Tasmania Dec 2016

For our Tasmania trip in Dec 2016, we went along with Chan Brothers tour. After traveling on a tour, I reckon it is quite easy to move around via self-drive and still enjoy some of the same sights that we visited. Here are some of the places to visit if you are planning a trip on your own:

1) Salamanca Market, Hobart: This outdoor crafts and local produce market opens on Saturdays. It had quite a diversity of stalls, ranging from artwork, toys and even fruits and vegetables occupying a couple of streets. There were also many people in the market as we were there in the late morning, so head there early.

2) Eating fresh oysters: We ate ours at Barilla Bay but I’m pretty sure you can eat them in quite a few places in Tasmania. If you are a fan of oysters, do remember to try some.

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3) Fruit picking at Sorell Fruit Farm: Depending on which months you arrive, they have different fruits ready for picking. It was quite fun to pick your own fruits, we definitely spend quite a lot of time choosing and picking enough to bring back to enjoy. During Dec, many of the “berries” were ripe for picking, we picked two whole boxes of cherries and strawberries to bring back.

4) Night penguin tour, Bicheno: No photos were allowed on this tour, but I highly recommend this tour as it allows you to get really close to the small fairy blue penguins. Each group is quite small and is led by a guide who will explain about the penguin behaviour and biology. During the walk, you will be watching them return to their burrows after their day of foraging in the sea. And if you are really lucky, the penguin would walk by you so do watch where you are stepping. To note, it does get quite chilly as you are by the sea, so if you get chilly quickly, do remember to bring your coldwear.

5) View Australia’s wildlife up close at Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary: Many of you might be familiar with Aussie wildlife such as the kangaroos and wombats. However, in this sanctuary, the stars are the Tasmania devils and quolls (other marsupial carnivores). The guide will explain the biology and threats to these animals. And if you are in luck, your visit might coincide with devils’ feeding time.

6) Cradle Mountain: For more natural areas, do visit this magnificent place. Along the way, there are wild wombats to be spotted and if it is a clear day, the view is breath-taking. There are several walking trails to do with varying difficulty, after which you can take your time to smell the flowers and enjoy the awesome nature in Cradle Mountain.

7) Bridestowe Lavender Estate: One of the last few stops was to visit a lavender farm. Once you stepped into the farm, there is a whiff of lavender in the air. We went on the factory tour which had a guide explaining how the flowers are collected and distilled into essence for use in their products and produce. If you haven’t visited a lavender farm before, do consider visiting.

So a total of seven places to help you kickstart your Tasmania planning. If you do have any other nature areas or sights to recommend, do let us know.

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Taiwan 2016: To Kenting & back to Taipei

Having been slightly disappointed that we missed a trip to the south end of Taiwan in 2015. In June 2016, we made a trip to Kenting in Pingtung and back to Taipei. Getting to Kenting takes up half to nearly a day depending on what transport you take. If you are taking the High-Speed Rail (HSR), the southern stop is at Zuoying in Kaoshiung. After that, you will need to take either a Kenting shuttle bus or a cab to head down to Kenting, which takes about another 2 – 2.5hours. For more information, you can use this website.

Even in hot summer, there are many visitors to Kenting visiting its lovely beaches. Known for its beautiful coastal scenery and Kenting National Park, there are indeed lots of nature-related activities to do there. Public transport around the Kenting attractions might be scare, so the best way to explore is by e-scooter (yes, you can drive it even without a motorbike license! But it is better if you do know how to cycle, so do try it out before renting!).

We took our e-scooter and traveled to many of the sightseeing spots such as to the most south point of Taiwan, past Eluanbi lighthouse (below middle photo). There are really lots of beaches to visit with some interesting rock formation or inter tidal areas.

Some of the local recommendations include Maobitou (for sunset watching), Houbihu Fishing Port for your lunch/early dinner (yummy seafood), Lungpan Park & Jialeshui. If you are into forests sightseeing, you can consider exploring Kenting Forest Recreation Area. Use the map below for rough planning of your pit stops along the southern coast.

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Another must place to visit is in Checheng and that is the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium (NMMBA). It had a really large facility with a huge diversity of marine organisms. The marine organisms sculptures were also a great opportunity for photos. We sent half a day here just looking at the cool exhibits, it had horseshoe crabs, nautilus and even coelacanths in their collection. Really cool!

Once back in Taipei, we had a chance to discover two new nature areas. First up is the seasonal blooms in Yangmingshan National Park. Even though it is not our first time visiting this National Park, but this time our visit coincided with the hydrangea bloom. In certain parts of the year especially in spring and summer, there are certain flower seasons to look for, you can refer to this and also the Yangmingshan website. Pro-tip: do go early to visit, the later you arrive the more crowds there will be, which also means the less chance you have of taking photos without random strangers inside!)

Another nature spot is Guandu Nature Park. It is a place that is highly recommended for birding watching. It is a short walk from the Guandu MRT station. Inside the nature park, it has many small trails to slowly explore. The trails cross different habitats, from brushlands to freshwater ponds, so lots to take your time to see-see-look-look. After walking, you can take a break in the visitor centre area. The visitor centre even has binoculars set up for visitors to look at birds (e.g. roosting egrets). Even though it was drizzling that day and we didn’t manage to see many things, but it is also worth another visit another time.

Can’t believe that no matter how many times I visit Taiwan, there are always these small little pockets of nature areas still left unexplored. Till next time, continue to enjoy the great outdoors.

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Taiwan adventures 2015: Part 3 (Taichung)

08 – 11 June 2015

Traveling up north from the south to the central city of Taiwan, Taichung (臺中), which is also the third largest city on the island. From Kaohsiung to Taichung, it takes about two hours on the high speed rail. On this leg of the trip, there is a total of three places that I would like to introduce:

  1. Miyahara Ice Cream (宫原眼科)
  2. Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區)
  3. Taichung National Museum of Natural Science (國立自然科學博物館)

After so much walking around, it’s time for some food! For most people that visit Taichung for the first time, they will most probably be recommended to visit this place. So why the long queue outside Miyahara (宫原眼科)? When we first heard the name from a friend, I was confused as to why this spectacles shop is a MUST GO? A brief history of the name, during the Japanese occupation, this shop was originally an ophthalmology hospital. Now, the building has been bought by a Taiwan business and they have refurnished to look Harry Potter-ish with a little old school charm. The shop sell lots of Taiwanese desserts in very lovely containers and they would make for wonderful travel gifts.

After being awed by the interiors of the shop, don’t forget the best part, the ice cream! This also explains the super long queue outside. Actually, you can enjoy the ice-cream indoors, within the shop restaurant, but takeaway is a little cheaper (no need to pay service tax). My advice is to try to eat on weekdays, as we heard that the queue can be quite long on Fridays and weekends! In any case, I am sure you will have a good time here and take your time to choose your ice-cream, I guarantee that there will be lots of choices to make (flavours, no. of scoops and even the toppings).

If you are itching to go out, one place to hike around is Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區). This is a little further away from the city area and you would have to take the Taiwan Tourist shuttle that has fixed timings or hire a taxi to bring you there. The Xitou Nature Education Area is just behind the Xitou Monster Village and the shuttle will stop there and you will just be a few minutes’ walk away. It is a large area, so put aside enough time if you wish to cover the entire park. It is on slightly elevated ground, so the temperature is cool. As a result, it is also a great place to visit in summer and lots of locals visit to escape the summer heat or take a short hike without the perspiration. The park has many routes and forest types. Take your time to explore and I am sure that you will discover many interesting flora and fauna on your hikes.

Lastly, if you are a natural history fan, you cannot miss the visit to the Taichung National Museum of Natural Science. There are several halls in the museum, ranging from themes in zoology, botany, geology, and anthropology. In the zoology and botany sections, there are really good exhibits on how life began on Earth, representation of well-known fossils (mainly dinosaurs) as well as modern day plant and animal diversity. As with any museum, there also have permanent exhibits with temporary ones, so do check it out to see what are the ongoing exhibits. And if you are still game after walking the main museum, there is a botanical garden across the road for you to explore.

In Taichung, it was a blast, filled with yummy food and exciting places to visit! We now had to visit another part of Taiwan. It’s time to travel to north-eastern Taiwan, let’s go to Hualien!

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Taiwan adventures 2015: Part 2 (Kaohsiung)

05 – 08 June 2015

Kaohsiung (高雄) is located in the southwestern part of Taiwan and is the second largest city. Similar to Taipei, it has a MRT system and is easy to travel around within the city.

One of the places that we went to is the Kezailiao Wharf Fish Market (蚵仔寮港觀光魚市). I love exploring and walking through fish ports and wet markets. There will always be something exciting to find and see. For most fish ports, they tend to operate early in the morning. However, for this particular fish market, the opening hours are 3.00 – 7.30pm, so that is good news for a late morning person.

The fish market is small in scale, but lots of fishes. We saw some monkfishes (a kind of anglerfish), barracuda, lionfishes and groupers on sale. The fish market was very bright and clean and the stalls were in several rows. You could take your time to walk around to look at the seafood and even have a chat with the friendly store owners.

Another area that we explored was the Shoushan National Nature Park (壽山國家自然公園). We didn’t managed to explore this nature park as much as we wanted. We took a long time to find the place and arrived a little late. However, the nature park is situated very near to the Shoushan Mountain Zoo and you can enter the park via a footpath next to the zoo.

We were fortunate to encounter a lone Formosan macaque on the trail. Some things to take note, firstly, the Formosan macaques are quite common, so do know how to behave around them and be careful not to have exposed food or plastic bags lying around. Secondly, the mosquitoes in the nature park are also quite formidable, so if you are prone to bites, remember to wear long sleeves or bring your repellant along. According to description on the Taiwan Tourism page, the nature park has “limestone caves area”, “twisty narrow limestone caves … where you can “see crystals from the milky stones like stalagmites and stone pillars”.  Sounds beautiful right?

After this brief trip to Kaoshiung, we headed north to Taichung for more nature and wildlife adventures!

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Taiwan adventures 2015: Part 1 (Penghu)

03 – 05 Jun 2015

Some of us would have heard this song, 外婆的澎湖灣 (1979) by 潘安邦. But how many of you have visited Penghu before? Penghu is an archipelago made up of 64 islands and islets, many people travel here for the summer to enjoy sea sports and the coastal scenery. For the first stop of our 2015 Taiwan trip, we had a 3D2N trip to Penghu (澎湖).

How to get to Penghu?

There are many ways to get to Penghu from mainland Taiwan, you can either take a plane or catch a ferry over. From Songshan airport, Taipei, it took us one hour to travel to Magong airport. Besides Taipei, you can also catch a flight from Taichung, Jiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Jinmen Island. Flights cut down on time but are slightly pricier. There are several domestic air carriers that have flights. If you wish to save on costs, you can take a ferry over from Kaoshiung, but do be aware that the ride takes about 5 hours and the waters can be quite choppy.

A traveling tip for domestic flight to Magong airport, do remember to pack light as the check-in baggage limit is 10kg. However, don’t fret! The excess baggage charges on Uni-air are quite reasonable, TWD17/kg.

Our flight from Songshan airport to Magong airport

Our flight from Songshan airport, Taipei to Magong airport

Accommodation and getting around Penghu

We stayed in La villa de la sirene (人魚之丘) upon the recommendation of a friend. The minsu is tucked inside a cove and overlooks a mudflat. When we arrived at Penghu, the minsu arranged transport to pick us up. For me, one of the main drawbacks on Penghu is the lack of public transport, so in order to get around, you would need to rent a motorbike, cab or join a tour group.

Our minsu, doesn't it look like a lighthouse?

Our minsu, La villa de la sirene, doesn’t it look like a lighthouse?

There are many rooms to choose from in the minsu and all of them have a unique theme to it. Due to the design of the minsu, there was a very special room at the top level, 5F 海洋之樹.This room is a double-floor attic and even the view from the bedroom is amazing. Check out the room here. Jen (小貞) was the main person in charge and she was always so cheerful and welcoming. At first, we didn’t have any activity planned beforehand. However, once upon arrival, she helped us planned our itinerary from scratch and it was a blast. Here were some of my highlights:

penghu map

Penghu map

Penghu Day 1: Sightseeing by cab
Some of the main tourist attractions include visiting a impressive looking centuries-old fig tree, 樑古榕樹 (online sources say it’s more than 300 years old!) This is supposedly a Ficus microcarpa and Penghu’s country tree. At the fig tree stop, don’t forget to try the famous cactus ice-cream (仙人掌冰).

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Wow, such a huge Ficus tree! Glad it is now integrated as part of the Penghu culture & tourist stop

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Next up, we went to the Penghu JhuWan Crab Museum (竹灣螃蟹博物館). It had lots of live crustacean in aquariums and also preserved ones.

crab-museummantis-shrimpPenghu has lots of amazing geographical land forms, so it should be quite exciting for some of you. I would imagine that some of these land forms are those that you will in textbooks but not in real-life.

Whale cave? (鯨魚洞 )

Whale cave? (鯨魚洞 ) Does it look like one?

Basalt landscape (大菓葉柱状岩)

Basalt landscape (大菓葉柱状岩)

It was low tide just before dusk. We managed to do a bit of intertidaling in the mudflats just behind the minsu before heading out for a special dinner.

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We signed up for a dinner cruise (海上浪漫之夜), sounds romantic ahh.. We had to meet at the designated pier at 6.20pm to board a boat for the scrumptious dinner. Almost every dish had some form of seafood and all were fresh and so yummy! If you are a seafoodie, make sure to try one of these meals! After the meal, we also got to try night-time squid fishing, but the whole boat only caught two squids. Not too many squids this time round as it was not squid season yet.

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Lots of fresh grilled oysters and other seafood for dinner

Penghu Day 2: Eco trip & Penghu Fireworks Festival

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We went for a whole day coastal trip at Shagang 沙港東海一日遊. The tour depends largely on the tides. At low tide, we get to go out to the rocky shore just in front of the dock to try to bait crabs, to observe inter-tidal organisms and also to dig for cockles 海瓜子.

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Tri-spine horseshoe crab!

seastarsSo many marine organisms!! Urchins, Pentaceraster sea star and horseshoe crabs (Tachypleus tridentatus), so happy!

In order to everyone to put in their best efforts, the staff said that the food at lunch and tea depended on what we managed to find. The staff also demonstrated one of the traditional fishing methods (抱墩)that people used to trap fishes during a change in tides.

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Digging for sea cockles, “hum” (in Singapore’s context)

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Our meal depended on it!

Duoduo the sea dog, who always accompanied us to the rocky shore and enjoyed getting soaked in seawater

Duoduo, the sea dog, who enjoyed getting soaked in seawater

After lunch, we were out to sea to collect the fishing lines that were set up the previous day. According to the staff, whatever that was caught will become food for tea. Besides fishing lines, little pots were also used to catch moray eels which were supposed to be their favourite hiding spots. There were a few flatheads, solefishes, stingrays and eels for meals while the tri-spine horseshoe crab was taken back to the rocky shore for use for visitors’ show & tell session.

leopard moray eels

leopard moray eels

fishing

We also had a chance to try out fishing too using a simple line & hook. Even though we came back with a tan, it was an enjoyable half day out, enjoying the sea breeze and observing biodiversity up close. If you are interested in the full itinerary of this tour, you can take a look, here & here.

At night, we went to town to catch the annual Penghu fireworks festival. The fireworks festival is only held in summer months, on Mondays and Thursday. So if you are interested in catching it, do remember to check out the dates. If you like to know more about the history of the fireworks festival, you can check out here.

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Fireworks to end the Penghu leg of the 2015 Taiwan trip

So that’s the end of short first leg to idyllic Penghu with all its coastal charm. If you want to experience a Penghu islander’s fishing lifestyle and also observe biodiversity in their natural habitat, then you might just fall in love with the place. For more information, you can check out the Penghu Tour Website. For the next leg of the trip, we took a domestic flight back to mainland Taiwan and our adventure continued with the second largest city of Taiwan, Kaohsiung City! Off we go!

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Taiwan adventures 2015: Part 4 (Hualien)

If you are into nature and the great outdoors, then you wouldn’t want to miss heading to Hualien. It faces the Pacific Ocean and is also on the border of the Central Mountain Range (中央山脈). That is also the reason why there is so much nature sights to see.

One of the places that I highly recommend you visit is Taroko National Park. Without your own transport, it can be difficult to travel around so getting a guide or following a tour group might be the next best option. You can find out more information from the Taroko National Park website. There are many must-see stops around in the National Park such as Qingshui cliff and Baiyang trail. All the pit stops have amazing scenery or interesting history significance. With so many sights to see, you will definitely not be able to complete all of them in a half day, so a good opportunity to revisit this national park if you are short of time.

Another must-see nature tour to consider is the dolphin watching tours at Hualien. The tour takes about 2h and the chances of seeing dolphins are quite high when we went in June. During the trip, we saw spinner dolphins just minutes after leaving the harbour and after that we also saw other cetaceans. If you are lucky, you might be able to see killer whales too!

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Even though Hualien is the largest county with the largest population, but this is spread over a large land area. As a result, the city area is not as crowded and you will definitely feel very relaxed while traveling there. Hualien is really a paradise for nature lovers and for those who are interested in physical landscapes. If you have 1-2 days to spare in your Taiwan itinerary, I highly recommend you to visit this eastern gem of Taiwan.

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Durian heaven in Ubin

It’s now semester break and I’m helping Tze Kwan for her civet project on Pulau Ubin this June. Each field trip to Ubin consist of two sessions, one in the late morning and the other is in late afternoon. However, in between sessions, we have to occupy ourselves for four hours.

It’s durian season in Ubin in June! We have encountered many visitors who return to the mainland with rucksacks or tupperware full of durian. Since some of us are durian lovers and have long heard about how wonderful Ubin durians are, we went about on the hunt for the king of the fruits. Fortunately, we managed to learn some skills of picking and choosing a good durians from seasoned durian hunters and Ubin villagers. The secret was in three very important points: first the durian had to feel light, second, it should have a flat, clean-cut stem and lastly, possess the lovely durian aroma. Hmmm.. Yumyum! Already drooling at the thought of picking durians.

Even though, we are still noob in the area of durian picking, uncles have been pretty generous. Many see us being suaku and picking unripe fruits have happily shared their spoils with us. You know what’s the best part? Tze Kwan, from her numerous trips to Ubin has also learnt the art of durian opening but she doesn’t like to eat durians. You know what that means…? The durians are ALL MINEEE! Just kidding!

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Even though TK doesn’t eat durians, but she loves to find and opens them up. Maybe a durian shop owner in the making?

All these durian hunting is a seasonal affair and is part and parcel of fun during field trips! So if you love doing field work and durians, you can help Tze Kwan for her fieldwork. And you might just get a bonus Ubin durian tasting trip!

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End of semester blues: Missing my field trips!

It is the end of week 13! Since the semester is over, this also signify the start of marking season. Looking at the pile of reports, I envision the next few weeks being stuck indoors to focus and clear the marking.

So while I try to get over my inertia, I shall look through my photos and reminisce about the past field trips!

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Tripod fish from the LSM1103 Changi Practical

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How will you celebrate World Wildlife Day (03 March 2014)?

Do you know what is on 3rd March?

It’s World Wildlife Day, a special day to celebrate the amazing diversity of wildlife (both plants and animals) that we have in this world. This special day was only recently decided by the United Nations General Assembly in 20 Dec 2013 and it serves as a timely reminder that we are the only planet that has all of these wonderful creatures big and small. Since we get to enjoy the benefits, be it social, economic, recreational or aesthetic value of having wildlife around us, this also means the responsibility to protect and ensure their survival also falls on us.

World wildlife day

World Wildlife Day website (http://wildlifeday.org/)

However, the truth is the wildlife around us might not be doing so well after all.

Habitat loss and illegal trafficking are top threats that wildlife face all around the globe.

Habitat loss is when the original landscape is altered so drastically that it can no longer support the original wildlife diversity. Many areas in the world, including biodiversity hotspots area that lie in the tropics have been rapidly altered for human living and use. This large scale deforestation has far-reaching and devastating effects on the wildlife and it has been deemed to be the “most important driver of species extinction worldwide” (Primm and Raven, 2000). If you wish to have a better understanding of the effects of habitat destruction, you can read Habitat Destruction: death by a thousand cuts by Laurance (2010).

Wildlife crime has been one of the largest threat to wildlife and it has been in the news limelight for 2013. This has even led to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge Prince William speaking out against wildlife trafficking.  Poaching has decimated populations of many well-loved animals such as the rhinos, tigers and elephants. If we do not act to save some of them species, it might be too late and they could be extinct in our lifetime.

Tigers could be extinct by 2022 (http://www.savetigersnow.org/problem)

“While the threats to wildlife are great, we can reduce them through our collective efforts. On this inaugural World Wildlife Day, I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably. Let us work for a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. Let’s go wild for wildlife!

Message by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

World wildlife day fb

World Wildlife Day Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/WorldWildlifeDay)

This inaugural World Wildlife Day, I would like to echo the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to work towards a future where people and wildlife can learn to live in harmony! So what are you waiting for? Do something for wildlife starting from today! Tell others about your favourite wildlife, find out more about the threats that they face or even support a cause. Remember to visit the World Wildlife Day website or their Facebook page to find out more.

Happy World Wildlife Day, everyone!

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What’s the buzz with GMOs?

After the completion of three MSc modules, I have three more modules to go before the start of thesis. From late June to November 2013, most of my course mates will be occupied with two new ANU online courses: SCOM8021 Ethics, Issues and Consequences in Science, as well as SCOM8027 Science and Public Policy. I have not taken any online modules before, so this will be quite a challenge and whole new experience. Most of the module content are given through weekly readings and written assignments. I have done quite a number of written assignments and I will be blogging about them as I go along.

For Science and Public Policy, every fortnight, we will have to look up on literature on a certain hotly debate issue and write an opinion paper to an organisation. For the first fortnight, the spotlight is on genetically modified organisms (GMO). To me, GMO is not a foreign topic, I have encountered the issues surrounding it back in Junior College for General Paper (GP). I know there is always both sides to an issue, those who support and others who oppose and most of the times both sides have their own valid reasons. 

For my assignment, I started to dig around and read up on both sides of the issues. And I realised a few interesting points –

In the face of increasing world’s population, climate change and limitations to how crops are grown, is there a way to feed everyone sustainably and safely? As I progressed with my research, there is so much literature online about the pros and cons of GM food.

Pro-GM groups think of GM technology as the next green revolution whereby genetics can help to increase food supply and improve nutritional content of food, for example, the Golden Rice project. In addition, many experts in the food security fields do support GM food and here is one in NY Times, 2009 “Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?”

For the non-GM groups, they focus on the health, environment and economic risks that GMOs can bring about. Groups have raised points such as allergens, harm to other organisms in the ecosystems when they eat GM food and gene transfer to wild populations, which can form superweeds. Critics would often give statements such as this in Huffpost Green, 2012 “GMO Debate Heats Up: Critics Say Biotech Industry Manipulating Genes, And Science“.

When moving a little closer to home, I also found that there is a Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) that advises on GMOs issues. Its roles include –  

  1. advise on handling and regulation of GMOs products
  2. evaluate GMOs’ impact on health and the environment
  3. inform the public about GMOs and increase public awareness 

Singapore imports a large amount of food and it is inevitable that many of them will be GM food sources. I was actually unaware of this and there does not seem to be too much emphasis placed on public awareness of GM food locally. There really should be more efforts to do so; more often than not, the fear and distrust of technology comes from lack of communication between scientists and the public, resulting in the public not fully understanding the risks and full benefits of such a foreign technology. 

Lastly, I want to urge you to take some time to read in-depth into the issues and see what your stand/take is? My fellow course mate, Waverly, has also given a good overview of the debate on GMOs and her opinion on the GM Face-off. Each of us has to evaluate the resources and see where your stand lies, at the extreme ends or in the grey zones.

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