Best of our wild blogs: 7 Nov 11

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [31 Oct - 6 Nov 2011]
from Green Business Times

Biodiversity for kids during the December holidays!
from Celebrating Singapore's Biodiversity

grey-headed lapwing @ sg buloh - Nov2011
from sgbeachbum and shorebirds @ sungei buloh

Creatures found on the sandy shore of Changi
from wonderful creation

Lornie Trail On 29 Oct
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Call for more observations on the Little Bronze Cuckoo
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Lesser Green Emperor
from Monday Morgue

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Could Bangkok flood situation happen in Singapore?

The New Paper AsiaOne 7 Nov 11;

A fifth of Bangkok is underwater and 11,000 people are living in temporary shelters. Could this happen in Singapore?

No, PUB chairman Tan Gee Paw said.

"Conditions here are different from the Thai capital. Bangkok is situated slightly above the Chao Phraya River.

"The catchment area is huge - you can bury the entire Singapore in Bangkok's catchment area," he added.

Speaking at the Institution of Engineers Singapore's launch of its College of Fellows last week, Mr Tan pointed out that Bangkok was sited where several big rivers meet.

Unusually heavy rains

The floods were the result of three months of unusually heavy rains and failure to release enough water from dams in the early part of the monsoon.

Paved surfaces and narrow streets worsened the problem, as they channelled water and stopped it from seeping into the ground, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature in a press statement.

Unlike Bangkok, Singapore has about 40 streams draining water and "the Singapore River is not considered a huge river".

"So we are in a more fortunate position than Bangkok is," Mr Tan said.

Here comes the rain
Koh Hui Theng The New Paper AsiaOne 7 Nov 11;

When a storm hits, Liat Towers' building supervisor Chik Hai Lam doesn't dare sleep.

Questions, like the rain outside, pelt his mind.

Will the Stamford Canal snaking through Orchard Road overflow?

Can the drains channel storm water away in time?

Will the floodgates in front of Liat Towers keep the basement-level shops dry?

Since the building's basement was hit when Orchard Road flooded in June and July last year, life has changed for Mr Chik.

"Even when I'm at home, I worry. It's raining, what if it floods again? So I call my security guys to ask what the situation is like," Mr Chik told The New Paper.

His fears persist, despite the addition of a floodgate along Liat Towers.

Built to the tune of $200,000, the barrier is the first line of defence against floods, which submerged basement shops like luxe label Hermes and fast-food chain Wendy's last year.

Like Mr Chik, other flood warriors watch and hope for the best as the rainy spell starts.

The weatherman said Singapore is likely to be wetter, cooler and windy by mid-month. That's when the north-east monsoon arrives.

Expect thundery showers in the afternoon and evening, said the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Meteorological Service spokesman.

Monsoon surges - which are periods of widespread rain lasting up to five days - are also likely, the Met officer added.

That's why flash floods may happen in low-lying areas when heavy rain coincides with high tides.

As part of its ongoing weather preparation plan, national water agency PUB is installing 55 more CCTVs in flood-prone areas to warn people about impending bad weather more quickly.

Six are already in place for a trial project along Bukit Timah.

Revised code

A revised code - requiring special facilities like MRT stations and airport runways to be built 1m above the road or 1m above the flood-prone level - comes into effect next month, PUB's director of catchment and waterways Tan Nguan Sen said.

Other steps, like sending out heavy rain warnings, are already in place. Right now, the alert is sent up to three hours before the downpour hits.

As the rainy season looms, will Singapore suffer more flash floods, such as last week's Shenton Way flood?

Said PUB's Mr Tan: "Flash floods are a localised problem. What happened in Shenton Way was due to an old drain."

Officers are now adding a new drainage outlet to ensure that water runs off the surface faster. The area is then monitored for a year to ensure it will not flood again.

If it remains dry during this time, it will be taken off the flood hot spot list.

"While Singapore has a well-connected drainage system, flooding happens as urbanisation has reduced the space for rainwater to seep into the ground," said president of the Singapore Contractors Association, Dr Ho Nyok Yong.

Touching on some experts' preliminary suggestions to build permeable roads, he suggested that low-traffic areas like carparks and park connectors be paved with materials like special porous asphalt.

But for Mr Chik, that is little comfort. He still frets about future floods.

As an extra precaution, Liat Towers' owner Goldvein spent $11,000 erecting portable slide-in floodgates at shop entrances in August.

The calf-high aluminium barriers are slotted into brackets at the doors of Wendy's, Starbucks and Massimo Dutti.

Hermes had put their own barrier in place.

Parafoil Design and Engineering project manager Jwee Quek is also helping to put up floodgates at Katong Mall and a Joo Chiat condominium.

Mr Quek also relies on weather reports.

Before and during a storm, he surveys the drainage around the building before suggesting different flood protection methods.

With more people relying on their reports and updates, is the weatherman feeling more stress?

Ms Patricia Ee, NEA's acting director of the weather services department, is not saying.

Her reply: A laugh.

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Tell residents why trees have to be felled

Straits Times Forum 7 Nov 11;

I AM dismayed that a row of trees near my HDB flat in Block 402, Hougang Avenue 8, has been removed. These mature Sea Apple trees were all taller than 15m and have been an integral part of my neighbourhood for more than 20 years.

The contractor also told my father that more trees directly facing our unit might be felled.

While there may be legitimate reasons for their removal, there must be proper accountability to the residents, bearing in mind the sentimental, historical and ecological significance of such trees. The town council has underestimated the value of greenery to us.

I have spent many moments of my childhood gazing out of the window of my room at these leafy trees. During the flowering season, one can see sunbirds, bees and even bats flocking to take a sip of nectar from the white flowers. I remember how delighted I was when a bird decided to build a nest on a tree. Many hours of my time were spent observing the parents taking care of their chicks.

From my observations, saplings of Cengal trees have been planted to occupy the now bare green verges. These trees will take many years to reach the same height as the ones that were removed. They also flower and fruit only once in several years, and are therefore not as ecologically appealing to attract biodiversity.

My family and I appeal to the newly formed Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, which manages the trees in my neighbourhood, to clearly state the reasons for felling the trees. More importantly, what are some other ways to save the remaining trees instead of removing them completely?

Notices should be placed on the boards at our void decks prior to such tree-felling work, so residents can be informed and their queries can be answered.

Teo Siyang

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Buildings adopt skyrise greenery, incentivised by new NParks scheme

Evelyn Choo Today Online 7 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE - While more skyrise greenery has appeared in Singapore, many building owners are also holding back due to high retrofitting and maintenance costs.

Now, a scheme that has been underway since March is helping to tilt the balance further towards greenery.

Almost 40 organisations such as hospitals, shopping malls and corporate offices have come on board the National Parks Board's Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme, which encourages the installation of green roofs or green walls on existing buildings.

A school, Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary, has also tapped the scheme for its S$70,000 rooftop garden, half of which was paid by NParks, on what used to be an empty concrete space.

"Many of the building owners ... have recommended to other organisations to come onboard, and the take-up rate is increasing," said NParks Deputy Director (Horticulture & Community Gardening) Ng Cheow Kheng.

"The benefits that they've enjoyed include the lowering of ambient temperature (and) reducing of noise."

But only 11 of the 39 beneficiaries have used the scheme's incentives for vertical greenery, with building owners citing high installation and maintenance costs as the main deterrence factor.

A green wall typically costs from S$1,000 to S$1,500 per square metre to install, or 10 times the amount needed for a rooftop garden.

The latter has its detractors, too, as some buildings are unable to withstand the heavy weight of a garden, while soil crumbling could leave the surrounding areas dirty.

So the search is on for more efficient alternatives, with a collaboration now between the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment and Japan's Suntory Midorie offering some promise.

This effort to research and develop vertical greening systems here will look at how these can be made more sustainable and affordable.

For instance, the environment greening business has created a urethane-based, spongy gardening material called Pafcal that serves as a substitute for soil, and it is hoped the technology could be commercialised here.

Professor Heng Chye Kiang, dean of NUS' School of Design and Environment, explained: "It's soil-less, it has very high water-retention capabilities, and so it's essentially clean.

"At the same time, being in a new environment and tropical climate, how does it work here, what kind of plants will best work with this medium? These are things that we need to look into."

Success in this and other fronts would then attract more building owners to take the green route up.

Making skyrise greenery affordable
Evelyn Choo Channel NewsAsia 6 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: Skyrise greenery is gaining increasing popularity among building owners, but many are still holding back due to high retrofitting and maintenance costs.

But a new collaboration is underway to study how green walls in Singapore can be made more sustainable and affordable.

What used to be an empty concrete space is now the heart of Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School - a rooftop garden thriving with biodiversity and undeniably a favourite learning spot with its students.

The green project cost S$70,000, and half of it was paid by the National Parks Board (NParks) under the Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme (SGIS).

And NParks said various organisations like hospitals, shopping malls, and corporate offices, have come onboard since March.

"Many of the building owners... have recommended to other organisations to come onboard and the take-up rate is increasing. The benefits that they have enjoyed include the lowering of the ambient temperature; it reduces the noise between buildings," said Ng Cheow Kheng, deputy director of Horticulture & Community Gardening, NParks.

The scheme encourages the installation of green roofs or green walls on existing buildings. But only 11 out of the 39 beneficiaries have used the incentives for vertical greenery.

Building owners said high installation and maintenance costs are the main detractors.

The installation of a green wall typically costs between S$1,000 and S$1,500 per square metre - that's 10 times the amount needed to install a rooftop garden.

Some buildings are also not able to withstand the heavy weight of the gardens, and soil crumbling could leave the surrounding areas dirty.

So the search is on for a more efficient alternative.

The School of Design and Environment at the NUS is collaborating with Japan's Suntory Midorie to research and develop vertical greening systems in Singapore.

The environment greening business has created a urethane-based, spongy gardening material called Pafcal that serves as a substitute for soil.

"It's soilless; it has very high water-retention capabilities, and so it's essentially clean. But at the same time, being in a new environment and tropical climate, how does it work here, what kind of plants will best work with this medium - I think these are things that we need to look into," said Professor Henh Chye Kiang, Dean of School of Design and Environment, NUS.

It is hoped that this technology would be commercialised in Singapore, and attract more building owners to travel the green route.

- CNA /ls

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Business shrinks when rain hits East Coast Park

Takings can drop by as much as 50%, even during school holidays
Tham Yuen-C Straits Times 7 Nov 11;

IN AN annual stroke of irony, takings dry up somewhat for the businesses along the East Coast Parkway when the year-end rains roll in.

Already, October was wetter than usual, and the National Environment Agency has warned of more rain, with possible flash floods, to come.

A weak La Nina weather system, which lowers sea temperatures in the Pacific and induces more clouds to form, is to blame.

When the rain hits, the clutch of bicycle and skate-rental shops, alfresco dining outlets and other merchants along the beach suffer a drop in takings, some by as much as half, despite the year end being the school holidays.

East Coast Prawning, which rents out fishing rods for reeling in prawns and fish, has invested in 20 umbrella stands and $400 in disposable raincoats to keep its customers dry.

Building regulations have prevented the owners from constructing a permanent shelter over the pond, so takings fall by about a third on wet days.

Owner Michael Goh, 52, said he hopes the umbrellas and raincoats will persuade more of his customers to stick around when the heavens open up.

'Usually, half of them go when it rains,' he said.

At Mrs Kelly Lim's pushcart stall selling beach balls, kites and other toys, earnings can fall by 40 per cent.

The 45-year-old, who has run the stall for six years, said she closes her shop only when the rains are torrential.

'It's the school holiday season, so we really have to try and make as much as we can,' she said in Mandarin.

To keep afloat, she has added wet-weather merchandise - umbrellas and raincoats - to her offerings.

'It doesn't help much, but at least it can cover for some lost business. We can only pray for better weather,' she said.

Yesterday brought just that.

The skies were overcast but the rain stayed away, so beach-goers, cyclists, skaters and stall-holders were out in full force.

Bicycle rental shops did brisk business.

Mr Ivan Lim, 24, the manager at Kit Runners, said: 'How badly business is affected depends on how long the rain lasts. If it's only an hour or two, we can still cover our costs.'

The situation is the same for Coastal Recreation Bicycle Rental, said manager Dave Lim, 34.

The company has been trying to encourage people to ride on weekdays by dangling discounts.

'It does help a little during the school holidays, but no matter how much we increase sales during the weekdays, it's no use if it rains on the weekends and public holidays,' he said.

Kit Runners' Mr Lim said the company has branched out into renting out bicycles for mass-cycling events to make up for the slump in business.

He said: 'It's Mother Nature. There's not much we can do about it. We just hope it doesn't rain for very long.'

To prepare for wet weather, The Beach Hut restaurant has moved some of its outdoor tables to the sheltered portion of its premises.

Even then, half the tables cannot be used when strong winds blow the rain into the restaurant, said manager Anna Dizon, 28.

Although the situation has not been too bad so far, business can still fall by a third during the rainy months.

Ms Dizon sees a silver lining in those rain clouds though.

She quipped: 'When people run for shelter, we do get some crowds and the whole indoor part becomes full. We do get some business there!'

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Malaysia limestone: Time to stop destroying Perak natural treasure

Keep limestone hills for tourism a la China's Guilin
Pauline Ng Business Times 7 Nov 11;

(Kuala Lumpur): THE beautiful karst hills of Perak state are being blasted to bits and quality limestone exported for very little money to a number of countries including Singapore because it is sold in its raw form, The Star newspaper highlighted last week.

That blocks of raw limestone - and of very high quality at that - are being disposed of for RM60 (S$24.40) a tonne and then resold for up to RM390 a tonne after it had been processed and value added at places of import is a crying shame, say industry specialists who want the precious mineral resources protected and preserved.

The economic waste notwithstanding, the seeming acceleration of the destruction of these magnificent limestone outcrops makes very little sense, except perhaps to those benefiting from the quarrying which has intensified over the years. Limestone exports surged from 440,700 tonnes in 2001 to RM607,000 tonnes in 2009, according to government statistics. Despite a slight dip last year, exports are expected to breach 600,000 tonnes this year.

The Kinta Valley's limestone massif stretches from Tapah in the south to Lintang in the north, with Ipoh lying smack in the middle. Despite repeated calls over the years to halt or at least to slow down the pace with which these hills - estimated to date back 245-410 million years - are being levelled, the rampant scarring of the landscape is inescapable as one approaches the state capital Ipoh from the south.

This is all the more ironic given that tourism has been earmarked as a key sector for the Malaysian economy - indeed it is a priority area under its economic transformation programme.

And while it is arguable that tourism demand for theme parks is strong, it is probably galling to nature lovers to see sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional invest hundreds of millions of ringgit in theme parks such as Legoland in Iskandar Malaysia when true natural treasures such as Perak's limestone range are being denuded to the point where they could soon disappear.

All the more unfortunate considering the tourism value that the hills offer if properly promoted and marketed: one only has to look at China's Guilin, renowned for its limestone monoliths and which the Chinese would presumably not contemplate the blasting of even one precious mound.

Nature walks, treks, and rock climbing are some of the activities that could be built around the easily accessible range, suggested the Malaysian Karst Society. Since its formation in 2004, the society has faced an uphill fight to save and conserve Perak's unique heritage.

Meanwhile, The Star said that its investigations revealed that local firms hold the mining lease on the limestone hills at Simpang Pulai, where the limestone quality is said to be of very high grade and where the destruction is rampant. But the leases were 'rented out' to companies with foreign interests.

That the Perak state government which controls land rights has seen fit to award these licences but not ensure that the quarrying is controlled is puzzling and short-sighted, because while it may generate some revenue, the resource once depleted cannot be replaced.

According to industry specialists, Perak's limestone hills can last for 500 years if properly extracted and processed. They also recommend that limestone be mined underground if necessary so as to preserve the hills and that the state audit and research the value of its limestone outcrops before they vanish.

In a letter to The Star, Zari Malaysiana decried 'the butchering of the hills over the years for profit because of our ignorance. Perak has all the wonders of nature but efforts are not forthcoming in promoting its tourism potential to the fullest, both at state and federal level'.

If it be ignorance, a nation aspiring to transform into a knowledge and high income economy by 2020 must surely now halt the reckless and wanton destruction of one of its natural treasures.

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Malaysia: Johor fishermen lament drop in catch due to sand extraction project

The Star 7 Nov 11;

MERSING: About 800 fishermen from eight villages in Pengerang, Kota Tinggi and Johor Baru are claiming that their catch has fallen by nearly 80% due to sand extraction activities which began two weeks ago.

Pengerang Fishermen Action Committee representative Wahab Ibrahim claimed that the company used pumps to extract sand, causing the water in the area to turn muddy.

“Due to this, the fishes in the area have also reduced dramatically.

“This is affecting our livelihood,” he said during a dialogue session between the fishermen and Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Wahab acknowledged that the company had compensated several fishermen in two villages but those from the six other villages had not received anything yet.

“Fishing is our only source of income,” he said.

“Some of us are now forced to travel as far as 10 nautical miles to catch fish.

“We are losing out as we now have to pay additional petrol costs.

“We hope that the Government will look into our plight.

“We just cannot survive anymore,” he said.

“The oil and gas depot is a mega project under the state government and the Federal Government,” Azalina said.

“I am sure that through discussions, we will come up with a solution that will benefit both sides.”

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Malaysia: Catch rhinos to save them

Muguntan Vanar The Star 7 Nov 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Captive breeding of the Borneo Sumatran rhinos seems to be the way forward in preventing its extinction.

With an estimated 216 of the species left in Sabah and Indonesia, conservation groups want funding and captive breeding allowed.

If nothing is done, they claim the species can become extinct in two decades.

The groups that are making the call are Borneo Rhino Alliance, Land Empowerment Animals People, Resources Stewardship Consultants Sdn Bhd, Malaysian Nature So­cie­ty, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and WWF-Malaysia.

Their appeal comes following the extinction of the Javan rhino in mainland Asia.

Leaving rhinos in the wild to be poached or die of old age, they say, is no longer an adequate approach in conservation.

The groups noted that such measures were necessary based on recent data from governments, non-governmental organisations and researchers indicating that the global Sumatran rhino population had declined from about 320 in 1995.

In their statement, they suggested a two-pronged approach based on a paper entitled “Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinoceros Dicerorhinus Sumat­rensis from extinction?” published in the international conservation journal Oryx earlier this year.

The paper was presented by Ahmad Zafir and his colleagues in WWF-Malaysia, Sabah Wildlife Department and Yayasan Badak Indonesia.

“The argument is ethical, not economic,” said Ahmad. “Fossils show that something very similar to this form of rhino species had existed for about 20 million years, and we may be only a decade or two away from its extinction.”

What it takes to save the Sumatran rhinos
Daily Express 6 Nov 11;

Kota Kinabalu: The inability to find a fertile mate is among the reasons for the declining numbers of the Sumatran rhinoceros.

Despite dedicated efforts to protect this species from poaching over the past few decades within the protected areas in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, its numbers have continued to decline.

Most specialists close to the situation now believe that habitat loss and poaching no longer represent the major threats to the survival of this species.

Its numbers are so low that factors, associated with low numbers include pathology of the reproductive organs in females resulting in no pregnancies, inbreeding and skewed sex ratio, that rhino death exceeds its birth rate.

The Borneo Rhino Alliance, Land Empowerment Animals People, Resources Stewardship Consultants Sdn Bhd, Malaysian Nature Society, Traffic Southeast Asia and WWF Malaysia stated this in a joint statement here, recently.

The recent news of the extinction of the Javan rhinoceros on mainland Asia, with the death by poaching of the last remaining female in Vietnam in 2010, has sparked efforts to promote the survival of the species.

The extinction of the Vietnam rhino suggests that leaving rhinos in the wild to be poached or die of old age is no longer an adequate approach.

According to Ahmad Zafir and his colleagues in WWF Malaysia, Sabah Wildlife Department and Yayasan Badak Indonesia, the recent data from governments, NGOs and researchers indicate that the global Sumatran rhino population could be as low as 216, a decline from about 320 estimated in 1995.

This was published in the international conservation journal Oryx earlier in 2011 titled "Now or never: what will it take to save the Sumatran rhinocerous Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis from extinction?"

Based on the lessons learnt and expert opinions, they called for a two-pronged approach for conservation, which focuses on a translocation of wild rhinos from existing forest patches into semi-in situ captive breeding programmes.

The second approach is to apply a concomitant enhancement of protection and monitoring in priority areas that have established these breeding facilities.

At least US$1.2 million is required to implement the two-pronged strategy annually in four priority areas - Bukit Barisan Selatan and Way Kambas National Parks on Sumatra, and Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Sabah.

The Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme is already underway in Sabah, based on those two approaches, and implemented by the Sabah Wildlife Department with assistance from other agencies.

The species, which was previously widespread in Asia, is now confirmed to occur only in Indonesia and Malaysia, hence the two-pronged approach for the species is most likely now the only way forward to prevent its extinction.

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