The Weird and Wonderful: Mangrove

In the current era where climate change is a pressing concern, mangrove forests stand out for their remarkable ability to efficiently sequester carbon, trapping significant amounts of carbon dioxide by storing carbon in their biomass and the surrounding soil.

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In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.

Mangroves

Mangroves are a group of shrub and tree species that live along shores, rivers, and estuaries in the tropics, subtropics, and even some temperate coastal areas. Although used to describe the species, plant, or forest, the term mangrove is also commonly used collectively to describe the unique ecosystem these plants form.

These inter-tidal forests, comprising salt-tolerant trees featuring a partially exposed network of roots, are possibly the world’s most productive type of wetland. They provide shelter and food for an immense diversity of wildlife. They physically protect coastlines. They provide sustenance, raw materials, and medicine to communities who continue to depend on the land for their livelihoods. They are extremely resilient and are able to withstand the worst of storms, hurricanes, and flooding. 

During high tide, the roots of mangrove plants are completely submerged in seawater. And during low tide they are exposed to the sun. While the distinctive roots of mangroves play a crucial role in facilitating the respiration of these plants, their significance extends beyond that singular function.

Mangrove root systems provide a safe haven for fish fry and juvenile animals and host a variety of species, including mudskippers, otters, and water monitor lizards.

Their roots act as natural filters, trapping sediments and pollutants, and enhancing water quality. They protect marine life, and provide a natural buffer against storm surges and coastal erosion.

In the current era where climate change is a pressing concern, mangrove forests stand out for their remarkable ability to efficiently sequester carbon, trapping significant amounts of carbon dioxide by storing carbon in their biomass and the surrounding soil. 

However, the combined impacts of rising sea levels and activities such as agriculture, aquaculture, urban development, and harvesting have resulted in the erosion and deforestation of mangrove forests, causing the loss of more than a quarter of these vital ecosystems in the past 50 years. In the 1820s, mangroves accounted for 13 percent of Singapore’s land area. Today, less than 1 percent of the mangroves in Singapore remain.

Approximations suggest that Singapore’s remaining mangrove patches may store 450,570.7 megagrams of carbon, an equivalent to the average annual carbon emissions of 621,000 residents

The most extensive expanse of mangrove area on mainland Singapore is loacted within Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. They can also be found within areas such as Mandai, Labrador Nature Reserve, and Pasir Ris Park, as well as offshore islands like Pulau Semakau and Pulau Ubin. 

There are about 35 mangrove species found in Singapore, here are a few to look out for: 

Common name: Bakau Minyak 

Scientific name: Rhizophora apiculata

The Bakau Minyak is one of the two most common mangrove species in Singapore and native to Singapore. They have the potential to grow upwards of 30 metres or more. Boasting a smooth dark grey bark that can reach up to 50cm in diameter, the bakau minyak is distinguished by its characteristic arching prop or stilt roots connected to the trunk, along with aerial roots emerging from its branches. 

Common name: Bakau Putih, Black Mangrove

Scientific name: Bruguiera cylindrica

The Bakau Putih, also known as Black Mangrove, is another common mangrove species and native to Singapore. These mangroves can reach heights of up to 20 meters but are frequently spotted on nature trails as compact shrubs or modest trees ranging from 2 to 3 meters in height. The trees have a greyish bark and are notably recognised for their lateral roots that stick out from the mud surface, bearing a resemblance to a person’s bent knees.

Common name: Nipah Palm, Water Coconut, Mangrove Palm, Attap

Scientific name: Nypa fruticans

You may already be familiar with this plant based on your knowledge of a popular local dessert. Ice kacang is a local favourite of red beans, creamed corn, grass jelly and the gem of all gems––attap chee, topped with a mountain of ice drizzled with gula melaka. Attap chee is the fruit of the nipah palm. And gula melaka (palm sugar) is made from its sap. The Nipah Palm is a mangrove palm native to Singapore. It is a medium to large-sized stemless palm that frequently grows in small clumps, characterized by its expansive leaf fronds.

If you come across mangroves in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.

Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!

📷 Post your findings on social media and tag us on Instagram or Facebook.

The Weird and Wonderful: The Sunbird

These small agile birds, measuring 9 to 15cm long, are a common sign in the island’s green spaces––in gardens and nature parks. Here are a few sunbird species that you might encounter in Singapore:

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In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.

The Sunbird

Have you seen a sunbird flitting from flower to flower and thought… hummingbird

These small agile birds, measuring 9 to 15cm long, are a common sign in the island’s green spaces––in gardens and nature parks. They live primarily on nectar and sometimes feed on small insects. Because of their small size and nectar-feeding behaviour, it is easy to mistake them for hummingbirds.

But you won’t find hummingbirds in this part of the world­­. Unlike hummingbirds, sunbirds rarely hover while feeding and usually perch to feed.

Sunbirds have long, curved bills that can reach deep into flowers, making them effective pollinators––particularly tubular flowers that bees and butterflies find difficult to access. By aiding in pollination, sunbirds help to maintain the beauty and diversity of plant life in Singapore, contributing to the balance and health of the local ecosystem. Their bills also allow them to feed on fruits when flowers are unavailable and hunt for insects and spiders to feed their young. 

Sunbirds are Old World birds from the family Nectariniidae. They are native to Asia, Africa, and Australasia.

In tropical regions, sunbirds mate and breed throughout the year. The males are brightly coloured, almost iridescent, and often larger than females. They build hanging purse-like nests and usually lay two eggs at a time.

They are often seen in pairs and are monogamous, meaning they have only one partner and mate for life. You might even see them in small family groups! Sunbirds live up to 7 years in the wild and generally stay in one area from birth to death.

Here are a few sunbird species that you might encounter in Singapore:

Common name: Olive-backed Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Sunbird

Scientific name: Cinnyris jugularis

The Olive-backed Sunbird, also known as the yellow-bellied sunbird, is the most common sunbird found in Singapore. They often build their nests on the tip of branches or on fences. Males boasts a vibrant metallic-blue forehead, throat and breast, olive-green upperparts and a contrasting yellow chest; females are yellow with dull olive brown upperparts. 

Common name: Brown-throated Sunbird, Plain-throated Sunbird

Scientific name: Anthreptes malacensis

The Brown-throated Sunbird is another common sunbird that can be spotted in coastal areas, mangrove habitats, parks, and gardens. Males display a distinctive brown throat, a metallic-green head and neck, purple wings, and a lemon-yellow belly; females are dull olive. 

Common name: Crimson Sunbird

Scientific name: Aethopyga siparaja

The Crimson Sunbird has earned the unofficial title of Singapore’s national bird, resonating with the moniker “the little red dot” often used to describe the island on world maps. Males exhibit a bright red colour with a grey belly and greenish-black tail; females are dull olive-green with a pale yellow belly and dull-green tail.

Common name: Copper-throated Sunbird 

Scientific name: Leptocoma calcostetha

The Copper-throated Sunbird is one of the larger species of sunbirds. They are found predominantly in coastal areas and mangroves. It prefers to feed on the nectar of flowers of Bruguiera trees. They are in danger of habitat loss in Singapore due to the degradation and destruction of mangroves. Males appear dark all over with an iridescent green crown and shoulder, copper-coloured throat and upper breast; females are olive with a yellow belly, a pale-grey head and throat and an incomplete white eye ring.

If you come across a sunbird in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.

Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!

📷 Post your findings on social media and tag us on Instagram or Facebook.

November Events in Singapore

November events in Singapore that help you raise awareness, take action, connect with nature, be a part of the environmental movement, and meet like-minded people.

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1. Organic Composting for Gardening

Time: 7 p.m. – 8 p.m., Tuesday, 14th November 

Place: Punggol Regional Library – Programme Room

Organiser: GoLibrary, National Library Board

Description:

The Organic Composting for Gardening Programme discusses the importance of organic composting in gardening and its role in contributing to sustainability in Singapore. Key speaker Jayden Ong, co-founder of SoilSocial, will share about the practical aspects of organic composting at home and within community gardens. 

Registration is free. Reserve a spot here.

GoLibrary is the organiser of Programmes on Sustainability. Head to an NLB library to pick up tips on how to live a greener life! Explore other programmes and offerings here.  

2. What’s in my water?

Time: 9:30 a.m.­ – 11:00 a.m., Saturday, 18th November 

Place: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Organiser: National Parks

Description:

What’s in my water? is a guided morning walk at Sungei Buloh that offers an opportunity to explore and familiarize yourself with the diverse land and coastal creatures and plants inhabiting the wetland reserve. Sungei Buloh comprises mangroves, mudflats, ponds, and forests, making it a tropical haven for a wide-ranging ecosystem that includes mudskippers, crabs, water snakes, monitor lizards, otters, and various other species.

The What’s in my water? tour is free. Limited to 12 participants on a first-come-first-serve basis. Registration opens at 8 a.m., 10th November. The walk will be cancelled if it rains. 

3. East Coast Beach Plan Cleanups

Time: Friday, 10th November, Friday, 17th November, Friday, 24th November 

Place: East Coast Park

Organiser: @eastcoastbeachplan

Description:

The East Coast Beach Plan is a ground-up initiative for anyone interested to join or self-organise clean-ups to do their part to reduce plastic pollution from entering the ocean. Note that all sessions are ad-hoc and self-organised by interested individuals, nothing is really centrally organised. Do participate safely and at your own discretion and risk.

Read this document before you go!

4. Zero • Market

Time: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday, 18th November, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Sunday, 19th November

Place: Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre, 30A Yishun Central 1, Singapore 768796

Organiser: Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre 慈济人文青年中心

Description:

The Zero • Market is a sustainable lifestyle market, where fresh produce and sustainable goods are available! They are working towards Zero Waste, starting with Zero Meat and Zero Plastic (except for unavoidable plastic packaging). It takes place every 1st and 3rd Weekend (Saturday and Sunday) of the month unless otherwise stated. Visit the Zero • Market and don’t forget to bring your own bag!

5. Love Our Coast Beach Cleanup

Time: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., Sunday, 26th November 

Place: Georges @ The Cove

Organiser: Georges

Description:

Love Our Coast Beach Cleanup is an initiative led by georges to promote care and responsibility for the beaches and coastal ecosystems in Singapore. The cleanup process comprises an initial briefing, during which participants will receive cleaning equipment. Following the cleanup, they will be responsible for sorting the items collected from the beach.

Registration is free. Click here to sign up.  

6. Repair Kopitiam

Time: Sunday, 26th November 

Place: Various locations 

Organiser: Repair Kopitiam 

Description:

Repair Kopitiam is an initiative designed to combat the disposable culture by offering a platform where individuals can mend their personal belongings with guidance and assistance from volunteer “Repair Coaches”. This do-it-yourself (DIY) repair event takes place on the final Sunday of each month at different locations throughout the country. To participate, attendees need to schedule a specific timeslot and are allowed to bring up to two items for repair during each session.

Booking opens on 10th November through 21st November. Read event house rules here.

7. Turning waste to energy: TuasOne Waste-To-Energy Plant Tour

Time: 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., 28th November 

Place: Jurong East MRT Station (Meeting point)

Organiser: CGS Experiences

Description:   

Turning waste to energy: TuasOne Waste-To-Energy Plant Tour is a guided visit to Singapore’s sixth waste-to-energy plant. The plant can process about 35% of the garbage that Singapore generates daily, incinerating up to 3,600 tonnes of waste and generating up to 120 megawatts of electricity daily. Explore the facilities and learn about the technologies employed to turn waste materials into energy.

Learn more about the tour and register here

Edit: Wow! This tour is popular and completely booked out now. You can join the waitlist or organise your own group booking via the NEA Portal.

For the little ones:

8. Weird and Wonderful Plants

Time: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., Monday, 20th November

Place: Singapore Botanic Gardens, Centre for Education & Outreach

Organiser: National Parks

Description:

Weird and Wonderful Plants is a children’s workshop and guided tour through the Singapore Botanic Gardens to observe unique and strange plants in their natural habitat. Participants will discover plants with such as the Pitcher plant, Venus flytrap, Ant plant, and Air plant and learn about their important ecological roles, why plant life is crucial for the environment and why it’s essential to conserve biodiversity.

The Weird and Wonderful Plants workshop is $50 per child. Suitable for children in Primary 1 to 6. 

9. Deep Field by Tin&Ed

Time: 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. – 2 p.m., 3 p.m. – 4 p.m., 16th – 26th November

Place: ArtScience Museum, Basement 2, Rainbow Room

OrganiserArtScience Museum

Description:

Deep Field by Tin&Ed is an immersive art experience by Australian artists Tin Nguyen and Edward Cutting. The experience starts with a guided tour of the museum where participants will have a chance to design their own imaginary flora and fauna taking inspiration from the natural environment. Their creations will be added to a new ecosystem of plants revealed through the lens of Augmented Reality (AR). As participants immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of the natural world, they are prompted to establish a deeper connection with and contemplate their relationship with our planet and nature.

The Deep Field by Tin&Ed workshop is free with registration. Click here for more information about Tin&Ed. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Book here to reserve a slot. 

Why is the Single-Use Bag an Environmental Villain?

Starting from this year, 2023, major supermarkets in Singapore have started charging for disposable bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Why is it important to get shoppers to switch from disposable bags to reusable bags? 

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Starting from this year, 2023, major supermarkets in Singapore have started charging for disposable bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Since 3 July 2023, these larger supermarkets have been required to charge at least five cents for each disposable carrier bag regardless of the material––plastic, paper, biodegradable materials, and so on. Charging for disposable bags is an effort to get the nation-state on a journey towards zero waste.

Why is it important to get shoppers to switch from disposable bags to reusable bags? 

Disposable products are often seen as counter to the principles of zero waste for several reasons. Disposables are designed to be used once and then discarded. They foster a culture of wastefulness and encourages the idea that resources can be used and discarded without considering their long-term environmental impact. 

The production of disposable products depletes our natural resources, such as trees for paper products, oil for plastics, and water during the manufacturing process. On top of that, manufacturing, transportation, and the disposal of single-use products require energy, which often comes from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels. This energy use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change. 

What’s more, once the product is used and disposed of, most of it ends up as landfill waste. Every year, around 200,000 metric tonnes of Singapore’s domestic waste are disposables. According to NEA, only 6% of the plastics that get tossed out in Singapore get recycled. Paper has a higher recycling rate of 37%. And biodegradable plastic bags don’t get recycled at all–– they are incinerated with the rest of our waste.

Although the mandate applies to disposable bags of any material, plastic bags are one of the major contributors to Singapore’s domestic plastic waste. A study by the Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) found that shoppers take about 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets a year.

Funnily (or not), plastic bags were first invented in 1959 with the intention of saving trees. They were made as an alternative to paper bags, which were causing the destruction of forests. People were encouraged to switch to plastic bags. Sten Gustag Thulin, a Swedish engineer, who designed the plastic bag, would keep one folded in his back pocket to be re-used. By the end of the 90s, plastic bags almost entirely replaced paper bags around the world. They were seen as the cheaper alternative.

While disposables may seem cheaper upfront, they can be more expensive in the long run when we consider the environmental and societal costs. 

Plastic disposables, for example, have been notorious for littering our landscapes, oceans, and waterways. They are lightweight and easily blown away by the wind. When plastic waste is mismanaged, they harm wildlife, disrupt ecosystems, and can persist in the environment for centuries. 

By choosing disposables, we miss out on opportunities to promote recycling and reuse, which are key components of a zero-waste lifestyle. In contrast, the zero-waste movement encourages a shift away from disposable products and towards practices that reduce waste. Sten Gustag Thulin didn’t plan for the plastic bag to become a problem, but he did have the right idea––he carried a bag with him to be reused. So, next time you go shopping, remember to Refuse disposable bags, Reuse a bag you already have, and if you must, Recycle instead of throwing it in the trash.

You might be interested in: Reduce Single-Use Plastics Checklist