Best of our wild blogs: 2 May 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [25 Apr - 1 May 2011]
from Green Business Times

Checking Chek Jawa (April 2011)
from Chek Jawa Mortality and Recruitment Project and wonderful creations

apathetic fisherman @ SBWR 01May2011
from sgbeachbum

The World of Ant-Mimicry
from Macro Photography in Singapore

From MNT to Ranger Station On Good Friday
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Macritchie Nature Reserve to Venus Drive
from Fahrenheit minus 459

from Monday Morgue

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Protect all species, not just endangered ones

Straits Times Forum 2 May 11;

I AM a member of the Nature Society (Singapore) and am aghast at Dr Wee Yeow Chin's remark that 'the loss of one nest is no big deal' ('Eagles nest on executive condo site'; last Thursday). Such views are certainly not in sync with its objectives.

Conservation and protection of all animals, birds and living organisms do not equate to protecting only those that are vulnerable or endangered. It means protecting all when they are still extant and even if they are in no imminent danger of being exterminated.

It is statements and irresponsible views like this that will gradually contribute to a decline in density of any particular species. One might ask then when will the loss of nests be a big deal? When the species numbers are in their doldrums and in danger of being exterminated.

The Nature Society and indeed all nature and animal lovers exist to care for and protect not only rare and endangered species, but also, more importantly, all species that are indigenous to our island, and most certainly those that are currently living harmoniously and freely in our environment.

Chia Yong Soong

Loss of sea eagles' nest no big deal? We beg to differ
Straits Times Forum 23 May 11;

THE Nature Society (Singapore) and its Bird Group wish to state that we do not concur with the views attributed to one of our members ("Eagles nest on executive condo site"; April 28) that the loss of the sea eagles' nest is "no big deal".

Our members and many other nature enthusiasts across the island care deeply about protecting and preserving Singapore's wildlife and the natural habitats they live in, and will certainly regret the loss of any nest of any native species. But this passion must also be anchored in sound conservation science to have traction and credibility.

The white-bellied sea eagle is listed as "common" by the internationally accepted bird-watching definition of the term - any bird that is encountered with at least 90 per cent probability in its preferred habitats. "Common" in this sense doesn't mean "abundant", it just means that if one visits a coastal area, the white-bellied sea eagle, a large bird with a considerable soaring range, can be encountered most of the time.

In fact, the sea eagle is anything but common in terms of population size in Singapore. During the Nature Society's recent Annual Bird Census on March 20, only 22 eagles were recorded, This number tallies with monthly population size counts of the species taken from September to March every year for the past four years, where the highest number was 35.

Past studies on nesting records over a one-year period yielded only nine sea eagles' nests across all of Singapore, confirming the relative scarcity of this apex predator. The loss of even one active nest of this resident sea eagle may have implications for the long-term status of the species.

We are fortunate that City Developments, being an environmentally conscious developer as well as a longstanding supporter of our society, had indicated in the article that it will be conducting an environmental study for the site as well as consulting the relevant experts to explore the best possible alternative for the nesting eagles.

Nature lovers, bird watchers, conservation scientists and all who call Singapore home should be relieved with the outcome. We feel that a broader feeling of concern and stewardship for our natural heritage will make Singapore a better place.

Dr Shawn Lum, President
Mr Alan Owyong, Chair, Bird Group
Nature Society (Singapore)

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Plans to cut usage of plastic bags

Straits Times Forum 2 May 11;

WE THANK Mr Andrew Wee for his feedback ('Singapore's not as green as it should be'; last Monday).

Many households in Singapore continue to use plastic bags as they are a convenient means of packaging and waste disposal. However, excessive or improper use can lead to a waste of resources and/or contribute towards litter. Unlike in many other countries, discarded plastic bags in Singapore are not disposed of at landfills, but sent to our waste-to-energy incineration plants.

Notwithstanding, the National Environment Agency (NEA) encourages the community to conserve resources and cut waste using the 3Rs approach - reduce, reuse and recycle - through its various outreach activities at the national and community levels.

To reduce the usage of plastic bags, NEA also supports industry initiatives such as that of Ikea, which charges shoppers for plastic bags, and NTUC FairPrice, which gives rebates to shoppers who bring their own shopping bags. NEA also works closely with the Singapore Environment Council, the community development councils, and major retailers such as Giant, Cold Storage, Guardian and 7-Eleven to educate the public to use plastic bags only when necessary or to bring their own bags for shopping.

Ong Seng Eng
Director, Waste & Resource Management Department
National Environment Agency

Singapore's not as green as it should be
Straits Times Forum 25 Apr 11;

WHILE visiting Singapore, I was disturbed to see plastic bags being used indiscriminately and with abandon at several retail outlets. Besides supermarkets, bakeries are among the worst culprits. A popular local bread franchise dispenses a plastic bag for each piece of pastry or bread. Even fast-food restaurants serve their food in containers that appear to be non-biodegradable. The multiplier effect of the unconscionable practice of using plastic or its similar derivatives is unthinkable.

Singapore prides itself on being a green city, and its young are educated in schools to respect the environment. Through several public education programmes, the Government also seeks to enhance its environmental friendliness.

It is unfortunate that local retail establishments have yet to adopt environmentally friendly practices. Such practices could be as simple as using thin paper bags for each piece of bread, or a recycled paper bag for the outer carrier. Supermarkets could offer sturdy recycled paper bags for free, and charge for each plastic bag requested by the customer. I have found this policy to be very effective overseas in controlling end-consumer plastic waste.

I look forward to hearing about the plans and ways in which the Government and local retail franchises aim to promote the greening of Singapore.

Andrew Wee

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Scientists search Great Barrier Reef for new species

Denise Carter The Cairns Post 2 May 11;

SCIENTISTS are venturing to where no man has gone before in the Coral Sea in the hope of discovering creatures of the deep.

A team comprising Japanese and Australian explorers headed for Osprey Reef yesterday with a newly designed remote operated robot to dive to 650m and visit the sea bed and everything in between.

"Our chief engineer was Hiroshi Yoshida," said Dr Dhughal John Lindsay, an Australian researcher working with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology.

"Hopefully, we will see Antarctic animals and can discover their ecology and niches and see what happens to them in the tropics."

The deep sea trip will be filmed by Digital Dimensions as part of documentary about the Great Barrier Reef for the BBC that is co-produced by Channel Nine and the Discovery Channel.

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China pays price for world's rare earths addiction

Allison Jackson Yahoo News 1 May 11;

BAOTOU, China (AFP) – Peasant farmer Wang Tao used to grow corn, potatoes and wheat within a stone's throw of a dumping ground for rare earths waste until toxic chemicals leaked into the water supply and poisoned his land.

Farmers living near the 10-square-kilometre expanse in northern China say they have lost teeth and their hair has turned white while tests show the soil and water contain high levels of cancer-causing radioactive materials.

"We are victims. The tailings dam has contaminated us," Wang, 60, told AFP at his home near Baotou city in Inner Mongolia, home to the world's largest deposits of rare earths, which are vital in making many high-tech products.

"In this place, if you eat the contaminated food or drink the contaminated water it will harm your body," Wang said, pointing towards lifeless fields now strewn with rubbish around Dalahai village, a few hundred metres from the dump.

China produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earths -- 17 elements used in the manufacture of products ranging from iPods to flat-screen televisions and electric cars.

Two-thirds of that is processed in mineral-rich Baotou on the edge of the Gobi desert.

Environmental groups have long criticised rare earths mining for spewing toxic chemicals and radioactive thorium and uranium into the air, water and soil, which can cause cancer and birth defects among residents and animals.

Beijing, keen to burnish its green credentials and tighten its grip over the highly sought-after metals, has started cleaning up the industry by closing illegal mines, setting tougher environmental standards and restricting exports.

But Wang and the other farmers in Dalahai blame state-owned giant Baogang Group, China's largest producer of rare earths and a major iron ore miner and steel producer, for poisoning their fields and ruining their livelihoods.

Strong winds whip across the dump's millions of tonnes of waste, blowing toxic and radioactive materials towards surrounding villages.

"It is the pollution from the tailings dam," Wang Er, 52, told AFP, pointing a dirty finger at his spiky hair which started turning white 30 years ago.

Baogang, which has rare earths and iron ore refineries stretching for about seven kilometres along a road in the area, did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

But a 2006 study by local environment authorities showed levels of thorium, a by-product of rare earths processing, in Dalahai's soil were 36 times higher than other areas of Baotou, state media have reported.

"People are suffering severely," the Chinese-language National Business Daily said in December, citing the official study. Sixty-six villagers died of cancer between 1993 and 2005 while crop yields fell "substantially".

"There is not one step of the rare earth mining process that is not disastrous to the environment," Greenpeace China's toxics campaign manager Jamie Choi said in a recent report.

Choi said the impact of the government crackdown depends on whether it is "implemented properly".

But the environmental damage already caused by rare earths mining in China could be irreversible, according to Wang Guozhen, a former vice president of the government-linked China Nonferrous Engineering and Research Institute.

"The money we earned from selling rare earths is not enough for repairing the environment ... definitely not enough," Wang told AFP.

As demand for rare earths soars, China is slashing export quotas. Analysts say Beijing wants to drive up global prices and preserve the metals for its own burgeoning high-tech industries.

The moves have prompted complaints from foreign high-tech producers while the United States and Australia have responded by developing or reopening mines shuttered when cheaper Chinese supplies became available.

Several kilometres from the massive dumping ground is the privately-owned Baotou City Hong Tianyu Rare Earths Factory -- one of dozens of operators processing rare earths, iron and coal in a dusty no-man's land.

Workers wearing blue uniforms and army camouflage runners inhale toxic fumes as huge spinning steel pipes process tonnes of rare earths bound for high-tech manufacturers in China, Japan, the United States and elsewhere.

A production manager surnamed Wang told AFP the factory produces "several thousand tonnes of rare earths a year" and the toxic waste is piped to another dumping ground in the area.

The desolate fields around Wang's village have been left fallow as farmers wait for government compensation. Some appear to have fled already, with empty houses and shops along dusty roads falling into disrepair.

Authorities have offered to pay farmers 60,000 yuan per mu ($9,200 per 0.067 hectares) so they can move to a new village four kilometres away. But they won't have land to till and the farmers say the compensation is inadequate.

"People like us can only cultivate the land and raise animals. If we don't have a regular job, where will our income come from, how will we live?" asked Wang Tao, his brown face creased with worry.

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Venice turns to floating barriers to fight floods

Ljubomir Milasin (AFP) Google News 1 May 11;

VENICE — Flood-prone Venice has launched an ambitious plan to build mobile barriers at the mouth of its lagoon to protect the city from rising sea levels.

About 3,000 people are involved in the "Moses" project, which costs 5.4 billion euros ($7.9 billion), and is scheduled for completion in 2014.

"Once finished, the system will protect Venice from high water levels of up to three metres," said architect Flavia Faccioli from the Venezia Nuova consortium, grouping some 50 companies involved in the project.

"We're on schedule so far. We have already carried out three billion euros worth of works and will be carrying out the first test next July," Faccioli told AFP.

The 78 giant box-shaped barriers will be divided into four sections at the head of the three inlets that link the lagoon with the Adriatic Sea.

They will be inserted into immense tanks on the sea floor. Should high waters threaten the city, pressured air will be pumped into the barriers, raising them up on hinges to block the tidal flow.

Once the danger has passed, the air will be expelled and the barriers would fill with water and sink back to the sea floor.

"We are building 11 crates at the same time," Enrico Pellegrini, the head engineer at one of the building sites, told reporters as they inspected the ongoing works at the Malamocco inlet.

Special cement and non-oxidizing steel have been used for the 60-metre wide girders which, at 27 metres high, are as tall as a seven-storey building.

"The biggest girders weigh 22,000 tons and will be transported, like the others, by wagons specially designed for the purpose by Norwegian company. Each can take up to 350 tons, the equivalent of a Boeing 747," he said.

It will then take up to three days for a "syncrolift" system -- usually used to help ships dock -- to transfer the tanks to the sea bed.

"It's a remarkable project, one of the most important in Italy and the world," Venice's mayor Giovanni Orsoni said.

Venice, which sank by 23 centimetres (nine inches) in the last century, is hoping that the "Moses" project will help it preserve its buildings and rid its majestic squares of flood waters once and for all.

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