Best of our wild blogs: 8 Oct 11

Volunteers needed at Mandai mangroves!
from wild shores of singapore

Gaping Dollarbird
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Pangolin spotted while filming Singapore Haunted at Labrador Nature Reserve from I.Z. Reloaded: Daily Online Refreshments

Paper suppliers risk damaging Indonesia's reputation, argues report from news by Rhett Butler

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MacRitchie's new boardwalk lets visitors get their feet wet while enjoying a new water landscape

Walk on water
Tay Suan Chiang Straits Times Life! 8 Oct 11;

Get ready to walk on water at MacRitchie Reservoir.

From next Wednesday, visitors can get their feet wet at a newly constructed submerged boardwalk.

The 40m-long boardwalk is one of the new features completed under the $5-million, Phase 2 revamp of Singapore's oldest reservoir. It will be opened officially on Tuesday by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

The first phase, which was completed in 2009 at a cost of $12 million, saw the opening of a new two-storey carpark, a larger kayaking pontoon, an amenities centre equipped with open-air showers and a food-and- beverage kiosk as well as an exercise warm-up area.

'We started with the improvement of infrastructure at the entrance of the park,' says Mr Sam Ow, assistant director of best sourcing department at PUB, the authority in charge of Singapore's waterways.

'For Phase 2, the improvements are at the inner parts of MacRitchie Reservoir Park, but the nature reserve area will be left untouched.'

MacRitchie Reservoir's revamp is part of PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters programme, which was introduced in 2007. Under the scheme, utilitarian drains, canals and reservoirs are turned into beautiful and clean streams and lakes.

So far, 15 such projects have been completed, such as at Alexandra Canal, Bedok Reservoir and Kallang River. PUB will implement more than 100 such projects islandwide in the next 15 to 20 years.

When Life! visited the submerged boardwalk on Thursday, workers were putting the final touches to it. The boardwalk is the first of its kind under the ABC Waters Programme.

The water looks murky, due to the sand bed underneath the boardwalk, but Mr Ow reassures that it is clean.

The maximum depth of the water on the boardwalk is just 50mm, making it safe for all visitors, regardless of age.

The structure is made of a special material that resembles wood and is sturdier than natural timber.

Visitors who want to walk on water should remember to go in flip-flops or take along a towel to dry their feet after.

Just by the side of the boardwalk is a water landscape area, which serves more than just to beautify the reservoir.

It has water plants such as the Beach Morning Glory and Pigweed, which help to purify the water in the reservoir by filtering out sediment.

There are also dykes and reed beds, which filter out rainwater from the surrounding pavements before they flow into the reservoir. Larger sediments in the water are allowed to settle while the plants on the reed beds absorb the pollutants, so cleaner water flows into the reservoir.

Visitors to the reservoir may also notice that the iconic bandstand and zig-zag bridge have a new look. These two structures were given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2009.

Mr Ow explains that these two structures could not be removed, so they were restored instead. This included replacing the bridge's steel structure and timber decks with new ones, as well as installing new lighting and a better sound system for the bandstand.

'But as some of the timber decks were still in fairly good condition, we decided to recycle them,' he says.

The timber strips were then used to make new benches as well as a covered walkway in the park.

Foodies may also be happy to hear that there is a new food-and-beverage area on top of the hill in MacRitchie.

There used to be a cafe on this spot but as it was too run-down, PUB decided to tear it down and build a new one. The 500 sq m F&B area consists of an indoor, air-conditioned dining section and an alfresco space.

Local firm Design International Architects designed this F&B area together with the carpark and the amenities centre. PUB is in the midst of appointing a managing agent to run the F&B area.

'It is likely to be a restaurant here,' says Mr Ow, adding that it is expected to be operational by the first quarter of next year.

The F&B area comes with full-height glass windows, so that diners can look out onto the reservoir. It will also have a glass roof 'so diners can dine under the stars', says Mr Ow.

As there are mature trees surrounding the F&B area, the architects had to design the building around the trees. 'We didn't want any disturbance to the trees and their roots,' says Mr Ow.

A new ramp, located near the carpark, will allow barrier-free access to the F&B area.

Access to a lesser-known spot in the park, the Lim Bo Seng Tomb, has also been improved. The World War II hero was buried here in 1946. Before the revamp, there was a pathway that led to the back of the tomb.

That has been removed and a new pathway leading to the front of the tomb is in place. There are also new information panels on Major-General Lim near the tomb.

Other improvements to the park include a new building for the storage of canoes and kayaks.

'The old boat kiosk had a leaky zinc roof,' says Mr Ow. 'This new storage area is bigger than the previous one, too.'

With the revamp completed, he hopes that 'all visitors will like the new environment as we have beautified the surroundings'.

Retiree Michael Loh, who goes jogging at MacRitchie Reservoir every morning, is looking forward to checking out the new features.

'It will be fun to walk on water with my grandson and jogging at the park will be a more enjoyable experience,' he says.

Phase 2 of MacRitchie Reservoir's renovations completed
Sok Hwee Seet, Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 9 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: The second phase of MacRitchie Reservoir's S$5 million facelift has been completed.

Among its new attractions is a submerged boardwalk that allows visitors to get a little closer to nature.

The boardwalk is located near the edge of the reservoir.

The plants lining the boardwalk serve more than just beautifying the area. It also has an environmental friendly function.

PUB's assistant director Sam Ow, said: "This feature also helps to cleanse the stormwater, using natural systems like the plants and soil to treat the stormwater before it goes back to the main water body."

Another environmentally-friendly feature is the new hilltop restaurant.

Decked out with a partial glass roof, the restaurant will allow visitors to enjoy not only sunlight in the day, but also dining under the night sky.

MacRitchie's iconic bandstand and zigzag bridge, which was gazetted as a heritage building in 2009, has also been refurbished.

The reservoir has been undergoing renovations since April last year.

The new features will be open to the public on October 11.

- CNA/fa

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From the middle of nowhere to prime waterfront land

Straits Times 8 Oct 11;

TEBING RUNTUH (Johor): Village houses, forests, dirt tracks and palm trees.

That was what greeted Mr Muhammad Aswan, a 35-year-old Singaporean, as recently as five years ago when he visited the area around his family land just outside Johor Baru.

The 0.4ha plot by the waters of the Strait of Johor faces Singapore.

It is in a village in Tebing Runtuh, about 25 minutes' drive from the Johor side of the Second Link highway in Tuas.

His grandfather bought it in the 1960s for RM1,000.

Mr Muhammad's father went on to build a jetty, bought two boats and built several small houses for use by the family, as it has many fishing enthusiasts. Part of the land was cleared for the planting of durian and jackfruit trees.

'There was nothing around here but forests, but things have really changed,' said Mr Muhammad, who works in the service sector in Singapore.

Today, about 2km from the kampung, a new highway cuts through the area. And hectic construction is going on to build theme parks, universities, houses and commercial buildings all around the village.

Change has come about because it falls within Nusajaya, one of five 'flagship zones' of development in Iskandar Malaysia.

About a kilometre away from the Muhammad family land and sharing the same waters of the Strait of Johor is the Puteri Harbour marina, where yachts and luxury boats are berthed.

The rise of these projects as part of the Iskandar Malaysia development has naturally led to a spike in land prices.

About seven years ago, Mr Muhammad said, a Malaysian bank estimated that the family plot, which has the status of agricultural land, could be sold for RM1.5 million.

Today, he reckons that the sea-facing property could fetch RM3.5 million (S$1.4 million).

He bases this on the recent sale of a nearby inland plot of 1.2ha for RM8 million.

The family is considering putting it up for sale as his 62-year-old father died recently and 'no one could really take care of the land anymore', he added.

Mr Muhammad hopes that with all the big Iskandar projects, a government agency or a private developer would see its potential as an idyllic waterfront retreat.

'It's a nice, quiet place to fish or read a book,' he said.


Iskandar Malaysia five years on
The Iskandar Malaysia development zone was launched five years ago, with the aim of boosting Johor's economy by attracting a wide spectrum of investments. As it approaches its fifth anniversary nextmonth, The Straits Times looks at how it's faring.
Reme Ahmad Straits Times 8 Oct 11;

NUSAJAYA: Some time next year, frisky American pre-schoolers squealing with delight at the madcap adventures of The Cat In The Hat will join budding doctors and seamen in the education hub that is rapidly taking shape in southern Johor.

EduCity in Nusajaya, a 15-minute drive from the Johor side of the Second Link, has become a popular destination for education providers looking to open new schools and campuses.

Raffles Education Corp, a private Singapore education group, told The Straits Times that when its American school opens next year, it will offer classes starting at kindergarten level all the way up to 12th grade, the equivalent of the GCE A levels.

Apart from the ample land in Nusajaya, one of its key attractions is its proximity to Singapore, where the large number of expatriate families is seen as a potentially lucrative source of revenue. 'There are a few hundred people in the queue for the American school in Singapore,' said Mr Gan Chin Huat, the group's special project director.

To make it more attractive, the group plans to run a shuttle bus service to and from Singapore, as well as offer hostel facilities for older children.

The Raffles group, which has 38 colleges in 14 countries, is one of several foreign education providers that are making Nusajaya the fastest-growing of the five Iskandar zones.

Other players include Britain's Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia and the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS), with plans for a 12ha campus. Marlborough College, the British public school whose alumni include Prince William's wife Catherine Middleton, will open its campus next year.

The sprouting of the schools is in marked contrast to the initial scepticism towards the Iskandar Malaysia project. It was launched along with four other huge 'economic growth corridors', making some observers wonder if there were sufficient investment dollars to make them viable.

And then there was Malaysia's chequered record with mega-projects. Some, like the Entertainment Village and BioValley ventures in Selangor, were ditched after failing to pull in investors.

So, will Iskandar Malaysia meet the same fate?

Five years on, progress in the sprawling and multifaceted economic region has been uneven. The Iskandar region, which covers most of southern Johor, has an area of some 2,200 sq km. Other than Nusajaya, none of the other four 'flagship zones' appears to have created the same buzz or reeled in big foreign entities. It has yet to get a company that's big in business process outsourcing, or the backroom operations of a foreign bank, to come on board.

It is also too early to say whether the newer services being brought in, such as movie-making by Pinewood Studios, and tourist facilities like Legoland would create big demand for skilled labour, said Mr Francis Hutchinson, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

'With regard to competition on service quality, Singapore comes out ahead, and with regard to competition on price (such as for call centres), the Philippines will win,' he said. But he added that Johor has always done well with property and manufacturing, and has shown potential in education, health and logistics.

Certainly, there is interest from small and medium-sized industries from Singapore in ventures involving engineering and manufacturing, said Mr Loh Lian Hiang, president of the Johor Baru Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

By February, cumulative investments in factories from Singapore companies stood at RM3.49 billion (S$1.4 billion), compared with RM517.9 million when Iskandar was launched in 2006, officials say. In the last five years, Iskandar has attracted cumulative investments of nearly RM76 billion. Of this, the government's share is RM6.28 billion - or just 8.3 per cent of the total, said the Iskandar Regional Development Authority.

And of the total investments pulled in, 40 per cent 'have already been spent on the ground for the various projects', said the government agency's chief executive Ismail Ibrahim.

'The development of Iskandar Malaysia is private sector-driven. As such, the government sees its role as facilitating and encouraging investment, rather than just injecting it in,' he said.

For those coming in, Iskandar offers the convenience of being near Singapore, minus its higher costs. Crossing into Nusajaya from parts of Singapore via the Second Link would take about the same time as 'going to Jurong or Changi', said Dr R. Theyvendran, MDIS' secretary-general.

The entry of UK-based Pinewood Studios has raised hopes of benefits to downstream industries. Global Capital & Development, a firm majority-owned by Abu Dhabi investment fund Mubadala, wants to set up a 'media village' next to it to be used by related media businesses.

To be sure, the studios will not be completed until 2013, and much more remains to be done to rev up investor interest and activity in the other zones.

But Mr Ismail, in an interview earlier this year, believes things will pick up once the first phase of major projects comes onstream. These include the medical university, the Johor Premium Outlets, scheduled to open next month, and the Legoland theme park which will open next year. 'People will really see the buzz in Iskandar Malaysia' then, he said.

The big projects

APART from educational facilities, other big projects coming up include Pinewood Studios, Legoland and an indoor theme park featuring Hello Kitty and other cartoon characters. The expected completion dates of the projects are given in brackets.


Pinewood studios (2013), the same group that produced Johnny English, Batman and Lara Croft, among others, will occupy 32ha of land.


Legoland Malaysia (2012)

An indoor theme park (2012), with attractions that include Hello Kitty Town, Barney and Bob the Builder, will be located by a retail mall.


Johor Premium Outlets mall (to open next month) will have 80 shops offering discounted fare from top brands such as Burberry and Armani.


Traders Hotel, 292 rooms (2012)

Renaissance Hotel, 300 rooms (2014)

Palazzo Hotel and Serviced Suites, 293 rooms (2014)


Gleneagles Hospital, 300 beds, 150 suites (2014)

Columbia Asia Hospital, 82 beds (opened this year)


Medini Square, 1.05 million sq ft of office space and retail shops (2013)


Many new projects have been launched by landowners. These include waterfront homes in Danga Bay (by a Malaysian group of the same name), and Senibong Cove by Australia's Walker Corporation.

Temasek Holdings and Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional are planning a wellness township.

Background story

The flagship zones

MOST reports on Iskandar Malaysia tend to zoom in on Nusajaya - large plots of empty land now being transformed into Legoland, university campuses and residential areas. But Iskandar actually has four other 'flagship zones'.

Johor Baru City zone: The area located just past the Causeway includes the Johor city centre, with its supermarkets, hotels and malls that many Singaporeans often patronise. There is also the Danga Bay waterfront project facing Singapore.

Western Gate Development: The Port of Tanjung Pelepas is found here as well as the 2,100-megawatt Tanjung Bin Power Plant. It also includes Heritage Park with its 9,300 hectares of mangrove park suitable for eco-tourism.

Eastern Gate Development: Site of Johor's key industrial hub that includes Pasir Gudang and Tanjung Langsat industrial parks, the Johor Port and the Tanjung Langsat Port that handles bulk cargo and liquified petroleum gas.

Senai-Skudai zone: Senai airport along with an air cargo and logistics park are its key features. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia is also located here.

Iskandar Malaysia in total covers 2,217 sq km, about three times the size of Singapore. Launched on Nov 4, 2006, it is part of the federal government's strategy to turn Malaysia into a fully developed nation by 2020 by lifting per capita incomes to US$15,000 (S$19,500) from US$6,900 in 2009. Incentives include tax breaks and exemptions from the so-called 'bumiputera rules', allowing foreign investors to own 100 per cent of their businesses.


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Malaysia: Do More To Save The Corals

Melati Mohd Ariff Bernama 7 Oct 11;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 7 (Bernama) -- Extinction is a very real threat to coral reefs in the country.

To date, up to 30 percent of coral reefs have been destroyed.

Most of them are located by the beach and, ironically, by marine park islands.

This concern was voiced by Prof Dr Mohd Kushairi Mohd Rajuddin, the Science and Biotechnology Faculty Dean of Universiti Selangor (Unisel) in an interview with Bernama recently.

He said most of the destruction has been caused by human activities, including the development of vacation resorts.

"If we don't address the problem now, more corals will be destroyed -- to the point of its extinction.

"It would be a shame if we can't conserve the beauty of corals in our seas," said Prof Mohd Kushairi.

"This is a national treasure to be enjoyed not only by our generation by those to come."


Prof Mohd Kushairi said coral conservation should not be the burden of the government alone.

The government has spent a lot on enforcing the protection of corals. Other parties must carry the burden as well, particularly tourism operators and owners of resorts.

"Scuba diving and snorkeling centres must be monitored so that they do not disturb the corals," he said.


Prof Mohd Kushairi has been researching coral reefs and related issues since the early 1980s.

At that time, he was serving in the Fisheries Department Research Institute and researching the ecosystem of corals and coastal waters.

His research encompassed the waters of Kedah, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor and Labuan.

The government then was mulling the establishment of marine parks to protect and conserve marine life.

"We were involved in selecting the islands to be declared marine parks, based on their coral reefs," he said.

"We researched every island and then presented our findings to the government."

He said the islands and the 200 nautical miles of sea area surrounding them are considered marine parks.

According to regulations, fishermen cannot fish within two nautical miles of where the tide ebbs.


In 1999, Prof Mohd Kushairi conducted research on the corals at the Spratly Islands, off the South China Sea.

Conducted under the Internal Security Division of the Prime Minister's Department, the research ended in 2002.

"I headed the research. Experts from local universities were also invited to join.

"The purpose of the research was to study the ecosystem of corals in our waters.

"At that time, the condition of the corals was still good, and the islands could be turned into tourist attractions," he said.

The findings of the research were published and presented at a conference.


In recent years, more parties are voicing concern about the destruction of coral reefs.

Prof Mohd Khusairi's research has proven the extent of this destruction.

He said some of the damage has to do with El Nino, a warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific, near the coast of Peru.

"El Nino happens every year and wreaks havoc on the climate across the world. This also affects marine life, especially during natural disasters," he said.

Besides El Nino, Malaysia's move to designate some islands as marine parks also indirectly contributed to the destruction of corals.

He said this was because the number of visitors to marine parks increased, and some of their activities -- including scuba diving and snorkeling training -- have caused the destruction of corals.

According to statistics from the Malaysian Marine Park Department website, visitors to marine park islands from 2000 to 2010 numbered 5,386,849.

The highest number of visitors was recorded in 2010, at 606,155 people.

Water pollution has also contributed to the destruction of corals, he said. The main offenders are resorts, which dispose of garbage straight into the marine parks.


One of the signs of coral destruction is bleaching, said Prof Mohd Kushairi, who explained that it happens when water temperature rises to above normal and stays that way for several days.

"In Malaysia, coral bleaching starts when water temperature stays hot for five days or more. This usually takes place during the El Nino," he said.

He said corals are often coated by a microorganism called dinoflagellate, which gives corals their colour.

"When the water temperature rises even a degree, dinoflagellate will leave the corals. The live coral then loses its colour and becomes white.

"If the water temperature remains high, the coral will usually live for only a few days."

Prof Mohd Kushairi said bleaching causes the death of between 5 and 25 percent of corals in Malaysia.


Prof Mohd Kushairi told Bernama the results of his research revealed that the destruction of corals in Malaysia's marine parks has worsened in the last 10 years.

For example, research conducted in 1998 found over 20 percent of the corals around Tioman Island, Thailand, the Sulu Sea and Indonesia had died.

He presented these findings in Langkawi during the 1999 International Conference on the International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange in the Western Pacific (ICIWP).

"When a coral dies, it cannot be replaced. But if we guard the area, we can still do something.

"However, the areas have to be closed for some time, and no human activity can be allowed, -- including fishing."


There is no shortcut to encouraging coral growth. Any use of artificial reefs calls for prior research.

Prof Mohd Kushairi said not all structures thrown into the sea will aid coral growth.

"Some contain paint that is toxic for corals. This also applies to metal items such as ATM machines, tyres and PVC items."

In his bid to address the problem of coral destruction, Prof Mohd Kushairi is conducting a study on using artificial reefs to encourage coral growth in areas where coral death regularly occurs.

"The study is currently conducted in Tioman Island, and we are recording the growth rate by every square metre," he said.

He said artificial reefs in the study are made of concrete, using special cement or tiles from a specially mixed compound.


He said research has to be done before artificial reefs are planted, as they only can be placed where there are coral larvae, to enable the natural process of reproduction.

"There have also been studies on artificial coral seeding. They break the corals and plant it on concrete.

"Two unhealthy scenarios may result from this process. Not all relocated corals will live, and corals that are broken can die.

"My research focuses on reproduction, not transplantation," said Prof Mohd Kushairi.

Cooperation between Unisel and Soka University in Tokyo this year has enabled him to conduct bioptic research on corals, to see the effect of sunlight on corals, marine flora and the areas around them.

The research calls for the establishment of a laboratory in Unisel's Science and Biotechnology Faculty in Batang Berjuntai, Selangor.

The bioptic research currently conducted at the South China Sea involves the coasts of Terengganu, and will be expanded to include the coasts of Pahang and Johor.

"We choose these areas because there are over 30 marine parks there.

"In 2012, we will carry out the same research in the Malacca Straits, encompassing three marine parks -- Pulau Paya, Pulau Kaca and Pulau Lembu," he said.


The government has made an effort to address sea pollution and coral destruction.

However, more publicity is needed to educate the public on such issues.

According to Prof Mohd Kushairi, it is not enough to declare an island as a marine park, if no information about it was disseminated.

"We must increase available brochures and reading materials to be distributed in schools or institutions of higher learning. The public also need to hear explanations of this," he added.

"We have a Marine Park Department and research from various universities, but we have done little to disseminate information on the importance of corals," he said.


Prof Mohd Kushairi published a book on the Ecosystem of Corals in 2002.

He said the idea to write the book came from his children, whom he often brought with him during research trips.

"They often asked questions, so I figured it would be good to produce a book that gives basic information and background on corals.

"Before writing the book, I did plenty of observations on the destruction of corals, not only by fishermen but by tourists as well."

He said his book has not been publicized, nor widely distributed.

However, he thanked the relevant ministry for distributing his books in school libraries, universities and offices.

"This will hopefully give others a chance to learn about and appreciate the importance of corals," he said.


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The beginning of the end for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil?

P. Gunasegaran The Star 8 Oct 11;

Indonesia's palm oil growers pulling out of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has grave implications if Malaysia responds to unite producers

WHICHEVER way one looks at it, the move by the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) to move out of the Roundatable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) en masse is a major blow to the RSPO.

True, RSPO membership is on an individual basis but more likely than not members of GAPKI are likely to follow the lead set by their own association and move in favour of the Indonesian standards, Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil or ISPO.

The move has send reverberations through Malaysia. While Malaysia is not pulling out of RSPO yet, producers are saying that they should not increase the amount of palm oil which is RSPO certified until there is enough uptake for certified palm oil.

The RSPO was formed after pressure by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), mainly environmental groups and wildlife conservationists, on large palm oil consuming multinationals in developed countries such as Nestle and Unilever who came under systematic attack by the NGOs.

The main allegation was that palm oil was produced from deforestation and therefore destroyed habitats of animals such as orangutans, was an environmental threat and displaced indigenous people. The NGOs threatened to get consumers to boycott products containing palm oil.

Palm oil growers were annoyed by the blanket attack against all palm oil and alleged discrimination and thinly veiled protectionism. They pointed out that in the long run other oils such as soybean, sunflower and rapeseed degraded the environment more because they were not perennial crops, had much lower yields and needed much more fertiliser.

Still, bowing to pressure from the NGOs and consumers, palm oil growers acceded to a system of certification for palm oil under RSPO which eventually came to be an organisation dominated by NGOs, consuming multinationals, traders and intermediaries with growers having just four seats, the same as NGOs in a council of 18.

In return for certification a process which says the oil was produced without deforestation, with due care taken of indigenous people, no exploitation of workers etc - palm oil consuming multinationals such as Unilever and Nestle pledged to purchase the certified palm oil instead. Presumably this removes the threat by NGOs to urge a boycott of these products.

But Malaysian growers, many of whom jumped on the RSPO bandwagon because they were seduced to believe that they will get a competitive edge over their Indonesian brethren, are now finding out that the premium for certified palm oil is so low that it is not even covering certification costs.

The Malaysian producers are now saying that they may not increase the amount of certified palm oil produced unless there is demand for them, which taken together with the Indonesian move may stall the RSPO certification process.

Meantime, Malaysia is also in the process of implementing its own standards for certification. And in the marketplace, the demand for palm oil continues to increase because of rising affluence and an increasing population.

All of these will combine to put considerable pressure on the RSPO but ultimately, what will determine the demise or otherwise of RSPO is whether palm oil producers remain united in the face of adversity instead of allowing their ranks to be riven by false promises and expectations and the unfortunate human desire of getting the better of another.

If Malaysia and Indonesia, which produce 85% of the world's palm oil, can work together for the benefit of the industry and to remove threats to the usage of the oil jointly, much can be achieved.

Palm oil producers, taking into account the legitimate demands of the marketplace, must determine the standards. And they must demand that other oils meet similar standards. If they don't the fair thing for them to do is drop certification.

Its all fine and dandy for Europeans to say no more forests must be cleared when they have cleared all of theirs. Countries like Indonesia have a burgeoning and large population which needs land.

Deforestation is an economic necessity.

The NGOs should focus on how the forests can be cleared to cause as little impact as possible on the environment. Planting palm oil in deforested areas is one way of ensuring that there is some green left while at the same time providing income to impoverished people. Instead NGOs penalise palm oil produced from deforested areas.

If Indonesia and Malaysia can jointly agree on common standards which are in consonance with the legitimate and reasonable demands of the marketplace, it will be a step in the right direction.

But, they need to slow the pace to give other oils and other products a chance to become sustainable as well. In a right and correct world there is no reason why ALL products should not be certified to say that they are sustainably produced.

What palm oil producers must never do is to submit to the blackmail of some of the NGOs, whose very existence depends on them raising emotive issues among the public such as orangutans losing their habitat to get their own funding.

Above all, they must attain and keep unity.

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Thailand warns of Bangkok flood threat

Anusak Konglang (AFP) Google News 7 Oct 11;

BANGKOK — Thailand's prime minister warned Friday that Bangkok was under threat from the country's worst floods in decades as the authorities stepped up efforts to protect the capital and key industrial areas.

"The flooding situation is now considered a serious crisis," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said in a nationally televised address, noting that 252 people have died across the country due to more than two months of heavy rains.

While the capital has so far escaped major flooding, Yingluck said the city of 12 million people would not escape unscathed.

"It is going to directly affect Bangkok," she said.

Homes, roads and factories are already inundated just north of the low-lying capital and more storms are expected in the days to come.

Many residents in affected areas have ignored the government's appeal to evacuate to safe areas, preferring to stay and guard homes submerged by the rising waters.

The authorities raced to put up flood walls alongside canals and rivers on Bangkok's northern outskirts as huge amounts of muddy water flow down river.

"Nothing could be worse than the current situation, but the most important thing is to prevent flooding in Bangkok and two industrial estates" north of the city, said Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi.

A key test is expected in mid-October, when large amounts of run-off water reach the capital and high tides make it harder for the floods to flow out to sea.

"Every canal in Bangkok is already at full capacity. If more rain comes it's likely that Bangkok will be inundated," Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said on television.

He said the city was preparing emergency stocks of food and drinking water, and setting up evacuation centres at schools.

The floods -- several metres deep in places -- have damaged the homes or livelihoods of millions of people in Thailand, particularly farmers, according to the government.

The military has been deployed to help victims and army camps are being opened to evacuees.

Japanese car giant Honda has suspended production temporarily after its parts factories was inundated in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital just north of Bangkok.

According to economists at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the damage amounts to 104 billion baht (3.4 billion dollars) in terms of the impact on buildings, crops, livestock, industry, tourism and trade.

It said the impact could knock about one percent off the country's annual economic output.

With more storms forecast, the fear is that the economic costs could rise if the waters reach the capital's business and economic hub.

"Certainly Bangkok will be flooded. We have to assess the situation after each storm," said independent expert Royal Chitradon, director of Thai Integrated Water Resource Management.

Bangkok, located on the gradually sinking Chao Phraya delta, has been classified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as one of the cities most at risk from coastal flooding by 2070.

Thai Flooding Closes Prison, Factories; GDP To Suffer
Sinthana Kosolpradit PlanetArk 7 Oct 11;

Flooding forced the evacuation of hundreds of inmates from a prison in central Thailand on Thursday and a prominent think tank slashed its forecast for economic growth this year as farmland was inundated and a big industrial estate had to close.

At least 244 people have been killed in floods in Thailand since mid-July, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said. Another 167 have died in neighboring Cambodia and 15 in Vietnam in what a United Nations agency said was the worst flooding to hit parts of Southeast Asia in 50 years.

"The full extent of damage has yet to occur, in particular the full impact of water flow from the upstream Mekong River," the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement

In Ayutthaya, about 105 km (65 miles) north of Bangkok, 1,700 prisoners were evacuated from a prison in the old town, clinging to a rope stretched between its gates and a heavy truck as flood water swirled around them.

Somsak Rangsiyopas, deputy director-general of the Correction Department, said water nearly 2 meters (six feet) high had inundated the prison and the area around it.

"We had to the use rope to get people out of the prison due to the strong current," he said, adding that the prisoners were

being transferred to nearby jails.

This week, the 400-year-old Chai Wattanaram temple in Ayutthaya, a World Heritage Site, was flooded.

A big industrial estate in the area with more than 40 factories, many of them Japanese-owned, had to close on Wednesday because of flooding, newspapers reported.

The Center for Economic and Business Forecasting, part of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday it had cut its forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent because of the floods.

It estimated the negative impact at between 1.0 and 1.3 percentage points of GDP but said that was offset a little by continued strength in exports, which it now expected to grow 22.6 percent this year rather than 16.1 percent.


Dams are struggling to cope with the flow of water caused by unusually heavy monsoon rain, which normally falls from August to October.

Director general of the Irrigation Department, Chalit Damrongsak, said water would have to be released from the Bhumibol dam in Tak province 420 km (260 miles) northwest of Bangkok, which was 97 percent full, even though that would add to problems further down the Ping river.

That river flows into the Chao Phraya, which flows through Bangkok. The capital has seen only minor flooding and authorities say the inner city should be safe.

Weather forecasters in Vietnam said flooding in the Mekong Delta should peak in the next four days.

At least 15 people, including nine children, have died due to floods since late September in Vietnam's central and southern provinces, state media said.

Dozens of houses had been swept away in the Delta and 27,700 more were under water, state-run news website VnExpress said.

In Cambodia, 167 people have died in floods and more than 160,000 homes were under water, the Cambodian National Disaster Management Committee (CNDMC) said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Doubts remain over global future of sharks

UPI 7 Oct 11;

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Doubts remain over the global future of sharks despite an international coalition's commitment toward conservation and try to halt what experts see as a steady slide toward extinction of numerous shark species.

Overfishing of sharks, which reproduce and mature slowly, poses risks for the oceans' ecology and the entire global environment, analysts said at the gathering of an international coalition aiming to save sharks.

Up to 73 million of sharks are killed each year to support a global trade in shark fins. As a result, scientific studies indicate, one-third of all sharks are at risk of extinction. Some shark species, including the scalloped hammerhead, have declined by up to 98 percent, figures indicated.

Worries over the future of sharks were voiced when Honduras and seven other nations met to look at ways of better managing commercial catches, avoid depletion in marine resources already in peril and minimize wastage. They announced an initiative to prevent shark extinction.

Analysts said the agreed measures would work only if the group's recommendations could be enforced, of which there is limited possibility in the near future.

Concern over the future of sharks coincides with alarm over a threat of extinction facing certain dolphin species and renewed excessive hunting of whales by Japan.

Support for developing shark sanctuaries is growing worldwide but the initiatives come at a time when governments are hard pressed for cash and there's little enthusiasm for projects that do not promise tangible results favored by politicians. Strong shark industry lobbies are in place worldwide to prevent international measures that jeopardize their business.

The Micronesian republic of Marshall Islands last week declared its waters the world's largest shark sanctuary but with a population of about 67,000 spread over five islands and 29 atolls the islands are totally dependent on U.S. defense resources to ensure successful security measures against violators.

Smaller sanctuaries for sharks were announced by Tokelau in the South Pacific, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and Honduras. None are fully enforceable without huge outlays on defense and security and significant increases in enforcement personnel.

Trade bans on sharks and shark products, recently announced in California, Washington and Oregon and internationally in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, are also expensive to enforce, analysts said.

Environmentalist campaigners, however, remain optimistic.

"With each new sanctuary, sharks gain another ally in their fight for survival," Matt Rand, the Pew Environment Group's director of global shark conservation, said.

Pew is spearheading international efforts to establish shark sanctuaries where targeted fishing for the species is prohibited. However, large numbers of sharks are caught and killed in non-targeted fishing.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said his country backed the conservation effort but was powerless beyond its maritime borders in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

"The shark sanctuary here supports the health of our ocean environment and economy," he said. "However, these species migrate beyond our waters, so it is necessary for us to work together to ensure that their populations and marine ecosystems are healthy."

Palauan President Johnson Toribiong said, "Our ocean's health depends on sharks" and said he hoped greater international cooperating on saving the sharks would result in more positive action. Palau island republic lies about 500 miles east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles south of Tokyo.

Only a few of the major shark hunting nations in the region have indicated they want to join the fight to save the sharks.

A declaration signed by the Bahamas, Colombia, Honduras, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia and Palau, is expected to declare up to 2 million additional square miles off limits to commercial shark fishing. The question of effective enforcement of the ban remains unanswered.

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