Our JGIS Lecture Series has been going strong for the last few years — bringing primate researchers and conservation experts from around the world to communicate and exchange views on their research to an audience in Singapore and beyond. All this is possible, thanks to Zoom! In the last three years, we took a regional focus for our yearly themes — Asia (2019), Africa (2020) and the Americas (2021). As an additional attraction, this year, we are doing something different.
Our theme for this year is Eko-Eko. What is Eko-Eko? Well, it is a new collaboration between the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots and Shoots chapters in Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, India and Taiwan. Eko-Eko aims to raise awareness of Asia-Pacific biodiversity by collaborating with photographers and curating their shots to tell stories about the flora and fauna in the region. By marrying science and art, we hope that this will be a potent combination to let more people know about the wildlife in their midst. Our plan for the lecture series is to invite a photographer and a researcher together to talk about a topic in conservation.
For our lecture on marine biology, we invited Ms Katherine Lu, an award-winning underwater photographer based in Singapore and Dr Karenne Tun, a director overseeing coastal and marine habitat work at the NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre.
Katherine kickstarted the lecture by talking about how she got started with underwater photography and introduced Pulau Hantu, her go-to place for her underwater adventures. Although the layman might think that the diving experience in Pulau Hantu is lacklustre, for Katherine, Pulau Hantu turns out to be a treasure trove of subjects to capture with her lenses. While it is not a diving spot for everyone due to its technical difficulty, for Katherine, it is the perfect spot to begin her photography journey.
Nudibranchs, or sea slugs, were what kickstarted her passion for underwater photography. With over 200 species known from Singapore, Katherine has managed to capture their diversity of form, shape and colour over the years, while learning a lot about their natural history in order to track them down underwater. As she became more experienced with them, spotting them in the sea became easier. She is even discovering new records and species from Singapore along the way.
On occasions, Katherine turned her attention to other denizens of the reef. For example, she photographed the last moments of life of a mother octopus as she broods her first and last batch of offspring in a discarded glass jar, while getting weaker and weaker as she slowly dies of starvation. Over the course of her photography career, Katherine has been recognised for her talents in underwater photography by winning awards and having her photos featured in relevant magazines — something she is grateful for.
Taking the floor, Karenne talked about Singapore’s marine habitats and the role that NParks plays in conserving them. Singapore has a rich diversity of marine habitats and biodiversity, due to its proximity to the Coral Triangle and on the conflux of the Andaman, South China, and the Java Seas. Over 100 new records and 30 new species were discovered over the last decade, which is a testament to how much our nation has to offer in marine biodiversity.
Karenne took us on a whirlwind tour of Singapore’s marine habitats. From coastal forests to benthic sea floors, each habitat has diverse biotic conditions which determine what type of organisms can be found there. Each organism has its own important role to play in the marine ecosystem as they interact with other organisms in an ecological network. How do we protect this network?
Karenne answered this question by outlining how NParks conserves our marine heritage. Natural resource management is inherently complex due to the need to balance trade-offs between different stakeholders, which is ameliorated in Singapore due to its developed status. To help navigate such complexity, NParks has devised a conservation masterplan of using an entire toolbox of conservation practices. The basic approach that NParks takes to safeguard our marine habitats is to adopt proactive planning with a whole-of-government approach while maintaining active partnerships together with a science-based approach. Conservation of key habitats is important, together with active management and research, while outreaching to nurture a well-informed public that supports conservation.
For both Katherine and Karenne, their knowledge about the basic natural history of the marine organisms they work with inform their work. For all of us to be effective champions of biodiversity and the environment, perhaps we could play our part by becoming better informed about the world around us. Dr Jane Goodall herself once said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, will all be saved.” While “heart” is certainly important in conservation, it cannot be done without understanding. It is only with this that we will be armed with the tools and conceptual framework to save our biodiversity. So, take time to read and learn about wildlife — and Eko-Eko is good to start with!
Written by: Sia Sin Wei