Dying corals spark student's interest in natural sciences

Ms Dayna Cheah taking photos of bleached corals at the Sisters' Islands on June 23, 2016. She was one of 55 recipients of Ministry of National Development scholarships yesterday.
Ms Dayna Cheah taking photos of bleached corals at the Sisters' Islands on June 23, 2016. She was one of 55 recipients of Ministry of National Development scholarships yesterday.ST FILE PHOTO

Three years ago, student Dayna Cheah went on a field trip to Pulau Hantu to observe the coral and marine life.

She was amazed to find that a small and urbanised country such as Singapore could sustain a vibrant marine ecosystem.

But a year later, on another trip to the Sisters' Islands, she saw signs of coral bleaching.

"(Pulau Hantu) sparked something in me, to see the resilience of our animals and marine life. But (the Sisters' Islands corals dying) was one image that has stayed with me," said the former National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Mathematics and Science student.

Yesterday, the 19-year-old was one of 41 undergraduates awarded the Ministry of National Development Executive Development and Growth Exchange (MND Edge) scholarships. She will study for a degree in natural sciences at Britain's Cambridge University before joining the National Parks Board.

A total of 55 recipients, selected from a record 2,627 applicants, received the scholarships yesterday at a ceremony, including 14 staff who received postgraduate scholarships.

The scholarship programme is a joint project by the MND and its statutory boards. The scholarship recipients will join the MND 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."

Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong said: "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, 19, who will read environmental studies at NUS, said: "When I do farming work and interact with plants and animals, I feel at peace."

Ms Chan Yu An, 19, who plans to study veterinary science, said: "I hope I will be able to manage issues relating to wildlife and livestock."

Ms Teo and Ms Chan's scholarships are tied to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) which is set to be disbanded next year. Its activities will be transferred to other departments but the AVA said: "There is no impact on the scholarships."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Dying corals spark student's interest in natural sciences'. Print Edition | Subscribe