18 August 2009

Prof Leo Tan on "Confessions of a Nature Addict"

It's always a joy to listen to the inspirational Prof Leo Tan.
Today he shared more insights and provide food for thought about biodiversity in Singapore and its conservation.

In his talk "Confessions of a Nature Addict" which is part of the 60th Anniversary celebrations of the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, Prof Leo touched on a wide range of issues.

He shared how parts of our concrete jungle have been turned back to nature. Such as the concretised canals at Sungei Api Api which are been reworked so that it appears to be a natural mangrove lined stream. Here's one of our trips to this lovely stretch of seemingly natural mangroves! I didn't know then that it was formerly a canal!
Prof Leo highlights that there are still many wild places in Singapore with a wide variety of wildlife.
Including places such as Chek Jawa. The tough issue is how to convince decision makers that there is value in conserving these places. He shared how the government's efforts to conserve such places actually stood Singapore in good stead. For example, these efforts led international judges to rule in Singapore's favour during a dispute over the environmental impact of our reclamation work.
Prof Leo also shared how Sungei Buloh persuaded a rich American investor to invest in Singapore. He was an avid birder and at first did not want to invest or stay in Singapore. But changed his mind when he saw that he could spend time on his favourite activity in Singapore.
Long before sustainable development was fashionable, Prof Leo was already involved in arguing for sustainability in the construction of our only landfill at Semakau. He shared how he convinced the decision makers to pay for mangrove reforestation there as the trees would provide accurate biological monitoring of the site. Again such efforts contributed to Singapore's green credentials internationally.
Of course Prof Leo shared about the shore closest to his heart. Prof has worked long and hard on Labrador shore, which he highlights is our last mainland shore with reefs, seagrasses and other marine life, much as what Raffles would have seen when he first landed in Singapore.
Another heartwarming story Prof Leo shared was about how a Hawskbill turtle laid eggs on East Coast beach. Prof Diong rescued the eggs and managed to hatch most of them. They were eventually released on East Coast and in the decades to come, they will come back to this, their home beach to lay the next generation of sea turtles!
While we have had some successes in reintroducing some wildlife such as the Pied oriental hornbills, there are others that are in desperate straits such as the Banded leaf monkey and the freshwater crab Johora singaporensis which are endemic, i.e., only found in Singapore.
There is still much to do and who is to get this done?
Prof Leo encourages all of us to do our part!
Wow, it's always inspiring to listen to Prof Leo!

Before Prof Leo spoke, Prof. Paul Matsudaira gave a most interesting talk about "Movement in Life" at the microscopic level. With gianomous images and video clips of tiny critters.
His easy-to-understand explanations brought to life the fascinating feats that these specks of life perform. The coiled action of this single-celled organism has the equivalent power of between an F1 sportscar and a jet!Movement is involved in cell division that results all lifeforms, and in keeping them alive. It was enthralling to watch the clip of the determined action of a teeny bacteria-eating blob among our blood cells as it doggedly chased down a bacteria.
Then there is mind-boggling molecular level thingie that happens to direct traffic in nerve cells (well, OK, I got a bit lost in the explanation here). But it was quite fascinating.
And all this is being studied by a multi-discplinary team that is among the first to be established, and in Singapore!
Wow, it's been a long long day that started at midnight and field trips will start again in four hours. But there sure is a lot to learn and do for our wild places and wild life!

It was also good to catch up with those who attended the talk.
Jeffrey provided much amusement for me as he tried all manner of book arrangements to fix up a tripod to take photos of Prof Leo during his talk.

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