Best of our wiild blogs: 16 Nov 11

Sultans of (s)wing
from The annotated budak

oriental pied-hornbills @ SBWR
from sgbeachbum

Second Musang Watch for Zhonghua Primary (3rd Nov 2011)
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

The Chironomids Part I: Marvellous Midges
from Lazy Lizard's Tales and The Chironomids Part II: Millions of Midges

DHI scientists rediscover a long-lost treasure: The Return of the Neptune’s Cup
from Raffles Museum News

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'Extinct' sponge back from the dead

Grace Chua Straits Times 16 Nov 11;

The Neptune's Cup sponge has been sighted in Singapore waters this year after not being seen here for more than a century. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF KARENNE TUN

ONCE, the enormous Neptune's Cup sponge was common in Singapore waters, its metre-high, chalice-like form a popular trophy for collectors.

It could be found in waters from Thailand to Indonesia and as far afield as Australia. In 1822, the Neptune's Cup was the first sponge described from Singapore after Sir Stamford Raffles landed.

The second colonial Resident of Singapore John Crawfurd even called it one of 'the strangest and most fantastic forms of organic life' ever seen.

Yet for more than a century, it had not been seen locally and was thought to be globally extinct, until one was dredged up off Australia in 1990.

But in March this year, local researchers found a young Neptune's Cup (Cliona patera) alive and well in the waters off St John's Island. It was only the second time anyone had ever seen live Neptune's Cups in situ, in the wild. The first time was in 2000 off Thailand, but that specimen was not studied.

Sponges are primitive animals, and some luxury bath sponges are actually the dried skeletons of some sponge species.

Adult Neptune's Cups have been used as bathtubs for children.

The months of research that followed the find were chronicled in a post yesterday in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity blog at

Biologist Karenne Tun, a senior marine biologist at research and consulting organisation DHI Water & Environment, was part of the team that first spotted the sponge during a routine survey dive.

'For us, it's really exciting because it's an iconic species for Singapore,' she said.

On a second dive in August, they found not one but two young Neptune's Cups about 30cm in diameter.

'The presence of two young Neptune's Cup sponges within a surveyed area of 50m by 50m signals hope that more are present within the area, and more importantly, points to the possibility of adult populations present within Singapore's coastal waters,' Dr Tun said.

That also suggests there are pockets where the environmental conditions are suitable for this rare species to survive, she added.

'It was indescribable,' said sponge expert Lim Swee Cheng of the Tropical Marine Science Institute, who identified the sponge based on a small sample and followed the researchers on their August dive.

Previously, all existing information on the Neptune's Cup came from dead museum specimens. There are some 200 sponge species around Singapore waters.

Now, the researchers have planned another dive for December, and aim to study how the sponges grow and live.

There have already been some surprises. For instance, a small wedge was cut from one sponge for a research sample.

By August, the sponge had grown back, and put on a few centimetres.

'The Neptune's Cup was thought to be a very slow-growing species,' said Dr Tun. 'Looks like we might have to rethink some of these ideas.'

Related links
Neptune's cup discovered in Singapore on the wild shores of singapore blog.

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Long-term flood control plan in pipeline

Hoe Yeen Nie Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is at a point where it needs to embark on a long-term plan for flood control infrastructure.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said changing weather patterns have caused more flash floods in recent years, and this will be taken into account during planning.

National water agency PUB has commissioned an independent study to assess the possibility of a new diversionary canal off the Stamford Canal in Orchard Road.

Flash floods do not just occur in low-lying areas.

They can happen anywhere, coming and going in mere minutes, but causing hours of frustration.

The flash floods can be caused by several factors, be it inadequate drainage, clogged pipes, or heavy storm flows upstream.

And they're occurring in all areas, almost in a "pseudo-random" pattern, noted Dr Balakrishnan.

"I say pseudo-random because they are predictable, but you can only predict it about 10, 15 minutes beforehand if you look at the radar map of rainfall patterns," he said.

"The point is that it's not so much that it's a local problem itself, but the heavy, intense rain in a specific spot at that point in time, temporarily - temporarily - exceeds the drainage capacity and you get a flash flood."

PUB figures show that in 2009, there were six days of flash floods.

This went up to 13 in 2010, and 12 in 2011.

One way to manage that is to slow the flow of water in some parts, while allowing water downstream to flow away faster.

"If I can just regulate that flow so that for those 15 minutes it doesn't overflow the drain, you would have overcome the problem," Dr Balakrishnan said.

Even as Dr Balakrishnan outlined plans to review and improve the flood control system, he was quick to set expectations right.

"Nature is a very, very powerful force. I will have to say that I'm very sure there will inevitably be some episodes of flash flooding, despite all our best efforts," he said.

"People have to be aware of this; they'll have to take precautions, and what we will commit to, is making sure that everything we can do to prevent it, to mitigate it, and to keep you informed, we will do so."

Among the plans is a new planning code for buildings to be released by PUB in December, that sets higher requirements on flood control.

PUB is also studying a possible diversion canal for the Stamford Canal and retention pond in Orchard Road.

The study began in August, and will be completed in May 2012.

Dr Balakrishnan said he will consult the Orchard Road Business Association, which previously mooted a similar suggestion.

But he said given the cost and limitations of space, whether construction will go ahead is not yet a certainty.

Plans are also under way to expand the meteorological service, and create a network of data points allowing authorities to monitor the impact of rain and floods.

Dr Balakrishnan said he wants the public to get involved too, by providing real-time updates of floods to PUB.

A smartphone application was launched on 10 November, which allows the public to report to PUB on flooding, broken railings or missing sewer manholes.

iPhone users are also able to view these hotspots on their phones.

Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that social media have become a place for the public to air their frustration about the floods, and saw this as a tool that can help authorities.

"We're not trying to hide anything. If a flash flood has occurred, it has occurred," he said.

"What I want to know is where it is, how deep the water was, what was affected, were there local problems, is there something which I can fix?

"If it's something I can fix, I will fix it. In fact, I should fix it. This is actually, I believe, a model for how Singapore and Singaporeans have to solve problems in the future.

"Through transparency, through sharing, through collaborating, and being prepared to make bold design decisions and appropriate local reactions at the same time.

"I'm actually quite enthused by it because I view it as a real-life experiment in how we're going to organise Singapore in the future."

He added: "It's no longer a defensive -- you know, you make a complaint and I'm trying to deny it or I'm trying to defend it. It's not.

"We're all on the same side, we're all part of the solution."

Flood control and water security are both, in Dr Balakrishnan's view, two sides of the same coin.

The volatile weather that is causing flash floods today could well result in droughts in the near future.

The way Dr Balakrishnan intends to manage this, is to design infrastructure to deal with both purposes.

The Marina Barrage, for instance, can flush out rain water during a heavy storm, while keeping it in the reservoir during a dry period.

- CNA/wk

Flood barriers in demand
Zhao Quan Yin Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: More properties in Singapore are making moves to install flood barriers.

So far, five more properties this year have placed orders for flood barriers to be installed at their premises.

They include shopping malls and private residences.

A flood prevention system may cost between S$100,000 and S$300,000.

Providers of the system said some 30 other properties have asked about installing the barriers.

Seven in 10 enquiries come from shopping malls.

But some of them are facing various issues which are slowing the installation of barriers.

Parafoil product manager Jwee Quek said: "They need to get... financial approval. (Then) they need to get the budget from the management... (followed by) approval from the government."

- CNA/wk

Orchard Rd may get canal or pond to prevent floods
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 16 Nov 11;

A NEW pond or canal could be built in Orchard Road to combat floods.

If built, the canal would divert water from the Stamford Canal, possibly into the Singapore River.

The Orchard Road Business Association has also previously suggested building a water retention tank in the green space beneath Ngee Ann City. This would be connected via pipes to Stamford Canal.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said at a press conference yesterday ahead of the monsoon season that the ministry was looking into these options to prevent floods in the popular shopping district. No further details were given.

Revised drainage guidelines for new buildings next month

National water agency PUB has commissioned a study and will publish the findings by next May.

The area has been flooded at least thrice in the past two years, causing millions of dollars in damage to businesses.

The most serious episode, which occurred in June last year, was caused by intense rain which overwhelmed the Stamford Canal; a second canal would relieve the strain on it.

After the June floods, a 1.4km-stretch of low-lying road was raised, and pop-up flood barriers were installed in front of Liat Towers, which has shop entrances below the road level.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources also convened a panel of local and foreign drainage experts in June this year to look into the flood problem. The panel is expected to publish its findings by January.

Dr Balakrishnan said yesterday that PUB's study would not duplicate the panel's work. 'The panel is looking into solutions for the next decade, whereas PUB's solutions are more for the immediate future,' he said.

He also unveiled several other measures aimed at keeping residents and businesses dry.

On Dec 1, PUB will publish a revised set of drainage guidelines for new buildings in Singapore. These include higher platform and crest requirements to keep water out; buildings must also be able to drain water quickly during intense rain.

The new guidelines are mandatory and building plans that do not follow them will not be approved.

A PUB spokesman said that the agency will work with owners of older buildings to adapt their drainage systems.

Another measure is the creation of a centralised computer system that monitors rain clouds, temperature, wind direction, rain and water levels in canals and drains.

This was among the initial recommendations announced by the panel of drainage experts last month.

Dr Balakrishnan said this would help the relevant agencies to predict the occurrence and impact of storms better. A prototype is expected to be ready by 2014.

The minister said yesterday that Singapore is at a crossroads in its drainage system development.

'Flood prevention measures undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s were successful for a long time,' he said. 'But the past few years have shown that Singapore needs a new decades-long plan for flood control.'

Orchard Road Business Association executive director Steven Goh said the group has not been consulted about PUB's new study.

He said: 'These ideas will affect businesses in Orchard Road, so our input should be considered. We are definitely still keen on having talks to see what else can be done in Orchard Road.'

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Southern phase of North-South Expressway affects Rochor Centre, SJI, Novena Ville

It's a one-way ticket from Rochor to Kallang
Joyce Hooi Business Times 16 Nov 11;

(SINGAPORE) The southern phase of the planned North-South Expressway (NSE) will involve the relocation of the largest ever number of Housing & Development Board flats for an infrastructure project, the Land Transport Authority revealed yesterday.

Some 567 flats in the four-block Rochor Centre will be demolished to make way for a 5.6-kilometre stretch of tunnel that will complete the 21.5-km NSE. The tunnel will run from Toa Payoh Rise to East Coast Parkway.

The total cost of the NSE might be higher than the estimated $7-8 billion which was announced earlier this year, the LTA also said yesterday. The final figure will depend on the outcome of engineering studies and various site conditions.

At Rochor Centre, 389 - or about 69 per cent - of the units are 3-room flats, with an area of 67 square metres each. There are 82 more 3-room flats but they are larger, at 82 sq m. And 91 - or about 16 per cent of the units - are 4-room flats, with an area of 92 sq m each.

An 810-unit HDB development will be built next to Kallang River by mid-2016 for the Rochor Centre residents. They will not have to vacate their old flats before construction of the new ones is complete. Residents will ballot for the unit of their choice and will be offered relocation benefits that are similar to that of the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme's (SERS).

As in SERS, residents will be compensated for their old flats based on the prevailing market value, taken as at yesterday. The price of their new flats will be the subsidised rate, also taken as at yesterday and comes with an additional discount of up to $15,000 for singles and $30,000 for joint singles and families for eligible purchasers of the new flats.

Also, compensation for 'reasonable expenses' will be made. While the compensation monies offered will not be in cash but used to offset the cost of the new home, anything left over will be returned in cash. The same benefits will be given to residents applying for a flat elsewhere.

The new development at Kallang is expected to have a mix of studio apartments, and 3-to-5-room flats. Owners of an existing 82 sq m 3-room flat, however, will have to opt for an 85 sq m 4-room flat at Kallang if they do not want to see a shrinkage in living space. This is because the largest three-room flat available at Kallang is 67 sq m.

Even then, estimated figures in a leaflet that residents were given yesterday showed that 'upgrading' to a 4-room flat with an extra three sq m of space might actually leave the average household in the black. (see table)

The final mix of flat sizes and types is 'subject to review', as it might change, depending on 'feedback from Rochor residents', HDB said yesterday.

Nanyang Pho Leng Building's lot will also be fully acquired, while the lease on Lee Ah Mooi Nursing Home will not be renewed when it expires in 2013.

Twenty-one private properties will be partially affected, such as Novena Ville and 368 Thomson. They correspond to a lot number from which 29.9 sq m and 239.1 sq m of land have been listed as gazetted for acquisition, respectively. BT understands that the land involved will be grass verges or driveways and the buildings themselves will not be affected.

'For Novena Ville, (this might) bring the road nearer to the shopfront. It might create even better exposure to the shopfront, but for al fresco food and beverage outlets, there might be more noise implications,' said Donald Han, managing director at Cushman & Wakefield.

St Joseph's Institution International will see 4,654.3 sq m of its land gazetted for the NSE, one of the largest parcels of partially affected land listed.

The total amount of land acquired for the NSE's southern phase stands at 24,700 sq m. The northern phase, announced in January, involved acquiring 55,800 sq m of land.

The NSE, expected to open by 2020, will connect north-south towns such as Woodlands, Sembawang and Yishun with the city centre. There will be 16 in-ramps and 17 out-ramps in total.

'The immediate impact (on property prices) is probably minimal for the time being. Nearer to completion, there could be a 5-10 per cent increase in values. It will not be as distinct as the kind of pricing for the opening of the North East MRT line or the Circle Line. because MRT stations tend to be a bit more specific when providing access and convenience to residents,' said Mr Han.

Advance works on the NSE will start from 2013 and major construction works will start in 2015.

New expressway sparks big land acquisition
Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: The government has announced the full alignment for the 21.5-kilometre-long North-South Expressway (NSE), with the southern segment unveiled on Tuesday.

The final 5.6-kilometre stretch of the expressway will be an underground tunnel beginning from Toa Payoh Rise and ending at East Coast Parkway.

It will pass along Thomson Road, Bukit Timah Road and Ophir Road before leading to the East Coast Parkway Expressway.

In January, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had announced the alignment for the northern segment between Admiralty Road West and Toa Payoh Rise.

When ready by 2020, NSE, which is Singapore's 11th expressway, is expected to cut travel time for motorists by up to 30 per cent.

For example, a journey between Yishun and the city currently takes about 30 to 35 minutes.

With the NSE, the same journey can be completed between 20 and 30 minutes.

LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said: "We were looking for the southern segment to link up in a nice way to the ECP so it has to take a certain alignment that comes round that way into city.

"The city is very built-up so the southern segment is all underground, and as much as possible, we follow the alignment of existing rounds, so as to minimise the acquisition of private properties and we use state land to build the expressway."

But several properties will have to make way for the southern segment.

Two full lots and 21 partials lots will be acquired.

They include four HDB blocks of flats at Rochor Centre which has been around since 1977.

This will be the largest acquisition of HDB flats to date.

Mr Chew said: "We studied the alignment, and in the city it gets very crowded and at that area, there are MRT lines that are running there.

"There's the Bugis MRT station and there's the Downtown Line station being constructed, there is a canal running along Rochor Canal and for engineering reasons, the road has to be of a certain level of straightness... because the cars would have to travel at a certain speed.

"So taking all that into account, that was the alignment that we have to settle on and unfortunately it will affect the blocks that are there."

Residents of 567 flats at Rochor Centre will be offered relocation benefits similar to those offered under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).

Eighty-three per cent of the flats acquired are three-room units.

HDB will build about 810 units of new flats at Kallang as replacement housing for the residents affected.

Located next to Kallang River, residents will also be well-served by a good transportation network, with the Kallang MRT station being a five-minute walk.

Some 187 rental shops and eating houses at Rochor Centre will also be affected.

They will be given a 10 per cent preferential discount off the monthly rental rates when they successfully tender for other HDB rental commercial properties, or when they take over other HDB rental commercial properties through assignment.

Nanyang Pho Leng Association, located at Keng Lee Road and which has been in operation since 1970, will have to make way for the NSE.

The Nanyang Pho Leng Building is home to a Teochew clan association, which has more than 1,000 members.

LTA said the association will be given assistance in their purchase of and relocation to a replacement property.

Land acquisition notices have been handed out since 12pm Tuesday and the Singapore Land Authority has gazetted the lands affected by the acquisition.

Some state properties will also be making way for the NSE.

They include Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home and Victoria Street Wholesale Centre.

They will be able to complete their current tenancy or licence when the NSE works starts.

The lease for Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home has been extended till September 2013.

Advance works for the NSE will start progressively from 2013, and major construction works will start in 2015.

The construction of the NSE will benefit residents living in the north and north-eastern sectors of Singapore as it caters to the expected growth in traffic demand generated by new developments there.

It will connect towns along the north-south corridor -- Woodlands, Sembawang, Yishun, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Toa-Payoh -- to the city centre.

Running parallel to the Central Expressway, NSE will help to alleviate the traffic load on the heavily-utilised expressway, as well as the major arterial roads nearby such as Thomson Road and Marymount Road.

The NSE is expected to cost the government some S$7 billion to S$8 billion.

- CNA/wk

Rochor residents sad to leave
Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 11;

SINGAPORE: HDB residents affected by the land acquisition of Rochor Centre have said they are sad to leave their convenient and familiar surroundings.

Come 2016, the 567 households there will have to say goodbye to their estate.

This is to make way for the North-South Expressway's (NSE) southern stretch that will be an underground tunnel from Toa Payoh Rise to East Coast Parkway.

Some residents have been living there for more than 30 years, since the development went up in 1977.

They were informed of the land acquisition exercise when HDB officers went door-to-door on Tuesday to distribute the notification letters and information kits.

Sixty-two-year-old resident Sae-Huan Sinet said: "I'll miss this place, and I'm worried if the new place will be as convenient, if it's as convenient for elderly residents."

Another resident, Madam Tan, who is in her 70s, said: "Many of the neighbours here are my relatives, living in flats above and below mine."

"A change of environment might not be a bad thing. As long as we have a flat to live in, it's ok," said 62-year-old resident Chan Tuck Wah.

Residents who are affected will be offered a new flat in Kallang.

HDB said most residents will be able to move to a brand new flat that is at least of equivalent size.

In some cases, HDB said residents may also enjoy net proceeds.

For instance, a three-room Rochor flat of 67 square metres -- the most common unit-type -- has an estimated market value of S$445,000.

About 70 per cent of the residents own such units.

A new flat in Kallang, after factoring in a S$30,000 discount, will cost S$342,000.

The subsidy will only apply to home owners who have not enjoyed more than one housing subsidy so far, and do not own private property.

Home owners will be given an additional S$4,800 to cover other expenses such as stamp fees.

This means a flat owner stands to gain more than S$100,000 in proceeds.

Work on the NSE will start in 2013, but work will be conducted in phases.

Residents will be able to stay in their homes until their new flats in Kallang are completed in 2016.

Commercial tenants of Rochor Centre will also be moving out.

Those who took over the premises before 1999 will receive payouts of S$60,000 each.

An additional S$30,000 will be given to those who choose to continue business at an alternative premise.

But tenants said the compensation is too little.

Hiap Guan Goldsmiths & Jewellers manager Sammy Fong said: "This S$60,000 has been offered for many years; there's been no change in the amount over the years. It's not a big sum of money."

Turning Point Academy owner Amy Koh said: "I'm about to renovate my shop. The deposit has been paid. If I go ahead with the renovation now, when the government takes back the land, I'll not be able to earn back the money spent."

Another building that will make way for the new expressway is the 41-year-old Nanyang Pho Leng Building.

The building is home to a Teochew clan association, which has more than 1,000 members.

Channel NewsAsia understands there are hundreds of ancestral tablets housed on the third floor of the building, which will need to find new homes or be returned to the members.

The clan association directors could not be reached for comment.

- CNA/wk

More than 500 homes to make way for highway
North-South Expressway to cut travel time by 30%
Christopher Tan Straits Times 16 Nov 11;

A 5.6KM-LONG three-lane dual carriageway running beneath some of the busiest parts of the city will form the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday that the fully underground stretch will go through areas such as Novena, Kampong Java, Rochor and Ophir Road before joining the East Coast Parkway near Suntec City.

It will be completed some time in 2020 and will cut peak-hour travelling time by up to 30 per cent.

Like the northern segment announced in January, there will be land acquisitions, the LTA said at a briefing held jointly with the Singapore Land Authority and Housing Board.

All in, 24,700 sq m of private land will be acquired along the 5.6km stretch, on top of 55,800 sq m acquired for the 16km northern stretch.

They comprise two full lots - Rochor Centre and a clan building - and 21 partial lots.

The acquisition of Rochor Centre in Rochor Road is the biggest of its kind here to date, and involves 567 Housing Board flats in four blocks, 187 shops and eating houses and three communal facilities.

Over at Kampong Java, the 40-year-old Nanyang Pho Leng Building will also be acquired. It houses a clan association for descendants of immigrants from Pho Leng county in China's Guangdong Province.

The 21 private properties that will have bits of their land acquired include SLF Building, St Joseph's Institution International and the Singapore Polo Club.

Two properties on state land will also be affected - the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson, which dates back to the 1960s, and the Victoria Street Wholesale Centre, a favourite haunt for people wanting to stock up on festive goodies.

Major construction will start from 2015

Tenants will have to move out when their leases expire by 2013.

Properties on 16 other pieces of state land will also be affected in some way, including five rented landed properties in Halifax Road and two blocks of walk-up apartments in Toa Payoh Rise. These buildings are currently state properties let out for residential use and the lease will be allowed to run out.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said highway construction abroad which cut through communities can cause 'a lot of hassle' for governments. This is especially so in bigger countries, where there are often alternative routes.

'In Singapore, our situation is different,' he said. 'Land is limited. So planners face a dilemma here.'

Rochor Centre residents will be paid prevailing market rates for their flats. They will also have the option to move to new HDB flats to be built in Kallang, next to the river and near the Kallang MRT station.

These displaced owners get to buy the new flats - which will be up in mid-2016 - at subsidised prices frozen at today's rates, said the HDB. On top of that, they get a 20 per cent discount.

Displaced Rochor Centre shop tenants will also be compensated, as long as they are Singaporeans who secured the premises before March 4, 1999, or took over from another tenant before June 1, 1999.

If they are small and medium-sized enterprises continuing their businesses in a new location, they will get an extra $30,000 in relocation help. They will also get a 10 per cent discount on HDB rental shops.

Advance work for the expressway, which includes detailed engineering studies, will start from 2013. Major construction of the entire 21.5km stretch - which runs almost parallel to the Central Expressway - will start in phases from 2015.

It will serve the northern towns, which have far outgrown the capacity of the 20-year-old Central Expressway.

The new expressway, the 11th in Singapore, will have 16 entry ramps and 17 exit ramps, plus a number of slip roads. It is estimated to cost $7 billion to $8 billion, although LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said the eventual cost might be higher.

Unlike the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway which opened in two phases, Mr Chew said the new expressway will open in one go. Opening in stages, he said, could have adverse impact on traffic flow along the corridor.

The LTA said that when the highway is in operation, it will shave up to 30 per cent off peak-hour travelling time.

For instance, a 30- to 35-minute journey between Yishun and the city will be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. A similar trip to and from Bishan will take 10 to 15 minutes, down from 15 to 20 minutes today.

Dr Lee of the NUS commented, however, that there seem to be a lot of entrances and exits, which can prove to be 'challenging' to motorists.

He said too many entrances and exits could disrupt traffic flow. He added a better way would be to have fewer access and exit points, which means drivers have to travel a slightly longer way to and from the expressway, but will experience a far smoother drive once they are on it.

Mr Chew assured motorists that the highway will be designed in a way that ensures smooth flow.

The road (almost) not taken
Christopher Tan Straits Times 16 Nov 11;

THE North-South Expressway (NSE) will be one of the most challenging - and possibly the most disruptive - infrastructural projects here.

The northern stretch - which is largely a surface road - stirred up controversy when it was announced in January. Many residents, in condo projects such as Nuovo and Castle Green, were concerned about the noise, dust and degradation in air quality during construction and when the highway is finally completed.

The southern stretch presents challenges of its own. Although less than 6km long and making up merely a quarter of the entire NSE, the fully underground portion of the three-lane dual-carriageway entails massive excavations through one of the most built-up districts.

It has also triggered a number of land acquisitions, including Rochor Centre. The latter consists of 567 Housing Board flats, 187 shops and eating houses, and three communal facilities - making it the single biggest property acquisition here.

Asked why the road could not avoid Rochor Centre altogether, for instance by veering to the east, Land Transport Authority (LTA) group director of engineering Paul Fok said an expressway needed to be as straight as possible to accommodate the higher speeds.

The authority later elaborated that it had considered 'all possible alignments', but was unable to avoid the acquisition of Rochor Centre due to site constraints along the Bukit Timah Road-Sungei Road-Rochor Road-Ophir Road corridor which is highly built-up.

'Besides the many buildings in close proximity to the roads, there are five underground MRT stations... There is also the Rochor Canal to consider,' it said.

In short, Rochor Centre has to go.

The complexity of the expressway - Singapore's 11th - may explain why engineering studies alone will take nearly three years to complete.

That's not all. The NSE has been on the drawing board for more than a decade. Several feasibility studies have been done on it, with some dating back to the early noughties.

Retired LTA traffic planner Joseph Yee recalls there were six to eight alternative alignments.

One notable alternative was actually adding an upper deck to the Central Expressway (CTE), which was eventually deemed too complex and not feasible.

Another was to link up and expand existing roads such as Lornie and Farrer roads to form an expressway.

The LTA also considered running the southern stretch through Orchard Road, or slightly to the west, through areas such as Telok Blangah.

Yet another had a portion going under the nature reserve.

The final alignment is one that starts from Yishun in the north, forming almost a straight line drop towards the city, and running parallel to the CTE most of the way.

'It's probably the cheapest and most efficient alternative,' said Mr Yee.

Nearly half of the 21.5km NSE - or 10.2km - will be underground, with the 5.6km southern stretch announced yesterday being fully subterranean.

It will have five ventilation buildings. They are at Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (opposite the library); Kampong Java Park; near the junction of Marymount Road and Braddell Road (at the corner of Raffles Junior College); Thomson Flyover; and near the Nicoll Highway (before the NSE joins the East Coast Parkway).

These buildings, which suck out vehicle exhaust gases from the tunnels, as well as blow in fresh air, are usually sited as far away from residential and activity centres as possible.

Construction works on the NSE will begin in earnest in 2015, and will last at least five years. The LTA will adopt the cut-and-cover method of excavation. It explained that the expressway was too big for it to use the boring method, which is less disruptive and often safer.

Seeing how the southern stretch passes through a densely developed part of Singapore, it is not hard to imagine the construction period will be nightmarish for those living and working near the alignment.

The Novena portion, for instance, is flanked by developments that are already hugging Thomson Road. It is a site of perennially heavy congestion, which wor-sens when the Novena Church holds services.

Building diversions in such an area will be challenging because there is practically no room to do so. Contractors might have to erect a temporary viaduct - as they did in Cross Street to facilitate the construction of Downtown MRT Line Stage 1. It is something the LTA does not rule out.

In the meantime, it is best for motorists who can avoid the construction sites to do so. Only thing is, with the ongoing Mass Rapid Transit works, and more to come in the next few years, finding detours will be tougher and tougher.

Long-time residents sad to leave
They are resigned to news, but say they will miss city location and their great views
Royston Sim Straits Times 16 Nov 11;

RESIDENTS in Rochor Centre were yesterday largely resigned to news that they would have to move.

Some said they were sad because they had lived there for more than 30 years and enjoyed the central city location.

Others, on the higher floors, said they would miss seeing the fireworks during National Day Parades and views of buildings such as Marina Bay Sands.

Retiree Wong Tong Hoe, 72, said he enjoyed an excellent view outside his 17th-floor flat. He has lived there with his wife and son since 1978. But he added: 'Even if we feel sad, it can't be helped.'

He will accept the offer to move into new flats in Kallang, but said it will take time before he and the rest get used to the new surroundings and neighbours.

His neighbour, Mr Too Chiang Keong, 70, said he did not want to move, but it could not be helped.

The Government will acquire 567 residential units across four Housing Board (HDB) blocks at Rochor Centre for the North-South Expressway. It is the largest number of flats affected by a land development project here.

Besides the blocks which are painted green, red, yellow and blue, the sprawling Rochor Centre complex houses shops, eating houses and three communal facilities - a kindergarten, a Residents' Committee centre and a home for the aged.

The HDB will build 810 new units next to Kallang River as replacement housing, to be ready in 2016.

Ms Nargis Banu, 34, who has lived in Rochor Centre for seven years, said she would miss the convenience of having facilities such as a supermarket and a bank right below her home.

Her twin four-year-old sons attend the kindergarten in the centre, while her seven-year-old daughter attends Stamford Primary School, a five-minute walk away.

She said: 'I'm quite sad. I'm not sure what to do, whether to take the new place at Kallang or go somewhere else.'

Ms Sumathi Thanmugham, 51, who has lived there for more than 30 years, likes how it is served by many bus services and is near the Bugis MRT station.

Her workplace, Stamford Primary School, is also a short walk away. 'My parents are old and my father is a stroke patient so I can rush back if anything happens,' the support officer said. 'This place is like heaven. I'd rather stay. It's quite sad to need to count the days to the year we leave.'

Rochor Centre falls within the constituency of Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, who said she was grateful that the HDB has put in effort to offer her residents a good package.

She noted that the new flats in Kallang had an 'excellent location' and lifts on every floor, and said residents or families could choose to apply together to be close to one another.

'My concern is that residents might be tempted to cash out and sell off their flat with the accompanying relocation benefits,' she said. She urged them to 'think long-term and buy the new Kallang flat of their choice'.

IT engineer Wong Wai Leong, 38, another long-time resident, said he expected to move sooner or later. 'It's prime land. I just didn't expect we would receive notice so soon,' he said.

Some residents, like Ms Joanna Ong, 20, will be glad to move. 'I'm very happy. My home is so old,' said the store assistant. 'I live on the highest floor, and when it rains, sometimes my ceiling leaks. I've been hoping for some time now that our block would go en bloc. I'm looking forward to a new house.'

Additional reporting by Jennani Durai and Feng Zengkun

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Thai lawmakers submit motion on moving Bangkok

(AFP) Google News 15 Nov 11;

BANGKOK — Lawmakers from Thailand's ruling political party submitted a parliamentary motion on Tuesday to begin discussions over possibly shifting the capital city to prevent future flooding chaos.

Experts have said Bangkok, which is built on swampland, is slowly sinking and the floods currently besieging the city of 12 million people could be merely a foretaste of a grim future, as climate change makes its impact felt.

Sataporn Maneerat, a Puea Thai party MP, told AFP that Thailand should think about looking to another city for future developments and investments.

"Another 19 Puea Thai MPs and I have signed and submitted a motion to parliament to seek approval to set up a committee, to consider whether the capital should be moved or if Thailand should have a second capital," he said.

"Bangkok is sinking every year. The capital will face more and more problems from natural disasters and the environment," he said, adding that the current capital was "over its peak".

He said the main alternative options for relocating the kingdom's political and economic heartland were in eastern and northeastern provinces.

At least 562 people have been killed across the country in Thailand's worst floods in half a century, which have inundated parts of the capital, although the downtown area remains dry after authorities' efforts to divert the waters.

The low-lying metropolis lies just 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of the Gulf of Thailand, where various experts forecast sea level will rise by 19 to 29 centimetres (7 to 11 inches) by 2050 as a result of global warming.

Water levels would also increase in Bangkok's main Chao Phraya river, which already overflows regularly.

If no action is taken to protect the city, "in 50 years... most of Bangkok will be below sea level," said Anond Snidvongs, a climate change expert at the capital's Chulalongkorn University, told AFP earlier this month.

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Engineers 'destroying Northern Ireland coasts'

Mike McKimm BBC News 15 Nov 11;

Engineering solutions to coastal erosion are often damaging, often don't work and usually cost a lot.

That was the blunt message a coastal geologist gave to an international conference on coastal management in Belfast.

Professor Andrew Cooper told an audience of civil engineers that some of the solutions coastal engineers used to tackle erosion and rising sea levels "are making our response all the more difficult".

He described coastal engineering as a "bankrupt profession", telling the conference: "The reason engineers should not be involved in coastal management is that they inevitably promote an engineering approach and the more sustainable and environmentally friendly approaches are not even considered."

He told the BBC: "Most local authorities call on their consulting engineers for advice.

"If you're an engineer, you've got a certain number of 'products' that you sell so the chances are that you're going to come up with an engineered solution.

"We think that there ought to be other options. For example, we can sometimes live with the risk from coastal erosion.

"In many places there are engineering structures where there is no need for them. In some cases you can move the infrastructure at risk and best of all you can choose not to build in places where you shouldn't be building."

Professor Cooper, from the University of Ulster, told the conference that in Northern Ireland and all around the world, coasts were capable of looking after themselves.

He said building walls and sea defences destroy a naturally functioning healthy ecosystem and claimed that when it all goes wrong the engineers resort to blaming storms.

He claimed that engineers have destroyed beaches on a global scale and that the short-term perspective they take is unsustainable, environmentally damaging and costly.

"The problem is not in the design and construction of engineering structures on the shoreline, but the environmental impact of these structures".

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Tokay Gecko trade boom in South-East Asia

TRAFFIC 16 Nov 11;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 16th November 2011—Unfounded claims of a potential cure for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one factor behind a boom in the trade of Tokay Geckos, according to a new report launched today by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The Tokay Gecko Gekko gecko is a nocturnal Asian lizard growing up to 40 cm in length and easily identified by its orange-spotted, blue-grey skin and unmistakable vocalizations.

The animals are popular in the global pet trade and have long been traded—both legally and illegally—for use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the belief they can cure various maladies including diabetes, asthma, skin disease and cancer. In parts of Asia, Tokay wine or whisky is consumed to increase strength and energy.

Between 1998 and 2002, more than eight and a half tonnes of dried Tokay Geckos were legally imported into the USA for use in traditional medicine. Huge numbers are traded within Asia, from countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, to meet demand, especially in China.

Recently, however, the medicinal demand for Tokay Geckos has skyrocketed, with dozens of new websites in Malaysia, a major hub of the trade, dedicated to buying and selling Tokay Geckos.

Messages have been circulating in online blogs, forums, newspaper articles, classified advertisements and amongst wildlife dealers in the region, extolling the consumption of Tokay Gecko tongue and internal organs as a cure for HIV and even cancer.

The geckos are being sourced across South-East Asia, especially the Philippines, where authorities have launched a crackdown on Tokay Gecko buyers amid growing reports of illegal trade in the animals.

One couple was recently arrested attempting to smuggle Tokay Geckos worth close to a million dollars from Thailand to Malaysia.

Indonesia exports an estimated 1.2 million dried Tokay Geckos from Java each year—the official export quota is 45,000 live animals, intended for the pet trade.

Two weeks ago, Customs officers in Central Java foiled an attempt to smuggle 6.7 tonnes of dried Tokay Geckos bound for Hong Kong and China using expired permits.

Unsurprisingly there are anecdotal reports of major Tokay Gecko population declines in Java and this picture is likely to be mirrored elsewhere.

However, the Tokay Gecko remains poorly protected by national legislation throughout most of its range and is not listed for protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“TRAFFIC is alarmed at the massive increase in trade of these geckos,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

“If the trade continues to mushroom, it could take years to repair the damage currently being inflicted on gecko populations.”

“Protection under CITES should urgently be considered as a stitch in time for the Tokay Gecko.”

According to the new report, published in the latest TRAFFIC Bulletin, underlying the current Tokay Gecko trade are “Incredible claims of miracle cures and vast monetary gains [that] may be indicative of an elaborate hoax. Perpetrated by whom, to what extent and in what capacity remains a mystery. What is clear, however, is that the demand for Tokay Geckos is leading to the rapacious collection of this species throughout South-East Asia.”

Also in the TRAFFIC Bulletin (PDF, 3.5 MB)—which this issue focuses on South-East Asia—are articles on the region’s tortoises and turtles, carnivores, pangolins, the indigenous people of Belum-Temengor, and trade in birds-of-paradise.

Activists urge protection of hunted gecko species
AFP Yahoo News 17 Nov 11;

Wildlife activists on Wednesday called for the orange-spotted Tokay Gecko to be protected under international laws following a spike in smuggling of the lizard, mainly for medicine in China.

International wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said in a statement that the trade, both legal and illegal, in the gecko known for its blue-grey skin and loud croak was on the rise across Southeast Asia.

It called for the nocturnal animal to be protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a "stitch in time" for the Asian gecko.

"TRAFFIC is alarmed at the massive increase in trade of these geckos," said Chris Shepherd, deputy director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

"If the trade continues to mushroom, it could take years to repair the damage currently being inflicted on gecko populations," he added.

The animals are captured across Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines as well as Indonesia, according to a new report launched by TRAFFIC, which points out their "rapacious collection."

They are usually killed and dried, and shipped to China for use in traditional medicine billed to cure various diseases, including HIV and cancer. Tokay wine or whiskey is also sold as an energy booster.

"Recently... the medicinal demand for Tokay Geckos has skyrocketed, with dozens of new websites in Malaysia, a major hub of the trade, dedicated to buying and selling Tokay Geckos," the statement said.

TRAFFIC said it would investigate this trade. The TRAFFIC report also said claims of the gecko's potential as a cure "may be indicative of an elaborate hoax."

The Tokay Geckos, which can grow up to 40 centimetres (15.7 inches), are also popular pets.

Malaysia has pledged to fight wildlife smuggling, which activists say is rampant in the Southeast Asian nation due to regional demand for exotic dishes, pets, or traditional medicines derived from animals.

WHO: Geckos not cures for HIV/AIDS or cancer
Lim Wey Wen The Star 21 Nov 11;

PUTRAJAYA: Geckos are not cures for HIV, AIDS or cancer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) posted a message on its Facebook page to remind people that reports stating otherwise were not true.

WHO’s posting coincided with wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC’s call for the protection of the to’keh (or tokay) gecko, following a sharp increase in illegal smuggling of the lizard in Southeast Asia.

“We’d like to remind you that the gecko is not a cure for HIV/AIDS, or cancer.

“The rumour that says otherwise is a hoax,” the WHO message stated.

“There is no scientific evidence that gecko can cure HIV/AIDS or cancer.

“Nor is there information on the safety and hygiene consequences from exposure to geckos,” the health organisation said.

Malaysian Society for HIV Medicine immediate past president Dr Christopher Lee said: “We strongly advise people who are infected with HIV to continue with the anti-retroviral treatment provided free in government hospitals.

“This is because the anti-retroviral treatment is the only treatment that is proven to work so far in the four decades of the HIV epidemic,” he added.

TRAFFIC was quoted in The Star yesterday as saying that the demand for tokay geckos had skyrocketed recently due to unfounded claims on Asian websites and blogs that consuming the reptile’s tongue and internal organs could cure HIV and cancer.

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Hong Kong seizes record haul of rhino horns

AFP Yahoo News 15 Nov 11;

Hong Kong Customs officers have seized a record haul of 33 rhino horns along with ivory chopsticks and bracelets hidden inside a container shipped from South Africa, officials said on Tuesday.

Officers found the horns along with 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets in a haul worth a total of about HK$17.4 million ($2.2 million) during a search Monday of a container declared as containing "scrap plastic".

Senior Customs official Lam Tak-fai told RTHK radio the horns were carefully wrapped in multiple layers of materials and hidden in the rear of the container.

"We think the smugglers wanted to make it look like waste plastic material so as to evade Customs detection," he said, adding the haul was believed to have been destined for a neighbouring country.

Lam said rhino horns had been seized in Hong Kong in the past but never in such large quantities.

"Altogether we have 86.54 kilograms of rhino horns, it's a record seizure so far in Customs history," he said.

Conservation group WWF said earlier this month that rhino poaching in South Africa had hit a record high, with 341 of the animals lost to poachers so far this year as black-market demand for their horns soars.

Officials blame the poaching surge on organised crime syndicates selling rhino horn for use in Asian medicinal treatments -- especially in Vietnam, where it is believed to cure cancer.

The UN wildlife trade regulator has called for stiffer penalties for poachers, with the price of a rhino horn per kilo fetching around $50,000 ($23,000 per pound).

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of importing endangered species for commercial purposes is liable to a maximum fine of HK$5 million and two years' imprisonment.

No one has been arrested so far and Lam said the investigation was continuing.

Hong Kong rhino horn seizure a unique enforcement opportunity—TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC 16 Nov 11;

Cambridge, UK, 16th November 2011—Tuesday’s seizure by Hong Kong Customs of 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets concealed inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa, provides a unique opportunity to gain insights into the criminal syndicates trafficking wildlife goods between Africa and Asia, according to TRAFFIC.

TRAFFIC supports the South African Department of Environmental Affairs in requesting the authorities in Hong Kong to send DNA samples of the seized goods to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria in South Africa for examination.

If the horn samples can be matched with records in the rhino DNA database it may be possible to identify the individual animals that were poached for their horns.

“Such an effort could yield major clues about who is behind this consignment,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert.

This is the largest rhino horn seizure made in the current poaching crisis. Viet Nam is considered the pre-eminent contemporary market for rhino horn in Asia, and authorities in Viet Nam have previously seized rhino horn transported from Hong Kong by air, but the scale and method of transport suggest the shipment may have been destined elsewhere.

“The fact worked ivory was also present suggests the 33 rhino horns were likely destined for the greater Chinese market,” Milliken added.

“That’s a very worrying development given the scale of this seizure, and an important indication that the Chinese market is becoming an active phenomenon in rhino horn trafficking.”

No arrests have so far been made, although authorities in Hong Kong have confirmed the horns are genuine and say investigations are ongoing.

Under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing unmanifested cargoes is liable to a maximum fine of HKD2 million (USD257,000) and imprisonment for seven years.

In addition, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing endangered species for commercial purposes is liable to a maximum fine of HKD5 million (USD642,000) and imprisonment for two years.

“This case highlights the need for South African Port Authorities to invest in scanning equipment and up their game in terms of surveillance of the country’s export cargo,” says Markus Burgener of TRAFFIC’s fisheries programme. The port of Cape Town is also a major conduit for illegal shipments of abalone to Hong Kong.

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Less than 1% of sharks caught in the Atlantic are protected

Most shark species are still being caught and killed despite heading towards extinction, Oceana report says
Suzanne Goldenberg 15 Nov 11;

Only a tiny fraction of sharks caught in the Atlantic – less than 1% – are under protection, even though most shark species are heading towards extinction, a report warns on Tuesday.

Officials from 48 Atlantic fishing countries are meeting in Istanbul this week to try to protect bluefin tuna, swordfish and other large fish.

But existing conservation efforts are only saving a tiny proportion of sharks, the report from the Oceana conservation group said.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a lot of shark species, many of them vulnerable species, that are still being caught and killed," said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a senior scientist at Oceana.

Conservation groups at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (Iccat) meeting are pushing for a ban on the catch of porbeagle and silky sharks – which are at extreme risk – as well as catch limits on other species such as the shortfin mako shark.

Three quarters of the wide ranging shark now being caught in the Atlantic are under threat, the report said.

But Iccat countries to date have only limited protection for specific shark species such as the bigeye thresher, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks.

There are no limits on the fishing of 15 Atlantic shark species even though some – such as the silky shark – are close to extinction.

Conservationist groups hope the Istanbul meeting will build on recent momentum on shark conservation.

The White House on Monday sought the Senate's approval for a new international treaty that would make it easier for countries to crack down on any illegal catches being brought to port. The state of Florida is expected to adopt new protection measures this week.

The European Union last week banned all fishing for porbeagle shark in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

But it is a race against time. Sharks were not built for reproduction. They can take take years to reach sexual maturity, and produce only a few pups.

And highly mobile animals are notoriously difficult to protect.

"You just can't manage them one country by one country because they cross international boundaries," Wilson said.

Atlantic fishing countries reported catching more than 68,000 tonnes of shark in 2009, or more than 1.3 million animals. Most were caught inadvertently by vessels targeting tuna and other fish.

Populations of some species, such as the porbeagle, which are caught for their meat as well as their fins, have fallen by 99% since the middle of the last century.

Scientists estimate it could take up to 34 years for populations to recover – even with the new EU protections.

Fishing of porbeagle sharks continue in Canadian waters, Wilson said.

Three other shark species are also at high risk: silky sharks, shortfin mako, and blue sharks, the report said.

Group calls on tuna fisheries for better shark protection
AFP Yahoo News 15 Nov 11;

Countries involved in bluefin tuna fishing need to do more to protect the collateral killing of sharks, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Three-quarters of migratory shark species that inhabit bluefin fishing areas are threatened with extinction, the Oceana group warned the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT.)

"The fishing countries of the Atlantic can no longer ignore that shark populations are being decimated by ICCAT fisheries," Oceana manager Elizabeth Griffin Wilson said.

Representatives from dozens of bluefin tuna fishing nations are meeting in Turkey to discuss ways to improve protection for the endangered fish, savoured by many sushi eaters for its firm meat.

Oceana wants the 48 commission members to prohibit the retention of endangered or other particularly vulnerable species, including porbeagle and silky sharks.

The commission already has introduced protections for the bigeye thresher, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks.

The US Pew Environment Group wants fishermen to use new materials that allow sharks to escape, such as nylon fishing lines that can be severed by a shark but not a tuna.

"Banning wire leaders and not allowing vessels to retain certain species would help reduce the vast number of sharks caught and killed in Atlantic fisheries," said Pew shark campaign manager Jill Hepp.

Pew says 73 million sharks are killed each year, mainly for their fins, which are used in soup in some Asian countries.

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