can’t believe that he has passed on.”

Airani S writes,

“I’ve has the privilege of having Keith Hillier as my wonderful volunteer manager when I was actively volunteering at the SBG. He always knew to make one feel appreciated; through all his gestures. RIP Keith.”

Fam Shun Deng writes,

“Keith Hillier was a mentor of mine, a gentle man who taught me to guide groups of people, and who taught me to teach. Once, after one guiding trip at SBWR, we spent hours talking over lunch about elephants and grasses. His passing is a great loss to all NParks guides. RIP Keith, thanks for the memories.”

Bhavani Prakash writes,

“Very sad to hear the passing on of a very special person. I met Keith Hillier for the first time in September 2003 at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. He inspired me to be a volunteer guide there, which – long story short – changed my life direction completely.

I had lost touch with him for several years. Keith had out of the blue sent me a Facebook invite last year. I was delighted and went to meet him, his wife and his wonderful cats in April this year. I was so glad I finally had the opportunity to thank him for the impact he had made on my life (He had no clue what I was talking about!).

I also thanked him for sending me a Facebook invite, and for remembering me. He said, “I didn’t do anything! Facebook asked me to add you as a friend.” I can’t thank Facebook enough!

RIP Keith. You will be dearly missed. “

Obituary in the The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

Percy Keith Hillier (9th September 1929 – 19th October 2015)

“What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind”

– William Wordsworth”

OS X El Capitan updates (10.11.1) and Office 365 University

OS X El Capitan 10.11.1 was released today, which you can get though Software Updates, as well as iOS9.1 for you iPhone.

I don’t mind being an early adopter because quirks will get ironed out and I will adopt workarounds. This time, the switch was relatively painless, although I did lose the use of Default Folder, Outlook 2011 died (switched to Mail) and thankfully my Office 2016 preview was not crashing (would have switched to iWork).

Microsoft Office 2016 crashes were a problem indeed for a few of my friends and today’s OS X El Capitan update should fix that, as well as add a host of security updates.

If you are on Mavericks (10.9) or Yosemite (10.11), the system requirements for El Capitan are the same, so you can make the jump. You can check if a deal breaker app is not updated at RoaringApps and read Lifehacker’s “Should I Upgrade to Mac OS X El Capitan?

Microsoft Office 365 University Office for School

This morning, my Office 2016 preview alerted me that my trial was almost over. The free Office option did not seem available for NUS, so I bought Office 365 University for S$108 (four-year subscription, two macs & 1TB cloud storage) and continued with my work – a flawless transition.

A few hours later I had switched to using Outlook 2016 for my NUS Exchange emails.

Sat 07 Nov 2015: 5.30pm – “Otters of Singapore” – A talk and sharing session at Sentosa’s Palawan Amphitheatre (registration by email required)

From the good folk at Sentosa:

“Otters of Singapore” – A talk and sharing session
About the “water dogs” of Southeast Asia and their ‘return’ to Singapore.

About the talk – Smooth-coated otters have excited the Singapore public as they recolonise recovering habitats around the country. These strong swimming fish eaters are one of four species of otters in Southeast Asia, which are endangered or vulnerable throughout their range. In this talk, Otterman will introduce the biology of the animals, trace their occurrence in Singapore and explain the many intriguing sightings and observations the public have shared with him in recent years.

About the speaker – N. Sivasothi aka Otterman is a lecturer with the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore where he teaches biodiversity and ecology. His cohort of research students (Otterman Holt) includes Ottergirl Meryl Theng and they investigate mammals, mangroves, wildlife conservation and human impact. A Research Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, he coordinates the museum volunteer group, Toddycats! who play an active role in public education. Seen an interesting mammal in Singapore? Contribute mammal sightings to his team at

Date: Sat 07 Nov 2015: 5.30pm – 6.30pm
Cost: Free (Admission charges to Sentosa apply)
Venue: Palawan Amphitheatre (At Animal Encounters, Opposite POLW)
Sign up at today!

A bunch of jobs in NUS – Lecturer, full-time RA, part-time RA & conference organiser assistant

Just posted a bunch of jobs, hope the right people find each other:

  1. Instructor/Lecturer in i) sustainability and ii) work place readiness at Ridge View Residential College, NUS [link]
  2. Research Assistant or Associate: Land use change and conservation in Myanmar (3 years) @ NUS DBS [link]
  3. Part-time research field assistant in Small Mammals, Nov 2015 – Mar 2016 [link]
  4. Conference organization assistant for Conservation Asia 2016 in Singapore (immediate to Jul 2016) [link]

Job: Instructor/Lecturer in i) Sustainability and ii) Work Place Readiness at Ridge View Residential College, NUS

Job: Instructor/Lecturer (closing date: 13 Nov 2015; JOB-2015-0349720)

The Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) is a one-year interdisciplinary programme that aims to cultivate sustainability culture and leadership through a living-learning curriculum. Its three core modules, co-academic activities, and industry presence are seamlessly interwoven to ensure that students develop intellectual inquiry and academic rigour, engage in experiential learning, and are keenly attuned to the demands of the workplace.

RVRC is seeking applications for the position of Instructors/Lecturers to join its motivated and exciting team starting Academic Year 2016/2017. Successful candidates with suitable expertise and relevant experience will contribute to the development and teaching of two core RVRC modules, as follows:

  • sustainability (integrated interdisciplinary approach)
  • workplace readiness (including experiential learning, sustained sports, and readiness for internship/workplace) – the candidate will be involved in the design, implementation, assessment and evaluation of the sports and experiential learning components. The candidate will also support other preparatory and developmental activities relevant to ‘workplace readiness’.

Instructors/Lecturers are employed as full-time RVRC faculty on the Educator track. The positions may also be residential or non-residential.

RVRC currently admits only Year One students from five faculties/schools, namely Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Faculty of Science, School of Computing and School of Design & Environment. Its strategic goal is to instil in students values and qualities contributing to their overall development as undergraduates – academically, socially, personally, and professionally – complemented by a close engagement with the industry.

Job Requirements:
RVRC is looking for faculty who can demonstrate the following attributes:

  • strong grounding in teaching and learning at tertiary level
  • keen to explore innovative and alternative ways of engaging student learning
  • learner-centric and learning-centric
  • passionate about nurturing and working with students
  • possess the pioneering spirit to shape and influence the direction of the College

To apply, see: