Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Have a say in shaping our home

I always lament to my parents that when I was young I was never given an opportunity to have a say in shaping my home. As I got older, I fought for every chance to have a say in what goes in (and out) my living environment. If that sounds familiar to you, you'll probably be happy to hear that we now get a chance to have a say in shaping our island home!

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the national planning agency in Singapore, is seeking feedback for its next Concept Plan 2011 which determines Singapore's development plans for the next 30-50 years.

URA wants to know what you, fellow Singaporeans, want for our island city state. Here is your chance to speak up for our sea shores and other nature areas! And our heritage areas too!

Do the URA survey for its Concept Plan 2011.

To quote Ria Tan of WildSingapore, "the survey is simple to do, with lots of free-text options for you to leave comments about your favourite places in Singapore. Speak up for our shores (and other nature areas)! Every voice counts! You can be sure lots of people will speak up for shopping centres so please speak up for our wild places! Get your like-minded friends to also speak up for our wild places and shores. "

For more on about the survey, see:
Wild shores of singapore blog

Read full article here

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crabby Tales: No Chili Required, Fri 15 Jan 2010, 7pm

The Leafmonkey Workshop is celebrating its 1st anniversary with its 13th workshop on Crabby Tales. But not to worry, no chili will be required! All you need to do is sign up and brace yourself for crabby tales accompanied with our birthday cake, good company and plenty of fun.

Thank you for supporting the Leafmonkey Workshop over its past year. We'll love to see familiar (and new faces) at our birthday celebration. Hope to see you there!

Date: 15 January 2010, Friday
Time: 7.00pm - 9.30pm
Venue: Civil Service College
31 North Buona Vista Road Singapore 275983

Register now at:

For more details, visit The Leafmonkey Workshop website.

Read full article here

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Impacts of Marine Aquaculture & Possible Solutions

It has hit the news of late that algal bloom over the Straits of Johor have deeply impacted the fish farms clustered in the straits off Pasir Ris, Changi and Pulau Ubin. A reporter from TODAY contacted me yesterday asking for comments on the impacts of fish farms and some possible solutions to allay these possible environmental impacts. This was probably after reading my blog post on Pulau Ubin Stories on Red Tide affecting Pulau Ubin. Interestingly, in September 2009, I also commented about the need to manage our aquaculture farms carefully in a Straits Times article about vanishing Kelongs in Singapore.

Knowing the limitations of a news article, I decided to share my long reply on this blog with all my readers as well. I must confess that I am no expert in aquaculture or marine systems, but here are my two cents worth based on some research I did doing my blog post as well as projects done on aquaculture in university.

Fish farms, if done sustainably, are important for supplementing our seafood supply and prevent overfishing. However, fish farms if not managed well, could result in major environmental pollution and further harm the wild population of fish in our seas. The sea is not an enclosed farm with concrete walls and any food, antibiotics fed to the fish, as well as the fish waste would eventually dispersed into the sea.

Also the household waste and sewage of the farm also needs to be managed properly. In a deep sea system with good water circulation, perhaps the concentration of nutrients and chemicals would be naturally diluted by the ocean currents. However, in the straits of johor, there is very poor circulation of water due to the causeway blocking circulations. Furthermore, locating large number of fish farms in clusters with poor circulation is potentially problematic as the sea is unable to naturally dilute the nutrients.

When nutrient level is very high, massive algal bloom will occur which may deplete oxygen supply in the waters. This not only kills the fish in the farms but all wild fish population. If the species of algae blooming contains toxin, then when humans consume the seafood affected by this algal bloom, they too will become sick.

For fish farms located near river mouths like those at Changi and Pasir Ris, they are affected by the monsoon flood discharges from both Singapore and Malaysia. The freshwater will float above the salt water and prevent oxygen from circulating and resulting in fish death as well. But these flood discharges may also carry with them more nutrients from agriculture or sewage discharges from the land into the sea. Combined with existing nutrients from fish farm, these could easily exacerbate the problem.

For solutions, we can do several things:

1) Understand well the geographical environment and ecological system of our waters before we locate our fish farms. For example, the fish farms off Semakau were not affected by the mass death because they are not near the coast or river mouths,and they have good circulation. Make sure that fish farms are not located too near existing coral reefs as well to minimise impact to our wild fish population. Changi, Ubin and Pasir Ris are all very near existing reefs such as Chek Jawa, Changi and Pasir Ris. Monsoon flood discharges will happen every year so perhaps locating far from river mouths and coastal areas will be helpful.

2) Do not cluster too many fish farms together in close vicinity to one another. This reduces the environment's natural ability to dilute pollutants and nutrients in the water. Overcrowding is a known problem in aquaculture. Both overcrowding of fish in each cell of a farm, and in this case, overcrowding of farms in one area with poor water circulation. [On hindsight: It's important to have scientific studies done on the treshold and carrying capacity of our waters and the number of fish farms it can support without resulting in future calamities]

3) Strong regulation and monitoring of fish farm practices are most critical. The amount of antibiotics and fish feed given, how the farms deal with fish waste, as well as, the sewage and household waste from the farm should be strongly regulated and monitored. Farmers should also be educated on proper practices. Good practitioners should be rewarded and best practises shared.

4) Consumers can also play a part in encouraging good practises if fish farms can be awarded sustainability labels for good practises by the government. These sustainable fish farms should be rewarded by consumers by buying only these sustainably-reared fish, identified by these labels. Most of the time, the problem in Singapore lies with ambivalent conusmers who do not question where their fish comes from. Also, there is a lack of information in our markets and supermarkets where there are no labels indicating origin of fish or how they are reared, especially those from local fish farms.

Please feel free to share your ideas and comments. Have you spot any factual errors? Please let me know!

Related Reads:
Marine Aquaculture, David Suzuki Foundation

Read full article here

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nature in the Heartlands: Toa Payoh Town Park

dragonflies at toa payoh!
Located beside the Pan Island Expressway and the Toa Payoh Swimming Pool, the Toa Payoh Town Park is one of the oldest neighborhood parks in Singapore developed in the 70s with Singapore's first satellite town. Despite being located beside the highway, the green belt acts as a buffer to the noise. It offers a relaxing sanctuary from the bustle of the mall that is just across the road. New plantings could be sighted amongst the old angsana trees heavy with staghorn ferns. These grand dames have probably seen the park change over the last 40 years.

Neighborhood parks like Toa Payoh Park are like a green oasis in the concrete landscapes that we are familiar with in our housing estates these days. One minute I could be walking past crowds at the HDB Hub and the next minute I feel like I have entered a secret garden, lined with trees that form a wall separating the garden and the madding crowd. It almost feels like they don't design parks the way they used to. New generation parks designed today seems to adopt an open concept which I suppose is inclusive but the concept of an enclosed lush green hideaway in the middle of the madding crowd appeals to me. Another of such a green oasis is the Istana Park located in the middle of orchard road.

View Toa Payoh Town Garden in a larger map

What more, wildlife appears to be teeming at the park as well! In fact, we were pleasantly greeted by these information boards about the dragonfly species which you can find at the park. And just as we were reading the signboard, a damselfly flew and settled on the blade of grass right in front of us. An excited monkey exclaimed immediately, "quick! quick! see which dragonfly is it!" but confronted with a choice of 6 different species on the board, we concluded that it must be "the red one", for obvious reasons.

For those who are unsure about the difference between dragonflies and damselflies, the next informative signboard down the path answered just that question! The table below from the insect page gives you some clue.

Eyesmost have eyes that touch, or nearly touch, at the top of the headeyes are clearly separated, usually appearing to each side of the head
Bodyusually stockyusually long and slender
Wing Shapedissimilar wing pairs, with hind wings broader at the baseall wings similar in shape
Position at Restwings held open, horizontally or downwardswings held closed, usually over abdomen
Discal Celldivided into trianglesundivided, quadrilateral
Male Appendagespair of superior anal appendages, single inferior appendagetwo pairs of anal appendages
Female Appendagesmost have vestigial ovipositorsfunctional ovipositors
Larvaebreathe through rectal tracheal gills; stocky bodiesbreathe through caudal gills; slender bodies

If you noticed the google map satellite image of the park, a series of freshwater habitats make up part of the park. The information board also pointed out how damselflies and dragonflies are important keystone species as they prefer clean clear unpolluted waters. In fact, in environmental assessment studies, the presence of eggs laid by mayflies, a relative of dragonflies and damselflies, are used as indicators of lake ecosystem health in the US. Perhaps likewise, dragonflies and damselflies play similar roles in our freshwater habitats. In Singapore, there are now about 117 species of dragonflies and damselflies, including some new records from last year. According to the signboard, a few species have gone extinct due to habitat loss.

If you're an enthusiast of our fragile winged friends, here's a guide from the Butterfly Circle blog which tells you more about butterfly photography at the Toa Payoh Town Park. It even includes a map of the place. In 2009, NParks held a workshop on creating dragonfly friendly habitats at the Toa Payoh Town Park! Personally I only happen to go there because dinner is in the middle of the park!

Read full article here

Saturday, January 02, 2010

NEA reaching out to new migrants

Chinese Version Tamil Version?

Spotted at 2 consecutive bus stops along boon lay way - the indian one at lakeside mrt and the chinese version one bus stop later. It's very interesting and creative for NEA to adopt targeted marketing outreach at our new migrant populations, using cultural design styles which they may be familiar with. It may also be the population in this residential area which sees large number of new transient migrants. Before you think it's discrimination, we must acknowledge that it is important to educate those who may not be familiar with our many 'fine' laws. These are purely information posters from what I can see. Anyone know which language is the indian one in? Hindi? Tamil? Urdu? Bengali?

Just as we need to understand more about natural systems when we design our developmental infrastructure, we also need to take into account cultural systems when we design our outreach efforts. Props to NEA for their creative effort!

On hindsight: @struthious on twitter commented that the ads are targeted at "foreign workers" and not "new migrants". I think that the issue here is their "newness" so let's not dispute whether the ads are for transient workers or new citizens. And we definitely cannot stereotype the demographics of what constitute "new migrants" - whether citizens, permanent residents or transients. Cultural habits, and baggage(!), may also transcend education background. For all its worth, I'm sure it'll serve its purpose for all new to Singapore. And perhaps some Singaporeans too!

Read full article here