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Mature bakau mangrove at
low tide at Chek Jawa
photo by Shawn Lum
Chek Jawa:
Nature as Model Teacher

main article | sponges galore | nature as model teacher

by Shawn Lum

Mangroves are found in many parts of Singapore, However, mangroves of maturity and complexity are no longer plentiful; they are all but absent from the mainland.

The coastal vegetation on the rocks at Tanjong Chek Jawa are, in my opinion, a noteworthy feature of the area. There are few, if any, places in Singapore where one can view this diverse and beautiful habitat so readily.
By virtue of the fact that rocky shores are rare in Singapore (the only relictual patch on the mainland to my knowledge is at Labrador Park), the plants of this unique habitat are similarly threatened.
These plants could conceivably be grown in a park or garden (a form of "ex-situ" conservation), but such measures are only sound as a conservation strategy if remnants of the actual habitat continue to exist (or, "in-situ" conservation), Conservation of natural heritage in the fullest sense focuses on protecting natural habitats and supporting this effort with other measures. An analogy to ex-situ conservation without attempting to preserve natural areas would be for all of us to lose touch with our cultural roots to the extent that we have to consult a book or visit a museum to learn about the ways and the wisdom of our ancestors.

The attractive fruit of
Memecylon edule
, a rare
coastal shrub, is also dispersed
by frugivorous animals
photo by Shawn Lum

Students from Raffles Girls School exploring the mud flats at Chek Jawa,
a natural outdoor classroom
photo by Tan Beng Chiak
Chek Jawa is a natural outdoor classroom. It is accessible and will doubtless become more so in the future than it is today.

Moreover, one can use the area to conduct a multitude of lessons and activities: Learning about diversity, life cycles, adaptations, and habitats (all prominent elements of the Primary Science syllabus); physical geography, biodiversity, mangrove ecology, resource management, ecotourism development, and so much more.
In such an area I could easily picture a field centre with lab facilities, basic equipment and classrooms, that could help make learning exciting, interesting, relevant,and real. The possibilities are endless! I still vividly recall my class excursions (some 30 years ago!) to a marine classroom in Honolulu, Hawaii, only a stone's throw from Waikiki Beach, The walks on the coral reef and an opportunity to see this wondrous habitat ignited an interest in ecology and a need to care for our planet that abides in me to this day.

Chek Jawa reminds me in some ways of the "Coral Reef Classroom" I used to visit. I can vouch for the fact that students who visit the world of Chek Jawa do not walk away without being touched by the sublime beauty of the place, the magnificence of the flora and fauna there, and a sense of amazement that such places exist in Singapore. This effect is not easily measured in dollars and cents, but, then again, neither are the other "intangibles" that comprise the ultimate objectives of education, such as core values, a love for learning, and pride in one's nation and its heritage.


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