19 January 2014

The value of Singapore's only marine station

Marine science can be Singapore's pride and generate income too.
from the St John's Island Marine Laboratory facebook page.
Here's more, and how Singapore's only marine station is an important part of this.

Singapore has overcome some limits that other cities and countries will eventually bump up against. Limited land, limited freshwater. Despite massive industrialisation and urbanisation of our coastlines, Singapore still has some amazing shores rich with marine life. Like Cyrene Reef which lies in the middle of the industrial triangle of world class port, intense petrochemical industries and busy shipping lanes.
Coastal science will become increasingly important as sea levels rise with climate change. Once again, Singapore will probably be ahead of the curve.

Singapore lies at the heart of some of the world's longest tropical coastlines. The countries around us are archipelagos with vast marine resources. Like Singapore, they too are rapidly urbanising, building ports, heavy industries along their coasts. Their marine ecosystems remain vital: for subsistence living, aquaculture, eco-tourism, fisheries and national pride. They too will have to deal with rising seas.
from Asian countries with the longest coastline
What Singapore learns from managing development while conserving our marine heritage will surely be relevant to others? To help them avoid our mistakes and to build on our successes. We can then not only contribute to regional marine conservation, but quite likely also make a living in the process. In the same way that Singapore is now partnering in developing eco-cities in the region.

The Marine Laboratory on St. John's Island of the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) is the only field marine laboratory in Singapore. It is thus a critical part of learning and eventually sharing (and making money out of) ways to manage development and marine conservation.

I was thus surprised and sad to learn that the Marine Lab would be shut down because it would "soon be unable to cover its operating costs."

The Marine Lab holds a special place in my heart because of TMSI's many activities to reach out to ordinary people like me. The Marine Lab organises guided walks at St John's Island for schools and other groups. Which not only engages the visitors but also the volunteer student guides that help our during the walks.
First TMSI guided walk for schools.
Photo by Teo Siyang on his blog.
The 'water table' at the Marine Lab is a favourite spot where even children can get a closer look at some marine life found in Singapore's waters. Surely the Marine Lab can continue to play this vital role, at a time when agencies such as NEA are ramping up programmes to connect children with nature. The Marine Lab can and should be a key component of sustainability education, like the world class Field Studies Council of the UK.
Heng Pei Yan sharing about our marine life at the water table.
My personal experience of the Marine Lab include TMSI's efforts to train scientists and even ordinary people through marine workshops. Through these workshops, I've learnt about sea anemones, bryozoans and hydroids, bivalves and more! These included field expeditions to our shores, including St. John's Island of course.
Field survey during the Sea Anemone Workshop, 2011
With laboratory sessions on St John's Island. Access to high tech lab stuff so close to the shore helps us to better observe, preserve and understand our marine life. These workshops included scientists and students from around the region, expanding the networks and knowledge in marine science.
Prof Daphne Fautin teaches with the ample resources and
facilities at the Marine Lab, St. John's Island
during the Sea Anemone Workshop, 2011
I also learnt more about the Marine Lab when I and some of the regular shore survey team got a chance to help with Mei Lin's work on Giant clams. Now Dr Neo, Mei Lin's work involves surveying all our shores to locate wild Giant clams. We found quite a lot of Giant clams, and her surveys also allowed us to do more general surveys, particularly of more remote and hard to reach shores.
Mei Lin with a Giant clam on Pulau Jong next to major shipping lanes
and the massive petrochemical plants at Pulau Bukom.
Mei Lin's work is best done near the sea with good supply of natural seawater. Her work will be invaluable in helping to protect wild populations of Giant clams, through aquaculture efforts as well as restoring wild populations, in Singapore and the region. There are many other such programmes being conducted at the Marine Lab.
Mei Lin's final year project.
Of course, I and many other volunteers from all walks of life, had a taste of marine work during the Mega Marine Survey's Southern Expedition which was based at the Marine Lab! With three weeks of non-stop surveys, sorting and lectures, working side-by-side with local and overseas scientists. The facilities included high tech cryogenic preservation of specimens, professional photography with awesome equipment, as well as banks of high tech lab stuff for the many scientists. And lots of space near the sea with fresh seawater supply for the important work of finding and sorting out animals from the dredge and other surveys of Singapore's waters.
Of course TMSI and the St John's Island Marine Lab does lots more work. I had a glimpse of some during the TMSI Open House celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Marine Lab in 2012. It would be such a pity that a decade of such outstanding work is to end just because of costs.

I hope a way can be found to look beyond the price, and realise the value of Singapore's only marine lab, so that it can continue its good work for marine conservation in Singapore and the region.

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