Sisters Islands Marine Park in Parliament, what's next?
wild shores of singapore
Today Online 19 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE — This April, marine biologist Dr Neo Mei Lin will join the likes of tech giant Bill Gates and former US vice-president Al Gore in having her own TED Talk in Vancouver, Canada.
The 30-year-old is one of 15 change-makers this year – and the third Singaporean to date – selected by the non-profit organisation devoted to spreading ideas through its influential TED Talks as a TED Fellow.
She will get 18 minutes to share with the world her passion for giant clams and how these endangered species are vital to the survival of coral reefs.
Thrilled to join the over 400 young innovators across disciplines on the eight-year-old TED Fellow programme, Dr Neo told TODAY she aims to use the influential global platform to convince the world on the importance of marine conservation, in particular giant clams.
“(What) I really want to talk about is why saving giant clams may also save coral reefs too, and share why this very special group of animals are important to coral reefs, how their presence help enhance the coral reefs’ environment, and (also) shed light on further conservation messages,” the research fellow with the St’s John’s Island National Marine Laboratory and Tropical Marine Science Institute of National University of Singapore said.
Nicknamed “Mother of Clams” due to her work rearing and releasing giant clams into the wild, Dr Neo has faced down scores of people who do not take her work seriously. Even her own businessman father had curiously asked her “What do you actually do? Do you really study the clams everyday?”
What is so fascinating about these marine creatures, which can grow up to one metre long and weigh over 300kg, is that they play multiple roles in their life span of up to 100 years, she said.
There are only 12 species of giant clams in the Indo-Pacific, and they contribute to the health of coral reefs by serving both as a source of food for a variety of marine animals, including fishes and crabs, as well as shelters, which led her to nickname them “condominiums of the sea”.
Growing up as a child who always had a keen interest in flora, fauna and conservation of the environment, the elder child of a typical Singaporean family never imagined she would grow up to be a marine biologist. Her passion for these bi-valves is something she stumbled upon by chance as a undergraduate in 2006, which has since grown into a life-long passion.
Her current focus of research is on how a batch of three-year-old giant clams cultivated in an aquarium can survive in the challenges of Singapore’s murky waters with low visibility, and hence, less sunlight. Getting sufficient sunlight is essential to giant clams’ survival.
She is also researching which of the 12 species of giant clams are more endangered, depending on their different locations or ecological roles. Based on the results, she hopes to then support why a certain species may need more help than others.
“Giant clams are like guardians of the seas. Because they can live up to 100 years-old, they can tell us a lot about the reef’s history and health. Whatever safeguards can be done for the giant clams, by extension, also benefit coral reefs,” said Dr Neo.
The only other two Singaporeans to have been selected as a TED Fellow are Dr Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University, who shared his macroscopic invisibility cloak in 2013; and designer Tino Chow who spoke about combining his love for design, story telling, and the entrepreneurial way of thinking to help his clients come up with creative solutions to make the world a better place in 2009.
YAP HIM HOO, DIRECTOR GENERAL, AGRI-FOOD & VETERINARY AUTHORITY
Today Online 20 Feb 17;
In his letter “Experts don’t recommend culling of wild birds”, Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan highlighted that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health do not recommend the culling of wild birds.
He questioned the need to do so in Singapore, and we wish to clarify that the organisations do not classify chickens as wild birds but as domestic poultry.
Both organisations mention the critical role of domestic poultry in the entry and spread of bird flu, as well as the risk of the virus evolving into a more dangerous, highly pathogenic form.
Free-roaming poultry are exposed to wild birds, which are often reservoirs of the bird flu virus. Studies have shown that chickens are more susceptible to the virus, compared with other birds such as pigeons.
There is also scientific evidence that chickens can, in turn, transmit the disease to humans.
The World Health Organisation has reported that the majority of human cases of bird flu infection have been associated with contact with infected live or dead poultry, including chickens.
In contrast, the risk to human health from wild birds carrying the virus is low.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) takes reference from these international guidelines.
We do not cull wild birds for bird flu prevention. But we take the public health risks associated with chickens seriously.
That is why we are engaging academics and experts in more research to understand the risks and determine the best way forward.
The AVA has the challenging task of ensuring public health and safety, while maintaining the balance in our urban ecosystem.
We will continue to explore feasible options and engage relevant stakeholders in our work.
ALFRED CHUA MINGFENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;
Singapore — With the risk of bird flu in the news after the culling of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming, a lesser-known poultry regulation has also ruffled some feathers.
Currently, poultry in any form — cooked or raw — from countries where there is still a risk of avian influenza, such as Malaysia, cannot be brought into Singapore.
Those who make trips across the Causeway whom TODAY spoke to were mostly unaware of the regulation. Of 20 travellers, 14 said they did not know cooked poultry was not allowed to be brought back to Singapore.
They also had mixed reactions to the regulation. Some thought it unnecessary, as cooking the food thoroughly would eliminate the virus.
Ms Kamesh Raja, 26, said, “While I can see the reasoning behind not allowing uncooked (poultry) into Singapore because of health safety risks, this might be going too far for cooked food meant for personal consumption”.
Freelance photographer Yeo Kai Wen, who was unaware of the regulation, said it was “going to be a waste of food ... if (the cooked poultry) was confiscated”.
Some travellers, such as Ms Farhanah Rahman, 21, said they exercise caution when buying food from Malaysia. She said her family would only buy from places that practise good hygiene.
While Ms Farhanah and her family have had food confiscated at Customs and thrown away, other travellers said that enforcement was not strict or evenly enforced.
Mr James Toh, 32, said he had once been let off with a “stern warning, after telling the Customs officer that I didn’t know” about the regulation. That same reason led to his friend’s meal being confiscated.
Regardless, there were travellers who felt the rule was needed to ensure overall food safety. A business manager who wanted to be known only as Riya said, “The authorities must have their reasons for doing so, and as travellers, we just obey”.
Social marketer Adli Jumat said the regulation would help keep “disease microbes” out of Singapore — “Even though the food is cooked, there is a possibility certain micro-organisms (might) still survive.”
Homemaker Suhailah Aziz, 40, told TODAY, “It’s better to be safe than sorry, just in case.”
Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said the virus causing avian influenza would have “technically been killed during the cooking process”.
However, he noted, “Cooked chicken, or for that matter, any kind of cooked food, can be contaminated with any type of bacteria, including salmonella and cholera, as well as avian influenza-causing viruses.”
This could result from the improper handling of cooked food, leading to cross-contamination.
In a Voices letter last week, TODAY reader Jeffrey Lai questioned the necessity of the ban on cooked poultry. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told him earlier that meat and meat products were classified as high-risk, and that “imports can only be allowed from AVA-approved sources”.
“AVA also needs to evaluate the source of raw meat and the heat treatment that the items have been subjected to — whether the heat treatment is sufficient to deactivate the avian influenza according to World Organisation for Animal Health’s guidelines before allowing any import,” it said.
Noting that Malaysia and Hong Kong, which Mr Lai had also enquired about, were “not free from avian influenza”, the AVA added that “the source of raw poultry meat and heat treatment (including the core temperature and duration) are also unknown”. ALFRED CHUA
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE — Seven in 10 birds offered for sale in shops here are species not native or previously native to Singapore, raising concerns over the dangers of a poorly run trade and overharvesting, a study released on Sunday (Feb 19) has found.
Conducted by wildlife-trade monitoring network Traffic, the study’s release coincides with the Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit, which began on Sunday and ends on Tuesday at Jurong Bird Park.
Experts from across the globe are drawing up and implementing a plan of action to avert a crisis confronting the region’s songbirds, which are being threatened by trade.
The study — an overview of the bird species in Singapore’s pet shops — showed that 46 per cent of the 14,085 birds from more than 100 species it documented over four days were Oriental White-eyes, or Zosterops palpebrosus. This was a once-native species wiped out predominantly through bird trapping.
Ms Kanitha Krishnasamy, a co-author of the study, said the presence of nearly 6,500 such birds in the Singaporean market was a “poignant reminder of the dangers of persistent overharvesting and (a) poorly managed trade”.
The Oriental White-eye was among the species cited as of “immediate concern from bird trapping in Asia” at the first summit in 2015.
“Singapore lost its Oriental White-eyes largely through excessive trapping, which should have hoisted a red-flag warning that the ongoing trade will impose the same fate on this and other species elsewhere,” said Ms Krishnasamy, who is Traffic in South-east Asia’s senior programme manager.
Meanwhile, the study noted that 97 per cent of birds found here were species not subject to international regulation, since they were not listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
With trade occurring largely below the radar, “there’s often little, if anything, known of its impact on wild populations”, Traffic said.
Among other things, the study urged clarity in the protocols in place to regulate species not covered by the treaty, as well as non-protected species that are imported into and exported from Singapore in large numbers.
It also called for a disclosure of any trade quotas, the regulation of captive breeding and registration details to enable civil society groups to aid conservation efforts. The study also found that more than 30 per cent of the non-native species in Singapore were from Central and South America, underscoring the country’s “specialist role” in trading birds from that region.
That most of the species here are non-native highlights the need for Singapore, where the volume of birds is comparable to Indonesia’s, “to be particularly vigilant about the impact of trade elsewhere in Asia and beyond,” said Ms Krishnasamy.
Members of the public who suspect illegal trading activities should report them to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore or via Traffic’s Wildlife Witness app (www.wildlifewitness.net).
New Straits Times 19 Feb 17;
KUALA LUMPUR: With uncontrolled pollution starting to affect rivers in the country, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today pledged look into the matter as soon as possible.
He cited an example of the polluted river near Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur, which he said is has proven to be an inconvenience to those walking around the area.
Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. It is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River and may be accessed via Jalan Tun Perak.
“Masjid Jamek Kuala Lumpur stood majestically in the middle of the hustle and bustle of city life. Not only is it among the oldest mosques in the country, it also holds the unique point of confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers.
“However, uncontrolled pollution has affected our rivers and development has also reduced the attractiveness of the surrounding area, to the point that there are reports saying that it’s not suitable (for people) to walk along the river bank,” he said in a Facebook post today.
The prime minister also pointed out that cities in other developed countries such as New York, Paris and South Korea do not neglect their rivers.
He said rivers or coastal areas in these countries are spots where festive celebrations would be held, apart from being tourists attractions.
“Various initiatives have been implemented and more effort should be done to restore our pride.
“God willing, I will look into this matter in the near future,” Najib added.
The Masjid Jamek is also known as the Friday Mosque. It was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback and built in 1907.
It was officially opened by the Sultan of Selangor in 1909.
Besides being the oldest one in the city, Masjid Jamek was also built on the first Malay burial ground in the city.
Antara 20 Feb 17;
Padang, W Sumatra (ANTARA News) - The West Sumatra environment and forestry authorities on Sunday morning arrested five people on charges of attempting to sell a Sumatran tiger skin.
"The arrest followed a public report that there would be a trade transaction of tiger skin and other parts. We later spied on the suspected perpetrators," chief of the West Sumatra and Riau environment and forestry security and law enforcement agency (BPPLHK) Edward Hutapea said.
The five were arrested at Jorong Simpang Nagari Koto Gadang village, Gunung Talang sub-district, Solok district, at around 08.00 a.m. local time, he said.
Based on the results of preliminary investigation, the five, identified by their initials as SY (35), N (49), IZ (23), SU (33), and DMS (28), hail from neighboring Riau and Jambi provinces, he said.
During the arrest, a team of the West Sumatra and Riau BPPLHK and Natural Resources Conservation Agency (NKSDA) officers also seized a skin of tiger believed to be two years old, eight mobile phones and two cars.
If found guilty, the perpetrators can be sentenced to up to five years in jail and fined up to Rp100 million, he said.(*)
25 Feb (Sat) Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs
Flew In Visitors (17 Feb 2017)
Butterfly of the Month - February 2017
Butterflies of Singapore
TRAFFIC 18 Feb 17;
Singapore, 19th February 2016—A new TRAFFIC report has documented over 14,000 birds for sale in shops in Singapore over four days, 70% of them species non-native or formerly native to the country—a stark departure from patterns observed in other bird markets in the region.
Of the 14,085 birds of 109 species found in the market, some 6,473 (46%) were Oriental White-eyes Zosterops palpebrosus—a species once native to Singapore that was eradicated largely through trapping for the bird trade.
“The presence of thousands of Oriental White-eyes in Singapore’s bird markets is a poignant reminder of the dangers of persistent over harvesting and poorly managed trade,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Senior Programme Manager for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and a co-author of the new study Songsters of Singapore: An Overview of the Bird Species in Singapore Pet Shops (PDF, 2.1 MB).
The study was released as experts from around the world gather to focus on developing and implementing a plan of action to avert the crisis facing Asia’s songbirds during the second Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit, which takes place from 19-21 February 2017 at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
During the first Summit held in 2015, the Oriental White-eye was among the species listed as of immediate concern from bird trapping in Asia along with the second most commonly observed species in Singapore’s markets—Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus, of which some 2,811 individuals were recorded.
“Singapore lost its Oriental White-eyes largely through excessive trapping, which should have hoisted a red flag warning that the ongoing trade will impose the same fate on this and other species elsewhere until there are no more left,” said Krishnasamy.
Previous TRAFFIC surveys of bird markets in Jakarta, Malang, Surabaya and Yogyakarta in Indonesia as well as Bangkok in Thailand, found that trade in those countries was dominated by species native to the country or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Of the species in Singapore, more than 30 percent were from Central and South America, said the report, highlighting Singapore’s specialist role in trading birds from that region, although the country has been an historical focus for the exotic bird trade in Asia since at least the mid-19th Century.
“The volume of birds in Singapore’s birds markets are comparable to those in Indonesia, although the majority in Singapore are non-native species, hence the need to be particularly vigilant about the impacts of trade elsewhere in Asia and beyond,” said Krishnasamy.
Of concern, 97% of the individual birds seen in Singapore’s markets were not species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meaning they are not subject to international regulation—and with trade largely under the radar, there is often little, if anything, known of its impact on wild populations.
The TRAFFIC report calls for, among other actions, clarity on protocols in place to regulate non-CITES and non-protected species that are being imported and exported from Singapore in large volumes. It also seeks a disclosure of any quotas set for trade as well as a captive breeding regulation and registration details to enable civil society organizations to aid conservation efforts.
“The people and organizations coming together at the important Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit are dedicated to ensuring none of the bird species threatened by trade are lost,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. “It is very heartening to have so many experts coming together to tackle this crisis, and to make sure illegal and unsustainable trade does not lead to extinction.”
Members of the public who suspect that any illegal activity is occurring are encouraged to report suspected crime directly to AVA, or through TRAFFIC’s Wildlife Witness App, which can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play for free.
In November 2016, Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the country’s CITES Management Authority, found that 14 of 27 pet bird shops surveyed by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) did not comply with the government’s licensing conditions on welfare, while investigations into online bird trade for CITES Appendix I and II listed-species are ongoing.
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE: Postgraduate student Kwek Li Yong is a familiar face to residents and shopkeepers in Queenstown. Since 2010, the heritage group the 27-year-old co-founded, My Community, has been running free guided tours in the neighbourhood’s estates.
Over the past seven years, the group’s guided tours have benefitted about 3,000 Singapore residents, and its volunteer base has grown to 50 strong. These volunteers include trail guides, resident ambassadors who promote its events, and researchers who go door-to-door to conduct oral history interviews with residents.
“We’ve seen this trend in the last four years. It’s not unique to Singapore,” said Mr Kwek, referring to greater community-driven interest in local heritage and the documentation of memories. “The trend mirrors those in fast-developing cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, where there are more vocal groups coming up to say, we should do something on vernacular heritage.”
When contacted for comment, the National Heritage Board (NHB) confirmed it has seen “a healthy, growing interest in ground-up community-driven projects and initiatives”.
Record levels of community participation in such projects have been accompanied by rising attendance numbers in its signature outreach events like the Singapore HeritageFest, according to NHB, citing an unprecedented 120 partners “contributing programmes and participating as volunteers” at 2016’s HeritageFest.
“This evolvement of the community’s role – from one of passive participant to active contributor – attests to the growing maturity of the heritage scene and (Singapore’s) progress as a nation,” said NHB assistant CEO Alvin Tan.
“There are a lot of pent-up memories that need to be told,” explained volunteer guide Huang Eu Chai, adding that My Community’s activities provided an avenue for residents like him to do something about heritage preservation, in the face of rapid change.
Describing his role guiding on the group’s Commonweath and Holland Village trail, Mr Huang, a lifelong resident of the area said: “I’m not just there to tell people what went on. I’m also there to encourage people who come on this tour to contribute to the story so it’s more of a discussion than a one-way lecture. And it’s turned out that way for most cases.”
Currently, My Community runs three trails, and has begun research on a fourth one, in Bukit Merah. According to Mr Kwek, each trail takes about two years to develop, due to the research, fundraising, and promotion work involved. “We’d also need to acquire rights to use old photographs, and speak to stakeholders to gain access to sites,” he added.
TAPPING ON RICH, LIVED EXPERIENCES
There are other groups in Singapore doing similar work, including non-profit organisations such as Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteers; People’s Association-backed committees such as the Geylang Serai's Integration and Naturalisation Champions Committee, which organises free tours in that area; and commercial outfits like Geylang Adventures, which charges S$30-S$40 a head for a three-hour tour.
NHB, which supports some of these ground-up projects, including My Community’s, said that these efforts “contribute to the richness and diversity of the Singapore story”.
“Singapore’s success does not boil down to one person, one party, or a group of like-minded people. It’s made up of contributions and sacrifices from each and every one in our communities … We try to document these stories, so that we may understand how the common man’s experiences made our country successful,” said Mr Kwek, elaborating on his group’s focus on the history of everyday things.
“It’s a lot of work - asking the right questions to extract the memories, and getting old photos from residents. We need to build rapport and gain the trust of the residents,” admitted Mr Kwek’s co-founder Jasper Tan, adding that he’s fortunate to have the door closed in his face only once or twice, out of more than 7,000 households.
Part of the work also involves convincing the residents that their stories matter and are worth telling, according to the 27-year-old, who has a day job in a voluntary welfare organisation.
One resident who did not need much convincing is 69-year-old retiree Alice Lee, who has been helping out as a resident ambassador since Day one. Her role involves telling the story of her life in Tanglin Halt – spanning 49 years – at a designated stop along the Tanglin Halt and Margaret Drive trail.
“(Alice) actually has a key press, where she’s got various people’s house keys, so that if they happen to be out for example, and they’ve left the window open and it’s about to rain, she can go there can close the windows,” said Mr Huang, who runs a travel business.
“That tells you how tight the community is. And it’s something that comes out, only after you’ve lived in a place for 50 years," Mr Huang added.
MORE THAN NOSTALGIA
But these social bonds and memories are under threat as residents move away or die, or when places get demolished and redeveloped, said Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin, naming Tanglin Halt, Dakota Crescent, and Rochor Centre as examples.
“A place becomes meaningful because we understand what happened there before, the stories that go around it and the people who are connected with it," explained the independent researcher. “Normally people don’t really see (the mundane stories) as important, but in most other countries you don’t face such a rapid pace of change."
Over years of research and advocacy, Ms Chua said she has observed greater willingness on the part of Government agencies to engage community stakeholders, understand different perspectives, and work with them to resolve issues.
“In recent years, NHB has got a whole department dedicated to supporting and encouraging community efforts,” she noted. “There’s a lot of encouragement from Government agencies. And what is encouraging Government interest is because this all (has) to do with national identity, community bonding.”
While thankful for greater government support and civic participation in community history, Mr Kwek is keenly aware of the need to celebrate and honour the past, without romanticising it.
“Nostalgia sells, but at the end of the day, I think if you ask anybody whether they’d want to go back to the kampung period, or to the one- or two-room, very rudimentary flats, I don’t think anyone would,” he said. “Of course there were good memories... but infrastructure has improved; they’re (now) living with better sanitary conditions, better (wheelchair) access.”
Overall, heritage champions like Mr Kwek, Ms Chua and heritage blogger Jerome Lim agree that present attitudes to community heritage and conservation are a far cry from the top-down, “bulldozer approach” seen in the 1960s to 80s.
“There is an element of – we’ve gone so far, so fast, so much so that we left a lot of things behind without having a chance to look back. For me, for example, (it felt as if) I woke up and the places that I was familiar with as a child - they’re all gone,” said Mr Lim.
The 52-year-old naval architect, who also runs the 12,566-strong Facebook group On a little street in Singapore, said that the numbers on his blog and Facebook group have seen a “10-fold increase from two to three years ago”.
“I suppose there was a ready audience,” he said. “People like to remember, talk about bits and pieces of the past that don’t exist anymore. It helps us to cope, reconnect, and identify ourselves with Singapore.”
Rachel Phua Channel NewsAsia 18 Feb 17;
SINGAPORE: Away from Singapore's cityscape is new community space where residents can take part in "kampung-style" activities like harvesting vegetables, crafting wood and creating mud bricks for simple construction works.
It's called Kampung Kampus, which opened on Saturday (Feb 18) at the former Bottle Tree Park at Khatib. It is run by non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), as a space where people can learn and play.
For instance, a permanent workshop will be built for Touchwood, a social enterprise under GUI that specialises in craft works. There will also be other DIY craft studios and a new camping site for schools and companies to hold overnight group events.
The opening of the 26,000 sqm centre on Saturday is the first of three phases. Construction of the second and third phases of Kampung Kampus is expected to start from 2018 and will involve the building of spaces such as a bamboo gallery and refurbished kampung-style huts.
It is hoped that the new centre will encourage more Singaporeans to participate in environmental and social projects, and “get in touch with their roots," said founder of GUI Tay Lai Hock.
This is also in line with Singapore's drive to get more Singaporeans to engage in social projects, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee during the launch.
“Hopefully, this will in turn kickstart more projects around Singapore to promote active participation in social causes but more importantly, that we feel it is our responsibility to grow these social causes,” said Mr Lee.
This is particularly important for a globalised and digital world, Mr Lee added, where Singaporeans are looking for and succeeding in opportunities outside of the country.
“We need to counter-balance this with a deeper sense of rootedness. Our roots must run deeper … and it can never only be an initiative the government leads. In fact, civil society, communities, volunteers, all play an important part in helping Singaporeans find their feet and to find their identity and to grow it and evolve it along the way,” Lee added.
So far, GUI has spent S$1 million on the new sites, and the financing was partially sponsored by local construction companies, the non-profit group said.