Best of our wild blogs: 28 Dec 11

Mission anemone at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

Christmas Day 2011 @ USR Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

cuttlefish @ tanah merah
from sgbeachbum

111226 Tanah Merah
from Singapore Nature

Beads and blobs
from The annotated budak and A mite troubled and Belly up

Little Egrets’ Territorial Dispute
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Into The Wild @Bukit Batok Nature Park
from Nikita Hengbok

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Look beyond dinner plates to save environment

Straits Times Forum 28 Dec 11;

IS THE number of kills a relevant discussion before we decide to conserve or not to conserve a species ('He'll say it again with facts... Sharks aren't endangered, don't blame Asia' by Mr Tan Keng Tat; last Saturday)?

To focus on numbers is a distraction from the main topic. Conservation isn't merely about numbers. It is about sustainability. The killing of sharks has been proven unsustainable.

It is even more disturbing to note that sharks are a 'keystone species' and their decline in population will have cascading effects down the line in the marine ecosystem.

There are also people hunting them just for their fins. Can we be guilt-free just because it may be fewer than 73 million sharks killed a year?

If there is just one dog found left on the streets to die after all its four limbs were cut off, the case would spark global anger.

Is there a magic number we should hit before we pay attention to the killing of sharks, many of which are endangered but not protected by law?

We need to start looking beyond our dinner plates and soup bowls.

The World Wide Fund for Nature says that Singapore is the second largest shark's fin trading nation. A recent Straits Times report also showed an increase in demand for shark's fin ('Shark's fin still on menu for many'; Nov 26).

While waiting for legislation, we can definitely take individual steps towards saving our wildlife and environment.

Edwin Lim

Keep future generations in mind
Straits Times Forum 28 Dec 11;

SHARKS caught by tuna fishing boats are indeed often finned ('He'll say it again with facts... Sharks aren't endangered, don't blame Asia', by Mr Tan Keng Tat; last Saturday).

Because the meat is cheap, shark carcasses are often discarded to make space on the ship for more expensive tuna meat and shark's fin.

However, if there is no advantage in catching sharks, tuna fishing boats using longlines could use nylon instead of steel leaders, and 'weak' hooks and 'smart' hooks to reduce shark bycatches. The result is that fishermen would enjoy greater yields of target species and a reduction in opportunity losses.

While some sharks die on longlines before they are brought on board, many sharks, especially blue sharks which are by far the most common bycatch from longlines, have very high survival rates when released.

Sharks face threats in more areas than one: not just for their fins, but also their meat and cartilage, and in both longline fishing and purse-seine net fisheries where fish aggregating devices (FADs) are used.

Efforts to conserve sharks do not revolve around just one, but all of the above.

Unfortunately, many sharks are still being finned to feed the demand for shark's fin. Hence, some countries are striving to ban 'shark finning' - the process of cutting off the fins of a shark while it is still alive.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the organisation that classifies animal risk statuses, not the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Cites is an international agreement that regulates trade based on government votes. While it offers protection for three shark species (whale shark, great white shark and basking shark), it is not the determining body for species classification. The correct point of reference is IUCN, not Cites.

In a 2009 study by IUCN's Shark Specialist Group, experts estimated that one-third of shark species are threatened with extinction.

For example, great hammerhead and scalloped hammerhead sharks are globally endangered.

Porbeagle sharks are classified as globally vulnerable, but critically endangered and endangered in the north-east and north-west Atlantic, respectively.

Despite this, a trade restriction is not in place under Cites.

Scientists estimate that all commercial fish populations in our oceans may be wiped out by 2048. In situations where ideal legislation is not yet in place, Project: FIN encourages consumers to make informed decisions, with our future generations in mind.

Jennifer Lee (Ms)
Project: FIN

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Who's in charge of bird nuisance?

Ng Puay Leng Today Online 27 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE - Birds continue to be a source of problem in areas of dense population in Singapore but as Channel NewsAsia finds out, it's been a challenge pinning down the relevant authorities in charge of the problem.

Crows come under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA) while the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) handles complaints of nuisance with pigeons.

But it gets a little complicated when it comes to mynahs.

When Channel NewsAsia visited a coffee shop at Bishan Street 11, mynahs were seen picking at leftovers.

Stall holders said the number of mynahs in their coffee shop has more than doubled in the past two years.

And when they approached the NEA and AVA, both agencies said they are not in charge of handling the birds.

Both the NEA and AVA confirmed this with Channel NewsAsia.

This has left the coffee shop owner with no choice, but to resort to some creative methods to fend off the birds.

"In the past, we used the reflection of CDs to scare the mynahs away," Bishan coffee shop owner Hong Qi Wei.

"But after the second week, they came back. So now, we're trying a new method. We're using fake crows to scare away the mynahs."

The NEA has seen 1,796 complaints regarding crows as of November this year -- 100 fewer, compared to the number last year.

The AVA on the other hand, said it saw an increase in the number of complaints relating to pigeons.

As of October, there were reports of 560 complaints, exceeding the 360 received last year.

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Troubled waters over Liat Towers

Building's management and PUB disagree as to why the basement was inundated
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Dec 11;

THE management of Liat Towers and national water agency PUB do not see eye to eye on how last Friday's heavy rain turned the building's basement into a pond.

A spokesman for the management of the shopping and office block, speaking to The Straits Times following a meeting with PUB, pinned the blame on an over-full Stamford Canal.

PUB, on the other hand, is adamant that the build-up of water came from the heavy rain and the building not pumping out the water fast enough.

That afternoon, 152.8mm of rain came down on Orchard Road in three hours. Flash floods were reported in Little India, Bukit Timah and Thomson.

In the Orchard area, Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza - among the worst-hit by the floods in June last year - were hit again. In Liat Towers, water entered fast-food outlet Wendy's, Starbucks cafe and clothing retailer Massimo Dutti, all in the basement.

PUB said in a statement yesterday: 'The situation at Liat Towers was caused largely by the prolonged heavy rain, which fell directly into the building's open basement area.'

It noted that the basement's outdoor area was designed as a sunken plaza, for which the primary means of drainage is pumping. It added: 'The huge volume of rain water that fell continuously for three hours could have exceeded the building's pumping capacity.'

But the Liat Towers spokesman said the building's 3.3kw pumps had been working at full bore - flushing out some 15 bathtubs of water a minute - to push water into Stamford Canal.

It was just that the water had nowhere to go, the spokesman said, because the part of Stamford Canal that runs under the pedestrian walkway was full.

The SMS alert sent out by PUB said as much. (See other report.)

Stamford Canal has two parallel branches under Orchard Road - one on the Forum Galleria side, and the other in front of Orchard Towers.

The Liat Towers spokesman added that the building also used two other pairs of smaller pumps, one pair pushing water onto the walkway facing Angullia Park, and the other directing water onto the pedestrian mall.

Assistant Professor Vivien Chua of the National University of Singapore's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said that if water is pumped into something that is already full, overflow would result.

She said: 'The water may not backflow if there is an additional outlet. By continuously pumping water out at a higher rate than the rate at which water enters the area, the water can be diverted to a drainage outlet which leads directly to the sea.'

PUB said, however, that with the right hydraulic pumps, 'you can still pump water into the canal'. It did not specify the recommended pump capacity.

Liat Towers, which disclosed that it had upgraded just last month at a cost of $8,000, raised another point - and this was that the shopping mall and office building, built more than 30 years ago, had never faced such severe flooding before last year.

PUB, sticking to its guns yesterday that the branch of Stamford Canal on the Liat Towers side had not overflowed, said in an e-mail: 'When the canal at Forum (The Shopping Mall) reaches 100 per cent, the excess water will flow to the canal at Orchard Towers.'

She added that on that day, while the water level in the canal on the Forum side reached 100 per cent, the water level in the canal at Orchard Towers was below 100 per cent throughout the downpour.

'The rain on Dec 23 did not cause the canal to overflow,' she wrote, adding that any overflow from the canal would have come out of the drop inlet chambers, which are openings on the edge of the road, onto Orchard Road.

After yesterday's meeting, Liat Towers said the PUB recommended raising the curb next to the Liat Towers drain by 600mm, creating a barrier between the scupper drain next to Wheelock Place and the enclosed basement plaza.

PUB officers are working with the management of Liat Towers to review the building's internal drainage system.

A PUB spokesman said that last year, when the agency gave Liat Towers technical advice on floodgates, it had already urged the building's management to look into its internal drainage system.

After last year's floods on Orchard Road, the PUB raised a 1.4km stretch from Tanglin Road to Cairnhill Road by an average of 30cm.

PUB said it is looking into building a detention pond and a diversion canal for the Stamford catchment. Its study began in August and is expected to take until May.


'The pumps were working at full blast but were not able to drain the water out into the canal because the canal was full.

PUB has got to take care of the canal.

If the canal causes backflow and flooding, no matter how many pumps you put in, there will still be a problem. The long-term solution is that the Government has to do something tothe canal.'



'The situation at Liat Towers was caused largely by the prolonged heavy rain which fell directly into the building's open basement area.

The outdoor area of Liat Towers is designed as a sunken plaza. The primary means to drain water away from the sunken plaza is through pumping.

On Dec 23, Liat Towers had pumped the water collected in its sunken plaza onto the pedestrian walkway, not into the canal. The huge volume of rain water that fell continuously for three hours could have exceeded the building's pumping capacity.'


Who pays for flood damage?
Straits Times 28 Dec 11;

LAST YEAR, floods along the Orchard Road shopping belt caused damage estimated to run into millions of dollars.

Last Friday, floods swept once again into the basements of Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza.

Burger chain Wendy's said it was still totting up the damage from the latest deluge at its Liat Towers outlet.

The floods in June last year caused it $500,000 in damage.

Asked if it would move out at the end of its lease, the fast-food chain's marketing and branding manager Seng Woonfa said: 'We will assess the situation.'

Insurance litigation specialist Edric Pan, a partner in law firm Rodyk & Davidson, said much depends on the extent of the shops' insurance coverage.

'If their own insurance covers flood damage, they can look to their insurers to cover their losses,' he said.

But the owners of a building cannot be held liable if the flood is caused by a public canal overflowing, as there would have been nothing the owners could reasonably have done to prevent that.

The tenants in a building will, however, be able to file claims against the building management if it can be shown that it had contributed to the flood, such as by failing to clear a blocked gutter.

The damage from last year's floods was covered by Liat Towers' insurance as well as insurance policies taken out by the individual tenants.

Following that deluge, which has since been attributed to the Stamford Canal overflowing, the building management spent $500,000 on pop-up floodgates. It also put $11,000 into small flood barriers in front of Wendy's, coffee outlet Starbucks and clothing retailer Massimo Dutti, and waived three days of rent for affected tenants.

This time round, the management has pitched in with a post-flood cleanup; it is still in talks with its tenants on how else it can help them, said a spokesman for Liat Towers' owner Goldvein.

Said Mr Seng of Wendy's: 'We have to solve the issue, rather than pointing fingers. That is the most pragmatic way.'


Ebb and flow: What happened
Straits Times 28 Dec 11;

NATIONAL water agency PUB sends out SMS alerts on water levels in various canals or drains to its network of subscribers, which include building managers.

Subscribers may select the canals or drains which they wish to monitor. The alerts tell them when the water level in these canals rises above 50 per cent, 75 per cent, 90 per cent and 100 per cent, and when it falls below those levels.

The following is a timeline based on those alerts and eyewitness accounts during the heavy downpour on Dec 23.

4.52 PM The water level at Stamford Canal, measured from the sensor nearest Liat Towers, is above 50 per cent. PUB's SMS alert sent out at this time reads: 'Stamford Canal (Forum): Water level rise above 50%. Low Flood Risk.' Liat Towers' building management activates its flood gates, which pop up.

5.01 PM The water level rises above 75 per cent to 'moderate flood risk', according to the PUB alert. Eyewitnesses say it is raining heavily, and that the water level in Liat Towers' basement plaza is rising.

5.04 PM The water level in the canal exceeds 90 per cent. The SMS alert at this point describes this as 'high flood risk'.

5.07 PM The water level rises 'above 100 per cent', says the alert. It has gone from 90 per cent to more than 100 per cent in the space of three minutes.

5.25 PM Liat Towers' time-stamped photographs show knee-deep water along the pedestrian mall outside its floodgates. The top of the stairs leading to Liat Towers' basement is above water, but its basement is in knee-deep water.

5.26 PM Liat Towers' building management sets up a hose to pump water out of the basement.

5.36 PM The water level in the canal falls to below 100 per cent, says the PUB alert.

5.39 PM It falls to below 90 per cent.

5.43 PM It falls further to below 75 per cent.

5:59 PM It falls to below 50 per cent.

Lucky Plaza to build flood barriers
Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 27 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: Lucky Plaza - which was hit by flooding again last Friday - is in the process of installing flood barriers.

Its management told Channel NewsAsia it is in discussion with national water agency PUB and the relevant authorities.

It is unable to reveal further details.

Channel NewsAsia understands the project has been in the works since last year, when Singapore experienced one of its worst flooding in history.

But difficulties with building approval, caused delays.

Rain water gushed into Lucky Plaza's basement during last Friday's floods.

Shopkeepers scrambled to save their goods, and spent hours cleaning up the mess.

They also received a nasty surprise - a manhole was opened to allow the water to drain away, but sewage came bubbling up instead.

One person said: "The sewage started to overflow. It was stinking, it was real stinky, real stinky.The sight was really bad. It's just like the sewage from the toilet."

Another said: "The drainage got stuck, some stuff like that, that's why the water overflowing."

This is the third time in less than two years that Lucky Plaza's basement has been hit by flooding.

The building's management said it is exploring the idea of flood barriers to prevent surface runoff from entering the basement.

But before that is built, tenants said they hope to receive early warnings, so that they too, can take the necessary precautions.

Channel NewsAsia understands an earlier proposal to build flood barriers at a nearby bus stop was turned down.

It is believed approval was eventually granted for barriers to be built along the walkway, just outside the building.

A handover in project management caused further delays.

It is understood the project is now managed by Bruce James Building Surveyors, who took over from Ong and Ong Architects in March this year.

A tender has also yet to be called.

It is understood the barriers, which could stretch up to 100 metres to protect the facade of the building, could cost more than S$300,000 to install.

A permanent structure is also unlikely along the busy walkway, with a pop-up barrier the likely choice.

In the meantime, shopkeepers said they are using makeshift items, such as newspapers and plywood, to prevent water from entering their shops.

Liat Towers too, was not spared.

Although its flood gates were activated, its basement was still flooded.

Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, a spokesperson for the building's management said it has spent more than S$250,000 installing pumps and flood barriers, and improving the drainage system.

She added the problem appears to be "something more fundamental", and claimed to have seen parts of Stamford Canal overflowing on Friday, which may have backed up the drainage at Liat Towers.

PUB, however, said Stamford Canal did not overflow.

It added the huge volume of rainwater could have exceeded the building's pumping capacity.

PUB said it is studying the idea of building a detention pond and diversion canal for the Stamford catchment.

The study started in August this year, and will be done by May next year.

Until that happens, Orchard Road retailers are keeping their fingers crossed that a heavy rain doesn't hit them again.

- CNA/wk

Liat Towers to build anti-flood curb
Joanne Chan Channel NewsAsia 29 Dec 11;

SINGAPORE: Liat Towers is planning to build a 60-centimetre-high curb over a drain that runs along the side of the building as a last resort to keep water out of its basement.

Despite the various measures put in place over the past year, the building was hit by flood again last Friday.

This time, the cause has been traced to a drain that overflowed.

Stretching to the back of the building, the drain mostly collects rainwater from Liat Towers' open air car park on the seventh floor.

Water is then discharged into Stamford Canal.

Liat Towers said the drain overflowed as Stamford Canal was at full capacity and could not take anymore rainwater, resulting in a "bottleneck".

However, national water agency PUB insists Stamford Canal did not overflow, and that the gushing water could have exceeded the building's pumping capacity.

Liat Towers' building supervisor Chik Hai Lam said the building has never suffered such severe flooding problems till last year.

Channel NewsAsia understands PUB and Liat Towers have met several times since Friday's incident.

Its latest meeting was on Thursday morning, when Liat Towers agreed to build a 60cm curb on top of its drain.

The aim is to prevent water from overflowing into the basement in the event of another heavy downpour.

The curb will be made of bricks and cement and is expected to cost S$20,000 to S$25,000.

- CNA/wk

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As Kalimantan Coal Rises, Its Major Rivers Disappear

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 27 Dec 11;

Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. Rivers in East Kalimantan are threatened by the growing coal mining industry, an environmental activist warned on Monday.

The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO in the province, said 27 branch rivers have disappeared, either buried or diverted in the interest of the coal mining industry. As a result, major rivers such as Mahakam river have been polluted, and local residents have increasingly lost natural freshwater sources.

“Mining activities have many impacts,” said Jatam coordinator Kahar Al Bahri. “Our records show 27 tributaries of main rivers are now gone because of mining interests. Water quality is degrading and ultimately that reduces food production.”

Kahar also said mining excavations have left large holes that in the last two years have caused accidents killing at least 13 people in Kutai Kartanegara and Samarinda districts.

Excavation sites abandoned by 57 mining firms in Samarinda had 100 bore holes measuring 1,200 hectares, while 213 companies in Kutai Kartanegara left 32 holes measuring 836 hectares.

“Nearly all mining firms in East Kalimantan failed to do proper land restorations after their excavations, which poses a danger since the holes are located near residential areas in Kutai Kartanegara and Samarinda,” Kahar said.

Mining companies avoided reclamation projects to cover the holes, he said, because land restoration can be expensive. To make matters worse, authorities only have a few inspectors to supervise 1,271 mining firms in the province.

“Even if some companies agreed to do the reclamation, it only covered 5 percent of the damaged areas,” Kahar said. “A major firm like KPC [Kaltim Prima Coal], which has exploited 5,000 hectares of land for mining, only restored a tiny area of 300 hectares.”

According to Jatam, mining licenses in the province cover a total of 5.6 million hectares. The 30 companies with licenses from Jakarta control 1.3 million hectares, while companies with licenses from local governments occupy the rest of the land.

Meanwhile, the provincial government has claimed that land restoration has reached 80 percent of the mining sites and that a moratorium on mining licenses has been imposed.

“We can only encourage mayors and district heads to ensure the moratorium on mining licenses is implemented properly,” said Riza Indra Riadi, head of the provincial environment office.

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