29 September 2009

Prof Peter Ng on "Climate Change and Marine Biodiversity - Lessons from a Small Red Dot"

Prof Peter Ng gave yet another sobering but inspiring talk this evening.
With passion and energy as usual, he shared some thought-provoking aspects of the biodiversity and climate change challenges we face today.

Just because Singapore is small doesn't mean we are irrelevant. In fact, we are a microcosm of some of the issues that the world faces today. And indeed, some of our approaches may have relevance. This is something I very much agree with.
The world is wondrously full of a diversity of life. The bulk of which we know little or nothing about. Just this moment as I am blogging there is news of a report that documents every known species on the planet. And that these known species make up only about 4% to 40% of all species that might be out there!
Singapore's biodiversity has suffered massively in the course of 'improvement' aka development. Massive reclamation has destroyed much of our coastal ecosystems.
A great deal of our reefs are gone.
And almost all of our mangroves and intertidal habitats are lost.
Yet, in recent times, there has been positive developments to turn the tide. And here are some of the many individuals involved in this effort. In the photo, I recognise Subaraj at the helm, with Zeehan facing the photographer. I wonder what they were up to?
Among some of the positive developments were the designation of Sungei Buloh and Labrador as Nature Reserves. The hope is for this to be extended in the future to areas such as Chek Jawa.
Prof Peter also share about how Pulau Semakau has now become an icon of sustainable management of our trash. When 'brown' and 'green' issues have converged to a good compromise. I do agree that, facing land constraints, Singapore has had to be sustainable long before it was fashionable to do so.
He also shared some possible plans for Semakau Landfill. I share in his amusement at the thought of a golf course on land built on ash of our trash.
He also touched on some efforts to restore our marine habitats. He emphasised the importance of ensuring clear and clean waters. Once we achieve this, the corals will naturally return to our shores.
And our shores are still alive with special flora and fauna. Many, such as the very rare Dipteris fern are found in our military areas which ironically best protect our biodiversity. Some animals are also globally described from Singapore specimens.
Of course, Prof Peter's favourite animals take centre stage. The crabs do look very cute.
The update to the Singapore Red Data Book was another recent effort by the biodiversity community in Singapore to work on a better understanding of our natural heritage and thus to protect it. There is, as always, much yet to be done.
Human-caused climate change is a major issue. With a whole host of disastrous consequences in the future.
For Singapore, the prospect of rising sea levels is particularly dire. Prolonged flooding is a possibility if there is coincidence of extreme weather at high tide. This can seriously impact us economically and in our daily lives.
Prof has really snazzy maps of Singapore that are much better than Google Earth. I'm quite jealous of these maps. The blue parts are the low lying areas that are at risk. Oh dear. This doesn't look very good at all. See also Singapore at 7m sea level rise: is anything sticking out at all above the water?
As usual, Prof is not one to mince words and he shares the blunt truth.
What is in danger is not the planet but humans. Long after we are gone, like the dinosaurs, life will continue on the planet.
Among the several thoughts he shared was this last quote.
I do feel there is much that we can each do. To lead a more sustainable lifestyle. To contribute towards our wild places. One person CAN make a difference: Simply explore, express and act.

Before Prof Peter's talk, Adj Assoc. Prof. Stella Tan gave a talk on 'CSI: NUS - Forensic Science and the Law'
But she specifically prohibited photos of her talk, so there's none on this post.
It was quite interesting, in a rather queezy, cringey kind of way, to learn a bit about forensics and DNA sampling and court processes. Sure makes me what to stay well away from any sort of homicidal situation.

As usual, the talk was a great opportunity to catch up with people I haven't seen for the longest time. Everyone's so busy with all kinds of exciting projects. And also to make new friends. Glad to hear more will be joining us on our field trips!

It was a great series of talks in celebration of the Department of Biological Sciences' 60th anniversary. They were put together by Prof Peter Todd. I'm sorry it's come to an end. Hope we don't have to wait another 60 years for a similar series of talks!

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