Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Checking out the water quality of Chek Jawa (27 Jun 09)

Another day of predawn awakening to perform water quality monitoring. I guess time and tide wait for no man since seagrass monitoring has to be done at low tide and us water people have to match that timing.

Besides almost missing the seagrass people at the jetty (some of us were late), the boat trip and van ride to Chek Jawa was uneventful. Maybe "uneventful" sounds a bit bland because the best thing about waking up predawn is the chance to see the sun rise. How many of us actually still appreciate such simple joys? I always relish the experience of witnessing the beautiful egg yolk climbing up the horizon on a cheerful day. (I enjoy and cherish beautiful sunsets too.)

The other great thing about being early is we have the whole seagrass meadow to ourselves! And being part of Team Seagrass, we get to check out the whole place without being restricted to the designated areas for Nparks led tours. Yes, guys and girls, if you want to really experience Chek Jawa in its full glory, join Team Seagrass!

I must commend my water quality team for their efficiency. They seem to be able to finish their testing faster and faster each time. Of course, further testing will have to done on the water samples they brought back to the lab. Let me compile the data from the various seagrass sites before announcing how they compare to one another. (Sorry folks, I will only describe the water quality in qualitative terms. The real hard data will be submitted to Team Seagrass and Nparks and published officially elsewhere.)

As usual, you may check this Team Seagrass post for an alternative viewpoint of this monitoring session.

Figures (L-R, T-B):
My favourite moment of each day - sunrise (actually on par with sunset);
Trying to capture a popular photographer's stunt - mirror image of the seagrass landscape (ok, it was a bit off but still a good try, right?);
The water quality team (Nuan Qin is the shy one with the head turned);
I couldn't resist taking this photo of Ria during her briefing with a soaring jet in the background;
A good low tide exposing the sandbar delineating (possibly protecting) the seagrass meadow from the sea;
An icon of Chek Jawa, you won't miss it and if you see it, you know you are there (anyone knows what tree that is?);
Late morning - crowds coming in for the guided tours

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Singapore International Water Festival (SIWF) Environmental Quiz... at last! (19 - 21 Jun 09)

Good food, healthy turn-out and a few lessons in event management...

Yup, that is all I have to say about this inter-secondary school environmental competition organised by yours truly on a bright and cheerful SUNDAY (the caps are intentional).

I will henceforth let my figures do the talking (L-R, T-B):
Our MCs practising their scripts on 19 Jun 09, prior to the actual event on 21 Jun 09 (by the way, they did a marvellous job!);
Other helpers going through their designated roles on 19 Jun - you can certainly see that stress is not on their minds;
The actual day - student competitors in the front, teachers at the back (no, the teachers are not supposed to help);
A side event - my short and sweet poster presented at the concurrent exhibition manned by 3 of my students;
Dragon boaters in formation warming up for the competition (NOT my quiz but their dragon boat race);
The quiz finalists with our director in the customary photo shoot at the end.

Return to Binjai Stream (18 Jun 09)

After almost a year of absence, I have returned to this pristine and quiet piece of natural real estate to do some impromptu testing of the water quality. (The serenity was briefly disrupted by some grass cutters contracted to maintain the stream but of greater disturbance was the large numbers of half eaten durians left by durian hunters during this durian season.)

A brief background... you won't find "Binjai Stream" in any map or directory. Most maps won't even show that this stream exists even though Nparks has indicated this nameless stream on its signboard. And no, the name doesn't come from me. I got it from my good pal, Allen of Team Spreo who first brought me here. "Binjai" comes from the entrance to the stream near Binjai Park around Bukit Timah area.

Then why isn't Binjai Stream my favourite haunt for water quality monitoring? (See here for my favourite haunt.) To those who want to check out the stream, you have to overcome a major problem - landslides are very common along the stream, especially upstream of the "bridge". Together with the landslides, you have fallen trees and vegetation, forming an inpenetrable mess. (To those rambos out there who fantasise about hacking through with machetes, good luck...)

Actually, Binjai Stream was one of my monitoring sites in 2008. Yet, despite making at least 9 trips there (some by my students), it was never clear from beginning to end. You can imagine my hearty grin when I made my first trip here in 2009 and found it to be... CLEAR! (All right, I admit there were some fallen trees, vegetation and mud but these were minor inconveniences.) My group was indeed very lucky. Expectedly, this site has since been dropped from my monitoring list.

Here are some more interesting tidbits about Binjai Stream from my correspondence with Joseph Lai:
  1. The source of Binjai Stream came all the way from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) up the side of Cave Path.
  2. The trickle from Cave Path flows through a brick encasement to Senapang before reaching the upstream of Binjai Stream. There used to be a community washing point that resembled a square well with steps leading down to it.
You may also check out Serene's blog for an alternative account of the stream.

Figures (L-R, T-B): Fallen tree trunk - one of the easily passable ones;
We came across this odd patch of low lying vegetation when the rest of the stream is dominated by trees and shrubs;
The "Bridge" - downstream is usually clear while its upstream is usually NOT;
Clear waters running over a sandy bed; the true gems of the stream - a couple of mini waterfalls I have yet to see anywhere else in Singapore;
"end point" of Binjai Stream - according to Joseph, these steep cascading drains serve both the surface drains and overflow from the covered Murnane Reservoir nearby.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Advanced elective module (AEM): Water quality and pollution (8 - 15 Jun 09)

What an intense week! 6 consecutive days of conducting my AEM to W5 cluster of schools. Luckily, the AEM involves 3 field trips and 1 out-of-classroom lesson at the local pond. They certainly spice up the entire module. To make this post short and sweet, I will only include highlights of the module here.

Bug hunting. This time round, we gave SP Forest a miss as the whole area appeared to be under construction. Instead, we headed to a tributary of Sungei Pandan. This stream flows adjacent to AYE, next to International Business Park. Lots of snails, dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs and fishes in the water. Even managed to scoop up a freshwater eel.

Back to my number one favourite haunt for water quality monitoring - Ngee Ann Stream. The place is fascinating for its variety of habitats which the stream passes - open country natural to secondary forest to open country urban. You even get to find riffles (so rare in our water bodies) in a part of the forest. As usual, we had our customary group photo at one of the more scenic spots.

Its educational value is also underscored by having 2 tributaries (1 from Clementi Road, another from Bukit Timah Road) joining up to hit Ulu Pandan Road. Based on the water quality data, the 2 tributaries have rather distinct personalities e.g. pH, turbidity, iron, alumuminium, conductivity. But of particular concern is the rather high pH (> 9) in the tributary from Bt Timah Rd. This was never observed in 2008 even though the values were consistent with the data collected in the previous week in a course for MOE (see earlier post). I will reserve my speculations till further data is available.

This time round, we tried a new field location - Sungei Pandan/ Pandan Mangroves. This is one of the rare mangrove swamps which is not found in the northern coast of Singapore. (Purists may argue that this is not a true mangrove as it does not possess all the defining vegetation and habitats but what the heck.)
Any scientific study in mangroves or coasts will have to check out the tides. We found ourselves in a rising tide but still at a relatively low level, meaning mud walking (or sinking) for all involved.
Found lots of Passiflora foetida growing wild and managed to sample some ripe fruits before the birds get to them.
This stretch of Sg Pandan is especially interesting as its flow is dammed by a set of sluice gates. The water quality data will immediately scream out the differences between the stretches before and after the gates, the most basic being one side having fresh water while the other side has salt water.

Some commonly seen activities of students: trying out the disposable glove in a way it is not designed for; drying out the feet when the shoes are wet

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Workshop/course for MOE: My forest is DYING and the role of water quality (Ngee Ann Stream, 4 Jun 09)

If there is a "best job in the world" for me, this is it (for now). How often does one get to work on something one enjoys and get paid for it? (Admittedly, my pay is small change compared to what Ben Southall is getting for being Islands Caretaker starting 1 July.) In my case, I get to breathe nature's fresh air, perform water quality monitoring and teach all in one day. Of course, I must commend my participants for being such wonderful learners and clients to make this course so smooth.

For the educators out there who have never conducted field trips before, let me tell you what you have been missing. No doubt, your participants may complain vehemently during the trip - the usual mozzies, mud, slippery slopes etc. But you can bet that 9 out of 10 of them will feel glad that they made it for the trip which more often than not is voted as the highlight of the course.

The bonding you see in the participants is priceless. In no other courses (without field work) will you ever see such active and mutual support among the participants. The tougher the trip, the more pronounced this is.

This is of course nothing new to groups engaged in outdoor pursuits e.g. cadet corps, rockclimbing, trekking. A variant of this observation has been drilled into me all the way from my scouts days to my army daze. "If people suffer together, they become more united." I certainly do not believe that suffering is necessary in my courses but a little discomfort will go a long way in providing an enriching experience to the participants, mentally and physically.

On a gentler note, I sincerely believe that nobody wants to let his team down. He will try his utmost to fulfill the team's mission even if that means facing discomfort or worse.

After all, how often do you hear your particpants proudly declaring, "we have conquered Ngee Ann Stream"?

Figures (L-R, T-B): Ladies (busy) at work; going out on a limb to get the job done; holding on to one another and the "railing" to navigate the slimy floor; the whole Team at work; group photo at one of the more scenic spots; displaying the badges of honour - muddied shoes and feet; climbing out of the frying pan...; safe and sound in the classroom.

A new toy: acoustic doppler profiler (ADP)

Heard of a remote controlled boat (similar in size to a model boat) that can effortless plot your river's cross-sectional area (depth, width all included)? I have and I even found out that PUB has just such a toy. How exciting! Determining the dimensions of water channels for water quality modelling will be a zilch.

Heard of how expectations tend to blind us to reality? The model sized boat turned out to be kayak sized behemoth (ok, I am exaggerating) that does not move on its own power and needs to towed. Bye bye remote control. Furthermore, this behemoth has a draft of 20-30cm and a blind zone of ~20cm upwards from the channel bed. ~ half a metre of depth without data! Why does anyone want to use this thing?

It turned out that some researchers have been using this toy to map the Marina Reservoir (dammed up by Marina Barrage). Since the depth is typically several metres, half a metre of blind zone is acceptable (?).

You probabaly can guess it by now. This toy is not for me. My water channels are too shallow, I don't have a motor boat to drag this thing (can I drag it by muscle strength?) and the software is kind of buggy. Still, I have provided a photo here of the toy in case you are thrilled to use this thing.