Wednesday, 6 January 2016

NSS Kids’ Watery Fun at Kallang River@Bishan-AMK Park (Singapore)

By Gloria Seow, Education Group Chairperson, Photos by Lena Chow

Kids had fun testing the river water samples for pH, dissolved oxygen levels and turbidity with test kits supplied by PUB.
Water water everywhere, but its value is nowhere near appreciated enough. Simply put, we tend to take clean drinking water for granted. With the support of Singapore's National Water Agency PUB, we brought home the importance of Singapore’s water management to a small group of NSS Kids and their families at the Kallang River at ABC Waters@Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park (located off Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 in Singapore) on 21 September 2013.

Equipped with binoculars, kids enjoyed zoomed-in views of birds and other wildlife.
PUB has turned the once concretised river channel running straight alongside Bishan Park into a wending languid river complete with attractive aquatic plants, stepping stones and open flood plains. This has been achieved under its Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) Waters Programme. Thanks to innovative bioengineering techniques, the newly-created habitat has in turn attracted a host of wildlife. We spotted the conspicuous Little Egret in its all-white plumage and ‘Phua Chu Kang’ yellow feet contrasting with black legs; the Paddyfield Pipit running merrily along grassy plains in its hunt for food; and a pair of twittering Olive-backed Sunbirds drinking nectar and flitting about playfully. The small Opticron binoculars that we loaned out proved useful in observing wildlife up close. Before long, some of the kids were finding their own birds, and were well on track to becoming bona fide birdwatchers!
Two Apple Snails tightly locked together in the act of procreation.
We made our way down the gentle banks to the river’s edge. Here, we saw the pink-clustered eggs of the Apple Snail, plastered on rocks and at the base of plants. Soon enough, Auntie Gloria hauled two slimy Apple Snails out of the water. They were tightly locked together in the act of procreation. We snapped our photos before returning them back to their home. Being regulars at this park, two of the NSS kids spontaneously rolled up their pants and waded into the inviting waters in their sandals. They were happy to have small fishes swimming between their legs. Other families had fun catching the ‘longkang’ (drain) fishes with tiny nets and pails. There were also larger fishes such as snakeheads lurking in the deeper parts. Then one of the picnicking families tipped us to the presence of a ‘snake’ on the opposite bank. It turned out to be a lone Asian Swamp Eel (Monopterus albus) suspended in the cool stream. This 40-cm long critter lifted its head out of the water occasionally to gulp air and had an abandoned glass bottle as its hidey hole.

We found a 40-cm long Asian Swamp Eel suspended in the cool stream of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.
Then came the pièce de résistance of the excursion – the super-fun water testing session – with test kits supplied by PUB. The kids first checked out the river’s turbidity (cloudiness). Our collected water sample was clear enough to see the faintest number on a disc placed at the bottom of a filled white container. Next up was the pH test. We placed two large tablets into a watery test tube and waited. Soon, it turned a light greenish-yellow, indicating an ideal pH of 7. The final test was for dissolved oxygen levels. We carefully dropped a pill into a filled-to-the-brim tube of river water and capped it. Everybody had a good laugh when the kids shook and danced with their tubes until the pill finally dissolved. By then, the water took on a reddish tint, indicating good oxygen levels of approximately 8 ppm (parts per million). Our conclusion? Kallang River is clean and healthy!

In the turbidity test, the river water was clear enough to see the faintest number on a disc placed at the bottom of a filled white container.
Kids then learnt some salient facts about Singapore’s water story. Our little island has four national taps, namely reservoir water, piped water from Malaysia, reclaimed water (ie. NEWater) and desalinated (sea) water, the last two sources being obtained through reverse osmosis. Kallang River itself originates near Bukit Kalang and flows out of the Lower Pierce Reservoir into the park. It runs on south and finally empties itself into the Marina Reservoir. This, Singapore’s 17th and newest reservoir, was formed when the Marina Barrage was erected to separate the sea from the once brackish water. Overtime, its salinity has been slowly reduced by rainfall to eventually become fresh water. In fact, kids discovered that rain water is harvested from 69% of Singapore’s land area via our vast drainage network.

On our walk back, Auntie Lena pointed out the park’s butterflies, including the Plain Tiger, Common Grass Yellow and Striped Albatross. We also encountered a good number of dragonflies such as the Blue Dasher and Crimson Dropwing, as well as damselflies like the male and female Variable Wisp. The kids were thrilled to observe a Changeable Lizard as it scaled a small tree to escape our camera lenses. It was truly a delightful morning learning about nature and water in a popular heartland park.  

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