Conservationist Lena Chan: Singapore’s very own ‘mother nature’ at work

Conservationist Lena Chan leads fight to preserve natural heritage
Lin Yangchen The Straits Times 28 Apr 17;

Over the past decade, Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds in preserving its natural heritage despite the ever-present pressure of urban development.

And one woman especially has been toiling behind the scenes, whipping up the collective resolve to make sure that the birds and trees live to see tomorrow.

With her luxuriant grey hair, Dr Lena Chan could well be Singapore's very own "mother nature".

"It didn't happen overnight," said the group director of the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), a branch of the National Parks Board (NParks). She met The Straits Times under her favourite tree at the Botanic Gardens, a Jelawai Jaha that soars 50m into the sky, supported by enormous buttresses.

Biodiversity conservation efforts went into high gear here back in 2009, when NBC formulated Singapore's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to fulfil the country's obligation to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

With Dr Chan at the helm, NBC has become the nerve centre for coordinating nationwide conservation efforts, such as the planting of trees that provide a multi-layered canopy of leaves similar to that found in a pristine tropical rainforest.

These efforts complement the agency's species recovery programme, which has identified 46 plant and animal species that are rare or unique to Singapore, such as the secretive, tree-dwelling Raffles' Banded Langur, which relies on high-quality forest habitat.

Dr Chan - who formulated nature conservation strategies for various Malaysian state governments during the 1980s as part of her work for the World Wide Fund for Nature - also underscores the importance of extending conservation efforts beyond NParks-controlled areas, since nature knows no administrative boundaries.

NParks has worked with agencies, from the Singapore Tourism Board to the Ministry of Defence to national water agency PUB, among many others.

As an example, Dr Chan cited the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, a project announced in 2014 to protect marine biodiversity here.

"When we commit to something like that, it's a whole-of-government commitment," she said.

NParks is expanding efforts to get the public psyched up about conservation too. For example, almost 100 schools have signed up for its Greening Schools for Biodiversity programme, which helps students conduct wildlife surveys and grow biodiversity-enhancing plants.

Many of these initiatives are part of NParks' Nature Conservation Masterplan (NCMP) of 2015, which lays out the conservation road map until 2020, as the NBSAP is put into action.

Dr Chan's legacy will live on too, in a little spider that makes its home on Bukit Timah Hill. Scientists named it after her - Singaporemma lenachanae.

The brown critter is tiny, only about 1mm in size. Hardly anything is known about it.

But it could be a crucial link in the web of nature, and Dr Chan believes that people must continue to protect these essential components of a healthy environment.

In her words, "there will always be more to do".

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