Urban Tropical Ecology in Singapore

Day Five
by -- March 17th, 2012

Today we traveled by ferry to the islands of Saint John’s and Semakau. These Islands are in the Straits of Malacca; just south of the main island of Singapore. On Saint John’s we visited TMSI, the Tropical Marine Science Institute, part of NUS the National University of Singapore. TMSI is similar to the Duke Marine Lab with many of their marine science researchers based on the island. We heard talks by researchers working on flood forecasting and nowcasting that use rainfall data and computer models to project flood levels and areas to help manage the reservoirs in Singapore to prevent flooding in the streets. We also heard from researchers working on Giant Clams. There are 10 species of Giant Clams that occur across the Indo-Pacific area, but in Singapore there are currently only 2 species, and there are only 28 and 34 individuals alive in the waters around Singapore. Giant Clams are similar to corals in that they have symbiotic zooxanthelle in their tissues to photosynthetically produce energy. They are at risk from the aquarium trade, collection for the shells, and they are still eaten in some countries. The researchers are attempting to raise clams in a hatchery in the hopes of augmenting the wild population and learning how to grow them in aquaculture.

After lunch on the veranda of TMSI, we headed to Semakau Island. Semakau is the landfill for the country of Singapore, the island is 3.5 square km, with space for 63 million cubic meters of fill. The landfill opened 12 years ago and is expected to be used until 2045. Singaporeans produce about 7000 tons of solid waste per day that is then incinerated in co-generation plants. The remaining ash is barged out to Semakau then spread and compacted. The Singapore government is working to become a zero waste country by increasing recycling, reducing non-recyclable wastes, and converting incinerator ash into construction materials to extend the lifespan of Semakau.

The island is also used for educational tours, birdwatching, sport-fishing, and stargazing. We spotted egrets, kept our eyes out for monitor lizards, and looked out across the Straits of Malacca to Indonesia. After our long day in the sun and on the water we headed back to the main island.

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