Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Biophilia and a Demon-haunted world

Sometime in 2006, I was looking for a seashore environment to bring students to study the intertidal zone. The Changi coast near the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal was a nice choice but there were too many sandflies. So one day, I decided to go to Sentosa with my family. The reclaimed beaches just didn't make it cos it was void of life... almost except for pesky sunbathers. I was there for about half an hour when Joshua needed to pee, so I brought him to the toilet in one of the areas in Sentosa. It happened to overlook a sandy/rocky seashore beach which happened to be exposed as the tide was low. That was the beginning of many visits to the area.

Beautiful Life
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The tide was low and the waters just reached ankle height even when we waded far from shore... I was instantly brought back to my childhood days of beach exploration when my parents used to bring me to the beach and I would explore the rocky areas and look at the rock pools, fascinated by the creatures like hermit crabs and little fish that got trapped with the outgoing tide. Josh, Matt and I waded in the waters for about an hour or more. We met a carpet anemone, sea cucumbers, an octopus (would you imagine that!), a leaf porter crab. Every now and then Josh and Matt would be amazed at the little crab who would hide under a leaf... how curious it was.. and I was there to show it to them. We spent the remainder of the time chasing crabs, fast swimming flower crabs that darted about in the surprisingly clear waters... The kids' amazement and wonderment were enough to make me satisfied. It was an enrichment class, or place-based learning experience, well call it what you will but we totally were in the flow (see "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi")

Just some of the beauties at the beach area.
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Naturally I was excited about this and decided that this would be the place to bring some students to experience it as a fieldtrip. After assessing the safety and planning and making sure that the students wouldn't affect the environment, we went there and had our fieldtrip. We caught several creatures, displayed them in tanks and released them back to their habitats. The feedback was good and generally, most would not have experience that kind of environment here. A year later we brought another batch of students there and the same "magic" was felt. I had hoped to instil some kind of love for the environment and creatures in this students. This year, I have expanded the fieldtrip to an enrichment programme called the Biophilia Programme where students will propose and study the ecology of the site to assess biodiversity and ecology there with minimal impact.

However, the last field trip there last week left me with a heavy heart. Just a few hundred metres away, there was a big barge and major construction works. I guess for the resort world. Was this place going to be affected, will it totally go? Can the programme still continue... will Joshua and Matt see Mr Octopus? My heart sank further when I realised that the patch of halophila (or sea grass) that was verdant the year before had now been razed to the muddy substrate.. all the sea grass and sea weed was gone. Those seaweeds and seagrass were home to the octopus, the carpet anemone and the many leaf porter crabs my sons and I had discovered by flipping the the floating leaves. They were now gone. Naturally I am upset... depressed if you will. Even more so when I read this post by Rambling Leaf monkey... here.

This rich patch of halophila and seaweeds is now gone...
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I can't reconcile with the fact that the rocky shore habitats at Sentosa may be gone along with its denizens, the octopus, the curious leaf porter crabs, the many scurrying crabs, baby squids, the file fishes, the carpet anemone, the sea cucumbers will be gone... Will there be an Oceanarium there? Will it be part of the habitat destruction? Already underwaterworld puts me off with the lonely dugong and a gazillion fish swimming in what seems to be overcrowded tanks. Honestly, I think picking up some hermit crab along a rocky shore is more authentic. I can't help but feel the greed of society impinging on God's creation or mother nature, whatever floats your boat. Will Sentosa become more artificial again. I had hopes that all the rocky shores might be left unharmed and I hope that they will be, but the razed patch of seagrass has me thinking deep.

In this age of science, I would think that as Carl Sagan, puts it albeit a little righteously, that Science will be a candle in the dark. Its a demon-haunted world in a different sense today where biodiversity is concerned. Look at over-fishing, pollution, animal slaughter in the abbatoirs. No longer are people ignorant, they just turn a blind eye. I hope that this isn't the case for the Sentosa management and that the people at Sentosa realise that the rocky shores are precious and hopefully, hopefully, any biodiversity surveys of the rocky shores there will be a candle in the dark for them...

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