Best of our wild blogs: 13 Nov 11

Reef Friends - Little Sisters corals look great!
from Psychedelic Nature

Butterfly of the Month - November 2011
from Butterflies of Singapore

Little Grebe Processing A Dragonfly
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs
from wild shores of singapore

Pulau Ubin (11 Nov 2011)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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ACRES in the Philippines: seeks release of Ocean Park dolphins

Penelope P. Endozo Philippine Daily Inquirer 12 Nov 11;

MANILA, Philippines—An international animal welfare group urged the Philippines on Saturday to free the 25 dolphins at Ocean Park in Subic that are being groomed to be among the next big attractions at a Singapore marine park.

Animal Concerns Research and Education Society of Singapore (ACRES) executive director Louis Ng launched a petition addressed to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to “rescue” the dolphins, an endangered species, and return them to their place of origin in the Solomon Islands.

Ng said the 27 bottlenose dolphins were caught in the waters of Solomon Islands in Oceania, near Papua New Guinea in 2008 to be part of Resorts World Sentosa’s new marine show in Singapore.

The group asked the Philippine government not to re-export the marine animals to handlers in Singapore in support of international calls to stop the trafficking of dolphins.

“We ask the Philippine government to do the right thing. The 25 dolphins in Subic should not be re-exported to Singapore and instead should be set free and sent back to the Solomon Islands,” said Ng.

Out of 27 dolphins captured, two died while in Langkawi, Malaysia and the rest were taken to Subic for “training” while the marine park in Singapore was under construction.

In May, ACRES and US-based group Earth Island Institute (IIE) launched a campaign to stop the trafficking of dolphins. The group has already garnered 680,000 signatures worldwide and has started an online petition in the Philippines at

Ng explained that dolphins are highly-social marine animals and long-distance swimmers. When imprisoned in cages or tanks, they could die—or commit suicide.

“Dolphins travel and swim a distance of 113 kilometers in 10 days, imagine if you were in the dolphin’s situation and your world has shrunk to a square sea pen,” Ng said at a press conference.

Ng, a marine researcher and biology expert who graduated from the National University of Singapore, cited scientific studies from the Union for the Conservation of Nature to show that dolphins are not as “adaptable” as other marine animals featured in parks.

“The dolphins don’t do well in sea tanks. In some cases when they are caged, they even commit suicide. They don’t breath and go underwater until they die,” Ng said.

“While captured, they are housed in an alien environment and fed with dead fish as reward. Worse part is that they have to perform to be fed. If they don’t do a trick, they won’t be properly fed,” added Ng.

Ng said that the Solomon Islands government has passed a law banning the hunting and trafficking of dolphins starting January 2012. Other countries such as Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico have followed suit.

Ng said that all marine parks in the United Kingdom no longer feature dolphin shows in support of international laws.

“Marine parks in UK are still profitable even without dolphins. We had a dialogue with the RWS managers, but they did not listen to us. Western countries are starting to pick up what we’re lobbying, we hope the Philippines will take the lead in Asia,” said Ng.

The group, in a letter addressed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, stressed that dolphins are categorized as “endangered species” by the BFAR.

ACRES has put up an exhibit at Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City and is set to go on an educational tour starting at Ateneo de Manila University on November 17-18; University of the Philippines on November 24-25; and De la Salle University on November 21 to 26.

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'Bring hornbills back to Yishun'

Preserving biodiversity can soften urbanisation of landscape: Khaw
Judith Tan Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

After a year's work turning Yishun pond and its surroundings into a waterfront park, the team behind it comprising HDB, PUB, National Parks Board (NParks) and Alexandra Health has been issued yet another challenge: to bring hornbills back to Yishun.

Hornbills were a common sight in Singapore 100 years ago but they disappeared with urbanisation.

The man who threw down the gauntlet was National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

He said that while Singapore cannot avoid urbanisation, it can soften the landscape 'with greenery and preserve biodiversity through sensitive management of the environment'.

'Globalisation is fast-paced and often impersonal, but again we cannot unlock ourselves from globalisation. Let's work even harder to recreate the old kampung in new HDB heartland,' he said.

Mr Khaw was speaking at the launch of the rejuvenated Yishun pond yesterday. It was built in 1986 to collect rainwater from Yishun New Town.

The pond and its surroundings were adopted by Alexandra Health (AH), the health-care group that runs Khoo Teck Puat Hospital sited next to the park.

Last year, AH worked with the HDB, NParks and national water agency PUB to transform the pond into a one-of-a-kind waterfront park.

The team also planted nutmeg and other fruit trees in the park, hoping hornbills would nest there in due course.

Through a collaboration between the Bird Park and NParks, they are returning to certain pockets of the island.

Mr Khaw noted there are some 100 hornbills in Singapore, with a small family on the grounds of the Istana, and he hopes to see more of 'these magnificent birds in our urban environment'.

Singapore should "soften" urban landscape
Channel NewsAsia 12 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore cannot avoid urbanisation, but it can soften the urban landscape with greenery and sensitive management of the environment.

That is the view of Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, who launched the rejuvenated Yishun Pond next to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) in Yishun, on Saturday.

"Globalisation is fast-paced and often impersonal, but again we cannot unlock ourselves from globalisation, (so) let's work even harder to re-create the old kampung in new HDB heartlands, to re-create kampungs in our lives," Mr Khaw said.

Over the past year, the pond and its surroundings had been transformed into a waterfront park, making it an ideal spot for residents to exercise, as well as rest and relax.

For patients at the adjacent KTPH, it is a place they can interact and recuperate.

"The HDB has a big job in creating many more common spaces where people can interact," Mr Khaw said.

"Instead of just rushing from your flat to your office and back to your flat, let's particularly create common spaces like this, that in a way make people meet, walk, slow down, say 'hello, how are you', and care for one another."

For someone who has been directly involved in the development of the KTPH and the surrounding areas, Mr Khaw has another challenge for the planners.

He is encouraging them to bring back the hornbills to Yishun Park.

Mr Khaw noted the hornbills were a common sight in Singapore 100 years ago but they too disappeared with urbanisation.

Mr Khaw added there are some 100 hornbills in Singapore with a small family in the Istana grounds.

He said he hopes to see more of these magnificent birds in Singapore's urban environment.

- CNA/wk

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Flash floods hit western Singapore

Wayne Chan Channel NewsAsia 12 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: Flash floods hit various parts of western Singapore on Saturday.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the highest rainfall recorded as at 5.30 pm was 91.4 mm at Kent Ridge in the West Coast area.

The afternoon heavy downpour caused a canal at Block 611 in Clementi West to overflow.

One resident at the area said he's never seen anything like this in all his 10 years living there.

"When I saw it, I find it very dangerous, because the volume of water was huge; it carried a mass of water, and the current was moving very fast and splashed very strong waves on to the bridge here," said Mr Lim, a Clementi West resident.

Mr Lim said the flood lasted for about 45 minutes.

He said: "All the small drains are all submerged and the water splashed into the HDB block, and all the trees, plants are all half submerged."

National water agency PUB said the flash floods were due to the intense rainfall and high tide of about 3 metres on Saturday afternoon. And this was what caused the Sungei Pandan Kechil canal to overflow.

Flash floods also occurred along the AYE towards ECP and at Neo Pee Teck Lane, but they subsided within 20 minutes.

The flash floods along the AYE towards ECP caused two lanes to be affected while one lane remained passable.

PUB said the length of the affected section was about 100m and water depth was about 15cm.

At Neo Pee Teck Lane, two lanes were affected. The length of the affected section was about 90m and water depth was about 30cm. Water from the road went into the porch of two houses there.

The area is a flood-prone area and PUB has already scheduled drainage improvement works there. The works will start in the first quarter of 2012.

PUB said Saturday's downpour peaked at 1.20pm - 1.50pm during which 52.6mm of rain fell. The rate of rainfall peak intensity during this period was about 105.2mm/hr.

- CNA /ls

Flash floods hit West Coast, condo carpark
Judith Tan Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

A sudden downpour yesterday afternoon caused flooding in the basement carpark of Varsity Park Condominium.

Some residents of the condo in West Coast Road found their cars in bumper-high water, bringing back memories of a similar situation in July last year at another condo.

Then, luxury and sports cars in the basement carpark of the Tessarina, a development in Bukit Timah, were submerged.

A tenant of Varsity Park, who declined to be named, said he got home just after 2pm, in time to move his car to safety.

'This is the first time this has happened here,' he told The Sunday Times, adding that most of his neighbours managed to move their cars in time.

But others, including residents from another condo along the stretch of West Coast Road, did not seem to notice any flooding within the estate.

'I noticed only ankle-high water in the visitors' carpark of Varsity Park,' said an executive who lives in the condo nearby.

Flash floods hit various parts of western Singapore at 1.40pm, with the highest rainfall recorded as 91.4mm at Kent Ridge in the West Coast area.

The heavy downpour also caused a canal at Block 611 in Clementi West Street 1 to overflow.

PUB, the national water agency, said the flash floods were due to the intense rainfall and high tide of 3m, causing the Sungei Pandan Kechil canal to overflow.

Floods also occurred along the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) towards the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and in Neo Pee Teck Lane, near Pasir Panjang, but the waters subsided within 20 minutes.

The waters along the AYE towards the ECP caused two lanes to be affected while one lane remained passable.

A spokesman for PUB said the rain at Kent Ridge peaked between 1.20pm and 1.50pm, during which 52.6mm of rain fell.

She added that the water level in Neo Pee Teck Lane rose to about 30cm and flowed onto the porch of two houses there.

The area is flood-prone and PUB has already scheduled drainage improvement works there, which will start in the first quarter of next year.

While flash floods occurred in the vicinity of West Coast Road, the agency said there was no report of flooding along the road itself.

Flash floods hit condo carpark
AsiaOne 13 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE - Many parts of Singapore were hit by flash floods as a result of heavy rain over the weekend.

The heavy downpour yesterday caused the basement carpark of Varsity Park condominium in West Coast to be flooded.

The bumper-high water level was reminiscent of another case last year at Tessarina condominium in Bukit Timah, when luxury and sports cars in the basement carpark were submerged.

A tenant at Varsity Park condo who was interviewed by the Straits Times said this is the first incidence of flooding in the development.

Flash floods hit various parts of Singapore at 1.40pm yesterday, with the highest rainfall recorded as 91.4mm at Kent Ridge in the West Coast area.

The heavy rain yesterday also brought down a tree in Tiong Bahru, which landed on a taxi. No one was injured in the accident.

Ankle-deep flood waters were also reported at a bus stop and hawker centre in Clementi, and a void deck in Pasir Ris.

Heavy downpours were also experienced in many parts of Singapore on Sunday (Nov 13). The rain caused flash floods in the eastern part of Singapore, with parts of Bedok Reservoir Road and East Coast Parkway being flooded.

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Gardens by the Bay open to public next week

AsiaOne 12 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE - Members of the public will have the opportunity to get a first glimpse of Gardens by the Bay next week, seven months ahead of its official opening in June 2012.

The Gardens will be opened from Nov 14-20 as part of the 20th World Orchid Conference (20WOC) held in Singapore this year.

During that period, key features of the Bay South Garden will be on preview.

While entry into the Flower Dome will be limited to ticket holders of the 20WOC, members of the public will be able to roam around the rest of the other non-ticketed areas such as the Heritage Gardens, Dragonfly Lake, and the Supertrees in the Golden Garden and Silver Garden.

Occupying 101 ha of prime estate at the Marina Bay district, the Gardens is part of Singapore's vision of becoming a “City in a Garden” to enhance greenery and flora in the city and to raise the quality of life here.

Here are the highlights you can look out for at 20WOC:

Flower Dome

At 1.2 hectares, the Flower Dome is the larger of the two cooled conservatories in the Bay South Garden. It replicates the cool-dry, springtime climate of the Mediterranean-type and semi-arid regions, enabling the display of habitats and plants from regions in South America, the United States, South Africa and Madagascar, Western Australia and the Mediterranean Basin.

During the preview period, visitors will also see a spectacular display of orchids planted in the Flower Field inside the Flower Dome, to mark the occasion of the 20WOC. This colourful display will feature some 14,000 orchid plants consisting of about 150 hybrids and 30 species from around the world including Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and South America.

Heritage Gardens

The Heritage Gardens features a collection of four gardens – Indian Garden, Chinese Garden, Malay Garden and Colonial Garden – which bring to life Singapore’s cultural diversity and colonial history, through plants. It features trees, shrubs and herbs associated with the various cultural groups.

Supertrees & Dragonfly Lake

Also open for public preview during this period are the Golden and Silver Gardens, as well as the Dragonfly Lake.

The Golden and Silver Gardens feature six of the 18 Supertrees in the Bay South Garden and showcase a variety of epiphytes, ferns and tropical flowering climbers with gold and silver hues.

The Dragonfly Lake is part of the Gardens lake system, which serves as a natural filter of water. It provides not only naturally treated water for irrigation in the Gardens, but also an aquatic habitat for biodiversity.

The 20WOC will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre from Nov 13-20. Admission is $15 (weekdays) and $20 (weekends) for adults. Ticket holders get to preview the Flower Dome. For more information, visit .

Cooling the plants inside Flower Dome
Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 14 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: The Flower Dome - one of two conservatories at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay - will be opened to the public for a week-long preview from Monday.

It has been home to unusual flora and fauna since June.

NParks says that so far, the advanced cooling techniques that are integrated into the conservatory have worked in keeping the plants healthy.

The conservatory aims to replicate the cool dry conditions needed for the plants it houses. It is made up of glass panels that allow in more light than heat.

And when the sun's rays get too strong, sensors automatically trigger off shades to keep conditions stable.

The temperatures inside the conservatory are kept between 23 and 25 degrees Celsius. A process known as thermal stratification is used to ensure cool air settles in the lower zone and warm air is allowed to rise.

Gardens by the Bay's Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth Er, said: "To facilitate that process, we have chilled water pipes that are embedded on the ground so that the ground is always cool....."

Warmer air, which rises, is then released through an automatic venting system.

The chilled water comes from four chillers, two of which are used at any one time.

They do not run on electricity from a power grid, but on electricity generated from the burning of the garden's horticultural waste.

The air outside the conservatory is also stripped of its moisture by a chemical process before it is cooled.

The cooled air is then released into the conservatory through the vents.

Mr Er said: "With the technologies that we have embedded in the building, we are able to achieve 30% efficiency or savings in terms of energy consumption."

The preview of the Flower Dome and the surrounding themed gardens will go on till 20 November before the entire attraction officially opens in June next year.

- CNA/ir

Greening the Red Dot
Dr Tan Wee Kiat helped turn Singapore from a Garden City to a City In A Garden
tay suan chiang Straits Times 14 Nov 11;

This week, starting today, you can get a look at the latest green spot on the little red dot.

Just head down to Marina Bay and amid Marina Bay Sands integrated resort and the glittering downtown skyscrapers, you can experience another sort of lush life.

This is a sneak peek at a section of what will be the Government's $1-billion Gardens By The Bay South project that is due to open officially in June.

The preview, which lasts till Sunday, is part of the programme at the ongoing 20th World Orchid Conference.

Gardens By The Bay comprises three gardens. The biggest, Bay South at Marina South; the linear-shaped Bay East along Marina Channel; and the smallest, Bay Central, along Kallang Basin. Bay East opened last month.

Visit Bay South this week and get ready to ooh and ahh at its megasize SuperTree tree-like structures, two conservatories and colourful plant displays.

During your stroll through Singapore's newest Eden, your delight might be witnessed by Dr Tan Wee Kiat, the man who brought the Gardens to fruition.

Gardens By The Bay has been a seven- year labour of love for the eloquent, mild-mannered 68-year-old man who helped turn Singapore from a Garden City into a City In A Garden.

In fact, he has been greening Singapore for the past 28 years - from rejuvenating the Singapore Botanic Gardens to starting the National Orchid Garden to the lush greenery around the island that wows tourists.

Dr Tan trained in botany, horticulture and orchidology in the United States and returned here in 1983, going on to work at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where he became its director. He later became chief executive of the National Parks Board (NParks).

His former colleagues and long-time friends hail his attributes, ranging from great vision, incredible attention to detail, and a willingness to emphasise the 'public' part of the phrase, public space.

Indeed, even before Life! interviews Dr Tan at the Flower Dome, he darts off to a corner of the 54ha Gardens, returning about 15 minutes later. He apologises and says: 'I had to be there to place a plant, otherwise the work cannot go on.'

Landscaping is not something that can be done on a piece of paper, he says. 'Most landscape architects do not know the plants sufficiently, so lots of landscaped gardens are boring.' He adds that 'you can be a horticulturist for 40 years and still have no eye for aesthetics'.

Dr Tan has the eye, though. The Flower Dome is not completely done up yet but it already looks breathtaking.

From a lookout point near its entrance, visitors can see themed floral displays below. Set among the plants are trees, some a few centuries old, that come from around the world.

Yet it is a surprise to hear he has only one plant, a dracaena, in his home in Geylang, an apartment where he lives alone. 'I leave home early and I come back late, I can't have plants because I'm not at home most of the time,' he says.

For relaxation, he watches movies, 'those without blood, zombies and gore' and reads sci-fiction and fantasy stories.

A fantasy element will be present when Gardens By The Bay South opens in June. The 18 SuperTrees range from 25m to 50m tall.

Dr Tan, who is chairman of the ongoing World Orchid Conference, says: 'I want people to be proud of the Gardens and to use it like their finest furniture at home.'

The roots of the Gardens go back to 2004 when the Government was seeking to re-invent Singapore as a global city of distinction. Marina Bay was to be the new downtown, with a work, live and play element. Within this context, a central park was identified for the area.

'There was immense pressure on the resources of the Singapore Botanic Gardens as visitor numbers soared to around three million,' he adds.

'The plan was to develop another complementary Garden and allow the Botanic Gardens to focus on botany and research, while Gardens By The Bay focused on horticulture and recreational programming.' As chief executive of NParks Board then, he presented the concept for Gardens By The Bay to the Government.

Most of the $1- billion Bay South budget will be spent on infrastructure, leaving about 20 per cent for Dr Tan to buy plants.

And they are no ordinary plants. The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions. The second conservatory, the Cloud Forest, replicates a cool-moist climate found in tropical region mountains up to 3,500m above sea level, such as Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, and areas of South America.

His challenge to his staff is that 60 per cent of the plants must be ones not normally seen in local parks. He says: 'By bringing these plants in, Singaporeans will have a chance to appreciate the diversity of the plant kingdom and the intimate relationship between plants, people and the planet.' The plants will be the wow factor that he says will hook visitors.

Though plant acquisition could be done by his staff, Dr Tan himself goes on source trips. 'You don't just look at a catalogue and pick the plant you want. Even two plants of the same species may have different qualities suitable for different functions and effects,' he says.

Some trees that will be in Bay South include 300-year-old olive trees and 500-year-old camellia trees. He had to rely on his network of nursery and plant owners to buy them. Pointing to a baobab tree, a rare African tree, he says: 'We had to have the okay from the President of Senegal before we could have it.'

The camellia trees he bought from China are the most expensive because of their age. 'They cost too much,' he would only say.

Even with Government funding, he is still seeking sponsorship. With more funds, he will be able to include a water- play Children's Garden, a Sun Garden, a Concert Lawn and changing displays in the Flower Dome. It costs from $100,000 to change the floral displays to $12 million to build the Children's Garden. 'If there are no sponsors, these additional facilities will have to be delayed,' he says.

Apart from creating Singapore's next big garden out of empty reclaimed land, his other achievements are as impressive.

He began his training as a botanist and horticulturist at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1965 and trained in orchidology, first at Michigan State University, where he received his master's, and then at the University of Miami, where he received his doctorate.

When he received a job offer from the then Parks and Recreation Department here in 1983, he was also offered the post of director of Lew Botanic Gardens in Orlando.

He opted to return to Singapore. 'I wanted to be back for my parents,' he says. His father died six years ago, while his mother will turn 90 next year.

He says he had plans to return here to 'contribute to the nation' and adds: 'I wanted to come back earlier, but there were no real opportunities for botanists.'

So he became an assistant director at the Parks and Recreation Department.

On his return, he rejuvenated the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which 'in 1983 had deteriorated into nothing more than a glorified park'. He says: 'It had lost its focus as a botanical institution and I felt the need to put it back on track.'

The rejuvenation involved conducting an inventory of plants found in the jungle, weeding out plants not native to the area and raising saplings of native species and improving visitor facilities, pathways and signs in the Gardens.

He became director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens when NParks was set up under his initiative in 1990.

In 1996, when the Parks and Recreation Department came under NParks, he was appointed its first CEO and Commissioner of Parks.

Today, NParks is responsible for enhancing the greenery of Singapore and beyond building green infrastructure, it engages Singaporeans to enhance the quality of the island's living environment.

Dr Tan served as NParks' CEO until he retired in 2006. Apart from his role as CEO of Gardens By The Bay, he still serves as an adviser to NParks.

As part of his plans to turn Singapore Botanic Gardens into a world-class institute, he started the National Orchid Garden. It opened in 2005 and has about 600 species and hybrid orchids on display.

He also spearheaded the Streetscape Greenery Masterplan and the Park Connector Network. The greenery masterplan sets out planning and design guidelines for landscaping streets, while the park connector is a nationwide system to link parks with walkways that cut through housing estates.

Other achievements include improving accessibility to nature areas such as Pulau Ubin and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, 59, NPark's deputy chief executive officer and commissioner of parks and recreation, who has worked with Dr Tan for 23 years, says: 'He is a man with great vision. He saw more than what many of us would see.'

He cites the example of how the researchers would have been happy just to get the facilities, when research facilities were set up at Botanic Gardens.

'Dr Tan saw an opportunity for the public to see the importance of research,' he says. As a result, there are glass windows at the botany centre for the public to observe researchers at work.

Dr Leong was also struck by Dr Tan's meticulous attention to detail. 'He pays great attention to how a plant or a sculpture should be placed. In the end, the landscaping looks beautiful because of the attention paid to it.'

Born to a rubber broker and a housewife, Dr Tan is the second eldest in a family of eight children and the only one with an interest in botany. An orchid spray that his father gave his mother sparked his interest in plants.

She was the second wife. His father's first wife also had eight children. All the children played together and Dr Tan says, 'we learnt how to get along'.

Asked if his parents agreed with his choice of study, he says he was allowed to indulge himself but he had to pay for his studies. He won a scholarship to study in the United States and worked as a waiter and later at a nursery during the holidays. 'I learned to be self-reliant.'

While most Asian students at Williams College tended to stick together, he immersed himself in American culture.

Though he has had a few girlfriends, Dr Tan is still single. 'I felt I needed complete freedom. What kind of husband would I be if I spent 25 hours on the job?'

He relies on the support of family and friends, and has nieces and nephews to dote on. At work, he gets affection from three stray dogs which live at Bay South.

Work keeps him busy and retirement is not on his mind yet.

'But I will step down when I feel the work is done and there is someone who is able to take over,' he says. 'After that, I will do something else, because there is always something else to do.'

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In the city for a picnic

People are packing picnic baskets and enjoying the green havens in the heart of the city
Cheryl Faith Wee Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

If you want to have a picnic, there is no need to find a far-off park - go downtown instead. Weekend picnickers are enjoying the green havens in the Central Business District area.

On a Sunday afternoon, it is not uncommon to see groups of picnickers on the field at St Andrew's Cathedral in North Bridge Road.

The tranquil greenery around the cathedral is one of three picnic places spotted by LifeStyle.

The others are Esplanade Park and Marina Barrage. The park is popular with foreign workers while the Barrage is a hit with Singaporeans.

The open field at St Andrew's Cathedral, flanked by tall trees that provide cool shade, holds allure for those seeking tranquillity among the office towers. While cathedral staff say that first and foremost it is a place of worship, they add that if people picnic on the field, they would not be too bothered by it.

Another place picnickers go to is Esplanade Park in Connaught Drive.

The linear park is sandwiched between the Padang and the Esplanade. People spread out newspapers and plastic sheets on the grass and make themselves at home among historical landmarks such as the Lim Bo Seng memorial and Tan Kim Seng Fountain.

Domestic helper Jovelyn Tigalina, 32, goes to the park every other Sunday with a dozen friends. The Filipinos arrive with chicken wings, salted fish, lasagna, crackers, coffee and even a bottle of wine.

Ms Tigalina said: 'We share our food and everybody brings something. If it rains, we will go under the Esplanade bridge or Raffles City mall.'

She added: 'We sit here and talk and laugh. It's our form of happiness every Sunday and it's like a family gathering.'

Confirming the growing popularity of the place, National Parks Board general manager Chia Seng Jiang says the number of picnickers at Esplanade Park has been increasing.

Picnickers are also flocking to Marina Barrage's Green Roof, an open space the size of about four football fields atop the Marina Barrage building. It is especially popular with kite flyers on weekends.

Ms Tay Hui Wen, 25, a brand ambassador, was there with six friends and their pets last Sunday. She said: 'We decided to have a picnic here for humans and dogs. The weather is nice and you can see the Singapore Flyer and kites.'

Besides cookies and potato crisps for themselves, she and her friends bought $65 worth of treats - biscuits and a cake - for the dogs. She added jokingly: 'That's why it seems like the dogs are enjoying things more than the humans.'

Ms Tay said she prefers the Marina Barrage to East Coast Park because she feels it is cleaner. Part of the reason might be due to the fact that Singapore's national water agency PUB provides bio-degradable trash bags for the public at the barrage. On weekends, volunteers remind people to keep the place litter-free.

The sight of swarms of kites soaring overhead against the backdrop of the city skyline makes the Green Roof the perfect place for 19-year-old student Beston Lee to unwind.

'There's no other place quite like this in Singapore with the view and the kite flying. I come here for picnics every few months,' he said. 'I bring my guitar here to play and get into the mood to write some songs. It's easier to talk to my girlfriend here, too, because it is so relaxing we can just de-stress.'

Peaceful refuge by the bay
The first part of Gardens By The Bay has quietly opened, offering panoramic views
Cheryl Faith Wee Straits Times 13 Nov 11;

Anew public garden has sprouted in the Marina Bay area. Gardens By The Bay East is the first of three sections of the $1-billion Gardens By The Bay that will open next year.

Bay East opened quietly last month without an official opening ceremony as the National Parks Board (NParks) plans to further develop the garden first.

However, it is all yours to enjoy for free.

Not many people know about the linear park boasting good views of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer and Marina Barrage.

The tranquil refuge from the city centre is tucked beneath Benjamin Sheares Bridge.

Getting there by public transport may be difficult as there is not a bus stop in sight. It is mostly residents from the nearby Tanjong Rhu area who are enjoying it now.

Retiree Teo Bee Guat, 54, who lives at Sanctuary Green condominium, which is walking distance from Bay East, goes there every morning, except when it rains.

She said in Mandarin: 'Running on a treadmill in a gym is not as enjoyable as walking here. I enjoy nature and looking at things in the area.'

She usually strolls or jogs along the Skyline Promenade which connects with the Marina Barrage via a gate that is open daily from 7am to 7pm.

The promenade is a 2km path that stretches along the banks of Marina Reservoir, offering a panoramic view of the Singapore Flyer, two large glass domes at the distant Gardens By The Bay South and buildings such as Suntec City Mall.

Another who enjoys the park is banker Pamela Williams, 33, who is on maternity leave. The Australian lives in Tanjong Rhu and does brisk walking while pushing her baby in a pram. She usually reaches the garden at about 9.30am on weekdays.

'I come here from Mondays to Fridays. It's nice and quiet. Normally I am the only one walking around here, there're not so many people,' said Mrs Williams.

Currently, only basic facilities such as parking lots and restrooms are available at the 320,000 sq m Gardens By The Bay East.

However, in the future, it will have water gardens, a water sports arena and an applied research and edutainment centre.

Mr Kenneth Er, chief operating officer of the Gardens By The Bay, which is under NParks, said: 'The full development of Bay East will be carried out at a later stage, taking into consideration the infrastructural works of other projects in the area.'

Gardens By The Bay involves transforming about 177 football fields' worth of prime land by the water into green spaces.

Bay South, the largest of the three gardens, is next to the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. Among other things, the 540,000 sq m garden will have 25 to 50m SuperTree structures and two conservatories. It is slated to open next June.

Bay Central, the smallest, will serve as a connecting space between the two gardens. It will be open after the other two gardens have been fully developed.

Meanwhile, visitors to Bay East are just glad to have a place to enjoy greenery.

Web designer Malin Pettersson, 39, who lives in nearby Costa Rhu condominium, said: 'I like it. There are trees and water and there is always a breeze here.'

Mrs Pettersson, who is from Sweden, is unfazed by the prospect of more people discovering the garden: 'I wouldn't mind even if it got crowded, it's quite a big space.'


Bay East can be reached by Tanjong Rhu Park Connector, Rhu Cross Road and Marina Barrage via a gate (7am to 7pm daily). Take bus service 158, alight at Rhu Cross Road and walk or take bus service 400 to Marina Barrage and walk. The Marina Barrage also has a shuttle bus service that runs between Marina Bay MRT station and Marina Barrage.

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Malaysia: Special sea turtle safety device

Farik Zolkepli The Star 13 Nov 11;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Deep-sea fishing operators will use a special device which allows turtles to escape from fishing nets.

State Fisheries Department director Zakaria Ismail said the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) is made of steel and can release turtles while fishes, squids and prawns are retained in the net.

He said the department would conduct a test run by providing six devices to deep-sea trawlers in Kemaman on Nov 28.

Zakaria said 16 turtles were found dead this year, mostly caught by trawlers.

He added the device, which costs about RM650, was widely used in the United States, Mexico and Australia.

WWF Malaysia lauded the move to use the device, which it described as the first of its kind in peninsular Malaysia.

WWF Malaysia group chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma said turtle fatalities were a threat to their existence.

He added that TED was originally developed by an American fisherman in the 1970s and was adopted by 18 countries.

Dr Sharma said Terengganu's beaches recorded the highest landings of turtles in the peninsula.

He added that the state's beaches have also been identified as the locations for nesting banks for leatherback turtles.

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Is it time to give up on tigers and pandas?

Controversial plans to save one species at expense of another are gathering pace
Steve Connor The Independent 9 Nov 11;

A majority of professional conservationists believe it is time to consider shifting efforts away from some of the world's most famous species, such as the panda, to concentrate on others which have a greater chance of success.

A survey of nearly 600 scientists involved in wildlife protection found that more than half agree with the idea of species "triage", where conservation efforts are concentrated on certain animals and plants that can be saved at the expense of species that are too difficult or costly to preserve in the wild.

The highly controversial idea has been discussed for several years among conservationists with little consensus, but it seems that there is now a growing appetite for taking it more seriously, given the scale of the extinction crisis facing the natural world in the coming century, as a result of loss of natural habitats, a growing human population and climate change.

The overwhelming majority of the 583 scientists who took part in the survey believe a serious loss of biological diversity is "likely, very likely or virtually certain". In that context, some 60 per cent of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the idea of triage – a medical term where limited resources are concentrated only on those individuals who can survive with some help.

"They argue it is time to move beyond outright rejection of triage. Results from my survey suggest that a shift in attitude may have already happened or that it always existed," said Dr Murray Rudd, an environmental economist at York University, who carried out the study published in the journal Conservation Biology. "The challenge in conservation is to know what's beyond help and what's not. In some cases, we don't know what the costs of species conservation are going to be," he added.

Many experts have rejected the idea of wildlife triage on the grounds that it is impossible – and perhaps immoral – to make judgements about one species at the expense of another, given the complexity of the ecological interactions in the natural world. However, others are starting to question the value of spending millions of pounds on one celebrated species, such as the panda, or a big predator such as the tiger, where loss of its habitat is almost inevitable.

"When considering conservation values and priorities the scientists said understanding interactions between people and nature was a priority for maintaining ecosystems. However, they largely rejected cultural or spiritual reasons as motivations for biological biodiversity. They also rejected human 'usefulness', suggesting many do not hold utilitarian views of ecosystem services," Dr Rudd said.

The Canadian government, for example, has poured millions of dollars into efforts to save the Atlantic salmon. However, there are questions about whether the money could have been better spent on other conservation projects, Dr Rudd said.

But one message is clear from the survey. Almost all of the professional conservationists interviewed said that species extinction is happening. "Given the perceived severity of loss of biological diversity, scientists may be willing to discuss potentially contentious conservation options," he said.

Dying out: Species losing fight for survival


In 1900, there were up to 100,000 tigers in India alone. Now, estimates of their global population range from just 3,062 to 5,066. India still has the most – about 1,700 – but with the country expected to overtake China as the most populous nation, pressure on dwindling tiger populations is intense. The false belief of Chinese herbalists that tiger products can cure a variety of ills means that poaching is still endemic and is organised by highly skilled criminal gangs.

Polar bear

Estimates of the polar bear population range from 20,000 to 25,000. But with Arctic sea ice melting at its current rate that number is expected to plummet by up to 30 per cent within 40 years. The bears rely on sea ice to reach their preferred meal – seals. As sea ice melts, bears starve and can come in contact with humans more, scavenging farther for food.

Atlantic salmon

Decades of overfishing has led to a plunge in Atlantic salmon populations, nowhere more spectacularly than off the east coast of Canada. Since the closure of Newfoundland's commercial fisheries in the early 1990s, Canada has invested millions of dollars in trying to bring stocks back up to pre-industrial levels, but the initiatives have had little success.

Giant panda

As an global symbol of endangered animals, it is no coincidence that the World Wildlife Fund chose the giant panda as its logo when it was formed. There are now just 2,500 mature pandas in the wild. China has spent millions on conservation, which has slowed the species' decline, but it has had only tentative success with captive breeding programmes.

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Amazon fire season 'linked to ocean temperature'

Mark Kinver BBC News 12 Nov 11;

Sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies can help predict the severity of Amazon fire seasons, a study has suggested.

A team of US scientists found there was a correlation between El Nino patterns in the Pacific and fire activity in the eastern Amazon.

Writing in the journal Science, they say they also found a link between Atlantic SST changes and fires in southern areas of South America.

They said the data could help produce forecasts of forthcoming fire seasons.

"We found that the Oceanic Nino Index (ONI) was correlated with interannual fire activity in the eastern Amazon, whereas the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) index was more closely linked with fires in the southern and south-western Amazon," they wrote.

The ONI is a system used to identify El Nino (warm) and La Nina (cool) events in the Pacific Ocean, while the AMO index performs a similiar function in the Atlantic.

'Early warning'

"Combining these two indices, we developed an empirical model to forecast regional fire severity with lead times of three to five months," they explained.

"Our approach may contribute to the development of an early warning system for anticipating the vulnerability of Amazon forests to fires."

Previous studies have shown "high-fire" years in South America are generally associated with an extended dry season and low levels of rainfall.

It has also been shown that variations in precipitation levels in the Amazon is regulated by SSTs in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

"The most severe droughts observed in the Amazon over the past three decades have occurred when the tropical eastern Pacific and North Atlantic were anomalously warm," they said.

A reliable early warning system would be a key tool for relevant bodies and agencies to focus policies and resources effectively, observed the researchers, drawn from a number of US institutes.

"Managing fires to conserve biodiversity and carbon stocks in forest and savannah ecosystems requires advance planning on multiple timescales," they said.

These include "design of policy mechanisms that modify long-term development, as well as improved use of short-term meterorological forecasts of fire behaviour during years with high fire season severity."

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