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story | Alysha Chandra, Contributing Reporter
photo | Kalla Maxine Sy, Contributing Photographer
Shannon Lim is a familiar face around campus. During our interview at Café Agora, we were constantly interrupted by students and faculty who came over to say hello and make small talk. Everyone left with a smile after a quip. Mr. Lim is not a student, but an urban farmer who first got acquainted with Yale-NUS College after students visited his farm for the Week 7: Learning Across Boundaries program in 2015. Most know him for introducing ducklings to some students on campus.
I spoke to him for another reason altogether: an unpublicized effort he made earlier this year to transform a central part of our campus—the eco-pond.
When Mr. Lim looked at the pond, his insight from years of urban farming told him that the ecosystem of the pond had not been managed properly. Mr. Lim runs OnHand Agrarian, a farm that runs on an Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture System that allows waste from one organism to be recycled as food for another, creating an interdependent ecosystem of various species.
“It’s not right,” he said, “You have species that shouldn’t be mixed—Asian plants and South American fish. The frogs that make those loud noises at night—American Bullfrogs—are an invasive species that have the potential to escape down drains and enter our parks.”
Mr. Lim also disagreed with the way the Yale-NUS Infrastructure Office releases tenders to separate companies for the pond and the greenery around it; he claims that it is a grave mistake as the runoff from fertilizers and pesticides pollutes the ponds.
Hoping to change the situation, Mr. Lim applied for a tender for both the pond and the surrounding greenery. He said he wanted to partner with the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), an established animal welfare organization, and came up with a plan to make the pond and its surrounding area a haven for native animals. If Mr. Lim had had his way, the pond would be teeming with ducks, Malayan Giant frogs, snakes, and native plants. He also planned to build a perch over the pond to attract the common kingfisher.
Michiel van Breugel, Assistant Professor of Science (Environmental Studies), had casually discussed this plan with Mr. Lim. Mr. van Breugel said, “If Shannon’s plan does allow for minimal maintenance, it will make the pond an interesting place to do experiments, such as testing for water quality.”
On the other hand, Jennifer Sheridan, Assistant Professor of Science (Environmental Studies), said, “While I would be interested in further discussing using the pond as a teaching tool, I am not sure how realistic or useful that would be for my own classes, given its small size.” Although she was unfamiliar with Mr. Lim’s plan, she was doubtful that the Malayan Giant frog (L. blythii) he wanted to introduce would be suitable for the pond. She said, “L. blythii is not a pond breeder and is unlikely to breed in the campus pond.”
The proposal Mr. Lim submitted to the Infrastructure Office was rejected because it was submitted late. Still, he believes the Infrastructure Office is not properly incentivized to take small risks, like the responsibility of dealing with Acres and disrupting the garden status of the pond.
Understandably, this frustrated Mr. Lim. He said, “I am a big believer in environmental work coming with financial benefits. Making the pond a conservation area would increase the value of the land for the school.” The Octant reached out to the Infrastructure Office multiple times, but they were not available for comment.
While some students have expressed concern about the current state of the pond, others were unsure whether Mr. Lim’s plans would be the best way to deal with it. Rachel Tan ’19 was concerned about the animals that Mr. Lim planned to introduce with Acres, asking, “Would students be able to handle them safely?”
While Mr. Lim doesn’t plan to continue pushing for his tender to be approved, he said, “If there are students who are interested in the pond, I would encourage them to have a go at talking to the different organizations within the school and to not feel powerless in the face of bureaucracy.”
EDITOR’S NOTE, November 5, 2017:
In response to Mr. Lim’s vision for the eco-pond to be “an interdependent ecosystem”, Executive Vice-President Ms. Kristen Lynas has confirmed that the eco-pond was “never designed to be a native biotope” and that “its chief purpose is to filter storm water according to the guidelines prescribed by the Public Utilities Board.” Plants around the pond were selected for their biofiltration properties, Ms. Lynas said.
Ms. Lynas also said that no non-native species of fish, reptiles or amphibians were introduced to the pond, and any non-native species found is “likely the result of individuals dumping pets”.