Best of our wild blogs: 1 Oct 11

A glimpse of Bukom after the fire
from wild shores of singapore

Evening at Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Shore birds: Sand plovers
from Life's Indulgences

A walk to the beach
from The annotated budak

Fieldwork at Bishan Park
from G33k5p34k's Blog

Silver Moonies at Singapore’s Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

A Checklist of the Algae of Singapore, 2nd Edition
from Raffles Museum News

Read more!

Shell refinery to shut for a month?

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 30 September 2011 2059 hrs

SINGAPORE: Industry sources have said Shell's fire-hit Pulau Bukom oil refinery may remain shut for at least a month.

This comes as efforts are now in place to further secure the incident site for investigation to safely commence.

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean visited the area on Thursday night and on Friday morning to assess the situation.

In a media statement, Mr Teo said there has been good cooperation between Shell and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

He noted the good mutual assistance in the industry.

Mr Teo said the key thing now is to make sure the fire does not re-ignite and that residual hydrocarbons from the flames are properly dealt with.

He added that going forward, Singapore should learn from this incident and prevent such fires in future.

Shell is tight-lipped about how much money is going up in smoke due to the incident at its biggest refinery.

But some analysts said disrupted production would affect regional supplies of Shell's products in the short term.

To prevent further disruptions, firefighters are standing by at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal just in case.

SCDF said water jets were being used to disperse traces of fuel vapour.

In addition, it is conducting foaming operations at certain parts of the incident site.


Govt to probe Bukom refinery blaze
MOM deploys officers to investigate, will examine Shell's safety framework
Jennani Durai & Jermyn Chow Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has stepped in to investigate the cause of the fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery.

It said yesterday that two investigators from its occupational safety and health division have been deployed to the island, and are working with Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers.

A ministry spokesman said MOM will also work with Shell to examine its safety framework so that safety standards can be tightened to prevent another such fire.

The move comes hours after more than 100 firefighters struggled to extinguish the on-off flames.

SCDF said yesterday that the fire was finally put out at 9.18pm on Thursday, ending a 32-hour battle. It added that it will keep 100 firefighters and 34 vehicles on the island as a precaution.

Mr Ho Siong Hin, MOM's Workplace Safety and Health Commissioner, said his officers will focus on looking for what might have sparked off the fire, which was described by Shell and SCDF as 'erratic' and 'complex'.

Incidentally, Mr Lee Tzu Yang, the chairman of Shell Singapore, also chairs the Workplace Safety and Health Council.

The cause of the fire has yet to be established.

It began at 1.15pm on Wednesday in the pump house, an area of interconnecting pipes containing fuel compounds.

SCDF said yesterday it was using water jets to disperse traces of fuel vapour. It was also using foam at certain sites.

Yesterday morning, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean visited the island for about an hour to assess the situation.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the Pasir Panjang ferry terminal, he said there had been good cooperation between Shell and SCDF, and there was also 'good mutual assistance in the industry'.

'The fire has been extinguished. The key thing now is to make sure that it does not reignite, and the residual hydrocarbons from the fire are properly dealt with,' said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

'We also want to make sure that the risks are properly handled and reduced. Going forward, we should learn from the lessons and prevent the occurrence of such fires.' He was also at the operations centre at the ferry terminal on Wednesday night.

A contractor who left Bukom at around 5pm yesterday said: 'There is a cordon around the pump house that we can't go near, but other than that, everything is normal and we can all go to work.'

Even as the worst appears to be over, Shell sources confirmed that the progressive shutdown of the Bukom facility was continuing.

Although some wire reports said the shutdown could last a month, a Shell spokesman said that no timeline has been given for how long it will continue or for when the investigations will be complete.

'Our first priority is to tackle the incident safely. We do not expect any of the units to be restarted until a thorough investigation has been done and we are confident that it is safe to do so,' she said.

The oil giant also released a statement expressing 'heartfelt appreciation to the SCDF for their tireless efforts in working closely with Shell in containing the fire'.

Pulau Bukom is Shell's largest refinery in the world, processing 500,000 barrels a day. Ninety per cent of the products are exported to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said that depending on how long the refinery remains in downtime, 'Singapore's chemical output and exports will be affected'.

'There was fire everywhere. It was just boom, boom, boom!'
Jalelah Abu Baker Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

A SHELL employee who saw much of the action in the refinery fire this week told The Straits Times that he knew something was amiss when the fire alarm went off at 1.15pm on Wednesday.

The Shell Eastern Petroleum Complex has a weekly fire drill at 1.30pm on Wednesdays, like clockwork, but this week, the bells rang 15 minutes earlier than usual.

The employee said that before he fully grasped what was happening, the in-house emergency team had been mobilised, and the first fire engine was on site.

He told The Straits Times in an interview at the Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal yesterday that this week's mishap was the worst he has seen in his decades of working on the island.

This newspaper is not naming him to protect him, as Shell has barred its employees from talking to reporters.

It was chaos, he said, as fire engines rolled into the facility one after another.

He heard 15 explosions over Wednesday and Thursday, and was no more than 20m away when one of them went off.

'My man told me to run, but I just walked very quickly. After 15 to 20 steps, I heard a blast, and the heat was very strong,' he said.

The first of Thursday's explosions came at 11.45am, just when firefighters were winding down their work. A blast rang out, and he saw flames shoot out horizontally, he said.

Shaking his head several times during the interview, he said: 'That was one of the worst. After that, there was fire everywhere. It was just boom, boom, boom!'

The employee said he had a look at the pump house and was dismayed at the extent of the damage. 'It is bad. More than 100 lines are ruptured,' he said, referring to the pipes used to transfer oil to ships.

The metal platform normally used by technicians is warped from the extreme heat, he added.

Metal discs called spades in the industry had been placed in the pipes to stop the oil from moving, but the pipes caught fire from the heat and burst, he said.

A fire engine which was discharging foam had trouble with one of its mechanical arms, he said, and would not direct foam at the right spot. The foam hit a man in the area instead, causing him to lose his footing.

The Shell employee said firefighters were still spraying foam and water as he left the island at about 4pm yesterday.

He said that although the refinery's operations would be affected because the crippled pump house performs an important function, it is possible to divert the pipes.

He added that when the fire started in the pump house, there appeared to be only two people there. He did not know how it started, but maintenance work was going on there, so it was likely for sparks to have arisen - even from equipment falling down or from some knocking.

The cause of the fire is being investigated as several employees returned to work yesterday, but many parts of the plant are expected to be shut down in phases over the next few days.

Shell refinery fire in Singapore to affect Asian supply
Channel NewsAsia 30 September 2011 1332 hrs

SINGAPORE - A fire that disrupted production in Shell's largest refinery will affect regional supplies of gasoline and other products in the short term, analysts said on Friday.

Industry sources said the refinery may remain shut for at least a month.

This comes as efforts are now in place to further secure the site for investigations to safely commence.

The Anglo-Dutch oil giant said the fire broke out Wednesday at its refinery in Pulau Bukom, an islet five kilometres (three miles) off Singapore, prompting the evacuation of non-essential staff.

The fire was extinguished before midnight Thursday, 34 hours after it began, with the help of the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

No fire or smoke was visible at Pulau Bukom from the Singapore mainland on Friday, an AFP photographer said.

Shell spokesmen could not be reached for comment on the refinery's current status but the company said on Thursday that it had started a progressive shutdown of the whole refinery before the fire was put out.

Six people suffered superficial wounds and three fire engines were damaged from the fire.

In a statement issued overnight, Shell said it was "prepared to shut down all refinery units if this is considered necessary from a safety perspective."

Analysts said the fire at the refinery - which has a crude refining capacity of 500,000 barrels per day and produces fuels, lubricants and specialty chemicals - will affect regional supply of gasoline and petrochemical products in the short term.

"It is the biggest (Shell) refinery, it supplies and exports a whole lot of products. Ninety percent of their exports go to the Asia-Pacific region," said Shailaja Nair, Asian managing editor of market information provider Platts.

"It has a whole slate of products, not just oil but also the petrochemicals because it's an integrated complex. So when you're shutting something down there is bound to be some effect on the market," she told AFP.

Nair added that gasoline supply could be hit particularly hard.

The refinery fire also occurred at a bad time for Shell, said Tony Nunan, risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo, as Asia heads towards winter and its peak demand period for distillate oil, used in heating.

"We're going into the high distillate demand season... and I think there was pull for distillates in Asia region from various areas of the world," he told AFP.

The disruption "will have a significant impact" on regional supply of petroleum products, Nunan added.

However, analysts stressed that they could only gauge the fire's short-term impact on supply, as longer-term effects would depend on how quickly Shell can get the refinery running normally.

"At the end of the day, the shutdown of barrels might provide a bit of a squeeze but it won't really affect the overall market," said Jonathan Barratt, managing director at Commodity Broking Services in Sydney.

- AFP/CNA/al

Shell turns buyer in swaps market
Traders see prices of middle distillates such as kerosene and diesel staying firm
Ronnie Lim Business Times 1 Oct 11;

SHELL, usually a big seller of products such as diesel in Singapore's swaps market, has turned buyer to help meet its customer commitments, traders told BT yesterday, adding that prices of middle distillates such as kerosene and diesel are likely to stay firm.

This follows the oil group's earlier shutdown of its Bukom hydrocracker which produces mainly diesel, for safety reasons, followed by that of three crude distillation units which are the backbone of its 500,000 barrel per day refinery. Bukom, Shell's largest manufacturing site worldwide, accounts for 36 per cent of Singapore's total refining capacity.

A Reuters report cited industry sources speculating that Bukom could remain shut for even as long as a month. Reuters also quoted traders as saying that they had been told by Shell that it was declaring force majeure on deals with them.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang had not ruled this out. He had said: 'We are currently in discussions with our customers to meet their needs.'

A London spokesman, however, denied that force majeure had been declared.

Shell said that it had extinguished the blaze on Thursday night. In an update yesterday afternoon, it said that it was continuing to monitor the situation.

'Fire-fighting personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Shell remain on standby on Bukom. Efforts are now in place to further secure the site of the fire to allow investigations to commence safely.'

Martjin van Koten, Shell vice-president for manufacturing operations east, told the media on Thursday that the company had started a two-day sequence to shut down the CDUs - so as to help it focus on fire-fighting and not be distracted by having to operate 'live' plants safely at the same time.

While he declined to say if the shutdown sequence could be interrupted if needed, another refinery source told BT that 'it depends on what stage(of shutdown) you are at'.

'The start-up process usually takes as long as the shut-down sequence, although there is also a knock-on effect as some plants depend on other plants, so there's a first-in-last-out sequence to follow. It also depends on further action needed, like clean-up procedures etc.'

Apart from the three CDUs, Shell had earlier also shut down two other plants which were sited closer to the fire - a hydrocracker, which upgrades feedstock from the CDUs into higher-value kerosene (jet fuel) and diesel, as well as a thermal gas unit. And these also have to be re-started.

But as Shell has still not established the source of the blaze - which it believes was accidentally set off by a maintenance job - it will need to carry out thorough investigations first and carry out remedial action, before it wants to resume operations.

'Those guys are really keeping it close to their chest,' one oil trader told BT, when asked if he had heard from Shell counterparts when they expect Bukom to resume operations. 'We don't know what kind of delays there will be for cargo loading for instance, especially with the Bukom berths closed.'

In the meantime, 'the impact of the Shell fire and shutdown is having an impact on the prompt, or immediate market for October swaps, especially for middle distillates like kerosene and diesel,' the trader said, adding that prices were up about 15 per cent.

This is despite Shell earlier saying that it could continue to supply the market from storage and the group's network of other regional refineries including in Malaysia and the Philippines.

'We expect product prices to stay firm, as Sietco (Shell International Eastern Trading Company) which is a very active player in the Platts trading window here and usually a big seller of diesel, completely disappeared from the selling end, and was buying instead,' a local trader told BT.

Singapore Shell refinery will take at least a month to restart-sources
Reuters 30 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE, (Reuters) - Oil major Shell's fire-stricken Singapore refinery, its largest in the world with a 500,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) capacity, is expected to remain shut for at least a month, as efforts now turn to investigating the cause of the 36-hour blaze, industry sources said on Friday.

The impact of the shutdown is expected to be most keenly felt in the Asian gasoline and distillates market, where Shell is a major supplier as well as a trader, although the severity of the impact depends on the eventual duration of the shutdown.

Shell's spokesman did not immediately comment about the source-based information.

(Reporting by Yaw Yan Chong; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

UPDATE 2-Shell Singapore plant may shut for a month; distillates force majeure
* Shell's Singapore refinery may be shut for at least a month
* Declares force majeure on distillate sales from plant
* Impact may be mostly felt in gasoline, distillates markets (Adds details on declaration of force majeure)

Francis Kan and Yaw Yan Chong Reuters 30 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSa.L) Singapore refinery may remain shut for at least a month, industry sources said, and the company declared it would not meet supply commitments after a blaze at the major 500,000 barrels-per-day plant.

Singapore is Asia's hub for crude and oil products trading.

Shell exports about 90 percent of the output from the refinery, the company's biggest, which accounts for a quarter of the island nation's capacity.

So the impact on regional prices may be exaggerated by comparison with the capacity taken offline, traders said.

Shell declared a force majeure on sales of distillates, using a clause in contracts that exempts buyers or sellers from commitments due to events that are beyond control, counterparties said.

Shell's Singapore spokesman said the company would not comment on operational matters.

A refining source said: "By all accounts, the fire is a massive disaster. And it would take some time to investigate the cause, isolate it and also repair the damage. And then restart the parts that are unaffected."

"One month would be a very conservative estimate in terms of the duration it would take for the plant to return to normal operating levels. It could be longer depending on where the problem is," the source added.

Another industry source also estimated the outage could last at least a month.

The refinery produces 6.5-7.0 million barrels of distillates per month, of which gas oil is about 4.5 million barrels. It also produces another 4.0-4.5 million barrels of gasoline, based on estimates culled from its capacity.

At least two buyers said they had received notice from the oil major that it was declaring force majeure on all its nominated sales for cargoes to be lifted from the Singapore Bukom refinery.

The note, titled 'Notice Of Force Majeure' said: "In the circumstances, we have no alternative but to formally declare that our ability to supply the product under the contract has been adversely affected by an event beyond our control."


Oil product markets, which had rallied strongly a day earlier, fell as concerns oversupply disruptions eased. The prompt October/November timespreads for gas oil, naphtha and fuel oil swaps fell by midday from Thursday's milestone-highs.

Short-term supplies remain disrupted as berthing operations were still down. At least five medium-ranged tankers, of 30,000 tonnes each, were waiting to load distillates, while another two were waiting to discharge fuel oil.

As a result, cash differentials for gas oil were bid at higher levels at premiums of 50-70 cents to Singapore spot quotes, versus 25-cent value a day ago.

Gasoline's physical crack to Brent crude held firm at month-high levels of around $13.00 a barrel for a second session.

Martjin van Koten, Shell's vice-president for manufacturing operations, said on Thursday that the fire occurred white maintenance work was being carried out at a Pump House near a 35,000 bpd distillate-making unit. (Additional reporting by Seng Li Peng, Alejandro Barbajosa, Francis Kan and Luke Pachymuthu; Editing by Manash Goswami and Anthony Barker)

Shell refinery fire in Singapore to affect Asian supply
Philip Lim (AFP) Google News 30 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE — A fire that disrupted production in Shell's largest refinery will affect regional supplies of gasoline and other products in the short term, according to analysts.

The Anglo-Dutch oil giant said the fire broke out Wednesday at its refinery in Pulau Bukom, an islet five kilometers (three miles) off Singapore, prompting the evacuation of non-essential staff.

The fire was extinguished before midnight Thursday, 34 hours after it began, with the help of Singapore civil defence units.

No fire or smoke was visible at Pulau Bukom from the Singapore mainland on Friday, an AFP photographer said.

Shell spokesmen could not be reached for comment on the refinery's current status but the company said Thursday that it had started a progressive shutdown of the whole refinery before the fire was put out.

Six people suffered superficial wounds and three fire engines were damaged from the fire.

In a statement issued overnight, Shell said it was "prepared to shut down all refinery units if this is considered necessary from a safety perspective."

Analysts said the fire at the refinery -- which has a crude refining capacity of 500,000 barrels per day and produces fuels, lubricants and specialty chemicals -- will affect regional supply of gasoline and petrochemical products in the short term.

"It is the biggest (Shell) refinery, it supplies and exports a whole lot of products. Ninety percent of their exports go to the Asia-Pacific region," said Shailaja Nair, Asian managing editor of market information provider Platts.

"It has a whole slate of products, not just oil but also the petrochemicals because its an integrated complex. So when you're shutting something down there is bound to be some effect on the market," she told AFP.

Nair added that gasoline supply could be hit particularly hard.

The refinery fire also occurred at an bad time for Shell, said Tony Nunan, risk manager at Mitsubishi Corp in Tokyo, as Asia heads towards winter and its peak demand period for distillate oil, used in heating.

"We're going into the high distillate demand season... and I think there was pull for distillates in Asia region from various areas of the world," he told AFP.

The disruption "will have a significant impact" on regional supply of petroleum products, Nunan added.

However, analysts stressed that they could only gauge the fire's short-term impact on supply, as longer-term effects would depend on how quickly Shell can get the refinery running normally.

"At the end of the day the shutdown of barrels might provide a bit of a squeeze but it won't really affect the overall market," said Jonathan Barratt, managing director at Commodity Broking Services in Sydney.

Read more!

Police seek man seen hitting birds at Changi

Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

THE police are looking for a man who allegedly injured a bird by throwing objects at it.

The incident happened on May 15 at about 7.55am.

The man with long, curly hair was seen throwing objects at some birds perched on a tree at Changi Beach Park.

One of the birds was hurt, and fell off the tree. He then picked up the injured creature and placed it somewhere else.

The police are now looking for the man, believed to be in his 30s or 40s, to assist in investigations. He was wearing a light-blue long-sleeved shirt and beige pants.

Those found guilty of animal cruelty can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to 12 months, or both.

The police have requested anyone with information on the man to call the police hotline on 1800-255-0000.

For future cases of animal cruelty, members of the public can contact the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore at

All information sources will be kept strictly confidential

Read more!

Cold Storage says "no" to shark fin

Today Online 1 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - Singapore-based supermarket chain Cold Storage will stop selling all sharks fin and shark products in its 42 outlets across the country - the first supermarket in Singapore to implement a "no shark fins policy".

It has joined the WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group, which was launched in April this year and guides businesses on sourcing and promoting sustainable seafood while also playing a role in protecting the marine environment.

"We want to play our part towards caring for the environment. Our team is committed to sourcing for quality, sustainable seafood and other products in our efforts to achieve long-term sustainability and marine conservation," said Mr Victor Chia, CEO of Cold Storage Supermarket, in a statement.

The supermarket chain will also source and offer a wide range of sustainable seafood recommended by WWF, and offer Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified seafood such as the hake fillet from South Africa.

Singapore is one of the biggest seafood consumers in the Asia-Pacific region, consuming an average of 100,000 tonnes of seafood each year. Most of this is imported from the Coral Triangle, the world's most diverse marine environment.

Ms Amy Ho, managing director of WWF Singapore, said: "For a nation where seafood is a popular meal choice, Cold Storage's commitment offers consumers an opportunity to make choices that will protect fish stocks and endangered marine species over the long term," she added.

Other members of the WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group are SODEXO Singapore and Fairmont Singapore.

Leading Singaporean supermarket chain says “no” to shark fin
WWF 30 Sep 11;

Singapore – Prominent Singapore-based supermarket chain Cold Storage has joined the WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group and marked its commitment with an announcement that it will stop selling all shark fin and shark products in its 42 outlets across the country.

WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group was launched in April this year and provides businesses with the guidance they need to source and promote sustainable seafood while also playing a role in protecting the marine environment.

“We want to play our part towards caring for the environment. Our team is committed to sourcing for quality, sustainable seafood and other products in our efforts to achieve long-term sustainability and marine conservation,” explained Mr Victor Chia, CEO, Cold Storage Supermarket.

Cold Storage is the first supermarket in Singapore to implement a “no shark fins policy”. It is also the nation’s first retail food chain to source and offer a wide range of sustainable seafood recommended by WWF and offer Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified seafood such as the hake fillet from South Africa.

The supermarket is a subsidiary of Dairy Farm​, a leading pan-Asian food retailer that operates more than 5,300 outlets and employs some 80,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region.

“WWF is happy to support Cold Storage in its efforts to make its retail operations more sustainable and promote responsible consumption in Singapore,” said Ms Amy Ho, Managing Director, WWF Singapore. “For a nation where seafood is a popular meal choice, Cold Storage’s commitment offers consumers an opportunity to make choices that will protect fish stocks and endangered marine species over the long term,” she added.

Mr Patrick Caleo, Country Manager Australia and New Zealand, Marine Stewardship Council says: “The Marine Stewardship Council applauds Cold Storage’s efforts to provide customers with the choice of purchasing seafood sourced from sustainable fisheries, and we look forward to working with them in their efforts to offer MSC certified wild-caught seafood products across their stores in the future. As a result of Cold Storage’s efforts thousands of Singaporeans will have access to sustainable seafood which is a great development, and the company should be commended for playing its part in safeguarding seafood stocks for future generations.”

Presently, SODEXO Singapore and Fairmont Singapore are members of the WWF Singapore Sustainable Seafood Group.

An average of 100,000 tons of seafood is consumed each year in Singapore, making it one of the biggest seafood consumers in the Asia-Pacific region. Most of this is imported from the Coral Triangle​, the world’s most diverse marine environment.

Only 3 shark species protected
Letter from Jennifer Lee Today Online 5 Oct 11;

I REFER to the report "Cold Storage says 'no' to shark's fin" (Oct 2), which announced Cold Storage's commendable decision to join the World Wildlife Fund's Sustainable Seafood Group.

At present, more than 70 per cent of the world's commercial marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or over-fished. Scientists have warned of the potential global collapse of all marine fish stocks by 2048.

Yet, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) fails to provide sufficient trade protection to many marine species.

For example, the blue-fin tuna is listed as critically endangered but is legally and readily available at many Japanese restaurants. One-third of all shark species are threatened by extinction, but only three species are protected under CITES.

As fishing efficiencies improve with technology, our oceans are being emptied faster than fishes are able to reproduce. If we do not want to be the generation responsible for depriving our children of the beautiful, bio-diversified oceans we now enjoy, there must be unified efforts to prioritise sustainability.

Consumers can play a part by ensuring that their choice of seafood is sustainable as well as by cutting down on consumption and moving towards a more plant-based diet.

I hope that the "no shark-fin policy" will also be implemented in the near future at other supermarkets here.

Read more!

Taking ownership of trash

Straits Times Editorial 1 Oct 11;

IT IS well and good that the newly set-up Public Hygiene Council has effectively declared war on growing slovenliness among Singaporeans. That the 21-strong council is made up of a cross section of society, with representatives from entities such as schools, hotels and government departments, indicates that the Government is serious about upping the stakes in the war on trash. It is hoped that the pooling together of expertise from the various entities, coupled to a more ground-up approach, will bring about lasting change in the public's behaviour with regard to cleanliness.

Only the blind or blissfully ignorant will not notice that Singapore, which has made its clean and green garden city one of the hallmarks of its economic miracle, is getting dirtier. Generally, most Singaporeans are a law-abiding lot who care for their living environment. But a not insignificant number, however, have this antisocial mentality: my trash, your problem. In a recent survey, for example, 40 per cent of 4,400 respondents polled said they would litter if they believed they would not be caught. This has resulted in a trash race of sorts - these litterbugs spew their rubbish, only to have an army of cleaners tidy up after them; so perversely encouraging even more littering acts to follow. More worryingly, studies show that a growing number of offenders caught are young people under the age of 21.

The council and the National Environment Agency have their work cut out for them. In the long term, education is the only lasting solution - on the ills of littering, and its incongruence with a civilised and advanced society. Singaporeans - individuals and the community at large - need to take ownership of the problem. It starts with having pride in their homes, the surrounding neighbourhood, and finally the country. Without this sense of community and duty to maintain the public space and keep it clean, there can be no progress. The Japanese practise this to a fault. In Japan, not many trash cans can be found in public places. Rubbish is also sorted into different categories for recycling.

If all this fails, a modicum of shock therapy might be useful. Say, suspend the services of hard-working cleaners in the country's filthiest estates, and let the residents sink in their own mire. Or raise the shame factor for littering offenders by getting them to carry out cleaning duties in their own neighbourhoods. Education is necessary but punishment, effectively applied, can be a good teacher too.

Read more!

Park and enjoy - NParks turning Singapore into a green home for all

The National Parks Board is stepping up efforts to turn Singapore into a green home for all
natasha ann zachariah Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

Anew push to tag Singapore a City In A Garden instead of the familiar Garden City, to better link greenery with people's living and working needs, is giving Singaporeans a chance for a new kind of 'grassroots' input.

The green scene is sprouting in a new, more inclusive direction than in the past, with the National Parks Board (NParks) last month asking Singaporeans to give their responses to its website and Facebook page in six areas. These included how to improve parks and greenery and how to encourage biodiversity in the city.

The move is one of several recent government announcements to nurture Singapore's green spaces, including a $12-million fund to boost the landscape industry and help workers gain better skills.

The evolving green scene is a far cry from when Singapore's greening efforts were helmed by the Parks and Recreation Department in the 1970s and 1980s. NParks was formed in 1990 and later merged with the department in 1996.

Back then, during Singapore's first stages of greening, parks consisted of 'instant trees' - those that were already matured, uprooted and replanted here.

Newly planted roadside trees, many of which were not even native to Asia, were planted in rigid lines, with nothing allowed to be planted in between.

Mr Kong Yit San, 55, assistant chief executive officer of NParks' park management and lifestyle cluster, says: 'It was a good way to show off our public spaces but we took it a little extreme. There was a joke that even our trees had to behave and get in line. But the truth was that people were not using our parks then.'

The prime minister at that time, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, believed it important that Singapore distinguish itself from Third World countries, and spearheaded efforts for a clean and greener Singapore.

Building parks and gardens started with the Tree Planting campaign in 1963, while the Garden City programme was launched four years later.

What resulted were thousands of plants of a few species brought here to create instant greenery along the roads and in parks. They were chosen because they were cheap, and grew well in the hot, humid climate here.

Mr Mason Tan, landscape architect and owner of Mace Studio, calls this period 'survival landscaping'.

The 48-year-old, whose company has worked on the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden at the Botanic Gardens and one-north Streetscapes at Vista Xchange, says: 'There was a lot of foresight in setting aside sufficient green spaces. But there was no local ecology. They were super sterile green spaces. They were good to look at but people didn't really interact with them.'

Mr Kong agrees, adding that much of the design for parks then was created to keep people out and was mainly for show.

He cites the example of park connectors, which were initially built for people to walk through. They were bare, with a few benches and street lights. He adds: 'Over the years, we've realised that people use these to do taiji or brisk walk. Now, we've tried to accommodate scenic views on newer connectors and nurture different habitats there.'

The approach to creating green spaces has changed - more noticeably by getting the people who use them to tell NParks what they want.

Mr Kong says: 'Now, we consult people about what they want in a park when we build new ones. This is different from the past when we just built without asking them. Today, with our parks, we want people to own them.'

Currently, NParks manages about 300 parks, with about 220 being community spaces or playgrounds, measuring an average 1,500 sq m.

Park managers such as Ms Nurhaslinda Ramli, section head of parks, talks to regular park users to get feedback on how the areas can be better managed or what can be built.

Says the 35-year-old: 'Singaporeans are well-travelled. When they see an idea which they think might work here, they will e-mail or stop us in the parks to tell us. From there, we'll work with the landscape architects to see if it's feasible.'

And it seems that the public likes being consulted. A month into NParks' online campaign as well as exhibitions and talks, and the team has received more than 1,000 ideas on how to green up the living environment.

The Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay, which opens next year, is one concrete example of NParks asking the public what it wanted in a public garden.

The findings showed that visitors want greenery and ample shade but, at the same time, plenty of colour from flowers.

The melding of ideas has taken off well, with the gardens getting, among other things, recognition - this year and in 2009 - at the prestigious MIPIM Architectural Review Future Project Awards, organised by the international publication, Architectural Review.

Now, the biggest challenge is to find more green spaces in Singapore's increasing concrete jungle. But the team is planning to get creative, even if it means looking at unusual spots to make a garden.

Mr Kong says: 'There will always be a space crunch. So we'll look at optimising unused spaces such as under viaducts. You'll never think to put greenery there but it's a matter of design and putting them in the right place.'

Favourite spots
Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

They work with green spaces every day but what are the personal favourites of Singapore's landscape industry professionals? Life! asks five for their green picks.

Who: Mr Kong Yit San, 55, assistant chief executive officer of park management and lifestyle cluster at the National Parks Board
Where: Fort Canning
Why: 'Aside from the memories of growing up here when my father was stationed in Singapore as military personnel for the Malaysian army, I enjoy the green, open spaces.
Fort Canning has more mature trees and a lush landscape, with something for everyone. There are intimate corners where you can sit on a bench and read a book, and wide spaces where you can kick a ball. Also, it's a park on a hill, so it gives a sense of being somewhere else, unlike most parks here, which are on flat land.'

Who: Mr Damian Tang, 37, president of the Singapore Institute of Landscape Architects and assistant director of design with NParks
Where: Tampines Eco-Green Park
Why: 'This is the park for nature lovers. It's really different because when you're here, it's like you're engulfing yourself in nature. It's also one of the more scenic parks here. Often, you will find people who don't live nearby, like myself, who will travel here for the tranquillity and quietness. You can really enjoy the natural surroundings and the wildlife that?s not seen elsewhere.'

Who: Dr Shawn Lum, 48, president of the Nature Society (Singapore)
Where: Upper Seletar Reservoir Park
Why: 'From a nature perspective, there are so many things to appreciate. There are several distinct types of forests growing here, from the primary ones to towering canopies. The animal diversity is great, too, being at the fringes of a freshwater swamp forest. You get unique, rare sights of wildlife such as the hornbills, which are returning to Singapore on their own after they disappeared in the mid-1990s, and also the Banded Leaf Monkey, which is possibly the rarest and one of the most threatened species of larger animals here.'

Who: Ms Emily Lim, 36, landscape architect lecturer at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at Singapore Polytechnic
Where: Upper Pierce Reservoir Park
Why: 'I discovered it only this year, after passing by once. I like that it has old-fashioned elements that are a throwback to the 1970s, such as the benches and pavilions. These are things you won't see in newer parks. Coming here feels like time has stood still - it's very serene and quiet. There's a beautiful short tree that has grown into one with a gorgeous, low-branching canopy. It's heartening to see families walking around and talking to one another as they explore the area.'

Who: Mr Mason Tan, 48, owner of Mace Studio, a private landscape architect firm
Where: Central Catchment Area, which includes MacRitchie Reservoir Park
Why: 'It's the last remnant of a surviving rainforest that is still relatively intact. It's one of those places that doesn't need to be maintained - the less human intervention, the better. It's away from an urban environment where you don't see or hear the traffic until you leave the park. It's also pristine enough and very refreshing to take a nice stroll through.'

Eight green facts
Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

1 Who says Singapore is a concrete jungle? About half of the island is covered in greenery.

2 It is not as high as conventional mountains but Singapore's highest peak, the 164m-tall Bukit Timah Hill, and its reserve have more tree species than the entire North American continent.

3 Bukit Timah Hill is also a wildlife paradise, with about 160 species of animals including snakes, such as reticulated pythons, and birds such as the striped tit-babbler. Insect life is also plentiful, with about 73,000 species.

4 Parks' carparks are vehicles for greenery. Take HortPark's, for example: Its variety of plants includes 220 trees and more than 8,000 shrubs.

5 Unravel the park connectors and the length would span more than Singapore itself. To date, the Park Connector Network spans 180km, linking major parks, nature sites and housing estates.

6 Pulau Ubin's 45ha Ketam Mountain Bike Park is the first in Singapore to meet international standards for mountain-biking competitions. It has 10km of trails of various difficulty levels.

7 Many trees such as the frangipani, lantana and bougainvillea were actually imported. Others include angsana (pterocarpus indicus) and the yellow flame (peltophorum pterocarpum).

8 The natural swamp habitat at Pasir Ris Park had to go when the area was reclaimed 20 years ago. To restore the original mangrove habitat, NParks spread 2km of organic matter and planted 10,000 saplings of the avicennia mangrove tree.

Source: NParks and

Give suggestions on creating a Garden In A City at NParks' website,, between now and next June or leave comments on its Facebook page at

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URA will keep Singapore green

Letter from Fun Siew Leng Group Director (Urban Planning & Design), Urban Redevelopment Authority
Today Online 30 Sep 11;

WE THANK Mr Richard Hartung for sharing his thoughts in his commentary "Our CBD is losing its green edge" (Sept 23).

We fully agree that Singapore should continue to build upon its strong reputation as a City in a Garden by providing more lush greenery, parks, open spaces and park connectors within the urban environment.

The 100-hectare Gardens by the Bay and The Lawn @ Marina Bay located between The Sail and Marina Bay Financial Centre are examples of our commitment to plan and provide more greenery and recreational spaces within the city.

There are other parks such as Pearl's Hill City Park, Ann Siang Hill Park and Hong Lim Park that will continue to serve as green lungs in the city.

Even as the city grows, we want to preserve the sense of greenery. Land that is sold for new developments will have to retain or set aside space for greenery/open areas.

For the upcoming Peck Seah Street/Choon Guan Street development, the developer is required to upgrade Tanjong Pagar Park and build a public space of at least 1,000 sq m on the ground floor of the new development.

Under the Landscape Replacement Policy, all new developments within the Downtown Core (including the Central Business District and Marina Bay), Jurong Gateway and Kallang Riverside will have green landscape areas equivalent to the development site area.

These could be roof gardens, sky terraces, first-storey communal landscape areas and communal planters.

The land parcel at Robinson Road/Cecil Street was zoned for commercial use since Master Plan 1998 but has been used as a green space in the interim.

With the Landscape Replacement Policy, we are able to cater to demand for office space while ensuring that affected green spaces are replaced.

Over the next 10 to 15 years, we can expect to see more greenery in Singapore, as we plan to increase the amount of green space from the current 3,600 hectares to 4,200 hectares, as set out in Master Plan 2008.

We assure Mr Hartung and all residents that we will continue to set aside land for quality recreational and green open spaces.

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Untouched primary forests are 'irreplaceable' - Singapore study

Grace Chua Straits Times 1 Oct 11;

UNTOUCHED primary forests are 'irreplaceable' when it comes to saving tropical biodiversity, say researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Their work with scientists from Australia, Europe and the US analysed studies from around the world, comparing undisturbed forests with those that had been affected by farming, logging, plantations and other human activity.

The study, published in the journal Nature last month, also highlighted which regions of the globe have not been sufficiently studied. Africa is one, it found.

Birds, insects and plants are most vulnerable to forest clearing, the researchers said.

The study was initiated by the late Professor Navjot Sodhi of the NUS Department of Biological Sciences. Prof Sodhi's doctoral student Luke Gibson of NUS and former master's student Lee Tien Ming, now a doctoral student in the US, were its lead authors.

Prof Sodhi, 49, died of lymphoma in June.

One question in biodiversity conservation is whether degraded forests can help sustain a range of plant and animal life, and how effective they are in doing so, explained Mr Gibson.

He said the study examined this question directly, and assessed the relative value of different types of degraded forest. 'Funding and other resources for biodiversity conservation are extremely limited, so we must use them as efficiently as possible,' he said.

'Our study will help identify where we should focus our conservation efforts.'

The researchers analysed 138 studies, looking at the impact of different types of forest degradation. All but one had a serious impact on biodiversity, the exception being selectively logged forests, where specific trees are cut down and the rest left intact.

The finding has implications for countries like Indonesia, which is allowing 35.4 million hectares of previously logged forest to be cleared in the belief that they are too degraded to sustain biodiversity.

One of the study's authors, biologist William Laurence of James Cook University in Queensland, wrote in an essay on the Australian commentary site The Conversation (

'The bottom line is that old-growth rainforests are the greatest celebration of life on earth. But if we can't save enough old-growth forest to sustain nature, then selectively logged forests are pretty good as well.'

Related articles
Old-growth rainforests must be saved for tropical biodiversity National University of Singapore EurekAlert 14 Sep 11;

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Indonesia foils pangolin smuggling attempt

TRAFFIC 30 Sep 11;

Medan, Indonesia, 30th September 2011—Marine police in North Sumatra have seized over a hundred pangolins and arrested three men who were en route to Malaysia with the animals.

The Sunda Pangolins Manis javanica, hidden in 20 gunny sacks, were found in a boat seized in waters off Belawan on Wednesday. The smugglers were believed to have left from Pantai Cermin, a popular holiday beach resort near Medan.

Head of the Belawan Nature Conservation Agency Joni Pasaribu said authorities found 111 pangolins in the gunny sacks; three had died while two babies were found still alive. The pangolins will be released into the wild as soon as possible, he told TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The suspects are expected to be charged under Article 21 paragraph (2), in conjunction with Article 40 paragraph (2), of the Law of Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems.

The seizure is the latest in a number of foiled attempts to smuggle pangolins out of Indonesia.

Just one week ago, authorities disposed off a massive shipment of dead pangolins and scales that was confiscated by Indonesian Customs at the Belawan International Container Terminal in May this year.

The 5.9 tonnes of pangolin meat (representing 1,795 individuals) and 790 kg of scales were buried in a landfill in Terjun, Medan. The pangolins were found hidden with several tonnes of snakehead fish Channa spp and Asiatic Softshell Turtle meat Amyda cartilaginea, all bound for Viet Nam, with news reports quoting M. Ranu Subroto SH, Head of the District Prosecutor General’s office as saying three local men had been arrested. The suspects were detained for allegedly falsifying shipping documents.

Also in May this year, Indonesian Customs discovered another Viet Nam bound shipment of pangolin meat and scales totaling 7.5 tonnes, at the Tanjung Priok Port in north Jakarta.

On 10th July, Customs officers at Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta Airport seized a shipment of 1,732 kg of pangolin meat and a further 380 kg of pangolin scales.

Pangolins in Asia are protected species in all range states and international trade is not permitted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Sumatra remains a major source of pangolins and other wildlife entering the global illegal black market,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“The number of pangolins falling victim to this trade has reached ridiculous levels. There is no way quantities like these will leave wild populations unaffected.

“While the seizures and arrests are an important part of the fight against the illegal trade, Sumatra’s authorities need to do much more to get at the heart of this problem. They must find the warehouses, break the smuggling networks and put the kingpins in jail,” he said.

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Indonesia Could Be Paid for Conserving Orangutan Forests

Environment News Wire 28 Sep 11;

JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 28, 2011 (ENS) - Conserving key Indonesian rainforests inhabited by organutans could generate revenues three times greater than clearcutting them for palm oil plantations, finds a new report requested by the Indonesian government from the UN Environment Programme, under its Great Apes Survival Partnership, GRASP.

At the same time, forest conservation would help to ensure survival of Critically Endangered orangutans on the island of Sumatra. The report warns that orangutan populations in some parts of Sumatra could disappear as early as 2015.

Fewer than 6,600 Sumatran orangutans exist in the wild today, down from an estimated 85,000 in 1900. If this rate of decline continues, the Sumatran orangutan could become the first of the great apes living today to go extinct in the wild.

Currently close to 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are linked with land use change, mainly through forest loss. In 2004, this amounted to greenhouse gas emissions greater than those of the global transport sector.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a new agreement is in negotiation that could make the economics of forest conservation work for the Indonesian economy, for orangutan survival, and for the global climate.

Known as REDD+, the mechanism would provide payments for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus additional forest "activities," with the aim of halving deforestation by 2020.

The UNEP report estimates that many of the coastal, peat-rich forests of Sumatra, where dense populations of the last 6,600 orangutans survive, may be worth up to a present value of $22,000 a hectare at current carbon prices that range from $7,420 to $22,090.

Cleared, the same land may generate revenues from palm oil plantations at less than $7,400 a hectare.

The carbon value of avoided deforestation even in ordinary forests ranges from $3,711 to $11,185 per hectare. This is much higher than the economic yield from other land-use practices such as agroforestry, sustainable logging and coffee.

The report, "The Orangutan and Economics of Forest Conservation in Sumatra," calls for more international support for REDD+ projects in key orangutan forests. Conservation organizations PanEco and YEL and the World Agroforestry Centre worked with UNEP in writing the report.

With nearly 100 million hectares (386,102 square miles) of state forest, Indonesia has the world's third largest area of tropical forest after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the report finds that between 2005 and 2010, forest loss in Indonesia accelerated compared to 2000-2005 and places Indonesia within the highest five countries for percentage of primary forest loss globally.

The forested peatlands of Sumatra are among the most efficient carbon stores of any terrestrial ecosystem, but between 1985 and 2007, nearly half the forest on the island of Sumatra was logged - legally or illegally.

Sumatran orangutans inhabit two provinces, Aceh and North Sumatra. Aceh has experienced a total forest loss of over 22 percent from 1985 through 2009, while North Sumatra has lost over 43 percent of its forest cover during that 14-year period - with a consequent loss of orangutans.

Currently, the government of Norway is supporting the government of Indonesia in its efforts to reduce deforestation and illegal logging under a $1 billion agreement that includes a two-year suspension of new concessions that convert peatlands and primary forests.

Erik Solheim, Norwegian minister of the environment and international development, said his government is now providing additional support to the international police force, INTERPOL, towards enhancing collaboration among United Nations agencies and others to combat illegal logging.

"We recognize that in order to make REDD+ a success, tackling illegal logging and assisting governments such as Indonesia with the capacity to combat such crime, will be important," Solheim said.

UNEP says the new report, which comes in advance of the UN climate convention meeting in Durban, South Africa in November-December, indicates opportunities for other international donors to extend REDD+ initiatives in Sumatra and in other tropically-forested regions.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Prioritizing investments in sustainable forestry including REDD+ projects can, as this report demonstrates, deliver multiple Green Economy benefits and not just in respect to climate, orangutan conservation and employment in natural resource management."

Deforestation is blamed for both flooding and water scarcity on Sumatra.

Steiner said the report indicates in Aceh and in North Sumatra there has been a reported 50 percent decline in water discharges in as many as 80 percent of rivers as a result of deforestation, "losses that have serious implications for agriculture and food security including rice production and human health," he warned.

Deforestation is cited in the report as a key cause for increased flooding that has impacted over 500,000 people over the last decade.

Unsustainable logging also may be linked to the over 500 fires that have impacted the Tripa swamp forests in Aceh province in the past 10 years with economic losses estimated at over $10 billion between 2000 and 2010.

"The UN climate convention meeting in Durban needs to make progress on several fronts, including REDD+, as one way of keeping a global temperature to under 2 degree Celsius," said Steiner.

"In doing so it can send a strong and supportive signal to Rio+20 in June 2012 in terms of accelerating and scaling up the full range of opportunities for a sustainable 21st century," he said.

To chart a way forward for conserving orangutan populations in Sumatra, while enhancing opportunities for economic development, the UNEP report recommends:

Designating new forested areas in Sumatra for REDD+ selected by taking into account the benefits for carbon storage, conserving orangutan habitat and for the protection of ecosystem services

Maintaining a master spatial planning database on regional, provincial and national levels to map defined boundaries of protected forests to improve sustainable land use planning

Avoiding agricultural and timber concessions on land with high conservation value

Improving the valuation of the ecosystem services provided by Sumatra's forests

Establishing income-generating alternatives to logging, mining and agriculture, such as sustainable tourism

Solheim said, "This study underlines that investing and re-investing in forests and the services they provide can be far more profitable and with social and environmental outcomes than trading away our common future for short-term gains."

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Indonesia: Sumatran tiger population now only 400 - Greenpeace

Antara 30 Sep 11;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The tiger population in the wild in Sumatra is believed to have dwindled to only 400 heads due to illegal logging in industrial forest areas, a Greenpeace activist said.

"We from Greenpeace urges all industrial forest companies, especially those operating in Riau Province, to stop their illegal logging activity for the sake of our grand children in the future," Rusmadya, a Greenpeace forest campaign coordinator , said here on Thursday.

Because their habitats have been destroyed, the wild animals often enter villages and come into conflict with villagers, he said.

He also urged the central government to seriously deal with the problem in order to preserve the endangered animal.

"We should remember that forests is are a sacred place according to our ancestors. If we destroy forests, it means we also destroy the traditions and beliefs of our ancestors," he said.

The Indonesian government estimates that more than one million hectares of forest are being cleared every year. At the rate forests are being destroyed today , the Sumatran tiger that has inspired Indonesia`s rich culture is likely to follow its Javanese and Balinese cousins into extinction soon.

In July, several Greenpeace activists accompanied the Center for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA) Riau to this area in order to rescue a trapped Sumatran tiger. Unfortunately, the rescue effort failed to save the tiger`s life as it had been trapped for seven days and was too weak to survive the rescue attempt.(*)

Editor: Heru

Greenpeace calls for protection of sumatran forest to save tigers
Antara 1 Oct 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - On the eighth day of the Greenpeace "Tiger Eyes" tour, five Greenpeace activists arrived in the area around the village of Kusuma, District Pangkalan Kuras, Pelalawan regency of Riau Province, to see the condition of the forest which has become one of the Sumatran Tigers last remaining habitats.

"In this area, Greenpeace activists were bearing witness to the forests around Tesso Nilo being converted to acacia plantation by PT. Arara Abadi (a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper-APP)," Greenpeace Southeast Asia said in a press statement here on Friday.

In July, several Greenpeace activists accompanied the Center for Conservation of Natural Resources (BKSDA) Riau to this area in order to rescue a trapped Sumatran Tiger. Unfortunately the rescue effort failed to save the tiger`s life as it had been trapped for seven days and was too weak to survive the rescue attempt.

Greenpeace activists were shocked because in this area, the carbon-rich peatlands, more than three meters deep were destroyed. In addition to documenting these conditions, the activists unfurled banners reading "Save the Forests, Save the Tiger Home" encouraging all Indonesian people to participate in efforts to save Indonesia`s remaining forests.

"Today we are in one of the last remaining forests which is the home of the endangered Sumatran tiger. We saw that destruction is still freely occurring, even on carbon-rich peat lands. Yesterday President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his commitment to save Indonesia`s remaining forests. This commitment needs to materialize into concrete action so that destruction of this kind is immediately halted, " said Rusmadya Maharuddin, Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner said last Wednesday (Sept 28).

"We must fight to save Indonesia`s remaining forests. We`re presenting evidence of this destruction, and inviting all Indonesians to join us and be the `eyes of a tiger`. The companies responsible must stop their destructive practices and shift to more responsible operations, while the Government must review all existing concessions and protect peatland immediately," Rusmadya added.

The Sumatran tiger`s forest habitat is being destroyed, with only around 400 left in the wild. The Indonesian government estimates that more than one million hectares of forest are being cleared every year. With the current rates of forest destruction, this magnificent animal that has inspired Indonesia`s rich culture, is likely to follow its predecessors, the Javanese and Bali tiger, into extinction. (*)

Editor: Aditia Maruli

Government idle on Sumatran tigers’ welfare: NGO
The Jakarta Post 8 Oct 11;

JAKARTA: Noted international environmental organization Greenpeace has expressed its concerns regarding the Indonesian government’s stance toward massive forest clearing, which is destroying the habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger.

“The government should do something to protect and preserve the natural forests, the home of these animals, which are located within production forests in Riau and Jambi,” Greenpeace campaigner Rusmadia Maharudin said Friday as quoted by

He added that Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs had followed the trails of these Sumatran tigers and found evidence that they had suffered most from large-scale forest clearing in these areas.

According to estimates, there are now fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild.

Greenpeace records show that at least 30 percent of the 80 million hectares of forested land in this area is beyond help because of forest-clearing activities.

Sinar Mas spokesman Kurniawan said the activists’ assessment of the forests was exaggerated. He added that the pulp and paper industry used less wood from natural forests, instead relying on its industrial forests to fulfill production needs.

“At present, only 8 percent of our demand for wood comes from natural forests. The rest is sourced from industrial forests,” he said.

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Why Indonesia cannot stop the fires and haze

Francis Ng The Star 1 Oct 11;

SOME years ago, I travelled from Pontianak into the centre of South Kalimantan during the burning season in a hired car.

We drove many hours through a country that was completely covered in fire and smoke, but mostly smoke. It was a strange experience, not at all like what we had expected. It was quite safe to drive even though the fires were burning right up to the roadsides. There were people living among the burning vegetation in little huts all along the way, spaced out at wide intervals and carrying on as if everything was normal. No property was damaged and no lives were lost. Here and there a small flame would flare up but only for a short time and then the vegetation would continue to smoulder. These so-called forest fires were not at all like the life-threatening forest fires of Australia, the United States, and the Mediterranean. What was going on?

Our driver told us the story. The huts were occupied by settlers who were the children of the original Transmigrasi migrants from Java. Their parents had been shipped in by the government to occupy land schemes sponsored by the government. These land schemes were like the Felda schemes in Malaysia, on land cleared from forests. That was one generation ago. The children of these land schemes were now spreading out all over Kalimantan and clearing land for themselves.

The custom in Kalimantan is that any land cleared and occupied belongs to whoever clears and occupies it. Any land that reverts back to jungle is open to others to clear and claim. As a result, each settler clears as much land as possible although he is able to farm only a small part of it. The rest would revert back to jungle but is prevented from doing so by fires set by the settlers themselves whenever the weather is dry. So the same land is burnt year after year after year. These are fires on low vegetation, deliberately set by hundreds of thousands of independent poor farmers who barely survive from hand to mouth, living in absolutely primitive conditions. When will it end? When somebody buys the land and converts it to permanent organised agriculture, as for growing oil palm. The land that the settlers clear and claim represent their only hope of escape from poverty.

The timber industry could be blamed because in logging, they create roads into the forests and leave behind the dead branches and leaves that can be set on fire in the first round of burning. The oil palm industry can be blamed if it gives the settlers hope by ultimately buying land that has been cleared and repeatedly burnt. But it is ultimately the social conditions in the country that are responsible for this state of affairs.

If Malaysia did not have a strict land-ownership system whereby people could legally own land in perpetuity or for specified periods, we would quickly see a land grab and total disappearance of all our forests, followed by annual fires to keep land cleared. Our land laws were established and enforced by the British when they had absolute power to do so, in the name of the sultans. It would be difficult for countries without such laws to establish and enforce such laws now.

After that drive into the interior of Kalimantan, I visited the peat areas near the coast. These areas were also heavily covered in smoke, to the extent that the airport had to be closed, but the concept here was different. The fires were set by Bugis rice farmers from Sulawesi who had cleared the forests by fire after their gigantic ramin trees had been extracted by loggers. The peat is many metres deep and unsuitable for growing rice, so the farmers grow pineapples and other acid-tolerant plants. Every year, during the dry season, they set the peat on fire and burn of a part of it. Eventually, after about 10 years, all the peat will be burnt off and they will be able to grow rice on mineral soil.

The annual fires in Kalimantan and, I assume in Sumatra also, are not spontaneous forest fires but deliberate agricultural fires started and kept alive by hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers. Solutions like sending in the fire brigade, or raising the penalty for oil palm growers and loggers for setting forests on fire, sound good on paper but does not come anywhere near to addressing the issues.

I cannot help but suspect that the real reasons for the fires and haze were known long ago by people on the ground, but it served the purpose of the international environmental NGOs and the international news agencies to put the blame on their favourite baddies the logging and oil palm industries. So long as the problem is not examined honestly, no implementable solution is likely to be found.

l Botanist and researcher Francis Ng is the former deputy director-general of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. He is now the botanical consultant to Bandar Utama City Centre Sdn Bhd and the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre.

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Myanmar to Stop Construction of Controversial Dam

Wall Street Journal 1 Oct 11;

Myanmar's president called Friday to suspend construction of a controversial China-backed hydroelectric dam that would have flooded an area the size of Singapore, marking the latest—and potentially most significant—sign of warming relations between local dissidents and Myanmar's new civilian government.

The move is also a snub to China, which is widely seen as Myanmar's most important patron but whose investments in the country are increasingly unpopular.

President Thein Sein said in a note read in Myanmar's Parliament that the project is against the will of the people. He stated that work at the $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project—affecting the Irrawaddy River in Kachin state—should halt for the duration of his term, at least until 2015. The note amounts to a notice of suspension because of the government's overwhelming majority in the legislature.

The move is the latest in a flurry of government actions in recent weeks that some analysts and residents believe signal major reforms under way in the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation, which languished for decades under harsh military rule.

Late last year, an army-backed civilian government was installed in an election widely decried by Western governments as a sham. Since then, Myanmar's new leaders have loosened press restrictions, expanded access to the Internet, allowed small-scale public rallies for the first time in many years, and sought outside advice on ways to reform the country's economy, including possible changes to its foreign-exchange system. That system involves multiple exchange rates, the complexity of which has deterred foreign investment.

Authorities also have launched a dialogue with dissident and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released late last year after seven years of house arrest. On Friday, she met for a third time with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, after which she said she welcomed Mr. Thein Sein's statement on the mammoth Myitsone dam.

"All governments should listen to the voices of the people," she said, according to the Associated Press.

Dissident groups, nevertheless, are split over the latest changes in Myanmar. Some say the moves may just be cosmetic steps aimed at getting the U.S. and other Western governments to ease economic sanctions imposed since the late 1990s, while enhancing Myanmar's international standing.

They point out that Myanmar's government has flirted with reform in the past, only to reverse course and clamp down hard on dissidents after. There also are many other projects in Myanmar—including a controversial energy pipeline to China—that activists say involve human-rights abuses or environmental degradation, and weren't included in Friday's announcement.

Either way, the decision to stop construction of the Myitsone dam for now represents a surprising victory for environmentalists in a country where officials have routinely ignored public opinion over the years.

Friday's announcement is "very welcome news" that will "help sustainably manage the biodiversity of the region," said U Ohn, vice-chairman of the Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association, a conservation group in Myanmar.

A spokesman for Myanmar's government said Mr. Thein Sein called for the suspension of the dam project "because he was elected by the people and therefore has to act according to the desire of the people. This is yet again another proof that Myanmar is changing," said the spokesman, Ye Htut, director general of the Information and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Information in Myanmar.

Environmental campaigners say Mr. Thein Sein's decision might in part be directed at outflanking a strengthening green lobby in Myanmar after Ms. Suu Kyi in August joined calls to scrap dam projects designed to provide power to China's energy-hungry economy.

In other countries in the region, such as Vietnam, political dissidents have flocked to environmental issues as a means of protesting their governments, and the Myitsone plant in Kachin state in northern Myanmar has been a source of vulnerability for Myanmar's leaders.

There is deep opposition across Myanmar to the project, which was conceived as the largest of several dams along the length of the Irrawaddy River and would submerge key historical sites, including areas many academics consider the cultural birthplace of Myanmar.

Opposition is particularly strong in Kachin communities, where residents view the construction as a means of resettling and containing ethnic Kachin residents while upsetting the region's fragile ecological balance. Kachin guerilla groups have clashed repeatedly with Myanmar armed forces since June, forcing thousands of refugees toward the border with China. Fighting intensified over the past week, according to dissident media reports.

Ms. Suu Kyi's opposition to the dam project, meanwhile, complicated the government's task of winning over popular support in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, especially as resentment among everyday citizens rises over Chinese investments.

Around 90% of the power generated by the 6,000 megawatt plant was earmarked to go to China, with state-run China Power Investment Corp. earning about 70% of its profits, according to International Rivers, a Berkeley, Calif., advocacy group. It was scheduled to go online in 2018.

"There's a lot of Chinese investment in the country, not just in this project but many others and it's quite unpopular," said Pianporn Deetes, a Bangkok-based campaigner at International Rivers.

China's foreign ministry declined to comment on Mr. Thein Sein's announcement. Officials at China Power Investment Corp. couldn't be reached for comment.

It's also unclear how other countries will respond to the latest developments in Myanmar. U.S. officials have signaled they don't intend to ease sanctions unless more significant steps are taken, especially the release of an estimated 2,000 political prisoners. Myanmar officials have said they intend to release more prisoners soon.

Many people in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, said they were modestly hopeful about Mr. Thein Sein's statement, though some said they doubted the work stoppage would be permanent.

"The president has proved that he actually listens to people's voices," said one Yangon-based businessman. But a lawyer working in the city said he thought it was still possible the project would be revived in the future.

Environmental activists say Myanmar must go even further to safeguard against the potential ecological damage of hydropower projects by suspending other projects on the Irrawaddy and elsewhere in Myanmar.

"The authorities need to consider the impact on the central rice-growing parts of the country, and especially the sensitive area around the Irrawaddy delta. These projects have an enormous capacity to disrupt the entire ecology of the country," said Ms. Pianporn at International Rivers.
—Celine Fernandez in Kuala Lumpur and Brian Spegele in Beijing contributed to this article.

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From Dump to Paragon of Ecology: A First Peek

Lisa W. Foderaro New York Times 29 Sep 11;

As befits what used to be the world’s largest landfill, the future Freshkills Park on Staten Island may represent the planet’s greatest act of ecological atonement.

The 2,200-acre site, which the Department of Parks and Recreation calls a “reminder of wastefulness, excess and environmental neglect,” will, as it evolves into a park over the next 25 years, feature every environmentally correct practice known to landscape architecture.

There will be composting toilets and “rain gardens” to capture water for use in irrigation. Hundreds of acres of meadows will be sown with native grass and wildflower seeds. Goats will graze on invasive plant species like phragmites. And educational and cultural programs will emphasize sustainability. Four enormous waste mounds, built up over 53 years, will be transformed.

On Sunday, when members of the public venture into the future park for “Sneak Peak,” a program of kayaking and kite-making, they will see signs of Freshkills’ next incarnation.

Scores of wooden birdhouses have been put out to attract swallows, while a visitors’ center, soon to open, features a scruffy roof garden. Every so often, a pipe juts from the grass-covered landscape, part of a subterranean infrastructure that is harvesting methane gas produced by the decomposing waste; the gas is sold to heat homes on Staten Island.

The events on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., will also reflect the mission of Freshkills Park. Workshops will include instruction on making sculpture from discarded materials and sewing reusable bags. Petting goats will offer a preview of the herd of goats that park officials plan to deploy to help in the wetlands restoration.

“This is the biggest recycling project imaginable,” said the park’s administrator, Eloise Hirsh, referring to the transformation. “We’re telegraphing the kinds of things we’ll do in the future with the events.”

In the past few years, the parks department has increasingly waved the banner of ecological beneficence across its 1,700 parks. It even helped produce a phonebook-size guide to environmentally sound practices in park design and management. Even within that network, however, Freshkills, which closed as a landfill in 2001, will stand out as a paragon of environmental virtue.

“In some ways, it’s to make amends for the fact that this formerly beautiful wetlands was turned into a garbage dump for the better part of five decades,” said Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner. “It’s also the responsible thing to do.”

Although the official opening of the park is years away, Ms. Hirsh said it was important to get the public into Freshkills through daylong events like Sneak Peak as well as periodic bird walks, kayaking tours and bus tours twice a week. “By opening up 300 or 400 acres of Freshkills, it lets people come in and actually experience what the place is going to be like when it’s a park,” she said.

So far this year, more than 1,100 people have gone on bus tours of the site. The first Sneak Peak, last year, drew 1,800 visitors.

The park is vast — nearly three times the size of Central Park — but it will eventually be divided into five main areas. The first area to be developed is in the 240-acre North Park, where the Sneak Peak events will take place. It will consist of 21 acres and include walking paths with views of wetlands in the middle distance, a bird observation tower, a tree nursery and a seed farm.

Budget cuts have, for now, shelved capital funding for the 425 acres of South Park, but design plans for the first 20 acres there are under way. The garbage mounds beneath North and South Parks were capped in the 1990s; this fall workers will finish capping the mound that will eventually become East Park. Capping of the final mound — the future West Park — will be finished in 2018. Collection of methane gas from the four mounds will continue for 30 years after capping.

This fall, neighbors of Freshkills will get a new playground, called Schmul Park, that will have handball courts and other play equipment and will serve as a future entrance to North Park.

Next spring, four new soccer fields will open in Owl Hollow, a 20-acre area adjacent to Freshkills Park in Arden Heights Woods. It is being built as an amenity for the neighborhood and will, like the park itself, be kind to the environment. The comfort station will feature an environmentally friendly roof, geothermal heating and cooling, and a wind turbine for generating electricity.

Even now, with capping work still active, parts of Freshkills resemble the Hudson Valley. Thigh-high grasses cover much of the landscape, and American kestrels — small falcons — hover over the meadows looking for grasshoppers. A fresh breeze carried no hint of the foul-smelling garbage that once tormented local residents.

“The ultimate test is can a kid eat the soil,” Ms. Hirsh said, “and the answer, eventually, will be yes.”

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