Pregnant wild boar killed in accident on BKE

Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: A pregnant wild boar was killed in an accident involving three cars on the Bukit Timah Expressway towards Woodlands on Thursday evening (Jun 21).

The accident, which took place near the Mandai Road exit, left the boar's insides exposed and its litter of unborn piglets on the road.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the three cars were travelling on the right-most lane when the wild boar crossed the expressway from left to right. Two of the cars ran over the wild boar, while the third car collided into the second car.

The police said they were alerted to the accident at 7.40pm and that investigations are ongoing.

Photos circulating on social media show a dead wild boar with its unborn piglets lying nearby after an accident on the Bukit Timah Expressway on Jun 21, 2018.

The incident comes after a wild sambar deer was euthanised after it suffered severe injuries in an accident along the same expressway last Sunday. Three vehicles were involved in the accident and a taxi driver was injured.

There were several other accidents involving wild boars on Singapore's roads last year.

In September, five people were injured in two separate accidents on Lentor Avenue and on the Ayer Rajah Expressway involving wild boars. In November, a wild boar was shot by police for endangering public safety at the Punggol West Flyover. A month after that incident, a wild boar caused an accident between two vehicles along the Pan Island Expressway.

The Ministry of National Development said in a written reply to a parliamentary question by MP Sun Xueling in November last year that it is working with stakeholders to "manage the wild boar issues" in Singapore.

The Government also said it will step up public education efforts on what to do if members of the public encounter animals such as wild boars.

Source: CNA/cy

Mandai area roadkill: Developer takes protective measures but wildlife experts call for more
Fann Sim Channel NewsAsia 22 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: More can be done to prevent roadkill in the Mandai area, where an eco-tourism hub is being developed, wildlife experts told Channel NewsAsia.

A pregnant wild boar was killed in a traffic accident along Bukit Timah Expressway on Thursday (Jun 21), the fifth reported roadkill in the area since development on the project started last year. Last Sunday, a wild Sambar deer was killed along the same stretch of road.

The developer of the project, Mandai Park Development (MPD), said speed bumps were put in place along Mandai Lake Road in 2016. The process of installing hoardings started at the end of 2016 before development works started in the first quarter of 2017.

But wildlife experts said more can be done to prevent roadkill.

"They need to be far more efficient and urgent than they are doing now. At the area where a pangolin and leopard cat died, there are still no hoardings even till today," said veteran wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai.

The hoardings, which prevent animals from getting onto the roads and guides them to a safer crossing, are still being installed in phases up to this year, said wildlife experts.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the hoardings are added in phases as the project progresses.

When Channel NewsAsia visited the area, the hoardings were largely limited to the Mandai Lake Road area and not along Mandai Road, which flanks the northern region of the reserve.

"Due to forest clearing as part of the development, wildlife which inhabit these areas will be forced to move around and are at risk of getting on adjacent busy roads or highways where hoardings are not present," said Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society's (ACRES).

"More speed calming measures and complete barriers must be in the right places, not just with the development but the surrounding areas where the displaced animals could move to along the main roads to prevent animal crossings and roadkill," she added.

On slowing the traffic along Mandai Lake Road, Dr Lee Hui Mien, MPD's vice president of sustainable solutions, said that a series of speed reduction measures has been put in place.

The speed limit for most parts of the road has been reduced to 40kmh. This is further reduced to 20kmh at a stretch near the nature reserve that has been identified as a temporary crossing area for wildlife.

MPD said in January this year, an additional speed radar was installed and the number of speed humps and wildlife crossing signs increased. Road markings to indicate wildlife crossing areas were also added.

A rope bridge has also been installed along Mandai Lake Road to help arboreal animals such as squirrels and macaques move across safely, with another set currently underway, it added.

Drivers of vehicles such as taxis, private hire cars and buses that regularly ply the Mandai area have also been engaged to raise awareness on speed calming measures, said Dr Lee.

However, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's research associate Sivasothi N said that the hoardings and traffic calming plans have been up for "a very short time".

He noted that plans for the eco-tourism park were first announced in 2014 but work only started in 2017. "That is very soon for an entity unfamiliar with development next to protected forests and the entire process has been hasty. The mitigation I've observed is slow and inadequate," said Mr Sivasothi.

"The mitigations that are needed are not yet implemented," said the vice-chair of Nature Society's conservation committee, Mr Ho Hua Chew.


Mr Ho was referring to a planned Eco-Link wildlife bridge to help animals living in the forested areas of Mandai cross roads without danger, similar to the existing Eco-Link@BKE crossing built between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Experts said that the bridge, which will only be ready by the end of 2019 ahead of other components of the project, could have helped prevent roadkill incidents.

Mr Subaraj, who provided consultancy on the Mandai project, said various local wildlife groups had submitted recommendations to mitigate its impact on the local fauna.

"None of the mitigation measures recommended, including wildlife crossings ... to proper hoardings, everything was not in place when the developer started developing the area which shouldn't be the case. It should all have been in place then you start the development," said Mr Subaraj.

"That's the normal procedure for anywhere where there is nature even more so when there is a nature reserve. That's really unfortunate," he added.

While the Eco-Link bridge is a "great solution" and can be used by most animals, Mr Subaraj added that installing more rope bridges will help arboreal animals that live in the rainforest tree canopy move across.

National University of Singapore's wildlife biologist Joanna Coleman said that the most effective strategy of mitigating wildlife affected by building works are overpasses.

"Signage is probably the most common and cheapest mitigation measure implemented worldwide," said Dr Joanna Coleman. But a recent study showed they are ineffective, the wildlife biologist at the National University of Singapore added.

"If drivers in Singapore are generally more cautious or more likely than drivers elsewhere to obey road signs, then perhaps signage could work better here than elsewhere," Dr Coleman added.


"When a large mammal strays onto a road, there's always a chance that it will cause a collision, resulting in human injury or death," Dr Coleman said.

Three cars were involved in the accident with the pregnant wild boar. Last Sunday's incident where a wild Sambar deer had to be euthanised involved a taxi, motorcycle and a car as they tried to avoid the deer. The taxi driver suffered cuts and was taken to hospital.

In May, a Malaysian motorcyclist took the Land Transport Authority and National Parks Board to court for negligence after a wild boar roadkill accident.

Mr Vicknesh Morthy suffered serious head injuries resulting in permanent disability after crashing into the carcass of a wild boar that was left along the BKE, near Eco-Link@BKE.

Apart from Sambar deer and wild boars, the reserve is also home to pangolins, Banded Leaf Monkeys, Common Palm Civets and leopard cats.

"I think we will definitely see more encounters of this nature but what is scary is that ... if you're not very careful, it could lead to a fatality of a person on the roads. If a car hits a big Sambar deer at full pace, someone could get killed," Mr Subaraj said.

"We need more wildlife crossings. We need speeds to be slowed down on certain roads especially along Mandai Road and Upper Thomson Road. And we need to have better understanding among the public that you are moving adjacent to a nature area and there is always a possibility of wildlife being around so let's be a little bit considerate and alert," he added.

Source: CNA/fs

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jun 18

Abandoned net at Pulau Seduku (17 Jun 2018)
Project Driftnet Singapore

E-poll on proposed amendments to the Wild Animals and Birds Act (WABA), Singapore
Psychedelic Nature

Read more!

Southeast Asia’s vanishing sand bans are destroying the region

Piyali Banergee Asian Correspondent 21 Jun 18;

MALAYSIA’S newly elected prime minister once said that illegal sand miners were “digging up Malaysia and giving her to other people.”

During his previous term in office, he tried to fix what he viewed as an aggressive assault on Malaysia’s heritage: the selling of its sand.

To put a stop to it, Mahathir imposed a sand export ban to Singapore in 1997, which at the time was reclaiming huge swathes of new land to expand its territory. That enterprise required vast amounts of sand unavailable to Singapore, but which could be easily found in its neighbour, Malaysia.

However, despite Mahathir’s best efforts to protect Malaysia’s environment, it appears the ban was at best only minimally effective, and in most years completely illusory.

Yet the impression largely propagated by the media has been that Malaysia’s sand ban has been in place and enforced up until last year. In 2017, Malaysia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment announced that the sand ban had been lifted and that exports of sand would be permitted to Singapore on a case-by-case basis.

But that was rather an odd announcement considering UN Comtrade reports filed by Malaysia and Singapore over nearly twenty years that appeared to contradict the suggestion that the ban had ever been in place at all.

A recent review of Malaysia’s “stone, sand and gravel” exports to Singapore and Singapore’s purchases of those resources over two decades suggests that Mahathir’s sand ban, initiated to protect a fragile Malaysian environment, was seemingly ignored, including by his own government.

For most of those years, except for a relatively brief four-year period between 2003 and 2006, the ban appeared to be ineffectual.

For example, Malaysia reported to UN Comtrade that Singapore bought US$58 million worth of “stone, sand and gravel,” or over $9 million per year on average, between 1997 – the first year of Mahathir’s ban – and 2002.

However, Singapore reports it spent $595 million during this same period, or nearly ten times what Malaysia claims. The amount of materials exported by Malaysia to Singapore during this period don’t indicate any kind of functional ban.

It’s possible the ban was slow in getting started. But in 2003, the year Mahathir left office, exports of materials from Malaysia to Singapore do, in fact, radically and quickly slump — at long last.

During this period, Singapore reported purchases of $24 million; Malaysia reported exports of $7 million. These much-reduced amounts of imports and exports do, in fact, suggest that Mahathir’s ban was at last being observed, but there may be a specific reason for this.

According to Singapore’s reports to UN Comtrade, in 2003 it began buying huge quantities of “stone, sand and gravel” from Indonesia.

Over the four years between 2003 and 2006, Singapore reports that it purchased a total of $338 million worth. This is the same time period that Malaysia’s exports of these same materials to Singapore precipitously dropped. In other words, the level of these new imports from Indonesia effectively replaced the annual amount of sand Singapore had been acquiring from Malaysia.

Unsurprisingly, by 2007, Indonesia had announced its own export ban of sand to Singapore, citing environmental concerns after the active sand extraction caused islands to start disappearing.

But, despite both Malaysia and Indonesia placing bans, the stream of “stone, sand and gravel” exports continued to flow.

In the final years of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s premiership, between 2007 and 2009, Malaysia sold Singapore about $568 million worth of the product.

By 2010, the first year of Najib Razak’s leadership, sales to Singapore came in at $173 million, at least as reported by Singapore. And amazingly, over the next six years, Singapore reported buying a total of $1.2 billion in exports of this kind from Malaysia. In total, that’s a shocking $2 billion of sales to Singapore between 2007 and 2016.

It’s safe to say that’s no ban at all.

Is it possible that Singapore was purchasing stone and gravel, and not sand? Perhaps.

The UN Comtrade makes no distinction between these materials. But it seems unlikely at best, especially since Singapore would have spent $3 billion of public funds on just “stone and gravel” from both Malaysia and Indonesia in about ten years. That’s approximately $300 million a year on stones alone.

It also ignores the obvious. Between 1992 and 2004, Singapore was engaged in reclaiming vast tracts of new land. These areas included 2,000 hectares at Changi East and 3,000 hectares at Jurong Island. In addition, it was building public beaches and large waterfront areas at its Southern Islands.

The Changi East Reclamation Project in Singapore, a multi-phase project involving the formation of 2000 ha of land by placing hydraulically filled sand on to soft seabed marine clay. Source: Google Maps

During this period, Singapore’s appetite for sand was voracious as 5,000-plus hectares of new land requires hundreds of millions of tonnes.

But whatever the quantities, Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s professed sand bans appeared to be disingenuous. It may have been the media’s reiteration of the existence of these bans that helped perpetuate the public perception that these bans were in place, but the UN Comtrade statistics tell a completely different story.

Vietnam tells a similar story. In 2009, the Southeast Asian nation also announced a ban on sand exports to Singapore. But again, the numbers show a different reality.

Between 2009 and 2016, Singapore bought $756 million of “stone, sand and gravel” from Vietnam. Only two years – 2011-2012 – show a substantial drop in imports by Singapore. Otherwise, it appears to be business as usual.

Given these huge sums over ten years, Vietnam can hardly be said to have implemented any kind of comprehensive ban at all. Curiously, there are significant discrepancies in the values reported by each country. While Singapore claims it purchased $756 million, Vietnam only reports a sale of $126 million over the same period.

Evidence suggests that these sand bans are, in effect, no ban at all, at least in any meaningful sense.

What’s of grave importance is the damage still being done to Malaysia’s coasts and rivers, as well as those of Indonesia, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations, due to incessant sand mining.

That’s the real story in UN Comtrade’s statistics.

If the sand mining continues and there are no effective multi-state sand mining bans put into place, the region will gradually lose their natural heritage and endanger native wildlife.

So perhaps now that Mahathir’s back in office, he will lead the way in Southeast Asia and demand a genuine sand ban in the name of Malaysia’s environment.

Clearly with everything we know of the intensely destructive impact that sand mining has on seashores, rivers, and inlands, Malaysia’s long-term environmental protection should be one of Mahathir’s top priorities.

Piyali Banergee is the lead writer and researcher for Nature Watch, an environmental watchdog group working in various parts of Asia to protect rivers and coasts.

Read more!

Malaysia: Turtles arrive on Terengganu shores for egg-laying season, and so do poachers

New Straits Times 21 Jun 18;

DUNGUN: The turtle egg-laying season has begun on Terengganu’s shores – and with it, the arrival of tourists as well as poachers.

The Fisheries Department is doing its bit to ensure that egg thieves are kept at bay to ensure the survival of the leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles which land on Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast each year.

Over the past seven years, the department’s efforts have borne fruit, with over 3.6 million turtle eggs from nearly 45,000 nests being saved.

Mohammad Firdaus Abdillah, head of the department’s Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, said that they deploy rangers to ensure the safety of turtles during the egg-laying season between March and October.

“Our rangers regularly patrol the beachfront throughout the state during the egg-laying season.

“And this has helped save thousands of turtles from poachers,” he said, adding that those caught flouting laws were handed to the National Parks and Wildlife Department and other agencies for further action.

Firdaus said that from 2010 to last year, a total of 44,981 egg nests were discovered along the Terengganu coastline, leading to the discovery of 3,682,848 turtle eggs.

“The department managed to successfully hatch 2,753,418 eggs at its hatcheries,” he said.

Firdaus added that the department also relocates eggs to safer areas.

“Apart from this, we carry out enforcement on land and sea, awareness campaigns, and exhibitions at schools at our Turtle Conservation Centre and other public places.

“Additionally, we hold dialogues and appear on television shows (to discuss) turtle conservation initiatives,” he said.

Starting in the 1960s, the state government selected hatching sites in Dungun, Setiu, Kemaman and the islands of Redang, Bidong, Perhentian and Kapas for turtles, owing to their dwindling number each year.

The effort has managed to increase the number of turtle landings for the three main turtle species.

Apart from Rantau Abang, two renowned turtle sanctuaries are situated at Pantai Ma Daerah in Paka and Pantai Teluk Mak Nik in Kemaman.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jun 18

Balik Chek Jawa 2018
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

July 2018 sampling events for NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

7 Jul (Sat): Seringat Trail kayaking with Kayakasia
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Read more!

Man fined S$3,500 for importing a live tortoise

Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: A 40-year-old man was fined S$3,500 on Wednesday (Jun 20) for the illegal importation of a Greek tortoise into Singapore.

The animal is a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and a permit is required for any import, export and re-export of CITES-listed species in Singapore.

The live tortoise was found in a plastic container that was concealed in the rear left compartment of a Singapore-registered vehicle, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a joint media release on Wednesday.

ICA found the tortoise following checks at Woodlands Checkpoint. AVA, who was alerted on Feb 9, said investigations revealed that the man, Ong Yi Chao, did not have a valid permit to import the tortoise.

The tortoise is currently under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

"The ICA and AVA would like to remind travellers against bringing live animals, birds and insects into Singapore without a proper permit," they said.

Offenders can be fined up to S$50,000 per species and/or jailed up to two years.

Source: CNA/na

Read more!

Locally grown strawberries a first for Singapore's farming industry

Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: It was once an unthinkable feat - growing non-native temperate produce on Singapore soil. But a local urban farm has managed to do just that - growing strawberries, with the help of technology in a controlled hydroponics environment.

"We manipulate the environment to enhance the flavour profiles of our products, even down to the nutrients that run in the water," said Benjamin Swan, co-founder of Sustenir Agriculture.

"So even though it took two months to get the (strawberries) up, we spent the better part of six months understanding how we can best optimise the growth footprints we have to make the products the best we can be ... by controlling the environment."

Strawberries are the latest fruits of the vertical farm's labour, with other temperate produce in its basket including kale and arugula. The vertical farm also has plans to explore innovations in agriculture, by setting up a research and development lab in startup complex JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.

In a visit to the 1,000 sq ft facility on Wednesday (Jun 20), Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said the Government would continue supporting urban farmers in co-developing solutions with industry players, in light of challenges faced by the urban farmers.

"The industry gave feedback that they have two challenges. One is that there is a lack of plug-and-play, cost-effective solutions for automation they can use quite quickly," said Dr Koh. "The second challenge they face is that they may need to have more understanding of science of certain niche crop types they can grow in an indoor environment."

"Urban farming as a movement is still fairly new globally. Therefore some of these solutions may not be readily available off the shelf," Dr Koh said. "But we do see a lot of solution providers innovating solutions that can be adoptable."

"They being here in LaunchPad – where a lot of innovation and entrepreneurs are – this can be a place to catalyse cocreation of solutions. And I think that would not just meet needs, but create an entirely new pillar of exportable technology for our local companies as well," Dr Koh said.

He cited the example of Sustenir Agriculture, which partnered with robotic solutions company PBA Hanhwa Robotics to devise a robotic arm for its seeding and transplanting process.

The farm is exploring the use of robotic arms to help in its seeding and transplanting process, with the robots able to take on the workload of eight personnel, according to Mr Swan. (Photo: Wendy Wong)

Dr Koh added that the Government would continue to encourage collaboration between farmers and institutes of higher learning. "The NUS Environmental Research Institute (NERI) is already working with some of our industry to better understand the science behind growing niche crop varieties, and to look at agrotech they can co-develop together to meet those challenges."

The vertical farm, which is expanding into Hong Kong in the third quarter of 2018, is also looking at growing "indoor grapes" – and eventually even harvesting "made in Singapore" wine among others.

"All strawberries need to be pollinated – typically that happens with bees outdoors," said Mr Swan. "What we do right now is that we do it by hand with a forensic brush. It’s a little bit laborious and we don’t get 100 per cent success. But we are exploring bringing in bees to the room, which means we could have 100 per cent clean honey as well."

Source: CNA/na

Coming to a supermarket near you: Made-in-Singapore strawberries
VICTOR LOH Today Online 20 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE — Ideally suited for a cooler climate with temperatures between 16°C and 27°C, strawberries are hard to grow here — until now.

In what is touted as a first in the country and the region, a Singapore start-up Sustenir has managed to produce strawberries on a commercial scale, in a controlled indoor environment.

Buoyed by its success, the enterprise has set its sights on made-in-Singapore grapes and even wine.

Speaking at the launch of its research and development lab at JTC Launchpad in one-north on Wednesday (June 20), Mr Benjamin Swan, 37, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sustenir, said: "The sky is the limit to this because, effectively, we can grow anything indoors."

The strawberries are now sold at selected Cold Storage supermarkets and online grocer RedMart at S$12 for a 200g packet, and Mr Swan said that there may be plans to sell them at more shops in the heartlands.

The fruit is produced using patented technology, which allows Sustenir to maximise its output in land-scarce Singapore, to grow more with less.

For example, a traditional farm can grow an average of 140 tonnes of leafy greens in one hectare of land, but Sustenir can produce 2,100 tonnes in the same space using 95 per cent less water.

A typical farm also takes about seven to eight weeks to grow strawberries from the plant stem using regular farming methods, but Sustenir can do so in under six weeks.

Its vertical farm at Sembawang — which is certified under the food safety management systems scheme, ISO 22000 — has been cultivating other non-native vegetables such as kale and arugula (rocket) since 2014, and can now produce about 800kg of strawberries monthly all year round. Plans are afoot to double the size of its 54sqm strawberry farm.

Mr Swan, a former UOB and Citibank banker before he co-founded Sustenir, said that because its products are cultivated in "perfectly clean conditions that are free from pesticides, contaminated soil and any form of haze or air pollution from outside", there is no need to wash its fruits and vegetables before consumption, and they can last for two weeks when refrigerated.

While the firm took just two months to research and cultivate its first batch of strawberries, but pollination — which usually happens with bees outdoors — was a challenge.

Pollination is now done manually, but the company is looking to introduce bees indoors, and perhaps from there, even create "100 per cent clean honey", Mr Swan said.

He stressed that Sustenir is not out to compete with Singapore farmers for staple vegetables and fruits. "We can grow bok choy and so forth locally, but do we want to grow (bok choy) here indoors or outdoors? Of course not. What we are doing is focusing on imported products."

It is this same imported-produce-first strategy that Sustenir is taking to Hong Kong, where it will open a vertical farm in the third quarter of this year.

He added: "We are going as far as the more medicinal products. Take TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). We are working with NUS (National University of Singapore), for example, so that we can extract the enzymes out of (nutrient-rich) kale, a superfood to help with (the well-being of) cancer patients."


On Wednesday, Sustenir also launched the sale of its strawberries at Cold Storage's new one-north outlet.

When asked about the S$12-per-200g price of its strawberries, Mr Swan said that they are "very competitive" compared with the South Korean varieties, for instance.

An online site sells strawberries from South Korea for S$11.60 per 330g box, while a 250g box of strawberries from the United States costs S$6.50 at Cold Storage.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, who was present at the launch event, was asked if urban farmers are limited to producing just high-value fruits and vegetables.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon (left) with Sustenir Agriculture's CEO Benjamin Swan looking at home-grown strawberries at Sustenir's Research and Development facility. Photo: Chng Shao Kai/TODAY

He noted that the technology has the potential for other common vegetables such as bok choy to be grown locally for commercial use.

"Strawberries is one of those varieties that we would not have imagined possible growing in Singapore. But for a controlled environment, by manipulating the growth conditions, we see that strawberries are now possible.

"If you know how to grow strawberries in an indoor environment, you know how to manipulate conditions, I think it will not take a big leap for (urban farmers) to switch to more mass-market vegetables like bok choy, for example," Dr Koh said.

"It's only left to our imagination to see how (urban farmers) can capitalise on this to do more with less and get ourselves more fruits, and be self-sufficient."

Strawberries grown in Singapore vertical farm make debut
Low De Wei Straits Times 20 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Strawberries grown in a vertical farm in Singapore - and available all year round - are being sold at selected supermarkets.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, who took a look at Singapore's first commercially-grown local strawberries on Wednesday (June 20), said government agencies will need to see how best they can change rules to assist vertical farms here.

This means that agencies may need to be flexible, and liberalise regulations, to accommodate the needs of such firms here, he added.

Acknowledging the challenges that the vertical farm industry faces here, Dr Koh said that one solution was for commercial companies, universities and firms with research and development (R&D) expertise to work together with urban farmers. The Government will explore how clustering can be applied in this industry as well, like siting vertical farms with other businesses they can leverage for expertise, he added.

He accepted that finding spaces here for vertical farms was a challenge and said that the Government would see what more it could do to assist farmers who identify areas and buildings that they are keen to set up facilities in.

Dr Koh was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the R&D laboratory of local vertical farming company, Sustenir Agriculture, at one-north.

Sustenir's researchers had successfully cultivated strawberry plants in the lab, and the fruit has since been grown in Sustenir's vertical farm.

The strawberries are being sold at selected Cold Storage outlets at $12 a punnet.

Most vertical farm companies, such as Sustenir, currently grow vegetables like kale and other salad vegetables for sale in the local market. The latest addition to this plate are home-grown strawberries.

Dr Koh said that the technology used to grow high-value crops like strawberries can also support Singapore's food security requirements in times of need.

"The idea is to develop the know-how and have the technology mature so that in a time of need, you can easily switch over to different plant types (to grow in vertical farms)," he said.

Figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that there were 26 indoor vertical farms here as at the end of April. In 2016, there were just six such farms.

More players need to be willing to adopt such business models even as the Government reaches out to them, Dr Koh said.

As the urban farming landscape matures in Singapore, the Government will also seek to engage residents.

Citing the example of the new town of Tengah, which features "community farmways", Dr Koh said the Government is exploring how to incorporate more urban community farming into newer housing estates.

While AVA figures show that the number of commercial rooftop farms here remained at one as of end-April, with no new additions in the past two years, Dr Koh said the Government will continue to look at how rooftop spaces like those at multi-storey carparks can be adapted for producing edible food.

"As we explore this space, and as interest grows, we will be able to do something more concrete," he said.

Berry fresh prospects for vertical farming
Govt agencies may have to ease rules to let sector flourish, says senior minister of state
Low De Wei Straits Times 21 Jun 18;

Now in selected supermarkets near you: Strawberries grown in a Singapore vertical farm.

On the sidelines of a visit to an R&D laboratory belonging to Sus-tenir Agriculture, which developed a method to grow strawberries here, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said government agencies will need to see how best they can change rules to assist vertical farms.

This means agencies may need to be flexible, and liberalise regulations, to accommodate the needs of such firms, he added yesterday.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by the vertical farm industry, Dr Koh said one solution the Government will explore is to locate such farms near commercial companies, universities and R&D firms.

He explained that having such "clusters" will let urban farmers leverage on expertise in other areas to devise cost-effective technological solutions. He also acknowledged that finding spaces for vertical farms was a challenge, and said the Government would see what more it can do to help farmers who identify areas and buildings they are keen to set up facilities in.

Mr James Liu, co-founder of vertical farming company SING.Fresh, is one such farmer who had to grapple with the "significant challenge" of getting approval from various agencies for the use of unused spaces, which he said is hindered by land usage policies.

Higher location costs for vertical farming would also mean higher costs for consumers, he said.

Most vertical farm companies grow high-value greens like kale and other salad vegetables that can be sold at more competitive prices compared to imported varieties.

Asked about the rationale for growing such crops, co-founder and chief executive of Sustenir Agriculture Benjamin Swan said this was to avoid competing against lower-cost greens like bok choy.

Dr Koh said the know-how gained from growing high-value crops like strawberries can still contribute to supporting Singapore's food security in times of need.

Figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) show there were 26 commercial indoor vertical farms as of end-April this year. In 2016, there were six such farms.

Still, more players need to be willing to adopt such business models even as the Government reaches out to them, Dr Koh said.

And as the urban farming landscape matures, the Government will also seek to engage residents. Dr Koh said the Government is exploring how to incorporate more urban community farming into newer housing estates.

AVA figures show there was only one commercial rooftop vertical farm as of end-April.

A spokesman for the Ministry of National Development, when asked about its policy on rooftop farming, said it adopts "a facilitative approach". "We will continue to push for innovative projects to optimise our land use and grow the urban farming movement," the spokesman added.

Asked if the Government can do more, Dr Koh said it will continue to look at how rooftop spaces like those on multi-storey carparks can be adapted for producing edible food.

"As we explore this space, and as interest grows, we will be able to do something more concrete," he said.

Read more!

Malaysia: "Ghost nets" destroying life within Sabah's marine park

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 20 Jun 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Ghost nets have been wrapping themselves around coral reefs, trapping and killing hundreds of marine life daily within Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a popular tourism spot and dive site off here.

Over the years, concerned divers have taken their own initiative to remove fishing nets caught in coral reefs within the protected marine park covering five islands – Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik, and Sulug.

Despite their efforts in protecting the marine life and highlighting the matter to relevant authorities, ghost nets continue to creep into TARP and become threats to the coral reef and marine life.

Divemaster Jude Junius said tourism activities may collapse if illegal fishing and the dumping of nets within TARP off here persist without effective and proper monitoring from relevant authorities.

“Our reefs are being threatened at a very alarming rate and it will die off if this continues.

“We are doing our part but there is little we can do. Sabah Parks and the fisheries department need to take heed of this problem.

Fishing trap set up by irresponsible individuals within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
“We have stumbled upon 100m to 300m long fishing nets caught on reefs. The 300m net is worse because it means leisure divers can see them throughout the whole dive.

“We boast of Sabah being rich in marine biodiversity, but this situation makes the diving industry look bad especially when a diver has just been certified and is looking forward to experience underwater adventure,” he said.

Diver removes a fishing trap found within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
Jude also pointed out fishing traps found hidden between reefs as a method to catch fish by irresponsible individuals, and questioned the point of having a conservation fee paid to Sabah Parks.

Since last month, concerned divers had discovered more than 13 ghost nets. Jude noted Gaya Island marine conservation and dive operators namely Borneo Dream, Diverse Borneo, and Land Below The Wind sponsored them the boats and diving gear for the cleanup initiative.

Meanwhile, Sabah Parks TARP manager Anthony Tinggi said the parks relied on information from divers and the exact coordinates, so it would be easy for their team to act on complains with regards fishing nets.

“We have five divers in our marine unit and our team has also removed ghost nets during their dives. I agree we cannot work in silo to tackle the problem and we need to have a strong cooperation from the diving fraternity,” he said.

Fishing trap set up by irresponsible individuals within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
He noted that Jude has come to see him to discuss on cooperation, adding TARP management assisted in providing boats and manpower to help in the removal of ghost nets.

“However, we stopped (providing boats) for a while as our divers and boatmen were fasting during the Ramadan. We will nonetheless continue to assist them. I am also looking into establishing a Honorary Ranger.

“We have informed the matter to Sabah Parks director (Dr Jamili Nais) and I am in the midst of preparing the proposal paper to be presented to the top management,” he said.

On the origin of the ghost nets, Tinggi however believed the fishing nets were not being dropped intentionally in TARP but had drifted from outside the park’s boundary.

Diver removing fishing nets with marine life trapped in it within Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park off Kota Kinabalu. Photo Courtesy of Jude Junius.
Having said that, he stressed that Sabah Parks continues to conduct patrols around TARP, including in the wee hours when fishermen were believed to conduct illegal fishing activities.

“However, we have never come across fishermen or fishing boats within the marine park,” he added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Forum on sharks and rays protection to kick start tomorrow

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 20 Jun 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A high level forum to discuss sharks and rays protection in Sabah waters will kick start here tomorrow, with participation from local and foreign researchers, non-governmental organisations (NGO), and government officials.

The groups will convene at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort here, to further deliberate on the situation of sharks and rays population in the state’s waters at the two-day Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum 2018, which ends on Friday.

Among the forum participants are the State Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, Sabah Fisheries Department under the state Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, and Universiti Teknologi MARA.

NGOs include WWF-Malaysia, WWF-Pakistan, WWF-International, Save Philippine Sea, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), Sabah Sharks Protection Association (SSPA), Marine Research Foundation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society among others.

In the forum tomorrow, participants will be given an update on the protection progress, which include eco-tourism research, socioeconomic study, awareness-raising works as well as law and policy on Malaysia’s sharks and rays.

Participants will also be given an insight into the shark policies in the Philippines.

A high-level dialogue is scheduled on Friday, of which state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew is expected to attend the dialogue.

The Sabah Sharks and Rays Forum 2018, which carries the theme “Exploring Synergies between Fisheries, Conservation and Tourism“, is jointly organised by Land Empowerment Animals People, WWF-Malaysia and SSPA.

The forum is also expected to reveal results of an updated study to assess the current economic value of the shark diving industry in Semporna, following the 2012 Shark Tourism Economic Valuation Study that was led by AIMS.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 19-20 Jun 18

RIP Mama Jong
wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Pod of Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins spotted off Pulau Semakau

Charmaine Ng Straits Times 19 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - In his 10 years of fishing, Mr Quek Wei Teck has never come across anything like it.

The 39-year-old was with six other friends on a yacht off Pulau Semakau last Saturday afternoon (June 16) when they saw something jump from the water.

"All of us stopped fishing and rushed to the front (of the yacht)," said Mr Quek, who owns a fishing academy.

As they got closer, they were treated to the sight of at least six dolphins - one of which appeared "a bit pinkish in colour", he told The Straits Times on Tuesday.

As the yacht inched slowly towards the pod so the fishing enthusiasts could get a closer look, the dolphins continued frolicking in the water.

"The nearest we got was about 10 to 20m," Mr Quek said. "We've been there many times but it was our first time seeing dolphins."

The group then whipped out their camera phones to try to capture the sighting.

Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins spotted off Pulau Semakau in Singapore

Chairman of the Nature Society (Singapore)'s Marine Conservation Group Stephen Beng told ST that the dolphins are Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, or pink dolphins - named after the colour they grow into with age.

The dolphins of this species are common in Singapore waters, and have been observed around the southern islands, Mr Beng added.

"It's good that these dolphins are commonly spotted in our reefs," he added. "It is important for us to be aware of their existence in our waters, and that they are part of our reef ecosystem."

He added that people should not discard fishing lines and nets in the sea, as they pose a threat to the marine life living in the waters, including dolphins, otters and sea turtles.

In April this year, a dolphin was spotted at Bedok Jetty, after it was reportedly caught in a fishing line.

After about 15 minutes, the fisherman cut the line and the dolphin drifted away into the waters, according to an eyewitness.

Read more!

Endangered SEA Aquarium turtles Hawke and Louie released into the wild

Channel NewsAsia 19 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: Two rescued sea turtles swam to freedom on Tuesday (Jun 19) after more than two years of rehabilitation.

Hawke, a critically endangered male hawksbill turtle, and Louie, an endangered green sea turtle, were released by the SEA Aquarium into the waters around Singapore in the hope that they breed and increase the population in the wild.

Hawke was released at about 10.50am in the waters of Sisters' Island Marine Park while Louie was released about an hour later in the waters of Pulau Semakau, SEA Aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa said in a press release.

"Both started swimming immediately in the water and disappeared from sight within seconds," said the two organisations. "Following the release, Louie was later spotted swimming near the same boat with its head out of the water, as though it was bidding farewell to its caretakers."

The turtles were tagged and microchipped so they could be identified should they return to Singapore's shores, they said, adding that the two release points were chosen in consultation with the National Parks Board.

"It is an emotional moment for our team today to see Hawke and Louie return to the ocean, but our end goal has always been to nurse these turtles back to health and release them back into their natural environment," said Mr Kenneth Kwang Keng Hei, aquarist at SEA Aquarium.

"Our team has spent more than two exciting years caring for them like our babies and it is an aquarist’s dream to see our animals grow healthy after rehabilitation and return to the wild so they can contribute to the overall marine ecosystem.”

Both turtles had made their "official debut" during World Turtle Day last year and were the first sea turtles to join SEA Aquarium's marine life collection, according to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.

Louie was only one week old when it was handed over to the aquarium on Sep 28, 2015. The turtle had been found by a member of the public in a drain, and weighed only 20g when it first arrived at the aquarium.

It has since grown to about 61cm in length and weighs 21.5kg.

Hawke arrived at the aquarium on Mar 24, 2016 after being found in the sea by a member of the public.

Believed to have been abandoned by its owner, who had kept it illegally as a pet, the turtle weighed 800g when it first arrived but has since grown to 59cm in length and weighs 23kg.

In addition, it has a slightly pyramided carapace - a shell deformity likely attributed to poor nutrition and care during its early years, according to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.

To prepare the turtles for their release, Hawke and Louie were gradually moved from back-of-house areas to larger habitats at the aquarium to "encourage exploration" and interaction with other "compatible marine life", said the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.

In addition, the aquarists fed the turtles a diet similar to that found in the wild including items such as sea jellies, squids and prawns.

Before their release, the aquarium's animal health team conducted a "thorough veterinary examination" which indicated both were healthy and suitable for release.

According to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa, there are seven different species of sea turtles: Green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and flatback.

Of these, six are considered threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Flatbacks are not listed as threatened due to insufficient data.

Worldwide, sea turtles face many threats (primarily from humans), including injuries from boat propellers, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution and poaching for eggs, meat, skin and shells.

Source: CNA/nc

2 rescued sea turtles released back into the wild after 2 years of rehabilitation at S.E.A Aquarium
Charmaine Ng Straits Times 19 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Two sea turtles that were rescued and put under the care of the S.E.A Aquarium have been released into the wild after more than two years of rehabilitation.

The turtles were released into the waters around Singapore on Tuesday morning (June 19), in hopes that they will breed and increase their population in the wild, the aquarium said in a statement.

The release was done with support and assistance from the National Parks Board, the aquarium added.

Hawke the hawksbill turtle - a critically endangered species- was released in the waters of Sisters' Islands Marine Park. Meanwhile, Louie of the endangered green sea turtle species was returned to the waters of Pulau Semakau.

Both turtles were tagged and microchipped so they can be identified if they return to Singapore's shores in the future, the S.E.A Aquarium said.

During their two years at the aquarium, the turtles were under the care of curatorial and animal health teams.

Aquarist Kenneth Kwang said it was an emotional moment for the team to see both turtles return to the ocean.

"Our team has spent more than two exciting years caring for them like our babies and it is an aquarist's dream to see our animals grow healthy after rehabilitation and return to the wild so they can contribute to the overall marine ecosystem," he said in the statement.

Upon release, both turtles started swimming immediately in the water and disappeared from sight within seconds, according to the aquarium.

"Following the release, Louie was later spotted swimming near the same boat with its head out of the water, as though it was bidding farewell to its caretakers," it added.

Prior to their release, both turtles underwent a veterinary examination, including a blood test, weight and length measurement, to ensure they were healthy.

To prepare them for the wild, both turtles were moved gradually from back-of-house areas to larger habitats at the S.E.A Aquarium, to encourage exploration and interaction with other marine life.

Louie the green sea turtle was one week old and weighed 20g when it came under the care of the aquarium in 2015, after it was found in a drain by a member of the public. It is now 21.5kg and has grown to 61cm.

As for Hawke, the hawksbill turtle was believed to be kept illegally as a pet, and weighed 800g when it first arrived at the aquarium. The male turtle now weighs 23kg and measures 59cm, said the S.E.A Aquarium.

Hawke also has a shell deformity, which is likely due to poor nutrition and care when he was young, said the aquarium.

Both Louie and Hawke are native to Singapore, and were the first sea turtles to join the aquarium's marine life collection.

There are seven species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and flatback. Of these seven, six are considered threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Read more!