Animal Conservation: Won’t Anyone Think Of The Animals?

Po when he finds out you don’t donate to WWF. (©Dreamworks)

Written by: Edmund Wong, Euan Loh

Occupying our childhood memories, us Gen Z kids are definitely familiar with the bumbling Po and his heroic, yet goofy antics. But thinking about it, one core message that all of them share – from Kung Fu Panda to Winnie the Pooh and Finding Dory – is that all of them subtly promote the vital awareness about the delicate, vulnerable animals that populate the earth. Many have advocated for animal conservation for a long time, considering how many species are becoming endangered (with some going extinct) yearly. However, what puts these animals in endangerment in the first place? 

The common scapegoat for the existence of endangered species are usually humans, and it’s no surprise – we persecute animals without discrimination. Mass deforestation, urbanisation, agriculture and mining in the name of human development has destroyed vast swathes of precious animal habitats like the Amazon and Bornean rainforests. The reason why this is permitted, is because humans seem to prefer a different shade of green to those found on trees. In fact, some people really love that colour, like Jair Bolsonaro. Under his governance, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose by 75.5 percent from the previous decade despite international pushback and condemnation from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other environmental agencies. 

But it’s not just on land. Even within the offshore depths of the Baltic sea, the incessant humming of oil rigs threaten the adorable harbour porpoises that thrive off the abundance of fish in their breeding grounds. See, even the most harmless of species are brutally cut down by humans in the conquest of… seeing numbers go up on a screen? My, I thought we were better than this.

Just look at the harbour porpoise! It’s so cute! (Photo credit: Wadden Sea World Heritage Site)

Besides the insatiable desire to paint the forests cold and grey with concrete, humans, being the apex predator, also require a lot of sustenance. Simply, we can’t live without food. And because we love food so much (I know I do), some animals that unfortunately reside at the bottom of the food web become powerless insects at the mercy of humanity’s hubris. Let’s look at the devastating collapse of the once iconic Northern Atlantic cod fishery in the early 1990s. ‘Rapid advancements in fishing technology’ was the perfect side dish for ‘overestimations of fishes’ replacement rate’, with an extra ‘lack of legislation’ sprinkled on top – the perfect storm for the destruction of a food source once thought to be infinite. Today, cod populations still remain at low levels, with only a few populations showing signs of slow recovery despite conservation efforts.

Not just that, though, there are other systemic reasons as to why animals are going extinct. Remember how I said animals were especially vulnerable. Some animals cannot survive. We’re talking about the Yunnan lake newt, which went extinct in China in 1979 in part due to exotic fish and frogs in their habitats; the Hawaiian thrush, which went extinct by 1985 in part due to invasive predators; and the Guam broadbill, a bird that went extinct when the brown tree snake was introduced to its habitat in 1983. Of course, I’m neglecting the fact that these new predators were introduced by humans, either accidentally through New World migration, or intentionally as biological control. 

Let’s now talk briefly about the definition and goals of animal conservation. Animal conservation is the practice of protecting and preserving wildlife and their habitats. It aims to minimise threats that animals face in perfectly natural habitats with no protections such as habitat loss, poaching, climate change, pollution, invasive species and inbreeding. Usually, the objective of conservation is to allow species to live in habitats that closely resemble their natural surroundings, albeit with monitoring by rangers and animal specialists.

Why do we care so much about animals, then? And some of them look absolutely adorable, so that’s a plus. On a more serious note, animal conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance, to prevent disruptions in key food chains that can cause way greater harm to multiple species as a whole. It also aims to protect human health and well-being, by ensuring we continue to have nutritious food sources untainted with black tar and microplastics. Finally, animal conservation is also important to preserve cultural heritage and ethical values, which is a fancy way of saying we get to have the moral high ground. Oh, and preserving cute animals means people are willing to pay to see those animals. 

Now, if the teary-eyed tapir on the poster around the street hasn’t convinced you, maybe you’ve been now. So, what can we do to help? While grand schemes like national parks and protected zones seem very ambitious and out of reach, the unfortunate reality is that liking animals more than green paper means you probably won’t get enough green paper to save those animals. However, pooling those pieces of paper together definitely can. That means supporting conservation organisations that work to protect wildlife and their habitats through research, education, advocacy and direct action. Here’s some donation suggestions:

  • The well-known WWF, with its very own branch in Singapore. With targeted protection initiatives for over 150 distinct species in all parts of the world in tandem with local governments, and having constructed millions of square kilometres of nature preserves, they are still in need of funds: their flagship project – the Amazon Region Protected Areas Program. In fact, there are a lot of perks to subscribing to WWF’s donation program, including curated newsletters, magazines and a cute pair of whale socks. Obligatory: https://worldwildlife.org.
  • re:Wild, formerly known as Global Wildlife Conservation. With a targeted focus on more exotic species like the Zanzibar Red Colobus and the Javan Rhino, their conservation efforts are nothing to scoff at. It’s also recognised as a 4-star charity by Charity Navigator, if accountability and transparency’s what matters to you. https://rewild.org/
  • Mossy Earth, a relatively new initiative that has more of a focus on restoring habitats for animals than protecting existing ones. Their main selling point is their mobile app, outfitted with live updates and panoramic shots of their current projects, as well as active social media communication channels where progress updates are posted. Of course, that’s if just donating isn’t enough to placate your desire to feel good. https://mossy.earth

Besides these conservation conglomerates, there are also local initiatives that are worth more than just a passing interest. The National Parks Board’s active efforts to preserve our local species like the Oriental Pied Hornbills and the multiple offshore coral reefs (like the Pulau Semakau Coral Nursery) is definitely the driving force behind the beautiful patches of natural green that seem to weave themselves seamlessly into the heart of our city. And it is no further than our larger neighbour, Malaysia, where we have the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sabah as well as a new tapir rehabilitation centre at Kenaboi Forest Reserve, which is a stone’s throw away relative to the various sites that international organisations pledge to aid. Maybe you could pay them a visit sometime.

The long-tailed macaque, a common sighting at the roadside of MacRitchie Park. (Photo credit: National Parks Board, Singapore)

Generally though, whatever falls under the umbrella of green practices is what flies for protecting the cute monkeys you just saw in that picture above. Things like reducing your environmental footprint by using renewable energy sources, recycling, avoiding single-use plastics, choosing sustainable products and eating less meat helps to relieve the pressure on all species as a whole by lessening environmental pollution. And of course, respecting wildlife and their habitats by following ethical guidelines, ie. avoiding feeding or disturbing animals. That’s why we have a $10000 fine for feeding the monkeys. 

Finally, for those who are keen enthusiasts of these fauna, you may consider taking up a more active role to protect them from human greed. Volunteering or donating to wildlife sanctuaries, rehabilitation centres or conservation projects that care for injured or orphaned animals and reintroduce them to the wild are some of the options that are out there, which can be enhanced with technical and professional expertise within these fields. And, they pay well, too, especially amidst the digital transition where organisations like NParks find themselves wanting of those related expertise.

In conclusion, animal conservation is a vital issue that affects not only the biodiversity and ecosystem of our planet, but also our own well-being and future. By taking action to protect endangered species and habitats, we can help preserve the natural balance and beauty of life on Earth. And also, we get to see more cute pandas. That’s what really matters.

Deforestation – Its Impact on Climate Change and Why Is It Happening?

Written by: Kyra Phan (2AH) 

Many of us will be familiar with the concept of climate change, given its prominent effect on every society in the world, be it in the form of natural disasters such as earthquakes, or the slow decline of arable crops in recent years that will impact global food security. Countries have recognised this issue and have tried to reduce its impact via cutting down carbon emissions and pursuing cleaner energy sources, while individuals and organisations have rallied the support of millions of people for a cause to procure better lives for future generations through ensuring that the world is still habitable for many years to come. 

However, despite all these efforts, have we truly done enough? 

The causes of climate change can be attributed to 5 main factors, consisting of manufacturing goods, generating power, using transportation, producing food, and most notably, cutting down forests. 

Deforestation, which refers to the purposeful clearing or thinning of trees and forests, typically for urbanisation and agriculture purposes, is arguably the most significant cause that contributes to the worsening of climate change, given how it accounts for up to 20% of all carbon emissions. The importance of keeping our forests intact lies with the fact that trees are responsible for absorbing a significant amount of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere through human activities. Without the presence of dense forests, the atmosphere would be more saturated with greenhouse gases which would absorb more heat, thus leading to global warming, which is considered a form of climate change. 

Credits: IUCN

Furthermore, efforts to address deforestation have been largely unsuccessful, as seen from how an average of 10 million hectares of forest were cut down each year, with countries such as Brazil being the most heavily affected. In fact, Brazil reported that more than 13 thousand square kilometres were destroyed in 2021, the highest figure reported since 2006. This was despite efforts made by international organisations such as the European Union (EU) in the form of a legislative proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products which aimed to reduce deforestation by setting targets for commodities linked to a high risk of deforestation, such as soy, beef, palm oil or coffee.

Why Is deforestation occuring? 

Industrial agriculture is the key reason for deforestation, and accounts for approximately 85% of the clearing of forests worldwide. With the world’s population expected to increase by nearly 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, there is a need for greater food production to ensure that people are fed. However, this has subsequently led to a rise in demand for agricultural products which has resulted in the conversion of forests into land for cattle ranches and plantations. 

Credits: Mongabay 

However, there is still hope. Every action, no matter how small, is another step towards our goal to attain a world where there is still a tiny glimmer of hope in restoring and sustaining the Earth for future generations. 

One way we can help is through collaborating with and supporting the efforts of organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), while others can consider cutting back their own carbon footprints. Whether we like it or not, each generation has a critical responsibility in passing on the blazing torch of progress and life for our children. It’s our responsibility to ensure that those who will come after us will have the opportunity to lead better lives without the fear and uncertainty of what natural disaster to expect the next day, and although it may seem daunting, all it takes is a small step, and maybe, the future will be a little brighter. 

The Threat Facing More Than 70% Of Our Pale Blue Dot

Written By: Megan Tay Jia-Xin (2MD2), Lee Shek Wayne, Samuel (1SC4)

Oceans, the solution to the riddle of ‘what has no beginning, middle, or end? You may have stumbled upon the fact that oceans cover more than 70% of the earth countless times before, thus, it is safe to say they are rather significant to this earth. After all, it is home to 228450 known species and as many as 2 million more that remain a mystery to us. May I digress for a sentence: We have been considering the mystery of aliens since space travel has been possible; However, the real aliens are quite literally under our noses in the sea. 

Unfortunately, Oceans, like most other natural environments, follow the trend of being affected by pollution as human activity increases. From sewage dumping to oil spills, the damage caused by these activities is very considerable. One of the more pressing examples of ocean pollution would be none other than plastics. Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into oceans, plaguing its inhabitants with an everlasting curse due to the material’s nature of being non-biodegradable. Non-biodegradable, meaning that they can neither be decomposed nor degraded no matter the period of time, resulting in them remaining ever present in that environment.

“What’s so bad about plastics? They are just there, it’s not like it’s a huge threat.“

Well, there is no statement more wrong than the one above, there are so many ways that plastics can make life worse for all living creatures. Let’s start with marine life.

Where else do I start other than the infamous argument of the ingestion of plastics by marine sea life? Plastic debris such as bottles, bags, and other plastic waste can be mistaken for prey for such hungry creatures in the wild. In an attempt to satiate their hunger, they will try ingesting the plastic but it will backfire horribly with nothing good resulting from it. They can easily die from many causes once the ingestion of plastic occurs. Examples of which include suffocation, starvation, or other internal injuries. All of which are absolutely horrible fates for these defenceless sea creatures.

Next up, entanglement. In the wild, it is priority number 1 to be able to survive by avoiding predators and finding prey. It would be disastrous if their movement ability was severely restricted. However this is already a reality for many poor animals as the usual plastics like nets and bags had already entangled them. It would already be a near death sentence when entangled, with the only remaining being a massive human intervention. Though, it is rather unlikely that the freeing of these animals will be effective as the time goes by. Especially so since there are many immediate effects of entanglement which include drowning, suffering lethal cuts, and much more ; but to sum it all up, entanglement in plastic would not be any good to the animals.

Onto a much lesser known evil of plastics which would be chemical leaching of plastics. Certain plastics contain chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), which can interfere with the hormone systems of animals. In layman terms, this would absolutely mess up one of the ways that the body can regulate itself. Once affected, you can expect to see a delay or complete stop to the growth and development of the wildlife from maturing. And with this, we can say goodbye to possible future generations of that marine life.

Though the impact of ocean pollution on marine life is devastating, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention the other group of living creatures that ocean pollution harms. 

Ignorance is bliss. As humans, we hold ourselves at an arm’s length from the impacts of ocean pollution. We fall back on the excuse: it doesn’t affect us. After all, we’re not the animals that are physically inhibited by oil spills, or suffocated by plastic waste. The ocean is not man’s domain. 

However, man’s ocean pollution is karmic. It affects us more than we think. The plastic that we throw in the ocean with a laissez-faire attitude comes back to harm us. 

In the ocean, most plastics break up into miniscule particles. Or, microbeads, which are plastics intentionally designed to be small for use in beauty products, are thrown into the ocean. These are microplastics, which, thanks to our consumerist culture, have become highly concentrated in ocean water. Aquatic animals mistake these for food. These are the same aquatic animals that we fish and consume. We are literally eating them along with the microplastics present in their bodies. Some scientists have estimated that we consume around a credit card’s worth of plastic a week. 

Photo of microplastics. Photo Credit: User pcess609, Getty Images 

So, why is this a problem? So what if I guzzle down an American Express or Visa every week? The consumption of microplastics have been linked with cancer, reduced fertility, psychological illnesses and birth defects as a result of the multitude of toxic chemicals, such as neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. 

It doesn’t stop at microplastics. There’s mercury pollution, as a result of coal combustion, as well as manufactured chemicals that are thrown into the sea, contaminating the fish we eat, resulting in negative health effects such as heart disease, dementia and metabolic disease. 

According to Phillip Landrigan M.D., the Director at the Boston College Global Observatory on Pollution and Health, “Its (ocean pollutions) impacts fall most heavily on low-income countries, coastal fishing communities, people on small island nations, indigenous populations, and people in the high Arctic – groups that for the most part produce very little pollution themselves. These populations rely on the oceans for food.” 

It’s not just aquatic animals we’re harming. We’re actively hurting ourselves, and more selfishly, we’re apathetic in how our actions hurt our fellow man, whose, as Professor Landrigan said, “survival depends on the health of the seas.”

Enough with the negativity, it is also required of us to know both the good and bad before making any judgement. Obviously, there is nothing good about ocean pollution, so the good thing that we will write about would be what is done against it.

Solving ocean pollution seems like an insurmountable task. After years of damage, and at such a large scale, how could we possibly make a dent in this pressing issue? 

Organisations which include governments, companies, and environmental groups are absolutely necessary for the pushback on ocean pollution. After all, the ocean has a really large area to cover. 

One such organisation that caught my attention has a rather unique solution compared to the other organisations in their efforts of combatting ocean pollution. Give it up for the “manta boats” created by the organisation “the sea cleaners”. The real trailblazer in the sector of ships designed specifically for the collection, treatment, and repurposing of plastic debris in water bodies. Collecting a staggering 1-3 tonnes of plastic an hour, combined with the fact it only needs to rest for a short 4 hours daily, the ship could possibly clean up to 21900 tonnes of plastic a year, assuming maximum efficiency. 400 of these boats would easily be enough to be in the green for reducing ocean pollution. But alas, it is still in development, only approved in Principle with Bureau Veritas in 2022. However, I believe that my point still stands as time and patience are often key ingredients to make something so magnificent. Just you wait, it is only a matter of time until we reach the launch date of the Manta.

Photo of a manta boat. Photo credit: https://www.theseacleaners.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/vue-surplomb-trois-quarts_ok-1-400×0-c-default.jpg

Besides the help of organisations, we as individuals can do our part. 

One way is to become wiser consumers. We need to be more cognizant of the types of products we consume. It’s important to buy and use less plastics, and do research on our purchases. Non-biodegradable plastics seem to be in everything, from face masks to footwear. However, staying well informed and choosing to make more sustainable shopping choices can help make a difference. 

Show support for legislation that aims to reduce plastic production and waste. Take action, take part in or even help to organise beach cleanups, and pick up trash before it gets swept into the sea. Support and donate to organisations such as Greenpeace and the Oceanic Society, which are spearheading activist movements against ocean pollution. Reduce waste by cutting down on the amount you throw away. This goes hand in hand with being a wise consumer. Try to purchase products that are reusable, and will have longevity, and buy less unnecessary products. 

The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of our planet. It’s a rich, diverse ecosystem in itself, one that we rely on heavily for our survival. It is imperative that we take care of it. We must learn to protect our ocean instead of harming it.

Fast Fashion – To Be Trendy or Thrifty, To Which Harms or Helps The Environment?

Written by: Divyesh Balakrishnan (2SA6) and Vera Teo Hui Zhen (1SA1)

With a massive number of 8 billion people living on earth today, the number of fashion styles are bound to keep increasing, ranging all the way from streetwear to formal clothing. This has enabled an increasing rate of fast fashion brands to pop up in the market to produce extensive amounts of clothes and cater to varying styles.

[Names of several fast fashion brands. Image: Brightly]

Let’s first define what fast fashion means exactly – the inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. But why is the clothing so cheap? How are the retailers able to produce clothing so rapidly? And how exactly does fast fashion lead to environmental and labour issues? 

Fast fashion brands, such as Zara and Shein, mass manufacture new designs almost every single day. To be able to produce at such a fast rate, retailers leverage the use of cheap and low quality materials, like synthetic fibres. They also employ workers in less developed countries that work in sweatshops with unfair and unhygienic conditions. The exploitation of these factors have affected not just us consumers, but also the environment and these garment workers.

1) Consumers

Even though these clothes are cheap, the quality of them are hardly substantial to keep for weeks, let alone years, before they start disintegrating. Sometimes, the quality of them are so poor that they can only be worn a few times before holes start forming and cotton starts piling up, and they are thrown out. This means that consumers will have to buy an increasing quantity of clothes to compensate for the ones they’ve disposed of, leading to a continuous and unhealthy cycle of buying and throwing away cheap clothes. Overall, consumers will fall into the rabbit hole of spending their money on cheap clothes, forgetting that the increase in quantity bought has incurred a greater loss for them.

To save more money in the long run, and to protect the environment, the idea of slow fashion comes into play. Consumers can buy their clothing from thrift stores, that sell second hand clothing, so as to reduce the toxic cloth waste, produced by fast fashion, from being thrown into the landfills and the ocean. 

[Photo of a thrift store. Image: TIME]

2) Environment

Due to the huge number of poor quality clothes being thrown out every day, and the toxic materials that they are made out of, carbon emissions and toxic chemicals are being released into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, with fashion waste being a key factor. Landfills are also filling up very rapidly from the heaps of fashion waste. For example, the Semakau landfill is expected to fill up by the year 2035. There is also the insidious by-product of many fashion products – microplastics. “Textiles are the largest source of primary microplastics, accounting for 34.8% of global microplastic pollution”, according to Boucher, J. and Friot, D. (2017) Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources. IUCN.  While tiny in size (less than 5mm), its impact on the marine environment is colossal. They can end up in the bellies of the entire marine life food chain and hence also be ingested by humans!

[Fishermen walking along the ocean littered with waste from fast fashion. Image: Bloomberg]

3) Garment workers

A lot of fast fashion clothes we buy are sourced from less developing countries, including China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. This is because labour there is very cheap. Fast fashion firms, just like every other firm, are profit-driven, and hence, will make clothes there to cut costs. For countries like Bangladesh, the minimum wage is only 20 cents a year. Unfortunately, the conditions for clothing factory workers may be very inhumane. In such factories, the actions of workers are greatly monitored and restricted as they fear their clothes are stolen from the factory.

[Garment workers and their working conditions. Credits: A.M. Ahad/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press]

Fortunately, there are ways to solve the fast fashion predicament. For one, we could start renting clothes instead of buying new clothes. Look at the company Rent Runway’s approach to fashion. Customers can rent clothes for 8 days and return it afterwards instead of letting the article of clothing rot away in their closet after a one-time use. By adopting such approaches, I hope we as a society can resolve the fast fashion crisis.

The forgotten paradise of Maya Bay: Does tourism enhance beauty or slowly eradicate it?

Written by: Sitinur (2SB4)

Have you ever heard of Maya Bay? It is a beautiful bay located on the small island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in Thailand’s Andaman Sea. Surrounded by towering limestone cliffs covered in lush green vegetation, the bay features crystal clear turquoise waters and a stretch of soft white sand. 

The water in the bay is shallow and calm, making it perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking. In addition to the natural beauty of the bay, Maya Bay is home to a wide array of marine life, including colourful fish, sea turtles, and coral reefs. The bay’s natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere makes it a perfect travel destination. However, I must pop your bubble before you plan your next vacation there as this pristine paradise is no longer available to us and we only have ourselves to blame.

Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Leh Island, Andaman Sea, Thailand. Image: CNN Travel

The bay became famous after it was featured in the 2000 movie ‘The Beach’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie’s success put Maya Bay on the map and attracted a massive influx of tourists to the area. The increased tourism had a significant impact on the bay’s delicate ecosystem. The large number of visitors led to pollution, damage to coral reefs, and depletion of marine life. As such, the Thai government had no choice but to close the bay to visitors in 2018, to save the beach and give the environment time to recover.

State of environmental pollution on Maya Bay due to influx of tourists. Image: The Phuket News

The closure of Maya Bay had a significant impact on the local tourism industry, as many businesses that relied on the bay for income were forced to shut down. However, the closure was necessary to protect the fragile ecosystem and prevent further damage. Since then, the Thai government has been working on a plan to reopen Maya Bay to visitors while ensuring that the environmental impact is minimised. The plan includes limiting the number of visitors allowed in the bay, restricting boat access, and implementing measures to manage waste and prevent damage to the coral reefs.

Maya Bay reef restoration project. Image: Lifestyle Asia

Depending on how it is managed, increasing tourism can both propel a country forward as well as hinder its progress. We cannot afford to lose the substantial benefit tourism can bring to a country, from economic to social to cultural prosperity, nor can we neglect the possible irreversible damage to our environment. It is crucial for a country to manage tourism in a responsible way by treading carefully between these two extreme ends for a sustainable future.

A signboard on a beach to remind people to not litter. Image: Sterling TT

Air pollution

Air pollution: An invisible killer

It’s the year 2073. You start the day by looking outside at a usual sight, black, cloudy fumes surrounding you for miles and miles on end. You prepare to run your daily errands, making sure to grab your daily essentials on the way, a haze maze that separates 99% of airborne particles from entering your respiratory system. Grabbing your keys and an extra mask, you finally step out of the house, into the environment you are now familiar with, a world impenetrable by the light of day, a gloomy, suffocating life.

As unlikely as this seems, this is the life future generations would have to live if we were to continue the rate of over-exhausting our natural resources for human satisfaction. Aeroplane exhaust fumes and factories as seen in the above pictures are 2 major reasons for air pollution in society today. Along with other strong contributors such as incineration of waste and volcanic activity, these factors contribute to the worsening air pollution on earth. In Singapore, our natural garden city ensures that our air condition is constantly stabilised and hence we are able to enjoy clean air wherever we go. However, not everyone is so lucky.

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Impacts of air pollution on living organisms

  1. Impacts on the wildlife

Due to the damaging effects of air pollution, biodiversity is at high risk. Many plants and animals have recently been wiped off. Not to mention, animals affected by pollution are less likely to procreate. Animals exposed to air pollution have a higher mortality rate. This is because air pollution can cause various health problems, including respiratory problems, heart problems, and cancer. Additionally, this type of pollution can weaken the immune system, making animals more susceptible to diseases. and bronchitis, are common in humans and animals living in areas with high levels of air pollution. In severe cases, it can lead to organ damage or even death. Animals that live in areas with heavy air pollution are at a higher risk of developing these health problems.

It is estimated that over 99.9% of all species that ever lived are extinct and everyday over 150 species of animals go extinct. Air pollution is a major contributor to the extinction of many species. Can you imagine a world without animals such as lions, zebras or elephants? That would be the world our future generations have to face if the rate of air pollution continues.

  1. Impact on plants

Air pollution injury to plants can be evident in several ways. Injury to foliage may be visible in a short time and appear as necrotic lesions (dead tissue), or it can develop slowly as a yellowing or chlorosis of the leaf. There may be a reduction in growth of various portions of a plant. 

Agricultural crops can be injured when exposed to high concentrations of various air pollutants. Injury ranges from visible markings on the foliage, to reduced growth and yield, to premature death of the plant. The development and severity of the injury depends not only on the concentration of the particular pollutant, but also on a number of other factors. These include the length of exposure to the pollutant, the plant species and its stage of development as well as the environmental factors conducive to a build-up of the pollutant and to the preconditioning of the plant, which make it either susceptible or resistant to injury.

Agriculture is the bulk of our food resources. Damage to it could result in health impacts in humans as we consume these contaminated plants. 

  1. Impact on humans

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution kills around 7 million people worldwide every year, with 9 out of 10 individuals breathing air that exceed WHO pollutant guideline limits. In particular, low- and middle-income countries are the most impacted. Based on the WHO’s 2016 urban air quality database, 98% of cities in developing countries with over 100,000 inhabitants fail to meet WHO air quality guidelines. 

The reason for this disparity is due to the difference in government actions and financial resources. Lower-income countries tend to have lax regulations regarding air quality and vehicle emissions. Coal power plants are prevalent due to industrialization. All these lack basic air pollution controls such as filters and scrubbers which decrease the amount of particulates being released into the atmosphere. In large cities, the poorest live in informal settlements most often near rubbish dumps, which are a major source of air pollution. All this contributes to the negative health and economic effects poor air quality has on a nation.

The lack of resources and access to cleaner fuels and devices not only puts lower-income individuals and households at risk, but it also undermines their economic development. The time spent on fuel collection and hearth maintenance due to lack of a reliable lighting, heating, and cooking source limits income generation, schooling, and other opportunities both during and outside of daylight hours.

In essence, air pollution affects all

From humans from developing countries to wildlife to plants, air pollution is a silent killer that is not being sufficiently addressed globally. There have been several efforts to mitigate the impacts of air pollution but none of these proposed solutions have led to any concrete change in the degradation of air quality.

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Current efforts to address air pollution

  1. A global measure: The Clean Air Initiative

The Clean Air Initiative calls on national and subnational governments to commit to achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030. National or subnational governments can commit to achieving air quality that is safe for their citizens, and to align their climate change and air pollution policies, by 2030. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Clean Air Initiative was put on hold but the ongoing BreatheLife campaign (https://breathelife2030.org/) has continued to recruit new participants and has attracted 11 new members since September 2019 impacting almost 10 million citizens. WHO is planning to highlight those commitments at the upcoming COP26.

  1. A local measure: BreatheLife Campaign

Singapore is an island republic off the coast of Malaysia which is home to 5.6 million people. It is the first Southeast Asian city to join the “BreatheLife Campaign” initiated by the World Health Organization(WHO). Since 2019, the country has remained in the ‘Good’ and ‘Moderate’ range according to the NEA reports.

The Singapore government has taken necessary measures for sustainable development to reduce air pollution. It includes managing the growth of the vehicle population and switching from fuel oil to natural gas to generate electricity. Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, one of the primary sources of air pollution is industries and motor vehicles.

To help ease air pollution and ensure good air quality despite the country’s large industrial base and urban landscape, the government has introduced strict enforcement and legislation programs that help to monitor and minimise air pollution.

Since Covid-19 air quality has improved in Singapore due to the decrease in economic and transport activities. The government has announced tight control measures over automobile industries and land transportation, which remains one of the main contributors to air pollution in Singapore.

  1. Global Emissions InitiAtive

Global Emissions InitiAtive is a community effort dedicated to atmospheric emissions information exchange and competence building. GEIA’s 20th Conference will focus on advancing the scientific basis of emissions understanding needed to more effectively mitigate air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. The Conference will bring together the latest research on emissions from all sectors and will discuss the impacts of changing emissions on air quality and climate. The conference will highlight the activities of GEIA’s Working Groups and GEIA’s collaborations with other international groups. The conference also will solicit input from the community about GEIA’s path forward by involving experts from all over the world.

This detailed planning is crucial in developing plans that are effective and executable by various governments globally. It is a first step in the right direction towards decreasing the impacts of air pollution. 

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Air pollution is an invisible killer. Toxic chemicals infiltrate our systems and deplete our standard of living. It damages crops and decreases the susceptibility of livestock. It is incremental that more initiatives are brought about to alleviate the worsening damages brought about by air pollution. 

This way, future generations can breathe the same (or better) quality of air as we have now, enjoy the current quantity of biodiversity we have access to and live to see a brighter and clearer future.

Overfishing: The Decline in Fish Population

Written by: Ng Shi Yi, Charlene (1SB6) and Syed Nabil Bin Syed Hassnor (2AD2)
Edited by: Sitinur (2SB4)

[Characters from the hit Disney-Pixar film, ‘Finding Nemo’]

Imagine you are a fish: every day is an exciting new day to swim alongside your school of friends. However, more recently, throughout the day, you face the dread of hearing the increased drumming of the motor of the passing fishing ships and the swoosh of fishing nets being cast over the ocean. You hear your heart palpitating as you pray that you aren’t part of the fishes being caught by these fishermen. You swim about in a frenzy, hoping to be lucky enough to escape the clutches of death yet again.

As the groan of the motor of the ship fades away, your heart drops as you hear, yet again, that some of your friends and family are taken away by the fishermen. You mourn over the fact that you will never see them again, but yet you sigh in relief, glad that you aren’t part of the hoards of fishes being taken away. However, the excessive fishing has only contributed to a dwindling population of fishes left in the ocean.

The causes of this depletion of fish in the ocean stem from excessive fishing by humans. This excessive fishing can result in fish being removed at a faster rate than the fishes can replenish naturally resulting in a decrease in the population of fish in that area. This is called overfishing.

[A figure showing the estimated amount of fish and other seafood production across the globe. Image: Our World in Data]

Factors contributing to overfishing are illegal fishing, fishing subsidies and increasing consumer demand, and more.

1. Illegal and poorly-regulated fishing. 

Some of the worst ocean impacts are caused by pervasive illegal fishing, which is estimated at up to 30% of catch or more for high-value species. With experts estimating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing nets criminals up to $36.4 billion each year, these illegal catches threaten marine biodiversity and the population of fishes in the sea (Source: World Wildlife Fund). Illegal fishing methods such as blast fishing in countries such as SEA countries like Indonesia through explosives and cyanide, and these account for about 20% of the world’s catch (Source: Earth Eclipse). Moreover, illegal fishing does not only affect the population of fish, but their habitat as well. 

2. Subsidies to the fishing industry to offset the costs of doing businesses.

Because of the influence of these subsidies, there would likely be a surplus of fishing vessels and skewing of production costs so that fishing operations can continue to operate even when not necessary. For example, today’s worldwide fishing fleet is estimated to be up to 2.5 times the capacity needed to catch what we actually need (Source: World Wildlife Fund).
3. Increasing consumer demand leads to increased fishing.

[In just 57 years, fish consumption has increased by over 10 kg per capita. Image: FAO North America.]

With a growing population and affluence coupled with economic aspiration of fishing industries, this has led to increased output by fisheries to keep up and match consumer demand. In most cases, overfishing is a natural reaction by the fishing industry to increase supply to meet the increased demand (Source: World Wildlife Fund).

Overfishing, as the term negatively connotes, can result in widespread economic and environmental disasters. Even the process of modern fishing could severely harm the ecosystem. This is because most modern fishing gear used in commercial fishing catches marine life indiscriminately; it is not able to differentiate between the targeted and non-targeted catch. While unwanted by-catches such as sharks, turtles and dolphins are often dumped back into the sea, they usually do not survive having been exposed to a sudden change of atmosphere. As a result, these lead to degraded ecosystems, where an imbalance in the fish population could negatively affect the food web, resulting in the loss of other important maritime species such as corals and sea turtles.

Trawlers are the most commonly used commercial fishing gear. These drag fishing nets along the bottom of the seabed, trapping all kinds of marine life, including immature organisms or unwanted species. This is similar to drift (or gill) nets, which are nets that are left to drift feely in seas trapping almost everything in their path.

[Images showing how drift/gill nets and trawlers work. Images: World Ocean Review]

Dredging is also a rather common commercial fishing method. It involves the use of dredges, which scrape the seabed, destroying coral reefs and organisms living on the seabed.

[An image showing how dredging works. Image: Montrose Port Authority]

Cyanide fishing is also an extremely harmful fishing method, and this is usually done to catch fish for pets or display at aquariums! Cyanide fishing involves the use of cyanide, a poison, being squirted into the water around coral reefs. The cyanide would stun fish, allowing fishermen to then capture the fish easily. The use of explosives such as dynamite are also used to stun and catch reef fish. As aforementioned about the effects of modern fishing methods, not only do these harm the targeted fish population, but also all the other organisms in the ecosystem as well as the surrounding areas. Thankfully, this fishing method is illegal in many countries (Source: Hakai Magazine). 

Apart from these environmental impacts, overfishing could also lead to a severe economic crisis in affected countries; a decrease in food and economic security. Because of the increasing demand for fish with an increase in the world population, more businesses and jobs are dependent on the gradually depleting stocks of fish. 

The importance of fish are as follows (Source: World Wildlife Fund):

  • Fish ranks as one of the most highly traded food commodities and fuels a $362 billion global industry.
  • Many developing countries depend on the fishing industry for jobs.
  • Nearly half of the world population relies on fish as one of the major sources of protein.

With these in mind, the continuous depletion of the fish population could mean the continuous depletion of coastal economies and jobs, as well as a major source of protein for the world population. The high demand also breeds the tendency of overexploitation of commercial fishing, further worsening environmental degradation.

Overfishing has caused extremely detrimental effects to our world, and it is likely not going to get any better unless more regulations or measures are in place.

Space Tourism — Should The Sky Really Be The Limit?

By: Raye Yap 2MD3, Zhao Zijian 1SA6

As kids, some of us may recall watching ‘Little Einsteins’, an animated television series featuring four kids that go on trips in their ‘favorite rocket ship’. In one particular episode, they go on a mission to outer space to return a ring to the planet, Saturn. I remember watching that as a child and becoming fascinated with the prospect of going to space. After all, at that time, it was still a considerably new practice.

The Little Einsteins in space, from the episode ‘Ring Around the Planet

In fact, the origins of space travel go just several decades back to October 4, 1957. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. This happened during the period of political hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States, otherwise known as the Cold War. 

Photograph of a Russian technician putting the finishing touches on Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite. Credit: NASA/Asif A. Siddiqi

In the present day, we see space travel far more frequently for a wider range of purposes. While scientists are still sending out astronomical satellites to observe planets and galaxies, we are also beginning to see an introduction of ‘space tourism’ – the act of traveling into space for recreational purposes. One recent example would be the American multibillionaire, Jeff Bezos, who made a short trip to space as part of his own (growing) space tourism company, Blue Origin. 

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin. Credit: Blue Origin

But, what is space tourism really for, anyway? Is it really an activity only reserved for the most extravagant, wealthiest people with nowhere else to channel their money? 

Some have proposed that space tourism would greatly contribute to scientific research. Though the most recent flights were perhaps not long enough to offer enough insight, we may be able to see longer space flights in the future. Then, we would have the opportunity to study long-term physiological changes in humans as a result of being in space. There are also chances to carry out small-scale experiments on these touristic flights. For instance, on the recent Virgin Galactic flight, plants were taken on board to see how they would react to microgravity. 

A Virgin Galactic spacecraft, providing suborbital spaceflights to space tourists. Credit: British GQ Magazine 

Others have proposed that space tourism is to prepare for the creation of a colony on the moon or Mars for research purposes, or even as a backup plan should the Earth eventually become uninhabitable. While a lot of this research and preparation will need to be done by scientists and astronauts, it’s still true that for this to happen, more ordinary people will need to be able to visit space. In this way, space tourism could be a great starting point.

However, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room when it comes to space tourism, or space travel in general – its detrimental effect on the environment. One of the key impacts discovered in a study by scientists at UCL, MIT, and the University of Cambridge was emissions of black carbon (otherwise known as soot), from rocket fuel combustion. Soot is a huge contributor to climate change, which absorbs solar radiation and heats the atmosphere, accelerating snow and ice melt. 

A launching spacecraft releasing loads of pollutive gas. Credit: SpaceX/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock

The study also acknowledges the need for further research on the impact of commercial space launches on ozone levels. Pollutants from solid-fuel rockets and debris are particularly harmful to stratospheric ozone. Despite there being little impact on the ozone layer so far, predicted growth trends for space tourism indicate that the combination of these emissions could cause significant damage to the ozone layer in the future. This is truly quite concerning, as it has been almost two years since Jeff Bezos kickstarted the billionaire space race, and thousands of seat reservations have already been made for the first commercial flights into space.

So, what can be done to make space travel more environmentally friendly? Although not currently viable, the answer lies in the realm of science fictions.

Illustration of an orbital elevator, Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Featured in countless sci-fi imaginations, the orbital elevator is one of the most promising contestant for an eco-friendly space-traveling opportunity. Using electricity generated from renewable sources such as solar, wind and tidal power, the orbital elevator can transport people and goods from the ground to a height of around 2000 kilometers of elevation, where take-off of space vehicles is much easier, conserving fuel and carbon-dioxide emissions.

Another option is ion engines. Ion engines are different from conventional engines that are most commonly used in the space industry as it consumes a lot less fuel to reach the same speed. This is also believed to be the reason for ion engines to be used on space missions where fuel are limited, such as the Deep Space 1, a satellite which NASA launched to orbit the sun. 

Deep Space 1, NASA. Credit: NASA

With every strength, comes a weakness. Although ion engines are highly efficient, it is difficult for ion engines alone to launch a spacecraft into space. Thus, more research and development is required.

In the future, when our children gaze into the boundless night sky, perhaps they will too dream about space travel like we did a hundred years ago. The only difference is that this time, their dreams would not remain as dreams, but something that they can achieve.

Consumerism – Instant Gratification, at the Expense of our Environment?

When the average person thinks of the beach, they would probably picture the clear waters of the sea and the adjacent stretch of sand along the shore, coupled with a few annoying seagulls squawking in the distance. 

I do not visit the beach often, but that was how I remembered East Coast where I last popped by as a young lad, close to a decade ago. I remember digging my hands into the pale yellow sand, grabbing piles of it and shoving them into buckets to make sandcastles, only for the incoming waves to approach and wash away my (terribly crafted) empire. Times were fun then, and I definitely wouldn’t mind going back to that very beach to relive some memories.

…If the entire beach wasn’t filled with foreign objects, that is. 

As part of the annual beach cleanup by my CCA, I visited East Coast Park again, years after my last one. While I was aware that there may be some traces of trash at the beach, what I did not expect was the sheer…variety of discarded items my group and I have found throughout our cleanup. If eight-year-old me were to stick her hands into the sand as she did before today, she would be in for a surprise.

The first peculiar item we found was a small lightbulb. It was pretty small and had some algae growing on its side, which only meant it had been there for a considerable amount of time. Besides the one shown in the picture, there were more of them scattered about different points along the beach. 

The small lightbulb in question.

Next, we found one and a half slippers (yes, you read that correctly). We never got to find the missing half of the second slipper, but I like to think that it’s sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean. 

The first (intact) slipper.
The other (half) of the slipper.

The last strange item we found was a plastic bottle. And while there were plenty of plastic bottles we picked up along the beach, what made this one stand out in particular was its contents. It was filled with…suspicious-looking yellow liquid. I did not get a picture of it (probably because I was a little too disturbed), but it was definitely an interesting find, to say the least.

While most of the trash we picked up was still considered ‘normal’ – such as the usual cigarettes, pieces of styrofoam and (empty) plastic bottles, those were some of the more notable items we have found during our project. However, it is important to note that at the end of the day, trash is still trash. Even after our groups’ effort to clean up as much as we can, it is the unfortunate truth that in just a span of days, whatever we have cleared will eventually be replaced with more garbage. 

With the rise of consumerism in Singapore, an increasing amount of waste is produced on a daily basis, some of which end up in these public spaces we once enjoyed. Both the government and other volunteer groups can step in and host more beach cleanups like the one my CCA has, but the sheer amount of waste being dumped along the shores every day makes it almost impossible to sustain a positive outcome. I realised that for as long as consumerism persists, the problem can only be temporarily mitigated and not truly rectified.

Perhaps it is time for us to really be aware of and take accountability for our actions, and not make judgments based on sheer convenience or instant gratification. Only then would the cleanliness and conditions of our public spaces be restored in the slightest.

East Coast Park, in the early afternoon.

An Insight into Land Reclamation

Written by: Syed Nabil Bin Syed Hassnor (1AD2)

In the process of “reclaiming” more land, are we actually losing something more significant?

Pre-Introduction: A Reflection from Beach Clean-Up VIA 2022

In the humid yet sunny morning of 7th May 2022, the AC Press embarked on our iconic Values-in-Action (VIA) activity, where we picked up trash and cleaned the parks and shorelines of East Coast Park. It was an amazing experience for me, not only because I got to play a significant part in keeping the environment clean and healthy, but also because the event enabled me to foster stronger ties with my Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) mates.

On my journey there, I decided to read up some interesting information about East Coast Park and I encountered an astonishing discovery: the East Coast Park is actually built on reclaimed land! Such a discovery, therefore, led me to write this article about land reclamation, discussing more about its boons and banes to our earth.

Introduction

Did you know: the land of Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands did not actually exist before, and is actually a man-made construction? Watch the video below to find out more about how the land was brought about!

A video about how land reclamation brought about Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay district (Source: Temasek Digital, extracted from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaXN6nFWsZ0)

What is Land Reclamation?

Land reclamation is the process of creating new areas of land from the sea using materials and resources from the environment. There are mainly two main reasons as to why land reclamation is done.

Firstly, as suggested by the video above, land reclamation enables a country to create new land for housing, industrial, agricultural, recreational or commercial purposes in the context whereby the country faces a lack of or insufficient natural land space. According to a post by Tansi International College, Awka, reclaimed land can also be used for “wildlife purposes”.

Secondly, in more geographical concepts, land reclamation can be a coastal protection measure to reduce the impact of erosion on coastlines, to improve the quality of the air, as well as prevent harmful pests from breeding in the environment (Source: Graham Churchill, 2019)

Why should we talk about it?

A month ago, I came across an article by Channel News Asia (CNA) about the Maldives’ plans to reclaim more land “as sea levels continue to rise”. This article really puzzles me because the fact that sea levels have been continuing to rise is already worrying enough.

A picture of Meeru Islands, Maldives (Source: agoda.com extracted from https://www.agoda.com/meeru-island-resort-spa/hotel/maldives-islands-mv.html?cid=1844104)

From the article, it is mentioned that “Most of the country’s 1200 islands are under threat from rising sea levels and being slowly swallowed by the waves through erosion.” Some concerning data of the rising sea levels include:

  • For the past half a century, sea levels have been rising at a more rapid rate than ever since 3,000 years ago
  • Over the last decade, the rate has been about 4mm per year

A rise in sea levels is a consequence of global warming, which causes ice glaciers to melt and expand water in the ocean. Coastal flooding and storm surges will also prevail and become more frequent as temperatures continue to rise. Such research has proven global warming and its detrimental effects true and ever-present.

Global warming aside, while land reclamation can be seen to improve social welfare and accommodate a country’s development, it could severely damage the marine life like coral reefs.

The negative impacts of land reclamation

Undeniably, one horrid impact of land reclamation is the destruction it brings to the marine ecosystem – habitats of the marine life are removed in place for land to be built. Careful research by Yu Ge and Zhang Jun-yan from ScienceDirect found that the coasts of Jiaozhou Bay reduced in area significantly within 45 years mainly due to reclamation works, and changes to its coastlines are extremely clear.

A figure showing the change of coastline and surroundings in Jiazhou Bay (Source: Yu Ge and Jun-Yan’s research, 2011)

Such changes to coasts can lead to the decline of biological diversity, the loss of wetlands and an adverse effect on the living environment of marine life for the migratory species. Read up their full research here.

“Land reclamation tends to be expensive because reclaimed soil is weak, compressible, takes many years to stabilize, and consequently not economic for tall buildings. Foundations are expensive because you can only build low-rise buildings on raft or mat footings and other expensive engineering measures,” says the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Philippines.

A rough conclusion

Like any other types of measures, land reclamation has its own costs and benefits. It provides countries with more necessary space, but comes with an unexcludable blow to the environment. Whether it leans more towards the good or bad side is highly dependent on how current circumstances unfold from them and our current needs and desires at today’s point of time. What is your take on this?

Acknowledgements:

  • Temasek Digital, Building Marina Bay District from the Ground Up
  • Tansi International College, Land Reclamation (https://tansicollege.edu.ng/content/land-reclamation)
  • Graham Churchill, An Essential Guide to Land Reclamation (https://www.grahamchurchillplant.co.uk/an-essential-guide-to-land-reclamation)
  • CNA, Fighting the tides: Maldives races to reclaim more land as sea levels rise
  • agoda.com
  • Yu Ge and Zhang Ju-yang, Analysis of the impact on ecosystem and environment of marine reclamation-A case study in Jiaozhou Bay
  • NAST Philippines, Reclamation: Pros and cons (https://www.nast.ph/index.php/downloads/category/75-policy-discussion-on-the-hazards-risk-and-profits-of-reclamation?download=254:reclamation-pros-and-cons)