Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [24 - 30 Oct 2011]
from Green Business Times

Sekudu with Harlequin and other southern surprises
from wild shores of singapore

Ghost catching
from The annotated budak and Shear spots

shoreboars @ chek jawa - Oct 2011
from sgbeachbum

Lornie Trail On 23 Oct
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

White-crested Laughingthrush Soliciting for Food
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Bird Race through the eyes of a novice
from Urban Forest

Domestic Dog
from Monday Morgue

Photos: three bizarre bats discovered in Southeast Asia
from news by Jeremy Hance

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Fish production in Singapore still not up to the mark

Operating costs, lack of jetty and difficulty getting good fry among reasons
Jessica Lim Straits Times 31 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE'S fish production continues to inch up slowly, despite a push to increase it in a bid to help shield the Republic from global price fluctuations.

Farmers told The Straits Times the gradual progress is due mainly to the lack of a jetty, high operating costs and the fact that fry is mostly imported from abroad.

According to figures from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), 7 per cent of fish eaten here is produced locally, up from 4.5 per cent in 2009.

The aim is to raise it to 15 per cent eventually. To help achieve this, the AVA set targets for the country's 95 coastal fish farms in March.

Singapore imports 90 per cent of its food, so producing more fish at home would help protect it from disruptions in global food supply and escalating prices.

But fish farmers say operating here can be an uncertain business.

Mr Foo Heow Liang, 60, sold his farm off Pulau Ubin two years ago. After a decade in the industry, he realised he would 'never be able to make money'.

'There was a manpower problem. No one here wants to work on a farm. Sometimes there are plankton blooms that can wipe out an entire harvest,' he said.

Farmer Maureen Ng said obtaining quality fry can be a problem. Last month, Mrs Ng - who owns a 40-netcage farm in Changi with her husband - bought 5,000 fry from Malaysia. A third of them died within a week.

'The fry pass through so many hands before we get them,' she said. 'In Singapore, we import most of the fry and we cannot control quality or supply. We are happy if half make it to selling size.' But she does not blame the authorities, saying some things are beyond their control.

The high cost of hiring foreign workers also pushes up costs, she said. And transporting fish to land is a pain due to the lack of a jetty in Changi. Seabass from her farm is sold to middlemen at $8.50 per kg. Malaysia's seabass go for $4.50.

In the meantime, about 40 farmers have formed the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore. Formally registered in May, it aims to buy fry and fish feed in bulk to bring down costs.

Other farmers are doing well. Metropolitan Fishery Group chief executive Malcolm Ong invested $500,000 in 2007 to start a farm with two other people. His big break came in 2008 when NTUC FairPrice started buying fish from him. The company broke even in 2009. Its output is now 500 tonnes a year, up from 20 tonnes in 2008. It is set to open two new farms over the next two years.

Despite his success, the 48-year-old calls farming a 'vicious circle'.

'It's about scale,' he said. 'If you're very small, you cannot be cost-effective and cannot compete. When you start out, the cost is higher than the price of fish. The more you sell, the more you lose.'

Each of Singapore's 95 coastal fish farms must yield a minimum of 17 tonnes per half-hectare of space a year, or risk being stripped of its licence, under the targets set by the AVA in March.

Twenty-three of them produce more than this. Ten farms generate between 8.5 tonnes and 17 tonnes, and 36 are farming less than 8.5 tonnes. The rest are new or have undergone a recent change of ownership.

The AVA believes poor harvests are due to farmers lacking the necessary capital or skills, or misusing their space, for example, using part of their farms for entertainment purposes.

It continues to work with individual farms on their production plans, said a spokesman. A jetty and mooring site is being built in Pasir Ris.

In 2009, the AVA launched a $10 million fund to help diversify Singapore's food supply and develop farms' capabilities. So far, about $6 million has been awarded to 15 projects, seven of them fish farms. Another $10 million has since been added to the fund.

The AVA is looking at new ways to help fish farmers here boost their productivity. These include research on developing better-quality fry and technologies to increase yield.

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Pulau Ubin: EMA appoints Singapore-based consortium for micro-grid test bed

Channel NewsAsia 31 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE: The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has appointed a Singapore-based consortium to design, build and operate a micro-grid test-bed incorporating clean and renewable energy resources at the jetty area on Pulau Ubin.

The consortium includes two companies - Daily Life Renewable Energy Pte Ltd and OKH Holdings Pte Ltd.

In a media release on Monday, the EMA said the test-bed will enable it to prepare for a future when renewable energy resources become a more significant part of Singapore's energy mix.

Chief executive of EMA, Mr Chee Hong Tat, added that the micro-grid test-bed is a useful project for Singapore to pilot a solution that will benefit residents and businesses on Pulau Ubin.

He added that if the project is successful, it will help to open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region.

Executive director of Daily Life Renewable Energy, Mr Markson Tang, also said, "This test-bed will showcase how clean and renewable energy can be deployed in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner for an off-grid community."

Consortium partner Mr Marvin Lam, project director of OKH Holdings said, "We are delighted to be part of this significant project, and excited about its potential as a reference site for similar deployments regionally."

- CNA/cc

Pulau Ubin to get clean power next year
Straits Times 1 Nov 11;

RESIDENTS of Pulau Ubin will be able to power their homes with clean energy such as biodiesel and solar power by the end of next year, replacing the noisy and pollutive diesel generators they currently use.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) announced yesterday that a local consortium has clinched the contract to design, build, own and operate a micro-grid test-bedding project on the island.

The consortium is a partnership between clean energy firm Daily Life Renewable Energy (DLRE) and property developer OKH Holdings.

The EMA declined to reveal the cost of the project, but said the consortium was selected via a competitive tendering process that 'took into account the companies' proposed solutions, experience in similar projects and price competitiveness'.

The planned micro-grid is an intelligent system that will harness electricity from clean energy sources and regulate the flow of power to its users.

The EMA's move marks a milestone for the project, which was first announced in 2009. The highly coveted contract initially received 21 bids, out of which nine companies were shortlisted, including Sembcorp Utilities, Tuas Power and General Electric.

DLRE executive director Markson Tang told The Straits Times that the consortium was excited to have won the multimillion-dollar project, which will be co-funded by it and the EMA. His company has successfully implemented more than 40 such micro-grid systems in countries like the Maldives and Vietnam.

Many parts of Asia still do not have easy access to power, and such grids could provide a clean and efficient way of providing communities with energy.

Under the contract, the consortium will provide electricity at a price of not more than 80 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh), lower than the $1 or more per kwh price for diesel generators.

EMA said islanders can then use higher-load electrical appliances such as air-conditioners and refrigerators, enabling businesses to expand operations.

The hundred or so islanders currently rely on their own generators as the cost of laying cables from the mainland is too high.

The first phase of the project, which involves building the infrastructure around the island's jetty area, will be completed by the first half of next year, and residents can expect electricity supply by the end of next year.

EMA chief executive Chee Hong Tat said the test-bed will enable the authority to prepare for a future when renewable energy sources become a more significant part of Singapore's energy mix, and will help the Republic gain an understanding of the impact of using intermittent renewable sources.

'If this project is successful, it will help to open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region,' he said.


Micro-grid builders appointed, two more join electric vehicle test-bed
Esther Ng Today Online 1 Nov 11;

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has appointed a Singapore-based consortium, comprising Daily Life Renewable Energy and OKH Holdings, to design, build and own a micro-grid test-bed, powered by bio-diesel and photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.

"It will help us better understand the impact of intermittent renewable energy sources on our power system, and prepare Singapore for a future where renewable energy sources become a more significant part of our energy mix," said Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran.

Households on Pulau Ubin will benefit from these sources of electricity as it will allow them to use higher-load electrical appliances such as refrigerators and air-conditioners. It will also enable businesses to expand their operations.

The consortium will sell electricity to consumers at S$0.80 per kilowatt hour compared to the price of more than S$1/kWh that some consumers currently pay for using diesel generators.

On the mainland, Renault and Nissan, with the Fluence and Leaf respectively, have joined the electric vehicle (EV) test-bed programme launched in June by the EMA and the Land Transport Authority.

The programme also includes Daimler, Mitsubishi and Bosch.

Participants in the test-bed will have a wider variety of EVs to choose from and the different EV platforms will add to the breadth of the test-bed, Mr Iswaran said.

Fast-charging for Renault cars will be available in mid 2013. ESTHER NG

New energy initiatives launched
Business Times 1 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE gets a new, green energy testing site on Pulau Ubin and two more models of electric vehicles.

These initiatives were announced at the opening of the Singapore International Energy Week. Activities will be held at Suntec City, Marina Bay Sands and Pan Pacific Hotel.

The micro-grid at the jetty area of Pulau Ubin will be a testing ground for clean and renewable energy sources, like biodiesel and solar photovoltaic cells. Electricity will be supplied to residents and businesses on the island north-east of Singapore, which currently rely on noisy and pollutive diesel generators for their electricity needs.

A Singapore-based consortium consisting of OKH Holdings and Daily Life Renewable Energy will build, own and operate the micro-grid.

In the first phase of the project, the micro-grid infrastructure will be readied by H1 2012 before supplying electricity in H2 2012.

The second phase involves adding clean and renewable energy solutions to the micro-grid.

Said Chee Hong Tat, chief executive of Energy Market Authority: 'If the micro-grid test-bed is successful, it will help open up opportunities for Singapore companies to spearhead the adoption of such technologies in the region.'

Two more electric vehicle models - the Renault Fluence and Nissan Leaf - will join their Mitsubishi and Daimler peers on Singapore streets, expanding the variety of models participants get to choose from.

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Risks Remain Despite Indonesian Forest Moratorium: Study

David Fogarty PlanetArk 31 Oct 11;

A two-year ban on new licenses to clear peatlands and primary forests in Indonesia risks being undermined by the small area protected by the scheme and a host of exemptions, shows a review that calls for the program to be revised.

The ban is the centerpiece of an important climate deal with Norway, signed last year, worth up to $1 billion. A major goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, by far the largest source of emissions in Indonesia.

Improving land tenure and land planning rules are other goals of the scheme that began in May, which has met strong resistance from some miners and planters. They fear it could crimp growth by curbing access to land.

An analysis of the moratorium by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia shows large areas of forest rich in species and stores of carbon are still at risk of clearance, limiting the chances of a major cut in emissions.

Indonesia has the world's third-largest area of tropical forests, which play a major role in braking the pace of climate change because they soak up large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

Ever greater demand for land and resources such as coal, and food such as palm oil, is threatening remaining forest cover, with about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) lost annually.

CIFOR, in the study released on Friday, said while the moratorium on licenses was a good start: "Several issues are unresolved concerning the area and status of land covered by the moratorium, and hence the amount of carbon stored in the affected forests and peatlands."

It found that the total new area protected under the moratorium was, at most, 22.5 million hectares, of which a third were primary forests and half were peatlands.

That is less than half some previous government estimates because large areas of primary forests and peatlands are already legally protected, although still at risk of encroachment.

The study described the failure to include secondary forests and logged-over forests in the moratorium as a lost opportunity to protect, at least temporarily, a fraction of 46.7 million ha of forests rich in carbon and biodiversity.

It said millions of hectares of peatland and primary forests were still not covered by the moratorium either because of existing concessions or planned investments deemed vital to national development.


Indonesia has about 20 million ha of peatlands estimated to contain 30 billion tonnes of carbon -- roughly the equivalent of mankind's total greenhouse gas emissions over three years. That explains why Indonesia and Norway are keen to preserve what is left of these vast carbon stores to fight climate change.

Also at risk of undermining the ban were a range of exemptions, such as rice, sugarcane and geothermal investments deemed in the national interest, and the exclusion of existing licenses to use forest land so long as the license remained valid regardless of the license-holder's performance.

"The moratorium's exceptions for activities related to food and energy security create loopholes that could undermine the suspension of new concession licenses," the study says, calling for a greater focus on land swaps involving degraded land before any exceptions are granted.

Norway says it is broadly happy with the climate deal and will measure success based on analysis of six-monthly satellite maps of forest cover.

"Our demand was, and still is, that in the reasonably near future we have to see improvements in what actually happens to the forests," said Per Fredrik Ilsaas Pharo, deputy director of Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative.

He also pointed to the threat from corruption and powerful business interests.

"We all know there is also corruption and other illegal activities going on but there is actually a legitimate internal Indonesian discussion about what pathway to take forward. And clearly it's not a given that they will choose the model that we would like them to choose," he told Reuters from Oslo in a recent interview.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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GM mosquitoes show fever promise

Richard Black BBC News 30 Oct 11;

Genetically modified mosquitoes could prove effective in tackling dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases, a UK-based scientific team has shown.

The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring die before reproducing. In a dengue-affected part of the Cayman Islands, researchers found the GM males mated successfully with wild females.

In Nature Biotechnology journal, they say such mating has not before been proven in the wild, and could cut the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito as it bites.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there may be 50 million cases each year, and the incidence is rising, with some countries reporting what the WHO terms "explosive" outbreaks.

As yet, there is no vaccine.
Radiation damage

As far back as the 1940s, it was realised that releasing sterile males into the wild could control insects that carried disease or were agricultural pests.

When females breed with the sterile males rather than wild fertile ones, there will be no viable offspring, meaning there are fewer mosquitoes around to transmit the disease.

In the 1950s, the screwworm fly was eradicated from the Caribbean island of Curacao using males sterilised by radiation.

But the technology has not worked so well with disease-carrying insects.

Generally, the sterilising process weakens the males so much that they struggle to mate; the wild males are dominant.

Oxitec, a company spun off from Oxford University, uses a genetic engineering approach.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way”

Dr Raman Velayudhan WHO

Offspring of their GM males live through the larval stage but die as pupae, before reaching adulthood.

In the latest study, the research group - which includes scientists from Imperial College London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine - released batches of GM mosquitoes in 2009 in an area of the Cayman Islands where Aedes aegypti are common, and dengue sometimes present.

A proportion of the eggs collected from the study area in subsequent weeks carried the introduced gene, meaning the biotech mosquitoes had mated successfully.

The GM males made up 16% of males in the study area, and fathered 10% of the larvae; so they were not quite as successful as the wild males, but not significantly worse.

"We were really surprised how well they did," said Luke Alphey, Oxitec's chief scientific officer and a visiting professor at Oxford University.

"For this method, you just need to get a reasonable proportion of the females to mate with GM males - you'll never get the males as competitive as the wild ones, but they don't have to be, they just have to be reasonably good."

"This study is the first to show that the mosquito population could be suppressed this way," said Dr Raman Velayudhan, a WHO dengue expert.

"The fitness level is much better [compared with previous attempts] - it is almost the same as in wild mosquitoes," he told BBC News.

Cognizant that genetic engineering is a technology that carries the potential for risks as well as benefits, the WHO is finalising guidance on how GM insects should be deployed in developing countries, which it expects to release by the end of the year.

The field seems to be hotting up, with other research groups recently creating Anopheles mosquitoes that are immune to the malaria parasite they normally carry, and making male Anopheles that lack sperm.

Malaria is a prime target for these approaches simply because it is such an important disease; but arguably it is more needed in diseases such as dengue where there are few alternatives.

"For malaria, there are effective alternatives like bednets, but they won't work for dengue because the mosquitoes bite during daytime," said Dr Alphey.

"We don't advocate [GM mosquitoes] as a 'magic bullet' that will solve all dengue in one go, so the question is how it fits in as part of an integrated programme - and for dengue, it would be a huge component of an integrated programme."

Funding for the Oxitec approach has come from a number of sources including private investors, charities, Oxford University and governments, and the Cayman Islands authorities were willing to take part in the field trial.
Death by feedback

The genetic approach used to create the mosquitoes is a system known as tetracycline-controlled transcriptional activation (tTA).

The tTA gene is spliced into the insect's genome in such a way that the protein it makes increases the gene's activity - a positive feedback loop.

The cells make more and more tTA protein - and in doing so, have little capacity for making any other proteins. Eventually, this kills the insects.

When the male larvae are reared at Oxitec, this process is turned off by keeping them in water containing the antibiotic tetracycline, which inhibits the feedback process.

When the males breed in the wild, however, tTA genes in their offspring are fully active.

In principle, a process that allows larvae to hatch and stay alive for many days should be more advantageous than the traditional approach of producing infertile eggs, as the larvae will consume food that could otherwise be used by viable larvae from the union of wild males and females.

The next step in the work is to demonstrate that deploying GM males does suppress the insect population enough that it is likely to have an impact on dengue incidence.

Dr Alphey said results from a project last year in the Cayman Islands suggested this had been achieved.

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