I hope S’poreans will appreciate the hidden gems of nature that can be found on our little island

by Mok Kai Lin

As part of a cultural exchange with delegates from other Southeast Asian countries, I chose to share a collection of wildlife snapshots.

I had taken these photographs with my trusty digital camera during my forays into local parks and nature reserves over the years, and had accumulated quite a fair bit of material.

I felt this would be a unique topic of discussion as Singapore’s natural heritage can be considered a hidden gem of its culture that is often not touched upon.

I wasn’t able to see the facial expressions of my audience while I presented, but their surprise was palpable as I could hear gasps and the occasional exclamation of “wow!” as I clicked through the pictures.

At the end of my sharing, one of the delegates even remarked in amazement that they hadn’t known Singapore has such natural beauty as our country is conventionally known for its skyscrapers and cityscapes, and is marketed as a popular tourist destination for food and shopping.

That comment really shook me because it made me realise just how misunderstood and marginalised Singapore’s natural heritage really is.

In the recent months, many of my friends have taken the chance to visit local attractions like the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari, Bird Park, SEA Aquarium, and Gardens by the Bay using their SingapoRediscover vouchers.

As I scroll through their latest updates and Instagram stories, their fascination with the weird and wonderful animals and plants on display are evident from their myriad pictures and exciting captions. But I wonder how many of us, Singaporeans, are aware of the diverse flora and fauna tucked away in our own local parks, nature reserves, and heartlands, just waiting for discovery.

These are uniquely Singaporean and free for all to enjoy – rather than imported, housed in enclosures and viewable for a fee.

Swept up in the hectic rush that is our everyday lives, and perhaps more so now given that we spend increasing time behind the screens of our laptops and smartphones, only a few of us take pause to notice Singapore’s natural beauty for what it truly is.

In our relentless race up the infinite stairway of progress, few of us feel we can afford the luxury of stopping and smelling the roses along the way. How can we against a backdrop where COVID-19 looms as a constant threat to our health and economy? How can we when we, damned by the constraint of land scarcity, are doomed to displace plants and animals from their homes to make room for our own?

Conservation seems like discourse reserved for the privileged, affordable only to those who, secure in their own homes and incomes, have no need to worry about rising real estate prices nor economic downturn.

Yet, how can we fairly assess the value of Singapore’s natural heritage which eludes accurate measurement by its sheer abundance and which we have begun to destroy even before attempting to quantify? How can we compare the worth of finances against something priceless and irreplaceable once lost?

Instead of a fight for survival between man and nature, a battle to the death between development versus conservation, can we foster a symbiosis between the two? In any healthy relationship, compromises need to be made, but boundaries also need to be respected.

With advances in eco-friendly technology, is it possible for forests to co-exist alongside our heartlands? For recreation, can we come to accept quality time and picnics in the great outdoors as a successor to ever-more trendy malls and hip new eateries? In terms of housing and real estate value, are we able to reframe our outlook such that green space becomes as coveted an amenity as a school, MRT, or shopping complex nearby?

Here, I have admittedly raised more questions than answers.

However, the balance between development and conservation is such a precarious one, and one with far-reaching consequences for so many lives both human and non-human, that open discussion and cooperation between all stakeholders is critical to forge a sustainable path forward. And, that means we, as Singaporeans and thus fellow stakeholders, can no longer afford to be apathetic, sit back, and turn a blind eye.

I believe that in order to feel a sense of ownership for and a desire to protect something, we first have to recognise its beauty and value.

I thus wish to share this series of collages put together from photographs I have taken, in hope that Singaporeans will have a newfound appreciation for the hidden gems of nature that can be found on our little island.

I don’t profess to know the names of all the flora and fauna featured, but I think we don’t necessarily have to attach a name to beauty to be able to appreciate it.

Please enjoy.

And, if you are touched by the beauty that nature has bestowed upon our homeland, please speak up to protect it, slow down, and look around you for more of it. The secrets of nature are usually just out of range of our ever-moving viewfinders.

Coney Island: Casuarina woodlands, coastal forests, grasslands all in one!

Kranji Marshes: One of the largest freshwater marshes in Singapore!

Pulau Hantu: A coastal paradise just a ferry-ride away!

Nee Soon Swamp Forest: The last of its kind…

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February 2021