Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jul 11

Video clip of The Diversity of Singapore's Sea Anemones Public Talk, 29 Jun from sgbeachbum

9 July - Chek Jawa Boardwalk nature trip
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Life History of the Autumn Leaf
from Butterflies of Singapore

BESGroup report: May 2010 to May 2011
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Anemone hunt at Punggol
from wild shores of singapore and Singapore Nature

Dirty, smelly and brown: What's happened to S'pore River?
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Oriental Whip Snake
from Monday Morgue

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Explore old rail tracks? You can during this month

SLA to do removal works in stages so public can experience green corridor
Jamie Ee Wen Wei Straits Times 2 Jul 11;

TANJONG Pagar Railway Station may be closed and work to remove the tracks is under way, but it is not the end of the road yet for railway buffs.

In response to requests from the public, the entire line of railway tracks will be open to the public from now until July 17, except for a few areas.

After July 17, a 3km stretch of tracks from Rifle Range Road to The Rail Mall will continue to be open until July 31.

A joint statement from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority yesterday noted that as agreed with Malaysia, Singapore will remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM railway and hand them over to Malaysia.

The SLA will start these removal works as well as do maintenance works shortly.

But 'in response to requests for an opportunity for the public to trek along and experience the tracks', the SLA will do its work in stages.

It added that members of the public are advised to be careful when walking along the tracks as it can be 'narrow and rough' at certain locations.

The statement said the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Bukit Timah Railway Station will be closed temporarily to facilitate the moving out of furniture and equipment by KTM and its tenants.

The SLA will also carry out maintenance works and structural inspections. More information on the two buildings' reopening will be announced later.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station will be preserved as a national monument while the Bukit Timah Railway Station has been gazetted as a conserved building.

From July 1 to July 17, minor works will be carried out at the Bukit Timah station and the railway crossings at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue, Choa Chu Kang Road, Stagmont Ring and Gombak Drive.

The public should avoid these areas, which will be cordoned off, said the statement.

Works to remove the tracks along the rest of the former line, except for the 3km stretch from Rifle Range Road to The Rail Mall, will start from July 18.

This will include the clearing of small buildings, tracks, cables, gates, posts, signal lights, level crossings, controllers and traffic lights.

Removal works will be fully completed by Dec 31.

The railway land, which was previously occupied by Malaysia's KTM for its railway use, was returned to Singapore yesterday following a land-swop agreement with Malaysia.

History buff Jerome Lim, 46, said the extension would give more Singaporeans a chance to 'explore the tracks and appreciate the beauty of the green corridor'.

He was at the tracks between Holland Road and The Rail Mall yesterday morning to explore it the day after the handover.

'There was a surreal kind of silence, a sense of calm and peace. The fact that no trains were passing through added to the surreal feeling,' said the naval architect, who has visited various parts of the track in the past.

Mr Leong Kwok Peng, 54, vice-president of the Nature Society of Singapore, felt that two weeks was too short for the public to fully experience the tracks and its surroundings.

'There's a fantastic countryside feel to it. It's a rare piece of land, yet close to many residential areas,' he said.

The society is planning to organise walks for its members over the two weekends.

He recommends taking a walk along the scenic stretch between Holland Road to Hillview Avenue, where trekkers will come across bridge.

Another stretch between Buona Vista and Bukit Merah offers a contrasting landscape of office buildings lined along the tracks, he said.

The more adventurous can venture up north from Choa Chu Kang to Woodlands, where there are mangroves along the way, said Mr Leong.

He advised the public to do the trek in the day as there are no street lights along the track. They should be prepared for rain and wear comfortable walking shoes.

Meanwhile, at the Tanjong Pagar station yesterday, work to dismantle the railings along the train platform began.

Signs stating 'State Property' were also put up around the perimeter of the site.

Several members of the public turned up to catch a glimpse of the building a day after the handover.

Student Janson Chang, 20, was taking pictures of the station's facade from outside its gates. 'I used to live in the area and grew up seeing the trains pulling in and out of the station,' he said.

Retiree Chang Yee Chow, 60, was disappointed when he found out it was already closed to the public. He was at the station on Thursday evening.

'It was very crowded that night. I wanted to see how it was like when the building is empty, whether there would be a different atmosphere,' he said.

Unbroken green stretch along railway land?
Grace Chua Straits Times 2 Jul 11;

THE railway lands that were returned to Singapore yesterday may be kept a continuous green stretch and could even be linked to existing park connectors.

A day after the historic handover of the 26km tract of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) lands, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday that it would 'comprehensively review and chart the development plans' for the lands and their surrounding areas.

'The URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, such as applying innovative strategies to maintain a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands,' it said in its first statement on the lands, much of which is flanked by unspoilt vegetation.

And even though the lines are closed for clearing, train-track trekkers will get a brief respite to visit most parts of the tracks, until July 17. After that, a 3km stretch from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall will stay open until the end of the month.

On its website, the URA also suggested that the stretch from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands could one day add to the planned 150km round-the-island park connector network, or be a linear park like New York City's High Line, itself once part of an elevated railroad track.

The so-called 'Rail Corridor', the URA said, will offer people new choices of outdoor activities.

'We hope that it will encourage people to explore parts of Singapore that were less accessible before,' it said.

Environmentalists reacted to the announcement with caution, with some wanting to see what would actually be done.

Last year, nature and heritage groups asked the Government to conserve what they term the Green Corridor, which comprises not just the recently returned KTM lands but also a 14km western stretch of railway towards Jurong.

They argued that the 173.7ha expanse was home to rare birds and animals, and a key part of Singapore's natural and national heritage.

Since then, more than a thousand people have been on guided or independent walks along the tracks.

Mr Steven Lim, president of the Safe Cycling Task Force, said: 'I'm surprised. I thought they would free up the land for commercialisation.'

But he liked the idea of an unbroken stretch, especially one joined to the park connector network. 'It gives leisure and commuter cyclists another option,' he said.

Others gave suggestions on how the land could be developed while still kept unbroken.

Mr Leong Kwok Peng, vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore) and part of the 'Green Corridor' advocacy group, said there are places, such as Tanjong Pagar, Woodlands and the one-north site in Buona Vista, wide enough for some development at the edges.

'You do it sensibly so that it merges with the landscape,' he said. 'But not like a shopping mall.'

So long as it was continuous, with even the north or south ends lopped off for development, he said: 'I can live with that.'

Environmental law expert Joseph Chun noted that what the land is earmarked for will hint at future land use.

Already, the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah stations will be preserved, and there could be a green link between the two.

The land is unlikely to be a gazetted nature reserve, he said, but could become a nature area whose protection is administrative and not set in stone.

For example, Pasir Ris Park and Mount Faber are zoned as such nature areas. Or it could be like the Chek Jawa wetland area on Pulau Ubin, whose use is reviewed every 10 years.

Mr Chun noted that keeping land-use options open is valuable in itself. 'The moment you develop the land, you close off a lot of options and you can't un-develop it,' he said.

Property consultant Jeffrey Hong described the potential combination of development and greenery as 'perfect'.

Landed property or low-rise condominiums, he said, would enjoy better views of the greenery, while shops could be built at a stretch near Rail Mall, turning it into 'another little Holland Village'.

The URA did not say when it would make a decision, but it is inviting more public feedback on the Rail Corridor at its dedicated website,

It said: 'We agree with the many suggestions we have received from the public on how to make use of this unique linkage to encourage community activities and foster community bonding.'

Railway tracks to be open to public for two weeks
Removal of tracks and structures to be done in stages
Jasmine Ng Straits Times 2 Jul 11;

THE public can take a final stroll along the tracks formerly occupied by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) before they are removed in two weeks' time.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said that it will remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the railway in stages, in response to requests for public for a chance to trek along the tracks for the last time.

Yesterday, the SLA and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced the public works and future plans for railway land.

The lands have been vested in the Singapore government. As agreed with Malaysia, Singapore will remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM railway and hand them to Malaysia.

The entire line of railway tracks, except for some localised areas, will be open to public from July 1-17.

In the meantime, minor works will be carried out at the Bukit Timah Railway Station and the railway crossings at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue, Choa Chu Kang Road, Stagmont Ring and Gombak Drive.

From July 18, works to remove the railway tracks along the rest of the former railway line will commence, except for the three-kilometre stretch from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall, which will continue to be open to the public till the end of the month.

The removal works include the clearance of minor buildings, sleepers, tracks, cables, gates, posts and debris around the various sites from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The URA said that it will comprehensively review and chart the development plans for the former railway lands and their surrounding areas.

As part of its review, the URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, such as applying innovative strategies to maintain a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands.

It welcomes feedback and ideas from the community in shaping the future development plans for the railway lands.

It's not too late to say goodbye ...
SLA has agreed to allow the public access to railway tracks until July 17
Teo Xuanwei Today Online 2 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - On Thursday, Tanjong Pagar Railway was packed with hundreds of Singaporeans who wanted to catch the historic sight of the last train pulling in.

Yesterday - the first day the Republic took over the station - there was no fanfare, just the odd photographer or two shuffling along the perimeter of the locked premises, snapping their final shots of the now-vacated 79-year-old building.

IT engineer Dave Ang, 35, said: "I wanted to capture the last look of the station for keepsakes." Engineer Rohaizat, 34, who took the KTM train to Kuala Lumpur weeks ago, visited the station again yesterday. "I took some photographs then so I thought I'll just come again to take some more pictures after the station has stopped operations," he said.

Although the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah stations are off-limits to the public for now, as the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) and its tenants remove their furniture and equipment, the SLA, in response to requests by members of the public, will continue to make the entire line of tracks - except for some localised areas - accessible to the public from today till July 17.

During this period, minor works will also be carried out at the Bukit Timah station and railway crossings at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue, Choa Chu Kang Road, Stagmont Ring and Gombak Drive, the SLA said.

A 3-km stretch of railway tracks from Rifle Range Road to The Rail Mall in Upper Bukit Timah Road, however, will remain open to the public until July 31.

The SLA added that it will start to remove the KTM railway tracks and equipment such as signal lights and level crossings from July 18. These works will be fully completed by Dec 31 and the structures will be handed over to Malaysia, as agreed.

Information of the re-opening of the railway stations - which will be gazetted as a national monument - will be provided at a later date. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said it will "comprehensively review and chart the development plans" for the former railway lands and their surrounding areas. One possibility being studied is a "continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands", it said.

The public can offer feedback and suggestions on future development plans for the railway lands to the URA at

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Committee recommends flood control measures

Esther Ng Today Online 2 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - Humps just before basement entrances of commercial and residential buildings should be raised from 15cm to 30cm, while the ground level of these buildings should be 60cm above the road or highest-recorded flood levels.

These are some of the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Drainage Review Committee released on the PUB website yesterday, which are now open to public consultation.

The cost involved in adopting these changes would be "negligible" for new buildings but could be "technically challenging" for existing building as some sites may not have "sufficient dimensions to achieve such compliances", said president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal.

For instance, raising the crest level will necessitate a steeper approach gradient, but not all sites may be able to accommodate this, said Mr Ashvinkumar.

Still, he said, "a one-off implementation cost" should not be seen as being prohibitive and can be defrayed by some form of grant or subsidy from the relevant authority similar to the Building and Construction Authority's current practice in defraying part of the overall costs in converting existing buildings to increase accessibility for users, he said.

Associate Professor Susanto Teng from Nanyang Technological University's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering said: "Raising the crest levels from 15cm to 30cm is quite high and likewise the platform level of buildings, but it sounds reasonable and practical."

The amount of rainfall drains can hold have been more clearly defined based on catchment area or importance of the development.

For instance, drains designed to accommodate a once-in-25-year flood should be able to serve catchments between 100 hectares and 1,000 hectares, while drains serving a once-in-50-years rainfall should have enough capacity to serve areas covering 1,000 hectares. Catchments can be car parks or other paved areas and verges.

"There are a lot more paved areas than, say, 15 years ago, so rainwater flows much faster into our drains. These recommendations are timely and prudent," said Associate Professor Vladan Babovic from the National University of Singapore's civil engineering department.

In addition, the minimum reclamation levels have been increased by 1m to 104m along the southern coast and 104.5m along the northern coast, to cater for rising sea levels due to climate change and storm surges.

For areas affected by high tides, the proposed platform level - the required minimum ground level of a development - would be raised to 104m from 102.5m along the southern coast.

The previous parameters were 75cm above 101.75m - the highest tide level along Singapore's southern coast.

The proposed ground level for the northern coast will rise to 104.5m up from 103m.

The expert panel on drainage design and flood protection measures have reviewed these proposals, and without providing specifics, have advised adopting an even higher level of flood protection for critical installations like airports and business district areas.

They also recommended incorporating "detention ponds" which can help to mitigate constraints such as limited land for widening.

Inter-agency committee proposes change in drainage design
Esther Ng Channel NewsAsia 1 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: The PUB has released a set of recommendations to avoid flood situations in commercial and residential buildings.

Crest levels at the basement entrances of commercial and residential buildings are to be raised from 15 to 30 centimetres, while the ground level of these buildings should be 60 centimetres above the road or highest-recorded flood levels.

These are some of the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Drainage Review Committee (IADRC) released on the PUB website on Friday.

In addition, the amount of rainfall drains can hold have been more clearly defined based on catchment area or importance of the development. For instance, drains designed to accommodate a once-in-25-year flood must be able to serve catchments between 100 and 1000 hectares.

Drains serving a once-in-50-years rainfall must cover 1,000 hectares.

In addition, the minimum reclamation levels have been increased by one metre to 104 metres for the southern coast and 104.5 metres along the northern coast.

The minimum reclamation level was raised to cater for rising sea levels due to climate change and storm surges.

For areas affected by high tides, the proposed minimum ground or platform levels would be raised by about 1.5 metres from 102.5 metres to 104 along the Southern Coast and from 103 metres to 104.5 metres along the Northern Coast as additional safeguards from rising sea levels due to climate change.


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NParks invites public to photography competition

Ashutosh Ravikrishnan Straits Times 2 Jul 11;

PHOTOGRAPHY buffs can participate in a year-long photography competition in 2011.

Organised by the National Parks Board, 'City In A Garden' will be a photography competition based on the subjects of Singapore's greenery and biodiversity.

In the open category, participants are invited to submit photographs that they feel best represent four themes: 'Our Parks & Gardens', 'Trees & Forests', 'BiodiverCity', and 'My City in a Garden'.

Participants will compete for cash prizes worth $29,000 as well as other prizes worth over $27,000, including an expedition to Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Younger participants can also join a junior and youth category in November 2011.

For more details, go to:

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Indonesia: Haze affecting Dumai residents' respiratory health

Antara 1 Jul 11;

Dumai, Riau Province (ANTARA News) - Residents of Dumai city, Riau Province, have begun to suffer from respiratory problems due to haze produced by forest and plantation fires in the province.

"At night, the air becomes choking. The smell of haze also stings. The haze seems to be very thick," Suhendra (32), a local resident, said here Friday.

The haze was much thicker in the evening than in the morning or afternoon, according to him.

"We hope the government will take a firm stance against those burning plantation areas. If possible, put them in jail, so there will be no more such incident," he said.

Visibility in Dumai is estimated to be below 800 meters. Dumai health authorities said the air quality in the city was deteriorating due to the haze.

The Air Pollution Standard Index Board of PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI) in Dumai shows that the air quality index on Thursday (June 30) was at 153 PSI (Pollutant Standard Index), meaning unhealthy.

"We call on the people to be watchful of various diseases concerning respiratory problem," Marjoko Santoso, head of the Dumai health service, said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Raja Ampat and mining: Sea of trouble

Tom Allard The Age 2 Jul 11;

ABOUT once a month, a ship from Townsville makes the long journey to Raja Ampat, a seascape of astonishing beauty and diversity inthe far western reaches of Indonesian New Guinea.

Here, where the westerly currents of the Pacific Ocean flow into the Indian Ocean, hundreds of improbable domed limestone pinnacles rise from the sea, encircling placid, turquoise lagoons. And if the 612 islands and countless shoals and reefs of Raja Ampat take the breath away, they only hint at the treasures below.

This remote part of West Papua province is the hub of the world's marine biodiversity, home to 75 per cent of its coral, as well as 1500 fish species, including huge manta rays, epaulette sharks that walk on the sea floor with their fins, turtles and an array of weird and wonderful fish.
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Yet the vessel that makes the regular trip to and from Townsville does not bring tourists or divers. There are no scientists on board to study this marine wonderland. Rather, it is in Raja Ampat to take a consignment of tens of thousands of tonnes of the red clay soil, rich in nickel and cobalt, and destined for the Yabulu refinery owned by one of Australia's richest men, Clive Palmer.

According to conservationists and marine scientists, this mining activity and the prospect of further exploitation puts one of the world's most precious ecosystems under threat.

Raja Ampat's significance to the world is immense. It is the heart of the famed Coral Triangle, and the strong currents that rush between its islands help seed much of the 1.6 billion hectares of reefs and marine life that spread from the Philippines down to the Solomon Islands.

"I'm appalled by what's going on," says Dr Charlie Veron, a former chief scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science who has surveyed the region on many occasions. "If you had a rainforest with the most diverse range of species in the world and people started mining there without doing any kind of proper environmental impact study, there would quite rightly be outrage. Well, that's what's happening here."

The impact on local communities has also been devastating. What were once close-knit villages are now divided as competing mining companies offer financial inducements to residents for support. And, in a sadly familiar tale for the Papua region, where separatist sentiments linger, the benefits of exploiting its resources are largely flowing outside the region. Derisory royalties go to landowners, and minuscule salaries are being paid to locals who gain employment.

Deep fjord-like bays cut into the hinterland of mountainous islands, framed by vertiginous jungle-clad cliffs that drop steeply into the water. There are oceanic atolls, shallow bays with fine white-sand beaches, snaking rivers and mangrove swamps.

The vessels sent to collect the nickel and cobalt for Clive Palmer's Queensland Nickel dock at Manuran Island, where the mining has continued unabated despite a decree by West Papua Governor Abraham Atururi banning all mining activity in Raja Ampat.

"The mining started in 2006. There were protests, but the military and police came and they stopped them," says Yohanis Goram, from Yayasan Nazaret, a local NGO that opposes mining.

The operator of the mine, PT Anugerah Surya Pratama (PT ASP), has promised environmental safeguards but, according to one local from nearby Rauki village, they are ineffective. "When it rains the sea turns red, sometimes yellow," says the village elder in a phone interview. "The runoff is supposed to go into a hole but it comes out [into the sea]."

Yosias Kein hails from Kapidiri, an island near Manuran that claims customary ownership. "The mining waste damaged the coastal areas and covered up the coral reefs. Besides, it is difficult for people to get fish now. Fishermen in Kabare village, also in Rauki village, saw the waste went down into the seas near Manuran. Now they have to go fishing a bit further to the east or to the west."

The strip mining for nickel leaves the landscape barren, and the steep cliffs of Raja Ampat's islands mean heavy rainfall overwhelms the drainage systems and sends the soil into the water.

The impact is twofold and nasty for coral, says Charlie Veron. "Sedimentation sinks onto the coral and smothers it. But worse is ‘clay fraction', where very fine particles are suspended in the water, blocking the sunlight."

Photos taken from Manuran and supplied to The Saturday Age show murky water and dead coral after heavy rains.

PT ASP is a Jakarta-based mining company, and also owns PT Anugerah Surya Indotama (PT ASI), another mining outfit that operates on Kawe Island in Raja Ampat, despite a court order to desist due to a conflict over mining rights with a West Papua-based company. The ownership of the companies remains a mystery, although West Papua is rife with speculation that senior politicians and military figures have a stake.

The speculation is easy to understand, as the Jakarta company seems to have extraordinary pull at the highest levels of government in both Jakarta and Raja Ampat. When rival mining company PT Kawei Sejahtera Mining (PT KSM), owned by local man Daniel Daat, began loading its first shipload of nickel in 2008 at Kawe, three gunships and an aeroplane were sent to stop the consignment after PT ASI, which also claims a mining licence for Kawe, complained. Daat was thrown into prison.

The mines at Manuran and Kawe are guarded by military and police who locals say are on the company payroll. And, while 15 other mining companies have been pushed out of Raja Ampat since the Governor's decree, PT ASP and PT ASI have remained.

At the very least, the two companies appear to have a cavalier approach to doing business in Raja Ampat. Police documents obtained by The Saturday Age reveal the companies allegedly bribed the bupati, or regency head, of Raja Ampat, Marcus Wanma, to gain mining licences. Wanma was paid $36,000 to issue the mining licences in 2004, and a further $23,270 for "entertainment" purposes, the documents say, citing police interviews with 16 witnesses, including Wanma's staff and Yos Hendri, director of PT ASI and PT ASP.

The documents record that about 670 million Indonesian rupiah (about $122,000 on currency valuations at the time) was paid in 2004 to Wanma for nine mining licences, and only 197million rupiah was deposited in the regency's bank accounts. "The rest of the 500 million [rupiah] was used for the personal interest of [official] Oktovanius Mayor and Marcus Wanma," the documents say.

Wanma, in the end, escaped prosecution and remains the regency head. He has been incapacitated with a serious illness and is believed to be in Singapore recuperating. He was unavailable for interview, and Raja Ampat officials declined to comment.

Whether the licences were corruptly obtained or not, the fees paid for them are desultory.

The open-cut mining undertaken on Manuran is cheap and low tech. After clearing the vegetation, workers simply dig up the soil, haul it into trucks and take it to the docks, where it is sent to processing facilities where pure nickel, used in stainless steel, is extracted. The mine's wharf is nothing more than a tethered barge with no cranes. Costs for the company consist of little more than maintaining about 40 trucks and heavy-moving equipment and the simple wharf.

According to villagers and employees, most of the mine's labourers earn between $170 and $200 a month. Customary landowners also receive a royalty, but an investigation by The Saturday Age reveals that it is tiny.

Soleman Kein, an elder from Kapidiri, says a new deal was negotiated last year increasing landowners' share of the mine's income from 1000 rupiah (11¢) a tonne to 1500 rupiah.

An industry expert with knowledge of Raja Ampat's high-grade nickel laterite ore says PT ASP would be getting between $US40 ($A37) and $US100 a tonne, depending on the fluctuating world prices. The average price would be about $US60 a tonne, he says.

A single 50,000-tonne shipload of nickel laterite ore earns the miner, based on average price of $US60 a tonne, $US3 million. The mine at Manuran Island typically does two shiploads a month. If a tonne of nickel laterite sells for about $US60, the locals are getting less than a 0.3 per cent share.

"These companies want a lot of money for not much effort," says one veteran miner with two decades of experience in Papua. "They pay as little attention as they can to environmental standards and take the money and get out ... The amount the locals get is pitiful."

Yos Hendri, a director of both PT ASI and PTASP, pulled out of an interview at the last minute and declined to respond to detailed emailed questions. But according to one source , the local government gets another 3000 rupiah a tonne, while a further 2000 rupiah a tonne is devoted to infrastructure.

All up, the source says about $200,000 has been spent on local villagers in royalties and infrastructure since 2007. In the meantime, the company has earned well over $150 million from sales, although between 4 and 5 per cent of that revenue should flow back to the central government's coffers.

To be sure, some of the villagers are happy with the arrangement. Soleman Kein is delighted with his new house, paid for from the infrastructure fund. "My house used to be made of sago leaves; now the company has renovated it, our walls now are made of bricks, we have a roof made of zinc and the interior part of the house is beautifully painted," he says.

But villagers from Rauki say only 10 of 76 homes promised in 2009 have been built. And disputes rage between clans over who gets the money.

"Conflicts emerge because certain groups of families claim ownership of Manuran Island while others reject their claims," says Yosias Kein. "Sometimes, there have been physical conflicts, sometimes an exchange of arguments. The problem is the company does make some payments but the amount is not equal."

The squabbles have torn apart what were once tight-knit communities. The simmering discontent is "like a volcano", says one Rauki native, that "will erupt one day".

"Corporations are the ones that get the profits," says Abner Korwa, a social worker from the Belantara charity, who has closely tracked the mining. "Once the deposit is exhausted, the big corporation leaves and we will be left alone with the massively damaged environment."

Queensland Nickel has a sustainable development policy that strives for "minimising our impact on the environment" and commits to "pursue honest relationships" with communities.

The company declined to be interviewed or respond to emailed questions. "We don't comment on the business of our suppliers," says Mark Kelly, Queensland Nickel's external relations specialist. Clive Palmer's publicist, Steve Connolly, also declined to comment.

Korwa says companies such as QN should not shirk responsibility for the behaviour of their suppliers, given that they make considerable profits from the arrangement. "They don't have to invest too much in Raja Ampat. They don't have to be troubled by mining concessions, the way business is done here," he says. "But they can still get the nickel".

Oxfam Australia, which runs a mining ombudsman, says there is a clear obligation for companies such as QN thatprocess raw minerals to be held accountable for their suppliers.

"Australian companies need to make sure that they are only buying minerals from other companies that respect workers' rights, community rights and the environment. If there's a good reason to believe that a supplier is causing harm, the company should undertake a thorough assessment," says Oxfam Australia executive director Andrew Hewett. "If any issues are found, the company should, in the first instance, work with the supplier to try to rectify the problem. If this doesn't work, the company should reconsider its business relationship with the supplier."

QN should be well aware of the issues in Raja Ampat. It bought the Yabulu refinery from BHP Billiton in 2009 when the mining giant pulled out of Raja Ampat, selling its mining rights for the region's Gag Island amid concern about the ecological and social impacts of mining.

The simmering discontent is not restricted to the villages around Manuran, but is ripping apart other villages whose people have been the custodians of Raja Ampat's wonders for centuries. For them Raja Ampat — literally Four Kings — was created by eggs that descended from heaven to rest in the water.

The dispute at Kawe Island is particularly poisonous. It arises because QN's supplier holds a licence issued by Wanma that, it argues, supersedes one issued by the governor of West Papua to PT KSM, the company run by the unfortunate Daat, who, besides being a businessman and a politician, hails from Raja Ampat's Maya people.

Korinus Ayelo is the village chief of Selpele, which has customary ownership of Kawe, and supports Daat's PT KSM. But rival company PT ASI engineered the highly contested elevation of another chief, Benyamin Arempele, who endorsed its rights to mine.

Repeated legal cases have found in favour of Daat but PT ASI continues todevelop its mine and conduct exploration. "They are still working today, guarded by the police," says Ayelo, adding that villagers who were previously close now don't talk to each other. "There's a distance between our hearts," he explains. "The people are uneasy. PT ASI uses the military. There are TNI [armed forces] everywhere. People must face the presence of TNI every day."

Daat says high-level political and military support from Jakarta is behind PTASI's continued operations. "It is impossible to get such support for nothing. I believe the profits from Manuran Island are shared by several parties, parties that support this company," he says. "I won this case at the District Court, at the Provincial Court and at the Supreme Court. How great is the Indonesian law system? They are still in Kawe doing exploitation despite the courts' rulings."

Regardless of which company has the legitimate mining rights at Kawe, there are many villagers and conservationists who want mining stopped outright at Kawe, and in the whole of Raja Ampat.

Kawe is a place of huge environmental significance, close to the stunning Wayag archipelago of karst limestone pinnacles and host to 20 world-class diving sites as well as green and hawksbill turtle breeding sites and shark pupping grounds.

Photos obtained by The Saturday Age show that earlier mining activity at Kawe led to the heavy red soils being flushed into the sea, covering the reefs, a problem that will only get worse once full operations resume.

"We are very concerned about the potential for sedimentation and metal deposits to be transported by Kawe's strong currents and moved up to Wayag and down to Aljui Bay," says Mark Erdmann, senior adviser to Conservation International's marine program in Indonesia.

Raja Ampat is theoretically protected by seven marine parks and a shark conservation zone, but while enforcement against illegal fishing is actively conducted, land-based threats such as mining on nearby islands continue unabated.

Indonesia's government has recognised the extraordinary habitats in Raja Ampat. It put the region on the "tentative list" to become, like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO world heritage area in 2005. But the application has stalled due to inaction by the government, many suspect because it wants to exploit the area's natural resources through mining and logging.

In a deeply worrying development forconservationists, nickel and oil exploration restarted this year after the local government issued new exploration permits

"There is tremendous wealth in the natural environment from fishing, pearling and tourism," says Erdmann, citing a State University of Papua survey that found the long-term benefits from theseeco-friendly economic activities outweighed the short-term gains from mining.

"Mining and this precious, pristine eco-system can't co-exist in the long term."

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