Best of our wild blogs: 4 Dec 11

Green, Mean, Awesome Machines of the Sea!
from Pulau Hantu

111203 Pulau Ubin
from Singapore Nature

Channel green
from The annotated budak

Nesting Grey Herons – Part 12: Begging Behaviour
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Yellow bittern@Japanese Garden黄小鹭
from PurpleMangrove

Volunteer Appreciation and NatGeo talk
from wild shores of singapore

Ria Tan at the National Geographic Store
from Pulau Hantu and habitatnews

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Don't forget Bukit Brown's vital green role

Straits Times 4 Dec 11;

I would like to thank the Land Transport Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority for making the effort to explain their rationale for the carriageway through Bukit Brown cemetery ('Bukit Brown road project 'can't wait''; Nov20).

It appears that the designated route cutting through the grave site is a result of a Master Plan target to develop a residential estate in that location in three decades' time.

My question: Why do the planners think that in 30 years' time, they will have no alternative sites to plant the estate other than at Bukit Brown?

After all, already-concretised plots like Turf City are left untouched for years, golf courses are not acquired, and much of western Singapore is still available for development.

I would also like to know if an environmental impact analysis (EIA) had been conducted prior to the decision to undermine the invaluable roles that Bukit Brown cemetery plays - most importantly as an ecological sponge for rainfall, carbon dioxide and heat.

What were the EIA's findings, and what steps are planned to mitigate the foreseen risks?

Bearing in mind that flash floods already plague us now and global sea levels are predicted to rise substantially, how much more risk are planners taking in eliminating priceless, natural catchment areas?

Should my generation pass on the legacy of a Singapore full of housing, but held captive by incessant floods?

Marian Tay (Madam)

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Making nights at the park a bright idea

Move to put up lights at Botanic Gardens, West Coast Park a bid to promote night visits
Straits Times 4 Dec 11;

Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan (in patterned shirt) getting a tour of the Trees of the World event at the Botanic Gardens yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING
By Yen Feng

New lights will be put up at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and West Coast Park by next year in a pilot project to promote park use at night.

The project, costing $200,000, is part of the National Parks Board's (NParks) long-term vision to optimise urban spaces for greenery and recreational activities.

NParks chief executive Poon Hong Yuen disclosed the plans for new night lighting yesterday evening at the launch of Trees of the World, a month-long display of lit trees at the Botanic Gardens.

Mr Poon said he got the idea after a public consultation exercise began in August. The consultation is part of NParks' strategy to realise its vision to turn Singapore into a City in a Garden - an idea mooted since the 1990s, but taken up again by the Government in August.

One of the more popular ideas that resulted from the consultation, said Mr Poon, was to increase the night-time usage of parks.

'Given Singapore is cooler, more comfortable and safe at night, we think this idea makes a lot of sense,' he said.

A central theme this year has been to bring greenery 'skywards', said NParks in a media statement.

Other projects may include transforming unused spaces below MRT tracks and under viaducts into 'green spaces', and more park connectors - though, to these, the NParks chief declined to give details, only saying that more will be revealed in the coming months.

The current lighting project will be completed by the end of next year, and evaluated to see if it can be replicated in other parks.

For now, the two parks under the project will be lit only in specific areas.

In Botanic Gardens, lights will be put up at the Casa Verde cafe area, and the new Foliage Garden, located close to the Botanic Gardens MRT station on Bukit Timah Road.

In West Coast Park, a playground area will have lights that will 'double up as whimsical play equipment', NParks said.

Every year, the Botanic Gardens receives about three million visitors; about a tenth of them visit the park at night.

NParks hopes more people will use the park at night when the better lighting goes up by next year.

New night lights for Botanic Gardens, West Coast Park
Qiuyi Tan Channel NewsAsia 3 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: Plans are in store to make the Botanic Gardens and West Coast Park better for night time visits, with both parks getting new night lights by the end of next year.

The plans were announced at a Christmas light-up at the Botanic Gardens.

About 10 per cent of the Botanic Gardens' three million visitors a year come at night.

Poon Hong Yuen, CEO of the National Parks Board (NParks), said: "Making parks attractive night destinations is not just about lighting. It's also about programming, about thinking through what are the usage patterns of park users.

"These are the things that are not that simple. We need to really study, do pilots, try out, see what works."

The idea to make Singapore parks friendlier for night time visits came from the public. In August, NParks started a public consultation to get Singaporeans' views on how to realise the vision of Singapore as a city in a garden.

When the lights are ready next year, the glowing night gardens may well contribute to the Singapore dream of a city in a garden.


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Dinosaurs in Singapore: Get ready for Twinky & friends

Two of three dinosaur fossils Singapore bought could arrive next year
Tan Dawn Wei Sunday Times 4 Dec 11;

Singapore's heftiest immigrants are moving here as early as next year - two years before their new home will even be ready.

The team behind the Republic's new natural history museum hopes to have two of the family of three dinosaurs here first, as soon as their 'citizenship' papers are settled.

Between now and then, the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum needs to sort out the legal papers, collect the money pledged by donors and authenticate the bones.

Prof Leo Tan with Apollo, and with Mr Joe Gentry as well. Twinky the baby stands in the background. The dinosaur fossils are being prepared in the Fossilogic lab, in Utah, the United States. They could come to Singapore as early as next year, two years before their new home, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, is slated to open. -- ST PHOTOS: TAN DAWN WEI

The last involves a 'health check' by palaeontologists to verify they are no fake fossils. To be sure, the dinosaur fossils will also have to go through CT scans and carbon dating.

'Once you've bought something, you want to own them as soon as possible. So the faster we can have them, the happier we'll be,' said Professor Leo Tan, 66.

He is the chairman of the museum's fund-raising committee and the driving force behind the setting up of the museum. He was speaking to The Sunday Times last month in the small town of Orem in Utah, on his first trip to see the museum's big-ticket purchase.

But the museum is still unsure if it will unveil the dinosaur fossils to the public ahead of its opening in 2014, he added.

'This is always the question: If this is the 'wow' factor, do you want to show it off and dilute the impact?' asked Prof Tan, who is also director of special projects at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Science dean's office.

So for now at least, it seems the idea is to continue building interest and keep the big bang for the big opening.

The three dinosaur fossils will be the star attraction at Singapore's first purpose-built natural history museum, which will house plant and animal exhibits from the current Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research under NUS.

A team from NUS led by Prof Tan went on an intensive fund-raising drive in 2009 and collected $46 million to build the 7,500 sq m, six-storey green building.

It will form part of a cultural hub that includes the University Cultural Centre and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music on the university campus.

The largest donor was Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million.

The museum then launched another fund-raising effort to buy the three dinosaur fossils in July this year. Mrs Della Lee, wife of Lee Foundation chairman Lee Seng Gee, emerged the largest donor.

The fossils came with a price tag of $8 million, but it is understood the final price is still being negotiated.

Discovered in a quarry in Wyoming between 2007 and last year by fossil company Dinosauria International, the three are now being prepared in a lab in Orem, Utah.

The first time you set your sights on the fossils of these colossal animals is an awe-inspiring moment - they are so big it is impossible to take everything in at once.

Apollo, which is fully mounted, stands magnificent with its neck and head extending to nearly the top of the two-storey-high ceiling and a tail that seems to run on and on.

Apollo's leg alone is about 11/2 times an average person's height. Hundreds of pieces of bone of varying shapes but with the same worn-down texture are assembled in steel brackets that have been painted a dark, dull brown so they blend in with the bones.

Getting them show-worthy takes years. And sometimes, it involves the most low-tech of methods.

When the bones are found in the ground, they are wrapped with paper towels and then encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast called a jacket, so they can be transported without being damaged.

Each jacket is marked for identification and moved to the lab where it is removed using a cast cutter. Once the bones are exposed, workers painstakingly chip the rock away using an air scribe to liberate the bones. A consolidant, or a strengthening liquid, is then used to preserve and harden the fossils.

And then the fun begins: piecing the puzzle together and deciding how best to mount it.

'The discovery really happens in the lab,' said Mr Joe Gentry, 57, a palaeontologist on the project who has been discovering fossils for 20 years.

Missing pieces of the puzzle are filled in with resin parts made from casts and painted to match the rest of the real bones.

The bones are then placed individually on a custom-built welded steel frame, designed to give the dinosaurs the most 'oomph', that is, the greatest visual impact.

The three Singapore-owned dinosaur fossils are more than 80 per cent complete, a rarity in dinosaur discoveries where 60 per cent is considered a palaeolithic coup.

The trio are diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, among the biggest animals to have trod the Earth some 150 million years ago.

Two of them - nicknamed Apollo and Prince - measure 24m in length while the baby dinosaur Twinky, is 12m.

The remains of Prince still reside in hundreds of jackets in the Utah lab Fossilogic. It was the last to be excavated and will need at least another year to be ready.

To accommodate the fossils of three long-neck dinosaurs, some of the beams in the new museum's central gallery may have to go. Its architect Mok Wei Wei from W Architects, is studying how that can be done without compromising the structure's stability, said Prof Tan.

But it is on track to laying the first bricks next July.

The museum toyed with the idea of offering the dinosaur fossils as a loan to other foreign museums in the interim.

'But if you're a custodian, you don't want to take the risk,' said Prof Tan, who was recently anointed a fellow of the Singapore National Academy of Science, an umbrella organisation that represents the scientific community here.

Now he has his babies, he may not stop at three. Prof Tan said the museum is considering having a few smaller dinos - not necessarily real fossils - that can create a diorama.

But he emphasised that the museum will still be dedicated primarily to teaching and research.

'Most museums are display museums and they don't grow. As a teaching museum, we go on expeditions and we add things.'

As for who will be the director of the new museum, an advisory board will decide in due course.

While the dinosaur fossils get ready, the team is already looking at the next stage of funding that will deal with manpower costs.

Prof Tan said the museum would like to have curatorial positions, fellowships as well as professorships. It will also need money to keep the exhibitions fresh.

'We have plenty of work to do,' said a happy but tired-looking Prof Tan.


It might as well have been the Little Shop of Horrors to some.

For nearly 20 years, Mr Henry Galiano's store in Manhattan's West Side was a treasure trove of Palaeolithic curios that drew artists, scientists and wide-eyed dinosaur-loving children.

In fact, the shop Maxilla And Mandible and its skulls, spines and other assorted skeletons have become quite a New York institution, and Mr Galiano, 59, quite a celebrity in his home town.

He made the news in The New York Times and on television when he gave a prized find - a fossilised skull belonging to the pre-human species Homo erectus - to a grateful Indonesia, the country of its origin in 1999.

Over the years, he has gifted hundreds of specimens to museums and institutions, because the self-taught palaeontologist considers himself a scientist first and an ethical businessman second.

Not everyone is convinced. Scientists such as those ensconced in ivory towers and with PhDs to show for, turn their noses up at what Mr Galiano now does - selling dinosaur fossils.

'There's professional jealousy. And yes, there is a problem with commercial dealers, but I don't identify myself with them,' said the art school dropout, who worked as a curatorial assistant at the American Museum of Natural History's department of vertebrate palaeontology for 10 years, before starting his own business in 1984.

'Yes, we're profiteers but we're also scientists and we care.'

Since 2006, he and his business partner, geologist Raimund Albersdorfer, have been digging at Dana Quarry in a tiny town called Ten Sleep in Wyoming, in the United States.

The two had discovered a rich mine of fossils, including dinosaurs, in the 152m by 152m quarry, and decided to lease it from its rancher-owner.

They successfully sold one dinosaur fossil complete with a skull - nicknamed Einstein because it had a brain - to Mexico's first natural history museum.

Then, they hit the palaeontological jackpot - they discovered three complete dinosaur fossils buried close together; two had skulls. Studies of these bones would mean much for the scientific community.

'One thing clear was that we couldn't sell these to just anybody. They had to be properly housed in a recognised institution.'

They started using their network of contacts to spread the word and the National University of Singapore got wind of it.

'We've been happy, but the greatest pleasure has been selling it to Singapore. You have a university. And when we met Leo and Peter, we thought, these guys are real researchers.'

He was referring to Professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng, the two key figures behind the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, where these dinosaur fossils will get top billing.

Part of the money Mr Galiano makes from the sale - about $8 million - will go back to research, he said.

'The perception is that I'm getting rich. I tell them, if I'm rich, I wouldn't be here. I'd be fishing,' he said, of his detractors. 'We work on small percentages. It's very expensive what we do.'

Just a few months ago, he shuttered his much-loved shop. The bones business was not spared the economic gloom and he also needed to focus on his work at Dinosauria.

Now that these dinosaur fossils have found a good home, he wants to make sure they are properly documented and rigorously studied.

'That's beyond the money, beyond the jealousy.'


Every little boy in this world wants to be in Mr Brock Sisson's shoes.

He has a job very few people in this world have, and many can only dream of having.

The 27-year-old is a 'dinosaur builder' - he excavates fossils from the ground, restores them, moulds them, designs their 'pose' and brings them back to life.

Right now, he is on his biggest and most exciting project yet - breathing life back into not one but three dinosaur fossils that will form the star attraction at Singapore's new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, when it opens in 2014.

Mr Sisson's love affair with fossils started early. As a boy, he would go fossil-hunting in the many mountains in the area near his home in Utah in the United States. And in Utah, it is probably not a stretch to say: Throw a rock and you will hit a fossil. Or rather, a rock containing a fossil.

'It's like treasure-hunting. You never know what you're going to find,' said the unassuming American.

'I can take that and hide it away. And I can be the only person who has ever seen it.'

He wanted to pursue archaeology in school.

'But I got into dinosaurs, and there are so many in Utah. It was just a better fit,' said the fossil reconstruction expert.

'It wasn't just pottery or arrowheads or mummies.'

When he was 16, he worked for a company called Western Palaeontology where he started out sweeping floors, then graduated to helping the workers prepare fossils.

He also spent two years studying geology at the Brigham Young University but dropped out when he got too busy with his fossil work.

Four and a half years ago, he started his own company Fossilogic, and now hires 13 people working on about 15 projects at any one time.

There are between 10 and 15 companies like his in North America.

Dinosaur fossils are not the only relics he puts together. He works on trilobites - extinct marine arthropods - and other marine fossils, and his clients include private collectors and investors as well as museums.

His interest led him to fossil shows, where he met Mr Henry Galiano, a professional palaeontologist who later sold the three dinosaur fossils to Singapore.

'You must have a vision of what the end product is like. If you can't see where you're headed, you don't know what to do,' said Mr Sisson about the design of a mounted dinosaur.

'You have to make it aesthetically exciting. And that requires artistic vision.'

That is probably more important than a university degree in a related field.

'You can go out to a quarry and learn everything in a week. Otherwise, it's just practice.'

He bones up on anatomy, does research into comparative skeletons for modern animals, and yes, puts in many man hours in practice.

He is excited that his current three pet dinosaur fossils are going to a museum halfway around the world, where millions will get to see them.

'It's nice to say I had a part in that.'

Prehistoric creatures along waterfront?
Straits Times 11 Dec 11;

My thanks to Ms Tan Dawn Wei for last Sunday's interesting and educational report from Utah ('Breathing life into old bones').

I hope you can convince Fossilogic to open its regional office and lab in Singapore. The National Museum or someone in the Temasek stable could go into a joint venture with the company. Singapore could then be an exporter of dinosaurs pretty soon.

Since it will not easy to obtain more dinosaur fossils, we can perhaps 'build' more dinosaurs using the same polymers and other materials according to the know-how of the company. The real stuff from Utah can be housed at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum eventually.

I hope Singapore can have some of the 'moulded giant dinosaurs' around the East Coast Parkway, revamped Botanic Gardens or along the waterfront.

Perhaps more dinosaurs and other interesting objects can be 'constructed' here, using the same know-how and polymers.

Jimmy Yap

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Australia: Turtle strandings down as seabeds recover

9News 4 Dec 11;

Marine turtle and dugong strandings in Queensland are starting to slow down as seagrass beds recover from last summer's floods.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said on Sunday that the rate of marine strandings in Gladstone and throughout Queensland had fallen in the past six weeks.

During the first 29 days in November there were eight cases of stranded marine turtles in Gladstone. That compared with 11 cases in October, 44 in September and 74 in August.

One dugong was reported stranded in the area over the first 29 days of November, compared with one in October, two in September and one in August.

Seagrass beds in the area were wiped out by last summer's floods.

Ms Darling said it had been a distressing year, with significant increases in the number of stranded and dead turtles and dugongs along the Queensland coast.

"Fortunately the scientists are telling me that these populations will recover when food is available, and the latest data is backing that up by showing a decline in strandings as the seagrass recovers," Ms Darling said.

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Climate fund talks in disarray as US refuses to sign deal

Kevin Rawlinson The Independent 3 Dec 11;

Emergency talks are continuing this morning in a bid to rescue a proposed climate fund which is central to securing meaningful resolutions from the UN's climate change conference in Durban.

There is still significant disagreement over how to run the Green Climate Fund, intended to channel billions of pounds to help poorer countries take on climate change, with the US and Saudi Arabia said to be standing in the way.

But climate campaigners said yesterday they were hopeful that a deal would be reached without formally reopening debate on the essentials of the Fund, which would delay agreement about how to implement it in practice. Such a hold-up would jeopardize the chances of securing international consensus on what to do when the main provisions of the Kyoto Treaty expire at the end of next year.

"Some of the poorer countries would be unlikely to sign up to any agreement to take over from the Kyoto Treaty without the promise in place to set up some sort of provision to help them grow at the same time as tackling their carbon output, such as the Fund. Because it is so important, people can use it as a football," said a source at the conference in South Africa.

In a bid to avoid potentially disastrous delays caused by reopening official negotiations on the Fund, the summit's president – South Africa's international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane – is holding a series of informal meetings between the parties. Talks to get to this point have already taken almost a year.

The disagreement surfaced on Wednesday night when delegates from the US and Saudi Arabia said they would not sign off on a report stating how to run the Fund. It is hoped the fund will channel much of the £63bn wealthier countries have pledged to give to their developing neighbours to offset the economic difficulties of limiting their carbon emissions.

They were followed by representatives from Venezuela and other South American nations who expressed doubts about handing a leading role to the World Bank, intended to act as the Fund's interim trustee, because of its perceived links to the US. Nigerian officials also said they were worried that private sector influence would limit poorer nations' ability to decide what to spend the money on.

Yesterday, Lord Prescott, the Rapporteur on Climate Change for the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe, called for the Kyoto Protocol to be put on hold to ensure delegates had time to decide on new measures.

The former Deputy Prime Minister said that, if it were suspended for a period, it could be extended beyond its current finish date: the end of 2012. Launching the Council of Europe's report: "Stop the Clock, Save our Planet," Lord Prescott called Canada, which failed to meet its targets, a "disgrace".

He said: "The rich countries have thrown down the gauntlet to the poorest. We must now pick it up and show these developed countries whose economic growth poisoned the planet, that they must accept their responsibility.

"It seems the US and Canada are still slaves to big oil and their own vested interests, preserving their status quo while obstructing the efforts of others. We propose that by stopping the clock the Kyoto mechanisms, core principles, organisational structures and expertise will not expire and parties could continue to act as if treaty were still in force while time is allowed for negotiations to finalise a new agreement."

Factbox: The Green Climate Fund
PlanetArk 2 Dec 11;

The United Nations hopes delegates attending global climate talks in Durban, South Africa, will agree on the design of a multi-billion-dollar fund to help poorer nations green their economies and adapt to more chaotic weather.

Formally launching the Green Climate Fund would be a boost for the U.N.-led negotiations that have largely stalled on efforts to agree tougher steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are heating up the planet and will bring more extreme weather.

Delegates involved in designing the fund over the past year say most of the disagreements have been resolved but some issues remain for the November 28-December 9 talks in Durban.

Following are details of the fund and the main sticking points.


Poorer countries, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia and small island nations, are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and more intense droughts and floods that could trigger crop failures, damage to infrastructure and disrupt water supplies.

They blame the major industrialized nations for pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere and say those nations should help pay for the cost of adapting to weather extremes. They also want cash and easier access to clean energy technologies.

According to a draft:

-- The fund will start operating from 2013, although it remains an empty shell with no new funding commitments. Wealthier nations are being urged to pledge money, with the G20 expected to look at the issue during 2012. Nations have backed an intention to raise $100 billion in climate cash by 2020 and the fund is expected to manage part of this.

-- The fund would be run by a 24-member board, split evenly between developing and developed countries.

-- The World Bank would be the interim trustee subject to a review after 3 years and will be accountable to the board.

-- An independent secretariat will serve the board. A host country for the fund has to be chosen.

-- The fund will provide money and other assistance to help poorer nations shift toward low-emissions power generation and adapt to the impacts of climate change, with a focus on the urgent needs of nations highly vulnerable to climate change.

-- Private sector funds can also contribute toward programmers.

-- Poorer nations can access funds via multi-lateral lending agencies or specialist U.N. bodies or directly after an accreditation process. Countries can nominate domestic agencies to access funds but these need to be vetted.

-- Financing can be in the form of concessional lending, grants and other types as decided by the board.


The United States, the world's second-biggest CO2 emitter, and Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, voiced objections during a final design planning meeting in October. That means delegates at the Durban meeting will try to reach a compromise.

The United States has said it wants greater emphasis on the role of the private sector. It also wants an explicit reference that contributions to the fund could also come from developing countries, although there is nothing to stop a developing country doing so under the current draft.

Washington also favors a model based on the multi-lateral banks playing a leading role with the World Bank as the trustee. It has also raised a question about the extent of the fund's independence.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants a clear reference to support for so-called response measures, which it says should include compensation for loss of oil revenues if the world steps up measures to reduce oil consumption.

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