Best of our wild blogs: 13 Jan 12

Bringing Folks from Malaysia on a Mantidfly Hunt
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Black-naped Oriole collecting spider’s silk
from Bird Ecology Study Group

At Sembawang seeking anemones
from wild shores of singapore

A Navjot Sodhi module objective: “I just wanna teach them some empathy”
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Read more!

Cheap and quick green roofs

Rooftop gardens can be relatively inexpensive to install
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 13 Jan 12;

ROOFTOP rain gardens are relatively inexpensive and can hold large amounts of water. And if the authorities accept a recommendation by an expert panel on floods to mandate that all buildings have these green roofs, they can be quick to install, too.

The 12-man panel, tasked by the Government to look into solving Singapore's flooding woes in the long run, has recommended that building owners be required by law to build green roofs. These rooftop gardens, traditionally installed to beautify the skyline and reduce the heat around a building, can help absorb rainwater and reduce the speed of water flow.

Local contractors The Straits Times interviewed yesterday said these gardens would cost from $20,000 to $180,000, depending on their size.

Property developer City Developments, a leader in green buildings here, spends $150 to $400 per sq m for a green roof for a new building, and $105 to $150 per sq m to retrofit an existing one. For a residential project with an extensive green roof, installation generally does not exceed 1 per cent of total construction cost, it said.

Contractors say such gardens can store anything from about six to 34 litres per sq m. The size can range from 200 sq m for a commercial building, to 1,200 sq m for the entire roof of a multi-storey Housing Board carpark.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said the cost of such gardens is usually between $100 and $150 per sq m, which means a commercial green roof costs between $20,000 and $30,000 and can hold 6,800 litres. An HDB carpark roof costs $120,000 to $180,000 and can hold 40,800 litres of water.

Mr Andy Chew, director of local firm Elmich, which designs, builds and installs green roofs, said the idea of rooftop gardens to help alleviate flooding could work for Singapore as large amounts of rainwater can be stored in the garden's water retention system.

This comprises soil-like material, membranes and storage trays. The water is then eventually absorbed by the plants as they grow. He added that the soil-like material also helps to regulate the flow of water; therefore, the speed of any excess water that flows down to ground level is reduced. The system is also light and can typically be installed in an average building.

Elmich, which has been in the business for 26 years and has installed gardens such as the one atop Orchard Central mall, offers systems that can store between six and 28 litres per sq m.

Another firm, Prince's Landscape & Construction, offers a proprietary solution whose water reservoir feature can store up to 34 litres of water per sq m.

Its manager Eugine Spicer said its roof gardens can help alleviate flooding as 'the sudden flow of water is minimised'. Depending on the size of the project and whether there is easy rooftop access, installing a green roof of about 400 sq m could take a month. Growing the plants takes two to three months before that, said Mr Spicer.

Prince has installed green roofs for properties such as Marina Bay Sands, and typically installs gardens 500 sq m in size at a cost of $150 per sq m.

NParks deputy director of horticulture and community gardening Ng Cheow Kheng told The Straits Times that to date, 36ha of skyrise greenery - greenery planted on rooftops or vertically on walls - have already been installed in buildings across Singapore.

NParks has a Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme which pays for half of installation costs, up to a maximum of $75 per sq m of green roof and $750 per sq m of green wall. Since the scheme launched in 2009, it has seen 40 buildings get fitted with 1.1ha of green roofs and 0.1ha of green walls.

Under the Building and Construction Authority's green building rating scheme Green Mark, buildings that feature such green roofs get extra points.

HDB has also piloted green roofs in existing housing blocks in recent years to reduce heat build-up and slow down stormwater. Its first eco-friendly residential project, Treelodge@ Punggol, features a rain-harvesting system where water collected is put to uses such as washing common areas.

PUB said it is studying the recommendations of the expert panel and will respond at a later date.

Benefits of rooftop gardens

A GREEN roof, also known as a rooftop garden or rain garden, is a roof that is partially or completely covered with plants and provided with an irrigation system.

Such greenery reduces the 'urban heat island' effect which makes a built-up area significantly warmer than its surroundings.

Green roofs also:

Conserve energy use in the building by keeping temperatures down so less air-conditioning is needed;

Improve air quality;

Reduce noise pollution;

Enhance a building's aesthetics;

Store rainwater and reduce the amount and speed at which water flows to the ground.

Read more!

Record-breaking 2011 for Singapore port

All-time highs in cargo and containers handled, vessel arrival tonnage, and bunker fuel sales
Jonathan Kwok Straits Times 13 Jan 12;

SINGAPORE'S port beat several records last year, against the tide of global economic uncertainty and challenges faced by the shipping industry.

The strong growth in shipping activity cemented the Republic's position as one of the world's busiest ports, as it retained the top spot in a number of industry-wide indicators.

According to advance data announced last night by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, all-time highs for Singapore's port were achieved in terms of cargo and containers handled, tonnage of vessels arriving and bunker fuel sales.

The early data shows that the number of containers handled last year grew by 5.3 per cent to 29.9 million standard-sized containers, marginally exceeding 2008's record high, said Mr Lui.

In 2010, Singapore was overtaken by Shanghai as the world's busiest port in terms of containers handled. Last month, China released figures showing Shanghai handled at least 30 million containers, beating Singapore's latest figures.

Vessel tonnage and bunker fuel sales also beat records set in 2010.

Total vessel arrival tonnage - which refers to the cargo-carrying capacity of ships calling here, rather than their weight - is projected to have grown 10.4 per cent to 2.12 billion gross tons last year. And sales of bunker fuel, a fuel type used by ships, are expected to have risen 5.6 per cent to 43.2 million tonnes.

In short, all these mean Singapore is right up there among the top ports of the world, holding the top spot in terms of vessel arrival tonnage and sales of bunker fuel.

Singapore is also one of the top 10 ship registries in the world. As of end-December last year, the total tonnage of ships under the Singapore flag had grown 17.6 per cent to 57.4 million gross tons.

The maritime sector plays a key role in the economy, employing more than 170,000 people and contributing 7 per cent of economic output.

Said Mr Lui, who was speaking at a New Year cocktail reception held by the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF): 'For Singapore, it is important that we do well as an international maritime centre, that we continue to attract a diverse range of players that enhance the breadth and depth of services that are available here.

'Last year we welcomed players like (insurance companies) Arthur J. Gallagher and Starr Managing Agents, maritime legal practice Mayer Brown JSM, and The Bank of Fukuoka.'

Singapore is also building infrastructure in anticipation of growing demand, noted Mr Lui. The Republic continued to expand port capacity at the Pasir Panjang Terminal, and launched a third Port Operations Control Centre at Changi to enhance navigational safety.

Government initiatives have been unveiled to support shipowners and service providers, to train manpower for the industry, and help reduce the environmental impact of shipping.

One of the green shipping initiatives, administered by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, received a boost yesterday. Some 15 organisations signed the Maritime Singapore Green Pledge, in which they committed to supporting and promoting clean and green shipping here.

The newcomers, including ship classification society DNV and units of Japan-based shipping company NYK Line, joined 12 others that signed the Green Pledge last year.

'It's a good success story,' said Captain Michael Elwert, a director at Thome Ship Management, a third-party ship manager based here. 'Singapore has good policies in place and other countries try to emulate it.'

But it may not be smooth sailing this year across the industry generally.

SMF chairman Michael Chia warned that 'the ride ahead will become rougher, tougher before it turns for the better'.

'Many companies, especially those in the container shipping and dry-bulk sectors, would need to streamline their operations and make bold moves to restructure their business strategies to ensure their commercial viability,' he said.

But he noted that the shipyards and offshore engineering sector can expect to see strong activity, underpinned by high oil prices.

Yesterday also saw the reappointment of Mr Chia as SMF's chairman, and two changes to its board.

Read more!

Malaysia: Pengerang gearing up to become regional oil storage hub

Malaysian firms are committed to investing tens of billions of ringgit
Pauline Ng Business Times 13 Jan 12;

EARMARKED as an up- and-coming oil storage hub for Asia, Johor's Pengerang is expected to see a step up in activities this year, with Malaysian companies led by Petronas committed to investing tens of billions of ringgit there.

A RM5 billion (S$2.05 billion) independent deepwater petroleum terminal (IDPT) project by a Dialog- Royal Vopak joint venture has already gotten off the ground, 5 per cent of the first phase completed as at December.

It will deliver an initial 1.3 million cubic metres (cbm) of storage with seven vessel berths when commissioned in 2014. The IDPT will offer five million cbm storage when fully completed over 10 years.

An integrated specialist technical services provider in the oil and gas and petrochemicals industry, Dialog has a 60-year exclusive mandate to develop the IDPT by the Johor state government which also has a stake in the project. Petronas is expected to be the terminal's main client.

Pengerang has distinct advantages as an IDPT because its 24-metre deepwater jetty facilities can accommodate VLCCs and ULCCs, allowing tankers to collect or deliver crude oil without a costly buoy mooring system.

Moreover, its sheltered harbour next to international sea lanes provides 'captive demand' for tank storage facilities. Other developments are brewing, too.

Integrated marine construction specialist firm Benalec has received an in- principle approval from the state government to reclaim 1,760 acres in the Pengerang area at the southern tip of Malaysia.

Over the coming 10 years, it plans to sell the reclaimed land to fabricators and shipyards in outright land sales or enter into joint ventures with foreign oil and gas companies wanting to set up there.

It has also been awarded another concession to reclaim 3,485 acres along Tanjung Piai, across from the Jurong Island Petroleum & Petrochemical Hub.

The company believes terminal operators will be keen to relocate there in future given Singapore's space constraints.

Plans are underway to work with Rotary International on an independent oil terminal with a one million cbm capacity.

The Johor royal family has a stake in both Benalec projects which are targeted to commence sometime this year.

The growth in Asia's crude oil consumption has boosted confidence that demand will remain strong.

Consumption is projected to grow by 420,000 barrels/day over the five years (2010-2015), Hwang- DBS Vickers observed in a sector report.

To provide further impetus to Pengerang's evolution into a regional oil storage hub, Petronas has plans for a US$20 billion Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development project called RAPID for short.

As a result, the oil major increased its capital expenditure by another RM50 billion to RM300 billion for the next five years beginning 2012.

A feasibility study ought to be concluded by year- end, and if it supports initial findings, will lead to work on a 300,000 barrels- per-day refinery as well as a petrochemicals and polymer complex that will produce differentiated and highly specialised chemicals.

The target commissioning date for RAPID is end- 2016.

Read more!

Illegal South African rhino killings hit record high

Final 2011 death toll of 448 represents one rhino lost every 20 hours, a slaughter driven by increased Asian demand for horn
David Smith 12 Jan 12;

The illegal slaughter of rhinos in South Africa surged to a record high last year with a final death toll of 448, official figures show.

The total, representing one rhino lost nearly every 20 hours, marked a significant increase on 2010 and suggested the country was still losing its war against poachers.

Two suspected poachers were killed in a shootout at the world renowned Kruger national park on Wednesday night after the gruesome discovery of eight rhino carcasses – an unprecedented one-day toll.

There has been a steady increase in rhino deaths through poaching in recent years. In 2010, the number killed was 333; in 2007, it was just 13.

Campaigners warn that, if the trend continues, the animal's future could be in jeopardy. The 2011 toll includes 19 critically endangered black rhinos, of which fewer than 5,000 remain in the wild.

Andrew McVey, species programme manager at WWF-UK, said: "If left unchecked, poaching gangs could put the survival of these iconic species in jeopardy."

The carnage is driven by increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item, a post-partying cleanser and – based on false science – a cure for cancer.

Tom Milliken, rhino trade expert at Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said: "Rhino horn has gained popularity among wealthy Vietnamese elites and business people to give as a gift, when currying political favour, or taken as an antidote to over-indulgence.

"But killing endangered rhinos to mitigate a hangover is a criminal way to see in the new year."

Poaching gangs have become increasingly sophisticated, using helicopters, silent tranquilisers, body armour, night-vision equipment and mercenaries experienced in rhino tracking. There are rumours of collusion by some park rangers and owners seeking to cash in.

The rise continues unabated, despite increased law enforcement efforts. South African officials made 232 poaching-related arrests in 2011, compared to 165 the previous year. Sentences imposed for rhino crimes have also increased, with poachers and horn smugglers receiving as long as 16 years in prison.

Dr Morné du Plessis, chief executive of WWF-South Africa, said: "Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia.

"It's not enough to bust the little guy. Investigators need to shut down the kingpins organising these criminal operations. Governments in Africa and Asia must work together across borders to stop the illegal trade."

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has ruled that Vietnam needs to show progress in curtailing illegal trade in rhino parts and derivatives.

"So far we have yet to see Vietnam respond to this ruling from CITES," said Colman O Criodain, wildlife trade policy expert at WWF International. "For that matter, CITES must put pressure on Vietnam to respond meaningfully, as it has done with other countries whose compliance with the convention has been called into question."

Rhinos in other African and Asian range countries are also being targeted. In October, WWF announced the extinction of rhinos in Vietnam. The last Javan rhino in the country was killed by poachers and its horn removed.

More than half of South Africa's rhino deaths – 252 – last year occurred in Kruger park, which attracts millions of tourists every year. There is no sign of respite so far in 2012.

Rangers found eight rhino carcasses with their horns missing in two sections of Kruger park on Tuesday, South African National Parks (SANParks) said. In a follow-up anti-poaching operation on Wednesday night, field rangers came into contact with a group of suspected poachers.

There was a shootout between the rangers and poachers, leaving two suspected poachers fatally wounded. Both were from neighbouring Mozambique, in common with many poachers motivated by an apparent chance to escape poverty.

A .375 rifle and other hunting equipment were discovered at the scene, SANParks said.

Meanwhile, debate rages in South Africa over how to curb the trend, with some calling for the trade in rhino horn to be legalised. A wildlife agency's decision to sanction the hunting of a R1m (£81,000) white rhino bull has also divided experts this week.

Reynold Thakhuli, a spokesman for SANParks, said: "The 2011 total is an all-time high. We are very concerned and quite disappointed. We are drawing up plans for the year to deal with this problem once and for all."

Read more!

Cut back on soot, methane to slow warming: study

AFP Yahoo News 13 Jan 12;

There are simple, inexpensive ways to cut back on two major pollutants -- soot and methane -- and taking action now could slow climate change for years to come, international scientists said Thursday.

When it comes to fending off global warming, the focus often is on harmful carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels in coal plants and car engines that linger in the atmosphere for many decades, said the study in Science.

But given the lack of comprehensive global action and mounting resistance from countries whose economies rely on cheap fuel, targeting two shorter-term pollutants could offer significant results over the coming decades, it said.

"Ultimately, we have to deal with CO2, but in the short term, dealing with these pollutants is more doable, and it brings fast benefits," said lead author Drew Shindell, a researcher at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University's Earth Institute.

Soot, also known as black carbon, is a byproduct of burning wood, dung, coal and other fuels. It causes lung and heart disease in people, warms the air by absorbing sun radiation, and can shift rainfall patterns.

Ways to cut back include building more efficient cookstoves, installing more filters on diesel vehicles, taking the worst polluting vehicles off the road and banning the practice of burning farmland, the study said.

Methane, which is the flammable part of natural gas and also results from decay and digestion, is a greenhouse gas like C02 but is more potent.

Nations could update wastewater treatment plants, limit emissions from farm manure, drain rice paddies more often, capture gas that escapes from coal mines and oil and gas facilities and reduce leaks from long-distance pipelines.

It should cost less than $250 to stop the emission of one metric ton of methane, but the benefits would range from $700 to $5,000, the article said.

Soot costs were harder to estimate but "the bulk of the measures could probably be implemented with costs substantially less than the benefits given the large valuation of the health impacts," it said.

If their 14 recommendations -- whittled from a potential field of 400 existing pollution control measures -- are followed, global warming could be reduced by about half a degree Centigrade (0.9 Fahrenheit) by 2050, the study said.

Between 700,000 and 4.7 million premature deaths could be averted and annual crop yields could rise by 30 million to 135 million metric tons.

Most of the lives saved would likely be in Bangladesh, Nepal and India where soot levels are high.

Ozone and farming benefits would likely center on hot places such as Iran, Pakistan and Jordan as well as southern Asia and the Sahel region of Africa.

The projections were made using computer models devised by US space agency NASA and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.

"The scientific case for fast action on these so-called 'short-lived climate forcers' has been steadily built over more than a decade, and this study provides further focused and compelling analysis of the likely benefits at the national and regional level," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program.

The research team included the Stockholm Environment Institute, Harvard School of Public Health, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

Scientists say cut soot, methane to curb warming
Seth Borenstein Associated Press Yahoo News 13 Jan 12;

WASHINGTON (AP) — An international team of scientists says it has figured out how to slow global warming in the short run and prevent millions of deaths from dirty air: Stop focusing so much on carbon dioxide.

They say the key is to reduce emissions of two powerful and fast-acting causes of global warming — methane and soot.

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and the one world leaders have spent the most time talking about controlling. Scientists say carbon dioxide from fossil fuels like coal and oil is a bigger overall cause of global warming, but reducing methane and soot offers quicker fixes.

Soot also is a big health problem, so dramatically cutting it with existing technology would save between 700,000 and 4.7 million lives each year, according to the team's research published online Thursday in the journal Science. Since soot causes rainfall patterns to shift, reducing it would cut down on droughts in southern Europe and parts of Africa and ease monsoon problems in Asia, the study says.

Two dozen scientists from around the world ran computer models of 400 different existing pollution control measures and came up with 14 methods that attack methane and soot. The idea has been around for more than a decade and the same authors worked on a United Nations report last year, but this new study is far more comprehensive.

All 14 methods — capturing methane from landfills and coal mines, cleaning up cook stoves and diesel engines, and changing agriculture techniques for rice paddies and manure collection — are being used efficiently in many places, but are not universally adopted, said the study's lead author, Drew Shindell of NASA.

If adopted more widely, the scientists calculate that would reduce projected global warming by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) by the year 2050. Without the measures, global average temperature is projected to rise nearly 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) in the next four decades. But controlling methane and soot, the increase is projected to be only 1.3 degrees (0.7 degrees Celsius). It also would increase annual yield of key crops worldwide by almost 150 million tons (135 million metric tons).

Methane comes from landfills, farms, drilling for natural gas, and coal mining. Soot, called black carbon by scientists, is a byproduct of burning and is a big problem with cook stoves using wood, dung and coal in developing countries and in some diesel fuels worldwide.

Reducing methane and black carbon isn't the very best way to attack climate change, air pollution, or hunger, but reducing those chemicals are among the better ways and work simultaneously on all three problems, Shindell said.

And shifting the pollution focus does not mean ignoring carbon dioxide. Shindell said: "The science says you really have to start on carbon dioxide even now to get the benefit in the distant future."

It all comes down to basic chemistry. There is far more carbon dioxide pollution than methane and soot pollution, but the last two are much more potent. Carbon dioxide also lasts in the atmosphere longer.

A 2007 Stanford University study calculated that carbon dioxide was the No. 1 cause of man-made global warming, accounting for 48 percent of the problem. Soot was second with 16 percent of the warming and methane was right behind at 14 percent.

But over a 20-year period, a molecule of methane or soot causes substantially more warming then a carbon dioxide molecule.

The new research won wide praise from outside scientists, including a conservative researcher who held a top post in the George W. Bush administration.

"So rather than focusing only on carbon dioxide emissions, where we have to make a tradeoff with energy prices, this strategy focuses on 'win-win-win' pathways that have benefits to human health, agriculture and stabilizing the Earth's climate," said University of Minnesota ecology professor Jonathan Foley, who wasn't part of the study. "That's brilliant."

John D. Graham, who oversaw regulations at the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush administration and is now dean of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, said: "This is an important study that deserves serious consideration by policy makers as well as scientists."

The study even does a cost-benefit analysis to see if these pollution control methods are too expensive to be anything but fantasy. They actually pay off with benefits that are as much as ten times the value of the costs, Shindell said. The paper calculates that as of 2030, the pollution reduction methods would bring about $6.5 trillion in annual benefits from fewer people dying from air pollution, less global warming and increased crop production.

In the United States, Shindell calculates the measures would prevent about 14,000 air pollution deaths in people older than 30 by the year 2030. About 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit of projected warming in the U.S. would be prevented by 2050.

But health benefits would be far bigger in China and India where soot is more of a problem.

The study comes a day after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the most detailed data yet on American greenhouse gas emissions. Of the emissions reported to the government, nearly three-quarters came from power plants. But with methane, it's different. Nineteen of the top 20 methane emitters were landfills.

Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, who is a leader in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but wasn't part of this study, praised the study but said he worried that officials would delay cutting back on the more prevalent carbon dioxide. Focusing solely on methane and soot and ignoring carbon dioxide "tends to exacerbate climate change," he said.

Another outside climate expert Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in Canada said the study is good news amid a sea of gloomy reports about climate change.

"This is a no-brainer," he said. "We have solutions at hand."




NASA's interactive of benefits by nations:

Read more!