I am a struggling nature-lover, environmentalist and conservationist.

I have found myself doubting if my love for nature is real because of the actions I take, took, or taken in the past.

I have been questioned by others of my ideals and mannerisms when it comes to protecting the environment.

I have found myself loathing at being called a marine conservationist.

Now hold your thoughts, and hear me out.

I love Nature. For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the natural world, and ever keen to explore the nooks and crannies of my island home, Singapore. Growing up, my family would take regular weekend trips to drive around the island – heading out to the old jetty boardwalk at Lim Chu Kang, exploring Sungei Buloh with my bird ID guide sheet, or along Punggol beach (that is now known as the Punggol Waterway). On the car rides, I would whisk out my book on roadside trees of Singapore, and fervently flip the pages to try and identify the trees I see!

Even as I grew older and became an awkward teenager, and had gone through several life obstacles in my adulthood, Nature and its wonders have never abandoned me at my lowest and darkest points. I knew that by immersing myself back into Nature, I keep sane and recover from whatever possible ordeals. If I had to choose just a single best friend, it would have to be Nature itself. (Okay, my second best friend is my spouse! 😛 )

In my childhood, I read very widely on animals that lived mostly on land and in the air. This ID guide is at least 20 years old! No kidding!

And… I’m pretty certain that I’m a hardcore nature-lover! People who know me would laugh at my array of hobbies – visiting seashores in the middle of the night, nature and bird photography, SCUBA diving, and volunteering with nature-interest groups! I also used to write about nature at my blog Psychedelic Nature.

In my schooling days, I saw myself as a ‘vigilante’ for the environment! I attempted to convince my school mates that we should do our homework on less paper, go green and recycle our homework in the bins, and even talked about industrial pollution for a class assignment! Having said that, I clearly wasn’t in the popular team – haha! I tried as hard as I could to influence, but it just wasn’t working out – they simply did not care about the environment as much as I did.

To make matters worse, my self-confidence became almost non-existent by other ‘teenager issues’ such as being overweight and got put into the TAF programme (in my days, the Trim and Fit programme) and being surrounded by peers who seem to care about who was dating who! Don’t get me wrong – I am also an ordinary girl who has crushes in school, but it perplexed me that almost nothing in my early education days spoke of the environment and its issues. It was most definitely not part of the education curriculum!

As much as I detested this period of my life, it also marked my early start (or you may think of as an attempt!) as a young environmentalist…

I continued to study hard in school and eventually graduated with a Ph.D. that was focused on the ecology and conservation of giant clams in Singapore. Since then, my supervisor took to introducing me as the resident ‘marine conservationist’ in the lab. As I pursued my line of work, I began to cringe at the term ‘conservationist’ – feeling undeserving of the title. I’ve read recent stories of how conservationists died in the frontline of protecting what they believed in, and here I am, seated safely behind my laptop typing away this post. How could I consider myself a conservationist when passionate and dedicated people are killed! I have now (sort of) come to terms with myself that I’m a desktop conservationist – aka one that sits in the lab researching and writing, and hopefully passing on information to those working on the ground.

On some days, I am least convinced because of some of my actions. For example, my spouse and I adopted a stray kitty – we wanted a home companion, we wanted to give her a ‘forever home’, and we wanted to support adoption and not buy. But guess what? Keeping pets supposedly incurs a HUGE environmental footprint!! This completely throws me off but hey, the statistics make good sense. In fact, other studies have shown that having one less child can help fight climate change too. I know of a few outspoken friends who have came up to say that they do not want to have children because it is bad for the environment – so does this make me a bad person to want to start a family? Or even to not want to stop at one child? 😦

Ways to reduce CO2 emissions
Ways to reduce your CO2 emissions.

I have another story on why I think I’m a ‘bad environmentalist’. On a rare occasion of drinking an ice smoothie with a plastic straw, I was told by a colleague, “I’m surprised that you are using the plastic straw.” I was caught completely off-guard and literally looked like a deer caught in the car’s headlights. I did not know what to respond in that moment but to go home and think about what she had said to me. She made me realised two things: 1) I was not doing enough (maybe?) and 2) I had a role to play by being a role model. So that’s when I started to more diligently make the effort to start my reusable kit of straw, fork and spoon, and a lunch bag. I also made the effort to not take disposable utensils, but still working on the containers.

If you have read to this point, you might think that I’m sort of crazy. Strangely, I think I am too. My coach tells me that I’m very aware of myself and (over) thinks of issues quite thoroughly. And that’s precisely why I have a few morals of my story to share with those who may think that you’re not doing enough, or have been criticised for not doing enough, or even worse, called a hypocrite. Bleh!

  • Remember that you are already doing a fantastic job in helping the environment! Let’s face it – how many of your peers and family are doing what you do? Think positive!
  • Don’t give up yet! There will always be nay-sayers who put you off by using harsh words or backlash. Remind yourself that you are doing something because you truly believe in your cause for the environment. In my experience, it is always harder to justify for the environment, but we need you to keep on championing.
  • You are entitled to your OWN ideals and beliefs – regardless of what the science or nay-sayers may tell you. We can’t all just abandon our pets or babies now! You have them for a reason, and if that reason is good enough for you – heck the others!
  • You can only do so much as an individual. I am a strong believer that an individual’s effort is a difference, but as one person with only 24 hours a day, you can only do as much as the time flies. So don’t be too hard on yourself – do what you can (without reaching fatigue too quickly).
  • Don’t be like me. 😛 Don’t overthink the problems and challenges – they can only give you strength and endurance to fight for your cause and what you believe in.