Getting to know: Environment reporter Audrey Tan

Environment reporter Audrey Tan with National Geographic marine photographer and marine conservationist Brian Skerry, whom she interviewed.
Environment reporter Audrey Tan with National Geographic marine photographer and marine conservationist Brian Skerry, whom she interviewed.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AUDREY TAN
Environment reporter Audrey Tan on a diving expedition in Bali.
Environment reporter Audrey Tan on a diving expedition in Bali. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AUDREY TAN

This short Q&A series with ST's beat reporters lets readers meet the person behind the byline. These are the experts who will be answering readers' questions in our new askST section.  

1. Would you consider yourself an environmentalist? 

In my book, environmentalists lead by example, and I wouldn't consider myself a role model yet.

2. Are all of your friends and family members pro environment? If yes, is it because of you? 

Yes and no. My youngest brother, who turns 21 this year, is matriculating into the Environmental Studies programme at NUS this August. He also just started volunteering at the animal shelter I help out at. I would like to think that he was influenced by me, but I think his interest was piqued as he has seen for himself the wonders of the natural world. He is an avid scuba diver, like me.

My best friend who is a dive instructor has also organised underwater clean-ups when he takes his students on dive trips to Pulau Hantu, and he said he did so because of me, so that is encouraging. But on the other hand, my brothers still refuse to use the cups I leave in the bathroom for brushing teeth. They usually just cup running water in their palms. 

3. What is the most extreme measure you have done to save the environment? 

That is a secret.... Haha. But currently I am trying to make sustainable lifestyle choices, which is not always easy. Choosing to take public transport instead of driving, eating less meat, buying cruelty-free, eco-certified products, using less plastic bags and not printing documents unnecessarily are some examples. 

4. If you could choose any kind of environment to live in, which would it be and why? 

"Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it's better
Down where it's wetter
Take it from me
Up on the shore they work all day
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin'
Full time to floatin'
Under the sea"!

5. If you were to meet a guy who is passionate about the environment, would you a) Write about him b) Try to date him (if you're single) c) Introduce him to your single girlfriend? 

I actually met my current boyfriend of 3.5 years over a dog. I was fostering a stray puppy (which means caring for it while animal welfare volunteers look for a permanent home) and had put up a post on several adoption websites. My boyfriend was interested in adopting him and we connected from there, although the dog had been adopted into another home by then. As a journalist, I've met many, many people, both male and female, who are passionate about the environment. I find that inspiring, and wouldn't mind playing cupid, although that hasn't happened yet.

6.  If you see a friend eating a bowl of shark's fin soup at a wedding, would you un-friend him and why? 

No, everyone makes their own decisions and I respect that. I don't eat shark's fin at all, but my boyfriend does and I don't give him grief over it, at least, not all the time. Sometimes people just don't know about the harm that the shark's fin trade can cause.

I don't give other people at the table dirty looks for eating shark's fin soup. But when people see me avoiding the dish, they tend to ask why, and I raise my concerns from there. But then again, there will be another group of people who go: "Can I have your bowl?" 

7. What is the most fun part of your job? 

Trying new things and being in the thick of the action. For example, when the carcass of a sperm whale was found in Singapore last July, I got the chance to go on board the boat with researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. That is one of the highlights of my career. On top of that, I also got to try out the dive trails at Sisters' Islands, interview Nobel Laureates and scientists from prestigious institutions in Singapore and around the world, and travel to Doha for a media training session for journalists by the UN. 

8. Why did you decide to be a journalist with The Straits Times? 

 I applied for the SPH Journalism scholarship years ago because I enjoyed writing and meeting new people. But after three internships and three years on the job, I find that it offers more than that.

Now I find fulfillment in other ways, including raising awareness about Singapore's nature areas. Did you know that we have eight species of mistletoe in Singapore, while the UK has just one? Did you know that Singapore's waters is home to a great diversity of marine life? We have more than just a dead whale. We have dancing fish, colourful sea slugs, more than 250 species of hard coral and wild dolphins.