Best of our wild blogs: 22 May 11

Kranji (21 May 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

abandoned fish nets @ semakau 21May2011
from sgbeachbum

Very long driftnet on Pulau Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Pulau Semakau (21 May 2011)
from teamseagrass

Life History of the Blue Pansy
from Butterflies of Singapore

Changi shore is packed with life!
from wonderful creation

Housing issues at Beting Bronok
from Psychedelic Nature and Super low tide at Changi!

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Dr Balakrishnan pledges transparent process in climate change challenge

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 22 May 11;

SINGAPORE: Newly-appointed Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said it cannot be "business as usual" both at home and internationally when dealing with climate change.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of a Community Chest event Sunday, he said Singaporeans will have to understand the costs and trade-offs in dealing with this challenge. And he intends to make the process as open and transparent as possible.

This approach also applies to situations like flooding.

"We musn't lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to make sure that we have taken into account all the different variables, especially when the weather and climate are changing; (We need to) review our plans...operationalise the plan and make sure everything works according to plan," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"But you know, we are dealing with weather and there is always going to be a large element of uncertainty and that's something we will have to factor and communicate openly and honestly to Singaporeans.

"What can be done will be done, the parts which obviously cannot be done or which are beyond our control, we would have to humbly and honestly communicate and explain that to Singaporeans."

- CNA/cc

Climate change, water security among Dr Balakrishnan's priorities
Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 21 May 11;

SINGAPORE: New Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said he will focus his attention on climate change, water security and environmental safety.

In his first public remarks about his new portfolio, Dr Balakrishnan noted on his blog on Wednesday that Singaporeans have a growing interest in environmental issues, and there will be many opportunities for public consultation.

There will also be scope for new solutions that Singapore can pioneer.

Dr Balakrishnan had served the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports for seven years.

He describes his time in that posting as an exciting and deeply fulfilling journey, and paid tribute to those he had worked with.

Dr Balakrishnan expressed confidence in the new team led by Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing, and Minister of State Halimah Yacob and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sam Tan.


An open discussion on floods and climate change
S Ramesh Today Online 23 May 11;

SINGAPORE - It cannot be "business as usual" either at home or internationally when dealing with climate change, said newly-appointed Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

Singaporeans, he said, will have to understand the "difficult policy choices and trade-offs" in dealing with this challenge, before coming to a consensus on how to tackle it.

"My intention is to make this process as open and transparent as possible so that Singaporeans understand what is at stake," he said, referring to a collective decision-making process.

This open-communication approach also applies to tackling situations such as flooding - one of the hot issues raised at the May 7 polls.

Dr Balakrishnan said there was a need to assess if weather patterns were changing. "If indeed it has changed, then our planning norms will also have to be modified and that's an engineering and technical issue."

He added: "Every time a flood occurs, it will be newsworthy.

"It will certainly place stress on me and all the staff involved so we mustn't lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to make sure that we have taken into account all the different variables and especially when the weather and climate are changing, review our plans and then to operationalise the plan."

But he added as they were dealing with the weather, there would always be a large element of uncertainty.

He said: "What can be done will be done, the parts which obviously cannot be done or which are beyond our control, we would have to humbly and honestly communicate and explain that to Singaporeans."

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking to the media on the sidelines of yesterday's ComChest Heartstrings Walk, which was attended by 5,000 people and raised more than S$1 million for beneficiaries. It was flagged off by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

After heading the Ministry of Comunity Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) for seven years, Dr Balakrishnan said he was looking forward to the challenge of his new post, in his first remarks to the media since the new Cabinet line-up was announced.

"The MCYS has grown tremendously in the last seven years, so it has really been a stretch. The Ministry for Environment and Water Resources will be a completely different set of issues, so there's going to be no shortage of work and analysis and consultation and exercise of political wisdom and judgement and so on."

Some of his proudest moments at the MCYS, he said, included the 2005 introduction of the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) that pays for programmes to help needy Singaporeans, and the move to recognise social work as a profession through accreditation.

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Rice research body names Singaporean chief

IRRI Fund's new exec director has molecular biology training and philanthropic history
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 22 May 11;

At 18, he canoed 140km around Singapore and raised $50,000 for the Spastic Children's Association, despite being born with cerebral palsy.

Today, Singaporean Leo Chen Ian is tasked with raising millions of dollars to make sure there is enough rice to go around in the world.

The 37-year-old is the new executive director of the global IRRI Fund Singapore, which campaigns to raise money and awareness for rice research and farmers.

Set up in 2009, it is based here and part of a larger organisation, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a non-profit organisation headquartered in the Philippines. The fund was previously managed by IRRI member Duncan Macintosh.

Mr Leo said each Singaporean eats more than 60kg of the staple every year but few know the challenges of getting it from field to table.

In an interview at IRRI Fund Singapore's headquarters near the National University of Singapore (NUS), Mr Leo rattled off a list of problems: Climate change, the rising number of natural disasters, gender bias against women farmers and outdated practices and technology.

He said: 'In Cambodia, farmers still dry their harvests by putting the rice in large baskets and waiting for the sun to dry the grains. But what happens when it rains and dust and dirt get into the rice?'

New seeds, new methods and even new ways of thinking are the order of the day, he said.

The seeds of the future have to be able to deal with increasingly salty water due to rising sea levels, freak droughts, and even seemingly innocuous problems such as warmer nights.

Mr Leo explained: 'Most rice plants flower at night when the temperatures are cooler. It's not good for them if the nights are suddenly not as cool.'

The discrimination against women farmers is also starving the world of extra sources of rice, he said.

'When men go into the cities to look for jobs, they leave the women behind in the villages but no one bothers to train them in rice farming or teach them how to use the land and machines.'

Mr Leo pointed to Africa as an example. The United Nations recently noted that eight out of 10 farmers there who grow staples are women, but a study showed 90 per cent of the women had not been taught to use the land properly.

'It's such a waste,' he said.

He added that the fund would take on all of its challenges at the same time. It is in talks with NUS and non-profit organisation Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory to create a new range of 'super seeds'.

These would be more efficient in turning sunlight into energy, use less water and pesticides, and be better at fighting weeds.

Mr Leo said Singapore's strong science industry and closeness to major Asian rice producers are a boon to these projects.

'The goal is to get the research from the labs to the fields in China, India, all of the countries nearby, in under a year. That would make a revolution possible.'

The fund is also ramping up its drive to highlight the journey of the rice grain from seed to bowl. It recently worked with Science Centre Singapore to set up a permanent rice exhibition at the centre.

It also gave away 10,000 packets of rice seeds to students here to encourage them to grow their own rice, a project it plans to carry out every year.

The ambition of the fund and its parent organisation is evident in the costs: US$65 million (S$81 million) a year for its projects worldwide, and US$75 million to improve its science infrastructure.

Mr Leo believes he can contribute to the fund-raising efforts. 'In fact, I think that's why I got the job.'

He has headed the Centre for Asian Philanthropy, raised money for the Society for Aid to the Paralysed, and set up a programme for physically disabled children under the Asian Women's Welfare Association.

He is also president of the Disabled People's Association here, a post he has held since 2005.

'I'm used to asking people for money,' quipped the bachelor of science graduate from NUS. 'That, and I was trained in molecular biology so I can actually read the research papers.'

His hope is that Singaporeans will recognise the labour that goes into each grain of rice. 'We import all of our rice so it's easy to take it for granted. We don't see the process. But rice doesn't come from a packet in the supermarket.'

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Merkel backs proposal to end nuclear power in 2022

Yahoo News 21 May 11;

ANDECHS, Germany (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday that 2022 was "a good time" for Germany to end nuclear power, backing a proposal by the Bavarian wing of her party.

She described as "an important contribution" the scenario set out by the Christian Social Union at a meeting in the southern town of Andechs.

The centre-right government is to set out its strategy by the beginning of June and agree draft legislation at a cabinet meeting on June 7 or 15.

Following the earthquake and tsunami which wrecked the Japanese nuclear plant of Fukushima in March, Merkel ordered the closure for three months of Germany's seven oldest reactors.

She also announced a moratorium for the same period of an earlier decision by her government to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 reactors by an average of 12 years.

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