New society by SEA Aquarium launched to support marine conservation and research efforts

The SEA Aquarium Society is a conservation arm of the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.
The SEA Aquarium Society is a conservation arm of the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A new society was launched on Thursday (June 8) to support and organise local initiatives and campaigns that promote ocean conservation and look into maritime research.

Called the SEA Aquarium Society, it is a conservation arm of the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa and was launched at the attraction to also commemorate World Oceans Day on Thursday.

Individuals, interest groups and institutions, such as government agencies and non-profit organisations, that are interested in supporting marine conservation can sign up with the society as supporters or partners.

"It couldn't be more timely," said Mr Terry Garcia, adviser to the SEA Aquarium Society and former chief science and exploration officer at the National Geographic Society, of the new society. "Even though the ocean is in more trouble than ever, we're oddly disconnected from it."

The society made its first donation of $54,000 to Zero Waste SG, a non-profit organisation that aims to reduce waste in Singapore.

The funds will support a year-long joint initiative between the society and Zero Waste SG, called the Bring Your Own Schools Programme, which begins next month with 4,000 students across 20 primary schools. The initiative encourages students to bring their own reusable containers to school and aims to reduce the total number of plastic disposables in Singapore by 20,000 items.

"Reducing plastic disposables is a key driving force in marine conservation," said Zero Waste SG executive director Eugene Tay, noting the programme will help inculcate good habits in young people to protect the marine environment.

The SEA Aquarium Society also intends to start a new initiative called Healthy Ocean, Healthy Us to address environmental issues, such as ocean plastic pollution and climate change, in South-east Asia and Australasia over the next five years. One of its related projects is an art mural in Toa Payoh to remind residents of the importance of ocean conservation.

The society has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with James Cook University (Singapore) to undertake research projects, collaborate on public engagement programmes and support internships for marine biology students. Some planned research projects include the ecology of bamboo sharks in Singapore as well as the environmental impact of micro-plastics.

"We're planning internships in different areas such as IT and psychology, and certainly looking into public engagement programmes to teach the public about ocean conservation," said Professor Ken Greenwood, James Cook University's dean of research and a professor of psychology.

The society is calling for proposals in the fourth quarter of 2017 for projects such as research papers and projects related to ocean conservation.

It also plans to organise bi-annual beach cleanups and pass the data to non-profit organisations, such as International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, to collate information on types of marine litter found in Singapore. Two days ago, the society organised a reef clean-up at Pulau Hantu.

Asked about whether the aquarium will review some of its marine animal husbandry practices in light of its recent conservation efforts, Ms Choo reiterated the aquarium's focus on raising public awareness of marine wildlife.

Referring to the aquarium's practice of keeping dolphins in captivity, she said: "Everyone has different opinions of dolphins in captivity. Instead of doing shows (with the dolphins), we're educating the public on marine wildlife."

She cited the recent birth of a calf to the aquarium's Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins as a sign that marine animals in the aquarium are being well taken care of.

The SEA Aquarium and non-profit organisation Conservation International had "mutually agreed" to end their five-year partnership in 2016, two years earlier than intended, according to Ms Choo. The partnership began in 2013.

While the society is open to having Conservation International join as a partner, she added that they would also be looking to work with other partners.

Individuals interested in joining the SEA Aquarium Society can sign up for its newsletter at the SEA Aquarium blog or join the society's official Facebook page. Registration will open two weeks from now.