Walking with Nature at SOTA Day 1: Mangroves and Marine with Ria!

We had a wonderful session yesterday with the 42 participants who came for the first day of our nature guiding workshop! Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm, funny stories, and great ideas! 

Cheers everyone! Our classic group photo.

We opened the workshop with November introducing the Leafmonkey workshop followed by a round of introduction by the participants. There were many fresh faces from a number of places including NParks guides, Science Centre staff and university students! 

The first part of the workshop was the talk and Q&A on Mangroves and Marine by Ria. Singapore got marine life, meh? Yes we do! Ria covered the features of mangroves and marine habitats, and the dizzying array of animals that can be found in these places. Even charismatic megafauna like dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs and otters have been spotted visiting our waters and shores, highlighting the importance and enduring quality of our local habitats, despite ongoing coastal development. 

"Who has been to Chek Jawa?" Ria asked, and almost all hands shot up! This is one reason we bring people out to show them the amazing biodiversity in our waters: We want to reach out to as many people as possible and get them to feel something for the place, so it will be worth saving to them if the time comes in the future (hopefully not).

Another takeaway for me shared by Ria is to speak up! She urged us to write to our grassroot leaders and government officials and gush about how awesome our nature areas are! Many a time, those who write in do so to complain. As no one writes in to praise the existing arrangement, complainers often get their way! Just imagine paved roads, flower bushes, street lamps, and possibly even HDBs in a nature reserve! 

You CAN make a difference by sharing your stories and experiences on social media!

During the break, participants checked out the cool toys and books we have on display!

Seashore murder mystery - Match the animal remains to the picture card!

Chay Hoon's cute clay models!

Ria giving out her calling card!

After the break, we started off with our first activity, 'Making a difference in your walk". 

Ria asked each group to brainstorm reasons for guiding, reasons for visitors joining a guided walk, and finally, how to bridge the gap between us and our visitors' expectations. The participants came up with lots of valid points! It was great to know that after the activity, the participants understood how to make the visitors feel engaged during the walk! 

The second activity was "Dealing with 'difficult' visitors". Each group was given a 'difficult' visitor and a plant or animal that they had to share about. They then had to role play their sharing approach, for us to guess the message they were trying to impart! Kudos to everyone for their fantastic acting and hilarious impersonations of the 'difficult' visitors!

Group 4: Know-it-all teacher leading a group of teenage students keeps correcting your story about a mangrove tree. How would you deal with teachers/parents who tell their students/kids the wrong things? In this story, Jun Hien (the teacher) did not believe the mangrove roots are used for breathing, but
Natascha (the guide) managed to gently correct him without embarrassing him in front of his students (Arjun, Jeanne, Zhi Yan)!

Message: The mangrove tree roots are meant to take in oxygen from the air; they are breathing roots!

Group 6: Teenage students not interested, looking at their phones: share with them about barnacles. How do you engage bored (and social media savvy) students who are forced to come for a field trip? Mei Bao (the guide) cleverly talked about barnacle sex to draw students (Gina, Vanessa, Ying Xin, Lena, Ingg Thong) away from their phones, and later got them to take photos and Google the video of barnacles in action!

Message: Things are not as boring as they appear.

Group 3: Photographer dad of a family of 3 young kids, throwing food onto the mudflat attempting to photograph a crab. How do you correct bad behaviour without being condescending? Hang Chong (the guide) did not scold the kids (Michelle, Yi Mei, Syn Yin) and Dad (Gene), but patiently pointed out to them that the fiddler crab (Feranda) was not eating the food, but sifting through the mud. He then deftly linked this fact to its important role in the habitat, thus eliminating bad behaviour and educating them at the same time!

Message: Do not feed the animals. Leave them in their natural habitat. Look, learn and appreciate.

Group 2: Middle child of three in a family group points out a piece of litter, the mum says “Don’t point at rubbish” and the rest of the family mock the child. What do you do when someone asks a question which other people think is silly? Regina (the guide) praised the child (Gina) for bringing up the observation, then explained to the family (Wai Hong, Monisha, Samantha) the issue of marine litter!

Message: Do not disregard anyone's perspective/inputs/questions even if they are children. Respect everyone's views!

Group 5: Grandpa, parents, young kids: they find a big crab. Three generation family can be hard to communicate with, especially if the grandparents do not understand English! When they first saw the tree-climbing crab (Vivian), Grandpa (Ian) and Ah Boy (Adriel) wanted to get off the broadwalk to catch it! Luckily Almira (the guide) had the help of Mum (Cuifen) to act as a translator for Grandpa, who then shared more stories of the crab with the rest!

Message: Leave the crab there, nature is for everyone to enjoy.

Group 1: Youngest child in a family group finds ANOTHER crab (the 15th time). This group had the perfect way to deal with overenthusiastic kids. When Hong Yi (the boy) found another crab (Chay Hoon), Samuel (the guide) wanted to quiet him down. Then the opportunity arose - a kingfisher (Becky) swooped down and ate the crab! Samuel quickly directed Hong Yi's attention to the kingfisher and other animals it eats. Fish then became his latest obsession!

Message: Utilize his interest in the crab to purposefully redirect him. Link the crab to everything else in the ecosystem.

Group 7: Elderly group of “new citizens” on RC-organised event, share with them about mangrove plant. RC groups mostly consist of aunties who are easily distracted and only have a short time to stay at one place. Here, the aunties (Joanna and Pearlynn) saw a crustacean, but started arguing whether it is a crab or a lobster (actually a crab). Pei Yan (the guide) managed to grab their attention by gesturing about pickled crab recipes, which they reminisced fondly. The aunties then spotted a 'durian' (actually a nipah palm fruit) which Pei Yan corrected, but then it was time for them to get back onto the tour bus!

Message: Do you still remember?

After this role-play session, the workshop sadly came to an end! Once again, thank you participants for being such a lively bunch of people and full of creative ideas! Thanks to Ria, November and Kai for organising and facilitating this workshop, and The Green Beans for the wonderful venue, being wonderful note-takers and making this workshop series possible! Our discussion points can be read in detail on tinyurl.com/TLW-SOTANotesView.

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