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Conserving S’pore’s marine life: She's turning passion into profession
As a biodiversity manager at NParks, Ms Rebecca Loy monitors the health of Singapore’s marine and coastal habitats to ensure their survival amidst urban development.
As a biodiversity manager at NParks, Ms Rebecca Loy monitors the health of Singapore’s marine and coastal habitats to ensure their survival amidst urban development. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

This NParks scholar finds purpose in a career that enables her to shape the island’s coastal future

Ms Rebecca Loy’s work revolves around three Cs: corals, coastal habitats and conservation.

For a few days every month, while the rest of Singapore is fast asleep, the biodiversity (coastal and marine) manager at NParks is up by 4am and out at Changi Beach, East Coast Park or Coney Island Park (also known as Pulau Serangoon) before the high tide comes in.

Together with a group of colleagues and volunteers, she surveys Singapore’s intertidal sand and mudflats. She also studies Singapore’s seagrass, mangroves and coral reef habitats.

The 25-year-old is undaunted by the early “office” hours.

“Working with ecosystems means that your work will be dependent on their schedules, not your own,” she says.

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Working in the coastal and marine division of the National Biodiversity Centre at the National Parks Board (NParks), Ms Loy holds consultations with private and public land developers on the impact of their developments on the coastal and marine environment, as well as suggests mitigation measures that can reduce any damage.

Her regular dawn expeditions to gather information help to influence policy decisions regarding coastal and marine habitats, and provide advice to stakeholders like nature group members and academics.

It is an exciting time for her industry as Singapore looks to the sea to meet the land needs of a growing population while also protecting its rich native biodiversity.

Steward of the environment

To the layman, NParks may be generally associated with parks, gardens and greenery. However, few may know that it is also the guardian of marine habitats.

Besides its OneMillionTrees movement which aims to plant a million more trees by 2030, the agency also has a new initiative to plant 100,000 corals in our waters.

“These experiences gave me a greater understanding of what I can do to study, conserve and protect our natural habitats in Singapore.”

Ms Rebecca Loy, recipient of the NParks Undergraduate Scholarship

This is the main reason why Ms Loy, who loves diving, snorkelling and swimming, applied for the NParks Undergraduate Scholarship. Even as a child, the nature lover was fascinated by marine animals during family camping trips to Singapore’s beaches.

“As I started to learn more about the threats our marine life is facing, I wanted to do whatever I could to combat them,” says Ms Loy.

She knew that she would be given ample opportunities to pursue this at NParks as it is the main government agency in charge of the conservation of Singapore’s natural habitats.

“Some of our country’s leading experts in the field of marine conservation are also here. It is so great to learn from them,” she enthuses.

Just as she helps to monitor the health of Singapore’s biodiversity, her work at NParks has been full of diverse experiences.

Ms Loy appreciates how as a scholar, NParks arranged many interesting internships during her term breaks. These exposed her to the exciting behind-the-scenes work that the agency does all over Singapore. Once, she even got to witness sea turtles hatching out of their eggs before venturing back into the sea.

Before her current posting, she was with the Wildlife Management division at NParks. There, work was fast-paced as she had to respond almost instantly to members of the public who dialled in for assistance whenever they encountered wildlife such as boars and macaques.

Learning beyond books

Apart from surveying Singapore’s intertidal sand and mudflats, Ms Loy also studies seagrass, mangroves and coral reef habitats. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

However, the rewards were immense as she got to help rehabilitate and release “many amazing local wildlife species” like snakes and birds back to where they came from.

Ms Loy graduated from the University of Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences. She chose the university because she could study multiple disciplines of science in the first few years before specialising in zoology in her final year.

The repertoire of topics and modules was fulfilling, including environmental management, climate change, biodiversity conservation, human evolution, animal behaviour and geology.

“All this contributes to a holistic understanding of the scientific world,” she says.

Also memorable were the many field trips throughout Britain. Ironically, the most significant one for her was one that took her back to South-east Asia to the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah. There, she did a project on studying the distribution of ant species across different canopy levels in the rainforest.

With NParks’ support, she also had the chance to pursue a research attachment at the Palau International Coral Reef Center and take part in its long-term coral monitoring programme.

“These experiences gave me a greater understanding of what I can do to study, conserve and protect our natural habitats in Singapore,” she says.

Ms Loy believes that her field is a growing one as more and more people recognise the importance of conserving nature, in the face of climate change.

“There’s a lot we need to do and a lot we can do,” she says.

“There are many instances around Singapore that have shown us how biodiversity can thrive in difficult conditions if we learn more about maintaining the right conditions to sustain nature,” she says.

While career milestones for some may mean superscale promotions and five-figure sales commissions, a job highlight for Ms Loy was the annual coral spawning event near Raffles Lighthouse in April 2023.

“This always reminds me that nature is just in our backyard in Singapore,” she says.

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