Best of our wild blogs: 23 Oct 16

Mangrove Puffer and Mudskippers
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Revision to the Common Names of Butterflies 5
Butterflies of Singapore

Afternoon Walk At Venus Drive (22 Oct 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Cambodia's villagers lose ground – literally – to Singapore's expansion

SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS Singapore is buying tens of millions of tons of sand for its land reclamation projects. Their dredging is destroying Cambodia's coastal mangrove forests, and fishermen's livelihoods with them. But the villagers are pushing back.
Michele Penna Christian Science Monitor 21 Oct 16;

KOH SRALAV, CAMBODIA — Singapore is a long way from this remote Cambodian fishing village – nearly a thousand miles across the sea. But as the bustling city-state grows, Koh Sralav and hamlets like it die. All because of sand.

Singapore is expanding; its land reclamation projects make it the largest sand importer in the world. Politically connected Cambodian firms have rushed to meet the demand. Local fishermen, and one of Southeast Asia’s largest mangrove forests, are paying the price.

Sand dredgers have deepened the shallow estuaries around this village by several meters. That has created strong currents which have eaten away at the riverbanks, destroying long stretches of mangrove.

The crabs and fish that once lived among the mangrove roots, the mainstay of most family economies around here, are disappearing.

Villagers say their protests eventually pushed the dredgers out. But that victory came too late for Thy Rya, a young woman whose husband has left Koh Sralav. “My husband could not find crabs anymore, so he went to work as a construction worker in Koh Kong city,” she says.

Before the dredgers arrived, she recalls, her fisherman father could make the equivalent of $12 a day. By the time her husband left, their family income had decreased to a small fraction of that.

Today, the only signs of the business that ruined Ms. Rya’s livelihood are abandoned piles of sand on the riverbanks and rusting barges, sinking into the muddy water.

A murky business

The dredgers are more active further east, in Andong Toek, where barges and excavators churn up the river right in front of local peoples’ houses. The water is slick with oil stains and hardly a fishing boat is to be seen; catches are down 90 percent, says resident Thith Kun. “All the fish and crabs are gone,” he laments. “It is really difficult to live. I have four children and I do not know how to feed them.”

Like many in Koh Kong, a coastal province in Southwestern Cambodia, Mr. Kun has fallen prey to an industry whose operations are shrouded in secrecy. It is not clear, for instance, why miners have been allowed to dig for sand in mangrove forests that are protected under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty to preserve wetlands across the globe.

Nor does it appear that the mining companies followed legal requirements to carry out environmental impact assessments (EIAs) before dredgers got the green light.

Local opinion, meant to be an important element in any feasibility study, was certainly not taken into account.

“Before the dredgers arrived, some people came,” says Sos Nara, a middle-aged fisherman who lives in Koh Sralav “We said we did not want any dredging, but they told us that whether we agreed to it or not, they would come anyway.”

This is hardly unusual in Cambodia, local observers say. “Sometimes the authorities say they have EIAs, but in reality they never consult with people,” contends Vann Sophath, a land reform expert with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “In most cases, local authorities do nothing about this.”

Last February, the Ministry of Mines and Energy announced it would “soon” release studies carried out by two mining companies working in Koh Kong. But even if that happens, it might be already too late for the affected communities, which have been protesting against the dredgers for years.

Some have paid a price for doing so. Three members of Mother Nature, a Koh Kong-based environmental group, were arrested last year and given an 18-month suspended prison sentence for “threatening to cause destruction, defacement, or damage.” Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the organization's co-founder, was deported from the country.

The sand dredging is taking place without any control whatsoever, Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson complains. “Licenses have been issued with complete disregard for relevant laws and procedures, and ignoring the widespread voices of discontent from the local fishing communities,” he says.

That suggests to some observers that highly placed Cambodians are involved in the murky sand trade. In a 2009 report, anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness found that two senators belonging to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party owned dredging companies.

“Judging by the systematic violation of the law, the volume of money being made in the sector, and the level of repression by state organs against those opposing the sand mining, people at the very top of the government and their corrupt business partners are very much engaged,” Gonzalez-Davidson believes.

Rising opposition

The sand industry attracts little international attention, but it is big business in Southeast Asia. Singapore alone imported 517 million tons of sand in the two decades up to 2012. Between 2010 and 2015 it bought 56 million tons from Cambodia, its largest supplier since Malaysia and Indonesia banned sand exports on environmental grounds.

The booming city-state has plans to add land area the equivalent of Manhattan by 2030, which could be bad news for the fishermen of Koh Kong province.

But they have not lost hope. Their protests forced the dredgers out of Koh Sralav, they say, and they intend to go on protesting. “Before Mother Nature came, the company dredged a lot, there were so many ships,” says Mr. Nara. “But after the protests, they could not go on like before.”

Gonzalez-Davidson is optimistic, too. “There are more and more effective and engaged activists on the ground, and exposure of these issues in the media is ... increasing,” he says. “I am hopeful that the new generation of government officials who are coming in will eventually be able to reverse things.”

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Bukit Timah Nature Reserve reopens after two years of restoration works

Today Online 22 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — Bukit Timah Nature Reserve reopened on Saturday (Oct 22) with new enhancements for public safety and conservation efforts, following two years of restoration works.

The Reserve, which houses Singapore’s tallest hill at 163m, began restoration works in September 2014. Among the improvements include railings along trails to reduce footpaths into the surrounding forest, new boardwalks and a slip-resistant trail, as well as an upgraded visitor centre.

The National Parks Board (NParks) added that the two-year closure allowed authorities to conduct a biodiversity survey to help provide better understanding of the conservation status and distribution of plants and animals.

Prior to its closure, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve received more than 400,000 visitors yearly. The human traffic had resulted in soil compaction, erosion and gully formation, giving rise to poor forest regeneration and unpleasant hiking experience for visitors, NParks said.

As such slope stabilisation was one of the key measures taken by NParks in the restoration work. Sections of three slopes along the Main Road trail have now been repaired to ensure slope stability and public safety; and to minimise the potential of slope failure, a two-pronged approach was adopted – micro piles were used to stabilise the slopes, while plants were grown on the slopes for soil retention.

Except for the slope stabilisation work, no machinery was used on site for the trail repair, according to NParks. The fabrication of the boardwalk and steps were also done off-site and hand-carried into the reserve, and works were carried out only in the day to avoid disturbing the animals.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore’s second ASEAN Heritage Park, is home to around 40 per cent of the nation’s native species. It occupies 163 hectares of Singapore’s land area.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve reopens after 2 years of restoration work
Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 22 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve reopened on Saturday (Oct 22) after two years of restoration works and enhancements.

The two-year closure allowed the National Parks Board (NParks) to repair and enhance the slopes and trails to make it safer for the public. Increased usage over the years of the popular nature reserve had caused the trails to widen and small landslides also occurred in some areas.

And so, slope stabilisation works were carried out and trails were restored - with intermediate steps added to the more challenging routes, to make hiking more accessible.

During this period, sensitive enhancements were also carried out to protect the nature reserve's biodiversity.

These measures include installing a raised boardwalk at several sections to minimise the impact of trampling, and the installation of railings to encourage visitors to keep to the designated trails - reducing footprint into the surrounding forest.

While restoration work was ongoing, a comprehensive survey for the reserve was initiated in early 2015. Due to conclude in 2017, it has already yielded some interesting findings.

For example, researchers recorded the first sighting of the Malayan porcupine and slow loris at the reserve.

NParks also said it intends form a "Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve" community, which comprises the nature community, residents, and recreational users.

The group will play a part in ensuring education, research and recreation will be sensitive to the conservation of the nature reserve.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who reopened the reserve, encouraged Singaporeans to come and see what it had to offer, while recognising the responsibilities they have.

"We are not just co-owners, but also custodians and stewards ... we protect it, we preserve it, and make sure we have this slice of nature for future generations to enjoy," he said.


Visitors to the nature reserve said the new additions make the park more user-friendly. "You look at all the footpaths - in particular those off the beaten track, they're now much more aligned, and it's much easier to walk, especially for the elderly and kids," said a member of the public. "And also it looks much more well-kept."

Another visitor added: "The changes suit people who don't want it to be so muddy, and want it to be more comfortable and easy for walking. I think it's good."

According to NParks' Group Director (Conservation) Wong Tuan Wah, the enhancements to the park were undertaken with full sensitivity to the environment.

"In the process of doing this, we were very mindful that we have to be very sensitive to ensure that whatever work we do here, we don't create any more impact to the environment or forest itself," he said.

"So in this respect, a lot of the work done here, are done manually. A lot of walking trails do not allow for heavy machinery to come in, so a lot of the materials had to be pre-fabricated on-site and then brought in, and the trails are restored using manual labour."

Mr Wong also added that the presence of the Malayan porcupine and slow loris is a good indicator of the forest's health.

"It actually indicates that the forest is still in very good condition, and that many of these species are still around here," he said. "For example, some species we thought were extinct - by definition, have not been seen for more than 50 years - we rediscovered them in this survey."

- CNA/rw

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Reopens after Completion of Restoration Works
NParks Media Release 22 Oct 2016;

Singapore, 22 October 2016 — The National Parks Board (NParks) today reopened the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve following the completion of restoration works and sensitive enhancements that spanned two years. The two-year closure has allowed NParks to repair and enhance the slopes and trails for public safety, restore the forest habitat to safeguard one of the last vestiges of Singapore’s primary tropical rainforests in the heart of the islands, and conduct a two-year biodiversity survey to help provide better understanding of the conservation status and distribution of plants and animals.

Visitors can now explore the Reserve using restored trails and boardwalks, and at the upgraded Visitor Centre, learn about Singapore’s natural heritage and ongoing biodiversity conservation efforts. Minister for National Development and second Minister for Finance, Lawrence Wong, together with Advisers of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, planted two Endocomia canarioides trees to mark the occasion.

Restoration works to conserve the forests in the Reserve

Restoration works on the Reserve began in September 2014 and concluded in October 2016. During this time, slope stabilisation works were carried out as a pre-emptive measure to ensure public safety. NParks also restored trails and added intermediate steps to more challenging routes, making hiking more accessible to the elderly and young. Following the completion of slope stabilisation and trail repair works at Summit Path, the Main Road leading to the Summit was open on weekends since April 2015. The popular Dairy Farm Loop was also subsequently reopened on weekends starting in August 2016.

In addition, NParks carried out sensitive enhancements to protect the Reserve’s biodiversity, such as enrichment planting to enhance the forest habitat, as well as the installation of a raised boardwalk at several sections to minimise the impact of trampling on leaf litter organisms and soil compaction on tree roots. Railings have been installed beside the trails to encourage visitors to keep to designated trails, which would reduce footpaths widening into the surrounding forest.

A variety of sustainable features were installed at the upgraded Visitor Centre, including the provision of skylight panels at the exhibition gallery to reduce the need for electrical lighting, and the repurposing of windows into terraces for planter beds. More details on these features can be found in Media Factsheet A.

Upgraded amenities for enhanced visitor experience

The exhibition gallery at the upgraded Visitor Centre will educate visitors on the special importance of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and ongoing conservation efforts, as well as Singapore’s native biodiversity. Building on previous content about the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves, the exhibition’s themes have been expanded to encompass forest ecology, the changing landscape of the Reserve over the years with the addition of buffer areas, as well as the Reserve’s biodiversity, interpreted through life-sized animal models and interactive stations. The permanent exhibition has been designed to engage visitors’ senses with tactile components, such as seeds collected from plants locally found only in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The upgraded amenities around the Visitor Centre also include a toilet block with a wash bay, drinking fountain and benches for rest.

Interim findings from comprehensive survey of Reserve

While restoration works were ongoing, a comprehensive survey for the reserve, supported by HSBC through the Garden City Fund, was initiated in early 2015. The survey will conclude in 2017.

Interim findings from the survey have revealed many rediscoveries and new records in the Reserve, such as the Soejatmia ridleyi, the only clambering bamboo native to Singapore, the Scindapsus lucens, a climber which is a new record in Singapore’s native plant list, as well as a new site locality for the endemic Singapore Freshwater Crab (Johora singaporensis). In addition, researchers have found more than five potentially new species of spiders from the Paculla and the Aetius genus, which are currently in the process of being described. Other key findings include the Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura), which was recorded at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for the first time during the survey, and the Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang), which was not recorded in previous surveys. More details of these findings are in Media Factsheet B.

This survey involved NParks staff, science academics and individuals with domain knowledge of specific taxonomic groups. Information gathered from this latest survey will help NParks to continue to sensitively manage the Reserve.

Prior to the recent survey, a team of international researchers has been monitoring a 2-hectare survey plot within the forest since 1993. The data collected contributes to global research on forest dynamics and ecology.

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Singapore’s second ASEAN Heritage Park, is home to around 40% of our native species even though it occupies only 163 hectares of Singapore’s land area.

Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

In addition to management strategies grounded in scientific research, the active participation of all stakeholders and the community as co-owners and stewards is an imperative for the conservation of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

NParks today announced that it intends to form a “Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve” community. The “Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve” group will include members from the nature community, recreational users, schools and nearby residents. The objective is to ensure that education, research and recreation will be sensitive to the conservation of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. One example of ownership and stewardship is the Bukit Timah Wildlife Network. Spearheaded by Bukit Timah Community Club (CC) Youth Executive Committee (YEC), and comprising residents, volunteers, schools, government agencies and civic organisations, this group has been raising visitors’ awareness of the importance of reducing human-monkey interactions by not interfering in the animals’ natural diet, and eliciting visitors’ commitment to refrain from feeding the wildlife or leave litter behind. More details on the “Friends of the Parks” scheme can be found in Media Factsheet C.

Factsheet A - Restoration works and sensitive enhancements at Bukit Timah Natural Reserve

Factsheet B - Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Survey Interim Update

Factsheet C - Friends of the Parks

Factsheet D - Tree planted by Minister


Friends of the Parks Scheme

The Friends of the Parks scheme is a ground-led initiative to promote stewardship and responsible use of our Parks. The scheme is modelled after the successful Friends of Ubin Network (FUN) and was conceived during the SGFuture conversations held at the Future of Us Exhibition in Jan 2016, where there were calls by the participants for greater community ownership and stewardship of our parks.

The Friends of the Parks Scheme consists of localised communities representing active stakeholders and volunteers in our parks. Each community is headed by a committee to represent the interests of the various stakeholder groups within the park’s ecosystem. Through the formation of the Friends of the Parks community, members will be able to play a more active role in promoting active and responsible uses of our Parks through ground-led programmes and initiatives.

Each Friends of the Parks scheme is headed by a committee consisting of up to 10 members representing the different user groups within the Parks. Each term of membership will be for two years. Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee has taken on the role of advisor to the Friends of the Parks Scheme.

In addition to existing NParks volunteers, stakeholders such as hikers, bikers, exercise groups, tenants, nature photographers, researchers and regular users of the park will be invited to join the Friends of the Parks community. By involving stakeholders, Friends of the Parks will better represent the composition of the park user community.

Examples of things that can be initiated:

Ideas for projects relating to conservation, horticulture, events and amenities within the Parks. For example, educational and awareness campaigns could be organised to promote responsible behaviour and etiquette within the Parks. Interest groups such as photography, hiking or community gardening could also be formed. Friends could also organise and participate in activities to maintain the cleanliness of parks and the upkeep of their amenities.

Friends of Parks Scheme

Friends of Chestnut Nature Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Park Connector Network and Pulau Ubin were launched on 2 April 2016. The Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve scheme was launched on 22 October 2016. The chairpersons were chosen based on their dedication and passion in championing ground-up initiatives related to nature and greenery

Community Chairperson

Friends of Chestnut Nature Park: N Sivasothi, Senior Lecturer, National University of Singapore
Friends of Park Connector Network: Han Jok Kwang, Chief Information Officer, Venture Corporate Ltd
Friends of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve: Tham Pui San, NParks volunteer
Friends of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve: (More details will be announced later)

For Pulau Ubin, the existing Friends of Ubin Network comes under the Friends
of the Parks scheme but will remain as it is without change to its committee
structure. Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee will continue to host this

Members of the public who are keen to find out more or join the Friends of the
Parks scheme can sign up as a volunteer to the respective parks at

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Malaysia, Johor: Decision on polystyrene ban soon

SAZALI MUSA The Star 22 Oct 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state authorities are expected to hold a meeting with the plastic manufacturers association next week to discuss the ban on polystyrene food containers in Johor.

State Health and Environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the proposal to ban the use of non-biodegradable food containers was because they were bad for the environment.

“Polystyrene does not break down naturally, it can remain an environmental hazard for hundreds of years, clogging up drains and rivers,’’ he said.

Ayub said those that collected water also ended up becoming breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes, leading to dengue outbreak.

He said banning plastic and polystyrene and replacing them with biodegradable food containers would be good for the environment as these were environmentally friendly.

“It takes between 10 and 15 years for the biodegradable food containers to break down naturally,’’ Ayub said after opening the Empowering Society on Managing the Environment Seminar here on Thursday.

Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin is expected to announce the banning of polystyrene food containers in Johor at the tabling of the state budget next month.

Separately, Ayub said dengue cases in Johor had declined from January until Oct 8 this year, with 9,441 cases compared with 11,812 cases in the same corresponding period last year.

He said the number of fatalities from dengue also went down from 37 cases to 18 cases from January until October 8, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

“The decline is due to the better awareness on maintaining cleanliness of the surrounding areas among the public and continuous cleaning efforts by local councils,’’ said Ayub.

He said the state Health Department would continue to monitor the situation despite the downward trend, including conducting regular fogging at dengue hot spots.

Ayub said construction sites in the Johor Baru district have been identified as the main breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes and the authorities had inspected some 659,757 premises this year.

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Malaysia Malacca CM: Water rationing only if dam levels unsatisfactory

The Star 22 Oct 16;

MALACCA: The Malacca state government will implement scheduled water rationing in two weeks if the water levels at the state's three dams remain unsatisfactory.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said even though the state was experiencing rainfall, the water level at Durian Tunggal, Jus and Asahan dams was still alarming.

"There has been some rain but not at the dam areas, so we have to take precautions and be prepared for any possibility of water rationing.

"Therefore, I urge all parties to impose prudent use of water and to make necessary preparations to store water," he said at a press conference after launching the state-level National Environment Day here, Saturday.

Malacca Water Monitoring Body statistics show the level of Durian Tunggal Dam as being at 39.1%, Jus Dam at 45.5% and Asahan Dam at 61.3%. – Bernama

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Malaysia: Three critical after balloons burst at Terengganu beach event


KUALA TERENGGANU: Three people are in critical condition and 15 others were injured after a bunch of about 150 hydrogen-filled balloons burst at an event here Friday.

Police said another 12 people sustained light injuries in the incident at noon at the Batu Buruk beach where the balloons were used for the "Walk for The Blind" event held in conjunction with the World Sight Day.

It is believed that the incident took place after a man used a lighter to undo the knot holding the bunch of balloons. He apparently was trying to help his friend make several children happy by giving them balloons.

Suddenly, the whole bunch of balloons burst, throwing some to the ground with burn injuries.

One of the victims, Nurifikin Kamal Iqbal, 31, who was rushed to the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital, had more than 60% burns on her body.

Her husband Raja Fadli Raja Muhamad, 33, said his wife, a friend and a child were near where the balloons burst.

30 injured after balloons explode at public event
The Star 22 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: A bunch of gas-filled balloons exploded at a public event here, injuring at least 30 people including children.

The incident took place at about 11.30am yesterday at Dataran Batu Burok during the Walk for the Blind event when an official tried to release the tethered balloons with a cigarette lighter.

Kuala Terengganu police chief ACP Idris Abd Rafar said police received a report on the incident and were conducting an investigation.

“The incident happened during the World Sight Day event orga­nised by the Terengganu Health Department.

“Many of the people were injured in the head, face and hands. They were taken to the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital,” he said. — Bernama

Terengganu may ban gas filled balloons

KUALA TERENGGANU: The state government has temporarily banned gas-filled balloons after Faiday’s incident where 31 people were injured after about 150 of the balloons exploded.

Mentri Besar Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman said he was waiting for a report from the police on the incident at the Walk for The Blind event in Batu Buruk in conjunction with the 2016 World Sight Day.

"We are saddened at what happened. A police report has been lodged and I urge all agencies to carry out their investigations.

"A detailed report must be handed over as soon as possible and the next cause of action will be decided,” he said after visiting the victims at Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital.

Ahmad Razif said the temporary ban on the balloons covers state government events.

Temporary balloon ban at official functions, Terengganu MB to decide after police investigation
SIM BAK HENG The Star 22 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The use of balloons either as decorative items or an opening gimmick will temporarily be banned in all official functions with immediate effect.

This is pending the outcome of police investigation into the explosion of a bunch of balloons during a health event at the Batu Burok Recreational Park yesterday, which injured over 30 people.

The explosion occurred at the end of the Walk for the Blind event organised by the Ophthalmology Department of the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital.

Menteri Besar Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman said the supplier of the balloons claimed that the balloons were filled with helium gas which is non-flammable.

However, he said the explosion showed that the gas was highly flammable, as the explosion erupted into a massive ball of fire and injured 31 people on the spot, a majority of them, children.

“We will wait for the outcome of the police report first on the actual gas used to inflate the balloons. If possible, we will ban the use of balloons in all official functions in future.

“I will also instruct all the local authorities to carry out checks on decorative balloons sold by traders in the state, especially in recreational parks that targets children.

“We want to be 100 per cent sure that only non-flammable gas is used to inflate balloons,” he told reporters after visiting several victims of the explosion at the hospital. He was accompanied by hospital director Dr Nor Azimi Yunus.

Meanwhile, Azimi said the seven warded including one in the intensive care unit, suffered from burns ranging from three to 19 per cent. Another 24 received outpatient treatment yesterday.

She said the conditions of all the warded were stable but needed close observation. “The one who suffered from a 19 per cent burn is a 12-year-old student.

Most of the warded sustained burns on their face, neck and upper limbs,” she said.

During the incident, it is learnt about 150 black and white balloons, believed to contain flammable gas, were released into the sky as an opening gimmick but failed to float away after getting entangled.

The bunch was then left aside. During the lucky draw session at 11.45am, some 30 people, mostly schoolchildren tried to pull down the balloons.

It is believed an adult took out a lighter to cut the entangled strings when an explosion suddenly occurred.

The victims were rushed to the hospital’s emergency room, which was 100m away.

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Malaysia Budget 2017: Green 'warriors' lament bare mention of environment

NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 21 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: For the second year in a row, the environment has been left out of the national budget allocation.

This sparked concern among environmentalists, considering that Malaysia is expected to ratify the Paris climate change agreement in two weeks.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak mentioned the environment once during his two-hour speech in the Dewan Rakyat, calling for cooperation between state governments, the private sector and the people to protect the country’s natural resources.

Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai was left wondering how Malaysia will fare in the Paris Agreement with so little enthusiasm reflected in Budget 2017.

“I have been privy to how the Government plans to achieve its Paris commitments and they seem convincing, yet when you have a national budget and nothing is mentioned about the environment for two consecutive years, it seems this is just happening in a vacuum.

“The Budget should put in support mechanisms which are required to achieve the Paris accords. Without it our efforts will seem weak,” he told The Star.

Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) president Datuk Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said the snub had been expected, considering Malaysia’s focus on economic development.

“But what is the point of having the best roads, buildings and railways when we have problems with our water? What will happen when there is deforestation?

“It’s easy for us to talk about the Paris Agrement but there is no implementation," Shariffa said.

One small concession towards environment was the Government's plan to expand solar panels to 1,600 housing units next year and also allocate RM400mil for “clean air and ecotourism initiatives”.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian thanked the Government for the ecotourism allocation but rued the ability of environment enforcers to keep doing their jobs effectively.

“It looks like our international commitments to climate change don’t seem to be in line with the Budget and our ministries on the ground,” he said. “I pity the folks in Perhilitan and the Forestry Department."

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had said that the Cabinet would discuss a paper which will then be handed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in New York.

Malaysia is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses among Asean members, behind Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, and contributes to 0.52% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The country pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and has introduced measures to reach the target, such as developing new towns to be carbon neutral, giving tax incentives to companies that report and limit their emissions, procuring more environmentally-friendly government assets and planting 13 million trees since 2011.

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Indonesia: High-resolution map to protect nation’s peatland

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 22 Oct 16;

The government has started producing a detailed peatland map using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to better manage the nation’s peatland forests.

A lack of detailed peatland maps has led to many problems such as overlapping permits and rampant slash-and-burn practices.

LiDAR is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser light. The laser light is shot from a small plane.

The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) began on Wednesday mapping 170,000 hectares of peatland in South Sumatra, specifically Ogan Komering Ilir regency and Musi Banyuasin regency, which were badly ravaged by massive land and forest fires last year.

Besides South Sumatra, the government will also produce maps for damaged peatland in Meranti regency in Riau and Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan this year.

“This map will become the basis of our planning [to restore burned peatland],” BRG head Nazir Foead said in Palembang, before boarding a small plane to start the mapping process. “In order to make a good plan, we’re not brave enough without this map.”

He said mapping in South Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan would be completed in mid-November so that the government could commence restoration, which included rewetting dried peatland, immediately.

After that, the government will move to other areas with damaged peatland.

“We will do this until 2019, with 1 hectare per year,” Nazir said.

This is the first time the government has used LiDAR technology to produce an official government map.

The technology is more advanced than just using a radar or satellite, as it is capable of producing a detailed map with scale of 1:2,000. Such a detailed map will enable the government to pinpoint areas that require restoration and protection, and canals that should be blocked.

Indonesia currently has a national peat map with a scale of 1:250,000, rendering it incapable of managing its land sustainably without environmental and social conflicts.

The government decided to use LiDAR as it can map up to 2,000 hectares of land in one hour, costing US$5 per hectare.

“The technology can also collect data day and night,” said PT ASI Pudjiastuti Geosurvey director Tri Cahyono Tristiaji.

ASI Pudjiastuti Geosurvey is among companies appointed by the government to do the mapping.

LiDAR can also take photos with exact coordinates, Tri said. “With regular satellite photos, we don’t know the coordinates. The technology can also penetrate dense vegetation.”

The commencement of the mapping was symbolized by a joyride in Ogan Komering Ilir.

Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik, who participated in the joyride, said the challenges of the restoration project were enormous. “We flew over a little spot and still we could see enormous plantations and enormous degraded land. It shows the enormity of the cost,” he said after the joy flight.

World Resource Institute Indonesia director Nirarta Samadhi said the current mapping project could set a good precedent for future mapping in Indonesia, the biggest archipelago in the world.

“Maybe there will be a new protocol for mapping using LiDAR,” he said.

With the largest tropical peatland in the world, there is no denying how important the ecosystem is for Indonesia. It acts as a major carbon sink. When a large portion of peatland in the country was burned in 2015, it pushed Indonesia to move from the world’s sixth-largest to the fourth-largest carbon emitter.

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US energy shakeup continues as solar capacity set to triple

Solar expected to almost triple in less than three years by 2017 as coal continues to fall, solidifying gas as country’s chief electricity source, reports Climate Central
Bobby Magill for Climate Central The Guardian 21 Oct 16;

Solar power capacity in the US will have nearly tripled in size in less than three years by 2017 amid an energy shakeup that has seen natural gas solidify its position as the country’s chief source of electricity and coal power continue to fade, according to monthly data published by the US Department of Energy.

Cutting carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants is a major part of the US strategy for tackling climate change as the country seeks to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and keep global warming from exceeding more than 2C (3.6°F).

Reducing those emissions requires changing the fuels used to produce electricity, including using more natural gas and renewables than coal, historically the country’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

Renewables still make up only a fraction of the US power supply – 8% this year. That’s expected to grow to 9% next year, and the biggest driver of that growth is solar.

Solar power has been on a tear in recent years partly because of cheaper solar panels and a federal tax credit for solar installations. Congress extended the solar tax credit early this year, helping to fuel a 39% annual growth rate for solar power-producing capacity, to 27 gigawatts by next year from about 10 gigawatts in 2014, or enough to power about 3.5m homes, the data show.

“Because of pent-up demand due to uncertainty over the federal tax credit, solar had a record year in 2016,” said Doug Vine, senior energy fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Solar capacity buildout is expected to be similar next year.”

By contrast, wind power generating capacity is expected to grow by about 8% next year after growing nearly 15.5% in 2016.

For most of the past century, coal has been king in the electric power industry. But it has begun to falter as a major energy source in the US because falling natural gas prices have encouraged electric power companies to build more gas-fired power plants.

At the same time, new mercury pollution regulations for coal-fired power plants have taken effect, renewable energy has become cheaper to produce and electric power companies have begun to gear up for the Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration’s climate policy aiming to slash carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

For the first time in history, more electricity is produced using natural gas than with coal. That has helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because natural gas releases roughly half the carbon dioxide as coal.

This year, 35% of US electricity is expected to be produced using natural gas, and 30% will be produced using coal, according to the data. Last year, each produced about 33% of US electricity.

With natural gas prices rising, the share of US electricity produced with coal is expected to rise slightly to 31% in 2017. But with natural gas expected to generate 34% of America’s electricity next year, it is expected to remain the biggest player for the second year.

“Coal is now in many markets the marginal player,” said Daniel Cohan, professor of environmental engineering at Rice University. “There’s definitely been switching from coal to gas, and many analysts think that the majority of coal power plants are losing money.”

As more and more companies are required to install expensive scrubbers on their coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury and other air pollution, the future of coal plants in many areas is likely grim, he said.

“If they’re losing money or breaking even, it’s not going to make sense for them to put in scrubbers,” Cohan said. “It’s likely to tip a growing number of coal plants to shut down.”

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Best of our wild blogs: 21 Oct 16

Awesome October RUMbles
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

Is this…? I think it is…? No, wait! What?
Neo Mei Lin

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Illegal wildlife trade linked to terror groups

Illegal wildlife trade used to fund terrorist groups, says anti-trafficking organisation
New Paper 21 Oct 16;

The illegal wildlife trade is "big business".

Thousands of protected animals have been slaughtered and their parts turned into rare ornaments, lucky charms, or even "miracle cures".

The New Paper's investigation into this lucrative trade shows that items made from wildlife parts are only advertised for sale online, but they are also smuggled into Singapore by visiting Thai spiritual masters called arjans, who claim the amulets and charms possess "magical powers".

Some experts have even linked the trade to terrorists and organised crime.

Mr Fiachra Kearney, chief executive officer of Global Eye, a counter-trafficking organisation, told TNP: "We live in a truly (global) world where international trade and travel is commonplace...

"The people we tackle are adept at circumventing multiple laws and often hide in the inefficiency of law enforcement in their home countries while conducting serious illegal activities in other nations."

In an undercover operation in Singapore, agents from Global Eye exposed an arjan known on Facebook as Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna, who boasted that he could smuggle dead tiger cubs, human foetuses, and skull fragments into the Republic.

It is claimed that these charms bring wealth and protection to their owners.

Well-known publications such as Time magazine and The Guardian have reported on the links between animal poaching and terror groups, particularly in Africa.

In August last year, The Guardian reported that National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy had given a fake elephant ivory with an embedded GPS tracking device to traffickers in the Central African Republic.

The fake ivory was tracked north to the headquarters of rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is headed by Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

It was later passed on to the Sudanese army in exchange for money or weapons, The Guardian reported.


Mr Christy also interviewed an LRA deserter who said that an armed detachment of the LRA was tasked with killing people, and another with killing elephants.

Estimates vary on how much the illegal wildlife trade is worth every year.

The United Nations Environment Programme's May 2016 Illegal Trade in Wildlife Fact Sheet puts the figure at about US$213 billion (S$300 billion) annually.

Despite some animals being hunted to near extinction, criminal networks still gravitate towards the trade because of the high profits.

Mr Kearney said that the issue should not be viewed solely as a wildlife trafficking problem.

He said: "There are breaches of quarantine, customs and organised crime laws. They may include elements of serious financial crime and, in certain cases, directly compromise national security.

"So it is not enough to consider these actions only as wildlife and human trafficking, but rather as serious and multilayered international crimes that must be treated as such."

The Global Eye probe on Arjan Pheim revealed that he maintains a network across several South-east Asian countries including Singapore.

Arjan Pheim, who is one of many Thai arjans visiting Singapore every year, advertised his business openly on Facebook.

But he will sell highly illegal items such as tiger cubs, human foetuses and fingers only to trusted buyers who are in private chat groups on his WeChat account.

The availability of banned wildlife amulets in Singapore hint at the demand for them, said Mr Kearney.

"The case of this arjan shows there are Singaporeans who buy parts of endangered species and dead human beings," he said.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has employed a multi-pronged approach in tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

Some measures include working closely with administrators of online forums to post warnings about the possession and sale of illegal wildlife, sharing of information with partner enforcement agencies, investigating all feedback on the illegal wildlife trade, conducting regular unannounced checks on retail outlets, and inspecting shipments from high-risk countries.

An AVA spokesman told TNP: "We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to trade endangered species and their parts.

"Any illegally acquired or imported products that contain or purport to contain endangered species detected will be seized."

The agency also said it had been collaborating with international and local agencies on border inspections and intelligence gathering.

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Getting community engagement right

CHIRAG AGARWAL Today Online 21 Oct 16;

In the old days, you would vote a candidate into public office, and hope he or she did their job well. That is no longer enough.

Following the latest SGfuture public engagement exercise, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that Singaporeans had expressed a desire to be more involved in the next phase of the country’s development. The Government is also thinking about how it can change the way it engages Singaporeans.

Currently, the Government’s primary form of citizen engagement to discuss and develop sound public policies is through its website, Reach. While it is easy to access, using the Internet can be impersonal and may exclude citizens who are not comfortable with using technology or voicing their opinions online.

At Meet-the-People sessions, on the other hand, Singaporeans tend to discuss individual grievances or municipal matters with their Members of Parliament rather than deliberate national issues.

With the success of the Our Singapore Conversation and SGfuture exercises, more permanent avenues should be established for Singaporeans to help shape policies and solve problems facing their community.

These could be townhall meetings that encourage public deliberation early in any policy development. It could also include participatory budgeting — where citizens are asked to help decide how to spend a portion of a town council’s budget, including government grants for local infrastructure development.

The recent public forums organised by Reach to discuss the Elected Presidency, as well as one on the economy and jobs in Singapore, are steps in the right direction. Singaporeans should make the most of these opportunities to engage with the Government.

While Singaporeans generally have high levels of trust in the Government, businesses, the media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer — which measures public trust in institutions — these levels differ across society.

There is a double-digit gap in trust between the “informed public” (72 points) and the “mass population” (62 points), and between the “high income” (67 points) and “low income” (50 points) populations in Singapore.

It would be most unfortunate if, for instance, a divisive ultra-nationalist politician was able to pander to citizens’ insecurities and take advantage of this gap in trust.

It is a phenomenon currently witnessed across Europe, for example in the lead-up to Brexit; in the United States, with the rise of Mr Donald Trump; and even in Australia, with the revival of Ms Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

In response, not only must governments aim to be more inclusive, they must do so by becoming more participatory so as to meet the aspirations of better-educated and informed citizens who want to be more involved in the governing process.

The benefits of engaging citizens are threefold. First, governments seldom have all the answers to the problems they are tasked to deal with. Furthermore, the public service, like any other organisation, can suffer from groupthink, which can restrict the options considered. Using the wider public as a resource may allow a government to overcome these limitations.

Second, regular engagement prompts citizens to think about their civic duties and examine the trade-offs involved in policymaking, instead of just stating their wishlists. Interactive engagements also mean citizens are more likely to accept an outcome even if it is not to their liking.

In 2012, the Mayor of Denver, Colorado, Michael Hancock, facing a potential US$94 million (S$130.6 million) budget shortfall, used the opportunity to introduce a participatory budget process to close the gap. Citizens not only selected the projects they would like to see funded, they were also given a chance to add to that list. They were then presented with the same trade-offs that the Mayor would face given the budget constraint. This placed them in a problem-solving mindset and forced them to prioritise how they would spend the limited amount of money.

Third, engagement and closer interaction with its citizens can improve the legitimacy of a government.

A study conducted in 2013 on public perceptions in England and Wales showed that local civic participation by citizens — for example, attending a public meeting set up by the government to discuss policies or tackle crime by volunteering with the police — improved the legitimacy of the government in the participants’ eyes, regardless of their general opinion on policy outcomes. Those engaged believed they had, at least, received a fair hearing and a chance to participate in the decision-making process.

This is not to say community engagement is easy. Communities are not necessarily homogenous or coherent. They do not necessarily speak in one voice like formal institutions. The views in a community are diverse, and it is important not to generalise based on the views of the organised few that are easier to reach. Community engagement can also be hijacked by a third party such as an NGO or business as they are more organised.

Furthermore, communities may not think about the collective interests of society as a whole, something the government is tasked to do. They may suffer from the prisoner’s dilemma, where they protect their interests rather than cooperate for the greater good.

All this makes engaging any community very tricky. Government agencies conducting public consultations must discern vested interests from public interest.

Also, if the government asks, must it then listen? One way to tackle this is for government agencies to conduct public consultations as early as possible, rather than get stuck debating a “yes” or “no” decision. Officials should also make clear what the government is expecting out of the engagement so as to manage citizens’ expectations.

Engaging the community is fraught with difficulty but, if done right, can help build a vibrant democracy in Singapore where all of us can play a part in shaping the country’s future.


Chirag Agarwal, a former Singapore civil servant, recently completed his Master of Public Policy and Management degree at The University of Melbourne and is currently working as a public policy consultant in Australia.

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