Best of our wild blogs: 5 Jul 15



Seminar – Conservation in Asia: Successes & Challenges – 9am, Fri 10 July @ NUS
biodiversityconnections

Sunrise suvey of Pulau Sekudu
wild shores of singapore

Annual Chek Jawa survey at coral rubble
wonderful creation

Interesting sea slugs at Chek Jawa
Peiyan.Photography

Festival of Biodiversity 2015!
Butterflies of Singapore

Sultan dragonfly oviposting
Bird Ecology Study Group

Annual survey at Chek Jawa's coral rubble
Chek Jawa Mortality and Recruitment Project


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Port changed Singapore’s destiny

The Star 5 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE’S port is a microcosm of its economic trajectory over the decades, mirroring ingrained outward impulses and forward-looking strategies, a sine qua non for survival.

As much as the port has anchored the economy for almost 200 years and now accounts for 170,000 jobs, it has been posited that many Singaporeans cannot fully fathom its critical role, particularly when couched in single-digit terms as contributing about 7% to the gross national product.

The port didn’t just parallel the nation’s rise. It helped to put Singapore on the world map by connecting it to far-flung, major centres of economic activity. It would have been a different story if it had shunned hub aspirations out of a fear of, say, being overwhelmed.

Enhancing connectivity by taking a gamble with containerisation five decades ago reflects the determined openness of pioneer leaders, especially when even global port experts couldn’t predict at that time the power of the invention to boost ­global trade exponentially.

A strategic geographical location helped, of course, but its potential would not have been fulfilled – to the point of becoming the world’s biggest transhipment centre – if the hub concept had not been adopted with much vim and vigour.

Connectivity will be taken to greater levels of scale and complexity as an era of megaships dawns.

To put it graphically, the containers disgorged by a single megaship if lined up would stretch from Tuas to Yong Peng in Johor, a third of the distance to Kuala Lumpur.

Apart from the smart operations required to move such huge volumes in a hyper-efficient manner, there would be an even greater need to develop and maintain external relationships, with an eye on past difficulties when major customers like Maersk and Evergreen Marine had moved to the port’s competitor in pursuit of relative advantages.

Once again, it’s the need to stay ahead of the field that is driving the accelerated expansion plans for the Pasir Panjang container port at a considerable cost, even though all port operations there will cease over time and find a permanent home in Tuas.

By pioneer leaders’ famously prudent financial management yardsticks, that would be deemed wasteful.

But in the current, fast-changing global environment, it would be folly to lose ground by tarrying.

Singaporeans as a whole must also embrace such change by, for example, reaffirming the value of being a hub city and the need to connect with the outside world.

In this light, there is considerable merit in the proposal to integrate the future megaport in Tuas with nearby developments and to open it to the public.

A better appreciation of its activities among citizens can help to ensure the port never loses momentum as challenges arise in the future. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jul 15



Soft coral garden at Chek Jawa
wild shores of singapore

Back at sea fan garden of Changi
wonderful creation

Pulau Hantu (03072015) - "Lost clams"
Psychedelic Nature

Quick Walk At Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (29 Jun 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Plant-Bird Relationship: 4. References
Bird Ecology Study Group


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Singapore commits to ambitious pledge to cut emissions

LAURA ELIZABETH PHILOMIN Today Online 3 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — The Republic has pledged an ambitious target to reduce carbon emissions, a move environmental observers have hailed. However, they said it requires all parties, from industries to individuals, to play their part to achieve it.

Joining 16 other countries in stating targeted carbon emission cuts to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Singapore said it intends to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide per GDP dollar by 36 per cent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Termed Emissions Intensity, the target will drop from 0.176kg per dollar to 0.113kg per dollar.

Separately, Singapore expects the total volume of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to carbon dioxide it produces a year to peak at 65 million metric tonnes, which it pledged to keep to, regardless of economic growth.

In a statement from the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change, said: “For a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious effort by everyone.

“We have to strive for higher levels of energy efficiency, including deployment of best-in-class technologies.”

Across sectors, industry, buildings, and transport form the major contributors of carbon emissions here. To hit the carbon emission targets — otherwise known as Intended Nationally Determined Contribution — new or enhanced measures will be introduced, said the NCCS.

The Government will continue to seek feedback on what needs to be done and give businesses and households sufficient lead time to adjust to new requirements, it added.Details will be announced by the respective agencies later, but examples of action that could be taken include improving energy efficiency and providing incentives for industries, and raising the usage of public transport and encouraging walking and cycling for individuals.

Parties to the UNFCC — 195 nations — will be meeting in Paris in December to craft a new global climate agreement for post-2020.

Singapore is already among the top 20 per cent of most carbon efficient countries in the world, contributing 2.2 per cent in trade but accounting for just around 0.11 per cent in global emissions.

The city-state has also been working towards reducing its emissions to achieve its unconditional pledge of reducing emissions by 7 to 11 per cent below business-as-usual levels by 2020. For example, the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Scheme and solar panel installations have improved the energy efficiency of buildings. The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 has also set out 2030 targets of extending cycling paths to 700km and increasing peak hour journeys on public transport from 63 per cent in 2013 to 75 per cent.

Describing Singapore’s emissions targets as a step in the right direction, lead environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council Kavickumar Muruganathan said the Republic is “definitely punching above our weight to reduce total carbon emissions and fight climate change”.

On how limiting carbon emissions after 2030 will impact economic growth, Professor Michael Quah, director of the Energy Office at National University of Singapopre, said it may stimulate the economy by bringing in less energy-intensive industries while making the existing industries more energy-efficient.

Mr Eugene Tay, who is a director of sustainability consulting firm Green Future Solutions, added that the economy would have to go through “de-carbonisation” by becoming more energy-efficient and using more renewable energy.

However, executive director of Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute Subodh Mhaisalkar said Singapore should not underestimate the challenges in meeting the new targets. “It is an exciting target from a technology perspective but I’m concerned that going forward, the easy things are done,” he said.

Both he and Prof Quah said companies would need to look at making processes more efficient and finding ways to recycle waste heat and gases produced.

Prof Mhaisalkar noted that mindset changes are also needed, such as individuals choosing walking over driving, or wider acceptance of working from home and adoption of e-commerce.

Singapore pledges to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
Singapore will also aim to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, in support of global efforts to reduce environmentally harmful emissions.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 3 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has made a pledge to stabilise and limit its yearly greenhouse gas emissions to about 65 million tonnes by 2030. This is part of the country's contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.

In all, 196 pledges or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are expected from various countries and parties. The pledges will be discussed at the annual Conference of Parties in Paris in December this year, to develop a new global climate agreement for the post-2020 period.

In its contribution Singapore pledged that it intends to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. Emission intensity refers to the amount of greenhouses gas emitted per dollar of gross domestic product.

According to the IEA Key World Energy Statistics in 2014, Singapore has one of the lowest emissions intensity globally. It is ranked 113 out of 140 countries and is among the lowest 20 per cent. Currently, Singapore accounts for just 0.11 per cent of global emissions.

To achieve the reduction, the Government will build on its efforts to achieve economic growth in a carbon-efficient way. Back in 2009, the country set a target to reduce emissions by 16 per cent below business-as-usual levels by 2020 if there is a legally binding global agreement. Singapore has progressively switched from fuel oil to natural gas for cleaner power generation. Today, over 90 per cent of electricity here is generated from natural gas.

"Singapore plans to further reduce our emissions intensity as part of international efforts to address climate change. or a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious efforts by everyone. We have to strive for higher levels of energy efficiency, including deployment of best-in-class technologies”, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who is chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change in Singapore.

- CNA/vc

S'pore pledges to rein in greenhouse emissions by 2030
Feng Zengkun Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Jul 15;

Singapore has set itself the ambitious target of stopping any further increases to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

It has also pledged to become greener economically, by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) - by more than a third.

The figures were set out in a document submitted to the United Nations yesterday, ahead of the Paris talks in December aimed at reaching a new climate agreement amid rising concerns over global warming and the dangers posed.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change, said yesterday that, "for a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious efforts by everyone".

Singapore emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 46.83 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010. It plans to cap the figure at about 65 million tonnes by around 2030, and stop any more increases.

DPM Teo also called for the adoption of "best-in-class" technologies by industries here, to achieve higher levels of energy efficiency.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, welcomed these targets, but said much more innovation would be required from people and businesses.

"We have already reduced our energy intensity substantially by changing from fuel oil to natural gas. Going forward, it will definitely be more challenging," he said.

Prof Michael Quah, director of the National University of Singapore Energy Office, said industrial energy efficiency will be "the toughest target, as industries are focused on high-quality, reproducible products with tried and true processes".

Still, he noted: "Singapore's goal is good as it shows commitment and connotes sustainable growth."

Currently, Singapore accounts for just 0.11 per cent of global emissions, even though it makes up 2.2 per cent of global trade.

The new targets were submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets a framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle climate change. The aim is to develop an agreement for the post-2020 period that would help keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 deg C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Scientists say that, given current emission trends, the world could see double that increase, which is likely to cause disastrous droughts, storms, floods and rising sea levels.


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‘Move to nuclear power needed’ if Singapore wants to cut emissions

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 4 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — In the next 50 years, Singapore can either choose to continue using natural gas to meet most of its energy needs, or move to nuclear power, said a panellist at an Institute of Policy Studies conference yesterday.

Nuclear power is the option if Singapore wants to seriously address climate change and cut carbon emissions, said futurist and business strategist Peter Schwartz, who is also on Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council.

“You’re going to continue to need electricity, and renewables will be insufficient. You’re either going to have to continue using natural gas ... or move to nuclear power,” said Mr Schwartz at the session on energy, the environment and the resilience of cities at the Singapore at 50: What Lies Ahead conference.

“In the end, if we’re really serious about climate change, then we’re facing one alternative. And that one alternative that we actually have is nuclear power.”

Despite high-profile disasters such as Fukushima in Japan, he said nuclear power has been safe.

Nuclear energy technology has advanced, and Singapore could consider one of three options: Have nuclear power plants on offshore barges, build an underground plant, or collaborate with neighbours to build one on a neighbouring island, said Mr Schwartz, who is also senior vice-president of strategic planning at Salesforce.com.

In 2012, the Government had said nuclear energy was not yet suitable for deployment in Singapore, as power plant designs still posed more risks than benefits for the Republic.

This was after it had conducted a pre-feasibility study, as part of efforts to diversify Singapore’s energy mix and ease energy constraints in the long term.

At the session yesterday, Dr Liu Thai Ker, a fellow panellist and former chief planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, was asked how long-term planning for infrastructure and economic activities could be done, given uncertainty over the shape of the future economy and employment patterns.

Dr Liu, an architect-planner, said the Government is aware that the economy is changing all the time and it has policies such as 99-year leases for commercial and residential land, as well as leases as short as 15 years for industrial land.

However, long-term and intelligent planning is nonetheless needed, and “the job of a planner is to look at the changing patterns and create land spaces as well as building spaces”, he said. NEO CHAI CHIN


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Singapore Botanic Gardens declared UNESCO World Heritage Site

It is Singapore's first World Heritage site and the third Botanic Gardens to be listed as a World Heritage Site, after Kew Gardens in England and the Padua Gardens in Italy.
Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 4 Jul 15;

BONN, Germany: The Singapore Botanic Gardens is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after it was inscribed at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany.

The decision was met with cheers from a jubilant Singapore delegation, led by Culture, Community and Youth Minister, Lawrence Wong. Others in the delegation included chief executive of the National Heritage Board Rosa Daniel and CEO of the National Parks Board, Kenneth Er.

The 156-year-old Singapore attraction joins more than 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in some 160 countries. It is the third Botanic Gardens to be listed as a World Heritage Site, after Kew Gardens in England and the Padua Gardens in Italy and Singapore's first World Heritage Site.

The inscription comes almost five years after a feasibility study by the authorities found that the Botanic Gardens was Singapore’s best candidate to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status.

Singapore officially submitted the Gardens' nomination dossier to UNESCO in January last year.

Last September, a technical assessor from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) visited the Gardens. In May, ICOMOS recommended the Gardens to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, saying it was an "exceptional example of a British tropical colonial botanic garden in Southeast Asia".

Still, the final decision lay with the 21-member UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Before he left for Bonn, Minister Wong said he was optimistic about the bid, and said the World Heritage status would strengthen conservation efforts at the Gardens.

The Botanic Gardens spans 74-hectares and includes the National Orchid Garden which has over 1,000 orchird species and 2,000 hybrids on display.

It was once home to a host of animals, including a sloth bear, emus and a leopard. Watch Channel NewsAsia's special the Botanic Gardens: Stories and Secrets here.

- CNA/ly

Jubilation after Botanic Gardens declared World Heritage Site
Close to 100 people witnessed a historic moment as the Singapore Botanic Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site following a unanimous endorsement by the 21-member World Heritage Committee on Saturday (Jul 4).
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 5 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Botanic Gardens was a scene of jubilation on Saturday (Jul 4) evening. Close to 100 people witnessed a historic moment as the Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site following a unanimous endorsement by the 21-member World Heritage Committee.

"For me, there is a gush of joy ... that we are there, that we've reached. And it happens during our Jubilee year," said a visitor.

"I felt very happy, very excited because I have an emotional attachment to this place," another said.

Singapore ministers also joined in the celebrations online.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated the various parties involved and said the Gardens "played an important part in making Singapore a Garden City".

Similarly, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan posted on his blog that the decision came as a great gift for SG50.

Other ministers took time to congratulate the successful UNESCO bid at various events.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Masagos Zulkifli, said: "I'm elated. It is the third only garden in the world that's been given this status. The other two, like Kew Gardens ... are world heritage standard. To be acknowledged as a World Heritage standard is a great SG50 gift for Singapore. So on behalf of Singapore, I'm really thankful that they recognised this and we are celebrating as a nation.

"All the effort we have put in, to preserve our Botanic Gardens, make it a garden open for everybody, also a place where we practise conservation, has paid off and it's paid off in a way that's most meaningful for Singapore by getting the World Heritage status."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said the inscription recognises how far Singapore has come and the efforts it has put in to build the city. But he said the country now needs to find a balance between conservation and development.

He pointed out: "This is just the beginning, and it is the beginning of a journey for us to leverage this status, for us to build up on competencies to better take care of our environment."

"The (UNESCO) status is one thing; to be able to use it, to have a group of people who can conserve our buildings, know what to do, to strengthen our conservation and heritage work is another thing. So I think this is a very good platform for us to build that kind of competencies so that we mature as a country."

The National Heritage Board is delighted with the outcome, but said effort must be made to continue preserving the site.

Cheryl Koh, director of marketing and corporate communications at National Heritage Board, said: "We're really happy, but the work doesn't stop here, because we have to continue to preserve the site to make it the World Heritage Site that everyone will love and continue for future generations of Singaporeans."

Meanwhile, as a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Singapore Botanic Gardens already has plans to improve itself.

"We will be developing our Tyersall learning forest and refreshing our National Orchid Gardens with a bigger cool house in the years to come," said Dennis Lim, deputy director of festival, events and exhibitions at National Parks Board.

Singapore Botanic Gardens is the first botanic gardens in Asia to become a World Heritage Site.

- CNA/al

UNESCO delegates laud S’pore’s nomination of Botanic Gardens as World Heritage Site
SIAU MING EN Today Online 5 Jul 15;

BONN — To a man, all 21 members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee were so impressed with Singapore's nomination bid that every single one of them expressed their support and congratulations - an uncommon sight in the history of the committee's deliberations - even before the final decision to list the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was delivered today (July 4).

At the start of the session to assess Singapore’s nomination, Ms Ruchira Kamboj, India’s permanent delegate to UNESCO who also chaired the session, said: “I must add here that each and every committee member wishes to take the floor on this nomination.”

By the time the 8th speaker spoke, some committee members had already started walking up to the Singapore delegation to offer their congratulations, even though the final results were yet to be announced.

The Botanic Gardens joins a list of 11 other newly-inscribed World Heritage Sites announced so far by the committee at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Bonn, Germany.

Speaking on Singapore’s nomination bid, Ms Maria Theresa P Lazaro, the Philippines’ permanent delegate to UNESCO, said the well-preserved site illustrates the British tropical botanic gardens that has been playing a key role in advances in scientific knowledge in the world. She also lauded the gardens’ exceptional plant collection, the digital inventories of living plants and archival plans, among other things.

Other delegates praised the nomination dossier, describing it as “well-prepared”, and a “perfect example of how (a) nomination should be presented”.

Mr Jose Filipe Mendes Moraes Cabral, Portugal’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, said: “With more than 150 years of history, the 74-hectare gardens hold an unique and significant place in the history of Singapore and the region and have succeeded in encapsulating natural and cultural heritage over all these years.”

Mr Huseyin Avni Botsali, Turkey’s permanent delegate to UNESCO said the inscription of Botanic Gardens as a World Heritage Site was a “source of inspiration”. He added that Singapore’s “remarkable commitment to the state of integrity of the site has overwhelmed” the committee. “This small state with the obligation of maximizing the use of every square centimeter of land is making a very generous contribution by creating the site. We believe Singapore will not only have its first site inscribed by the Botanic Gardens, but it will become a leader in this area, and inspire and lead all other interested parties and stakeholders who have similar sites,” he said.

Speaking to the Singapore media on the sidelines of the session, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre director Kishore Rao said the committee was unanimous in its approval of the recommendation from the International Council on Monuments and Sites’ (Icomos), to list Botanic Gardens as a World Heritage Site. He noted that the members recognised that the gardens’ values were outstanding, and “therefore felt that they needed to endorse the recommendation, so everybody spoke in support of it”. “It’s not always, in relation to all these inscription proposals, that such a unanimous decision takes place, not everybody speaks,” said Dr Rao.

Unesco title plants Singapore firmly on world map
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 5 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE - The Botanic Gardens' joining the international league of Unesco World Heritage Sites is a feather in the cap for Singapore, said experts from across the fields of heritage, nature and tourism.

They described it as a significant endorsement from an independent, reputable body that raises the profile of the country's heritage and plants it firmly on the world map.

Cultural geographer Professor Lily Kong from the National University of Singapore called it a "fitting tribute" for Singapore in its 50th year of independence, while heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo said it is an "amazing achievement" for a small country.

The World Heritage Committee listed the 156-year-old Gardens as a Unesco site during its 39th session in Bonn, Germany yesterday.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a panel of experts appointed by Unesco to assess the site, said the Gardens demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial garden into a modern and world-class botanic garden, scientific institution and place of conservation and education.

Congratulating Singapore for its well-prepared nomination dossier, Portugal ambassador and Unesco delegate Jose Filipe Mendes Moraes Cabral said: "With more than 150 years of history, the 74ha Gardens holds a unique and significant place in the history of Singapore and in the region, and has succeeded in encapsulating natural and cultural heritage over all these years."

Nature Society president Shawn Lum said the successful listing celebrates the vision of the Gardens' founders, the work of its directors, the research produced there, the work of grounds-keeping staff, and the economy.

Meanwhile, tourism experts reckon the title adds a new dimension to the Singapore experience, which is known for modern marvels and attractions such as the Singapore Zoo, Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay.

"It highlights to visitors that we have a well-preserved green space in Singapore despite its rapid development which tourists and even locals may not quite take notice of," said Ngee Ann Polytechnic senior lecturer in tourism, Dr Michael Chiam.

But the title should not be wielded as a promotional tool or gimmick, they said. Instead, it is about raising awareness among Singaporeans about the gem in their midst, encouraging them to visit the place and to learn more about its history.

It also serves as a reminder that much of what and who made Singapore and its history and heritage started before 1965, said Prof Kong. "The much deeper roots of our history and heritage deserve to be embraced and celebrated."

It is also important that Singaporeans "feel proud about this Unesco heritage emblem" and become "ambassadors for this achievement", added Mr Kevin Cheong, the chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions.

But the work does not stop there, said Singapore Heritage Society's honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua.

There is heavy responsibility on the part of the Government to give its commitment to maintain the site for posterity, he said. "When a site is inscribed, we are effectively telling the world that it not only holds significance to us, but the entire world," he said.

Mrs Katherine Oehlers, 67, who has been a volunteer guide at the Gardens for eight years, said foreigners she has taken on tours of Singapore have been very positive and impressed by the site.

"This, I would say, is the crowning glory for SG50. I feel a great sense of pride, I am overjoyed. I think it is a matter of national pride as well."


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Robot swans bring new advanced technology to water testing

EXCLUSIVE: Singapore researchers are testing robotic swans that could provide essential, highly advanced water testing in reservoirs around the country and the world.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 3 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: Floating on the surface of Pandan Reservoir in Singapore’s south west are what researchers hope will be the future of cheap, real-time water quality testing.

Developed by a team at the National University of Singapore (NUS), in conjunction with the national water agency PUB, the NUSwan utilises advanced water monitoring technology, fitted into the shell that closely resembles a living, breathing bird.

“We started with a number of smaller bird models, before we decided on the swan. It’s just the right size,” said Assistant Professor Mandar Chitre, one of the project’s lead researchers. “If you look at it in the environment, it just looks like a swan swimming around.”

A small team at the NUS Environmental Research Institute, working with the Tropical Marine Science Institute, initially conceptualised the robot back in 2010 but only began their first series of test bedding last year.

The aim is to mobilise the robotic swans to monitor different physical and biological compounds in fresh water, including pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chlorophyll, which are common indicators used to determine if there are problems in a water source.

At present, water authorities face the logistical challenge of physically having to collect samples from large bodies of water, normally using a boat. It is an approach that requires time and manpower and restricts the speed at which officials can act in the case of an outbreak or a contamination.

“It would be expensive to do similar monitoring manually or using AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles),” said Asst Prof Chitre. “Hence to reduce reliance on manpower and increase efficiency in water quality monitoring, we are constantly looking into developing new technology with improved capabilities.”

“Scientifically, the NUSwan test drives a new paradigm of freshwater monitoring, one that is persistent and interactive, and is potentially able to sample the dynamics of water quality over space and time at improved resolution at an affordable cost,” he added.

The swans work by trawling particular areas of interest in a water body and wirelessly sending back data through cloud computing. Programmers will be able to remotely control the robots, but the aim is to ensure they are as autonomous as possible, requiring just basic monitoring and operation, which can happen from anywhere with an internet connection.

The researchers said the swans’ navigation is more advanced than an automatic vacuum cleaner for instance, which can avoid obstacles but cannot tell where it has already travelled. The SWAN uses GPS to ensure it does not duplicate its monitoring efforts, unless programmed to.

They are durable enough such that even if a recreational water user such as a kayaker, or even a small boat, hits the swan, it will not be damaged, according to the teams behind the technology.

TECHNOLOGY POTENTIAL

They believe they are at just the tip of realising the potential of this system and have designed the NUSwan to be adaptable to various environmental challenges that may arise.

“The NUSwan platform is designed to be extendable – new sensors and actuators can be added on demand to increase its sensing capability,” said Mr Koay Teong Beng, one of the other leading researchers on the project.

Already the team is collaborating with other university researchers to combine technologies and stretch the swans to their technological limits.

This includes a highly sensitive freshwater phosphate sensor, which is being developed independently by a separate NUS team. Phosphates are key nutrients in the development of blue-green algal blooms, which can be devastating for water sources.

There is a hope that technology such as the phosphate sensor could be mobilised by the NUSwan, and provide a real-world alarm system to the threat of algal blooms, a common problem encountered in more polluted waterways as a result of fertilisers, sewerage and domestic waste.

Earlier this year, a proliferation of algal blooms in oxygen-depleted, bacteria-rich waters caused thousands of fish to die. While the phosphate sensor has only been tested in fresh water, it is this kind of scenario that it is designed to help prevent.

“Phosphate detection was lacking; phosphate sensors are not available in the market,” said Lanry Yung, Associate Professor of Chemical and Bio-molecule Engineering . “The prototype is finished. Now we are trying to do automation and collaboration with the NUSwan team to work on hardware.

“Salt complicates the process, but nonetheless it’s something to look into at the next stage,” he said.

The NUSwan has received interest from water authorities across the region, particularly in China where water pollution is a pressing issue and where the system will be tested on several rivers in the south of the country. That could potentially see the robotic swans floating on some of the world’s largest water reservoirs in the near future.

“We see the potential of having NUSwans deployed in urban freshwater bodies and coastal water beyond Singapore. With the data stored in the cloud, collaborators may share and aggregate data and understand global phenomena,” Assoc Prof Chitre said.


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Best of our wild blogs: 3 Jul 15



Corals, mangroves and seagrasses of Pulau Hantu
wild shores of singapore

Win a pair of tickets to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum by voting for your favourite specimen!
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Job Opportunity: Part Time Ushers/Helpers (NUS Students)
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Plant-Bird Relationship: 3. List of Birds
Bird Ecology Study Group

Threatened, Endangered, Going, Gone?
Singapore Bird Group


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Let's go island hopping

Itching for a quick getaway from the city? Forget Batam or Langkawi - LifeWeekend gives you the lowdown on seven of Singapore's idyllic offshore islands.
Gurveen Kaur Straits Times 3 Jul 15;

Join a guided shore walk at Sisters' Islands

Part of Singapore's first marine park which was established last year, Sisters' Islands are turning into a hot spot for the adventurous.

Slots on the National Parks Board's bi-monthly free guided walk to the islands are snapped up quickly after they are released online.

Introduced in August, the three- hour tours give the public a chance to get close to marine wildlife.

The common sea star, blue-spot nudibranch, octopus and five-spot anemone shrimp can be spotted during low tide in the area.

Corals and sponges abound too, such as the mushroom coral and pink puffball sponge.

The walks are planned according to the tides. It is best to visit during low tides of 0.4m and below.

IT manager Andy Lee, 41, attended the tour with two of his sons, aged 12 and 10, last year. He says: "The tour was like an outdoor classroom for my children as they learnt that Singapore is home to all these marine animals that once existed for them only in textbooks."

Dr Lena Chan, director of NPark's National Biodiversity Centre, says more than 1,000 people have participated in the walks.

Tours are capped at 45 people to minimise the impact on the intertidal marine environment.The next available tour date is Sept 2. Registration will open on Aug 1.

Dr Chan says there are plans to restore and enhance other marine habitats such as Changi Beach Park and Labrador Nature Reserve.

Other than during the guided walks, there are no regular ferry services to Sisters' Islands, which are close to 6ha in size combined.

To get there, one can charter a boat from companies such as Singapore Island Cruise operating out of Marina South Pier. Rentals start from $350 for a small boat that can take up to 12 passengers.

Legend has it that the islands were formed out of two orphaned sisters. After a pirate kidnapped the younger sister, the elder one swam after the boat and drowned. Grief- stricken, the younger sister jumped into the sea and drowned too.

The next day, two islands formed at the spot where they died and were henceforth known as Sisters' Islands.

Get rustic on Ubin

Hop on a bumboat from Changi Point ferry terminal and wind up transported to a very different Singapore - where dirt paths lead to hidden shrines and green havens.

Of all the offshore islands, Pulau Ubin is the most self-contained, with facilities catering to visitors and about 40 residents.

Get off the boat ($2.50 for one-way, 15-minute ride), and find yourself on the 10km-sq island where time has seemingly stood still. A handful of provision shops, seafood restaurants and bicycle rental stalls are near the pier.

Rent a bike to ride around for the whole day (from $6; the better quality bicycles, at $8, are recommended). You can also walk around.

Take it slow and you have a greater chance of spotting a monkey gnawing on fruits or a baby wild pig foraging in the forest.

For the adventurous, book a kayaking tour with outdoor adventures agency Asian Detours (www.ubinkayak.com, $74.50 for four hours). Paddle along the coast and enter the mangroves dotting the island.

Nearly every inch of the rustic enclave is covered in greenery. Explore the abandoned granite quarries (Ubin means granite in Malay). At Chek Jawa wetlands, get to know natural habitats including the mangroves, coastal forest and seagrass lagoon.

Take a walk along the coastal and mangrove boardwalks. Sign up for guided tours organised by the National Parks Board and nature groups, such as the Naked Hermit Crabs (nakedhermitcrabs.blogspot.sg). Venture out during low tide in search of marine life, like the knobbly sea star and peacock anemone.

Ubin's rich history lies in wait down sandy lanes. Just before the popular Ketam Mountain Bike Park, on the western end of the island, you will find a mysterious shrine dedicated to a German girl.

Its exact origins are unknown - ask Ubinites and they will say it has been around for decades. It was erected in honour of a nameless German girl said to have fallen to her death off one of the island's cliffs in 1896.

The original ramshackle yellow hut dating back to the 1970s, which housed the urn of the girl, has since been rebuilt into a small brick-and-mortar temple.

Devotees believe the girl's spirit has special powers, which could help them strike it rich, and a few worshippers can be found every now and then at the shrine.

Ubin residents are repositories of such island legends and more.

Ms Ivy Choo, 52, who sells drinks by the road on weekends, has lived on the island all her life. She says: "It's a different feeling here from the city, so take your time exploring. Before you know it, your stress will melt away."

Explore shrines and have a picnic at Kusu

In the ninth lunar month each year, thousands of devotees flock to Kusu Island to pray for good health, prosperity, fertility and happiness.

They make a beeline for the Da Bo Gong Temple, which houses two main Chinese deities: Tua Pek Kong (God of Prosperity) and Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy).

This year, the Kusu Pilgrimage takes place from Oct 13 to Nov 11.

Elsewhere on the island, a 152- step climb leads to three kramats or holy shrines of Malay saints. The site is dedicated to a pious man from the 19th century, Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother and his sister.

Popular among couples hoping to conceive, the shrines have walls filled with scribblings of four-digit numbers by devotees desperate to strike 4D.

Visit the island outside of the pilgrimage period and the 8.5ha island is a quiet refuge.

Kusu Island, which means tortoise island in Hokkien and is home to more than 100 tortoises, is among three islands - including Lazarus and St John's islands - served by a ferry service that is run by Singapore Island Cruise. The ride takes about one hour.

The ferry leaves from Marina South Pier daily. Timings vary, so check the website (www.islandcruise.com.sg) for the schedule.

Several pavilions line Kusu Island. On a Sunday afternoon, fewer than 10 groups of visitors were there. Tourists poke around the religious sites, while couples colonise the most secluded pavilions at the far ends. Families let the children loose in the open space or swimming lagoon.

Beware, though, of the island's monkeys, eager to get their paws on your belongings.

For IT manager Michael Vincent Pozon, 39, who was at the island with his wife and their two children aged nine and six for the first time last Sunday, it makes a good family day-trip destination with its many shelters and benches, and drinks for sale at the temple.

They were at St John's and Lazarus islands earlier in the day. He says: "It's too hot at the beach at Lazarus and there were no facilities. Here at Kusu Island, it is convenient to have a picnic and laze by the lagoon."

Trek nature trails on Sentosa

Ask any Singaporean about Sentosa's attractions and Universal Studios Singapore or Fort Siloso might roll off their tongues.

But ask about Mount Imbiah and Mount Serapong nature reserves and you will likely be met with blank stares.

The two gazetted nature reserves span more than 40ha - making up 10 per cent of Sentosa's total space.

The island is also home to 31 Heritage Trees, a title conferred by NParks on mature trees with historical or ecological significance. Majestic beauties such as the Tembusu and Angsana trees add grandeur to the landscape.

So the next time you head to the island, add a nature trail to your itinerary.

Of the two nature reserves, Mount Imbiah is more accessible and safer to wander into without a guide. The dense foliage at Mount Serapong makes for rough passage, even for the adventurous, and it is best to contact Sentosa if you are keen to test the route at the eastern end of the island.

At Mount Imbiah, visitors can soak up the fresh air under more than 30 species of trees. Examples include the Silverback, named for its leaves with silvery undersides, and the Palaquium obovatum, not found in mainland Singapore, with its leathery leaves and reddish- brown bark.

If you are lucky, you might spy peacocks stealthily crossing pathways or magpie robins rustling the canopy.

At the foot of the nature reserve is a natural spring, Siloso Spring, one of the main water sources supporting plant life on the island.

There are two man-made waterfalls too: Tempinis Cascade and Imbiah Falls.

Along the way, next to the MegaZip Adventure Park, stands a piece of history harking back to the 1880s - the dilapidated Mount Imbiah Battery.

To get to Mount Imbiah, take the Sentosa Express and alight at Imbiah Station. Make your way to Imbiah Lookout.

Or you can also alight at Imbiah Lookout station, part of the new cable-car line, and head towards MegaZip Adventure Park to connect to the Imbiah Trails.

The Sentosa authorities decline to share more on Mount Serapong as they prefer visitors to contact them directly to check out the nature reserve.

Also known as Cement Hill because of its vast concrete surfaces, Mount Serapong once served as a military post in the late 19th century. Traces of gun batteries and underground tunnels still stand.

For senior arborist Daniel Seah, 60, who has worked on Sentosa since 1978, the nature reserves trump the island's more popular man-made sights.

He says: "I like Imbiah Battery and the Alstonia Scholaris heritage tree best, as they bring back memories of my youth when I ventured to places many have not been before."

•Go to www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle for more photos and a video of the offshore islands.

Scuba dive at Hantu

Despite its name, Pulau Hantu, which means "ghost island" in Malay, is far from eerie.

Calm waters, white sand and a rich bounty of coral reefs have made the island an increasingly popular haunt with divers. After all, it is a closer alternative to known diving spots in the region such as Tioman Island and Langkawi.

Founder of marine interest group The Hantu Bloggers, Ms Debby Ng, has been diving in the waters of Pulau Hantu for more than a decade.

Ms Ng, 33, says: "Pulau Hantu is a unique relic of Singapore's natural heritage. Since we began our work in 2003, more people have become interested in the island. We believe that people have not visited our southern shores simply because they did not know they existed."

The group also runs volunteer- guided monthly dive trips to the island that cost $150, excluding dive gear rental. Divers can sign up on its website (www.pulauhantu.sg).

Beneath the murky waters off Pulau Hantu lies more than 100 species of corals, as well as bamboo sharks, clown fishes, sea stars, seahorses and turtles.

For non-divers, the main draw would be a small mangrove area and swimming lagoons. Facilities such as toilets, shelters and picnic areas are available on the island too.

Legend has it that ancient Malay warriors once fought to their deaths on the islands and their ghosts now linger there.

Pulau Hantu is made up of two islets - Hantu Besar (Big Ghost) and Hantu Kecil (Little Ghost). Both have shelters and picnic areas for visitors, while Hantu Besar also has two swimming lagoons and a public toilet with fresh water.

At low tide, it is possible to walk across the lagoon between the two islands and some of the corals can be seen too.

Check the National Environment Agency website for tidal predictions before setting off.

There are no regular ferries to the island so the best way to get there is to hail a boat from West Coast Pier.

Prices vary, depending on the cost of fuel, but expect to pay at least $17 for the 45-minute journey.

The boat will pass through an immigration checkpoint, so identification is required in the form of one's identity card or passport.

You can also charter a boat if you prefer a cushier ride. Prices start from $400 for a boat that can hold up to 12 passengers.

Chill at St John's, Lazarus

Formerly a quarantine centre for cholera-stricken immigrants in the 1870s, St John's Island, 6.5km south of mainland Singapore, has been transformed into a place to escape the city bustle.

With its swaying coconut trees, swimming lagoon and grassy knolls for picnics or beach barbecues, the island - an anglers' favourite - offers a rustic getaway.

To get to the 39ha island, take a ferry from Marina South Pier, which also stops at Kusu Island. A round trip costs $18 for an adult and $12 for a child.

Holiday bungalows and camps are available for those who want to stay overnight. Managed by the Sentosa Development Corporation, a night's stay starts from $53.50 during non-school holidays.

Do not expect first-class amenities at the island, however. The toilets and showers, for example, are spartan.

Connected by a short causeway to St John's Island is Lazarus Island, a hidden oasis for beach junkies.

The beach extends towards the southern end of Seringat Island, although to a visitor's untrained eye, it is one long stretch of sand.

The 47ha island is a 10-minute stroll from St John's. There, young people somersault off yachts docked at sea. Couples snuggle close to each other on the sand. Families with pets in tow gambol on the near pristine sand.

In the late 19th century, the island housed several inmate confinement sheds, only to be abandoned after a prisoner escaped. It is unclear why it was renamed Lazarus Island from Pulau Sakijang Pelepah, or Island of One Barking Deer and Palms.

A regular to the isle is Mr Kevin Steppe, 40, who discovered the sanctum eight years ago when he went for a sail on a friend's yacht. He now sails to the island nearly every month in his sailboat.

The Singapore Management University lecturer, who teaches information systems, says: "My friends and I used to be the only ones here. Nowadays, there are easily 10 other groups on weekends."

According to Sentosa Development, which manages the islands, annual visitorship has doubled since 2010, to 40,000 last year.

Be warned: There are neither toilets nor dustbins in the area, so visit the loo and discard any rubbish at St John's before you stroll to Lazarus Island.

Ms Valencia Chia, 21, who was at Lazarus Island for the first time on Sunday, says it is a better alternative to the beaches on Sentosa or at the East Coast.

The university student, who was there with a friend, says: "It's much more peaceful here as not many people know about it yet."

Her only gripe? "The ferry ticket prices are quite steep, compared with those to Pulau Ubin."

Explore in comfort

Dress comfortably

Keep cool in T-shirts, tank tops and shorts. Take along a cap and sunglasses.

Wear sturdy walking shoes and have a pair of flip-flops for the beach.

Pack the necessities

Take along water, tissue paper, wet wipes and insect repellent . Slap on sunscreen. You may want to pack a picnic basket as with the exception of Pulau Ubin, the islands have few eating stalls.

Plan in advance

Check ferry schedules for trips to and from St John's, Kusu and Lazarus islands to avoid long waits at the pier or being stranded after the last ferry has left. Check the weather forecast before heading out.

Throw a yacht party

Charter a yacht, berth at an island and spend the day there or onboard. Operators that offer charters include SingExperience (yachtrental.com.sg), Yacht Charter Singapore (www.yachtcharter.sg) and MarineBookings (www.marinebookings.com).

Rentals start from $590, depending on the size of the boat (10 to 150 people) and which island you are going to.Some operators offer extras, such as rental of fishing and kayaking gear, or karaoke.


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Choa Chu Kang bird deterrent trial showing positive results: AVA

AVA has been using a gel substance along the ledges of a block of flats in Choa Chu Kang, and it says the gel has been successful in deterring birds from roosting there.
Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia 2 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: A trial involving the use of a gel substance to deter birds from roosting has been successful so far, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore on Thursday (Jul 2).

Residents of a block of flats at Choa Chu Kang, where the trial is taking place, are also happy with the current situation, added AVA.

Since February 2015, rows of containers with a gel substance have been placed along the ledges of Block 755, Choa Chu Kang North 5. The gel is made up of a natural extract, meant to deter birds from roosting - which is a common complaint of residents.

There were 100 cases of feedback on bird-related nuisance from the Choa Chu Kang area in 2014, said AVA. But so far this year, AVA received just 10 cases of feedback on bird-related nuisance from Choa Chu Kang.

Said AVA’s Executive Manager of Animal Management (Operations) Department Janet Chia: "When they are going about their night activities, they feel affected by the noise (the birds) are generating. Another thing is that, some of the birds soil the ledges. And it also created a smell nuisance for them."

In May, AVA surveyed residents in the block on the trial. A majority of them found the bird-control method to be effective. Some of them said they want the gel to be a permanent feature.

AVA said it will continue to monitor the trial.

"If it is effective and suitable, in terms of feasibility to deploy at most of the locations with such bird issues, we will work with relevant stakeholders to see how we can deploy this at other sites," said Ms Chia.

AVA said it takes a multi-pronged approach to manage the bird population in Singapore. This means coordinating with Town Councils, Government agencies and the public.

Besides the gel, AVA also uses of a range of measures to address the bird nuisance. These include enforcement against pigeon feeders and selective pruning of trees to temporarily deter birds from roosting.

- CNA/ek


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More streets to go car-free, become temporary public spaces

A new initiative will provide seed funding of up to S$5,000 and support for proposals to turn streets into public spaces.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: More streets are set to go car-free and be turned into temporary public spaces in a new initiative launched by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Launched on Thursday (Jul 2), the Streets for People initiative will provide support for new proposals to turn streets into public spaces. Successful applicants may receive up to S$5,000 in seed funding, and support such as safety barriers and signage for the car-free zone. URA will also facilitate consultation with relevant government agencies.

Proposals can be submitted for short-term or regular, temporary car-free zones for the community and public to enjoy the public space. They will be assessed on three key criteria - location, timing, and activities. Applicants must also operate or reside within the proposed area and have their plans supported by the local community, URA said.

The weekend car-free zones at Circular Road, Haji Lane and Ann Siang Hill have been a great success, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted.

“As the streets get closed off, they come alive with activities: tables and chairs spilling onto the roads, diners enjoying a leisurely cuppa, youngsters hanging out at quirky boutiques, and tourists soaking up another aspect of Singapore,” he wrote in a blogpost.

More communities have been coming forward to initiate similar projects, he said.

Mr Khaw cited a recent community-led initiative at Everton Park, where a quiet back lane was converted into a vibrant street festival. “Many residents were pleasantly surprised to discover the community space and enjoyed many of the activities such as free haircuts, face-painting and kampung games,” he said.

The car-free zones have generally benefited businesses, but they are not without road blocks.

"For it to be closed on weekends - it does help, because it allows higher traffic flow," shared Ms Jamie Lin, owner of The Last Piece, an establishment at Kampong Glam.

The Public House owner Alvin Phua agreed: "It certainly improves the atmosphere, our business and the mood of everybody."

But according to Mr Bryan Foo, head chef at Ramen Bar Suzuki, the lack of parking space can lead to lost business: "Drivers come here for the atmosphere, and when they can't find parking space, they choose to go elsewhere."

Orchard Road is another area that has gone car-free, with its monthly Pedestrian Night now extended till the end of the year. Organisers said that there are lessons to be learnt, as the first six editions created lots of buzz but did not necessarily translate to more sales.

"What we have not done well is to synergise with our in-mall activities, and bring business back to the stakeholders," said Mr Steven Goh, executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association. "There's been feedback that not all our stakeholders benefited from street closure activities like these. So our first six months, we over-planned our activities and didn't synergise with our stakeholders' activities."

The next series of Pedestrian Nights on Orchard Road, which start on Saturday, will focus on highlighting retail deals. Some malls plan to get crowds through the doors by extending business hours, and having pop-up stores. Some business owners have also said they are considering taking their wares to the streets on Pedestrian Night to capitalise on the buzz.

- CNA/cy

Streets become public spaces under new URA initiative
Chan Yi Wen The Business Times AsiaOne 4 Jul 15;

"As the streets get closed off, they come alive with activities: tables and chairs spilling onto the roads, diners enjoying a leisurely cuppa, youngsters hanging out at quirky boutiques, and tourists soaking up another aspect of Singapore. People stroll freely and safely. Closed to cars, the streets come alive."

On Thursday, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan endorsed the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) newly-launched "Streets for People" programme on his blog.

"Car-free Circular Road, Haji Lane and Ann Siang Hill during weekends have been a great success," Mr Khaw wrote. "We want to see more streets being turned into public spaces for community to enjoy."

The "Streets for People" programme, launched on Thursday, will support new community-initiated car-free zones aimed at transforming streets and back lanes into temporary public spaces.

During the operational hours of a car-free zone, access to the street is restricted to pedestrians and emergency service vehicles, while all kerbside parking is suspended, the URA said on its website.

The programme offers varying levels of support, including providing road closure essentials such as safety barriers and signage, and up to S$5,000 of seed funding. The URA will also facilitate consultation with relevant government agencies.

Applicants of the URA's "Streets for People" programme must operate or reside within the area where the project is proposed and demonstrate that their project is supported by the community.

In the last two years, the URA has been working with a range of stakeholders to implement car-free zones at various locations and have supported a number of external initiatives through its PubliCity programme. Launched in 2013, PubliCity aims to involve the community to celebrate good public spaces and to enliven public spaces through good design and programmes.

"The success of these projects is a reflection that the public appreciates an environment with fewer cars. We hope that through offering support to community-initiated projects, we will encourage more people to think about the trade-offs in land-scarce Singapore," the URA said.

Streets that have already been transformed to public spaces include a back lane in Everton Park where a street festival was organised, car-free zones at Bussorah Street at Kampong Glam as well as Club Street.

Justin Frizelle, spokesman for the Club Street Association, told The Business Times that the pedestrianisation initiative has rejuvenated the area with increased vibrancy, along with a range of challenges.

"The increase in consumer traffic in the evenings naturally comes with the challenge of managing both litter and noise. Such large gatherings of pedestrians also comes with stricter enforcement of safety regulations to ensure that there are always passageways for safety vehicles."

Rachel Liddington, a resident at Club Street, said that pedestrianisation has improved her personal safety, but added that the URA could further improve the programme by having clear signs explaining road systems and closures further away from the affected roads, giving drivers more time to respond accordingly.

For more information on the programme, visit http://ura.sg/streetsforpeople.


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Indonesia: Rampant crime threatens Indonesia's forests

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 3 Jul 15;

Recent data from the government has shown that rampant environmental crime in Indonesia is posing an extraordinary threat to the country’s ecological sustainability.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry revealed on Thursday that it is currently handling 169 cases of environmental crime, spanning from Aceh to Papua and including offences such as illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, poaching and waste dumping.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are still many other cases [unreported or still in process],” the ministry’s law enforcement director-general, Rasio Ridho Sani, told reporters after a press briefing at his office in Jakarta.

Of these 169 cases, 10 of them are administrative, while 25 are disputes and 134 are crimes.

“These numbers do not represent the whole country as this is just the data from seven units out of 77,” Rasio said.

He highlighted some major disputes to demonstrate the sheer volume of state losses caused by environmental crime.

For example, the case of wildfires destroying 20,000 hectares of vegetation at Ogan Komering Ilir regency in South Sumatra, allegedly caused by PT Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH).

The government estimated a Rp 2.7 trillion (US$203 million) loss as a result of the fires and are seeking to be reimbursed, and also demanding that the Palembang state court order the company to rehabilitate the damaged land at an estimated cost of Rp 5.3 trillion. That trial continues.

Forest fires are a major driver of climate change. According to the World Resource Institute (WRI), greenhouse gases (GHGs) from forest and peatland fires in Riau contributed to 27 percent of all GHGs emitted from Indonesia in 2009.

Forestry-related crimes still dominate legal cases handled by the ministry, with 90 cases having occurred from 2014 to 2015, consisting of 59 illegal logging cases, 27 wildlife trafficking cases, 20 encroachment cases, five forest fires and two illegal gold mining cases.

“In terms of progress, there are 34 preliminary investigations going on, 10 full-blown investigations, six cases on trial and eight just completed,” the ministry’s forest security and protection director, Istanto, said on Thursday.

He admitted that many of the verdicts were far below what the ministry aimed for.

An example is the hunting of critically endangered black macaque monkeys, also known as yaki, in North Sulawesi, where 12 monkeys were recently killed.

The small monkey is protected under Law No. 5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem, yet a penchant for the taste of the yaki’s flesh among the people of North Sulawesi is pushing the protected primate toward extinction.

The population of the crested black macaque is between 4,000 and 5,000 in the province.

“We arrested four people [for hunting and killing the monkeys] and they have been sentenced to one year in prison,” said the head of North Sulawesi Natural Resources Conservation Agency, Sudiyono.

Rasio said that all people, especially law enforcers, needed to understand that these crimes were extraordinary ones.

“Environmental crime involves every kind of crime, from causing state losses to harming people’s wellbeing,” he said. “With the crimes becoming more complex, organized and harmful, we have to prepare more robust law enforcement entities at a regional level. We don’t know the form yet,” he admitted, but said it had to happen.

According to the ministry’s environmental dispute settlement director, Jasmin Ragil Utomo, law enforcement at regional level was still weak because many regional law enforcers are reluctant to file lawsuits in court.

“First, they are reluctant because suing someone costs money. Furthermore, they are confused about where to put the money returned by convictions as it falls into the category of non-tax state income. Regions’ incomes are generally only taxes and fees,” he said on Thursday.

At the moment, agencies handling environmental law violations are still split as regional governments have agencies that handle environment and forestry separately, just like the central government used to have until President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo decided to merge the forestry ministry and the environment ministry last year.

“Now that [that] merger has been finished, we can focus on similar agency mergers at regional level. We have talked with the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry about this plan and hopefully we can execute it this year,” said Rasio.


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