Best of our wild blogs: 23 Apr 11

Corals galore at Terumbu Bemban
from wonderful creation and Singapore Nature and sgbeachbum and wild shores of singapore

Butterfly of the Month - The Quaker
from Butterflies of Singapore

From Dairy Farm Park to Bukit Timah Hill
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Javan Myna taking nectar from African tulip flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

No Frog But Stars, Slugs And Others @ Pulau Sekudu
from colourful clouds

First trip to Beting Bronok
from PurpleMangrove

Foto Friday: Dragonflies
from Wanderfolly

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Meet the eco warriors

From recycling unwanted boxes to using energy-saving bulbs, home owners are upping their efforts to save Earth
tay suan chiang, Straits Times 23 Apr 11;

Yesterday was more than just a public holiday. It marked the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, which raises awareness about the environment.

And in true greenie tradition, it is being recycled.

The National Parks Board is holding a series of activities for children at the Singapore Botanic Gardens today.

You can also take part in the Parks Clean-up Day today and tomorrow at places such as Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge. Help pick up litter and you will be given a picnic mat in return.

But beyond once-a-year events such as Earth Day, Singapore is becoming greener in day-to-day life.

Earlier this year, a study commissioned by European technology company Siemens found the country to be the greenest city in Asia.

It came up tops in its management of waste and water resources, and scored consistently above average in the other categories such as sanitation and environmental governance.

On the recycling front, about 58 per cent of its waste was recycled last year. Recycling rates have improved from the 40 per cent in 2000, and the Government has set targets to push the rate to 60 per cent by next year and 70 per cent by 2030.

Public housing got a green boost when Treelodge@Punggol, HDB's first eco-friendly precinct, was completed last year.

Upcoming HDB projects SkyVille@ Dawson and SkyTerrace@Dawson received the Green Mark Platinum Award, the highest accolade for green buildings in Singapore given by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

Over the years, the BCA has also given out such awards to private residential and commercial buildings such as Orchard Residences and City Square Mall.

It is not just building developers who are taking green steps. More home owners are also going green on their own, too.

When Mr Christophe Inglin, managing director of solar systems integrator Phoenix Solar, installed solar panels on the roof of his semi-detached home in Siglap in 2008, he was one of few home owners here to do so.

He installed them for $105,000.

He estimates that 'the number of home owners investing in rooftop solar systems has been growing four- to six-fold annually since 2008'.

An increase in awareness about solar energy and the falling cost of solar installations are likely reasons for a growing interest in solar panels, he says.

The cost of installing such panels depends on the size required but he says that at today's tariff rates, a typical residential system will repay itself in less than 20 years, compared to 30 years, in 2008.

Still, home owners can go green without forking out large sums of money.

Mr Mark Cheng, 23, executive director of Avelife, a group that aims to impart green values through education and awareness, is currently renovating his 25-year-old five-room flat near Bukit Merah, where he lives with his mother and brother.

The family is turning its home green with little changes, such as switching to more energy-efficient appliances for their air-conditioner and fridge, and using energy-saving lightbulbs.

'We will also install thimbles in our taps, which helps reduce water wastage,' he says.

On Wednesday, he received an EcoFriend Award from the National Environment Agency, recognising individuals who have contributed significantly to environmental sustainability.

Mr Cheng, who also cuts down on the use of plastic bags and recycles his trash, says: 'By changing lifestyle habits around the home, we can make a difference.'

From trash to flash

One man's junk is another man's treasure. For Mr Steven Chua, managing director of his own construction firm, this saying could not be more true.

The 54-year-old salvages materials from homes he tears down, when clients hire him to build new ones. From roof tiles, timber strips for parquet flooring to basin taps, he collects and recycles them all.

'Many materials are still in good condition and can be reused. It is a waste to throw them out.'

His three-storey bungalow off Upper Bukit Timah Road was built mostly of material he salvaged from other homes. He has been living there with his wife and son for more than three years.

Earlier this year, he completed a second house, a three-storey semi- detached home in the same area. It, too, was partially constructed with recycled material. Both homes were designed by architect Kurjanto Slamet of KD Architects, a director at architecture firm Ong&Ong.

Mr Chua is not only saving the earth but saving money, too. He declined to reveal how much he spent on the reconstruction for the second home but says he saved about 30 per cent by using salvaged materials instead of new ones.

Rather than throw old roof tiles away, he turned them into a water feature just by the entrance of the house.

Recycled timber were cut into various sizes to use as balustrades, fencing around the home and timber decking for the verandahs. 'Recycled wood has been seasoned over time and there is less chances of it warping, unlike with newly chopped wood,' says Mr Chua.

Even crates discarded by timber companies were used to create feature walls. Some ceiling lights and bathroom taps were also recycled.

Step into both homes and it is hard to tell that the materials used were recycled. But there are signs. For example, the parquet flooring in one bedroom is of two colours as he did not have enough of the same coloured timber for the room.

Where needed, new materials were bought, such as aluminium window frames.

While Mr Chua is all for using recycled materials in his homes, he finds it a shame that clients are less open to the idea. 'They prefer we use new materials for their home,' he says.

His brief to Mr Kurjanto was simple. 'All the spaces must be liveable without the need for air-conditioning and without the use of artificial light during the day,' he says.

He did not plan to sell the second home but was persuaded to do so to a buyer, who declined to be named.

The new owner loves the house overlooking the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, mostly because of the lush greenery behind it.

He is not bothered that the home is partially built with recycled materials. As for the bedroom's two-toned flooring, he says: 'It's a small matter.'

Little fanfare in being green

He may be only 21 but Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Chua Ang Hong is already well on the way to doing his bit for Mother Earth.

In his five-room HDB flat in Hougang, where he lives with his parents and sister, the family makes an effort to cut down on their utility bills through green habits.

'My parents remind us that earning money is not easy, so we should save where we can,' says Mr Chua.

He practises habits such as not using air-conditioning unless necessary, relying on a fan instead. A fan uses less than one-tenth the electricity used by an air-conditioner.

He is among the 11 individuals this year who received the EcoFriend Award given out by the National Environment Agency to individuals who have contributed significantly to environmental sustainability.

Beyond the home, Mr Chua is making an impact, too. In 2009, he co-organised the National Youth EnvirOlympics Challenge, Singapore's largest environmental event for youth.

He also serves as Singapore's National Youth Advisor for the United Nations Environment Programme South East Asia Youth Environmental Network, where he is responsible for coordinating and facilitating the collaboration of environmental activities.

While he is unable to install solar panels or build rainwater-collection systems in his 14-year-old flat, there are other ways to make it a green home.

Another habit which his parents have instilled in him is to switch off the lights when leaving a room - something that is so basic but which many people sometimes forget to do.

To further cut down on the electricity bill, he also switches off appliances at the power socket, rather than just switch off the appliance itself.

He also makes it a point to reuse both sides of a sheet of paper, which 'helps to reduce the amount of paper used'.

The family plans to upgrade their appliances such as the fridge and air-conditioners when the current ones can no longer be used.

'Of course, we will switch to energy-efficient ones,' says Mr Chua.

To the roof for view

This three-storey semi-detached home in East Coast takes up most of its plot of land but is still a green sanctuary.

The 340 sq m home sits on a 350 sq m land, and is nicknamed Maximum Garden House. With little room left, architect Alan Tay, a director at Formwerkz, had to come up with quirky ways to incorporate outdoor space into the home.

This was important because, as he notes, 'outdoor spaces give the perception of living in a landed property as opposed to living in a high-rise condominium'.

His brief from his client, home owner and general physician Kelvin Lee, 38, was to build a home with high ceilings and plenty of ventilation to reduce the need for air-conditioning.

Dr Lee resides there with his wife and their two sons, nine and five. His parents sometimes stay over.

In 2008, the house was reconstructed for an undisclosed sum and was completed a year later. The result is a house that not only meets Dr Lee's expectations but which has outdoor space, too.

Rather than waste rooftop space, the pitched roof is covered with timber decking so the family can head there in the evenings to enjoy the view of the neighbourhood.

In the master bathroom on the second floor, part of the wall is made of a planter screen with rows of potted plants in boxes.

The screen can be clearly seen from the front of the house. It shields the bathroom behind it, while beautifying the home. It also allows the bathroom to be naturally ventilated while keeping out the rain.

The master bedroom looks out onto the top of the car porch which, instead of bare concrete, has plants growing on it. Adding to the home's green look are ledges with plants.

It is not only pleasant to look out onto patches of green but the plants also 'help to keep the house cool', says Mr Tay.

He designed the three storeys in a staggered manner to let daylight in while minimising the amount of glare from direct sunlight. Even on the first floor, where the living and dining areas are, natural light pours in from the upper floors.

Dr Lee says the family seldom uses the air-conditioning and relies on ceiling fans. And there is little need to water the plants as rainwater is sufficient.

He also uses energy-efficient appliances, such as his refrigerator and air-conditioners.

The Lees also separate their rubbish such as plastic, cans and paper for recycling. 'The kids see my wife and I doing this, hopefully they will pick up some pointers,' he says.


Choose energy-efficient bulbs which use up to 80 per cent less electricity than incandescent ones to produce the same amount of light. Switching to energy-efficient bulbs can save about $15 a bulb annually.

Draw curtains over windows during the hottest part of the day. Or use solar window film, especially for west-facing windows, to keep the house cool.

When ironing, start with items which need lower temperatures and avoid reheating the iron.

Turn it off and use residual heat for delicate items.

A pressure cooker cooks food faster while consuming less energy. It can cut cooking time by two-thirds. Energy use can be cut by 50 per cent compared to conventional methods.

Boil water only when needed or use a thermo-flask to keep it hot. Electric air-pots that keep water hot constantly can cost $20 a month in electricity.

Choose an energy-efficient appliance by checking the energy labels. A four-tick air-conditioner saves you about $355 in electricity bills a year compared to a one-tick model.

Do not fill the fridge to the brim. Overloading hinders air circulation and reduces its cooling capabilities.

Run the air-conditioner about an hour before bed and switch to a fan after that. It will save you about $55 a year in electricity bills.

Switch off appliances at the power socket. Standby power can account for up to 10 per cent of home electricity use. Do not leave them on standby.

Source: National Environment Agency

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Earth Day a time to get back to nature

More than 5,000 Singaporeans attend Yishun event aimed at spreading green message
Fiona Low Straits Times 23 Apr 11;

IT WAS a good Friday for the environment yesterday when more than 5,000 people turned up at Bottle Tree Park in Yishun to celebrate Earth Day.

Organised by non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), the event was aimed at educating the public on ways to be pro-nature.

GUI's event manager Lim Theng Chiew said: 'Over the years, much has been said about issues on climate change but people are stuck with their old habits and find it hard to change and be more environmentally-conscious.

'With this event, we hope to be able to raise awareness and educate children especially so they will inculcate good habits such as recycling and not over-consuming from a young age.'

Participants at the event could sign up for workshops such as compost-making, where they learnt how to reduce organic waste at home, and puppet-making using scrap materials.

Activities such as yoga sessions by the lake were designed to get visitors to connect with nature.

Businessman Aaron Tan, 37, who was there with his wife and two children aged seven and nine, found the programme 'interesting'.

'We're coming here mainly for the children so they can understand how to care for the environment. The Earth is their future and it will burn out if they don't learn to conserve it,' he said.

Other eco-friendly projects are also bearing fruit.

The 'Bring Your Own Bag' initiative launched by supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice saved six million plastic bags last year .

The initiative, launched two years ago, encourages consumers to minimise plastic bag wastage by giving a 10-cent rebate with a minimum spending of $10 to those who bring their own carriers.

From now till May 8, the FairPrice Foundation will donate $1 for every can or PET bottle that customers take in to recycle at the Ang Mo Kio Hub FairPrice Xtra hypermarket, City Square Mall supermarket and Marine Parade FairPrice Finest store.

FairPrice outlets will also sell reusable shopping bags, with the proceeds going to charity.

Through these schemes, up to $30,000 will be donated to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and the Singapore Disability Sports Council.

A scheme launched by the Building and Construction Authority will now allow existing residential buildings to be certified 'green'.

In a pilot project, seven Housing Board precincts and a private development underwent assessments on criteria such as average energy consumption per household and green features in the estate, such as energy-saving lighting.

Advisor to Yuhua Grassroots Organisations, Ms Grace Fu, said: 'These efforts by various stakeholders will be a small step towards making Singapore more environmentally sustainable.

'It will also help to keep the cost of lighting our estate low and mitigate the impact of fluctuation in the cost of utility.'

The BCA plans to explore extending the Green Mark scheme to other existing residential estates.

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Malaysia addresses concerns over rare earths plant

Yahoo News 22 Apr 11;

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysia said on Friday it would ask independent experts to assess the environmental impact of a planned refinery processing rare earths from Australia, amid protests against the huge facility.

Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamad said the government had decided to form the international panel after listening to public concerns over the plant, which is being built by the Australian mining company Lynas in Malaysia's Pahang state.

Lynas has described the facility as the largest of its kind in the world and the plant is set to be one of the few sources of rare earths -- used in everything from iPhones to wind turbines -- outside China.

Campaign groups and residents, however, have expressed concerns over the environmental and health implications, saying the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in the town of Kuantan will produce huge quantities of radioactive waste.

A similar facility built by a Japanese firm in another part of Malaysia was forced to shut down in 1992 due to protests.

Mustapa said the panel would have one month to investigate and submit its findings to the government.

The government would hold off on issuing a pre-operating licence to Lynas and bar imports of raw materials to be processed at the facility until the panel reported its findings, Mustapa said at a news conference.

Officials will also carry out stricter monitoring of the facility's construction to ensure that international safety standards were met.

Lynas welcomed the review and pledged to continue working with Malaysian authorities to ensure the project meets international norms.

The company "is confident the review will reconfirm that the plant is safe and represents no hazard to the community or Lynas workers," it said in a statement.

Rare earths such as super-magnet dysprosium and red-glowing europium are vital components in hard-drives and computer screens, while the metals are also pivotal in making laser missile systems and solar panels.

The plant, which is due to come online in the third quarter of this year, will refine raw materials extracted from Western Australia.

World attention has shifted to Australia's nascent rare earths industry after China, which dominates global production, began restricting exports, sending shudders through major consumers Japan, Europe and the United States.

In December, the United States called on China not to use rare earths as a "trade weapon" after Japanese industry said Beijing temporarily cut off exports in 2010 amid a territorial row.

China, which produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earths, has denied any political motivations, insisting the restrictions on exports were due to environmental concerns and the need for a more sustainable approach.

Malaysia appoints safety panel to allay fears of radioactive pollution
Melissa Goh Channel NewsAsia 22 Apr 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has appointed a panel of independent experts to review safety standards at a rare earth factory in the east coast state of Pahang, as an attempt to allay public concern over the threat of radioactive pollution.

In January 2008, the Malaysian government awarded Australian miner, Lynas Corporation, licence to operate a rare earth processing plant at Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Pahang.

However, now that the US$230 million facility is almost ready, residents are raising concerns about their backyard becoming a dumping ground for radioactive waste.

A protest, staged last month, called on the government to shut down the refinery before it starts operation in September.

Bowing to pressure, the government set up a panel of up to seven independent experts to review safety standards.

"Let me assure you, that the safety of the people has the the highest priority of this people-first government, the government of Malaysia. We will never compromise the public interest in handling the Lynas issue,'' said Mr Mustapha Mohamed, Malaysia's Minister of International Trade and Industry.

The Minister said no pre-operational license will be issued, neither will there be any import of radioactive raw material from Australia, before the review is completed.

The panel, led by Director General Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, will also seek advice from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"There's no known study to show that naturally occurring radiation does cause congenital abnormalities, or cancer, or anything we know of," said Mr Raja.

"And, therefore, like any technology, nuclear technology is just like that - the benefits will have to outweigh the risks," he added.

However, critics fail see how Malaysia will benefit from such investment, since the Australian mining company Lynas was given a 12 year tax break by the government.

Lynas defended the refinery in Gebeng as being environmentally safe.

Once operational, it is expected to meet almost one third of the world's demand, excluding China which produces more than 95 per cent of global supply.

Rare earths are essential in the manufacture of hybrid cars, smartphones and bombs.

Authorities face an uphill battle to explain to the people, why the plant is needed.

"You don't use your handphone? You don't use your iPad? What do you think goes into these things?" said Ms Rebecca Fatima Santa Maria, Malaysia's Secretary General.

The independent panel is expected to deliver its findings after one month.

- CNA/cc

Malaysia to review rare earths project
Independent panel to probe health, safety aspects because of radioactive pollution risks
Straits Times 23 Apr 11;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said yesterday it will review a plan by Australian miner Lynas to build a rare earths processor in the country because of radioactive pollution risks, a move that may delay output of the metals outside top producer China.

Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said an independent panel will be set up to review the health and safety aspects of the Lynas rare earths plant in the central state of Pahang. The panel would have one month to investigate and submit its findings to the government.

'Let me assure you that the safety of the people has the highest priority,' Mr Mustapa told a news conference. 'We will never compromise the public interest in the handling of the Lynas issue, and the health and safety of our people and the environment will continue to receive the highest priority.'

Mr Raja Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, director-general of Malaysia's Atomic Energy Licensing Board, said the review panel would likely comprise five to seven experts recognised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lynas said it welcomes the announcement, adding that it believes the plant will be finished on schedule. 'The company is confident the review will reconfirm that the plant is safe and presents no hazard to the community or Lynas workers,' it said in a statement.

The move comes after growing public pressure to scrap the plant, which is expected to start operations in the third quarter of this year. Environment activists said it could make Malaysia a dumping ground for radioactive by-products from the refining process, creating health risks.

A similar facility built by a Japanese firm in another part of Malaysia was forced to shut down in 1992 because of protests.

A senior Lynas official told Reuters last month that the firm expected to get the pre-operation licence by September and that it adhered to all government regulations. Malaysia's Department of Environment had approved the Lynas project in 2008.

However, the government would now hold off on issuing the licence and bar imports of raw materials to be processed at the facility until the panel reported its findings. There would also be stricter monitoring of the facility's construction to ensure that international safety standards are met.

Lynas' Malaysia plant was supposed to process rare earth concentrate shipped in from the firm's Mount Weld site in Western Australia.

The strategy would make Lynas a key global supplier after top rare earths producer China last year imposed export quotas to retain resources.

Company officials said annual output from the Malaysian plant would hit 22,000 tonnes, meeting roughly a third of total global demand outside China by 2013. Lynas has described the facility as the largest of its kind in the world and the plant is set to be one of the few sources of rare earths - used in everything from wind turbines to computer screens - outside China.


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Indonesia forests under heavy pressure: NGO

Antara 23 Apr 11;

Bogor, W Java (ANTARA News) - Indonesia`s forests are under heavy pressure due to illegal logging, encroachment and land conversion activities that threaten its biological diversity.

"The forest damage has affected the ecological system and is threatening human beings` well being," Ria Saryanti, conservation program manager of Bird Indonesia said in a statement here Saturday.

Around 40 million Indonesian people depend on the forest resources (wood, rattan and firewood) directly, millions of others get benefit indirectly, according to her.

Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands are the worst-affected forest areas. Based on a study by Hansen and his colleagues (2009), around 70 percent of deforestation in Indonesia were concentrated on the two islands.

Since 1990, the low-land forest covers in Sumatra and Kalimantan have decreased up to 41 percent.

To commemorate Earth Day, Bird Indonesia (the Association of Indonesian Wild Bird Preservation), which is in partnership with England-based Global Birdlife International, has urged the Indonesian people to preserve forests.

"Preserving the forests mean taking care of the Earth and controlling the temperature which has been increasing since the past few decades," she said.

She further explained that by preserving the forests, living creatures, including human beings living inside the areas, are also being saved.

Forests are sources of food, medicines, housing materials and genes, according to her.

Almost a quarter of the world population rely on forests and 300 million live in forest areas throughout the world.

In the Climate and forest Conference 2010 in Oslo, Norway, it was disclosed that tropical forests can absorb up to 17 percent of gas emission globally and play important role in addressing the climate change.

Deforestation rate of tropical forests reaches 13 million hectares annually and threaten the survival of about 50 percent of bird species in the world.

"It`s no wonder that of 122 species on the brink of extinction in Indonesia, 12 species come from tribe Collumbidae, " she added.

Species of doves and pigeons which heavily rely on forests as their habitats are among other things forest pigeons (Columba sp.), uncal (Macropygia sp.), delimukan (Chalcopaps sp. and Gallicolumba sp.), pergam (Ducula sp.), and walik (Ptilinopus sp.). (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

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