Archive for the ‘Introductions’ Category

First GreenDrinks session attended just a few hours ago (see Jan 4 post here), and I was frankly overwhelmed with the number of people! Clearly over-capacity, the show went on with a blast. Interactive session was not burdened by poor acoustics, and instead people were shooting out comments, questions and random ideas. Here’s a summary:

Sivasothi aka Otterman went on to give his usual biodiversity speech, aimed at informing the layman that Singapore does have wildlife, more so than one thinks! First on forest cover – that our proudly acclaimed 48% of forest cover is really, broken down into many ‘green spaces’, of which only 0.2% is primary forest. We have leopard cats, banded leaf monkeys (shy and arboreal, unlike the long tailed macaques clearly visible and waiting to pounce on your plastic bag), pangolins (see pangolin conservation issues), wild boars, mousedeer, dugongs (rare), moniter lizards, otters, and then some. Roadkill pictures added to double shock effect on audience who 1. never knew we shared land with these animals, 2. didn’t expect gore. Am leaving them out here.

Mammal sightings? Help us keep a record at mammal.sivasothi.com. No man can work alone in recording all these sightings, and crowd sourcing not only gives a sense of ownership but pride as well! Similarly, the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore – another crowd effort – is still going strong as ever, with 2009’s haul of more than 13 tonnes of waste from our coasts. Most of which, surprisingly or not, turned out to be cigarettes. This event, FYI, happens worldwide annually, and 2010 was the 25th anniversary since the start of the event – and the 20th year for Singapore. Wanna know more? Check here for a site near you, globally.

But what about things going on with the government? Concerned about our precious land use? Well, the URA Concept Plan 2011 is still open and sourcing for feedback, so all you concerned residents in Singapore, do go take a look and give some feedback!

For the biology community out there, it’s heartening to know that after the initiation of Blue Plan 2009 comes the Mega Marine Survey of Singapore. Exciting line-up! Launched by NParks, this mega-project targets mudflats, coral reefs, sea beds and all coastal areas of Singapore! No need for rocket scientists, anyone interested can volunteer to play a part in recognising our biodiversity! Simply click here to register your interest, receive information and take part!

Then came an interesting switch to the Green Corridors proposal, a combined effort between Nature Society Singapore, Singapore Heritage Society, and groups of architects and cycling enthusiasts. Addressing use of land left by the railway track once the railway service relocates to Woodlands, they propose a Green Corridor to enable connection of communities of people and wildlife alike.

Promoting recreation and exercise through appropriate garden and plant cultivation, cycling and pedestrian paths, they also make a case for keeping existing railway tracks for certain parts to preserve heritage, history and at the same time, enable use of clean energy trams as a form of leisure locomotion. Not only a scenic tourist destination, but possible marathon and commuter routes, as they emphasize its potential to serve the 1.2 million people living adjacent to these tracks. Some people have sentimental attachment to these tracks, and others haven’t yet discovered this beautiful treasure of Singapore.

Take a ride from the Tanjong Pagar Railway station to nearby Johor Bahru (remember your passport!) today to enjoy the scenery – and perhaps see for yourself the rail real beauty of these tracks, before the service retires to Woodlands in July 2011. Support the green corridor on facebook! More into twitter? Join here! Not sure what’s really going on with the rails? Read this and this for background.
Lastly, a huge bunch of thanks and appreciation going out to Olivia Choong, who started this whole thing going in Singapore. :D


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It’s mid-January and Annie Ang is back from her impromptu trip to the Tasikoki Wildlife Centre! With the aim of stopping the illegal wildlife trade, the centre was strategically set up in North Sulawesi, the centre and crucial trading point for animals such as the orangutans, tasiers, sunbears, pangolins and even gibbons through the region.

Tasikoki has become part of the Masarang Foundation since 2010 – and you may have heard of MF if you have followed Willie Smits’ websites before. Say who?

Why, Willie Smits is the guy who showed us his efforts in restoring a rainforest! Video here (somehow video couldn’t be embedded).

In October last year I brought Annie and a few other friends to a talk Willie Smits was giving at the National Geographic store in Vivocity – a “Think and Drink” organised by the Singapore International Foundation and Syinc. And what I heard from him astounded me.

His efforts for the past 30 years have been extraordinary – and this man just keeps going, and going. An avid protector of organutans and the forests they live in, he brings to life all kinds of action plans dedicated to resolving the root causes of deforestation, supports local governors and initiatives, and resynthesizes the way people deal with these problems.

Annie met with the man himself – and she’ll have a guest post or two to share her experience on this trip, at the centre and actually seeing all these ‘problems’ we learn in class face to face.

Keep close!

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WOW. Nearly a year since my last post – probably an indicator on how busy things have gotten! However, I’ve also gotten messages via this blog from people, and more than a hundred people read this blog every month – I’m pleasantly surprised and very grateful! Thank you very much, readers – and have a brilliant rest of 2011!

So quickly, some updates: I got back in May last year, and have been doing my final year project ever since. Am also working on another publication with some colleages, hopefully that works out. Grad school awaits when the articles have been published! (:

Pulled together like-minded people yesterday for a ‘green’ meeting yesterday – would have to say it was not only fruitful but also an eye-opener! Will be going for Green Drinks meeting this month for it’s biodiversity double-bill, where one of the speakers is the ever-charming Sivasothi aka otterman!

Green Drinks in a nutshell:
+ non-profit, environmental group
+ connecting and informing
+ targetting community, business, activitists, academia, government
+ informal talks every last Thursday of the month

Started in London, Green Drinks has now spread to more than 710 cities. Great stuff eh! Check out some past green drinks sessions and their speakers here.

They’re treating January as the month of Biodiversity – know anyone who is curious about the green scene in Singapore? How about those who have environmental-business inclinations but don’t have the connections? Need to network but don’t have the platform? Come to Green Drinks and start from there.

Support the local Green Drinks!

More soon.

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Anyone involved in conservation will know that poaching is a severe issue that has yet to be addressed in many countries. Animals made into commodities, perpetuated through their use as medicine, artefacts for display, or hunting enjoyment, is something that goes on still.

The first innovative approach to catch poachers I have heard of is taken by the company, Custom Robotic Wildlife.

Photo source: Wired.com

Creating remote-controlled animal decoys, they use a tag team of four-person sting operations to catch poachers in the act. One controls the robot animal, one videotapes the poaching, and the last two tackle the hunters, who then find themselves with fines, or jail time.

Are these decoys actually convincing?

Taxidermy is used to good effect here – corpses of the desired animal robot are taken and stuffed, with the wired devices hidden in parts of the animal least likely to be shot at by poachers.

Not that I could find any statistics on how successful these operations have been, but noting that they make coyotes, deer, elk, antelope and bears, it sure seems like more people are giving them a try. Of course, they also make these robots for people who just simply want to chase off annoying geese on their lawn, or to law-abiding hunters as decoys.

Interesting approach. I’m skeptical, but well, we could use all the creative approaches we can think of.

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I just received news of this – do spread news of the program to people you know fit the bill!

Bayer Young Environmental Envoy program – welcoming youths between 17 – 24 years of age to apply with proposals of environmental projects they would like to see put into action – if they are selected for this program, together with 11 other Singaporeans they will join an environmental leadership camp in Singapore, and possibly an all expenses paid trip to Germany awaits them! 4 students from Singapore will be selected for the trip to Germany, which is there for the youths to gain exposure to wide number of environmental measures currently used by all levels of government and industry in Germany.

Find out more HERE.

Should you know any persons interested please do pass it on! The brochure can be attained through the website, and so is the application form available there. (: This seems like a really good opportunity for people passionately involved in environmental issues to channel their energies proactively.

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I may be late in finding out about this organisation, but they are interesting. 350.org is co-founded by Bill McKibben, one of the first authors on global warming to the public, back when no one really knew much about it.

Find out about them in 90 seconds, all images and 0 words.

As a platform to mobilise people to action all over the world creatively, 350.org has reached out to over 180 countries all over the world.

Ask them why 350 – and you’ll soon find out that 350 is the safe level of carbon dioxide to have in the atmosphere, as deduced by scientists (Hansen et. al., 2008) through environmental modelling. Don’t just take anyone’s word for it, read the actual paper through the reference.

One thing that resonates loudly with me, is that they are using 350 as a way to reach out to people of all countries and languages, because numbers, images and changes can be universally understood.

In the same vein that Win-Win Ecology by Michael Rosenzweig illustrates, sometimes movements have to be radically different (read: NOT revolutionary, because revolutions are dangerous) for people to sit up and take notice.

Focussing on positive action, Rosenzweig’s main opening in the book brings up an interesting idea. I am recalling this offhand, because I don’t have the book with me. His book opens by saying that there are, basically, two ‘R’s in ecology now. Reservation ecology, and restoration ecology. These terms are pretty self-explanatory. We reserve land for wildlife and biodiversity, in nature reserves and parks, botanical gardens and marine protected areas. Restoration biology talks about protecting new areas that were previously occupied, through active human intervention.

He then proceeds to call for the third ‘R’ in ecology: reconciliation ecology. If there is land to be used, man trumps wildlife – and the number of reserves and their sizes are likewise limited. Habitat loss is one of the leading causes of extinction. It has happened, and still is happening. So what happens to the wildlife then? According to Rosenzweig, this is where reconciliation ecology comes to the rescue. By designing and integrating reconciliation ecology in every aspect of building society, we can share our land with wildlife – so that land is not necessarily a mutually exclusive part of the earth anymore. Anthropocentric outlook, I know.

Still, it’s an interesting book to read, with many astonishing examples of reconciliation ecology, and a good concept to keep in mind – that said, it cannot be, as he proclaims, the way forward – simply because there are many animals that cannot share the same living space as us, as we in theirs. They require particular habitats, environmental conditions, etc. We cannot hope to occupy every bit of the earth and keep our biodiversity and ecosystems intact. A much more extended response to Rosenzweig’s rose-tinted ecology is written here, by Thomas Brooks in 2003.

Lastly, in this short update of mine, is on James Hansen’s desire for Copenhagen talks to fail – if they were fixated solely establishing a ‘cap and trade’ system, that is, in his view, fundamentally wrong as an approach.

What he says then, is intensely thought provoking:

“This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill. On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.”

Read the complete interview with The Guardian here.

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Norway now holds the world’s first power plant to create technology that uses osmosis to generate electricity. Sited in a bay in south-east Norway, the plant opened on the 25th of November.

Statkraft is the company behind this, and is the third largest energy producer in the Nordic Region. FYI, they are a state owned electricity company. Their first plant prototype has been unveiled, and it can is still undergoing testing.

What is all the fuss about? Well, no one has actually used osmosis to produce electricity before, so this technology is new. There are of course many obstacles, but with the first prototype now made, they can test the system and see if it works before scaling it up! That makes sense, but wait, what’s osmosis again?

Osmosis is a process of movement of water. It defines the spontaneous, or passive, water movement from a solution with a lower concentration of solutes (substances dissolved in water) to a solution with higher concentration of solutes, through a semi-permeable membrane. See the figure below for an example. The beaker holds two solutions, and the dashed line is the membrane. The solution on the left is more concentrated, and so water moves from the right into the left. See here for an animation on osmosis.

Using this concept, Statkraft intends to use salt and fresh water from the bay as the two solutions, creating a pressure gradient that pushes up the water level differences and eventually drives a turbine to generate electricity.

Still under testing, the prototype is able to produce enough energy to boil 2-3 kettle pots, and the company is still resolving problems of river bacteria and silt gathering on the membranes – their first obstacle before they scale up to produce energy for countries around the region.

It reminds me of when they first came up with the technology for reverse osmosis, the process that Singapore now uses to produce Newater as well as for desalination of salt water, that was an exciting time!

Interesting stuff!

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