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Nature under stress from photography boom

SINGAPORE — Some shift birds’ nests for better composition. Others have been spotted trimming tree branches for a clearer view. And rubbish, such as half-drunk packet drinks, litters the ground after the task is done.

SINGAPORE — Some shift birds’ nests for better composition. Others have been spotted trimming tree branches for a clearer view. And rubbish, such as half-drunk packet drinks, litters the ground after the task is done.

With the surge in interest in Singapore’s wildlife — and more importantly, being the first to photograph them — nature lovers are increasingly concerned about the ugly behaviour that sometimes accompanies it, and are taking steps to address it.

The Nature Photographic Society Singapore (NPSS) and National Parks Board (NParks) will be holding workshops later this year to share acceptable practices. A study involving scientific evidence and a small-scale survey are also in the works to highlight the impact of errant conduct on biodiversity.

Mr David Tan, a National University of Singapore (NUS) biological sciences research assistant who will be conducting the study, said: “We hope to be discussing the ethics of nature photography, using literature review to understand whether certain actions mean doing something right or wrong.”

Nature education group NUS Toddycats! also intends to sign up more volunteers with NParks to guide visitors on the dos and don’ts at popular nature sites.

Wildlife lovers said the boom in digital photography and the ease of sharing sightings on social media have led to a spike in hordes of photography enthusiasts descending on sites where a rare species — such as a type of bird — has been spotted.

Butterfly Circle founder Khew Sin Khoon said: “The easy access to digital photography has literally caused an explosion of photos of flora and flauna … Social media made available a platform for people to share their photos (and) learn about nature much faster than in the past.”

Added nature hobbyist Shirley Ng: “Once someone posts (a photo) online of a rare (nature species) … everyone wants to have a shot of the ‘flavour of the month’.”

Last Sunday, the promise of a glimpse of the uncommon pin-tailed whydah drew more than 30 birdwatchers, many of them photographers, to Pulau Punggol Barat.

Those interviewed said it is a common sight to see more than 50 photographers huddling under a tree for hours only to get the perfect shot. This has led to overcrowding — which can cause damage to the surroundings — as well as questionable behaviour. Last year, a photographer was fined S$500 for tying a chick to a shrub.

NPSS president Fong Chee Wai said: “The question we should always be asking ourselves is ‘What’s your motive for capturing the photo? Is it for your own glory and fame or do you really want to share and protect the species?’”

His society bans members from posting pictures of birds during active nesting seasons, while Butterfly Circle has a code of conduct that includes guidelines against destroying flora and fauna to get closer to the butterflies. The Nature Society (Singapore) also restricts participation size for activities and limits nocturnal events at sensitive areas.

Groups TODAY spoke to said those who behave inconsiderately are still in the minority. They added that many photography enthusiasts could be new and may not be aware of the impact of their actions. Nature photographer Lily Low said some are also reluctant to criticise others as they risk alienation.

NParks’ director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah, in response to queries, noted the increasing appreciation for nature among Singaporeans. While there are photographers who will encourage others not to disturb wildlife and damage plants, “we are also aware of undesirable behaviours from some photographers who are hoping to get the best possible shots”.

To encourage responsible actions, there are regular patrols and signs installed at nature areas.

Dr Fong suggested that video cameras be installed at popular spots and that these visuals be shared to satisfy the general public’s curiosity. Other nature lovers also proposed the ideas of issuing permits to restrict the number of visitors to certain areas, and park users being asked to sign an undertaking before entry.

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