Monday, May 28, 2012

Exciting happenings at the Festival of Biodiversity 2012

The big day has finally arrived.
All the exciting happenings at the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens.
It the Festival of Biodiversity, organised by National Parks Board (NParks).
The Naked Hermit Crabs together with other marine groups are involved in this big festival.

Next to the Tanglin Gate entrance, a signage has been directing visitors to the festival.
Even at the drop-off point, the big signage welcomes all visitors to the festival.

The volunteers were easily recognised with cute marine animals. These cute animals were done by Ria Tan and the funny eyes were created by Toh Chay Hoon. We have multi-talented volunteers.
Some marine animal design
Here's mine consisting of a seahorse and a sea pen with a brittle star on it.
Me and my marine animals
And here's Ley Kun (Mama crab of the Naked Hermit Crab) with Mr Hermit Crab and Mr Lazy Anemone.
Ley Kun with Mr Hermit Crab and Lazy Anemone
There were many exciting booths for all ages at the big pavilion. The various marine groups put up booths such as the live marine animals, seagrass and seaweed tanks, the mangrove plants, the Seashore CSI, the marine food chain games and colouring activities.
Day 1 (Live Marine Animal Station): Sabrina hard at work
Day 2 (Live Marine Animal Station): Sean and Siti taking over while I have my break
Hardworking Rick at his mangrove station and Sankar at the seagrass station.
Colouring station (welcoming visitors early in the morning)
At various locations, the program schedule of talks, guided walks and art-and-craft activities were placed to allow visitors to know all the happenings for both days.
On the second level, there are more exhibition booths such as Toddycats (NUS), Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, ACRES, Wildlife Singapore, Nature Photographic Society, Madrasah... etc. There were more colouring stations and craft work stations for children.
More colouring station at level 2
Everyone is interested in looking at the specimens at the Toddycats booth
Some specimens at the Toddycats booth
NPSS and Madrasah
Craft station by Toddycats
Over at the Ridley Hall on Level 2, there are many craft workshops going on at various times.
When I went to take a look, a workshop had just ended. The participants came out with handcrafted dragonflies and some worm coiled on a pencil. A group of kids kindly allowed me to take a group picture of their crafts.
End of a craft workshop
Participants and their crafts
On the second day, Ivan Kwan gave a talk about how dead animals can be useful to researchers. Ivan is an active blogger and tweeter and he maintains Monday Morgue and other blog and Facebook page. Monday Morgue has been voted as a finalist in Singapore Blog Award 2012.
Ivan presenting
The highlight of this festival for me would be my Live Marine Animal station and being able to share these wonderful animals to the President of Singapore, Dr. Tony Tan. I had great fun sharing interesting stories about the sea stars, hermit crabs, heart urchin, cockle, the "Gong-gong" (conch), whelks to our visitors. And not to mention talking about these animals to the President.

Here are some images of me in action at the festival taken by other volunteers.
Day 1: Introducing my best friend, Mr Hermit Crab, to visitors
(Photo by  Eugene Ang)
Day 1: There are kids who dare to touch and kids who are so frightened of the animals
(Photo by Eugene Ang)
Day 1: Sharing more about the animals to our visitors
(Photo by Jeremy Ng)
Day 2: Everyone at the table taking a closer look at the sea stars
(Photo by Jeremy Ng)
Day 2: Holding a small hermit crab
(Photo by Jeremy Ng)
Day 2: Sharing about the different types of sea stars on display
(Photo by Jeremy Ng)
Images of me interacting with the President at the live marine animal station.
President Tony Tan looking at one of the trays of live animals
(Photo by Jeremy Ng)
Me sharing about the different species of sea stars to President Tony Tan
(Photo by Ria Tan)
Top view of what went on when President Tony Tan visited my booth
(Photo by Eugene Ang)
It was a memorable experience for me and having the opportunity to interact with the President of Singapore makes it even more meaningful for me. I have worked tirelessly throughout the 2 days of at the Festival of Biodiversity. The live marine animal station was not allocated to me to do but somehow I found it interested and stayed there for 2 full days, protecting the stressed out animals from probing and rough handling of some visitors. It was heart attacking moment everytime it happens. Also I have made many friends who do a part in protecting the marine environment.

To end this post off, let me share an image of my best friend I have made through this festival.
Mr Hermit Crab
Mr Hermit Crab is not with me now as we have returned all the marine animals back to the shore. Hopefully he is doing well.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

International Day of Biodiversity @ Katong Convent with Siva

Today (22 May) is a very special day.
It is the International Day of Biodiversity.

At CHIJ Katong Convent, we have a special guest with us today.
N. Sivasothi (a.k.a. Otterman) came down to give a talk on Marine Life in Singapore and the threat of Marine Trash to the lower secondary students (Sec 1s and 2s).
The talk was held with KC's support and participation in the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore for the past few years (at the very least from year 2008 that I know of).

Siva introduced himself and a brief description of what he does.
He then moved on to share with the students the mangrove areas of Singapore, both past and present.
Talking about marine life in Singapore, Siva covered organisms such as sea turtle, otters, water monitor lizards, tree climbing crab (a.k.a. vinegar crab), snakes, horseshoe crabs.
Siva first talked about the turtles that visit our beaches to lay eggs. He showed the girls a video of turtles making their way to the sea and talked about the "save the turtle" incident at East Coast Park a few years ago.
Turtle hatchling release, ECP (5 August 2005)
Saving turtle hatchling
He then talked about dugong sightings in Singapore. The image of a dugong got some excitement among the girls. Siva briefly showed the girls where the dugong sightings were made using the map of Singapore in relation to the seagrasses available and the dead dugong incident in Pulau Tekong. The girls were shocked when they knew that the dead dugong consumed 30 over kilograms of seagrass. That is more than half the body weight of most students.
Seagrass is a important food source for dugongs
When talking about water monitor lizards, Siva said that there is an estimated size of 50 water monitor lizards in Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve.
How many water monitor lizards are there?
Siva explained that male water monitor lizards will go through a wrestle to fight for territory. The girls were amused when they saw the "hugging" wrestling position in the video.
Wrestling water monitor lizards
Siva also shared his experience working with the BBC team with David Attenborough and the mysterious sighting of the snake leaping away when released.
He then talked about the Sungei Mandai Besar and how he managed to save 300 horseshoe crab trapped in "ghost nets" in 5 hours.
Sungei Mandai Besar
Horseshoe crab
Moving on to the threat of marine trash, Siva introduced the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and the use of the data collected during the cleanup.
Siva surfaced that worrying amount of plastics and total amount of trash collected using the consolidated data from one of the cleanup year. It was indeed shocking. The students were also informed on how the rubbish in Singapore is being incinerated and the ash is transported to Semakau to fill up the land.

The final part of the talk shows student the impact of marine trash on the Laysan Albatross. A video of Chris Jordan working on the Laysan Albatross in Midway Island was shown. It was very saddening video to watch as it shows how albatross of different ages undergo a slow death with the plastic contents obstructing their digestive system. Siva mentioned that a film, Midway, is making in progress. Midway shows Chris Jordan's journey in Midway Island with the albatross. More information about the film can be found here.

After the talk, some teachers had a quick chat with Siva. One of the topic discussed was about how we can actually play a part in reducing the use of disposal utensils, or encourage the use of cornware products.

Siva and I took the opportunity to promote Festival of Biodiversity to the students.
Hope that the students will come and have fun.

It was a meaningful day of International Day of Biodiversity. 
Thanks to Siva travelling down to KC despite having a bad flu.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity open house 2012

It's the day!
Today is the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity open house 2012.
Today's open house is one of the many programs from the National Heritage Board's Children Season 2012, a series of various museum programs for children to enjoy the fun of visiting the museum.

I reached the museum as early as 09:15 and a small quiet crowd was already going through their public gallery guided walk. I went to register for my 10:00 behind-the-scene guided walk. It was a slow long wait.
Nearing 10:00, the crowded started to arrive slowly. The level 3 lift lobby was starting to get crowded. So was the corridor leading to the museum as the various activity booths were being setup (masking making, face painting and mini excavation).
The participants gathered around the RMBR volunteer holding the signage to "Behind-the-scene".
One of the children participants bought the book "Private Lives: An Expose of Singapore's Mangroves" and he was so eager to read about it.

Shortly past 10:00, the group was lead to through a door in the museum and we entered the specimen collection area.

Behind-the-scene guided tour (10 pm)
This tour brings participants to a special area of the RMBR that is out of bounds to public on normal museum opening hours. This place houses the rest of the speciemens not in display in the museum.
The first station is the dry specimen on birds. The volunteer told us that the birds are preserved with only their skin and feathers. They have to carefully slice a opening along the bird's breast. The muscle must not be cut so as to prevent any bleeding. She then showed us how the bird is kept in "kachang-puteh" wrappers (newspaper rolled up to a cone) when doing fieldwork.

The group also took a look at the dinosaur bones at are kept in this room.
Dinosaur bones
Triceratops sp. (Left leg only)
The second station brings us down the narrow and steep staircase into the insect room.

Here we see the butterflies, beattles, bees and many other insects.
Insects station
Children are great participants as they are very observant and they ask all sorts of questions. They also like to tell and share with everyone what they know.
A child sharing some comments.
I learnt that the wing tip of the Atlas Moth has a pattern that looks like the head of a snake.
Atlas Moth speciemen
Wing tip of the Atlas Moth
Next is the molluscs station where we saw a few specimens collected from Semakau. The station guide told us that the scallops meat we eat are mostly fan clams. We usually eat the muscles of clams but actually the other parts in the clam can be eaten too.
Molluscs specimens on display
Then we went back up the same steep, narrow staircase to visit the mannmoth collection where we saw the tiger skin, the skull of tapir, the plantain squirrel, smooth coated otter and the palm civet cat.

Our final stop is the specimen conservation and restoration station. Kate was at the station restoring a turtle specimen. She pointed out that she found very old newspaper when restoring the turtle on the right. Restoration of the specimens are important to remove rusting wires, conduct patch works, colour restoration and cleaning the interior of the dry specimen. This job requires many disciplines such as biology, art, dentistry, sculpturing as the restorer has to replace the missing parts and perform touch ups to the specimens.
Explaining using a completed turtle
Kate showing the shell of the turtle she is working at.
Left: Complete turtle
Right: Turtle in progress
The newspaper used to stuff the complete turtle.
With that, we end our guided tour in 1 hour.

After that, I went to the registration booth to find that there are spaces for the crabs workshop at 12:00 and so I signed up for it.
Along the corridor leading to the museum, the on-going whole day activities are already in action:
Masquerade station
Face painting station
Excavation station
All About Crabs workshop (12 pm)
The crab workshop was held in a cosy small room located somewhere behind the museum.
On the table, there are live and dead displays of crustacean specimen.
The first organism that caught me was the coconut crab from Chirstmas Island. It is a very fierce crab and its pincers are capable of snapping finger bones.
Coconut crab
There was also the vampire crabs on display. The crab is known as vampire crab because of its red eyes.
Vampire crab
At the crab workshop, we learnt how to identify the gender of crabs, the survival of baby crabs and we were introduced to some of the common crabs, prawns and shrimps.
Packed room for the crab workshop with many specimens on display.
Packed till right beside the speaker
Specimens were being passed around to allow the participants a better view.
Pass the crayfish to guess the gender without seeing the underside
This is (male/female)...
Some participant was very attentive and taking down notes. That's a very curious child.
Busy jotting down notes
The workshop ended with children activity. The children were tasked to draw an image of a crab. They can look through the microscope to look at the details to help them in their drawing or they can draw by simple observations. The children can name their own crab drawing and they get a magnet in return for their effort.
Parents helping their children with the microscope work
Crab drawing by observation
Crab drawing by studying the parts using a microscope
Crab drawing by creativity
At 15:00, it was time for the animal pottery workshop!

Animal pottery (3 pm)
At the animal pottery, it was full of children. I was the only big children there (daddies and mummies not counted). One of the volunteers told me that someone wants her to say "Hi" to me but she forgot the person's name. I was in the animal pottery room early as most of the the participants were out at other workshops or tours. So the volunteers and I admired Chay Hoon's cute looking models made from jumping clay. Chay Hoon sure has good crafting hands. They look so cute!
Mini friendly T-Rex 
 Sea star
Big tummy friendly T-Rex
There were dinosaur samples placed on the working tables as a reference.
Dino sample
As the theme for this year's open house in on dinosaurs, the workshop did pottery on dinosaurs.
Our first dinosaur was the sauropodS. Sauropods have long necks and tails. They are herbivores.
The kids really had fun kneading, pulling and shaping the clay, and then finally putting the eyes up.
Chay Hoon guiding the participants on the pottery
Everyone busy modelling their dinosaur
Chay Hoon assisting in some touch ups
Adding the eyes
The second dinosaur my table did was the tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex). It was a difficult process to make my T-Rex look like a T-Rex. Mine turned out looking like Elmo, as what one of the mummies told me. I joking told the children at my table not to put the T-Rex with the sauropod together in the box as the sauropod will disappear by the time they get home. Well, the children were too busy with their clay to understand the joke. At least Chay Hoon and the volunteers understood my joke.
We had a lot of fun at the animal pottery workshop. The starting step in all animal pottery is always the same.
Looking my animal pottery, my end products faired no where near the expert.
My sauropod, T-Rex and sea star.
The children started playing with their dinosaurs.
March of the dinosaurs
Soon the workshop came to an end and I found the sample dinosaurs on the table ended up in a staring game.
2 party staring game
An audience joined in and got itself dazed
The public gallery
The public museum was a cooling place for me to enter once in a while to avoid the scorching heat. Thankfully there were big fans placed around the corridor areas. The museum was buzzing with activities as the public enters for visits, guided walk or merchandise purchases. I bought many items from the merchandise booth.

In the museum, they have put up a dinosaur exhibition and part of Twinky's leg was on display. Look at the size of the legs versus the man.
Part of Twinky's leg
Skull cast of 'Apollo'
The dinosaur exhibit section
This will be RMBR's last open house. They had wanted to do more open house sessions but time wasn't on their side.

The public gallery of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research will remain open till April 2013. However  the stored collection will be closed for inventory taking, packing and settling outstanding matters in preparation for the house moving to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, scheduled to be completed in 2014. The new natural history museum will showcase 10 times more exhibits than what we see in the current RMBR.

I look forward to the new natural history museum in 2014.


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