Water pollution issue in Singapore

This is the original, unedited letter I emailed to Straits Time forum. It was published online on 8 September 2016, entitled “Don’t overlook rubbish in less-frequented areas“.

It has been said that Singapore is not so much a “clean” city as it is a “cleaned” city. I agree. On 23 August 2016, I saw lots of rubbish floating in the river next to Braddell bus depot. It must have been washed into the river from drains flowing through Bishan and Toa Payoh after a storm.
Polluted river canal
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I highlighted the water pollution issue to PUB via OneService app, and three days later, I saw some workers cleaning up the river at Potong Pasir from the rubbish that we, as a society, have been littering or disposing of.

River cleaning
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

On 7 September, I revisited the river at Potong Pasir and noticed that the rubbish has reappeared after a pre-dawn downpour.

Polluted river
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I think we tend to focus on having clean-looking waters in the more frequented areas such as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Kallang Basin where residents and visitors hang out, but the less frequented areas are often neglected. Also, I doubt that the otters living in Kallang Basin would want to swim upstream back to Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park when there is rubbish floating in Kallang River that flows through the high-density populated areas.

We must realise that everything that we throw indiscriminately in the drains will end up in the rivers that flow towards the sea. But we are so preoccupied with our own lives that we fail to see the impacts of our inconsiderate actions. It is usually when a storm occurs that all these accumulated rubbish in the drains are washed into the rivers that we notice the full impact of our actions – unsightly flotsam, stinking water and eutrophication caused by algal bloom, all of which affect aquatic life negatively.

Are we going to continue to ignore the root of the pollution problem in our country and shirk our responsibility in keeping the environment clean by distracting ourselves through our consumeristic lifestyles and not caring about how we dispose of rubbish in public places? Are we only concerned with keeping up an image of living in a supposedly “green and clean city” by focusing only on the appearance of the more frequented areas and neglecting the less frequented areas? When we do not think about how our actions affect the animals, plants and the environment, our actions will ultimately affect ourselves adversely because we are all interconnected in the ecosystem.

Two days after my letter was published in ST Forum Online, I noticed the river at Potong Pasir appeared to have been cleaned up by the national water agency PUB (Public Utilities Board) as it looked cleaner, but this morning (13 September), I noticed the water pollution has recurred, as the river had floating rubbish and debris, presumably washed into the river from nearby drains after a storm had occurred the day before.

“Water in the Kallang River flows into the Marina Reservoir.”

(From PUB says water pollution at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park “not likely to be kerosene”)

Enough is enough – something has to be done to deal with the persistent water pollution problem at its roots. We are all complicit in this violation against the environment, and ultimately against ourselves.

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My feedback on the concept master plan to develop the Green Corridor in Singapore

A news article that was published yesterday features proposals for the Green Corridor (aka Rail Corridor) in Singapore.
In the same vein, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) website that is dedicated to the Rail Corridor says:
“The Rail Corridor is a very unique public space differentiated from other community spaces in Singapore. The Rail Corridor connects homes, work places and schools. It encourages a spirit of discovery and exploration, and provides a common space for shared experiences across a diverse segment of our population. There is great potential in fostering social-bonding and community-building activities along the Corridor.”

The above news article also says:

“The public is invited to give feedback at the exhibition and online at http://ura.sg/railrfp from now until the end of next March.”

So, I decided to submit my feedback to URA via their website with regard to the concept master plan to develop the Green Corridor, as follows:

It seems the plan is only to commercialise Tanjong Pagar railway station, so hopefully the rest of the green corridor will be spared (and I understand nothing is set in stone as the plan will be fine-tuned based on public feedback). I also don’t wish to see the green corridor becoming another east coast park, but at the rate it is currently being used and will be more frequently used in future, it is inevitable that some degradation of the muddy track will result, such as compaction and erosion of soil. Bukit Timah nature reserve was closed to public for the time being (except on weekends) for renovation for that reason, so if paving is going to be done carefully, such as using gravel (or something equivalent) instead of concrete to emulate the cycling trails in Pulau Ubin, that allows infiltration of rainwater into the porous surface, I would say it will likely serve the dual purpose of protecting the environment and making the trail more user friendly.
Green Corridor, Singapore
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

The night lighting can be solar powered, and have motion sensors. So, if there is nobody in the area, there isn’t any need for the lights to turn on. This will help conserve energy. Solar panels can be built throughout the Green Corridor to harness more of the solar energy for nearby buildings.

Natural vegetation, as far as possible, should be left as they are – like in the case of Sungei Buloh wetland reserve. It is fine to enhance the zen tranquility of gardens or urban parks, but not the rainforests etc because the latter already have their own natural serenity.

One concern many nature lovers have is that the Green Corridor will lose its quiet ambience and natural feel, especially when it becomes too popular and crowded in future. For example, if the corridor becomes too user-friendly to the extent that it becomes a bicycle expressway, it will somewhat lose its rustic charm. Similarly, if we are going to build plaza spaces, cafes and amphitheatres, it is likely to disturb the quietness of the surroundings, and people will no longer find the Green Corridor attractive as a sanctuary to get away from urban stress and commercialisation.
Mountain Bike Track
© Photographer: Haslinda | Agency: Dreamstime.com

So, maybe one way to prevent the green corridor from being too inviting for bicycles and becoming overcrowded is to have a holistic development of cycling infrastructure in Singapore, such as by developing the green corridor in tandem with the cycling infrastructure elsewhere. For example, if dedicated bike lanes are made available along the roads nearby, then cyclists can choose to take these alternative routes to their destinations instead of solely depending on the green corridor to use as a bicycle “expressway”.

Similarly, let’s seek to find a balance by not over-developing the Green Corridor in order to minimise noise level and any form of commercialisation and artificiality, in order to retain the original spirit of rustic charm and healing balm of Nature.

Green Corridor, Singapore
© Photographer: Jimmytst | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Education on Nature conservation is always good because no amount of penalty and fines are going to stop people from littering or destroying the environment or poaching the wildlife unless people are armed with the understanding on the importance of their interrelationships with Nature, and how any harm done to the environment will ultimately affect themselves. People need to be guided from within instead of having to be controlled by laws and regulations from outside authorities. We as a human species have never lost our inner wisdom and affiliation to Nature – we simply have forgotten who we really are in the quest for development, and we only need to reconnect ourselves with Nature and remember our true identity, and then we will be able to act responsibly based on that revelation.

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Thoughts on Pulau Ubin, Singapore

I came across the above video recently in my Facebook newsfeed. Thoughts went through my mind, and I have long wanted to address the issue of the natural beauty of Pulau Ubin being spoilt by human intervention. Finally, I decided to post my comment in response to the video, as follows:

“Thank you for the video. Pulau Ubin is what Singapore mainland used to be more than a century ago, mainly forested with some self-sufficient farms, few buildings and roads. Many people today are calling for the rustic, natural environment of Ubin to be preserved because capitalism, materialism and consumerism have caused the mainland to lose its soul and character and become disconnected with Nature in the name of material progress.

IMG_0331Littering and improper waste disposal are still a perennial problem, especially along the southern and eastern coasts of Pulau Ubin, where rubbish entangled among the mangrove roots and/or washed ashore the sandy beaches is both an eyesore and a grim reminder of the far-reaching effects of a consumerist and materialistic culture in our urbanised society.

As long as we aren’t dealing with the root of this problem, anything we do to help protect and preserve Ubin will only be like applying band-aid to a deep wound, which may provide temporary relief at best. Unless we drastically change our mindset and ditch the capitalistic, monetary system that breeds inequality and results in unsustainable growth and environmental degradation, Ubin will die a slow death in following the footsteps of the mainland.

History has proven time and again that once prosperous cities such as Rome and Babylon would suffer decline and become no more than relics, and Singapore is no different if we don’t embrace a resource-based system and egalitarianism, as proposed by the Venus Project. It remains to be seen how each of us chooses to do our part for the environment as global citizens and children of the Earth, for every one of us matters and we are all one and interconnected.”

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Thoughts on E-poll on Public Cleanliness for Sustainable Singapore Blueprint Review

I received an email from NParks Singapore that says:

“The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources wants to hear from you on attitudes towards littering and what can be done to get everyone to come together to keep Singapore clean. Fill in an online survey at http://bit.ly/1qzxqEn. The survey will be open from now till 20 July.”

The following are my responses in the online survey.

1. What are the obstacles and motivations to not litter in public places?

The root cause of littering has to be addressed in order for the problem of littering to be adequately and holistically resolved. The consumeristic, capitalistic and materialistic mindset and pattern of the societal system has to change, and the connection between us and the natural environment needs strengthening.

2. What are the main influences that shape our attitudes towards littering?

We have lost sight of our connection to Nature. People are obsessed with running the rat race and competing with one another to buy the things they don’t need just to impress people who don’t care.

3. What can we, the Government and the community, do to change these attitudes?

Stop propagating the illusory dream of material wealth and prosperity, and start advocating an eco-friendly and sustainable culture to replace the buy-and-throw-away culture.​

Please refer to the video entitled “The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes – YouTube” for more information.

To promote greater community ownership of our environment and to complement community initiatives, NEA also empowered members of the public for action against littering as Community Volunteers, who encourage their fellow residents not to litter. Based on feedback from the volunteers, they want to be able to do more. We are empowering them to enforce against littering. The volunteers could look after the cleanliness of a particular area and enforce against offenders where necessary.
4. What do you think of the Voluntary Enforcement Scheme?
(No comments)

On top of regular enforcement patrols, islandwide blitzes have also been conducted at littering hotspots to increase enforcement pressure at targeted areas and raise awareness of the problem of littering. There was also a pilot scheme of utilising surveillance cameras to deter littering at hotspots such as McCallum Street.5.What are your sentiments towards different types of enforcement approaches?

These approaches have their place, but they only address the symptoms of the problem of littering, much like putting a band-aid over the deep wound. We need to deal with the root of the problem, and it involves going back to Nature and living a sustainable and egalitarian life that benefits both humans and the environment. Please google “The Venus Project” for reference and inspiration. Thank you.

6. Are there ways we can leverage social media or such online community action to bring about our desired state of cleanliness, e.g. more avenues for enforcement, reinforcing positive social norms, or others?

It is really not about more enforcement. Having more laws only keep people in an infantile state of mind and discourage them to think for themselves. Real change begins when people learn to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions and not rely on outward regulations.

7. How can we improve enforcement methods? Should enforcement be stern or educational?

(No comments)

Invasive species management at Dairy Farm Nature Park

Map of Dairy Farm Nature Park

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Hairy clidemia (shrub, recognizable by its hairy leaves and stems)

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Rubber (tree, recognizable by the milky sap in its stems)

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Syngonium (climber, recognizable by its arrowhead leaves)

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These invasive plants are removed before they can establish themselves permanently and upset the ecosystem balance in the tropical rainforest.

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Continue reading “Invasive species management at Dairy Farm Nature Park”

International coastal cleanup at Kranji Bund mudflat shoreline

Today is International Coastal Cleanup Day on 21 September 2013, and the Nature Society of Singapore has been tasked to clean up Kranji Bund mudflat shoreline along the northern coast of Singapore.

On my way to take the MRT train to Kranji, I spotted some lovely periwinkle flowers in my neighbourhood and decided to take a couple of photos of them.

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Upon reaching the meeting venue at Kranji, the participants were briefed about the coastal cleanup procedures, and we formed groups of three to comb the shoreline to pick up litter and place them in trash bags, and record the types of litter being collected, which would include discarded plastic wrappers, bottles, containers and various other materials.

We made our way gingerly along the muddy shoreline, and many of us wore gloves to protect our hands against sharp materials such as broken glass and metal pieces. At the end, we brought back the trash bags to the meeting venue and weighed them before disposing them at the waste collection point. The leader later announced we have collected 200 over kilograms of litter altogether (I can’t remember the exact figure he said).

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After disposing of the litter, we washed our hands and footwear, and then had dinner that was catered for us as a gesture of appreciation from the Nature Society. I spotted the reddish hues of the evening sky after eating dinner, and I made my way to the shore where I was greeted with a glorious sunset across the horizon. It felt to me as if the universe was thanking us for helping to protect the environment.

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It was quite a tiring but fulfilling experience to have played a part in the global efforts to protect the environment in our own ways. I also think that this programme helps create awareness among the general public especially in the consumeristic societies on the need to reduce, reuse or recycle waste as well as to dispose of waste properly, in order to minimise damage to the natural environment since everything is interconnected.

Mandai mangrove mudflat workshop 2013

Conducted at National University of Singapore on 31 August 2013.

According to the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat website:

“Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat has been a hot spot for mangrove studies in Southeast Asia over the past half-century. This heavily studied site is a valuable bank of zoological, botanical and ecological research for Singapore and the region.

However, Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat is relatively unknown beyond the scientific community and has an uncertain future. We want to communicate the huge base of scientific knowledge available for this mangrove in order to properly assess its status and promote its conservation.

Presentations will showcase the interdisciplinary importance of Mandai, and include botany, ecology, seagrass, crabs, bivalves, insects, birds, geography, geomorphology, sea level rise, biochemistry and management!”

Horseshoe crab rescue and research programme at Mandai mudflats (9 March 2013)

Briefing on the horseshoe crab rescue and research programme
Briefing on the horseshoe crab rescue and research programme. Here, the speaker demonstrates some ways of handling a horseshoe crab gently.

The horseshoe crab rescue and research programme at Mandai mudflats was organised by the Nature Society of Singapore. According to Mr Tan Hang Zhong, who introduced himself as the honorary assistant secretary of the society, this programme is part of a bigger research study for IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Volunteers started to comb the mudflats for horseshow crabs
Volunteers started to comb the mudflats for horseshoe crabs

One of the purposes of the programme is to keep track of the horseshoe crab population in this area, which is a wintry feeding ground for migratory shorebirds.

The volunteers would find and collect horseshoe crabs in pails for identification and measurement before releasing them back into the wild.
The volunteers would find and collect horseshoe crabs in pails for identification and measurement before releasing them back into the wild.
The volunteers include students from Ngee Ann polytechnic, Raffles Junior College and youth.sg
The volunteers include students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Raffles Junior College and youth.sg.

This area may be developed in future, so the research study may be used to advocate nature conservation in this area.

Mandai mudflats stretch across Kranji area in the northwestern coast of Singapore.
Mandai mudflats stretch across Kranji area in the northwestern coast of Singapore.

The second purpose of the programme is to rescue any horseshoe crab trapped in fishing nets.

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This is the collection point where the horseshoe crabs are identified, measured, marked and recorded for research studies.
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The horseshoe crabs are temporarily placed in a container before they are released back into the mangrove habitat.

The third purpose is to collect man-made litter on the mudflats and dispose them properly at a nearby garbage collection point. Such litter includes discarded drink packets, electric plugs, soles of shoes, plastic bags, drink straws, etc).

Need to consider implementing GMO labelling of genetically modified foods

Stop! Genetically modified organism(s) - GMO. ...
Stop! Genetically modified organism(s) – GMO. Read comments! (Photo credit: artist in doing nothing)

About genetically modified (GM) foods

According to Wikipedia, genetically modified foods (GM foods, or biotech foods) are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as genetically modified crops or genetically modified fish. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques.

This website summarises the benefits and controversies of GM products.

About the need to implement GMO labelling of GM foods

Recently, I came across this newspaper article about food labelling in supermarkets in Singapore to encourage people to buy healthier food. While that is good, I realise there is no GMO labelling implemented yet. So I decided to email the following letter to the newspaper to highlight the issue. I had also hoped that the Proposition 37 on GMO labelling of foods in California would come into fruition on 6 November 2012, as Singapore and other countries tend to follow America’s lead in many areas of life.

I refer to the article “Labels in supermarkets to guide the Healthy Shopper” published in The Sunday Times on 28 October 2012. While it is good to know that food labelling will be carried out in supermarkets to identify the healthier foods to encourage consumers to buy more of them, there is no GMO labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods implemented in Singapore yet. This is a worrying trend because more and more studies have shown that GM foods are potentially dangerous to human health.

For example, the Health Ranger of NaturalNews Network, a non-profit collection of public education websites, explained in his video entitled “How GMO foods alter organ function and pose a very real health threat to humans” that cell research shows that the microRNA in GM foods may alter organ functions in the human body by changing the biological information and suppressing natural functions in vital organs, which may in the long run cause cancer tumours, infertility and so on. It is useful then for more people to be aware of the dangers of eating GM foods.

According to the Institute of Responsible Technology, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reported that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food”, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM has also asked physicians to advise patients to avoid GM foods.

Besides, we all have the right as consumers to know what is in our food. According to LabelGmos.org, 50 countries with over 40% of the world’s population already label genetically engineered foods, including China and the entire European Union. Even in America, California is looking set to become the first US state to enforce labelling of GM foods, in a vote on 6 November 2012.

It is therefore high time for Singapore to follow suit to give consumers the right to know what is in their food. As noted by our Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has shown “our Government’s seriousness in creating a healthy nation”, so I see no reason that the food labelling programme would stop at identifying healthier foods and exclude GMO labelling. I strongly urge the relevant authorities to seriously consider implementing GMO labelling in Singapore for our health’s sake.

My letter was published on 4 November 2012 in The Sunday Times entitled “Label genetically modified food too”, which has been edited and truncated, probably for brevity.


As of today, it has been reported that the Proposition 37 to label GMO foods in California has failed, since the number of people who voted “No” had slightly outnumbered those who voted “Yes” on 6 November 2012. Nevertheless, there is still hope since at least the campaign has raised awareness among more people about the GMO issue.

In many ways, the YES on 37 campaign was a huge victory for awareness. The campaign organized over 10,000 volunteers in California alone and succeeded in achieving a massive social media presence.

The YES on 37 campaign also forced Monsanto and the biotech giants to spend $45 million to defeat the measure. That’s a record expenditure by the world’s largest toxic pesticide companies to try to prevent consumers from knowing what they’re buying. Remember: GMOs are the only products that consumers accidentally purchase without knowing what they’re buying.

What’s clear from all this is that GMO labeling has a foothold in the minds of American consumers, and this effort to label GMOs is going to be repeated state after state, year after year, until victory is achieved.

Recommended links

Seven Things to Tell Your Friends About GMOs

GMO – Their right to grow, our right to know

Genetic Roulette – The Gamble of Our Lives

Prop 37 and GMO Foods: Yea or Nay?

Prop 37 GMO Labeling Law Defeated By Corporate Dollars And Deception, Proponents Say

Right to Know Election Statement