Who? Stijn Beernink, Earth and Environment MSc student
What? Research for thesis on hydrology in mangrove forests
Where? National University of Singapore
‘Singapore is much better organized than I’d expected. It’s incredibly crowded but despite that, it isn’t a chaotic mob as everything is properly regulated and modern. The city is very green, which also makes it nice to live in. And everything is permanently kept clean. Even on the island of Pulau Ubin where I was doing my research and that is supposed to be nature in the wild, they use leaf blowers to clear the paths. Quite weird.
I was studying the hydrology of mangrove forests. In Singapore, a lot of mangroves have been put to use for prawn farming. Lots of these prawn ponds have now been abandoned and the aim is to restore the mangrove forests. A method has been developed in Wageningen to find out what exactly the problems are with the hydrology: is it too dry for the mangroves, or too wet? I tested how well the method worked.
I took the fantastic boat trip to the island twice a week. The island itself was also really lovely; I was even able to stay overnight there a couple of times. I became good friends with the “island boss”. He knew everything and everyone, and we slept over in an old prawn boat of his once or twice.
I found the Singaporeans quite Western in their outlook and they are very open. My supervisor at the university, the expert in this area, also made sure I fitted in from the start. Not just during field work, but also by showing me round the city and inviting me to drinks. That really helped. It was my first time in Asia so it took a bit of getting used to.
I stayed in two different places: first in an Air-bnb place and later in a shared apartment. Both were unaffordable but there wasn’t much choice. Food, on the other hand, was cheap. They have food courts everywhere with stalls where it’s easy to get a meal. You eat rice three times a day but you get used to that. In fact, it’s really tasty.
I did find the heat hard going, though. I don’t cope well with it at the best of times and now it was continuously 33 degrees with really high humidity. Sometimes I actually went out jogging. You sweat like a pig but your body gets used to it. And the sea-eagles I came across then, one of the many crazy animal species I saw, made the experience all the better.’