Government Administrators and Macaques

Our Friday morning began with a visit to the PUB, or the Singaporean equivalent of the EPA, for a presentation on one of their water education outreach programs. Proceeding through the impregnable building’s security to the floor housing the Public Utility Board’s Water unit we found ourselves strutting through a series of cubicles overflowing with papers, the humming of typing, and ringing phones to a conference room. We were greeted by a number of engineers who headed up Singapore’s decade old ABC water program (Active, Beautiful, and Clean). The overarching goal of the plan was to engage Singaporeans more with their waterways and reservoirs and ultimately promote their importance to the city-state. We were guided through how the government had designed ecologically friendly parks and swales to mitigate flooding, implemented natural measures to purify water and promote biodiversity, and finally open up and transform public water stores to citizens for outdoor activities. Water is an extremely important and limited resource in Singapore, so naturally containing and purifying it is in the public’s best interest. We had recently visited a couple of the parks specifically built under this program and had documented some of the animals we had seen there. Dr. Dan gave a short presentation of our findings. This is information that is apparently top secret, and Dr. Dan is now a fugitive of Singapore.

After our foray into Singapore’s government, we speed-walked to the United States Embassy, cruised through security and landed in front of a panel of embassy staff. The panelists included a diplomatic public affairs staffer, a security specialist, a Department of Commerce associate and a facilities manager. We were educated on the roles and responsibilities of the United States embassy – more so than just a place to go if you lose your passport. The State Department officials essentially market America to the Singaporeans and create communication channels with the Singaporean government, in particular with trade and security intelligence.  Large issues include the downfall of TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), the “America First” directive from the new administration, and promotion of business deals in Southeast Asia. We lay rest assured that our federal government is hard at work even across the globe!

Our last activity of the day landed us at the Marina South Pier where we boarded a “bumboat” to one of Sisters’ Islands right off the coast of Singapore. Sisters’ Islands are mythically believed to be created after two sisters were separated by pirates and jumped into the sea one night as they could not live apart. The next morning the islands are said to have magically appeared. The island we visited boasts an intertidal zone and various troupes of aggressive Macaques. After being warned about stonefish and deadly snails, we waded in the intertidal zone, gazing at mega-cargo ships passing into the distance. Our guide, Ivan, pointed out various organisms in the water from corals to sponges. Sisters’ island was inducted as Singapore’s first ever marine park in 2014 with 40 acres – a major milestone for a nation with more than 300 terrestrial parks. The island visit came to an end as a major thunderstorm closed in on the group, and one student lost their pistachios to a group of aggressive monkeys.

Friday was a busy day in Singapore, but nonetheless full of new and exciting adventures.