Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Closing 2008 and welcoming 2009

Today is the last day of 2008 so this will be a good time to review all that has been done this year and to preview what is to come in 2009.

Our water quality monitoring activities have finally ended for 2008. With much data to sort through, it is fortuitous that the next round of monitoring will only start in April 2009.

Within this short reprieve, the current data will be analysed as they are, as well as compared against data from previous years. This can be tedious but it is a labour of love. If feasible, data will be published through suitable media (this means more writing and thinking).

These are the areas monitored in 2008:
  1. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR)
  2. Bukit Timah area - Binjai
  3. Bukit Timah area - King Albert Park
  4. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR)
  5. Sungei Mandai Besar
  6. Nee Soon Freshwater Swamp
In addition, a one-off water quality survey was done in Mandai Training Area, deep inside Mindef territory.
For 2009, besides monitoring the nature reserves - BTNR, SBWR and Nee Soon, some new and exciting initiatives are lined up. We are planning to work with Team Seagrass and Nparks to complement their seagrass monitoring with our water quality monitoring. Imagine the benefit of having a more comprehensive picture of what is happening around when we can cross-reference each other's data.
Also in the works, we will try out water quality modelling of selected streams/canals. This is immensely useful for making predictions of water quality and determining the critical loading points of the stream/canal.
Education wise, we have successfully conducted a workshop on water quality monitoring for secondary school teachers. Another run is scheduled in June 2009. Also planned are at least 2 enrichement modules on water quality for secondary schools in 2009. Besides the usual classroom lessons, the students will be exposed to field work and laboratory work.
Happy New Year to all and may 2009 be more enriching and exciting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Finally... some decent bugs (macroinvertebrates) found in a local pond (17 Dec 2008)

It is amazing how nature can be around you and yet you have no idea that it exists. Case in point. A forest stands opposite my workplace and I have never wanted to check it out since it looks rather small and there is no clear path going in. This is until I stumbled upon this blog describing this interesting patch of forest filled with a rich variety of fauna. The rest is history.

The most relevant discovery is a nice, tranquil and best of all, natural pond within the forest. This is especially useful for conducting my water quality workshops without the need to travel far from campus. At first glance, the pond appeared to be a muddy pool of water with the mud probably caused by run-off from an adjacent construction site. This doesn't look good for finding a healthy community of aquatic bugs.

Refusing to be deterred, I made a second trip here with Esther and gang. Upon closer look, the pond is filled with hydrilla and bubbles are constantly bursting at the surface. Perhaps, the dissolved oxygen level is better than expected. (Forgive me for not bringing along my DO meter.)

After some digging around at the bottom and sweeping in whatever gets dug up, were we surprised at what we found. Mayflies, dragonflies, damsel flies, water stick insect (first time I saw a live one!), leech (first time I saw one in Singapore!), chironomids, sludge worms (lots of them), beetle larva and pond skaters on the surface. Did I mention mayflies? Yes, the water quality must be better than it seemed.

The best thing about field work is you see living things living, moving and in their original colours. Do you know that mayflies and damsel flies can be green? Nothing beats seeing live, red bloodworms (chironomids). Live ones are far more exciting than the boring and uniformly white or brown specimens (dead by the way) in collection jars in the lab.

Figures (L-R, T-B): Pandan grows abundantly around the pond, someone mentioned that these are potent mosquito repellents. I am skeptical; beetle larva attached to a dead leaf in the pond; damsel fly (top) and water stick insect (bottom); Albizia trees crowd the sky; Seemingly muddy and lifeless pond; aquatic leech attached to underwater hydrilla, doesn't seem to feed on human blood; aggressive predator - dragonfly, and some snail shells.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NUS-LKYSPP Climate Change Essay Competition

15 Dec 2008

To: All Tertiary Institution Council for Environment (TICE) members

NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) jointly present
Climate Change Essay Competition

Theme: Climate Change: Implications for Singapore

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that anthropogenic climate change is now unequivocal, citing evidence from rising global average sea levels, global average air and ocean temperatures and widespread melting of snow and ice. In response to the IPCC scientific consensus on climate change, Singapore released its National Climate Change Strategy in late Feb 2008 to address various aspects of climate change from vulnerability, adaptation, mitigation and competency building to international participation. At the same time, the government announced the formation of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development to formulate a clear, national framework and strategy for Singapore's sustainable development in the context of emerging global and domestic challenges, especially if the current international negotiations on climate change culminate in a post-2012 agreement that results in a carbon constrained world.

As a small island state, Singapore faces several domestic constraints including limited natural resources, geographical constraints which prevent the effective deployment of renewable energy, and an open economy that relies heavily on fossil fuels. Given these domestic challenges and that international negotiations on climate change are still evolving, what are the implications for Singapore's economy, governance and society?

NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy cordially invite you to take part in our climate change essay competition. We are seeking essays that:

      a. Critically assess and provide insights to Singapore's climate change policy.
      b. Provide innovative solutions that address both the global climate challenge and the country's domestic concerns.

All students studying at Singapore's tertiary institutions (universities and polytechnics) are eligible to apply for the competition.

All essays should not exceed 2000 words (excluding tables, charts and references) and should be accompanied by a 200 word abstract (included in word count). Each essay can have up to 3 authors. Essays should observe 1.5 spacing and Times New Roman font size 12. Normal academic standards regarding footnotes, references, etc. apply.

1st prize: cash prize of S$1000 and certificate
2nd prize: cash prize of S$500 and certificate
3RD prize: cash prize of $300 and certificate
The top 3 winners of the competition will present at the National Sustainability Conference 2009 on 20, 21 and 22 February, which is hosted by NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan. Essays will be judged by two professors from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The deadline for submission is 16 January 2009. Send a softcopy addressed to Mr Loo Deliang at Please provide authors' names, institution of study, email addresses and contact details.

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report,
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
National Climate Change Strategy,
Sustainable Singapore,

For enquiries, please contact Mr Loo Deliang at or at 6516 1983.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What does a water quality laboratory look like?

Some time back, I have a query asking about the facilities I use for my water quality monitoring activities. I guess it is time to have a short preview.

This is the Environmental Technology Lab in SP where most of the lab work is done. Unlike the universities or research institutions, we do not have the luxury of being assigned a research lab so the photo below shows the lab as it is most often used - normal day-to-day teaching of practical skills to our full-time students. We do our microbiological work in another lab while hazardous work is done in a fume hood in yet another lab.

The next query that came in - what are your most sophisticated (implying expensive)instruments? Here they and they do sound a mouthful: (L) inductively coupled plasma - optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES); (R) gas chromatograph - mass spectrometer (GC-MS). The ICP-OES is capable of detecting minute quantities of heavy metals e.g. lead, chromium in water while the GC-MS can identify and quantify minute quantities of organic compounds e.g. pesticides, even melamine.

In reality, the routine water quality tests are less elaborate ones which function as our workhorses e.g. pH, DO, COD, coliform. They can give a reasonable overview of the water quality in a short time, allowing any unusual occurences to be flagged out. Because of the hassle and costs, the high-end equipment are used for advanced monitoring when special pollutants are suspected to be present.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Research interests of our top secondary school students - Science Mentorship Programme (SMP)

Please refer to this link to MOE for more details.

SMP is a platform for gifted secondary school students to propose a research project which will be matched to a suitable mentor in a tertiary institution.

A quick summary of the proposed projects:
* Some projects are classified into more than 1 category.

A quick glance will indicate that there are no projects on conservation/ nature/ biodiversity.
Even the one project on botany deals with molecular biology.
The one project on environmental science deals with purification of water which has commercial value and is of interest to national security.
Not unexpectedly, medicine and health takes top place. Besides the publicity given by the government and media, it really is something close to everyone's heart.

Mystery of crocs' mass die-off: gharials in India

Another example to illustrate the importance of good water quality to ecology. Hey, these gharials don't even stay in the water all the time but they are still exposed to the effects of water pollution and poor water quality. This piece of news also shows that such effects need not be localised or even confined to downstream of a pollution event. (The crocs are actually staying in a clean tributary upstream but because they feed in polluted waters downstream, they become implicated.)

via wildsingapore news by (ria) on 12/2/08

BBC News 2 Dec 08; Measuring up to 6m long, with elongated narrow snouts, gharials are one of the world's most distinctive-looking crocodilians. Just 100 years ago, these fish-eating reptiles were prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent; but by 2007, there were just 200 breeding adults found in only a handful of rivers in India and Nepal. Last winter, this already critically endangered species was dealt another cruel blow. Over the space of just five months, more than 100 of the creatures washed up dead on the banks of India's Chambal river - and nobody knew why. For the past year,...

this is a summary, for the full version visit the wild news blog

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pesticide triggers a food chain cascade

More often than not, an environmental disturbance spreads its effects throughout the ecosystem, affecting many inhabitants in unexpected and usually adverse ways. My favourite phrase in these instances will be, "everything is linked to everything else."