Sitting in the comfort of my own room, nestled in my seat – what better way to spend a relaxing Friday evening than learning some exclusive insights about marine conservation from one of the most passionate (and kind-hearted) people in NParks? Last school year, I had the tremendous opportunity of visiting Pulau Tioman to conduct surveys in the intertidal zone (at an ungodly 2-5 AM, but we saw Mars, octopi, small sharks, and echinoderms alike) for one of my science classes. While I familiarized myself with the survey protocols and some of the intertidal organisms, I definitely felt that, as someone who is passionate about the environment (biodiversity, conservation, sustainability…the list goes on) and familiarizing myself with the local flora and fauna, I owed it to myself to learn about organisms from all domains of life. Apart from my abysmal lack of knowledge about marine fauna, having entered this Q&A with a very limited understanding of the Intertidal Watch program that NParks facilitates, I felt that this BQ Live session would help me understand some of these citizen science projects that I can partake in (once the social distancing and quarantine restrictions are eased a little bit) in the future, whilst enriching my understanding of the intertidal/marine ecosystems.
Through this event, I learned a significant amount about some of the habitat/behavioral characteristics of turtles:
- Turtles need to walk on their own 4 legs (once hatched) towards the ocean in order to create imprints (indentations in the sand) – this is used as a marker for the organism to return after many years
- I never knew of this innate (correct me if I am wrong) adaptation; hearing of this fact really made me ponder about how we can preserve these vulnerable organisms without impeding their lifestyle strategies – I guess it is important to be cognisant when treading the fine line between direct action (intervention when necessary) and minimizing the impacts on the fauna and immediate ecosystem
- I was not aware of how fragile turtle eggs are – according to Ms. Pei Rong, you cannot jostle the egg during transport even a little bit, because you run the risk of causing the embryo to collapse, thus killing the already dwindling population of local turtle species
- This again brings up the challenge of managing turtle relocation and protection in a safe, unobtrusive manner; apart from having to navigate the nests before the predators (which is a challenge in and of itself, given that monitor lizards and moon crabs have an acute sense of smell), the arduous process of moving the eggs is a point of contention
- In lieu of manually transporting turtle eggs, Ms. Pei Rong brought up this concept of “fortress conservation,” wherein people may opt to completely blockade a natural area for ecosystem/population restoration and revitalization; I did not know that there was a technical term to the allocation of land strictly for preservation, so this was some very helpful terminology!
- Alongside the commentary about this concept, she brought up an important point about the importance of balancing the interests of all stakeholders when pursuing conservation-related initiatives; while, of course, it would be best if there was no interaction between man and vulnerable organisms/environments, it might interfere with public or private sector (community revitalization, residential, recreational) projects and hinder economic growth in the long term
- I guess if there is anything that we can take away from the endeavor that is attaining gold-standard conservation (i.e. maximizing preservation and further promoting the harmonious relationship between man and fauna), it is that negotiation is key – even if that means having to physically transport organisms to safer environments
I think I was particularly stunned by the fact that people (even at the professional level) cannot differentiate between NParks (a purely enviro-centric entity focusing on policy, engagement, activism, and conservation) and the National Environment Agency (which concerns itself with resource management and allocation). I think this goes to show that, even though there is an entire division dedicated to the preservation of the natural landscape (and raising awareness and public initiatives), with successful programs that have been implemented and executed, there is still an information gap between citizens and professionals that must be bridged. And if we are to embark upon this endeavor, it will be important to delineate each governmental agency’s roles when considering the proposal of targeted legislation (if applicable) and expedite the process as much as possible (of course, we as residents cannot advocate for legislation, but knowing NParks’ role is already a step in the right direction).
As someone who has experience creating such a successful initiative, I was wondering what Ms. Pei Rong (or other individuals who facilitate the Intertidal Watch surveys) had to say about how we as students (or the youth in general) can start their own conservation or education-related initiatives at a smaller scale. I would love to take action within my school (or local community), but I just feel misguided in the developmental/strategization process.
Action towards conservation is not just about research, as Ms. Pei Rong explained with anecdotal accounts. Marine conservation may seem like a very niche subject when considering conservation at the broad scale; however, there are many indirect ways that we are influencing marine ecosystems today. By avoiding regions with a high concentration of invertebrates (in the case of the intertidal zone), being cognisant of the fragile coral when snorkeling or diving, of even making sure the prevent choking canals by properly disposing of waste (as opposed to stacking them in overfilled bins, when there may be empty ones not 20 meters away), we can help with conserving these marine environments and reaping the benefits of their survival and longevity (who wouldn’t want to see a thriving coral reef with such vibrant fish!)
This BQ Live session was particularly interesting and enriched my understanding about marine conservation efforts in Singapore. I was especially enamoured (and quite frankly jealous) by the fact that Ms. Pei Rong met THE SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH… Wowwwwwww!
Any who, many thanks to the wonderful guest speaker, and all of the facilitators from BFF 🙂