First steps for the environment

16 November 2017 | Community
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The participants on a study visit to the St John's Island National Marine Lab

The fifth STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme, held between 13 and 17 November, set out to encourage more than 100 secondary school students from Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to take a deeper look at the fragile ecosystems in our world.

Fragile ecosystems refer to habitats that are highly sensitive to changes in the environment, such as Southeast Asia’s cloud forests and coral reefs. This year’s programme exposes participants to the way small changes in the environment can significantly affect ecosystems.

Professor Wong Sek Man, Director of the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) at NUS, warned that it is easy to neglect the damage done to the environment and other organisms in the face of globalisation and new technological advances. “Environmental conservation requires a collective effort from the government, industries as well as individuals. Through the STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme, we want youths to understand that they too can play a part especially when they start early,” he said.

Activities in the five-day programme are carefully developed to help students better understand and appreciate the environment. This year, students will be treated to a series of lectures by eminent scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps) at the University of California. They will also have the opportunity to go on site visits to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve and St John’s Island, as well as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at NUS.

Environmental conservation requires a collective effort from the government, industries as well as individuals. Through the STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme, we want youths to understand that they too can play a part especially when they start early.

The event kicked off on 13 November by introducing the young participants to the mysterious realm of the deep sea and the creatures and habitats within through a keynote lecture by Scripps Professor Greg Rouse. Six volunteers from local organisations — including NUS Toddycats! — also shared their experiences working for various environmental and conservation causes.

Sixteen-year-old Aubrey Mae Lipa from the Philippines was enthusiastic about the opportunity to meet with people from other countries and learn about the environmental problems they face. “I hope that we get ideas from other countries on what we can do about our environmental issues and in turn give them ideas,” she said.

Both Aubrey and her teammate, 15-year-old Micon Valenzuela looked forward to the various site visits. “It’s a first-hand experience for everyone and will really help us realise the problems in our environment,” Micon shared.

Singapore student 15-year-old Shermann Chan relished the chance to interact with academics and researchers. “In school, we learn about the basics like global warming or pollution. We wanted to join this camp to learn from professors, who know a lot more about the topic,” he said.

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The opening of the programme also featured poster presentations by the young participants

Professor Leo Tan, Chairman of the Singapore Technologies Endowment Programme (STEP) and Director (Special Projects) at NUS Science, said, “STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme was set up to reach out to a younger group of youths. The earlier we help these youths kick-start their journey on environmental conservation, the more likely they will continue to take positive actions towards protecting their environment throughout their lives.”

The STEP-NUS Sunburst Environment Programme is organised by STEP in partnership with the NUS Climate Change and Sustainable Environment Research Initiative hosted by TMSI and LKCNHM. Close to 500 students in Singapore and across Asia have participated since 2013 when the programme first began.

See press release.