Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [24 - 30 Oct 2011]
from Green Business Times

Sekudu with Harlequin and other southern surprises
from wild shores of singapore

Ghost catching
from The annotated budak and Shear spots

shoreboars @ chek jawa - Oct 2011
from sgbeachbum

Lornie Trail On 23 Oct
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

White-crested Laughingthrush Soliciting for Food
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Bird Race through the eyes of a novice
from Urban Forest

Domestic Dog
from Monday Morgue

Photos: three bizarre bats discovered in Southeast Asia
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Fish production in Singapore still not up to the mark

Operating costs, lack of jetty and difficulty getting good fry among reasons
Jessica Lim Straits Times 31 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE'S fish production continues to inch up slowly, despite a push to increase it in a bid to help shield the Republic from global price fluctuations.

Farmers told The Straits Times the gradual progress is due mainly to the lack of a jetty, high operating costs and the fact that fry is mostly imported from abroad.

According to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), 7 per cent of fish eaten here is produced locally, up from 4.5 per cent in 2009.

The aim is to raise it to 15 per cent eventually. To help achieve this, the AVA set targets for the country's 95 coastal fish farms in March.

Singapore imports 90 per cent of its food, so producing more fish at home would help protect it from disruptions in global food supply and escalating prices.

But fish farmers say operating here can be an uncertain business.

Mr Foo Heow Liang, 60, sold his farm off Pulau Ubin two years ago. After a decade in the industry, he realised he would 'never be able to make money'.

'There was a manpower problem. No one here wants to work on a farm. Sometimes there are plankton blooms that can wipe out an entire harvest,' he said.

Farmer Maureen Ng said obtaining quality fry can be a problem. Last month, Mrs Ng - who owns a 40-netcage farm in Changi with her husband - bought 5,000 fry from Malaysia. A third of them died within a week.

'The fry pass through so many hands before we get them,' she said. 'In Singapore, we import most of the fry and we cannot control quality or supply. We are happy if half make it to selling size.' But she does not blame the authorities, saying some things are beyond their control.

The high cost of hiring foreign workers also pushes up costs, she said. And transporting fish to land is a pain due to the lack of a jetty in Changi. Seabass from her farm is sold to middlemen at $8.50 per kg. Malaysia's seabass go for $4.50.

In the meantime, about 40 farmers have formed the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore. Formally registered in May, it aims to buy fry and fish feed in bulk to bring down costs.

Other farmers are doing well. Metropolitan Fishery Group chief executive Malcolm Ong invested $500,000 in 2007 to start a farm with two other people. His big break came in 2008 when NTUC FairPrice started buying fish from him. The company broke even in 2009. Its output is now 500 tonnes a year, up from 20 tonnes in 2008. It is set to open two new farms over the next two years.

Despite his success, the 48-year-old calls farming a 'vicious circle'.

'It's about scale,' he said. 'If you're very small, you cannot be cost-effective and cannot compete. When you start out, the cost is higher than the price of fish. The more you sell, the more you lose.'

Each of Singapore's 95 coastal fish farms must yield a minimum of 17 tonnes per half-hectare of space a year, or risk being stripped of its licence, under the targets set by the AVA in March.

Twenty-three of them produce more than this. Ten farms generate between 8.5 tonnes and 17 tonnes, and 36 are farming less than 8.5 tonnes. The rest are new or have undergone a recent change of ownership.

The AVA believes poor harvests are due to farmers lacking the necessary capital or skills, or misusing their space, for example, using part of their farms for entertainment purposes.

It continues to work with individual farms on their production plans, said a spokesman. A jetty and mooring site is being built in Pasir Ris.

In 2009, the AVA launched a $10 million fund to help diversify Singapore's food supply and develop farms' capabilities. So far, about $6 million has been awarded to 15 projects, seven of them fish farms. Another $10 million has since been added to the fund.

The AVA is looking at new ways to help fish farmers here boost their productivity. These include research on developing better-quality fry and technologies to increase yield.

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Pulau Ubin: EMA appoints Singapore-based consortium for micro-grid test bed

Channel NewsAsia 31 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has appointed a Singapore-based consortium to design, build and operate a micro-grid test-bed incorporating clean and renewable energy resources at the jetty area on Pulau Ubin.

The consortium includes two companies - Daily Life Renewable Energy Pte Ltd and OKH Holdings Pte Ltd.

In a media release on Monday, the EMA said the test-bed will enable it to prepare for a future when renewable energy resources become a more significant part of Singapore's energy mix.

Chief executive of EMA, Mr Chee Hong Tat, added that the micro-grid test-bed is a useful project for Singapore to pilot a solution that will benefit residents and businesses on Pulau Ubin.

He added that if the project is successful, it will help to open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region.

Executive director of Daily Life Renewable Energy, Mr Markson Tang, also said, "This test-bed will showcase how clean and renewable energy can be deployed in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner for an off-grid community."

Consortium partner Mr Marvin Lam, project director of OKH Holdings said, "We are delighted to be part of this significant project, and excited about its potential as a reference site for similar deployments regionally."

- CNA/cc

Pulau Ubin to get clean power next year
Straits Times 1 Nov 11;

RESIDENTS of Pulau Ubin will be able to power their homes with clean energy such as biodiesel and solar power by the end of next year, replacing the noisy and pollutive diesel generators they currently use.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) announced yesterday that a local consortium has clinched the contract to design, build, own and operate a micro-grid test-bedding project on the island.

The consortium is a partnership between clean energy firm Daily Life Renewable Energy (DLRE) and property developer OKH Holdings.

The EMA declined to reveal the cost of the project, but said the consortium was selected via a competitive tendering process that 'took into account the companies' proposed solutions, experience in similar projects and price competitiveness'.

The planned micro-grid is an intelligent system that will harness electricity from clean energy sources and regulate the flow of power to its users.

The EMA's move marks a milestone for the project, which was first announced in 2009. The highly coveted contract initially received 21 bids, out of which nine companies were shortlisted, including Sembcorp Utilities, Tuas Power and General Electric.

DLRE executive director Markson Tang told The Straits Times that the consortium was excited to have won the multimillion-dollar project, which will be co-funded by it and the EMA. His company has successfully implemented more than 40 such micro-grid systems in countries like the Maldives and Vietnam.

Many parts of Asia still do not have easy access to power, and such grids could provide a clean and efficient way of providing communities with energy.

Under the contract, the consortium will provide electricity at a price of not more than 80 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh), lower than the $1 or more per kwh price for diesel generators.

EMA said islanders can then use higher-load electrical appliances such as air-conditioners and refrigerators, enabling businesses to expand operations.

The hundred or so islanders currently rely on their own generators as the cost of laying cables from the mainland is too high.

The first phase of the project, which involves building the infrastructure around the island's jetty area, will be completed by the first half of next year, and residents can expect electricity supply by the end of next year.

EMA chief executive Chee Hong Tat said the test-bed will enable the authority to prepare for a future when renewable energy sources become a more significant part of Singapore's energy mix, and will help the Republic gain an understanding of the impact of using intermittent renewable sources.

'If this project is successful, it will help to open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region,' he said.


Micro-grid builders appointed, two more join electric vehicle test-bed
Esther Ng Today Online 1 Nov 11;

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has appointed a Singapore-based consortium, comprising Daily Life Renewable Energy and OKH Holdings, to design, build and own a micro-grid test-bed, powered by bio-diesel and photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.

"It will help us better understand the impact of intermittent renewable energy sources on our power system, and prepare Singapore for a future where renewable energy sources become a more significant part of our energy mix," said Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran.

Households on Pulau Ubin will benefit from these sources of electricity as it will allow them to use higher-load electrical appliances such as refrigerators and air-conditioners. It will also enable businesses to expand their operations.

The consortium will sell electricity to consumers at S$0.80 per kilowatt hour compared to the price of more than S$1/kWh that some consumers currently pay for using diesel generators.

On the mainland, Renault and Nissan, with the Fluence and Leaf respectively, have joined the electric vehicle (EV) test-bed programme launched in June by the EMA and the Land Transport Authority.

The programme also includes Daimler, Mitsubishi and Bosch.

Participants in the test-bed will have a wider variety of EVs to choose from and the different EV platforms will add to the breadth of the test-bed, Mr Iswaran said.

Fast-charging for Renault cars will be available in mid 2013. ESTHER NG

New energy initiatives launched
Business Times 1 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE gets a new, green energy testing site on Pulau Ubin and two more models of electric vehicles.

These initiatives were announced at the opening of the Singapore International Energy Week. Activities will be held at Suntec City, Marina Bay Sands and Pan Pacific Hotel.

The micro-grid at the jetty area of Pulau Ubin will be a testing ground for clean and renewable energy sources, like biodiesel and solar photovoltaic cells. Electricity will be supplied to residents and businesses on the island north-east of Singapore, which currently rely on noisy and pollutive diesel generators for their electricity needs.

A Singapore-based consortium consisting of OKH Holdings and Daily Life Renewable Energy will build, own and operate the micro-grid.

In the first phase of the project, the micro-grid infrastructure will be readied by H1 2012 before supplying electricity in H2 2012.

The second phase involves adding clean and renewable energy solutions to the micro-grid.

Said Chee Hong Tat, chief executive of Energy Market Authority: 'If the micro-grid test-bed is successful, it will help open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region.'

Two more electric vehicle models - the Renault Fluence and Nissan Leaf - will join their Mitsubishi and Daimler peers on Singapore streets, expanding the variety of models participants get to choose from.

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Risks Remain Despite Indonesian Forest Moratorium: Study

David Fogarty PlanetArk 31 Oct 11;

A two-year ban on new licenses to clear peatlands and primary forests in Indonesia risks being undermined by the small area protected by the scheme and a host of exemptions, shows a review that calls for the program to be revised.

The ban is the centerpiece of an important climate deal with Norway, signed last year, worth up to $1 billion. A major goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, by far the largest source of emissions in Indonesia.

Improving land tenure and land planning rules are other goals of the scheme that began in May, which has met strong resistance from some miners and planters. They fear it could crimp growth by curbing access to land.

An analysis of the moratorium by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia shows large areas of forest rich in species and stores of carbon are still at risk of clearance, limiting the chances of a major cut in emissions.

Indonesia has the world's third-largest area of tropical forests, which play a major role in braking the pace of climate change because they soak up large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

Ever greater demand for land and resources such as coal, and food such as palm oil, is threatening remaining forest cover, with about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) lost annually.

CIFOR, in the study released on Friday, said while the moratorium on licenses was a good start: "Several issues are unresolved concerning the area and status of land covered by the moratorium, and hence the amount of carbon stored in the affected forests and peatlands."

It found that the total new area protected under the moratorium was, at most, 22.5 million hectares, of which a third were primary forests and half were peatlands.

That is less than half some previous government estimates because large areas of primary forests and peatlands are already legally protected, although still at risk of encroachment.

The study described the failure to include secondary forests and logged-over forests in the moratorium as a lost opportunity to protect, at least temporarily, a fraction of 46.7 million ha of forests rich in carbon and biodiversity.

It said millions of hectares of peatland and primary forests were still not covered by the moratorium either because of existing concessions or planned investments deemed vital to national development.


Indonesia has about 20 million ha of peatlands estimated to contain 30 billion tonnes of carbon -- roughly the equivalent of mankind's total greenhouse gas emissions over three years. That explains why Indonesia and Norway are keen to preserve what is left of these vast carbon stores to fight climate change.

Also at risk of undermining the ban were a range of exemptions, such as rice, sugarcane and geothermal investments deemed in the national interest, and the exclusion of existing licenses to use forest land so long as the license remained valid regardless of the license-holder's performance.

"The moratorium's exceptions for activities related to food and energy security create loopholes that could undermine the suspension of new concession licenses," the study says, calling for a greater focus on land swaps involving degraded land before any exceptions are granted.

Norway says it is broadly happy with the climate deal and will measure success based on analysis of six-monthly satellite maps of forest cover.

"Our demand was, and still is, that in the reasonably near future we have to see improvements in what actually happens to the forests," said Per Fredrik Ilsaas Pharo, deputy director of Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative.

He also pointed to the threat from corruption and powerful business interests.

"We all know there is also corruption and other illegal activities going on but there is actually a legitimate internal Indonesian discussion about what pathway to take forward. And clearly it's not a given that they will choose the model that we would like them to choose," he told Reuters from Oslo in a recent interview.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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GM mosquitoes show fever promise

Richard Black BBC News 30 Oct 11;

Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases, a UK-based scientific team has shown.

The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring die before reproducing. In a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, researchers found the GM males mated successfully with wild females.

In Nature Biotechnology journal, they say such mating has not before been proven in the wild, and could cut the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito as it bites.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there may be 50 million cases each year, and the incidence is rising, with some countries reporting what the WHO terms "explosive" outbreaks.

As yet, there is no vaccine.
Radiation damage

As far back as the 1940s, it was realised that releasing sterile males into the wild could control insects that carried disease or were agricultural pests.

When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease.

In the 1950s, the screwworm fly was eradicated from the Caribbean island of Curacao using males sterilised by radiation.

But the technology has not worked so well with disease-carrying insects.

Generally, the sterilising process weakens the males so much that they struggle to mate; the wild males are dominant.

Oxitec, a company spun off from Oxford University, uses a genetic engineering approach.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way”

Dr Raman Velayudhan WHO

Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood.

In the latest study, the research group - which includes scientists from Imperial College London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine - released batches of GM mosquitoes in 2009 in an area of the Cayman Islands where Aedes aegypti are common, and dengue sometimes present.

A proportion of the eggs collected from the study area in subsequent weeks carried the introduced gene, meaning the biotech mosquitoes had mated successfully.

The GM males made up 16% of males in the study area, and fathered 10% of the larvae; so they were not quite as successful as the wild males, but not significantly worse.

"We were really surprised how well they did," said Luke Alphey, Oxitec's chief scientific officer and a visiting professor at Oxford University.

"For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males - you'll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don't have to be, they just have to be reasonably good."

"This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way," said Dr Raman Velayudhan, a WHO dengue expert.

"The fitness level is much better [compared with previous attempts] - it is almost the same as in wild mosquitoes," he told BBC News.

Cognizant that genetic engineering is a technology that carries the potential for risks as well as benefits, the WHO is finalising guidance on how GM insects should be deployed in developing countries, which it expects to release by the end of the year.

The field seems to be hotting up, with other research groups recently creating Anopheles mosquitoes that are immune to the malaria parasite they normally carry, and making male Anopheles that lack sperm.

Malaria is a prime target for these approaches simply because it is such an important disease; but arguably it is more needed in diseases such as dengue where there are few alternatives.

"For malaria, there are effective alternatives like bednets, but they won't work for dengue because the mosquitoes bite during daytime," said Dr Alphey.

"We don't advocate [GM mosquitoes] as a 'magic bullet' that will solve all dengue in one go, so the question is how it fits in as part of an integrated programme - and for dengue, it would be a huge component of an integrated programme."

Funding for the Oxitec approach has come from a number of sources including private investors, charities, Oxford University and governments, and the Cayman Islands authorities were willing to take part in the field trial.
Death by feedback

The genetic approach used to create the mosquitoes is a system known as tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation (tTA).

The tTA gene is spliced into the insect's genome in such a way that the protein it makes increases the gene's activity - a positive feedback loop.

The cells make more and more tTA protein - and in doing so, have little capacity for making any other proteins. Eventually, this kills the insects.

When the male larvae are reared at Oxitec, this process is turned off by keeping them in water containing the antibiotic tetracycline, which inhibits the feedback process.

When the males breed in the wild, however, tTA genes in their offspring are fully active.

In principle, a process that allows larvae to hatch and stay alive for many days should be more advantageous than the traditional approach of producing infertile eggs, as the larvae will consume food that could otherwise be used by viable larvae from the union of wild males and females.

The next step in the work is to demonstrate that deploying GM males does suppress the insect population enough that it is likely to have an impact on dengue incidence.

Dr Alphey said results from a project last year in the Cayman Islands suggested this had been achieved.

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Oct 11

Papa fishes mouth brooding babies at Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Butterfly Lodge V 2.0
from Butterflies of Singapore

Marvellous finds from Lost Coast!
from wonderful creation and Singapore Nature and The annotated budak

Seafood vs. Mangroves
from Mangrove Action Squad

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Bukit Brown: Hope springs eternal

Nature lover Ho Hua Chew still optimistic the Govt may change its mind about Bukit Brown
Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

If Dr Ho Hua Chew, a bird specialist of more than 30 years, were a bird himself, he might be a white dove.

Like the symbol of eternal hope and peace, Dr Ho is still holding out that the Government may change its mind about redeveloping Bukit Brown.

'We should not take it as a done deal,' the veteran conservationist, who is in his 60s, told The Sunday Times. 'The Government now is more open, and I am more hopeful. There is room for more exploration and feedback.'

Dr Ho is a long-time member of the Nature Society (Singapore), having served as its president, conservation committee chairman, and now, its vice-chairman. He joined the group in 1971.

Like other heritage lovers, the former philosophy lecturer has expressed serious reservations about planned roadworks that will cut into the hilly, largely untouched, tree-strewn habitat.

But as other groups resign themselves to the inevitable, Dr Ho remains optimistic.

'Look at what happened with Chek Jawa,' he said.

In 2001, following a petition by nature groups to save Tanjung Chek Jawa, a beach at the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin that is home to rare marine creatures, the Government, in a move that surprised even the conservationists themselves, called off its plans to reclaim the area.

Dr Ho's love affair with Bukit Brown began in the early 1990s, when he first moved to the Thomson area. He would go bird-watching there, and take strolls.

'I go and enjoy a charming spot here and there. It's quite nice.'

This year, he wrote an essay on the ecological importance of Bukit Brown's natural habitat, following fears that the cemetery would yield to redevelopment plans.

He spoke of the area's 85 bird species, a few of them already endangered. The lush greenery, he said, would also help reduce carbon dioxide, ambient temperature and flooding in Singapore.

Dr Ho said he will work with other nature and heritage groups to persuade the Government to retain Bukit Brown as a cemetery-park.

'I hope they will take a holistic, comprehensive, broad view of the situation.'

He added: 'Because Bukit Brown is not just ecologically important, it's also such a beautiful place.'

Bukit Brown battle 2.0
Race against time to preserve the cemetery the high-tech way
Yen Feng Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

The clock is ticking.

By this time next year, parts of Bukit Brown will be unrecognisable. Its thick undergrowth, and thousands of tombs that nest in the cemetery's leafy hilltops, will be gone. In a few years, the hills will go too.

State-funded efforts to document graves in Bukit Brown - the final resting place of many of Singapore's pioneers dating back to the 1890s - will begin next month. But its admirers are not standing idly by.

After the Government recently announced plans to build a road that will tear into nearly a quarter of the 86ha site, a number of amateur historians have devised new ways - beyond pen and paper - to preserve the history of Bukit Brown, using cutting-edge technology.

These methods employ social media, such as Facebook and blogs, mobile phone technology, and 3-D imaging software that can not only store information about the tombs on the Internet, but also pinpoint their locations via satellite, and even re-create a virtual environment that allows users to 'visit' Bukit Brown on their computers from anywhere in the world.

The handful of innovators are joined by a growing chorus of people, including activists of the Singapore Heritage Society and the Nature Society, who have since come out to protest against the Government's plans to build a

dual, four-lane road into Bukit Brown to relieve congestion along the Pan-Island Expressway and Lornie Road.

The news last month followed a May announcement that the area had been gazetted for housing development.

Both times, the announcements were met with a rare show of public resistance.

Letters poured in to The Straits Times Forum Page: While some supported the Government's foresight in urban planning, the majority argued that Bukit Brown, with its rich history and biodiversity, should remain untouched for conservation reasons.

Even though the Government made public its plans to redevelop Bukit Brown in its 1991 Concept Plan, interest groups said the site was still zoned as 'cemetery' under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan as recently as 2008.

They were galvanised to speak up after they felt the authorities had not consulted them on the site's heritage value before it announced plans last month to build a road there.

The Singapore Heritage Society said the public anxiety displayed in recent months over the loss of the cemetery suggests Singapore's nation-building project has been fruitful.

Recent news of the road plans has driven people to the cemetery's hoary hills.

Mr Raymond Goh, 47, a Singapore history buff regarded by many academics to be an expert guide in Bukit Brown, said weekly sign-ups for his guided tours alone have increased from 20 to 200 in just the last month.

Next month, even more people are expected to fan across the area, bearing equipment to document information about the tombs that will make way for the new road.

Paid workers will be led by anthropologist Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, who has been tasked with recording the tombs' details for study and safe-keeping by the Government.

This documentation of Bukit Brown's graves is believed to be the first such project funded by the authorities, and the most extensive yet in redevelopment land works.

The Government hopes to document some 10,000 tombs - about 10 per cent of known tombs in the entire Bukit Brown area - though the Land Transport Authority said the number of affected graves may be closer to 5,000.

If this sounds like a lot of work - it is. Last week, Dr Hui said it may be a challenge to find enough skilled workers to do the job in time.

The bulldozers are coming in September next year. He has just under a year to beat the clock.

Digital life

That is one reason some heritage buffs have taken to doing a bit of sleuthing on their own.

Uneasy over concerns that the stipulated timeframe will not be enough to make a thorough record of Bukit Brown's history, they are bringing to the conservation effort additional firepower in the form of time and professional expertise.

Some of these projects are already under way, while others are still in the planning stages, said the projects' leaders, who share their ideas over Facebook, and whose day jobs range from engineers to teachers to map-makers.

For instance, a blog and e-database set up by Mr Goh earlier this year to document photographs, personal stories and old newspaper clippings about the buried dead in Bukit Brown have attracted thousands of visitors; on a Facebook page, lively discussions carry on, with members posting comments several times a day.

And if Mr Liew Kai Khuin, 38, has his way, the academic in media and cultural studies would re-create the entire Bukit Brown universe online.

Think multi-player Web games like Second Life, where users interact virtually in a 3-D environment, said Mr Liew, adding that a virtual Bukit Brown could include information about the graves and their locations for educational purposes.

He added: 'Many of the tombstones' designs come from a previous era that may be lost on the current generation. Such futuristic digital portals can actually help them to link to the past.'

Present tense

There are more present worries, however.

It is likely that whatever form these high-tech ideas take, in reality, just like Dr Hui, they face constraints in terms of time and resources available, said Mr Yue. And the challenge is greater if they mean to cover the entire Bukit Brown site, he added.

Heritage groups have asked the Government to push back its deadline set for March, because they want more time to ensure each grave is thoroughly documented.

Asked whether other alternatives had been considered, the land authorities said the decision was made through a 'rigorous and established planning process' that included evaluating different options, and consultation with other state agencies.

It also said the rest of the land would not be developed for another decade or longer.

But at least a couple of conservationists are still hoping that the Government may yet be persuaded to leave Bukit Brown untouched.

As for the others, they will be stepping up efforts to save what they can. Remember: tick-tock, tick-tock.

Guardian of graves
Tomb explorer puts database online to connect descendants with forgotten kin
Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

Using social media, an expert guide of Bukit Brown is leading a digital revolution to put and organise information about the cemetery online.

Since the Government announced plans to cut a road through the burial grounds this year, Mr Raymond Goh, 47, has doubled efforts to preserve the memories of those who call Bukit Brown home.

This year, he set up - a kind of blog and e-database of the buried dead in Bukit Brown.

On it, the health-care company director scans and posts old newspaper clippings of obituaries and photographs, in the hope of connecting families with their long-dead kin.

Many of these documents are retrieved from the National Archives.

The process is a laborious one. Mr Goh often relies on scraps of clues - such as the deceased's birth date, or plot number - to piece together the history of someone.

To many then, Mr Goh is not just a guide, but has become a guardian to the area's forgotten graves.

Mr Goh began exploring the burial grounds in 2006, out of an interest for Singapore history.

He has not only helped connect families to their lost relatives' graves, but has also uncovered the tombstones of several pioneers, including Mr Gan Eng Seng, a businessman who founded Gan Eng Seng School, and helped to build Thong Chai Medical Institution and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Mr Goh does not collect any fees for his detective work, though he does charge a nominal fee to guide weekend tours in Bukit Brown.

He said helping to keep the memories of Singapore's early settlers alive was his reward.

'These people helped build Singapore. Some gave money to build schools, and hospitals. I just want to give something back to them.'

After five years of exploring Bukit Brown, the father of three teenage children knows the sprawling grounds like his own home. He visits every weekend. Sometimes, he pays tomb keepers to take care of abandoned tombstones; often, he scrubs them himself.

In a recent entry on his website, Mr Goh posted photographs and information about a Mr Kam Peng Huat, who died in 1941.

Mr Kam is one of several thousand who will give up their resting place for the new road by the end of next year.

Mr Goh wrote: 'He has five sons and five daughters. I am sure Kam Peng Huat has a very big family of grand- and great-grandchildren now.

'Some of their little ones may want to know more about their great-grandparents. But his lease in Bukit Brown has run out.

'Many stories remain to be told, many roots remain to be found. Can we give him a new lease of life?'

In a way, Mr Goh already has.

21st century cemetery
Engineer Victor Yue's vision - scan a tombstone with your smartphone and get information about the grave
Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

Graveyards are hardly the place to use a mobile phone, but Mr Victor Yue hopes that will be the case for Bukit Brown Cemetery - and soon.

The telecommunications engineer wants to bring mobile technology to the cemetery's old tombstones - a QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone, will download information about the deceased, or link to videos or photographs online about the grave.

Short for Quick Response, a QR code is a small, square, black-and-white barcode that can store data, or link to online content.

It is already being used in some cemeteries in the United States and New Zealand, but Mr Yue said he was inspired by a recent trip to Japan, where he saw the codes used with retail goods and publicity posters.

'They were everywhere. Since then, I've wondered how to use this techno-logy in Singapore.'

The codes are especially useful in Bukit Brown, said Mr Yue, 59, because most of the inscriptions on tombstones there are carved in Chinese script.

With online content about the graves put together by other Bukit Brown lovers, the codes can work as a guide to decipher what is written on the tombs for people who do not understand the language.

'If you don't know Chinese, you can't read; how are you supposed to know more?'

It was this same question that inspired Mr Yue's other hobby.

He is the moderator of an online Taoist e-list forum group, taoism-singapore, which, since its launch in 2004, has found a community of Chinese heritage lovers who speak mainly English.

The group's some 500 members post photographs, ask questions, and those in the know help to decode them.

Mr Yue said that, through the QR codes, some Chinese messages inscribed on the tombs in Bukit Brown can be preserved, and shared with everyone.

Many of them exhort their descendants to lead moral lives. 'They teach values like filial piety and Confucian ethics,' he said.

'These messages are our heritage. They are part of who we are today.'

View from the top
The first time map-maker Mok Ly Yng saw Bukit Brown was - of course - on a map
Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

Like most first-timers to Bukit Brown, Mr Mok Ly Yng's reaction on seeing the Chinese cemetery's gently undulating hills, was 'wow, what a wonderful view'.

Except, he wasn't physically there. He was at home.

The 'view' he was referring to, was a three-dimensional (3-D) screen image he had produced using geographical data points, rendered in commercial-grade mapping technology.

Mr Mok, 44, has one of the most uncommon jobs in Singapore - he is a freelance geographic information system (GIS) mapping consultant. Or, a map-maker.

As a long-time map enthusiast who has been a member of the National Geographic Society since 1982, Mr Mok's interest in Bukit Brown Cemetery was triggered after he came across some global positioning system (GPS) points posted on a Facebook page dedicated to Bukit Brown last month.

The GPS points were recorded by a netizen who had recently gone on a tour of the cemetery. 'I was interested in the details of his records, so I messaged him to ask if he would pass me the data.'

After that, the map-maker was hooked - as he probably knew he would be, he said.

But his interest in Bukit Brown was not simply map-related.The former Ministry of Defence (Mapping Agency) employee was feeling reflective as he had recently moved out of his Holland Village home.

'Did you know that Holland Village used to be a cemetery, too?' he said. 'Very hilly here, you see.'

Back in his room, Mr Mok dove into his library of maps and retrieved a topographical map sheet he had previously purchased from the British Library in London that showed the 3-D contours of the Bukit Brown site.

Using that data, along with other information about the area he was able to download from the Internet, he produced a series of 3-D images of Bukit Brown, which he later posted on the cemetery's Facebook page.

He also sent them to Dr Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist who is leading a team to document the graves.

Mr Mok said it took him three days to finish the images. He added that what he produced was very basic - a 'miniature preview' of what mapping technology can do.

Even so, to Bukit Brown's Facebook fans, what a wonderful view indeed.

If at first you don't succeed...
Earlier failure to save two other cemeteries has not deterred Dr Irving Chan-Johnson
Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

After an online petition he started in June to save Bukit Brown fizzled with fewer than 1,000 signatures, Dr Irving Chan-Johnson now hopes an Ivy League polish will put life back into the cause.

'I am mailing it to my friends so it gets more international recognition, since I feel the issues we are dealing with are critical to humanity,' said the Harvard University graduate.

'This is a critical time in the history of the cemetery as the state has already made its stand pretty clear,' said Dr Johnson, 40, a Singaporean. 'The petition does not call for a compromise.'

The assistant professor of South-east Asian studies at the National University of Singapore has good reason to put his fists up - he's already had his heart broken twice.

The first was in 2008, when Bidadari Cemetery was exhumed; then, in 2009, when the Teochew Kwong Hou Sua cemetery in Woodlands Road followed.

To Dr Johnson, Singapore's burial grounds play an integral role in an individual's sense of nationhood.

In a letter published in The Straits Times Forum page in 2008, he wrote of Kwong Hou Sua's impending closure: 'Since independence, Singapore and its people have been on a constant quest to define a national identity.

'An integral part of any national identity is historical awareness.'

With the destruction of each cemetery, goes one slice of national history, he said.

To create greater awareness of Bukit Brown's historical significance, the anthropologist is also organising a symposium with the Singapore Heritage Society and the Nature Society on Nov 19.

It will feature heritage experts, including those currently working to document Bukit Brown's graves before next year's exhumation exercise.

'Hopefully, it will force the authorities to rethink their development plans,' he said. 'I want to point out to the state via the petition, that heritage management and definition are not the sole property of national governments.'

Read more!

Queenstown gets park on former railway land

Park is the first project on former KTM land to be announced
Rachel Chang Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

By next April, Queenstown residents will have a 1.3ha neighbourhood park built on former Malayan Railway land.

The Rumah Tinggi park is the first project giving former railway land a new lease of life to be announced.

It will be a central neighbourhood green space, and will free up smaller parks elsewhere in the neighbourhood for sorely-needed carpark spaces, said Queenstown MP Chia Shi-Lu.

The tract is long and lean, with a wide space at one end.

When ready, it will be punctuated by playgrounds, adult fitness facilities and community gardens, and perhaps even have a boardwalk rending through.

But the design is not final, said Dr Chia, who is meeting residents on Saturday to tell them the news and solicit suggestions on what they want to see in the park.

What to do with all 170ha of former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) land, which reverted to Singapore on July 1, has been the subject of national debate since a landmark resolution of the 1990 Points of Agreement was reached last year.

The Nature Society has spearheaded a lobbying effort for the former train route to become a largely contiguous green corridor.

But some of the land sits in prime districts, such as Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah, and are of substantial commercial value.

Other stakeholders want to see the land used to enhance infrastructure in the form of wider roads or an MRT track.

The final word on how most of the railway land will be used will likely come only with the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Draft Master Plan in 2013.

Dr Chia believes that the authorities have been swift in giving the go-ahead to the Queenstown park because of the plot's odd shape and location.

'There's not much else they can do with the land, because it's sandwiched between industrial and residential buildings,' he pointed out.

The land sits in a valley. On one side is the Alexandra Road Ikea and car showrooms; on the other are blocks of HDB flats.

Other MPs are in the midst of negotiations with the authorities for the use of KTM land in their wards.

In Yew Tee and Bukit Gombak, MPs Alex Yam and Low Yen Ling want roads widened onto former KTM land to ease traffic congestion.

The Stagmont Ring road in Yew Tee, for example, is the only route for residents to get to the Kranji Expressway and it needs to be expanded, said Mr Yam.

But in Ulu Pandan, a ward through which about 4km of former KTM land runs, MP Christopher de Souza has thrown his weight behind the green corridor plan, which he says is important also for the country's heritage.

'Younger generations of Singaporeans may not see the trains running through, but at least they will see the historical link.'

On their part, Queenstown residents welcomed the plan.

'It's fantastic news,' said 33-year-old civil servant Allan Tan, who had written to Dr Chia in May to lobby for such a park.

Mr Kwek Li Yong, 22, one of a group of students that set up the heritage website My Queenstown, said he hoped the new park would have reminders of what the land used to be.

He suggested park signage about the KTM railway and the former Archipelago Brewery Company nearby.

The brewery, where Anchorpoint now sits, was built in 1931, a first in Singapore. It was built near the railway for easy export of its beer.

'Such signs would educate residents about the historical significance of Queenstown,' said Mr Kwek.

'Otherwise, the park will just be an ordinary park.'

Read more!

Litter-control: Add garbage bins, chuck banners

Study distinguishes litter-control methods that work from the ineffective ones

Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

Bin there, done that.

Researchers wanted to know what it was exactly that would lead people to litter less.

Well, a year-long study which ended last year, has come up with the answer.

Adding more bins had the best effect, nearly halving the rate of littering.

The most ineffective method was the use of banners reminding people not to litter.

The 'dustbin test' carried out at four town centres was part of a sociological study conducted by the National Environment Agency, with experts from the National University of Singapore led by sociologist Paulin Straughan.

The study, which ran from 2009 to 2010, has been published. Co-pies of the book were distributed to schools and public libraries yesterday.

A soft copy can be viewed at

Its key findings: 62.6 per cent of the 4,500 people surveyed say they never litter; 1.2 per cent are hardcore litterbugs who admit to dropping their trash most of the time; and 36.2 per cent do it out of convenience.

Smokers insisted that it was culturally acceptable to flick their cigarette butts away after smoking, and students and young people were more likely to litter.

To cut down littering, the researchers tested four different litter-control methods at four town centres: more bins; banners encouraging binning; having more uniformed NEA officers around; and stationing volunteers to spread environmental messages.

They found that having more bins cut littering most at Tampines while using volunteers cut littering in Bedok by about 30 per cent.

Banners, generally, failed to have an effect.

'Singaporeans may be suffering from campaign fatigue, being tired of being told what they should do as good citizens,' the study suggested.

Paradoxically, having enforcement officers around reinforced the idea that littering was okay.

Singaporeans do tend to litter and the presence of enforcement officers only serves to remind them that this is the fact, the study suggested.

Also, enforcement officers cannot be everywhere, so 'their ability to discourage littering is outweighed by the fact that their presence also encourages littering'.

The study also showed that some communities are just cleaner. For instance, Tampines town centre was much cleaner than the town centres in Yishun and Bedok.

No one knows why this is so, but Associate Professor Straughan suggested that people might feel more guilty about littering if a place was well maintained.

Focus groups that were tapped suggested litter bins could be redesigned with bigger openings or foot-pedals so people need not touch them.

Using the study's data, the NEA has tweaked its anti-littering approach.

For example, the agency worked with town councils to add more bins in five HDB towns.

They watched bins before and after the additions to see how many times the bins overflowed.

Before more were added, the bins overflowed 22 times, but that stopped once there were extra bins.

NEA, in its anti-littering campaign last year, launched the Litter- Free Ambassadors programme, in which volunteers reach out to family, friends, neighbours and their communities.

By 2015, the agency said in its study, it aims for a 'measurable and perceptible reduction in litter'.

'The physical measures must go in tandem with normative (or cultural) shifts, which take a longer time to change,' said Prof Straughan.

'It's not just about the act of littering, but it's about civic consciousness; it's about how we protect or abuse common shared space. It's about pride in our country, this place we call home.'


How do you make not littering a cultural norm in Singapore?

Such a question has vexed Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit since the council was formed last month.

A sociological study of littering carried out by the National Environment Agency found that it is already a norm to some extent: six in 10 respondents never litter, nearly four in 10 would litter if they could, and about 1 per cent are die-hard litterbugs.

But the norm-abiding majority need to speak up directly, Mr Liak urged. 'One of the first things we need to change is for the majority who are not littering to express their disapproval.

'You can do it without inviting a fight - I've been doing it for many years, and no one has punched me in the nose yet,' said the affable health administrator, who is also chief executive officer of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Such social norms already exist, he said. 'Take, for example, queue-jumping - almost nobody does it now because the minute you do, you get dirty looks.

'If you believe in something, you'd better stand up for it.'

The council, which comprises 21 people from the public sector, environment groups and industry, is also trying to figure out where people do not litter and why, to make an example of such places.

'There are bright spots and we need to replicate these, to find out what's working there,' Mr Liak said.

Council members are appointed for a two-year term, but they say it is a long-term task.

Mr Liak quipped: 'We want to work ourselves out of a job as soon as possible.'


The National Environment Agency's study, done by researchers from the National University of Singapore, looked at different ways to slash trash in various areas.

In town centres

Enforcement officers (Ang Mo Kio): The result was inconclusive.

Community volunteers (Bedok): Decreased littering by 30.5 per cent.

More bins (Tampines): Decreased littering by 49.8 per cent.

Banner ads (Yishun): Inconclusive.

At places where foreign workers congregate

Enforcement officers: Increased littering by 101.3 per cent.

Banners telling workers of the penalties if they are caught littering: Increased littering by 105.4 per cent.

The researchers explained: Because enforcement officers could not be everywhere in a large open field, their presence actually encouraged littering if the act could go undetected.

And banners paradoxically led to workers thinking it was the norm to litter, which encouraged further littering.

At East Coast Park

Enforcement officers: Inconclusive.

Bins with environmental messages: Increased littering by 61.5 per cent.

Larger bulk bins to keep up with barbecue and picnic waste: Inconclusive.

Banners: Inconclusive.

The researchers explained: The interventions were 'intrusive' and might have turned people off.

'Future community and communication interventions need to be less intrusive, more personal and pitched correctly,' the study said.

Read more!

Clean and Green Singapore campaign launched

Sara Grosse Channel NewsAsia 29 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: A nationwide initiative to increase awareness on environmental issues was launched on Saturday.

The Clean and Green Singapore campaign, co-organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and North West Community Development Council, kicked off with a two-day carnival that encouraged citizens to take care of the environment.

13-year-old Ng Jia Wei said he prefers gardening to playing computer games, and wants to encourage others to share his hobby.

He said: "I've created a Facebook page group and website for my community garden and I've posted some videos, gardening tips."

Jia Wei is the youngest recipient of the Community in Bloom Ambassador award, which recognises individuals who foster the love for gardening in their community. The award recognises his efforts in mentoring children who want to learn about gardening.

While Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who launched the Clean and Green Singapore campaign, said individual efforts can go a long way in keeping the environment green, he also urged for more participation on the community-front.

The NEA launched a community-led "Keep Singapore Clean" initiative that will encourage schools, grassroots and private organisations to take action and keep the environment clean. At the same time, the North West CDC also plans to build the largest green network, comprising 45 community green clubs and 2,000 volunteers to reach out to 90,000 households by 2014.

Mr Teo said: "This can only be achieved through continuous effort on the part of everyone of us. The government will continue to invest in environmental systems, structures, but it's only with the public taking active ownership that we can continue to keep Singapore clean and green."

Besides recycling and anti-littering messages, the carnival also highlighted dengue-prevention to the public.

Since the start of the year, there have been 4651 cases of dengue.

Even though the number of dengue cases are tapering down this year, the government still wants the public to take precautionary measures. The NEA is launching a new exercise called "Educational Inspections", which will see NEA officers working with home owners to identify what are some of the high-risk activities in the home.

Minister of Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said: "If at these educational inspections, even if any larvae is found, an amnesty will be given. So we will not fine the house owners because the important point here is this is an educational exercise, to work with you. We don't want you to be worried about being fined just because you invited an NEA officer to come in and take a look and to give you advice."

The educational inspections will target homes in non-hot spot areas. If larvae is found in homes in hot-spot areas, fines will still be issued.

Read more!

Shell to return refinery to full capacity in December

Today Online 28 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Royal Dutch Shell, Europe's largest oil company, expects to return its Pulau Bukom refinery in Singapore to full capacity in December after a fire shut the plant in September.

"We have restarted most of the units now," chief financial officer Simon Henry said in London yesterday, declining to give output rate and product-export volume details.

Shell will restart the third crude distillation unit (CDU) at the Pulau Bukom refinery, its largest worldwide, within the next day or two, industry sources said.

With the restart, more than 50 per cent of the plant's 500,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) capacity will be back onstream, following progressive restarts of the other two CDUs over the past two weeks.

Shell expects the fire and resulting shutdown to cost it about US$150 million (S$187 million) in the fourth quarter. The company said it has still not fully lifted a force majeure on oil products from the refinery.

Shell reported a doubling in profits yesterday thanks to higher oil prices, robust demand for gas and stronger refining margins. Its current cost of supply (CCS) net income was US$7.2 billion (S$9 billion), a 100 per cent rise on the same period last year when non-cash accounting charges weighed on the result, the company said.

CCS earnings strip out unrealised gains or losses related to changes in the value of inventories, and as such are comparable with net income under US accounting rules. Shell exports 90 per cent of products to the Asia-Pacific region from the offshore Pulau Bukom refinery. AGENCIES

Shell restarts final crude unit at Singapore refinery
* Singapore plant to operate at about 52 pct of capacity
* Operations expected to return to normal in Nov-Dec
* Fire hits Q4 earnings by $150 mln
* Most major secondary units up and running
Yaw Yan Chong Reuters 27 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell Plc will restart the third crude distillation unit (CDU) at its Singapore refinery within the next day or two, just under a month after a blaze shut the plant, industry sources said on Thursday.

With the restart, just over 50 percent of the plant's 500,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) capacity will be back onstream, following progressive restarts of the other two CDUs over the past two weeks.

Shell's largest refinery will return to normal in November-December, the company said at a briefing in London, adding that the fire and resulting shutdown cost it about $150 million in the fourth quarter.

"We have restarted most of the units now but progressively they'll come back up to full production during Novermber and December," Simon Henry, Chief Financial Officer, told reporters on a conference call.

Major secondary units include the 35,000-bpd hydrocracker, 25,000-bpd fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) and highly profitable lubricant oils complex (LOC).

The company said it has still not fully lifted a force majeure on oil products from the refinery.

"We are delivering products again but haven't lifted all of the force majeure," Henry said.

The sources said the 110,000-bpd CDU, which will restart on Friday or Saturday, is expected to run at a reduced rate of around 70-75 percent, similar to the second CDU that was restarted over a week ago.

With the restart, the plant's three crude units will be operating at a combined capacity of about 259,000 bpd, or 52 percent of capacity.

"That's about as far as the plant can go, for the near term at least, and any further ramp-up will be very gradual from here until major repairs to the fire-damaged areas are completed," a refining source said.

"The main idea is to get as much of the plant running as possible while repairs are underway."


The lubricants oil complex has been up and running for about two days, producing the refinery's highest-margin product, the sources said.

The hydrocracker, which was shut due to its proximity to the fire but was undamaged, has been running for about a week, primarily to produce heavy kerosene as feedstock for Shell's 750,000 tonnes-per-year (tpy) ethylene cracker.

"The initial efforts were on the higher-margin products, such as lubricants and petrochemicals, and now the plant needs to be producing adequate volumes of the bread-and-butter oil products, mainly middle distillates," said another refining source.

Shell is a major supplier of middle distillates and gasoline to the region. The refinery produces 6.5-7.0 million barrels per month of middle distillates, of which gas oil is about 4.5 million barrels, and another 4.0-4.5 million barrels of gasoline.

About 90 percent of the refinery's output is exported.

Bukom refinery fully operational in Q4
Shell signals commitment to grow integrated Singapore refinery/petrochemical hub
Ronnie Lim Business Times 1 Nov 11;

SHELL is set to get its Bukom refinery/petrochemical site fully operating again this quarter following the Sept 28 fire there.

The incident has also not deterred it from making more investments here, as the group definitely plans to further grow the Singapore facility which is its largest worldwide, top Shell officials, including the group's CEO Peter Voser stressed yesterday.

While Shell indicated at its Q3 results briefing last week that it expected to book a loss of about US$150 million for the fourth quarter as a result of the Bukom fire, Mr Voser conceded that 'it was difficult to quantify both lost margins - because we couldn't sell barrels we don't have - as well as reputational loss', when asked by BT if the figure included these items.

He however maintained that the total losses, including opportunity costs, 'will not be much higher' than the earlier cited figure of US$150 million.

Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the Singapore Energy Summit here, Mr Voser said that as far as reputational loss or loss of goodwill was concerned, 'Shell's global team was also doing everything it can to repair this as fast as possible', adding: 'We've kept customers pretty well supplied in the last few weeks.'

Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang added that the company was working closely with customers to minimise the inconvenience and economic impact of the force majeure that it declared on product supplies as Bukom had to shut down some plants for safety reasons, but it is now well underway on getting these back onstream.

Mr Lee said that investigations into the fire by the authorities, as well as by Shell itself, are still proceeding and that 'it's too early to share any results at this time'.

'We've also ended force majeure in certain products and for certain contracts - and have resumed supplies for these - while FM remains in force for some others; and we continue to work with our customers to minimise the impact from this,' he added.

Shell earlier indicated that the Bukom facility was expected to return to normal in November-December, and Mr Voser confirmed yesterday that 'we are making good progress in the start-up, and are confident that we can get it going again in Q4'.

Despite the setback, the Shell CEO signalled that the group would continue to grow the integrated Singapore refinery/petrochemical hub here - which it considers a 'legacy' or long-life asset - even as it continues to shut down smaller, less efficient plants in its global portfolio.

'We've not yet finished in Singapore,' Mr Lee stressed, adding that even as it recently added the US$3 billion Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex to its 500,000 barrels refinery here, the group was already looking at a range of different projects, incorporating more innovative technology, to further grow its manufacturing facility here.

Force majeure lifted on most contracts
Probe into September refinery inferno still ongoing, says Shell Singapore chairman
Grace Chua Straits Times 1 Nov 11;

PETROCHEMICAL giant Shell yesterday said it has lifted force majeure on the majority of its supply contracts after a fire at its Pulau Bukom plant in September.

The force majeure clause, common in many contracts, excuses the firm from fulfilling its contractual obligations in circumstances beyond its control.

The Dutch oil giant also outlined some of its expansion plans in Asia yesterday, saying growth in the Asia-Pacific may slow due to economic uncertainties but that the region will remain key to the firm's long-term growth.

Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang confirmed the emergency clause had been lifted from most of its products and contracts after the 32-hour inferno at its Pulau Bukom island refinery, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels a day.

'For other contracts that are still subject to force majeure, we continue to work with them,' he said.

He was speaking during a Shell press conference on the first day of Singapore International Energy Week, which is being held at the Suntec Convention Centre until Friday.

Both Shell and government investigations are still proceeding, Mr Lee added.

Previously, a report by the Ministry of Manpower's Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate mentioned that the fire was caused by preparation work for maintenance, which involved draining residual oil in a pipeline using a suction truck.

Shell chief executive Peter Voser said at the press conference: 'I think we are making good progress in starting up the refinery again.'

He expects the company would 'get things going again' by the end of this year.

Mr Voser, who also spoke at the Singapore Energy Summit dinner dialogue yesterday, detailed some of the firm's expansion plans in Asia, such as shale gas exploration in China and investment in the second phase of its Malampaya offshore gas field off the Philippines.

He explained that, given the global economic uncertainty, the refinery margin next year would be 'a tough one', but should have no impact on long-term investment.

And the Asia-Pacific is still 'a key growth region in the portfolio of Shell', he said.

'Growth in Asia-Pacific will maybe slightly slow down in 2012, but the region will be the key growth engine of the world for many years to come.'

At the dinner dialogue, Mr Voser added that sustainability is critical to meeting the energy demands of the world's growing population.

'We think 30 per cent of the world's energy mix could come from renewable sources by 2050,' he said. 'But that target assumes a very rapid growth rate. It will require a large amount of effort and sustained investment.'

Shell is working on biofuel projects, such as ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil, and focusing on the production of natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels when burned.

Read more!

Malaysia: Rope bridges a critical lifeline for orang utans

Roy Goh New Straits Times 30 Oct 11;

KINABATANGAN: The construction of seven bridges in eight years has made a difference in the effort to ensure the survival of the orang utans here.

This temporary measure has helped the primates and other species to move within forests fragmented by man-made rivers.

Sabah Wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu said ultimately, however, reconnecting forests via corridors or patches of forests was the next crucial step to better preserving wildlife in the state.

“Even though it will be an expensive and long process, reconnecting isolated populations which were originally linked together, will ensure the long-term survival of not only orang utans but other unique species, such as the Bornean Pygmy Elephants, the sunbears, the clouded leopards and many others,” he said.

Surveys carried out by the department and non-governmental organisation, Hutan-KOCP (Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme), shows that there are 700 orang utans within protected and non-protected areas of the lower Kinabatangan.

Sabah has an estimated 11,000 orang utans, which is 80 per cent of the nation’s wild orang utans.

However, due to agricultural activities, many forests are fragmented, trapping animals such as the orang utans because of their inability to swim.

To tackle this problem, rope bridges were built for orang utans to cross small rivers and large drains since 2003, and also to connect pockets of isolated forest, said Azri Awang of Hutan-KOCP.

In the past, orang utans would use old-growth forests as “nat ur al br idges” over small rivers.

However, at present, orang utans no longer have this luxury since most of the tall trees in such forests have been logged.

Oil palm plantations had also contributed to the isolation of the orang utans when large drains were built to draw off excess water from the plantations, Azri said, adding that there was no other way for the species to make it through such obstacles, making the bridges vital for their survival.

Since then, seven bridges had been built with the help from or - ganisations, such as Danau Girang Field Centre, Chester Zoo of the United Kingdom, Borneo Conservation Trust, Shining Hope Foundation, Ropeskills Rigging Sdn Bhd, Barefoot Lodge of Sukau and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo of the United States.

According to Dr Marc Ancrenaz, co-director of Hutan-KOCP, oil palm companies could actually reverse the situation if they adopted the recommendations of the Wildlife Depar tment.

“In May last year, at the conclusion of the state Action Plan workshop, the Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister stated that he would like to see plantations, particularly those located in the Kinabatangan, to set aside at least 500m along riverbanks for wildlife corridors,” said Ancrenaz, who has been working on wildlife issues in Sabah since 1998.

“Using rope bridges is a quick fix, but eventually the most ideal solution will be to reconnect the forests and we are all working on this,” he said.

“And when I say ‘we ’, I mean everyone from the government sector to environmental non-governmental organisations and the palm oil industry as well.” Furthermore, genetic modelling carried out jointly by Hutan-KOCP, Wildlife Department, Cardiff University and DGFC had shown that unless action was taken urgently to reconnect these species, most of the iso - lated orang utan population within the lower Kinabatangan would go extinct within our lifetime.

Learning the ropes to save the orang utan
The Star 30 Oct 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife researchers have turned to Britain to literally learn the ropes in orang utan conservation in the lower Kinabatangan region in Sabah's east coast.

The researchers here had noted that the ropes used at the orang utan enclosures of the Chester Zoo reputedly Britain's top zoo with over 7,000 animals and 400 different species were of lighter material, durable and able to withstand the sun's ultra-violet rays apart from being non-biodegradable.

British zoo officials visited here recently and, with the help of professional riggers, constructed seven rope bridges across rivers, streams and drains at various locations in lower Kinabatangan.

The rope bridges were to enable isolated groups of orang utan at various forest patches to move about freely.

The orang utan population had been trapped in isolated groups throughout lower Kinabatangan because the forest is split due to the actions of some oil palm companies that plant all the way down to the river banks.

Hutan-Kinabatangan orang utan conservation programme (KOCP) director Dr Marc Ancrenaz said since 2003, wildlife researchers had been experimenting with various rope materials including fire hoses from Japan and rope bridges of different designs to help the orangutans move from one forest patch to another.

“We found that they prefer to use the simple two line rope bridges,” said Dr Ancrenaz, a wildlife veterinarian.

He added that using rope bridges was only a quick fix as the most ideal solution would be to reconnect the forest pockets in the Kinabatangan area through the establishment of wildlife corridors.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said reconnecting the forest patches via jungle corridors was a crucial step.

“Even though it will be an expensive and long process, reconnecting isolated populations will ensure the long term survival of not only Sabah's orang utans but other unique species, such as the Bornean pygmy elephants, the sun bears and the clouded leopards,” Dr Laurentius said.

Wildlife researchers noted that genetic modelling, being carried out jointly by the department, Hutan-KOCP, Cardiff University and the Danau Girang Field Centre, showed that unless action was urgently taken to reconnect the isolated orang utan populations, they would soon become extinct.

Surveys carried out by the department and Hutan-KOCP showed that there were only 700 orang utans within the protected and non-protected areas of lower Kinabatangan.

Sabah has an estimated 11,000 orangutans.

Read more!

Malaysia To Chair Coral Triangle Initiative Council For Two Years

Bernama 29 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 (Bernama) -- The 3rd Ministerial Meeting of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) has elected Malaysia to chair the Coral Triangle Initiative Council of Ministers (CTI-COM) for a two-year term effective on Nov 20.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili has accepted the chairmanship from outgoing chairman, Indonesia's Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Sharif Cicip Sutarardjo, at the CTI-CFF in Jakarta Friday.

According to a statement from Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry here, Ongkili said Malaysia was committed to the initiative to sustainably preserve, protect and develop the rich marine resources in the CTI region.

"The chairmanship will be a challenge especially as the CTI is in the transition process of establishing a permanent regional secretariat, and in its quest to achieve sustainable financing of its initatives," he said at the CTI-CFF.

He assured that Malaysia would provide its leadership and direction towards achieving the CTI goals of promoting long-term economic growth while sustaining environmental health for the resource-rich region.

Ongkili also put forward Malaysia's proposal for the setting up of a CTI-CFF Business Council, which was endorsed by the Council of Ministers in its joint statement.

"The establishment of the Business Council is timely as member countries have expressed the need to engage the private sector to enhance private sector participation in sustainable development of resources through public-private partnership arrangement," he said.

The meeting was attended by ministers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, The Philippines, The Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.


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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Oct 11

Lost Coast: bountiful bonnets and awesome sand creatures
from wild shores of singapore

Deevapali @ SBWR (261011)
from Trek through Paradise

Catching up with old friends
from Life's Indulgences

111028 Venus Drive
from Singapore Nature

Semakau guided walk with SJI
from wonderful creation

Gardening for birds: 4. Plants for nectar-feeding birds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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ACRES to RWS: Set the record straight

Letter from Christina Lee Jiawei Campaigns Officer, Animal Concerns Research & Education Society
Today Online 28 Oct 11;

I refer to the letter "Marine life parks both educational and inspirational" (Oct 26).

Resorts World Sentosa states its belief that "controlled collection of wildlife in well-run zoological facilities is essential" and that it complied with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

However, can RWS clarify if it conducted proper scientific studies into the status of the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands prior to their capture?

Can RWS scientifically state that its capture of the 27 dolphins was not detrimental to the survival of this species in the Solomon Islands?

Lastly, does RWS agree with the statement that the preference for Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins as a captive, display species "makes them vulnerable to depletion from such catches"?

Due to the lack of scientific data, the world conservation union IUCN urged CITES parties in 2003 to not issue import permits for dolphins captured in the Solomon Islands (

RWS previously stated that it would be "gravely irresponsible" to re-introduce captured dolphins into the wild, indicating its position that re-introductions are not possible.

In its letter, RWS now speaks about how marine parks can help in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals in the wild. Has RWS changed its position?

The Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) urges RWS to respond to all the concerns we raised in the letter "Swim at RWS or in the ocean?" (Oct 21).

ACRES supports the establishment of the Marine Life Park, but we hope that RWS opens a park that focuses on ethical acquisition of animals, the keeping of animals that can cope with captivity and a park that focuses on proper, in-situ conservation efforts.

Be consistent in conserving nature
Letter from Alfred Chia Yong Soong
Today Online 29 Oct 11;

AS WE celebrate the achievement of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve being declared as Singapore's second Asean Heritage Park, the first being Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, we must reflect, too, that dolphins caught from the wild will be performing soon at Resorts World Sentosa.

President Tony Tan had acknowledged that it was a privilege for Singapore to be recognised in the region for its nature conservation efforts.

Is it not ironic that as we embrace this new accolade, at the same time, we are condoning and allowing such wild creatures to be paraded for economic greed?

Many who object to this have raised their concerns and views, but it seems from RWS' letter "Marine life parks both educational and inspirational" (Oct 26) that it will go ahead with the venture.

Such stoicism on its part cannot go unchallenged and must be condemned by all who care genuinely for nature.

The Government, while accepting the endorsement bestowed on Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, must be seen to be consistent in nature conservation, lest we be miscontrued as conserving nature only on a selective basis.

Marine life parks both educational and inspirational
Research, breeding programmes in the works at RWS
Letter from Krist Boo Senior Vice President, Communications, Resorts World Sentosa
Today Online 26 Oct 11;

We thank Today readers for their letters last week on the Marine Life Park (MLP)and take this opportunity to state MLP's position, plans and clarifications regarding our 25 dolphins.

We at MLP believe that controlled collection of wildlife in well-run zoological facilities is essential. Propagation and knowledge gained from dolphins in human care have helped conservation efforts worldwide.

It is the responsibility of all marine facilities to support both scientific research and conservation. In fact, most efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine animals in the wild call upon the expertise and equipment from marine parks today.

It is also a fact that millions of people each year visit aquariums and marine parks, which not only offer educational value but have also inspired numerous visitors to embark on careers dedicated to helping or working with animals.

One of the letters, "Swim at RWS or in the ocean?" (Oct 21), quoted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) casting doubt over the collection of wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands.

That was actually sourced from a presentation to the IUCN, edited by R R Reeves and R L Brownell Jr, with a preface from IUCN stating that the presentation did not "necessarily reflect the views on IUCN".

Regardless, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, managed by the United Nations Environment Programme, is the recognised agreement that governs trade involving wild fauna and flora.

The acquisition of all MLP marine animals, including our dolphins, adheres to its standards.

There is much to learn about bottlenose dolphins. Through our team of experienced staff, we have identified and begun participating in research programmes regarding marine mammals.

Once our dolphins are in Singapore, we will begin a breeding programme modelled after other programmes that have been successful in marine parks throughout the world. We invite readers to visit our blog ( to know the MLP better.

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Migratory birds at Sungei Buloh: Have wings, will travel

Straits Times 29 Oct 11;

It is now the annual migratory bird season at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, with thousands of birds flying in and out of Singapore. The annual epic journeys of billions of birds worldwide are among the most breathtaking and intriguing phenomena in the animal world. The Straits Times embarks on a long-haul flight with these winged marvels to uncover the facts about avian migration.

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Megafloat oil storage in the works

Ronnie Lim Business Times 29 Oct 11;

THE first 'megafloat' at Pulau Sebarok - a pilot project to store oil on very large floating structures (VLFS) here - will be government-led, but private sector-run, as part of ongoing efforts to develop alternative facilities for oil traders in land-scarce Singapore.

It is to be built and owned initially by JTC Corporation but operated by Royal Vopak, one of the biggest terminal operators here, sources said. Under the plan, Vopak will have the option to take over ownership of the floating storage later.

Vopak has apparently indicated its intent to do so, although company officials were not available to confirm this.

The Dutch tank farm operator is reportedly the logical choice to run the Sebarok megafloat as the VLFS site is just behind its existing surface tank farm there.

It is one of four oil and chemical tank farms which Vopak operates on Jurong Island, the others being at the Banyan, Penjuru and Sakra sectors.

JTC's lead in the project will help promote floating oil storage which has no proven track record yet, as far as its commercial viability is concerned, the sources said.

It is not unlike the Jurong Rock Cavern (JRC) project to store oil underground, with the $850 million first phase currently being built by JTC expected to be ready by the first half of 2013. JRC has already found its first customer in Jurong Aromatics Corporation which is building a US$2.4 billion petrochemicals complex on the island.

BT understands that JTC is set to call a tender for an operator to run the JRC soon.

The shortage of storage capacity here with no more land available for building more surface tank farms, has led many international oil traders based here to resort to using tank farms sprouting up in neighbouring Johor. These include those at Tanjung Langsat, Pasir Gudang, Tanjung Bin and Pengerang - with Vopak building with Malaysia's Dialog a huge US$1 billion tank farm at Pengerang.

On the megafloat project here, sources said that while no additional sites have been identified for more such VLFS yet, these will likely be contiguous to, or touching or joining, land which require no sandfill.

Final-stage engineering for the Sebarok VLFS is being done by a consortium comprising Jurong Consultants and British Maritime Technology Group and will include input from the user, in this case, Vopak. The consultants are expected to prepare and call for the engineering, procurement and construction tender for its construction in the coming months.

The megafloat will have a minimum storage capacity of 300,000 cubic metres, or equal to that of a very large crude carrier. It would comprise two rectangular modules, each with 150,000 cu m capacity.

Earlier estimates were that the project would cost at least $180 million, although this will depend on the materials, such as whether steel or concrete, used.

JTC studies on the project started back in 2007, with phase one covering a preliminary conceptual design of an attached-to-land VLFS. This progressed to phase two covering areas such as environmental impact, marine soil investigation and sea current monitoring, which was completed last year.

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Indonesia: Only four female Javan rhinos left in the wild

The Jakarta Post 28 Oct 11;

JAKARTA: Among the approximately 40 Javanese rhinoceroses in Ujung Kulon, West Java, only four are female, prompting more headaches for the government and conservationists in their decades-long work to save the animal.

Yopie Hidayat, the spokesman for Vice President Boediono, revealed the daunting information after Boediono held a meeting with the secretary general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Wednesday.

“The Vice President met with the IUCN secretary general, and they discussed their plan to help preserve the Javanese rhinoceros, whose population was only 35 to 45,” Yopie said as quoted by Antara news agency.

“The problem is that only around four or five [of the Javanese rhinos] are female,” he added.

According to Yopie, the threat of extinction for the single-horned rhino became more serious than ever with the gender imbalance. Moreover, the female rhinos experience a 16-month gestation period, Yopie said.

Javanese rhinos are typically poached for their horns, which are extremely valuable on the black market. Last week, conservation group the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that Vietnam lost its battle to save the rare Javan rhino, after the country’s last animal was reportedly shot and killed for its horn.

There are no Javanese rhinos in captivity, and the 40 wild rhinos at Ujung Kulon are the only left on the planet.

Survey of Rare Javan Rhinos Finds Few Females
Jakarta Globe 28 Oct 11;

A survey of endangered Javan rhinos in an Indonesian park has found far fewer females than males, a potential setback in efforts to save the species.

Video cameras set up in the eastern half of Ujung Kulon National Park recorded 17 rhinos this year. Just four were female.

Park official Arif Junaedi said on Friday that the cameras have now been moved to the more remote western half of the park, and that “hopefully many more females remain” there. The results should be known in November.

Only 40 to 60 Javan rhinos remain in the park, which is the animal’s original habitat. They are the last known living members of the species, with none in captivity.

The last known Javan rhino in Vietnam was found dead in April, apparently after poachers killed it for its horn.

Associated Press

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Swooping out of sight: Bats in need of greater protection

IUCN 28 Oct 11;

Nocturnal, furry and known for their spooky reputation around Halloween, bats are not only the mysterious mammals that haunt the dark; they are also an important part of nature and in need of greater protection. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, 20% of bats are threatened.

“Bats are disappearing at an alarming rate, due largely in part to ignorance and a misunderstanding of the benefits they provide,” says Paul A. Racey, Co-Chair IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group. “We need to build capacity for bat conservation and we must educate young people about the value of these animals.”

Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals capable of flying. Bats are also the second largest order of mammals—numbering about 1,250 species. The smallest bat in the world is the Hog-nosed Bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) measuring around 30 mm in length. It is probably the smallest species of mammal that exists. The largest bat is the Golden-capped Fruit Bat (Acerodon jubatus), which is around 340 mm long and has a wingspan of 1.5 m.

Crucial to the environment, bats carry out the important ecological services of pollination, seed dispersal and reduction of pest insects. In South East Asia, bats, specifically the Dawn Bat (Eonycteris spelaea), pollinate durian, a high-value fruit, and also pettai, a vegetable used in curries. In Madagascar, endemic fruit bats pollinate some of the six endemic species of baobabs, including Adansonia suarezensis, only a few hundred individuals of which survive around Diego Suarez.

About 70% of bats depend on insects for the main part of their diet, while the remainder are essentially fruit eaters. Bats dietary needs are mutually beneficial to farmers and crop growers. For example, in Texas, Mexican Free Tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) eat the pests that plague cotton and tobacco crops, reducing the insect population and the number of pesticide applications needed.

Around the world, bats can be found making their home in almost every environment available. Bats will inhabit caves, tree hollows, foliage, and even man-made structures, as they require only two things: a place for foraging and a roost where they can sleep. The main threats to bats are the loss of their roosting and foraging habitats.

Bats have the most sophisticated ultrasonic obstacle avoidance and prey detection system in the animal kingdom—they emit high frequency sounds above the range of human hearing that allow them to localize obstacles and food. Attempts have been made replicate bat echolocation in order to produce aids for visually-impaired humans.

“Bats are among the most underappreciated groups of mammals in the world and major steps are needed to safeguard them,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “Protection for bat roosting and foraging habitats, as well as effective response to specific threats, such as wind farms, is imperative.”

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‘Protect Coral Triangle’ Move Gets Nod

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 28 Oct 11;

Officials from the six countries that make up the Pacific Coral Triangle have agreed to set up a permanent secretariat in Manado, North Sulawesi.

Indonesian Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Sharif Cicip Sutarjo said on Friday at a summit of the Coral Triangle Initiative that the building of the headquarters would allow the six governments to pursue “pro-development, pro-environment, pro-jobs and pro-growth policies” in managing their shared maritime area.

“It will give us a chance to prove that we are really paying attention when it comes to environmental issues,” he said.

The six countries whose maritime borders delineate the Coral Triangle are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

The area has been dubbed the “Amazon of the Seas” for the sheer wealth of marine life sustained by the various coral species there.

The Asian Development Bank also lauded the plan to set up a secretariat in Manado.

“The establishment of a permanent secretariat is an important step toward ensuring the success of the initiative and for implementing the regional plan of action,” Jon Lindborg, the ADB country director for Indonesia, said in a statement.

“Improved management of coastal and marine resources ... is critical for ensuring food security, employment, sustainable economic development and increased regional cooperation.”

The Coral Triangle holds 76 percent of all known coral species and its resources provide daily sustenance and employment for over 120 million people, according to the ADB. However, it warns that harmful fishing practices and climate change are threatening the future of this global epicenter of marine biodiversity.

The ADB has worked with the CTI member states to raise funding for various programs linked to the initiative since it was started in 2007. To date, the ADB and Coral Triangle countries have been working together to develop five new projects with funding of about $230 million.

Sharif, who was appointed maritime minister last week, said the ongoing summit in Jakarta would discuss offers of funding for the CTI from other countries interested in the long-term benefits of protecting the area.

“The world needs the Coral Triangle,” he said. “It already has Brazil and the Amazon forest, and it also has Africa and its diverse flora and fauna. For maritime biodiversity, there’s the Coral Triangle.”

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