What can I do for nature and the environment in Singapore?

Why for starters, check out these pages:

NParks has a whole load of opportunities listed on their Volunteer Page. The good thing is you are now required to select a home-base; with this association, you wi be notified if oppotunities near where you live. If interested in conservation activities, you will have to attend an orientation before volunteering, which wil be helpful.


Lepak in SG has organised a local directory of nature and environment groups: https://lepakinsg.wordpress.com.

Our volunteer group Facebook pages highlight opportunities offered by others in the community, so will help you find your calling!

The MOH Haze Health Advisory poster and conservative advise for coastal cleanup Organisers

Here is the MOH Haze Health Advisory poster which summarises their guidelines. Various other ministries and institutions adopt these, as does NUS, and might provide specifics or precise advise relevant to their situation.

The fundamentals are all here.

But do read the language carefully. For example, in conditions greater than 100psi, the recommendation for healthy people is to “reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion”. To me, the word prolonged is enough to rule out the typical coastal cleanup activity which lasts at least three hours from departure to site. Strenuous covers any mangrove cleanup.

Furthermore, the MOH guidelines comes with this caveat: “While the health advisory provides general precautionary advice, each individual’s reaction to pollutants may vary. The amount of physical activity or exertion that can be performed also differs according to an individual’s health status or capacity. ”

Yes individual response varies, and this is a critical to realise.

Allergic rhinitis is known to be common enough amongst children in Singapore and may persist amongst undergraduates. Keeping them out of the haze even in low psi values (50-100) seem like common sense. Teachers in schools are prepared and in really bad conditions, some have plans to hem students into air-conditioned halls and somehow continue with school! Amazing!

Many stressed adults also suffer from allergic rhinitis, and have a tough time of it when haze values are persistently maintained at 50-100 psi for days.

As coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, I mulled over this at the first sign of the haze three weeks ago. Read, consulted, observed and decided to adopt a conservative approach when I emailed some 70 Organisers of varying capability and site difficulty who organise some 3,700 volunteers.

Our practise all these 24 years of the ICCS has been to rank safety above all else,so the ICCS Haze Advisory for Organisers was entitled, “At air quality readings above 100psi, please consider cancelling your event!” And if we were dealing with levels below 100psi, despite the MOH recommendation to continue with normal activities, volunteers already experiencing discomfort, however mild, should be advised to rest instead.

I informed the international coordinator at Ocean Conservancy to say Singapore might not be sending them a bundle of data this year due to the haze. We did not experience a haze-out in 1997 or any other year, but we did experience a wash-out in 1998 – Organisers then sensibly cleared the beach due to a massive storm and we cheered them when they wrote to explain.

Similarly, this was a no brainer.

Now all we can do is hope for clear skies like the rest of Singapore. And perhaps a little more: this local campaign hopes to rectify the problem of the haze at the source, through consumer action, a very powerful tool indeed: webreathewhatwebuy.com – take a look and play a part.

Stay healthy everyone!

No sign of Bukit Timah hill, all swallowed
by the rain-enhanced haze of Mon 14 Sep 2015: ~1800h

Bukit TImah in rain enhanced haze

Chinese New Year Coastal Cleanup at Tanah Merah 7 with RVRC students!

I conduct a recce at Tanah Merah 7 tomorrow for Thursday’s Chinese New Year Coastal Cleanup with some 35 students from NUS’ Ridge View Residential College. They take a sustainability module I help teach (GEM1917) and this cleanup compliments the lectures.

I was last at this site for International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore with NUS Toddycats & Independents on 13 Sep 2014. This group did a great job at the very far end of Tanah Merah and brought trash over almost kilometre.

NUS Toddycats & Independents working a chain gang to move trash out at Tanah Merah 7 during ICCS2014 before the tide rushes in. Photo by Kenneth Pinto

This coastlines is under restricted access to the public, and we will probably remove at least 1/3 tonne of trash. So I did have to email a few people and they all responded quickly and supportively as usual, which is really nice to see. So I let the RVRC students know that:

  • Permission for access to the site has been granted by Singapore Police Force via Singapore Land Authority.
  • The Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal operator (Singapore Cruise Centre) is providing us access to the side gate access to the site and space in the Car Park for us to place our trash.
  • NEA’s Department of Public Cleanliness has arranged to have our trash picked up by 12pm on Thursday.

We head out early on both recce and cleanup days to catch the shore while its nice and cool. There is always the reward of eagles overhead while we work the beach. Looking forward to this and observing the students at work!

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

Keeping old promises – clearing the trash in Sungei Pandan mangroves

Between 1987 and 1989, Prof D H “Paddy” Murphy mapped the mangroves of Singapore with tape and compass and a team of students assistants as part of a baseline mangrove inventory for the ASEAN-Australian “Living Coastal Resources of Southeast Asia project. Many of us earned our spurs and our $13/day pay for mapping and inventorying mangrove plants. Murphy kept on mapping after the project with smaller and smaller teams and I helped out until the early 90’s, sometimes venturing back in the terretrial forest where he originally began all this work.

The insight was tremendous, as was the impact – an appreciation for every tiny speck of mangrove which had survived development.

Education and research were obvious choices to help express this appreciation, and support for conservation in a variety of ways.

A blight on all these mangrove patches even then was trash from the shore and the sea. With increasing awareness and appreciation for our lost natural heritage, willing hands are not in short supply. However, a sensitive approach is necessary as the soft mud and the fauna and flora would be heavily impacted by well-meaning but trampling feet and equipment.

So it is with tender loving care that carefully calculated numbers of volunteers have executed mangrove cleanups in Singapore. Mangrove cleanups require planning for safety and impact, coordination and training, so a lot of effort is invested in any single cleanup. Ideally those of us who revelled in the mud and had sufficient knowledge of sites were best suited to sensitively coordinate willing volunteers. We began in 1997 and in 2006 summarised 10 years of cleanups by some 2,500 volunteers with this poster – for a conference I was ironically too ill to attend.


Sungei Pandan SP2’s Trash Disposal Site

Typically valiant volunteers, great company for a cleanup!

This annual cleanup effort as part of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore continued and at an increasing number of sites mostly in the north-west where our (relatively) glorious patches of mangrove reside in the Johor Straits – Lim Chu Kang, Lim Chu Kang East, Sungei Buloh East, Kranji, Kranji East, Kranji Bund and Sungei Cina. Once a year was simply not enough and seven years ago, we began National Day coastal cleanups at Lim Chu Kang mangrove and some enthusiastic Organisers took up the challenge to remove trash sensitively as a Year-Round Coastal Cleanup.

However, small mangrove patches along our southern shorelines persist, refugia from the development of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and barely eking out an existence in tiny strips. These were not forgotten, and were mapped by Murphy’s crew in the 1980’s. Having survived ruthless development, they are all the more precious on their own right and as a source of germplasm.

When our itsy-bitsy Science Centre Singapore mangrove guidebook was published in 1999, some of these maps which Murphy painstakingly prepared and which Cynthia Lee, his able assistant, inked, were nestled into its pages. I made sure to retain Cynthia’s squiggly handwriting in appreciation.

One such inclusion was the Sungei Pandan mangroves, and this is the map:

These precious patches were not forgotten. First though, the Johor Straits mangrove cleanups had to be stabilised, and capable and experienced Organisers and Site Captains recruited and trained over time. I only felt confident to turn our attention to Sungei Pandan in 2008 – and did so only at “SP2” (of D H Murphy’s nomenclature). Sungei Pandan SP2 is the second patch of mangrove on the west bank of Sungei Pandan, after the water control gates which separated freshwater from brackish water.

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore: Zones & Sites - Google Maps

Seven years later, the accumulated trash from the Sungei Pandan SP2 mangrove patch has been cleared. We even use it for teaching students about mangroves now, having reduced the mosquitoe population which used to breed in the rain water collected by the trash. The Site Captains who lead the site now are experienced and there is a team of three of them now.

So it is finally time to examine the other two precious patches of mangrove on the map – SP1 and SP3. They are still alive and while minuscule, are still able to imbue me with peace and calm. It is now time for some tender loving care, to be administered by new, appreciative hands.

Recce trip with Lim Cheng Puay (ICCS South Zone Captain) and Adrian Loo at SP1, 18 Jul 2014

2014-06-09 08.19.03 HDR

Surprises await as we maintain, nurture and recover habitats.
The smooth-coated otter at Sungei Pandan, Jun 2014 [Photo by Airah Awek]

20140715 Sungei Pandan Airah Awek

Update: smooth-coated otters at Sungei Pandan, 2016 by FastSnail on YouTube.

ICCS Zone Captains plan for next week’s workshop

For the first time since we began offering workshops to Organisers, ICCS Zone Captains are conducting the workshop in its entirety.

Zone Captains are great at operational procedure and this is a great way to improve their grasp of the other topics.

Three teams have been organised to cater to three days of workshops and they are busy plotting now!

I am looking forward to this!






Album on Flickr.

“What Happens When Sharks Disappear?” – “FINconceivable,” a lovely animation by Lily Williams

“FINconceivable” is Lily Williams’ undergraduate senior thesis film at California College of the Arts based on her info graphics “What Happens When Sharks Disappear?”

Eco tourism as an alternative economy to shark finning? See The Dorsal Effect for just that in Lombok, by Kathy Xu from Singapore.

See more at lilywilliamsart.com

Thanks to Shaleyla Kelez for sharing the link on Facebook.

Captain Planet coordinates the Leaf Monkey Workshop

As a child, November Tan was influenced by Captain Planet. And she wanted to be just like him! As an undergraduate, she saw the Toddycats’ “Do you have a passion for nature and the environment” poster and joined us to contribute to various programmes. Her strong interest in environmental sensitivity, had her try to get a conversation going with Toddycats in 2005:

Raffles Museum news

And she is still at it – this time as founder and coordinator of The Leaf Monkey Workshop since 2007. She and her team just conducted a lovely workshop on marine trash with ICCS Otters which you can read about here. Congratulations to November, Kah Ming, Ria and Bo Kai for providing a unique and lovely workshop experience, everyone!

The Leafmonkey Workshop: Trash Talking: Marine Trash and Us

See also: “Pedal Ubin guide is one of four Bayer Young Environmental Envoys,” by N. Sivasothi. Raffles Museum News, 14 Sep 2004.

Meeting the new ICCS Zone Captains

Instead of Site Allocation Exercise on a Friday night, an introduction about the programme was called for as we were meeting several new volunteers. Understanding objectives and motivation is important for when it gets tough later.

It was heartening to meet the new volunteers, and to reflect on the long years of service all the ICCS Otters have put in over the years. I remember when it was Kate Thome and a few NSS folk running operations and collating data cards in the 90’s.

Interestingly, we are a bunch of mostly science and engineering people.

After confirming a few names in the list below, manpower operations will be settled. Then it’s time for site visits before the Site Allocation Exercises begin at the end of next month.

Wish Ocean Conservancy’s Sonya Besteiro could join us at one of our meetings!

20140322 ICCS Zone Captains briefing
Photos by Teo Kah Ming

2014 03 21 20 41 48

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore