Urban Tropical Ecology in Singapore

Day by the Bay
by -- February 27th, 2017

North

South

It’s astonishing to me that in the 360-degree view I had from the top of the Marina South Pier where our journey this morning began, one half was engulfed by calm blue water, while the other side was as urban as you can get, with skyline and port as far as the eye can see. If these two panoramas don’t speak volumes to the incredible complexity of Singapore’s role as an urban superpower in the midst of the most beautiful tropical paradise, probably nothing can.

We quickly turned our back on the urban environment though for the day, and half an hour later, our ferry dropped us off on a much slower paced island: our first stop of the day, St. John’s.

St Johns Island

St. John’s was historically a penal colony island as well as a quarantine center, but today, boasts the Tropical Marine Science Institute of NUS as well as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore. We spent the morning wandering along the seawall and listening to the wisdom of Sek and Joyce, the outreach team there. In just the short hour we were wandering around before lunch, the biodiversity we saw was tenfold anything I’d noticed so far in the city. The short list includes:

  • cats
  • hybridized jungle fowl
  • nerita snails
  • sally lightfoot crabs
  • sergeant major fish
  • anchovies
  • casuarina trees
  • sea almond trees
  • oriental dollar bird
  • oil palm
  • white-bellied sea eagle
  • leaf weaver ants
  • petai tree
  • tembusu tree
  • tempanis tree
  • Asian koel bird

And that was only during the walk to the marine lab. Once we were there Dr. Serena Teo showed us around, giant clams included, and let us know all about the work the center is doing with the World Harbor Project, the new Sisters’ Islands Singapore Marine Park, giant clam rearing, and more.

Giant clams in aquaculture.

The people at TMSI were great educators and so passionate; it was really great to see some research and such an appreciation for the natural environment going on so close to the city.

We island-hopped our way home again through Kusu island, a smaller island where the tortoises and monitor lizards rule, before meandering across Singapore in Mr. Lim’s bus to Coney Island, the only natural “rustic” beach we went to today.

Kusu Island

Rustic is the word Singapore used to describe it, but in actuality, the only grimy or unkempt part of this beach was incredibly depressing amount of trash all over. I could not believe that even with the new marine park the government was advocating, in addition to all of the nature parks we’ve seen in the city so far, that people here could possibly ignore or leave this kind of trash and biological hazard in what could have been one of their most natural and healthy places.

Even with the saddening amount of trash, I was hopeful for the biodiversity we saw there despite the situation. We passed nearly a dozen carpet anemones on our walk, in addition to parchment worms, several crab species, many snails, flatworms, beaded anemones and more.

Beach at Coney Island.

Though it is hard to see sometimes when surrounded by skyscrapers in the city, it is clear to me after today that urban ecology, and more importantly, conservation, is of paramount importance in growing places like Singapore. While urban growth and nature conservation don’t often go hand in hand, Singapore so far has shown me that they are not mutually exclusive. With that being said, there is still so much room for improvement here. The ecological engineering firms, marine researchers, and others we have met with are definitely doing their part and having beneficial impacts. It just may take a few more people getting on board.

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