Best of our wild blogs: 17 Oct 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [10 - 16 Oct 2011]
from Green Business Times

The Army Protects more than just our Human Citizens
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Hantu Octoberfest: 1-for-1 Nudis
from Pulau Hantu

fishhooked boar @ chek Jawa 16Oct2011
from sgbeachbum

Mok Ly Yng on “Horsburgh Lighthouse: 160th anniversary” (Sat 15 Oct 2011)
from Otterman speaks

Tapestry Turban Snail
from Monday Morgue

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Passion for conservation: interview with Reuben Clements

Azrina Abdullah The Sun Daily 10 Oct 11;

I WAS reading the news the other day about students and their favoured career paths. I was struck by how little our future leaders were interested in conservation as a career and proceeded to contact one of the most passionate conservationists I know, Reuben Clements, a PhD candidate in Wildlife Conservation, to talk about his chosen career path. Reuben has numerous international publications under his belt and is highly respected for his work. Here is the interview with some fascinating views on how conservation became his passion.

Why conservation?
Life is too short, so why not make a career out of something that enables you to contribute to the well-being of this planet? When I saw hills being mined, trees being logged and animals being killed for no reason, I felt I had to do something about it. I feel many would be emotionally affected after seeing habitats destroyed and try to make a difference. To paraphrase Gandhi, if you want to make a change, be the best example of that change, and others will follow.

Were you always into conservation?
No. Before entering university, I did not know what to do with my life. I was “following the crowd” and pondered on safe career choices that would yield a comfortable monthly salary. Back in my time, few teachers or parents would ever tell their kids that they could make a career out of conserving biodiversity. But times are different now with greater awareness of green issues.

My turning point was doing a MSc at the National University of Singapore which focused on limestone karst conservation. I started to take more interest in conservation during my field trips to pristine and quarried limestone hills in Malaysia, where I witnessed both majesty and travesties. My involvement in on-the-ground conservation grew even more when I got a job with WWF-Malaysia as species conservation manager. Although I had limited opportunities to work on limestone karst conservation, I learnt a great deal more about the realities of conserving other ecosystems and species, and had the freedom to design and implement conservation programmes to help protect wildlife. I found this to be very fulfilling.

How do you think your PhD will benefit conservation, and society as a whole?
My PhD focuses on the issue of habitat connectivity for wildlife. Animals need to move safely across highways in order to find food and mates. We want to find out if highway viaducts are being utilised by large mammals, and the factors affecting their effectiveness. This will allow us to identify important wildlife habitats where highways should be avoided in order to reduce the risk of forest fragmentation. We are also conducting research to better understand the attitudes of indigenous peoples towards highways. Only time will tell whether our research will contribute to conservation and society – this largely depends on how effective we are at communicating our research findings to decision-makers who can make important policy changes.

What would you say to encourage youth to select conservation as their first career choice?
In order to do conservation, you need to have interest and passion. Even if someone forces you to be a conservationist, don’t listen to them. I always tell young people to follow their dreams. If a person chooses conservation as a career over a medical or legal path, I still think it is a valuable experience to try it out for some time. But if you still do not derive any satisfaction from it, then please vacate that position and let a more passionate person take over.

Azrina Abdullah conducts research on the links between indigenous groups and wildlife trade. She was regional director of Traffic, an NGO which monitors the global wildlife trade. Comments:

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Punggol to retain its fishing village heritage

Ong Dai Lin Today Online 17 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - She grew up in Punggol but, today, Mdm Wee Sah Muay can no longer recognise the area where she had lived for more than 30 years until she moved out in 1975 to Hougang.

The 78-year-old, who used to live at the 20th track near the old Punggol Zoo, told Today: "I have no impression of the new place. Everything looks different and the place where I used to stay is now an empty plot of land that the Government will use to build recreational facilities."

As Punggol is in the midst of being transformed into an eco-town, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is looking at how to preserve its fishing village heritage for both the younger and older generations.

For instance, the 4.2km man-made Punggol Waterway, which will be open to visitors from Sunday, runs through the town to provide residents with a waterfront living space, while seeking to retain the seaside charm of the old Punggol.

Features such as a "kelong" bridge, heritage panels and a heartwave wall with motif panels will be built along the waterway for residents to learn about the history of the town as they go about their recreational activities.

The HDB told Today that facilities along the waterway such as water play and sand play areas "were designed with community interaction and bonding in mind" to foster a kampong spirit.

Apart from Punggol, other housing estates such as Dawson and Yishun will also see their heritage conserved under the HDB's Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) programme.

In 1984, the Government approved the North-eastern Coast Reclamation Scheme for Punggol, which involved 875 hectares of shallow foreshore and swamp land from Pasir Ris to Jalan Kayu. The bulk of the reclamation was for new flats.

All the pig farms, boatels - which provided services like docking and renting of boats for boating, water-skiing and skin-diving lessons - and farms were moved out to make way for Sengkang and Punggol new towns. The residents were relocated to various parts of Singapore.

The HDB said that care has been taken to preserve the rich coastal vegetation and mangroves that Punggol used to be known for.

It has replanted freshwater tolerant mangroves at the eastern zone of the waterway and is test bedding the floating wetlands system at the Sunrise Gateway (where visitors can view the sunrise), which will help enhance the water quality in Punggol Waterway.

Mr Daniel Ng, 29, who stays in Punggol, told Today: "The new facilities coming up at the Punggol Waterway will provide a lot of recreational choices for residents. The efforts to preserve the history of the town is a bonus. It will allow residents to appreciate the town better."

A HDB spokesperson said: "Under ROH, HDB brings out the distinct character of each town, builds on what makes the area unique and endearing. HDB recognises the importance of conserving amid rejuvenating the estates. For this reason, there is a heritage area purposefully set aside in each estate to reflect the past."

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Supermarkets adding to food sources

More signing contracts with farmers, even going beyond S.E. Asia
Jessica Lim Straits Times 17 Oct 11;

PRICES of Australian carrots sold in FairPrice supermarkets are set to remain at 85 to 95 cents for a 500g pack in the next two years.

Singapore's largest supermarket chain recently inked two-year contracts with two farms in Western Australia state to supply 52 million carrots - about 80 per cent of what it sells a year.

Over the next month, contracts with other farms in the state will be signed for cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli and vine tomatoes - although in smaller amounts.

Apples and other fruits may also be thrown into the mix.

These efforts are the latest by importers and supermarkets in Singapore to diversify food sources and keep a lid on prices.

High demand from emerging economies like China and supply shortages due to bad weather have led to higher prices of necessities - from cooking oil and rice to vegetables and soya beans - since 2008.

Securing supply is crucial because Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food and is hence vulnerable to price fluctuations.

FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng, who was in Western Australia to sign the deals with Sumich and Centre West Exports, said: 'Should there be any issues with a particular food source due to various reasons, diversification helps to lessen the impact on the overall supply and prices of our fresh produce.'

Said Mr Tng Ah Yiam, FairPrice's managing director for group purchasing, merchandising and international trading: 'When there is a contract, farmers plan and reserve stock for us. It is also a guarantee for farms.'

He added that Western Australia was chosen because of its proximity to Singapore, advanced farm technology and good climate for growing food.

The chain's contracts with the two carrot farms are its first outside of South-east Asia. It inked its first overseas contract in 2000 with farms in Malaysia for vegetables like chye sim, potatoes and kailan.

It now has 84 contracts signed with farmers in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore - more than thrice the number in 2008 - for vegetables.

It is also in discussions with farmers in China.

Other supermarkets are also taking the contract route.

Cold Storage, which started doing so five years ago, has 10 contracts with vegetable producers in Tasmania state in Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand, said a spokesman.

Prime has two contracts for leafy vegetables in Malaysia while Sheng Siong said it is considering the option.

FairPrice's new contracts will help to steady the prices of carrots, cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli and vine tomatoes, said Mr Poh Sen Kah, its category manager for vegetables.

Over the past year, he noted that the prices had fluctuated by 15 per cent due to an unstable supply.

The higher cost is sometimes passed on to consumers.

With the contracts, price fluctuations will be limited to 5 per cent at the most, he said, adding that it is an amount the company can absorb.

Vegetables from Australia make up about 10 per cent of the total amount that FairPrice sells.

Consumers are drawn to the better quality as farmers there invest in modern farming methods.

Western Australia's Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mr Terry Redman, said the contracts are a first for the region, which exported nearly A$5 billion (S$6.5 billion) worth of agricultural produce last year.

He added that his ministry is hoping to promote more of such contract farming deals.

The tie-up with FairPrice is good news for consumers like Madam Lilian Choo, 52, a teacher.

'The vegetables from Australia taste sweeter compared with those from other countries,' said the mother of two. 'But they are so much more expensive.'

'If the prices are a little bit lower, I may switch,' she said.

Farmers in W. Australia welcome deals
Straits Times 17 Oct 11;

UNDULATING fields of cauliflower greet visitors at Manjimup Fresh Produce, a thousand-acre farm in Manjimup - a town 307km south of Perth.

Its owner Gary Ryan, 46, used to grow 600,000 heads of cauliflower a year in the 1990s. About 80 per cent of them ended up in Singapore.

By 2004, his output had halved and only 1 per cent of that was Singapore-bound. The rest was sold locally.

The reason: China was producing cauliflower by the container load at half the price because of its cheap labour costs - among other things.

'They completely wiped us out. We never really fully recovered,' said Mr Ryan, whose farm was set up in 1956 by his grandfather.

The father of two, who started growing other varieties of vegetables including cabbage and broccoli, stopped exporting altogether. He is hoping to get that part of his business up and running again.

The farming contract between FairPrice and UTR Produce - a brokering company representing farmers to coordinate their supplies into the Perth and international markets - will help him.

Mr Lloyd Williams, the director of UTR Produce, works with numerous farmers at a time so there will always be supply to meet contract requirements. He gets up to 10 per cent return for everything he sells.

By next month, he will be inking two-year-long contracts with FairPrice for cauliflower, sweet corn, broccoli and vine tomatoes.

Such contracts, he said, will go a long way to help farmers in the region. According to his records, there were about 70 broccoli and cauliflower farmers in the Manjimup district in the late 80s.

Now, there are only seven left.

The major supermarket chains in the region refuse to work with farmers on contract terms because they want to hold out for lower prices, he said.

'They call us only when they are short and tell us what they will give us in terms of price.

'What can a farmer do? It costs them a lot to put money into infrastructure and into the ground. It's difficult if they cannot guarantee a return,' he said, adding that many farmers are now working on the quality of their produce.

Produce from China is half the price of its Australian counterpart. At FairPrice, consumers pay 37 cents for 100g of broccoli from China. Australian broccoli costs 69 cents per 100g.

Cauliflower from China can be bought at 25 cents per 100g, while the same vegetable from Australia cost 49 cents per 100g.

Said Mr Ryan: 'We will never be able to get them on price. But we get them on quality every time.'

He added that contract farming also gives him enough security to invest in fertiliser and water sprinklers. 'That's how we are going to compete.'

Other farmers like Mr Vincent Tana, whose father started the family's 3,500ha carrot farm Sumich, agrees that contract farming is the way forward.

Such contracts have also enabled him to invest in water sprinklers and wind-turbines.

He said: 'Growing without supply is a big risk. If we can't sell the carrots, it's perishable in weeks.'


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Climate change spawns the incredible shrinking ant

Reuters 16 Oct 11;

HONG KONG Oct 17 (Reuters) - Plants and animals are shrinking because of warmer temperatures and lack of water, researchers said on Monday, warning it could have profound implications for food production in years ahead.

"The worst-case scenarios ... are that food crops and animals will shrink enough to have real implications for food security," Assistant Professor David Bickford, of the National University of Singapore's biological sciences department, said.

Bickford and colleague Jennifer Sheridan trawled through fossil records and dozens of studies which showed that many species of plants and creatures such as spiders, beetles, bees, ants and cicadas have shrunk over time in relation to climate change.

They cited an experiment showing how shoots and fruit are 3 to 17 percent smaller for every degree Celsius of warming in a variety of plants.

Each degree of warming also reduces by 0.5 to 4 percent the body size of marine invertebrates and 6 to 22 percent of fish.

"Survival of small individuals can increase with warmer temperatures, and drought conditions can lead to smaller offspring, leading to smaller average size," they wrote in their paper which was published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, on Monday.

"Impacts could range from food resources becoming more limited (less food produced on the same amount of land) to wholesale biodiversity loss and eventual catastrophic cascades of ecosystem services," Bickford wrote.

"We have not seen large-scale effects yet, but as temperatures change even more, these changes in body size might become much more pronounced - even having impacts for food security." (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Climate change downsizing fauna, flora: study
Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 17 Oct 11;

Climate change is reducing the body size of many animal and plant species, including some which supply vital nutrition for more than a billion people already living near hunger's threshold, according to a study released Sunday.

From micro-organisms to top predators, nearly 45 percent of species for which data was reviewed grew smaller over multiple generations due to climate change, researchers found.

The impact of rapidly climbing temperatures and shifts in rainfall patterns on body size could have unpredictable and possible severe consequences, they warned.

Previous work established that recent climate change has led to sharp shifts in habitat and the timing of reproductive cycles. But impact on the size of plants and animals has received far less attention.

Jennifer Sheridan and David Bickford at the National University of Singapore looked at scientific literature on climate-change episodes in the distant past and at experiments and observations in recent history.

Fossil records, they found, were unambiguous: past periods of rising temperatures had led both marine and land organisms to became progressively smaller.

During a warming event 55 million years ago -- often seen as an analogue for current climate change -- beetles, bees, spiders, wasps and ants shrank by 50 to 75 percent over a period of several thousand years.

Mammals such as squirrels and woodrats also diminished in size, by about 40 percent.

The pace of current warming, though, is far greater than during this so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

It, too, has begun to shrink dozens of species, the study found.

Among 85 examples cited, 45 percent were unaffected. But of those remaining, four out of five had gotten smaller, while a fifth got bigger.

Some of the shrinkage came as a surprise. "Plants were expected to get larger with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide," but many wound up stunted due to changes in temperature, humidity and nutrients available, the researchers said.

For cold-blooded animals -- including insects, reptiles and amphibians -- the impact is direct: experiments suggest that an upward tick of one degree Celsius translates into roughly a 10 percent increase in metabolism, the rate at which an organism uses energy. That, in turn, results in downsizing.

The common toad, for example, has measurably shriveled in girth in only two decades, along with some tortoises, marine iguanas and lizards.

Overfishing has been blamed for decreased body size in both wild and commercially-harvested aquatic species, threatening the key source of protein of a billion people around the world, mainly in Africa and Asia.

But experiments and observational studies have shown that warming waters play a role as well, especially in rivers and lakes.

Birds -- including passerines, goshawks and gulls -- and mammals such as soay sheep, red dear and polar bears, have also trended towards less bulk.

Some of the most worrying changes are at the bottom of the food chain, especially in the ocean, where tiny phytoplankton and calcium-building creatures are dwindling in size due to acidification and the reduced capacity of warmer water to hold oxygen and nutrients.

Carbon pollution has probably locked in an additional 1.0 C increase in average global temperatures, and continued emissions of greenhouse gases could push up the thermometre another 4.0 to 5.0 C (7.4 to 9.0 F) by centuries end, according to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Because warming is occurring at unprecedented rates, "may organisms may not respond or adapt quickly enough", especially those with long generation times, the authors noted in an email.

"We do not yet know the exact mechanisms involved, or why some organisms are getting smaller while others are unaffected," they added. "Until we understand more, we could be risking negative consequences that we can't yet quantify."

The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.

Animals Shrink as Earth Warms
Wynne Parry Yahoo News 17 Oct 11;

As global temperatures rise this century, the result of human-caused climate change, many living things will shrink, thanks to a host of changes in the environment, as well as the direct effects of warming, two researchers write.

If everything were to shrink at the same rate, this wouldn't be a problem. Smaller plants would feed smaller fish that would feed smaller sharks, for example. However, it appears that organisms don't all react at the same rate, so change is likely to throw ecosystems out of whack, putting some species at risk of extinction, according to Jennifer Sheridan and David Bickford of the National University of Singapore.

This isn't a new phenomenon; during past periods of natural global warming, beetles, bees, spiders, algae called diatoms, pocket gophers and woodrats have shrunk, according to fossil evidence. For example, the burrows dug by invertebrates, including beetles, bees and spiders, during a warm spell about 56 million years ago, show the creatures shrank by 50 to 75 percent, the researchers write in a study published on Oct. 16 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

Some modern shrinkage is expected to come about indirectly. For example, an increasing acidity in the ocean — caused by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — interferes with some organisms' ability to build their calcium carbonate shells or skeletons (such as corals, scallops and oysters). Acidification also decreases growth rates among phytoplankton, the tiny plants that float in the ocean, and this has implications for the food chains that depend on them. [Colorful Creations: Gallery of Incredible Coral]

Plants were expected to thrive on the excess carbon dioxide humans have expelled into the atmosphere, because they use it to create sugars by photosynthesis. However, things have not played out this way over the past century. Plant growth is highly dependent on water, and while climate models predict that some areas will get wetter and others drier over the coming decades, many places are expected to experience higher variability in rainfall. This means longer dry periods even in wetter regions, which will ultimately reduce growth, according to the authors.

Cold-blooded animals — most of the animals on Earth — are directly affected by changes in temperature, which increase their metabolic rates. This means they need more food to maintain their body sizes, or shrink. Temperature also affects cold-blooded creatures by amping up their development rates, so the animals reach maturity at smaller sizes. Other research has explored how this plays out in copepods, tiny crustaceans that play an important role in marine food chains.

It is established that among warm-blooded animals, a colder climate means a larger body size, because larger animals are better able to conserve their body heat, and there is evidence that size decreases in warmer regions. For humans, changes in organism size could have a direct effect on our food supply, for instance, through crops and fisheries.

There are exceptions: Climate change is expected to increase the growing and feeding season in high-latitude places, and hence allow organisms to get bigger. (An exception to the exception: Polar bears are shrinking along with the Arctic sea ice upon which they live.) Also, animals with broad diets may be able to compensate for shrinking meals by shifting their diets.

"Continued global warming is likely to favor smaller individuals, and we predict that organism size will continue to decrease over the century," Sheridan and Bickford write.

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Government wants Indonesia to become world`s largest wood producer

Antara 15 Oct 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government is determined to turn Indonesia into the world`s largest wood producer in the next 25 years without destroying natural forests, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said.

To achieve the goal, the government would among others intensify tree-planting campaigns in which each citizen was expected to plant at least 10 trees, he said on the sidelines of a discussion with bloggers here on Friday night.

"If the entire people can plant 10 trees each, the Indonesian forests can be restored in 30 years` time. To support the endeavor, I have not issued new permits since 2007," he said.

The Forestry Ministry recorded about 30 percent of the country`s forests was damaged in the past 60 years with an annual deforestation rate of 1.08 million hectares.

To date, the area of damaged forests in Indonesia reaches 65 million hectares or 50 percent of the country`s forests covering about 130 million hectares.

"The Indonesian forests are now in critical condition as for tens of years the state has relied on them for revenues," he said.

Therefore, it came as no major surprise if the area of Indonesian forests dwindled at a fast pace every year, he said.

He put the blame on excessive exploitation for the current deforestation.

In addition, he added the deforestation was also caused by the frequent conversion of forested land into plantations and the use of forested land for mining activities.

This year alone, the ministry prepared 500 million seeds to reforest arid and barren land in the country. "The seeds are available at the forestry ministry and its regional offices all over Indonesia free of charge," he said.

The regional autonomy in which local governments could easily issue permits to foreign investors also contributed to the deforestation, he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia's Resource Policies Will Bring Catastrophe, Walhi Says

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 15 Oct 11;

Indonesia could face an energy crisis and environmental disaster unless it makes drastic changes to its current policies on natural resource exploitation, activists said on Friday.

“Indonesia is truly at a tipping point, facing a forestry crisis, an environmental crisis, an energy crisis and even a food crisis,” said Mukri Friatna, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

Mukri said the pending energy crisis stemmed from policies that allowed foreign investors to muscle out local ones in extracting fossil fuels.

“Of all the coal mines we have, 75 percent are controlled by foreign groups,” he said.

“In oil and gas, 70 percent of concessions are operated by companies from the United States.”

Mukri said another factor for a future fuel shortage was declining domestic oil production, leading to a growing dependence on increasingly expensive imports. In 2004, total domestic production was 400 million barrels, while in 2010 it was 344 million.

Prianto Rakhmanto, an energy analyst, said rolling blackouts in several regions were a sign the country was already in the throes of an energy crisis.

“We allow our natural resources to be exploited without concern for the environment or consideration for domestic consumption. Our policies have always been toward exporting and earning revenue,” he said.

Prianto said it would be difficult to reverse the situation without first ending subsidies for fuel and electricity. “As long as prices remain artificially low, oil producers will find it more competitive to export oil rather than sell it in the country,” he said.

“And if electricity rates are no longer suppressed, it will finally be commercially viable to start developing geothermal power on a larger scale.”

Walhi executive director Berry Nahdian Furqon said that bringing about the necessary policy changes required serious commitment from the government. “The government bases its decisions on social and political interests, and never on the ecological crisis that we face,” he said.

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