A month ago, Otterman a.k.a.. Sivasothi grandly announced to Kate Thome from the Singapore American School (SAS) that I would be speaking to their 7th grade middle school on a Tuesday morning on 31st May 2011. A fortnight later, it sank in – this talk was for their 20th anniversary of cleanups in Singapore and I started preparing!
ICCS has powerpoints on the Organiser’s page but I still needed to customise them for my style and audience and understand the background. I read about the International Coastal Cleanup from its origins in the Ocean Conservancy and its adoption in Singapore in 1992. Then I grappled with the literature on impact of plastic as a top source of marine trash and how that affects the environment.
Several days before the talk, Siva and I revisited an idea we had discussed about introducing an activity to pepper the talk. We roped in Tze Kwan and came up with even more ideas. However, Kate’s email last Friday had us realise that we would have to bump the wonderful interactive activities as we’d be addressing 300 students! Oh well, we’ll shelve those ideas for another classroom, another time.
A day before, I sent the slides to Siva who didn’t send a string of edits as he usually does but instead made a terse phone call between his 10 hours of meetings on Monday. He said I needed to cheer up the slide designs. So the dark and gloomy (ahem, artistic) outlook was dumped for more cheery colours. He suggested some additions and clearer images. Getting input is really important when you are labouring over something too long! It also gives you a boost and I went to work on the final touchup to do all that and more.
Am I ready?
7.30am on Wednesday – I called Siva from Marsiling MRT to remind him he was to pick up “head cheerleader” Tze Kwan and myself who were sleepily waiting for him. We were to be at SAS at 8am. He said, “what talk?”
Well, I didn’t freak out since he was to chip in at the end and I would have been fine with the bulk of the talk. Anyway, it turned out to be a ruse to wake me up and see how I would deal with abandonment. I passed!
Kate Thome, the founder of the ICCS programme in Singapore was a burst of enthusiasm and showered us with warm introductions as she led us to the auditorium. As students strolled in, Siva wrestled with my powerpoint on his Mac which was stuck on the presenter’s view. After an eternal five minutes, he found the settings and it was show time!
Kate opened by highlighting that this was the last in a series of lectures for the 7th grade students and that all the previous speakers were inspiring individuals. *Gulps! Stressed and nervous!* However, that dreadful feeling didn’t last long as it was time to start!
I discussed three main themes – the first dealt with the marine biodiversity that persist in Singapore. This included marine habitats (seagrass, mangrove, coral reefs & beaches) and various megafauna (turtles, crocodiles, otters, dolphins & dugongs) which are still present in Singapore today.
The second theme dealt with the impact of marine trash on the animals, and the curse of plastic which the audience responded to quite strongly.
Kate chipped in to present data from the SAS’ May 2011 Kranji Mangrove cleanup and highlighted uncommon, but dangerous debris of local concern – 33 syringes, some bloody! Such a large number in mangroves are uncommon, according to Kate and Siva who twittered it. The Straits Times picked up the story and it night come out on Friday, apparently.
Siva says this will be highlighted at the ICCS Workshop in July where we emphasise the standard safety measures which have been in place since Day 1 the cleanup in Singapore two decades ago. Actual encounters like these are helpful in raising awareness and we can thank Kate for the photo she put up.
The talk was concluded with Siva addressing how each one can make a difference. That morning in the taxi on the way to pick us up, he realised that the slides for this section were missing!
So out came Siva’s trusty bag – there were enough examples on how to make a difference with our own daily lifestyle with the 4Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle & refuse). He drew out his steel water bottle, recycled paper bags, a compressed cloth bag, recycled one-sided paper and a coffee flask for that daily dose! And of course his mac laptop, which have always lasted a minimum of five years and some more. Then he talked about speaking up and gave examples, which Kate picked up on later, to address in the school – improvements the students could address.
This was my first ICCS talk and discussing it later, I reflected on my performance. The thing that stood out was the plan had been to question the audience frequently to gauge knowledge and to encourage participation. After the first question left my mouth, I was taken aback by the audience enthusiasm! At one point Kate had to come up to calm them down!
Another instance I talked marine animals that we love. Initially I named the small creatures such as crabs, sea stars and urchins and there were few hand but I progressed to turtles, dolphins and whales and more and more hands were going up and students were calling out animal names until the theatre was a riot, again! This was heartening – the unfetered display of love that students have for the marine animals. To me, this love for marine animals represent the hope and passion to want to improve and provide a better and cleaner home for all marine life.
So the audience were great, forthcoming with answers and chattering excitedly about the photos of animals. The buzz helped keep my energy up throughout the talk.
Thank you very much Singapore American School for hosting us! It was a great first experience for me to share with you about Singapore’s marine environment and how we can all make a difference!