Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jul 11

Leucistic Javan Myna
from Bird Ecology Study Group

First Visit To Sentosa-Serapong Reef
from colourful clouds

Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

Monitoring for oil spills to start soon
from wild shores of singapore

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Enjoy what's here, not just mourn what's gone

Preserving only physical monuments cannot replace a lost heritage
Grace Chua Straits Times 9 Jul 11;

ALL of Singapore wants a piece of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway action, it seems.

For weeks, crowds turned up at the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar train station, sweating and jostling. Some nights, there were more trainspotters, shutterbugs and gawkers than passengers, and more joyriders than actual travellers.

Young people want to be part of an organic movement, rather than experience history spoon-fed to them in school. So those who have never taken the train as a traveller, hopped on board for excursions to Johor Baru or Kuala Lumpur, for personal memories.

But amid the outpouring of feeling and flurry of activity, we might ask ourselves: Did we care about the station when trains still ran out of it?

And should the railway land, station and their accoutrements be preserved, for how long will we come back?

The Tanjong Pagar railway station, built in 1932, has been gazetted as a national monument, and the one at Bukit Timah, a conserved building.

But not all the physical components will be preserved. For one thing, the tracks and platform may not be part of the national monument, explained architectural conservator Yeo Kang Shua in a previous interview. He questioned the value of keeping the station without the trappings, arguing they should be taken as a whole. At least keep some vestige of the Tanjong Pagar tracks, he said.

At a photo and video exhibition at the station one night in its last week, after the food stalls had gone, I bumped into architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, of the National University of Singapore. He thought the terminal should be turned into a transport museum.

Will people visit, I asked.

'The physical infrastructure is there, but the software and information are not there yet,' he said, meaning that there should be information panels that go beyond the superficial, and that there must be a public hungry to find out more.

'Oh, and...'

He paused.

'The teh tarik was legendary.'

Mr Lai has a point.

National monuments - buildings or public places - are just a shell. Heritage involves more than preserving the physical; there is an organic living component to heritage, which is why we preserve oral histories, rituals and cultural knowledge.

A number of national monuments, for example, are churches, temples and mosques. Those who visit St Andrew's Cathedral or the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to join in worship, are not mere tourists, but are participants in the civic life of the place. So long as congregations do not dwindle, those national monuments will go on living.

It may be easy enough to preserve the train station. But intangibles like Mr Hasan's drink stall and the legendary teh tarik are harder to preserve. You can set up another teh tarik stand with the same recipe, but the food is given personality and flavour by the man's personality, by the ambience of a mouldering train station.

Every day for years, people worked at the station and along the railway line; some lived there; others transited there.

But how many of us had an interest in, let alone took a part in, the daily life of the station at Tanjong Pagar before it was about to be made scarce? Singaporeans are notoriously kiasu - imminent scarcity immediately increases value.

Later on, how many will come back?How many will linger long enough at this new monument and once train station to engage with it and converse with its history?

Conservation can coexist with urban renewal. It has worked, for instance, at the Red Dot Traffic building in Maxwell Road, which in colonial times housed the traffic police headquarters and today is home to design firms, offices, restaurants and a design museum.

It has worked at the Old Hill Street Police Station, now the brightly painted headquarters of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

For the Tanjong Pagar train station, perhaps that option remains.

Right now, there is another quiet civic campaign, conducted on Facebook and in letters to the newspapers, to save the sprawling Bukit Brown cemetery off Lornie Road. I would love to see that cemetery kept another hundred years: my great-grandparents are buried there.

At the same time, cities must evolve as needs and land uses change. Some areas with a vivid past that have been redeveloped are now important sites in their own right.

For example, the Five Points slum neighbourhood of Manhattan, immortalised in the film Gangs Of New York, is now the island's civic centre and part of its Chinatown.

Even as we fret over what we might lose tomorrow, we should consider the wonders of today.

All life, in Singapore and elsewhere, is tenuous, yet enduring - as tenuous as that railway station whose life is ebbing away, as tenuous as the old kampungs that made way for soaring Housing Board flats. And yet those same places live on. The old railway station may yet become a hub of new activity; the old kampungs are now teeming HDB estates.

If they remain as mere monuments to memory, spaces and buildings will always be inadequate - only a shell. They come to life only when people colonise the spaces, jostling, sweating, and breathing life into them.

We can be more than tourists or spectators. We can be participants or worshippers. We can inhabit those places that are not yet burdened by the stamp of official heritage and not yet about to disappear.

And to the train tracks, to the teh tarik, to neighbourhood hairdressers and provision shops - to ordinary life as it is lived - we can bear witness and remember.

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Flood experts to look for "practical and affordable solutions"

Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 8 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE: The panel of experts conducting an in-depth review of flood situations in Singapore has a free hand to come up with recommendations that are "practical and affordable", said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

Dr Balakrishnan said the panel will factor in issues such as climate change, sea level rises, water conservation and the fact that Singapore is highly urbanised and likely to become even more so in the future.

One of the immediate recommendations is for the government to step up investments in meteorological monitoring equipment such as rain gauges, flow meters and radar systems.

Dr Balakrishnan said the panel will also be considering public feedback.

He said: "Even if members of the public don't have specific proposals, their feedback on localised, specific problem areas in their own neighbourhood will still be useful for PUB.

"So that we can make sure, in the meantime, that anything that can and should be fixed, will be fixed."

He was speaking after the experts met on Friday, the first day of their two-day meeting.

Panel members visited the Marina Barrage on Friday and will visit flood-prone areas in Orchard Road and Bukit Timah on Saturday.

Panel chairman Professor Chan Eng Soon said the panel will also study rainfall patterns and flooding in Singapore over the past 30 years.

The panel consists of local and overseas experts. One new addition to the panel, bringing it to 12 members, is Professor David J Balmforth from the United Kingdom.

Professor Balmforth is the executive technical director of the UK operations of global engineering firm, MWH, said that not all flooding solutions used in other major capital cities can be applied in Singapore.

Professor Balmforth said: "One of the main differences here compared with England is that your rain storms are very different.

"The rain intensity is very much greater and that sets its own challenges in terms of what might be done.

"You're also an island state. The level of development in Singapore is quite high. So that means certain things that may be done elsewhere may not be able to be applied in quite the same way."

The next round of meeting for the experts will be in September. It will last for five days and is expected to be more intensive.

- CNA/ck

Down the drain for data on drainage
Rain gauges, radar to be used to track how water flows through system, says minister
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 9 Jul 11;

MORE equipment such as rain gauges and radar systems will be installed in drains and canals to sift out more data about how water flows through the drainage system.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said this will help experts determine how best to improve the system to prevent floods.

He was speaking to the media after yesterday's first meeting of a panel appointed to look into measures to prevent floods, such as the one which ravaged Orchard Road last month.

The 12 local and foreign academics and engineers will give their recommendations by year-end.

Ideas from the public will be tapped via various sources, such as national water agency PUB and social-networking site Facebook, and given to the panel to evaluate, added Dr Balakrishnan.

PUB will also look into public feedback and plug problems in specific neighbourhoods, he said.

A ministry spokesman yesterday announced that the 12-man panel had a new member, Professor David Balmforth, and said more experts may be roped in in the future. The 64-year-old Briton is the vice-president of the British Institution of Civil Engineers and editor-in-chief of the international Journal of Flood Risk Management.

Dr Balakrishnan said foreign experts - who now make up half the panel - have been appointed in order to solicit the best advice available worldwide.

He added that the overseas experts could shake up conventional views here. 'We want people who can ask the right questions and make us think, make us re-evaluate,' he noted.

Panel chairman Chan Eng Soon, 56, dean of the engineering faculty at the National University of Singapore, said it was too early to comment on the panel's likely recommendations. He said the members have requested data such as historical rainfall figures. They also visited the Marina Barrage yesterday and will go to flood-prone areas such as Orchard Road and Bukit Timah today.

The barrage has been fingered by some as a cause of the floods in recent years, especially after Tanglin Mall was hit for the first time last month.

The panel will also look into the recommendations from an inter-agency drainage review committee, which have been put up on PUB's website.

The committee was set up after last year's Orchard Road flood and has recommended, among other things, a redesign of drains to cope with more rain as well as higher building platforms.

The panel will meet in September to review possible measures. Meanwhile, the local experts will communicate with their foreign counterparts through video-conferences and e-mail.

The public can provide feedback via e-mail at

Panel of experts on flooding will take a long-term view
Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 9 Jul 11;

SINGAPORE - The panel of experts conducting an in-depth review of how to alleviate flooding here will take a long-term view of things - as far as 30 years down the road, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

It will consider the potential "strategic trade-offs" Singapore may have to make, land use, how much work has to be done underground, and dealing with surface run-off versus conserving water for Singapore's reservoirs, among other issues, he said.

Speaking at a two-day panel meeting here to discuss long-term solutions to flooding in Singapore, panel chairman Professor Chan Eng Soon said they would also be studying rainfall patterns and flooding in Singapore over the past 30 years.

The 12-member panel visited the Marina Barrage yesterday and will visit flood-prone areas in Orchard Road and Bukit Timah today.

Dr Balakrishnan, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the meeting, said the panel has a free hand to come up with "practical and affordable" recommendations.

The panel will have to factor in issues such as climate change and sea level rises, and the fact that Singapore is highly urbanised, and likely to become even more so.

While its focus will differ from the Inter-Agency Drainage Review Committee formed last August, it will consider the committee's recommendations, he said. In the meantime, the Government is now stepping up on investments in meteorological monitoring equipment, such as rain gauges, flow meters and radar systems.

He also said the panel would also consider public feedback - not just calling for specific proposals, but also for feedback on "localised, specific problems areas in their own neighbourhood" that can be fixed.

The panel's newest addition from the United Kingdom, Professor David J Balmforth, an executive technical director at global engineering firm MWH, said that not all flooding solutions used in other major capital cities can be applied here.

He said: "One of the main differences here compared with England is that your rain storms are very different, the rain intensity is very much greater... You're also an island state. The level of development in Singapore is quite high. So that means certain things that may be done elsewhere may not be able to be applied in quite the same way." WAYNE CHAN

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'Use special sea lanes to curb sand smuggling'

New Straits Times 9 Jul 11;

JOHOR BARU: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has proposed to the Johor government to create a dedicated passage for sand vessels plying in its waters to curb sand smuggling.

MMEA Southern Region enforcement chief First Admiral (Maritime) Zulkifli Abu Bakar said this would enable the agency to monitor the movement of sand vessels and nab those who tried to smuggle sand to Singapore.

He said the MMEA also proposed that all sand vessels to be fitted with an automatic identification system (AIS) to enable their movements to be detected and prevent them from straying off course.

He added that the proposals, which were submitted to the state government recently, would help MMEA to nab sand smugglers.

"The AIS will enable us to detect whether sand vessels are plying the route or had ventured into international waters.

"If the installation of the device is approved, sand vessels will be compelled to ensure that they are in good working order, otherwise action will be taken against the operators, including cancellation of permits."

Zulkifli said the state government should also install equipment to monitor the movement of sand vessels from Johor and Singapore in Johor waters as the Straits of Johor was narrow and hindered by the causeway.

He said MMEA had also proposed to shorten the duration of sand delivery permit from one week to 24 hours to prevent abuse. -- Bernama

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Unique pig-nosed turtle is over-harvested in New Guinea

Matt Walker BBC Nature 8 Jul 11;

Numbers of pig-nosed turtles have declined steeply over the past 30 years, researchers have discovered.

The unique reptile has become an international conservation icon, due to it having no close relatives and being considered the turtle most adapted to life underwater in freshwater ponds and rivers.

Yet demand for its eggs and meat in Papua New Guinea, one of the turtle's main homes, has led to the species being dramatically over-harvested by indigenous people.

Details of the decline are published in the journal Biological Conservation.

"Pig-nosed turtles are considered unique and unusual among freshwater species of turtles in many facets of their morphology, ecology and behaviour," Carla Eisemberg of the University of Canberra, Australia, told BBC Nature.

For example, embryonic pig-nosed turtles become male or female depending on the temperature of the ground their eggs are laid in, while fully developed embryos can delay their hatching.

The pig-nosed turtle is also of great interest to scientists because of its unique position in the turtle family tree.

It is the sole survivor of a once widespread family of turtles called the Carettochelyidae, and has a restricted global distribution, being only found in north Australia and New Guinea Island.

Despite living in freshwater, it is also resembles marine turtles.

"Similar to marine turtles, its limbs are paddle-shaped, but still possess movable digits," said Prof Eisemberg.

That means it might represent a stage of gradual evolution of turtles from freshwater to the sea, and the study of its ecology can help to understand the evolution of marine turtles.

"On the other hand, the similarities they share also make it vulnerable to the same threats that marine turtles face, such as harvesting of nests and adults," said Professor Eisemberg.

To find out what impact such harvesting may be having on the turtle, Professor Eisemberg surveyed the numbers of eggs and adult turtles nesting in the Kikori region of Papua New Guinea. Her team also studied how many turtles and eggs passed through local markets and were consumed in villages along rivers and the coast.

Scientist Mark Rose, now at Fauna and Flora International in Cambridge, UK, and a member of Professor Eisemberg's team, conducted a similar survey of pig-nosed turtle numbers between 1980 and 1982.

That allowed the scientists to directly compare how the turtle has fared over the past 30 years.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that turtle numbers had fallen, but "we provided, for the first time, concrete evidence of a substantive decline in these pig-nosed turtle populations," said Prof Eisemberg.

The researchers found that villagers harvested more than 95% of monitored nests. Female turtles have also become smaller on average; bigger individuals have been removed from the wild population and the overall life expectancy of the species has fallen.

The team also discovered more than 160 adult female turtles that had been harvested in the study area.

Overall "we estimated the decline in this pig-nosed turtle population to be more than 50% since 1981," said Professor Eisemberg.

"Such a decline is likely to be widespread as the species is under similar pressures elsewhere in Papua New Guinea," she added.

"Highly prized as food, it is the most exploited turtle in New Guinea. Both turtle and eggs are collected for trade or consumption by local villagers.

"The pressure on pig-nosed turtle populations has increased in recent years, especially in Western Papua and Papua New Guinea."

That is mainly due to the growth in human populations, a greater propensity for villages to establish on riverbanks following the cessation of tribal warfare and the introduction of new technologies, such as modern fishing gear, she said.

According to the scientists, conservation plans to save the turtle are urgently needed, and, even if implemented, it will take decades for the pig-nosed turtle to recover.

But these plans must be made sensitively, as the indigenous communities living in pig-nosed turtle habitat often rely on protein from the reptile to survive.

"We need to provide win win outcomes to both local and conservation communities," said Professor Eisemberg.

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Shell's drilling off Australia could 'devastate' endangered marine life

WWF demands full environmental impact assessment before Shell starts work near the Ningaloo marine park, north of Perth
Alison Rourke 8 Jul 11;

Conservation groups in Australia say a decision to allow Shell to carry out exploratory drilling near Australia's newest world heritage site, Ningaloo marine park, could devastate the area if there was a spillage.

"It beggars belief that the government is not requiring a full environmental estimate of this drilling proposal," said Paul Gamblin of the World Wildlife Fund.

Instead, the enrgy giant must abide by certain conditions, including visual observations for whales. The Australian government said Shell's proposal did not require further assessment.

Ningaloo reef, about 750 miles north of Perth, is best known for its whale sharks, the world's largest fish. The 160m long reef is also home to rare and endangered wildlife including whales, sea turtles and birds. Ningaloo marine park, which includes the reef, was designated a world heritage site last month.

The exploration well will be dug 30 miles from the edge of the park, primarily in search of gas.

In a statement Shell said it was "mindful of significant biodiversity and heritage values of the Ningaloo region and plan to continue our operations accordingly". The proposal said in the unlikely event of a spillage travelling towards the reef "there is sufficient time to collect dispersant and contain any damage."

Several drilling and floating platforms already operate to the north of the reef but conservationists say this well – to the west – would expose a much bigger section of the reef to danger.

"One of our main concerns is a spill off the side of the reef because of the way the winds and currents work – there's only so far for a spill to go before it ends up hitting the reef," added Gamblin. The area is also prone to cyclones.

Two years ago Australia suffered its worst oil disaster in the Montara oil field off the northern coast of Western Australia. It took three months go bring the spill, which led to 2000 barrels of oil spewing into the ocean each day, under control.

The government says since Montara it has adopted a "more rigorous approach for the assessment of offshore drilling".

Outrage at Drilling Permit for Australia Reef
Jakarta Globe 8 Jul 11;

Australian green activists expressed outrage at a government decision to allow energy giant Shell to drill for gas at a pristine reef that was listed as a World Heritage site just two weeks ago.

Ningaloo Reef is considered a natural wonder, sprawling some 260 kilometres (155 miles) along Australia's west coast and teeming with hundreds of tropical fish and coral species.

The UN's cultural body UNESCO listed the remote Ningaloo coast as a World Heritage site late last month due to its reef, sea turtles and white whales.

But environmentalists say it could be under threat after the Australian government green-lighted a proposal from Shell to explore for gas nearby.

"We are very concerned that the Australian government is even allowing the oil and gas sector to operate so close to the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef," WWF's Paul Gamblin told ABC Radio

"It really beggars belief that they aren't requiring a full environmental estimate of Shell's latest drilling proposal."

Gamblin said the Shell operations would run along the side of the reef itself, a "new frontier" for drilling, which has previously been confined to its northern corner.

Shell issued a statement saying it was "mindful of the significant biodiversity and heritage values of the Ningaloo region and we continue to plan our operations accordingly," noting its long safety record in the region.

"The proposed exploration well is targeting gas and would be around 70km from the Ningaloo Reef and 50km from the boundary of the Ningaloo Marine Park and World Heritage Area," the energy firm said.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said Australia had beefed up its regulatory processes since the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea two years ago, which saw thousands of barrels of crude spew into west coast waters over 10 weeks.

"Since the Montara incident, the department has adopted a more rigorous process for the assessment of offshore petroleum activities and the approval conditions," Burke told AFP in a statement.

"Shell?s proposal to undertake exploration drilling west of Ningaloo Reef was considered on its merits in accordance with national environment law," he added.

Burke said Australia was "committed to protecting Australia?s unique environment including our oceans" and the Shell approval was consistent with similar projects.


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