46 threatened plants and animals identified for species recovery

Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board has identified 46 species of native flora and fauna, all classified as threatened under Singapore’s Red Book Data, for species recovery programmes under the Nature Conversation Master Plan.

This encompasses 31 plant species, seven land animal species and eight marine species.

These targets were announced by Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee during the Festival of Biodiversity educational fair held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday (Sep 3).

He highlighted previous examples of successful recovery efforts for species like the oriental pied hornbill and the Singapore freshwater crabs. “This do not happen by chance. What we have is the result of active and comprehensive conservation efforts,” said Mr Lee.

Recovery efforts for these species facing extinction will span over the next two to 10 years, and field studies to further understand each species’ genetic diversity, distribution and relationship with the environment will be conducted.

Efforts have already begun for some, like the pixie dragonfly. According to director of the National Biodiversity Centre Dr Adrian Loo, they are only found in Western catchment area. To increase their numbers, the dragonflies have been translocated to a pond on the outskirts of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve since about three months ago. Their numbers are currently being monitored.

“For a species to have recovered fully, they must have a viable breeding population. (Signs include) mating, and that their progeny are doing well,” said Dr Loo.

Wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai, who has been working to conserve one of the animals on the list – the Raffles’ banded langur – said efforts like this are crucial to ensuring their survival.

“If we don’t help, chances are that in the long run, they may actually die out because Singapore keeps changing, and their genetic pool is limited,” said Mr Rajathurai. In Singapore, there are only 15 of these monkeys.

Updates on the biodiversity survey in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve which commenced in March 2015 were also given. Several rare flora and fauna, once thought to be extinct, have been discovered. These include the Malayan porcupine and slender walking catfish. Researchers have also discovered five potentially new species of spiders.

The survey is set to conclude in 2017, and results are expected to pave the way for subsequent conversation efforts.

'Extinct' sponge makes comeback in Singapore
Audrey Tan AsiaOne 5 Sep 16;

A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts.

A rare sea creature once thought to be globally extinct was rediscovered in Singapore waters in 2011, to the delight of scientists. It now seems to be thriving.

Last month, researchers from the National Parks Board (NParks) found three more specimens of the Neptune's cup sponge, bringing the total number to five.

The first time the sponge made an appearance after its disappearance in 1908 was near St John's Island five years ago.

Scientists had discovered two sponges, but only one could be located by divers later because of murky waters and low visibility.

In 2014, another was found in a lagoon at the offshore Semakau landfill. It was later moved to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said: "As part of our species recovery programme, we wanted to move the one we found in 2011 to the one in Sisters' Islands, so we did a survey to make sure it was in good condition and that we could move it."

But during that dive last month, there was good visibility underwater and divers found the "lost" sponge from 2011.

"The better news is that because the visibility was good, we did a broader survey and found two more," said Dr Tun. "So currently in Singapore, we have five individuals that we know of - we know where they are and we can monitor them."

Tropical Marine Science Institute researcher Lim Swee Cheng, who is working with NParks on the Neptune's cup sponge recovery programme, said the newly discovered sponges appear young - showing that the new individuals had developed recently.

"Their discovery could be due to an increase in diver surveys, or (the sponges) could have grown from larvae from neighbouring waters which settled in Singapore," said Mr Lim. "The sponge has also recently been recorded in Australia and the Gulf of Thailand. I believe there are definitely more of them in our surrounding waters, such as the Malacca Strait and the Java Sea, waiting to be discovered."

NParks is lending a hand to help the species recover after it was crippled because of overharvesting. Dr Tun said the next step is to see if the five sponges can be used as breeding stock to help repopulate Singapore's waters.

To do this, Dr Tun and her team went on a dive two weeks ago to relocate one of the St John's Island sponges to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, about 5m away from the other one there.

Removing the sponge from its original location was not an easy task, as about half of its metre-long body was buried in the seabed. To remove it safely without parts of it breaking off, the team had to dig up the sand around it.

Mr Koh Kwan Siong, manager of the coastal and marine division at the National Biodiversity Centre, who was part of the team that helped to relocate the sponge, said that this stirred up the sediment and reduced visibility.

Dr Tun told The Sunday Times: "Now that they are closer to each other, there is better opportunity for them to reproduce through sexual reproduction, giving them a better chance to spread the eggs around Singapore waters."

Tropical Marine Science Institute's Mr Lim said that this strategy may help to increase the chances of reproduction.

However, he pointed out: "It is also important to find out its life history - such as when the sponges reach sexual maturity, when they release the eggs and sperm...

"Only after these studies are done can we propagate this iconic species effectively."

NParks further identifies 46 threatened native plants and animals for species recovery programmes
NParks press release 3 Sep 16;

Interim update of interesting discoveries found during comprehensive survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Singapore, 3 September 2016 — Following the announcement of the Nature Conservation Master Plan at the Festival of Biodiversity last year, the National Parks Board (NParks) has identified 46 species of terrestrial and marine native flora and fauna for species recovery efforts. This announcement follows the success of previous species recovery efforts such as the propagation and introduction of epiphytic native orchids under the Orchid Conservation Programme and increase in natural populations of faunal species such as the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus). All 46 targeted species are classified as threatened under Singapore’s Red Data Book and found in isolated habitats where they are vulnerable to external threats. These recovery efforts, which will span the next two to 10 years, are implemented to safeguard against the extinction of rare and endangered native species whose number of individuals are inherently low. These new targets were announced at the fifth installment of the Festival of Biodiversity held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, held from 3 to 4 September. At the event which was officiated by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam, NParks also revealed that an ongoing comprehensive two-year survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve conducted has led to rediscoveries and new records.

Hosting DPM Tharman at the Festival, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said, “Singapore is a biophilic city, packed with biodiversity that we can celebrate and protect. And we have done so with active and comprehensive conservation efforts with close partnership with many passionate volunteers and the broader Singapore community.”

New targets for species recovery programmes

The conservation priorities for the species recovery programme are to ensure the persistence of our endemic and threatened plants and animals. Through the enhancement and protection of habitats and plant propagation, species recovery efforts are part of a consolidated approach to coordinate, strengthen and intensify efforts in biodiversity conservation.

The securing of long-term sustainability of marine biodiversity is covered under the NParks Marine Conservation Action Plan. Species recovery projects have been lined up for the reintroduction of the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Neptune’s Cup Sponge (Cliona patera), and the setting up of a coral nursery at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park that will harbour all the 255 species of hard corals recorded in Singapore. To safeguard against the local extinction of corals, NParks has collected and transplanted fragments of locally rare species like Gardeneroseris planulata, Plesiastrea versipora and Coscinaraea columna from Singapore’s waters to the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park where conditions are more favourable. Some of these corals have been moved to Reef Enhancement Units (REUs) to be nurtured and propagated. Twenty-five REUs will be installed at the Marine Park by late 2016, in addition to the nine REUs sponsored by HSBC as part of the “Plant a Coral, Seed a Reef” initiative.

The list of identified flora and fauna species can be found in Annex A. More information on NParks species recovery efforts can be found in Media Factsheet A.

Interim updates on the comprehensive survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

NParks had previously announced a two-year comprehensive biodiversity survey to be conducted in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in March 2015. The results and finding of this survey are important in helping NParks and researchers to better understand the conservation status and distribution of plants and animals in the 163-hectare reserve. This would guide species recovery plans for the flora and fauna found in the area when the survey concludes in 2017.

With seven months remaining of the survey efforts, several rare flora and fauna species, some previously thought to be extinct, have been discovered. These include the Dapania racemosa, Soejatmia ridleyi, Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyuran) and Slender Walking Catfish (Clarias nieuhofii). Researchers and research partners have also discovered more than five potentially new species of spiders as well as a new record of climbing plant from the Aroid family, the Scindapsus lucens. More information on examples of unique species found during the survey can be found in Media Factsheet B.

The two-year comprehensive biodiversity survey on the Nature Reserve focuses on key groups of animals and plants that are integral to the rainforest ecosystem. NParks staff, corporate volunteers and scientists from academic institutions and individuals with domain knowledge of some of the taxonomic groups were involved in the collection and analysis of data, which will be used for systematic long-term monitoring and management of the reserve. The survey, which would pave the way for subsequent conservation efforts including a species recovery programme for identified species, was made possible by a donation and staff volunteers from HSBC. The reserve, an ASEAN Heritage Park, is home to more than 840 flowering plants and over 500 species of animals, around 40% of Singapore’s native flora and fauna including the endemic Singapore Freshwater Crab and the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus).

Families for Nature initiative

NParks today also launched the new “Families for Nature” initiative under the Community in Nature (CIN) programme. CIN aims to conserve Singapore’s natural heritage, and this new programme serves as a more engaging platform for families to participate in nature-related activities. The year-long initiative will encourage participation in conserving our natural heritage through four categories, namely “Nature Adventurer”, “Wildlife Guardian”, “CIN ambassador” and “SGBioAtlas Contributor”. Families may collect activity booklets at the Festival of Biodiversity to begin their learning journey. Upon completion of each activity, they will be able to collect one of four puzzle pieces, which will form a map featuring Singapore’s rich biodiversity. Families can bond through spending quality time together amid nature while sharing knowledge with others through volunteering as guides and biodiversity surveys.

More information can be found at www.nparks.gov.sg/familiesfornature.

Festival of Biodiversity 2016

The Festival of Biodiversity is an annual celebration of the community's efforts to conserve Singapore's natural heritage. Into its fifth year, the Festival of Biodiversity will be held on 3 and 4 September at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Eco Lake Lawn. The theme for this year’s Festival of Biodiversity is on native species and the recovery efforts for rare flora and fauna. Children can also enjoy free art and craft workshops to learn more about Singapore's biodiversity.

Annex A - List Of Identified Flora And Fauna Species

Factsheet A - Species Recovery Efforts

Factsheet B - Interim Update On The Comprehensive Survey Of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Factsheet C - Nature Conservation Masterplan

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