Avaaz – Save the saddest dolpins

Now the campaign to save the dolphins has gone global and by reputable group Avaaz at Save the saddest dolphin online petition. What a nice phenomenon and finally I feel the dolphins might have a chance of being free and perhaps we have a chance to redeem ourselves here in Singapore. I really admire the efforts by ACRES in their “Save the Saddest Dolphins” campaign.

What was RWS thinking? Anway, how can they use excuse that the dolphins can be used for “Interactive SPA” to heal the sick and disabled children. (I have no doubt dolphins make anyone feel better but it would be so wrong if the dolphins are captive). If RWS is really sincere about this, they should donate their earnings to hospitals, hospices and other organizations who are in a better position than an integrated resort whose main expertise is food, entertainment – namely gambling, to do these things.

If you want to know how many people are signing up go look at the window on the “recent signers highlighted in the screen capture below at their website for

Post-marathon reflections – running for the captive dolpins.

I ran the Sundown full marathon on saturday evening at 10pm. Prior to that Otterman called me to wish me good luck and we started to talk about the dolphins that were being held captive and at some point would be brought to Resorts World Singapore for human entertainment. I immediately thought that I should then dedicate the run to the captive dolphins at least to put it on facebook to tell my friends and help raise awareness. And so I did, and posted on facebook that each km goes in against keeping the dolphins captive.

So when I started the race, it was really a different deal from the normal races I do where I basically go with the flow. My thoughts were of the dolphins and trust me, 42 km is a lot of time and distance to think about it. I ran with a running kaki and for the first 10 km we were chatting and telling each other how stupid we were not to train yet again.

By the 21 km mark I was alone and made the u-turn along the PCN at East Coast Parkway. I was alone with my thoughts and my pace was good, dedicating each km to the dolphins made the run a purposeful one. And as I ran close to the beach, I imagined dolphins porpoising (alternately rising above the water and submerging) freely in the sea nearby. I kept my pace and was in for a sub-6 hour timing; I had everything covered – gobbled enough power gels to keep glycogen stores up and checked my heart rate and running pace. My previous marathon was done in 6hrs 55 mins, not very good by any standards.

Then it happened yet again at the 35km, the “Wall”. I had stopped at a hydration station and took in two cups of 100-plus and wiping my face with a dry towel I had kept in a ziploc. After wiping my face, I felt instantly dizzy and had that bitter taste in my mouth. Very.. bad.. feeling. I struggled to even to stand up and walk so I laid down on the road for 10 mins. There were nice runners who saw me in trouble and ask: “Bro, you ok?”

At the 39km mark, I was barely making it, constantly spitting out the bitter taste developing in my mouth and walking very wearily. All thoughts of dolphins now disappeared and I thought how terrible for me not to finish a race I had dedicated to them. Even the thoughts of the dolpins couldn’t keep me going.

What kept me going and not fainting were thoughts of my little kids running beside me, laughing and skipping as they always do and me walking alongside my wife – as we do when we walk in the park. I had to visualise that to keep myself from giving up and that mental picture and the sounds of my kids laughter kept me going. Such is the strength of family ties, what we treasure most, our closest and dearest. It keeps us going no matter what. I finished the marathon in 6 hrs 15 mins, shaving off 40 mins from my previous timing.

What goes through a dolpin’s head when it is separated from its closest? I know as a biologist, that dolphins are highly social. If our family ties give us so much, then won’t it be the same for social and intelligent creatures? Especially sentient and highly intelligent ones like dolphins?

What bothers me about the RWS issue is that in the past we were battling ignorance of what people knew about dolpins. These days in a highly educated society like ours, what is it that we are battling to free the dolpins?

From now on, I am dedicating all the mileage I clock for the release of the dolphins and in support of the campaign by ACRES called the World’s Saddest Dolphins

A salak palm, once thought to be lost to Singapore…

Palms
Palms

This is Salacca affinis. It was thought to be extinct but I accidentally stumbled onto it while taking pictures of rattans. This local salak is a relative of the scaly buah salak that is eaten.

This salak is a palm of the peat swamps and has fronds that tower above our heads. At Nee Soon Swamp Forest, there is a cousin of this palm called Eleiodoxa conferta and looks much like it that dominates the wet swampy understorey. It was this other species that really caught my eye with its beautiful spines. See this picture.

Eleiodoxa conferta

This species can form a stand in the swamp and so it was really fortunate that I stumbled onto the salak. It was one among the many other Eleiodoxa palms in the swamp. The differences between the two are not apparent at first but the key thing is the arrangement of the lamina (leaf blades) of the fronds. Eleiodoxa has a flat frond due to the arrangment of the leaflets (so basically the leafs look like that of a coconut tree). Salacca affinis has a frond with clumped leaflets are regular intervals and the leaflets at each clump fan out. The spines also can be used to differentiate the two immediately. Eleiodoxa has those strikingly beautiful spines arranged like a comb around the leaf stalk.

Nee Soon Swamp is precious – things are still being discovered/rediscovered in this highly threatened habitat by the plant and animal research groups in NUS and NParks.

More details over here – Rediscovery in Singapore of Salacca affinis Griff. (Arecaceae). Nature in Singapore, 4: 123–126. [ PDF , 300 KB]

Accessible from volume 4 of Nature in Singapore: http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg/nis/bulletin2011.html

Poor in spirit

There is this sentence here from the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus that has always eluded me. I always thought it to be straight-forward and that it was about knowing you are poor or that by being poor you see God. This Sermon on the Mount happens to be a favorite of Gandhi so in a way I am drawn to it because someone I admire had dwelled deeply in its teachings.

The reason why I bring it up is because of an old couple at church. They have been volunteering at church actively for many years and have sort of grown along with the church. I have never known them very closely but this last few months I have been seeing them monthly as I play the guitar for a group of people who meet on the 2nd Friday of the month to sing some hymns during Taize. I just play the guitar – the level of emotional and spiritual involvement I question at times.

So in these last few months we’ve had lots of conversations and I hear more about their daily lives. It has been endearing. She loves her husband dearly who is ailing but still keeping strong and when she wasn’t well from a fall, she was worried about who would take care of her husband and keep her company, and yet after every singing practice, he makes his way laboriously across the main road to make sure she gets across safely. They struggle and their bodies are taking a beating with age. We drive them back when they don’t hastily disappear.

It isn’t difficult to be drawn in and take notice of the love they have for each other, the respect they have for the Church and their relationship with God, its all very palpable. The prayers she utters in the group is like a conversation with God and all I do is close my eyes and imagine a benevolent God infront of her. The form in her prayer makes one participate and know that we are in holy presence.

So I think about the Beatitudes (Matthew, Chapter 5) – I haven’t opened the Bible for a long long time. I think about poverty in spirit and wonder, is she poor in spirit? I think she knows she and her husband are poor in spirit and that their lives are in God’s hands, their very sense of security. But the strange thing is that in their poverty, is a richness in their lives that have flowed to us all. And I actually begin to realise, how poor I am in spirit.

A very small forest, the central catchment area is…

Last week I presented some of my students’ work at the 8th Flora Malesiana conference. It was on the gene flow of some species of native plants in Singapore (which included Rhopaloblaste singaporensis) and also a short highlight on palm distribution projects that I am starting with my current JC students. The gene flow work was from Shufen’s excellent work for her Honours thesis.

In preparation for one of the slides to show where the individuals of Rhopaloblaste singaporensis was collected (with permits from NParks) for the DNA sampling, I realised how small our Central Catchment Nature Reserve is. This area would include Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Macritchie reservoir, Pierce reservoir and Nee Soon Swamp forest.

5B35EB43-3942-4E97-AB52-F8E335F90909.jpg

I used Google Earth to measure the width of the Catchment area and what I got was a little over 5km at some points…. And then it dawned on me also that we could easily walk round Macritchie in 1.5 hours.

So that was one of those epiphanies I got in preparation for that talk and it lingers.

When I brought 2 of my students to map the distribution of palms in Macritchie, they told me their friends had asked them “why work on the forest palms when there are so many palm species in the urban landscape, along the wayside and in the gardens”… Well, it didn’t take too long, as we began to map and identify the forest species, before they realised that the forest species are special, threatened and misunderstood.

Wedding and friends

Today I attended a good friend’s wedding and I sat at a table with my good kakis. On my right was Cynthia, she is always full of life-giving words. How blessed it is to be her friend. One friend away is Otterman who organized my wedding, he’s a brother to me. Ladybug is sister. And then there is Jaswant and Kok who laugh like little kids. Down the table past them are Zee, Abby and Dione, wonderful people who I am proud to have as Bio kakis and fellow educators. One is indeed fortunate to be surrounded by good people. A blessing. I don’t know why I always feel that in such occasions where I meet good people, I sense heaven, its almost tangible and spiritual. I mean I have that with my family. But because these people aren’t family but they somehow seem heaven-sent, the sense of heaven is there. If you guys read this, bless you.