Best of our wild blogs: 9 Dec 11

Suan lake
from The annotated budak

Do you know where your litter is?
from wild shores of singapore

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Singapore youths in Durban learn vital policy lessons

Grace Chua Straits Times 9 Dec 11;

DURBAN (South Africa): During their one week at the United Nations climate change talks, a group of Singaporean youth learnt some vital lessons - that the best-laid environmental plans can go awry, for instance.

At a reception yesterday on the sidelines of the talks in Durban, South Africa, they shared these with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who are in town for the high-level segment of negotiations.

Ms Tong Sian Choo, 24, a final-year Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student, spoke about finding out that some incentives to encourage biofuel production can lead to forest and peat-land clearing, which releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

She said: 'The devil is in the details!'

In their time there, Ms Tong and her peers had bustled about the International Convention Centre, sitting in for negotiations, meeting other international youth groups for discussions, and gleaning ideas on projects to start when they go home.

Others among the 11-strong youth group said they were pleasantly surprised in their meetings.

For instance, they noticed that United States and Chinese youth non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were more than willing to work together on climate change and pollution reduction. This is in contrast to their nations, which are at loggerheads in the climate talks.

The group comprised two student teams which won the inaugural National Climate Change Competition, organised by the National Climate Change Secretariat, with their ideas about recycling and electricity-use tracking, and a group of youth leaders from Singapore environment NGO Avelife, which focuses on social enterprise and the environment.

The winning ideas were picked from 140 entries from schools and tertiary institutions. The NTU team of three came up with a mobile application to track electricity use, while the National University of Singapore team of four campaigned to boost campus recycling by removing trash bins.

After the reception, DPM Teo said: 'I'm really delighted to see the young people here today from NTU, NUS, Avelife and also from the National Youth Achievement Award Council engaging with young people from other parts of the world, to exchange ideas on how they can play a part and take this forward for all of us.'

Youths urge governments to make progress on climate change
Sabrina Chua Channel NewsAsia 9 Dec 11;

DURBAN, South Africa: Some 1,500 South African students gathered on a Durban beach to form a lion-head - a message to leaders at the climate change talks here, to show some courage for the climate.

They are hoping the leaders will be brave enough to make a breakthrough agreement for the future of the planet.

It's a message shared by youth from as far away as Singapore.

Nanyang Technological University student Tan Jia Yi said: "It's a very grown-up world to think about livelihood, economy and things like that but as youths, we're very direct. We see that climate change, global warming is a fact and there are many extreme weather events.

"We hope that governments will have the political courage to commit. The message is getting stronger. There's no reason for governments to fear or to slow down. In fact, it's imperative that they speed up. As what I heard from some of the government leaders who gave talks, they're leaving a legacy, so let it be something that we can look up to and be inspired by."

National University of Singapore's Students Against Violation of the Earth chairman Tan Wei Ru said: "I've heard a lot of them saying that they're doing this for future generations. I really hope they mean what they say.

"We hope that this second commitment period will really go through. Even if it doesn't, I hope that each government can actually commit themselves to do something in their own country, with their own people and encourage their own people to do something for the environment."

The Singapore youths also shared their views with the country's leaders attending the talks in Durban.

Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman for Inter-Ministerial Committee for Climate Change Mr Teo Chee Hean said: "I'm very delighted to see the young people here today engaging with young people from other parts of the world to exchange ideas on how they can play a part and take this forward for all of us."

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said: "It's good to see young people interested, aware and thinking and exchanging ideas and also translating some of these ideas into projects on the ground, which we will support.

"Ultimately, for climate change to be solved, it requires not just governments, not just legislation, not just businesses changing practices, but every single one of us seeking not to be wasteful, to conserve energy, and to organise our lives in a sustainable way. It requires a whole mindset shift and a transformation of society."

But such a transformation takes time which is something the COP 17 negotiators are quickly running out of.

The world is waiting and watching to see if they have the courage to heed the youth's call and compromise on differing national interests to come up with an agreement.

- CNA/fa

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'Give more coverage to climate change'

UN official says issue affects billions of people but gets less media attention than conflicts
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 9 Dec 11;

THERE is far less coverage of climate change - an important topic affecting billions of people - than coverage of conflicts.

Media organisations, especially in Asia, should devote more resources to reports on environmental issues, says a senior United Nations official.

In recent days, publications around the world have given far fewer column centimetres to the UN climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, than the conflict in Afghanistan, said Mr Shun-ichi Murata, deputy executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap).

'It is an important conflict, but so is climate change, and it has far-reaching consequences for billions of people,' he told The Straits Times on the sidelines of the Media Leaders' Forum at Marina Bay Sands on Wednesday.

Government leaders from around the world have converged on Durban to negotiate the issue of reducing global carbon emissions to combat worsening climate change.

Mr Murata says the media has been biased in its coverage of the talks - predicting their failure even before negotiations started. 'It's unfair of the media to make such statements even before the talks begin. There is still the possibility of progress being made,' he said.

Dr Martin Blake, executive director of GreenAsia Group, a Singapore-based environmental management solutions firm, who also spoke at the event, noted that there have been encouraging trends in Asia. The region has seen an increase in climate change- and environment-related news in the past few years.

'In Singapore, we've seen publications dedicating journalists to this agenda and this is very good. But the media can do more,' he said. One way is to take a more practical approach to reporting on the issues, and avoid sensationalism.

He noted that there is a misguided tendency for the media to focus on 'bad, apocalyptic-type news' on climate change, such as disasters and doomsday scenarios, which can turn readers off a serious topic.

There are many opportunities to focus on 'good news', such as positive examples of businesses and communities responding to the climate change challenge, he said.

Escap's Mr Murata added that media organisations could play a key role in getting Asian consumers to accept green products and shift to a more sustainable lifestyle and pattern of consumption. 'This is crucial for Asian economies to grow sustainably. They need to build resilience against volatility of prices for food, energy and resources,' he said.

Media reports are also important in giving a voice to vulnerable and poor communities throughout Asia, who would otherwise not be heard, he added.

The inaugural Media Leaders' Forum, which attracted about 100 participants, aimed to discuss the role and responsibility of media companies in affecting behavioural change on climate change issues.

It was organised by Media Alliance, a Singapore-based non-profit organisation, in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Asian Development Bank, among others.

Singapore optimistic climate change talks will yield good outcome
Sabrina Chua Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 11;

DURBAN, South Africa: Singapore remains optimistic that the UN Climate Change talks in Durban, South Africa will yield a good outcome despite the overall grim mood.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said the republic will continue to be a constructive player to try and move countries towards convergence.

Mr Teo, who is also chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Climate Change, said: "We know that it is challenging to achieve that but we hope that all the countries will be able to get together and provide an outcome to reaffirm the commitment of all countries to dealing with climate change.

"Climate change is an important issue for us. We are seeing it in terms of more extreme weather patterns, we are seeing it in terms of rising sea levels and we have had to respond to that.

"We have to have all elements of our society, economy, households, transport sector, every individual, realise and understand the importance of climate change, and how we need to make preparations to achieve our 7-11 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from business as usual."

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, is also in Durban.

He said: "The negotiations are at a delicate stage. The negotiators are hard at work now. It has not reached a point of convergence yet. There are many different interests at stake.

"I do not think Durban is going to emerge with a global legally binding agreement. I hope that we will at least have some elements, meaning a second commitment to the KP (Kyoto Protocol), in particular, the EU (European Union) has to make that commitment. Unfortunately there are three countries that are not signing on - Russia, Japan, Canada."

- CNA/ms

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Green & illegal: smuggling plants into Singapore

More people caught trying to sneak plants, soil past Customs
Jessica Lim Straits Times 9 Dec 11;

EXOTIC plants are being smuggled into the country by growing numbers of Singaporeans - some of whom may not even realise they are breaking the law.

Bargain hunters often buy flowers or shrubs abroad, then bring them home along with fertiliser and bags of potting material such as soil.

There were 639 cases of these items being brought in illegally between January and October, up from 597 in the same period last year.

This year's haul amounted to 1,267 plants and 3,733kg of organic fertiliser and potting medium - which can also include peat moss and coconut husks - said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

The figure is expected to be even higher by the end of the year, as more Singaporeans travel during the school holiday and Christmas season, and as more consumers look for plants to beautify their homes.

Citrus, rose, ixora, canna and murraya are among the types most commonly brought in - mostly from West Malaysia and countries like Thailand and China.

Most are brought across the border in car boots, while some are stowed in jet passengers' luggage, The Straits Times understands.

Those who do so are usually drawn to the lower prices, and the availability of more exotic species overseas, said horticulturists.

Plants, potting medium and fertiliser are at least 30 per cent cheaper in Malaysia and Thailand.

The difference was greater over the past year due to the stronger Singapore dollar, plus increasing rent, labour and transport costs in Singapore, said Hua Hng Trading's project sales manager Adrian Tng.

At the wholesale nursery in Yishun, a 50kg bag of fertiliser goes for $100, up from $80 last year. Its ixora plants are sold at $8 to $10 a pot, up from $6 to $8 last year. The price of potting medium has stayed constant.

'Of course, if people buy directly from Malaysia, it's cheaper,' said Mr Tng, adding that he has heard of travellers illegally bringing in the exotic Seven Sisters rose from Cameron Highlands. 'There are many kinds of plants that are not sold by nurseries here because they perish in the hot weather.'

Others blame ignorance. Mr Lee Meng Kwan, the assistant general manager of World Farm Nursery, said: 'They go to other countries and they compare prices of plants and fertiliser, so they grab a few items back. They probably don't know it's against the law.'

The 45-year-old said he has heard of people bringing in endangered orchids from countries such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Anyone found illegally importing plants, potting medium and organic fertiliser can be fined up to $1,000. They will also have to pay an inspection fee.

A plant is imported illegally if permits from the AVA and plant health certification from the source country have not been obtained.

A spokesman for the authority said imported plants can be hosts to exotic pests that 'can damage or even wipe out the entire population of affected host plants'.

She said that those who wish to import plants for their personal use need to ask their supplier for help to get them certified and treated. Members of the public should also arrange to have the item inspected by the AVA.

Illegally imported plants are kept by the authority for 10 days to allow consumers to get their documentation in order. If they cannot do so, the plants are destroyed.

About 40 per cent of those seized this year have been claimed by their owners.

The AVA also monitors horticulture farms closely and conducts regular inspections to avoid outbreaks of pests.

Traveller Helen Tan, 51, said she will stick to artificial plants from now on. The real estate agent goes to Malaysia every two months to shop, and once accidentally smuggled an 'exotic-leaved' plant across the border.

'I plucked it from the side of the road because it had such a unique leaf shape,' she said.

'I put it in a plastic bag and put it in my car. I wasn't stopped and totally forgot that it could have been illegal.'


More cases

There were 639 between January and October, up from 597 in the same period last year.

Thousands of plants

This involved 1,267 plants and 3,733kg of potting medium

Hot species

Popular plants were citrus, rose, ixora, canna and murraya - mostly from West Malaysia, Thailand and China.

Costly penalty

Anyone found illegally importing plants, potting medium and organic fertiliser can be fined up to $1,000.

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Malaysia Sabah: Marine fish resources declining 15% per decade

Murib Morpi The Borneo Post 9 Dec 11;

KOTA KINABALU: Overfishing is a major threat to Sabah’s fishing industry with a depletion of the State’s marine fish resources at a worrying rate of about 15 per cent every 10 years.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Yahya Hussin when highlighting this, said the use of destructive methods such fish bombs and poison contributed to the diminishing coastal fish population.

“In Sabah, the volume of salt water fish landed in 1999 was 207,213 tons but this figure has steadily decreased to just 174,579 tons in 2010. This calls for awareness and action from everyone, especially the fishermen’s community, to start practising sustainable approach,” he said.

Speaking at the launching of the artificial reef project for Petagas, Lok Kawi and Putatan areas yesterday, Yahya said various programmes are being taken by the government to restore marine fish resources in Sabah and the success depended on the cooperation and support from the fishing community.

Statistics from the Fisheries Department Malaysia also showed that marine fish yield has decreased from 2.56 tons per square kilometer (sq km) in 1971 to 0.21 tons per sq km in 2007.

Yahya, who is also Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry, said the setting up artificial reefs at strategic locations are among measures taken by the Fisheries Department to replenish the State’s fish stock.

He noted that the department has successfully created a number of artificial reefs in 13 districts since 2009, including in Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran, Beaufort, Kudat, Sandakan and Tawau with a cost of over RM4 million.

This year, he added, the State Government has allocated RM400,000 for creating artificial reefs in the waters off Putatan alone.

“I hope this project will restore the fish population in this area and help improve the income of the local fishermen. I would like to urge all the community here to give their cooperation towards protecting the artificial reefs, which do not only provide a breeding ground for the fish but also protect them from trawlers.

“I also hope the relevant agencies, including the marine police and the Maritime Enforcement Agency will help keep an eye on these reefs to ensure they are not damaged by irresposible individuals who may want to take advantage of the growing fish population or use destructive fishing methods to gain short-term benefit,” he said.

Yahya noted there were about 20,000 registered fishermen in the Putatan district, including 382 traditional fishermen from 15 villages.

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Solomon Islands Moves to Enforce Dolphin Export Ban

Solomon Times 9 Dec 11;

The Solomon Islands Government says it is moving ahead with draft legislation to enforce a ban on dolphin exports from January next year.

Concerns have been raised about a number of recent illegal shipments, including the export last month of 25 bottlenose dolphins to Chinese theme parks.

Activist Lawrence Makili says the dolphins were shipped out without a valid permit, a claim confirmed by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Mr Makili, who has been advocating an export ban, told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat those behind the live trade are not receiving huge financial benefits.

"You have several people within the lines of the export process and much of the funds are being eaten up by people in the middle and nothing really comes back to fishermen," he said.

"The fishermen who caught the dolphins are only paid about 2,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($US251)."

While the trade in dolphins is internationally regulated, other aspects of keeping dolphins in captivity such as the minimum size and characteristics of pools vary among countries.

Though animal welfare is perceived to have improved significantly over the last few decades, many animal rights and welfare groups still consider keeping dolphins captive to be a form of animal abuse.

The trade of dolphins is regulated by CITES. Endangered dolphin species are included in CITES' Appendix I, in which case trade is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Species considered not to be threatened with extinction are included in Appendix II, in which case trade "must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival".

Most cetacean species traded for display in captivity to the public or for use in swimming with dolphins and other interaction programmes are listed on Appendix II.

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Extent of Thailand's flood damage revealed

Recollections of those returning reveal how scale of rising waters was grossly underestimated
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 9 Dec 11;

BANGKOK: As thousands of Thais continue to pick up the pieces in provinces north of Bangkok following the country's devastating floods, the true extent of the damage is slowly emerging.

While the latest assessment by the government, as revealed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday, estimates flood damage at 1.3 trillion baht (S$54 billion), the recollections of those returning to schools, homes and offices show how the scale of the rising waters was grossly underestimated.

The scene at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), a half-hour ride north of Bangkok in Rangsit, is a case in point.

Picking through the fetid piles of debris and prodding gingerly at loose floorboards, swollen wooden doors and walls covered in mould, an employee recalled how students, faculty and staff had battled for two weeks in October to keep the premises dry.

Eventually, on the afternoon of Oct 21, they gave up. They were told by army personnel helping them that they still had 24 hours to evacuate, but AIT president Said Irandoust decided to evacuate immediately.

It proved the right decision: By 9pm, the campus was under 1m of water, and Prof Said, the last man to leave, had to be taken out in a boat.

The waters eventually rose to above head level, and could be pumped out only five weeks later, when the surrounding areas dried up.

The AIT's human resource department, which did not move its records to the second floor, lost almost everything.

'Nobody could imagine a flood to the depth of 2m to 3m, which would stay for five weeks,' said the AIT Extension director, Dr Jonathan Shaw. 'It was simply beyond imagination.'

It was a similar story further north at the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, a World Heritage site.

On Oct 3, archaeologist Chaiyanand Busayarat, the director of the Historical Park, was assigned to work there. No one expected more than the usual annual flood.

Yet, four days later, a deluge of water swamped the sprawling temple site up to 2.5m high, and remained for four weeks.

The waters defaced 200-year-old wall paintings in one of the temples, Wat Choeng Tha, even though the temple was raised. And even above the water mark, creeping damp caused the plaster to bubble and peel.

Large cracks appeared in the brickwork of the foundations of some stupas in Wat Phra Ram, one of the bigger attractions in the park - likely a result of erosion by waves raised by rescue and supply boats as they crisscrossed the inundated site.

Experts from several countries have since visited the historical site to assess the damage, and restoration work is planned. Fortunately, the main structures appear to have escaped the worst damage.

Mr Chaiyanand said the historical site, located on an island framed by three rivers, had always been flood-prone. But this was the biggest flood in the history books, he noted. 'We just didn't expect this,' he said.

Indeed, many in Thailand were not prepared for the scale of the flooding, the country's worst in 50 years. In many provinces as well as in Bangkok, flood defences proved inadequate, while the government was repeatedly criticised for underplaying the scale of the disaster and not giving enough warnings.

At the AIT, folders from the human resource department which had survived were spread out this week in the sun to dry, while an army of students, staff and workers from the campus' management contractor piled debris into waste bags and scrubbed walls and windows.

The buildings, including the residential quarters for staff, faculty and students, had clearly sustained serious damage; some partition walls and doors had been reduced to little more than pulp.

Those living in ground-floor quarters who had not moved their possessions lost everything, from refrigerators and washing machines to personal mementos and documents.

Outside, bicycles remained parked in rusted rows and tangled heaps. The AIT's popular nine-hole golf course had been reduced to a lake: pools of dark water remained, while the dry areas were mostly brown with dead grass. Across the once pleasantly wooded campus, which once prided itself as environmentally friendly, almost all the ground vegetation was dead.

The floods came as a major blow to the AIT, which opened its doors on the site in the 1970s. The institution had already been suffering financially, despite the support of governments represented on it and funding from fees from its 2,000 or so students.

Describing the financial blow to AIT from the floods as 'massive', Dr Shaw said: 'But we still don't know how much. Assessors have only just started work.'

He added that the AIT hoped to recover some money from insurance. But a source close to the institute's board said there are fears the AIT may be able to recover only about 10 million baht - nowhere near the preliminary damage estimate of 1 billion baht - because the buildings were old.

Dr Shaw said there could be a major overhaul of the campus, such as abandoning its low-rise buildings and building a modern high-rise. 'We have a tremendous opportunity now to rebuild and re-establish more modern offices,' he said.

Throughout the crisis, he added, 'students never missed a class' as classes were moved to Bangkok, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. But, he said, 'it is still impossible to say when the AIT campus will be ready to be occupied again'.

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