20 July 2011

Singapore Biodiversity Encyclopedia is launched!

The much anticipated Encyclopedia has been launched! Finally, a great reference for everyone interested in learning and doing more for Singapore's biodiversity.
I'm particularly keen to find out what the book says about our marine biodiversity and conservation efforts.

What makes the Encyclopedia special is the series of essays that give a great introduction to important issues. There is an entire chapter on intertidal habitats! It discusses why species richness remains surprisingly resilient despite the massive transformation of Singapore's coastlines. Yes, our shores are still very much alive!
The chapter discusses rocky shores, mangroves, seagrasses and estuaries. With special box mentions of Labrador, Chek Jawa and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, all my favourite places!
There is a separate chapter for subtidal marine habitats which discusses open water, sea floor and coral reefs of Singapore and the threats these face. A great compilation for a quick but thorough understanding of the issues.
Here, I was pleasantly surprised to see three of my photos featured in the Encyclopedia, although the photos were attributed to Keppel Corporation. The jellyfish, cave corals and sea fan photos were taken by me at the request of Keppel Marina in their effort to document the marvellous marine life that have settled naturally at their marina. More of my photos of Keppel Marina here. Debby of Hantu Bloggers, Abigayle of the Blue Water Volunteers and other volunteers also contributed photos to this effort which is showcased on the Keppel Marina website.
It was nice to see a chapter on NGOs and the nature community written by Shawn Lum, President of the Nature Society (Singapore). There is quite a bit there about Chek Jawa, with sections entitled "Chek Jawa and the Rise of the People Sector" as well as "Post-Chek Jawa and the Proliferation of the Nature Community". Telling the Chek Jawa story reminds me of the proverbial group of blind men trying to figure out what an elephant is. Understandably, each of us involved in the thick of the Chek Jawa episode have our own view of what happened. I always find it interesting to learn the views of others. Piecing these together gives us a glimpse of the 'elephant'.
How interesting to see the range of ground efforts that are featured in this chapter. Such as the Bird Ecology Study Group and Hantu Bloggers. The book also mentions other groups close to my heart such as wildsingapore, TeamSeagrass and the Naked Hermit Crabs.
N. Sivasothi's ancient Habitatnews blog that predates all other web efforts is featured under the chapter on "Non-formal Biodiversity Education". Also the wonderful folks at Cicada Tree Eco Place who focus on much needed nature education of our youngest children.
This chapter highlights that such non-formal education is integral to biodiversity education in Singapore. What I like to call raising "ecological literacy" among ordinary people. It's great that the much loved BP guidebooks are featured too. These affordable booklets are often what people turn to in the field. Some of these guidebooks on marine topics have long been online.
Also great to see a chapter on "Nature Photography" by Dr Chua Ee Kiam, who shares the illustrious history of photography in raising nature awareness. He includes a section on how to avoid harming biodiversity while taking photos. Author of many many inspiring books lavishly illustrated with photos, Dr Chua is the best author for this chapter!
Important for those who want to do more to protect our biodiversity are the chapters on "Threats to Singapore Biodiversity" that identifies habitat loss and modification as the Number One threat. Invasive alien species is also extensively discussed. Other threats include over-exploitation and pollution. There is an entire chapter on "Climate Change and Biodiversity in Singapore".
Another chapter I found interesting is "Legal Protection for Nature in Singapore" where I learnt that "the Fisheries Act prohibits the unlicensed use of fishing gear such as gill nets and fish traps within Singapore waters". Something to look into as part of our Project Driftnet. The section on Marine Conservation Laws admits "there are no laws designating any marine parks or sanctuaries, or that protect the marine environment or specific species. It is also unclear which government agency has responsibility for the marine enviroment. Those inadequacies should be addressed." The chapter also discusses EIAs (Environmental Impact Assessments) and considers the lack of provisions mandating EIAs, not withstanding Singapore being party to many international "hard and soft laws", as "one glaring inadequacy in Singapore's environmental laws".
I found the chapter on the history of biodiversity research fascinating. There is lots about the Raffles Museum! For information online about the 'old' Raffles Museum, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and the upcoming new Lee Kong Chian Natural History museum, see this post.
The rest of the book is devoted to information on organisms in Singapore. The entries in this section are probably not intended to be read in sequence, although I found it interesting to do so. Readers would probably refer to specific entries as and when they need to. Organisms are listed by common names. But good cross referencing and a massive index should help us easily find what we need. Each entry gives brief mention of key and interesting facts.
The book is clearly a labour of love by many many people. It should be a great reference for everyone who wants to learn more and do more for our biodiversity! Bravo!

I particularly agree with Prof Peter Ng's hopes for the book as shared the Straits Times article about the launch: "To encourage Singaporeans to cultivate an interest in local creatures and plants, rather than concentrating only on those in other countries, such as pandas."
According to media articles: The encyclopedia project was started by Prof Peter Ng, director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, and Prof Leo Tan, director of special projects at the NUS Faculty of Science. It involved 65 contributors from academia, government agencies and environmental activist groups. From insects to flora and fauna, virtually every known living organism in Singapore is featured in the book. The 552-page encyclopedia took three years to complete, and charts almost 200 years of natural history study in the country. The encyclopedia was funded by $1.1 million of donations from firms such as Exxon Mobil Asia-Pacific and the Lee Foundation, as well as private entrepreneurs Sam Goi and Oei Hong Leong. The encyclopedia will serve as a resource material for scientists, policy makers and educationists.

The book retails at $69.50 and N. Sivasothi has kindly listed some other options for getting it at a lower price.

Other posts about this book


  1. Yes, the inadequacies in marine conservation should be addressed. I really hope to see marine parks being established in Singapore, like those in Hong Kong:


  2. Thank you Tang for dropping by the blog. Yes, I share in your hopes for marine parks in Singapore!



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