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Tue 18 Apr 2006
12 Apr 2006 - Project NOAH discussed at an open session at the Nature Society (Singapore)
Category : marine
When is news of a conservation project not greeted with open arms by the biodiversity community? Project NOAH certainly seems to becoming a case study: a lack of consultation with stake-holders actively engaged in conservation and public education, dreams passed off (or misconstrued) as projects, unclear agendas and $100,000. It seems an old lesson has been repeated, albeit at a smaller scale - a lack of transparency.
When Project NOAH was announced on 30 Mar 2006 (See the media reports), an active discussion started the same evening in the natural history community. Unusual for such a project announcement, no one stepped up to congratulate a seemingly good idea.
Jeffrey Low responded to a request I made in the Nature Singapore mailing list with a long list of issues and struggled to be diplomatic but other young 'uns, however, were scathing in the remarks:
Was there any reason to doubt? The press briefing and its apparently inadequate Q & A session, raised many critical questions. Wild Singapore rounded up some of the questions into a summary page: "Plans to 'build a reef' at Hantu: some issues" causing Mr Budak to ponder, "Lagoon Blues: A Reef in Double Jeopardy." The annotated budak, 12 April 2006.
The discussion continued offline in the marine community. However, the press, or rather just one alert reporter, tried and failed to get any remarks from anyone. It appeared most wanted to first find out more or at least talk to the project leaders. No webpage exists for Project NOAH and only the inadequate media reports were available.
So Vilma D'Rozario and Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society Singapore invited stake-holders to a briefing and discussion at the regular NSS Conservation Group Chat Session at the NSS office on 12th April 2006 at 7.30pm. In attendance were some of the relevant individuals.
The discussion seems to have raised many more questions and a flurry of blog reports are emerging:
18 Apr 2006: Hua Chew dropped me a note about the meeting closure and explained that - "Howard & Sydney were consulted as to whether they would like to continue. They said they have to go. If they were agreeable, I would certainly let the meeting go on beyond 9.00pm. As a matter of courtesy to our NSS guests I have to accede to their wishes."
I know Hua Chew has the stamina for a longer meeting, and you can't fault him for being a good host; this sort of session has to be handled as fairly as possible.
The guests may not have realised they would have to entertain so many questions from a community of active naturalists. Still, enough had emerged by then to suggest that more time would not have helped revealed any more information.
It is healthy to see such thoughts finally emerge for scrutiny. All of these posts are by young people. And Joseph Lai would later remark of a young lad sitting next to him, "So young and so interested in the welfare of Nature". It certainly is an antidote to fears of apathy amongst our youth! The question then begs, why was the mainstream media so easily taken in? It did not take really tough questions to highlight ambiguity.
At the end of the meeting, one positive thing emerged - the reassurance by Howard Shaw of Singapore Environment Council that any plan would be non-destructive. He is also keen for a constructive reassessment and to see that the reef survey is conducted, and that it builds on existing information. A second meeting will be called with stake-holders.
Conservation depends on the contributions of individuals, organisations, agencies, corporations and the government, i.e. stakeholders. This is a group with varied needs and outlook. For any progress to be made in such an arena, trust and credibility are very important commodities. Very little of either appear to have been achieved last night.
18 Apr 2006 - Update: I'm called a ugly, dirty Frito and I feel good. Wonder why? Read Joseph Lai's amusing account, "The Farside of Fritos." Eart-h.com, 14 Apr 2006.