SINGAPORE - For their final-year project, four Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students could have just taken up a basic project, which would be standardised within their cohort.
Instead, a shared passion for conservation compelled them - Eunos Chong, 18; Douglas Yii, 21; Dave Chong and Nurul Hanna Abdul Yakob, both 19 - to go beyond what was minimally required.
The students' commitment to breeding horseshoe crabs, a threatened species, in captivity for their project garnered praise from Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng during his speech in Parliament on Tuesday (March 7).
The project won the group the top prize in the Sembcorp Marine Green Wave environmental care competition on Feb 23.
In his Committee of Supply speech for the Education Ministry on Tuesday, Mr Ng cited the ITE students for exemplifying the "joy of learning" and "entrepreneurial dare" that MOE sought to inculcate in Singaporean students.
To rear and breed the crabs - which are more closely related to arachnids, like spiders than crustaceans - the students set up an incubator and a system of tanks to contain the crabs at various stages of growth.
Horseshoe crabs are notorious for being difficult to breed in captivity.
Group leader Eunos told The Straits Times that the project, which was carried out over two years, was fraught with challenges.
He said that everyone in the group found it difficult to feed and care for the crabs alongside their academic and co-curricular commitments.
"I felt like giving up once when I had to prepare for a student leaders' investiture in the same month as the competition deadline," added Eunos, who is also vice-president of ITE College West's green ambassador club.
Another obstacle the group faced was a malfunctioning incubator.
"To keep the eggs at a constant temperature, we modified a dry cabinet that was previously used to store floppy disks," said Eunos.
The group then ruefully recalled how a tiny loose wire caused the incubator to fail during testing, requiring several days of troubleshooting and repair.
Nevertheless, the experience has taught them valuable lessons.
Said Dave, who has been volunteering in conservation and environmental causes since primary school: "We can exercise our imagination to apply our learning in a field we are passionate in."
Eunos said the setbacks and difficulties the group faced did not deter them. "It was a chance to combine our passion (for conservation) with our studies," he said.