Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oil Spill Rescue Operation Does More Harm than Good

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), an animal welfare group in Singapore, conducted a rescue and release operation for animals affected by the recent oil spill in Singapore waters. These animals from the affected shores and released them at Sembawang Park, ironically, on Vesak Day.

Traditionally, Vesak Day has been a festival which Buddhists practise the releasing animals into the wild, otherwise known in or known in Mandarin as 'fang sheng'. They believed that this is an act of compassion to the animals, but unfortunately, many of these animals do not survive due to various reasons.

Usually, animals are released into the wrong habitat and die as they cannot adapt fast enough to the different challenges present in the new habitat. Many of them are weak and in a state of shock when they were caught, and are caught by predators easily. These animals may also introduce new diseases to the wild animals in the new location, and if they survive, compete with the original residents.

Previously, ACRES had been encouraging Buddhists to refrain from releasing animals during this festival. This recent development thus came as a surprise to many nature lovers.

The society apparently failed to see the similarity between their rescue operation and the traditionaly "fang sheng". Firstly, affected areas such as Changi beach and Tanah Merah were sandy shore habitats. While Sembawang also has a sandy beach, the deeper areas were mostly mudflats. The water will also be different, since Sembawang is sheltered in the Strait of Johor, while the other areas are fed by the South China Sea. Genetically, the organisms found in various areas may also be different, since they would have been adapted to the unique conditions in the area.

In addition, the animals in the affected areas could have ingested the oil, and it would be impossible to remove the oil and its effect from the internal organs, even if the volunteers ensure that they clean the animals externally very thoroughly. As such, when these animals are introduced to the new habitat, they may not survive. And if these animals are eaten by the original resident animals, the latter could be affected as well. As such, more harm than good will be done.

According to eye-witnesses, the volunteers even dug up soldier crabs in their burrow, and ran the risk of crushing and killing these crabs and other burrowing organisms in the process.

More importantly, this incident could be transmitting the wrong message to animals lovers in Singapore. They may be led to think that it is fine to catch and release animals from one location to another within Singapore, if they perceive the animal to be in danger. And we need to understand that everyone uses a different yardstick to determine whether an animal is in danger or not. They can just catch the animal, and go to the authorities to seek permission to release the animal at another location. They can claim that they bought the animals from a poacher, or pick it up some where in the urban areas. It will be hard for the authorities to penalise them. If the authorities do not want to give the permission, they will have to confiscate the animals. And as far as the animal-lover is concern, the authorities will do something about the rescued animal, and their objective is met.

This could also encourage poachers to poach local animals and sell them to devotees who wish to release animals. News articles related to this incident could in fact start appearing in the marketing folders of animal traders.

It is unfortunate that ACRES decided to conduct such an operation. It is possible that the advice of ecologists were not consulted before the society decided to do this. This incident thus again highlights the importance of balancing emotions with logic (in this case, science) in conservation work.

Update: Heard that there is actually a marine biologist advising them on this. How can a marine biologist allow them to do this? What's happening to the marine biologists in Singapore???!!???

Update 2: Read on the ACRES website that the marine biologist advising them is a certain Grace. Who on earth is this Grace?


budak said...

I think some reports mentioned that they had the green light of somebody from Nparks for what they were doing. Found that a little surprising. :\

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

Read about that too. The whole thing is simply ridiculous loh. How can NParks allow this to happen? Some more, ironically, on Vesak Day. What message are they transmitting???

budak said...

This facebook post appeared today: . there are other reports on the fb page.

Granted, I think ACRES is doing a great job for the most part in its mission, but this particular 'rescue' raises quite a few questions.

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

can't agree more...

Jeffrey said...

Why can't I post on the ACRES FB page?

tHE tiDE cHAsER said...

Guess you need to check with the ACRES staff who is managing the FB page...