Apr 1, 2008

Siti shares the passion for nature

Our very own Siti is featured in the Straits Times Recruit section, talking about the importance of nature conservation.

Passionate about Nature
Raymond Poon, Straits Times Recruit 29 Mar 08

Nature lover Siti Maryam wants to spread the conservation message so that more people will join the effort to protect the environment

Ms Siti Maryam had her heart set on studying marine biology, but the degree was not offered here.

She would have to go overseas to pursue her passion. Her interest in marine biology was sparked after she attended a United Nations Conference commemorating the International Day of the Ocean 1998 during her junior college days.

Her parents were not keen on the idea of her going abroad. Ms Siti was adamant, though. She says: "I did my research and selected a few universities. I told my parents that I was not going to change my mind."

It was either doing what she wanted or not study further. Her parents eventually relented, provided Ms Siti pove her desire to study the subject.

So, she took two years off after junior college to do just that, helping at watchgroup Nature Society, putting up conservation exhibitions and reading up on marine life. In 2002, she left for Australia to pursue her degree.

Watching trends

Returning in 2006, Ms Siti looked for a job and also set up a volunteer group TeamSeagrass with a partner. Its role is to monitor the seagrass habitats around Singapore, which are important indicators of coastal change.

Seagrasses -- flowering sea plants -- are a very important coastal habitat because they are a nursery for animals like fish, crabs and prawns. "A lot of marine life have some stage in their life cycle where they depend on seagrasses, " explains Ms Siti.

Her volunteer work is now part of her job scope. As TeamSeagrass worked closely with NParks, Ms Siti, now 26, learned of an opening there and joined them in June last year.

As a senior biodiversity officer at the Biodiversity Centre, she studies seagrass and mangrove habitats. Monitoring the health of these habitats is long-term work as it involves establishing trends, which require time frames of at least three years, she says.

For example, just because seagrass is dying does not mean something has adversely affected its environment. Instead, it could be part of the natural seasonal cycle of growth and decay.

In mangrove swamps, she monitors signs like tree height, condition of tree leaves and populations of mangrove residents like birds, snails and crabs.

Taking ownership

She hope more people will join the conservation effort as the major threats to nature are man-made.

One big problem is marine litter. Says Ms Siti: "It gets really bad for mangroves because they are in sheltered areas, so all this rubbish gets trapped there and it smothers the animals."

Poaching is another big issue. "We see people in little boats go to seagrass areas and put traps there," she says, "since seagrasses are home to edible kinds of small fish."

Poachers also put coral reefs like the one at Sentosa under threat. "These people come in the darkness of the night when you can't really be sending your rangers to patrol the area," she says.

But it is not so much about catching these people as it is about making them aware of how their actions impact the environment. Public education plays an important role here. She says: "When you have things like photo exhibitions, they go, 'Oh wow, where is this animal, where can you find it?'

"Because a lot of these things are very colourful, it attracts people. Once you get them hooked, you can start spreading the message."

The public walks at Chek Jawa also draw a lot of participants. "A lot of the questions they ask tend to be about whether something can be eaten or not," says Ms Siti, wryly.

"But they know it's out there and they see for themselves how beautiful it is. And it instills a sense of ownership in people."

Ria's comment: There's a photo of Siti with the article. She is taking a shot of a Pagoda plant in the forest with her underwater camera...poor Siti was probably made to pose for this shot. I took the liberty to post instead, photos of Siti doing the stuff she loves on the sea shore.

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