Best of our wild blogs: 4 Feb 12

First Day of the Dragon Year @ BSP
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

laced woodpecker @ bukit brown - Jan2012
from sgbeachbum

Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium and Public Forum on Animal Welfare Policies
from Otterman speaks

Bukit Brown Heritage Park Night Trail
from Green Drinks Singapore

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Documentation of Bukit Brown graves progressing well: Tan Chuan-Jin

Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 3 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE: Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said the documentation work at Bukit Brown Cemetery is progressing well.

Giving an update on his Facebook page, Mr Tan said almost all 5,000 graves that could be potentially affected by the building of a new road have been documented. He visited the team doing the documentation work at the cemetery on Friday.

He said the Land Transport Authority will use the findings to fine-tune a road alignment that will take place there, so as to reduce the impact on the graves. He added that some adjustments are already being made.

Mr Tan said for the rest of the cemetery where 95 per cent of the graves are, the government is happy to look into how the area can be enjoyed in the interim.

He had stated that the government could and should bring in more Singaporeans to appreciate the heritage, culture and biodiversity of Bukit Brown.

Mr Tan said: "This, in fact, is the value of icons like Bukit Brown and Our Rail Corridor. They are gateways through which we can bring in more Singaporeans to better understand and value our broader history and heritage.

"Let's see how we can develop Bukit Brown in the interim, to make it more accessible to visitors, even as we maintain its rustic charm."


Green light for road through Bt Brown
But path will take into account findings of documentation project
Grace Chua Straits Times 4 Feb 12;

THE Government will proceed as planned with the building of a road through Bukit Brown Cemetery, Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Facebook post yesterday.

But the road, which will result in 5 per cent of the cemetery's 100,000 or so graves being exhumed, will be adjusted to take in the findings of a massive documentation exercise currently ongoing to capture the history of the place, he added.

'As for the rest of the cemetery, where 95 per cent of the graves are, we are happy to look into how the area can be enjoyed in the interim,' he said, implying that it could eventually make way for other development projects.

'I have stated that we can and should bring in more Singaporeans to appreciate the heritage, culture and biodiversity of Bukit Brown.

'Let's see how we can develop Bukit Brown in the interim, to make it more accessible to visitors, even as we maintain its rustic charm,' said Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower.

The dual four-lane carriageway, plans for which were announced last September, is meant to ease congestion on Lornie Road. Construction will begin next year.

The Bukit Brown site as a whole is zoned for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's Concept Plan 2001, which sets out plans for the next 40 to 50 years.

In his post, Mr Tan noted that it can potentially house 15,000 homes for around 50,000 residents, or 40 per cent of the homes in Toa Payoh town.

'These are homes for many, many Singaporeans,' he said. 'This is not meant to trivialise the heritage value of Bukit Brown Cemetery, which I truly appreciate, but to put on the table the choices we have to make.

'Other plots of land around the island continue to be developed for homes. We will take back land for some uses, more land will be reclaimed and we will continually explore how to innovatively create space. And, yes, we will also seek to preserve our environment as well as our heritage.'

Mr Tan wrote that he dropped in yesterday morning on an exercise to document some 5,000 graves in Bukit Brown that could be affected by the new road.

That effort, led by anthropologist Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, is almost complete, he said, adding: 'LTA (the Land Transport Authority) will also use the findings from the documentation exercise to fine-tune the road alignment so as to reduce the impact on the graves.'

His comments prompted disappointment, but not surprise, from heritage and environment interest groups pushing for the preservation of the cemetery, one of Singapore's last historical burial sites after the Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries were exhumed in the last decade.

The groups said Bukit Brown is the resting place of prominent early immigrants like businessmen Tan Kheam Hock and Cheang Hong Lim. It also acts as a green lung, and slows stormwater run-off into the Kallang catchment area.

Bukit Brown is also home to rare species of birds and plants, they added.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum pointed out that the environment group, in a position paper last year, had urged that alternative sites be looked into to meet housing needs.

The Nature Society's position paper advocated that all 233ha of Bukit Brown be turned into a heritage park, and called for an environmental impact assessment for the proposed road and township.

Members of the SOS Bukit Brown group, an informal collection of citizens petitioning for the whole site to be preserved, said in an e-mail: 'We are sorry to hear that Mr Tan still prioritises construction and the ultimate destruction of Bukit Brown.'

But they added: 'We are happy that Mr Tan has been open about his views. We believe it is now necessary for a fundamental review and open dialogue with all Singaporeans about the future of Singapore.'

Adjustments to reduce impact of Bukit Brown cemetery for roads
Today Online 4 Feb 13;

SINGAPORE - The Land Transport Authority will use findings from an exercise documenting the 5,000 graves at Bukit Brown cemetery to fine-tune the alignment of a new road passing through the area, said Minister of State for National Development, Brigadier-General (NS) Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

This is so as to reduce the impact on the graves, he wrote in a Facebook post, adding that "some adjustments are already being made".

A dual four-lane road is set to be constructed across the cemetery by 2016 to alleviate congestion along Lornie Road and the Pan-Island Expressway during peak hours.

While there are disagreements over this development, Mr Tan said he is "keen to focus on the common ground and chart out what we can do".

The current documentation effort, led by Dr Hui Yew-Foong from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, should yield lessons on how to proceed with the next phase, he said.

Acknowledging that "tensions over development and environment-history-heritage will become more acute" in years to come, Mr Tan noted that when developed, the Bukit Brown area could house 15,000 homes for about 50,000 residents.

"This is not meant to trivialise the heritage value of Bukit Brown Cemetery, which I truly appreciate, but to put on the table the choices we have to make," he said.

Mr Tan called for suggestions on how the Bukit Brown area could be developed so that more Singaporeans can appreciate its heritage, culture and biodiversity.

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Bukom fully operational, no force majeure

Shells books US$200m loss in Q4 as result of September fire; posts net profit of US$6.5b
Ronnie Lim Business Times 4 Feb 12;

SHELL'S Bukom refinery complex is fully operational again, and it has lifted all earlier force majeures it enforced on supplies of some products to customers, company officials said in London Thursday.

At a briefing on the oil giant's Q4 results, Shell chief financial officer Simon Henry said: 'On Bukom, the refinery was down for the best part of a month following the fire, an unfortunate incident, which had about a US$200 million impact on the quarter's results. It is back in production now, both the refinery and chemicals.'

'There is no force majeure operating from Singapore at the moment,' he said.

But given current global refining overcapacity and weak demand for oil products, refining margins are sharply down. As such, throughput at the 500,000 barrels per day Singapore refinery, Shell's largest worldwide, is not expected to be at full capacity utilisation, some London reports suggested.

Shell's booking in Q4 of a US$200 million loss as a result of the Bukom fire is one-third higher than an earlier estimate of US$150 million cited by Shell chairman Peter Voser when he was in Singapore last November. Asked by BT then whether the figure included opportunity costs, Mr Voser had replied that 'it was difficult to quantify both lost margins - because we couldn't sell barrels we don't have - as well as reputational loss.'

The Sept 28 fire, which started at a pump house at the refinery, led to some plant shutdowns at the Bukom complex, with some customer supplies disrupted right through Q4 last year.

An investigation by the authorities on the cause of the fire is apparently still on-going.

On its part, a Shell Singapore spokesperson told BT yesterday: 'We have conducted a thorough internal investigation and are applying the learnings to avoid such an occurrence in future. Safety is a top priority for Shell. We deeply regret this incident and are committed to doing our best to prevent any recurrence.'

Shell yesterday reported that the group made a Q4 loss of US$278 million from oil refining and marketing, amidst a global refining glut.

'Globally the world has about seven million barrels per day too much capacity. Recent events, whether Petroplus or otherwise, have seen about a million barrels affected globally, so that's only 6 million barrels,' Shell's Mr Henry said. He was referring to the recent collapse of Swiss-based refiner Petroplus, with the possibility of more such plant closures in Europe. 'Two million barrels of new capacity came on stream last year, and probably one and a half this year. So actually, the world is still building more capacity than is going out,' he added.

Despite its refining loss, Shell reported Q4 net profit of US$6.46 billion, with most coming from oil and gas production.

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Malaysia: Frequent sightings of dolphins in Port Klang

Stuart Michael, photos by Faihan Ghani The Star 4 Feb 12;

Although dolphins are rarely seen in this part of the region, lately there have been frequent sightings of these mammals off Port Klang, Pulau Kelang and Westport.

An Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin spotted near Pulau Kelang, off Port Klang.

Fishermen have seen pods of dolphins in around the islands off Port Klang.

Recently, during a boat ride StarMetro reporter Stuart Michael had a chance to see and follow pods of dolphins along the shipping lane near Westport and Pulau Kelang.

A group five of dolphins was spotted near Westport, swimming around fishing nets that were placed by fishermen earlier along the shipping lane.

Half-an-hour later, another three pods of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins were spotted off Pulau Kelang feeding and playing.

The dolphin species seen in Malaysian waters are the Indo-Pacific humpback, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose, Irrawaddy, Long-beaked common and Spinner dolphins.

Our boatman followed the pod for an hour but the dolphins always kept a distance of at least 20m to 50m away from the boat.

When the dolphins are near the boat, the fishermen would change their spot because they know that the fish would have moved away to another area.

Most fishermen who placed nets along the area would not harm the dolphins as they know it is a protected species.

According to Selangor Forestry Department ranger Ismail Ibrahim, 55, who has been patrolling this area since 1984 looking for mangrove thieves, this is a rare sight.

“However, I noticed that there are more dolphins coming to Port Klang compared with five years ago.

“One of the reasons could be that there are a lot fish in our seas and efforts in saving the mangrove forests have helped to increase breeding spots.

“Another reason is that the authorities have also banned large trawlers from fishing near the shoreline.

“The increase in marine life off Port Klang is good for tourism and fishermen. There could even be dolphin-watching excursions if it is promoted well,’’ he said.

State Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment committee chairman Elizabeth Wong said this showed that marine life was booming in Malaysian waters.

“Previously, there has not been many sightings of dolphins but it has increased over the years..

“The state has gone on a mangrove-planting exercise where thousands of seedlings were planted over the last three years.

“The sighting of dolphins shows that there is more marine life partly because of the mangrove-planting effort and enforcement to prevent logging,’’ said Wong.

A marine expert said he was not surprised over the sighting of dolphins near the shipping lane off Port Klang.

He said the dolphins found throughout these waters were migratory species and moved to coastal areas swimming to Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore besides Malaysia.

When asked on whether the polluted waters off Port Klang would affect the health of these migratory dolphins, he added that there would not be any effects as these dolphins travel far and wide.

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Deforestation threatens Brazil's wetland sanctuary

Eric Frosio AFP Yahoo News 4 Feb 12;

The Pantanal, a stunning biodiversity sanctuary in central-western Brazil, is threatened by intensive farming and deforestation, a leading environmental group warned as the world marked World Wetlands Day on Thursday.

Often referred to as the world’s largest freshwater wetland system, the Pantanal extends through millions of hectares of Brazil, eastern Bolivia and eastern Paraguay.

It includes sanctuaries for migratory birds, nursery grounds for aquatic life, and refuges for such creatures as the yacare caiman, deer, and jaguar. Some 4,500 different species live in the Pantanal.

A leading environmental group, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), is sounding the alarm about the growing threat to the region posed by intensive farming, deforestation, urban growth and the proliferation of hydro-electric dams.

As evidence the group cites a three-year study by 30 experts from Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, the counties that share the Paraguay river, which flows from its headwaters in Mato Grosso about 2,600 kilometers (1,620 miles) to its confluence with the Parana River in Argentina.

"The Pantanal is under threat," said biologist Glauco Kimura, who coordinates the Water for Life program at WWF.

"This may seem surprising but it is the sad reality. Our study shows that 14 percent of the Paraguay River basin must be urgently protected," Kimura said.

Navigating the Cuiaba river, an important Pantanal tributary, escorted by raptors and colorful parrots overhead, Kimura and his team stop at the Chapada dos Guimaraes National Park, on a plateau at the edge of the Pantanal.

The threat, Kimura explains, comes from the highlands, known here as the Planalto.

"This region is like a plate," explains Kimura. "The Planalto on the edges and the Pantanal at the bottom of the plate." The Pantanal suffers from what goes on in the highlands, he says.

There are thousands of acres of farmland across the highlands. Soybeans are the region’s biggest crop, but corn, rice, cotton and sugarcane are also planted.

The Pantanal is also at risk from deforestation as cattle farmers cut down trees to make room for land for grazing.

Roughly 15 percent of the region's native vegetation has already been destroyed to make way for soybean cultivation and cattle ranching, according to the WWF, resulting in soil degradadation.

This worries Pierre Girard, a Canadian hydrologist at the Pantanal research center.

"Soybean is cultivated at the headwaters of the rivers that feed and then form the Pantanal. There are risks of erosion, but also of contamination of the Pantanal," he warns.

The WWF study -- conducted jointly with the US-based Nature Conservancy, another leading environmental group -- underscores the need for joint action by the countries and regions affected.

"There is no more space for intensive farming as if there was an infinite stock of native forest to destroy and fresh water to pollute," says Kimura. "We need to protect ground water, create more protected areas and improve agribusiness practices."

Kimura believes that protecting the Paraguay river basin is crucial to conserve the region's unparalleled wildlife diversity. Currently only 11 percent of the basin is protected.

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