SINGAPORE - Three years ago, student Dayna Cheah went on an intertidal field trip to Pulau Hantu to observe the coral and other marine life in the area.
She was amazed to find that a small and urbanised country like Singapore could still sustain a vibrant marine life and ecosystem.
But a year later, on a trip to the nearby Sisters' Islands, Ms Cheah was "heartbroken" to see signs of mass coral bleaching in the reefs there.
The 19-year-old, a former National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Mathematics and Science student, said: "(Pulau Hantu) sparked something in me, to see the resilience of our animals and marine life. But (the Sisters' Islands corals dying) is one image that has stayed with me every day throughout the last two years."
Ms Cheah is one of 41 undergraduates who received the Ministry of National Development Executive Development and Growth Exchange (MND Edge) scholarships on Friday (July 27).
She will be pursuing a degree in natural sciences at Britain's Cambridge University and will join the National Parks Board (NParks) after completing her studies.
A total of 55 people received MND Edge scholarships at a ceremony. Fourteen in-service staff received scholarships in the postgraduate category.
The MND Edge scholarship programme is a joint talent development project offered by MND and its statutory boards. Scholarship recipients will join the statutory boards after they graduate.
"The balance between conservation (of the environment) and development (of the country) is delicate," said Ms Cheah. "I hope to help integrate the two so we can have a city in a jungle, and so people will actually know how to appreciate and interact with nature."
Addressing the scholarship recipients at the MND Auditorium in Maxwell Road, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong said: "For some, Singapore may seem very built-up and well-developed... Nearly every inch of land is optimised, developed and planned for; is there any more space for development?
"The short answer is yes. With long-term planning, we are able to free up large parcels of land for future development... There is still much more that needs to be done."
Scholarship recipient Teo Ning Ginn, who will be reading environmental studies at NUS, has an interest in the efficiency and sustainability of local farms.
Ms Teo, 19, said: "When I do farming work and get to interact with plants and animals, I feel at peace. The satisfaction of eating something I grew myself is wonderful to me."
Ms Chan Yu An, also 19, who plans to study veterinary science, said: "I hope I will be able to manage issues relating to wildlife and livestock in Singapore."