Best of our wild blogs: 17 Feb 12

Will mangroves and shores be impacted by planned expansion of Downtown East?
from wild shores of singapore

Musang playtime
from Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Dragonets of Singapore sorted out, with a new record!
from wild shores of singapore

So what can UNEP do about marine litter?
from Nature rambles

whimbrel at rest @ pasir ris - Feb2012
from sgbeachbum and scaly-breasted munia @ bukit brown - Feb2012

Five levels of frogs
from The annotated budak and Bombshells

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Downtown East set for a facelift with new resort

Lin Yanqin Today Online 17 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE - Downtown East at Pasir Ris will soon get a facelift, with the former Escape Theme Park making way for a new resort.

The current Costa Sands Resort meanwhile will make way for a bigger water theme park, which will be twice its current size.

NTUC Club - the entertainment arm of the labour movement - announced its expansion plans at a media briefing yesterday, as it marks its 25th anniversary this year.

The redevelopment works at Downtown East - which began life as the NTUC Pasir Ris Resort in 1988 - are expected to begin at the end of this year, if plans are approved.

The current Costa Sands Resort will stay open while the new resort is being built, and works to expand the water theme park, Wild Wild Wet, will begin when construction of the resort is complete.

NTUC Club CEO Yeo Khee Leng said the project is estimated to cost about "a couple hundred million", although the figure has not been finalised.

"Downtown East has been in place here for the past 20 over years and I think we have done very well, but some of our facilities are in need of upgrading so that we can meet the future needs and aspirations of our members," he said.

While Downtown East is about to get an upgrade, Mr Yeo assured that prices will be kept affordable. There will be adjustments to match inflation and cost, but he has ruled out charging prices seen at higher-end resorts.

"Our aim is always to keep things affordable," said Mr Yeo. "So we are always mindful as we develop our projects that we keep a good discipline on budget so that we don't go and charge five-star prices."

NTUC Club has also planned a full year of activities, such as a Downtown East Open House in the second quarter of the year, where union members and the public can enjoy freebies and discounts in celebration of the 25th anniversary. The labour movement aims to reach 1 million members by 2015.

Downtown East to get facelift
Lip Kwok Wai Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 12;

SINGAPORE: The Downtown East resort at Pasir Ris will soon get a facelift.

The former Escape Theme Park, which closed last year, will make way for a new resort.

The 24-year-old Costa Sands Resort will also be replaced by a bigger and more exciting water theme park.

The redevelopment project will kick off end of this year, if resort owner NTUC Club gets the go ahead.

It will take five years to complete, at a cost of about a hundred million dollars.

But NTUC Club assures the public that admission charges will remain affordable.

It announced on Thursday its expansion plans, as it gears up to mark its 25th anniversary.

NTUC Club CEO Yeo Khee Leng said: "The aspirations have changed, we are serving a much larger number of members.

"And I think people are looking at providing different kind of experiences, so the new resort will take (that) into account, like better rooms, more family type facilities."

- CNA/wk

NTUC Club Turns 25!
AsiaOne 16 Feb 12;

Today marks the start of NTUC Club's 25th anniversary celebrations, and a series of fun events, activities and promotions have been planned at all its facilities throughout the year to commemorate the occasion with union members and the public. For the past two and a half decades, the social enterprise has been promoting a better quality of life for members and workers, providing fun for their well-being. It builds, engages and strengthens communities to create bonds for a united Labour Movement (LM) and provides accessible recreational facilities for all, so that no one is excluded from enjoying the facilities.

Moving forward, an extensive programme of improvements and refurbishments at Downtown East has been planned, promising an exciting period of change and rejuvenation. Set to commence at the end of 2012, a new resort will be built at the current site of Escape Theme Park while Costa Sands Resort will make way for a bigger, more exciting Wild Wild Wet. The master plan is designed to meet changing recreational needs and serve more members as the LM targets to reach 1 million members by 2015. The full details will be shared in a public announcement in July 2012.

In the next few years, two of the LM communities that NTUC Club champions - nEbO and U Live, are also expected to grow and deepen the engagement with their members. By 2015, nEbO aims to increase its membership to 100,000 and provide relevant initiatives and programmes that create a community of Work-Ready, World-Ready and Life-Ready youths. In striving to be the preferred and most significant movement for working active agers and workers of yesterday, U Live will be embarking on new initiatives to increase awareness and outreach, and strengthen its engagement programme.

Serving up fun for 25 years

In a short span of 25 years, the leisure and entertainment arm of NTUC has had a meaningful and memorable history. It started with just one clubhouse in Shenton Way in 1987, and the NTUC Pasir Ris Resort in 1988 to meet members' social, recreational and cultural needs, enabling NTUC and its affiliated unions to concentrate their efforts on protecting workers' rights and devote attention to the negotiation of collective agreements. In the first 10 years, it focused on expanding and increasing its presence around the island to bring the clubhouses closer to workers in the heartlands. NTUC Sentosa Beach Resort, NTUC Club (Jurong) and the clubhouses Paradigm (Orchard), Happy Days (Bishan) and Jest D'Place (Choa Chu Kang) were established during this period. As Singapore welcomed the new millennium, NTUC Club responded quickly to the changing needs and aspirations of members. NTUC Pasir Ris Resort was redeveloped and rebranded as Downtown East, improving and widening the range of its fun facilities with Escape Theme Park, Wild Wild Wet and Orchid Bowl.

Not forgetting the low-income members, the Family Recreation FUNd was also launched in 2005, so that they too could enjoy NTUC Club's facilities with their families for free for better work-life balance. In recent years, NTUC Club has championed several communities - eXplorerkid, nEbO and U Live, for members to pursue a lifelong relationship with NTUC, in support of the LM2011 vision for an all inclusive workforce

NTUC Club Chief Executive Officer, Mr Yeo Khee Leng said, "Since the beginning, we have been a close part of the lives of union members, the public and their families. We have been there for birthday parties, family outings, gatherings with friends that almost every Singaporean has at one point or another in their lives shared a moment with us at our facilities or events. When we focused on member engagement, which leverages on the strengths of our facilities, we created communities for our members to belong to, regardless of the stage in life they are at. We want to keep this connection and as the Labour Movement continues to grow, we are gearing up to serve more members better through the redevelopments at Downtown East and constant improvements on our services and programmes."

NTUC Club is about your Fun-Being!

The Club 25 anniversary logo and tagline also unveiled today were specially designed to celebrate this significant milestone. A silver splash of 25 years denotes the silver anniversary and a spirited circular brushstroke encircling the NTUC Club logo symbolises its continuous efforts in providing fun to all. The colour gradient fill on the circular brushstroke also represents the evolving nature of fun at NTUC Club through the years and in the years to come.

More importantly, in providing the fun facilities and events that are at the same time affordable, members are given the opportunities to unwind and bond with their families and friends for the benefit of their well-being. Hence the social mission of doing more for workers and their families in the areas of live and play, more than just about fun, is condensed in the tagline "It's about your Fun-Being!".

Year-long celebrations for NTUC Club's silver anniversary NTUC Club has planned a series of major events throughout the year, bringing together union leaders, members, staff, and strategic partners in celebration of the silver anniversary. They are:

- Official opening of the 25th Anniversary Showcase at Downtown East on 20 April 2012. An exhibition which shares the story of NTUC Club, visitors can learn little known facts and relive the good times with a collection of memorabilia, photos and videos.

- Downtown East Open House in the second quarter of 2012. In celebration of its 25th birthday, NTUC Club is hosting a special open day for union members and the public. Visitors can look forward to a special day of attractive freebies and discounts to mark this anniversary milestone.

- The grand plan for the redevelopment of Downtown East will be unveiled in July 2012, including an architectural model and artist impressions for a first glimpse of the new Downtown East.

- NTUC Club's 25th Anniversary Dinner and launch of coffee table book in October 2012. A celebratory dinner to be attended by some 1,000 guests comprising of union leaders, members and staff. Taking stock of the progress and achievements NTUC Club has made in the past four years. it will also be an occasion to share the strategic framework and plan of action, in line with LM 2015.

Other activities and promotions include 'Remember The Fun We've Shared', a photo contest to encourage members and the public to send in their old photos showing their favourite times at NTUC Club and involve them in our celebrations; and 'NTUC Club25 Grand FUN-NALE Draw', a promotion to reward union members and the public for their support and patronage. In recognition of our clubhouse roots, C25, a specially concocted 25th anniversary cocktail will also be available at all four clubhouses from 1 March 2012.

Other anniversary-themed events include the annual U Run 2012 to be held on 26 February 2012. More than 5000 runners have registered, making it the most participated U Run since it was started in 2009. For the first time ever in celebration of NTUC Club's 25th anniversary, a song writing competition has also been introduced to the U Fame Awards 11/12. The grand finals will be held in July, where singing talents in the unions will compete for the title of LM idol.

Full details of all events, activities and promotions will be released closer to the event. For the latest updates, please refer to

Downtown East to get revamp
Makeover includes new resort and bigger water theme park
Huang Lijie Straits Times 18 Feb 12;

DOWNTOWN East in Pasir Ris will undergo a major makeover in the next few years.

Revamping the recreational complex, which is about the size of 10 football fields, is estimated to cost a few hundred million dollars. When complete, there will be a new 400-room resort and a bigger water theme park. Also in the pipeline is the refurbishment of buildings that cater to meetings, incentive events, conferences and exhibitions.

The entire redevelopment project will be rolled out in phases over the next four to five years so that the complex remains open for business throughout the upgrade.

Mr Yeo Khee Leng, chief executive of NTUC Club, which manages Downtown East, said the facelift is part of the club's plans for rejuvenation as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

A new resort will replace the 11-year-old Costa Sands Resort at Downtown East.

Low-rise chalets will occupy the site of the former amusement ride park, Escape Theme Park, which closed last November. Work on the resort is slated to begin in the third quarter of this year.

The current Costa Sands Resort will stay open until its new home is completed in two years' time. It will then make way for an expanded Wild Wild Wet water theme park.

Mr Yeo said the club chose to shut down its $23 million Escape Theme Park because it was loss-making and the club was better off focusing on upgrading the more popular water theme park. The expanded water theme park will increase by almost 70 per cent in size and boast new high-thrill water rides.

He added that the improvements will help the recreational complex keep up with the expectations and demands of club members, whose profile has changed over the years to include a growing group of professionals and managers.

He said: 'If you look at where we come from, it has been very much about catering to the lower income. But now, people are looking for something better, so we have to deliver while still keeping it affordable.'

He acknowledged that competition from other water theme parks in Singapore, including the upcoming water park at Resorts World Sentosa, also spurred plans to refresh Wild Wild Wet.

While expansion works at the Downtown East water theme park will not begin until at least 2014, it will begin replacing some old water rides with new high-thrill rides later this year.

Retailers at Downtown East welcomed news of the revamp although they were concerned construction work in the interim may keep shoppers away and cause their business to slip. Mr Yeo said the club will ramp up the number of activities and programmes held on the premises to draw shoppers.

Ms Aisha Bee Mohamed Ali, 35, a corporate support officer who frequents the water theme park with her children, aged three and eight, said: 'The new rides will make the place more exciting.'

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No sense in shark's fin ban: Experts

They argue dish doesn't increase global killing of shark significantly
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 17 Feb 12;

IT MAY be politically incorrect, but three marine life experts said at a forum yesterday that it makes no sense to ban the sale of shark's fin.

But a fourth expert stood his ground, insisting a temporary ban on shark's fin and meat would reduce the killing.

A debate over this controversial topic played out at a forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, attended by about 100 people.

In one corner were Dr Giam Choo Hoo, a member of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites); Professor Steve Oakley, Shark Savers Malaysia chairman; and Mr Hank Jenkins, president of conservation outfit Species Management Specialists.

In another corner, supported by the majority of the audience, was Mr Louis Ng, executive director of Singapore animal advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

The topic has garnered recent interest here after a string of local supermarkets, such as Carrefour and FairPrice, and hotels like Shangri-La pledged to stop serving or selling the dish.

A global movement to outlaw the trade of shark's fin has also been gaining momentum as well as converts, who believe that the dish is inhumane and endangers the shark population.

But Dr Giam, Prof Oakley and Mr Jenkins all claim that prohibiting its trade will not dramatically reduce the number of sharks killed worldwide. They noted that many countries such as Germany, France, Australia and Iceland have long killed sharks for their meat.

'Even if shark's fin were banned, these countries would continue to catch sharks for the meat,' said Prof Oakley.

Dr Giam armed his presentation with figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation: In 2009, 70 per cent of caught sharks were by fishermen in developing countries. 'From my own research, fishermen in these countries are mostly poor and will eat every part of the shark,' said the former deputy director at the Primary Production Department, the predecessor of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

But Mr Ng countered that these fishermen could be better supported through eco-tourism, where divers pay to swim with the sharks. In the Bahamas, such trips are worth US$78 million (S$99 million) to its economy each year. This would also be more sustainable in the long run, he said.

Shark protectors claim the dish kills up to 73 million sharks each year, with some of them tossed back into the sea to die after their fins are cut off.

But Mr Jenkins took aim at the statistics and pooh-poohed this widely held belief. He said the 73 million figure, attributed to marine scientist Shelley Clarke and cited by shark advocacy groups such as WildAid and Shark Angels, had been twisted to suit their needs.

Dr Clarke herself took to marine sustainability website SeaWeb last year to lambast such misuse of her work. She said she had estimated in 2000 that the fins of 38 million sharks were being traded, although the true figure was likely between 26 million and 73 million.

The three panellists also insist there is no evidence that live finning - cutting sharks' fins off before throwing the sharks back into the sea - is a prevalent practice. 'Although practised by some fishermen, it is illegal, relatively infrequent and condemned by the industry,' said Mr Jenkins.

Mr Ng was not convinced. He cited 2008 data that showed that fins commonly sell for US$250 or more per pound (450g), far more than the measly dollars per pound for shark meat.

In an interview with reporters after the forum, he stuck to his guns: 'We're calling for a temporary ban. Let the shark populations recover, put in place proper management, and make sure that the trade is sustainable before we start consumption again.'

But all four panellists agreed that more information on the sharks' plight is needed. A 2010 report by non-profit group International Union for Conservation of Nature said there is not enough information on 47 per cent of shark and related species to know if they are endangered.

The panellists added that governments need to do more to regulate the trade of sharks. Prof Oakley said this could involve making sure fisheries keep the number of sharks above a mandated minimum level. Sharks could then reproduce at a sustainable rate.

As for Singapore, Mr Jenkins said it could source its fins from sustainable producers. Last year, the Republic imported about 3,500 tonnes of shark's fin, 40 per cent more than the previous year.

The AVA said Singapore abides by the Cites agreement, under which the basking shark, whale shark, great white shark and sawfishes are protected species and their trade is strictly regulated. It allows only licensed fish dealers to import sharks and shark's fin.

Ms Joan Paul, 22, a student who attended the forum, said she will still boycott shark's fin. 'By choosing not to eat shark's fin, you are thinking in the long term. When there's supply for shark's fin, there's bound to be demand,' she said.

Additional reporting by Carolyn Khew

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Indonesia: Forest clearing blamed on local government

Chloe Booker,The Jakarta Post 16 Feb 12;

Local government officials may have accepted bribes from logging, mining and plantation companies in exchange for permission to clear forests, a top official has said.

The Forestry Ministry’s director general of forestry business development, Iman Santoso, said bad governance had undermined efforts to halt Indonesia’s deforestation.

“It’s possible it happens with bribery and permits, because as we know, if there is mismanagement in our natural forest it must be from be bad governance,” said Iman.

Experts have also acknowledged the problems of bad governance.

Earlier last year, the London School of Economics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study titled “The Political Economy of Deforestation in the Forests” which linked increased illegal logging with heightened tension in the run-up to local elections.

The results were obtained from satellite images, which tracked annual changes in forest cover from 2001 to 2008 and showed that local politicians had used money obtained from companies to fund their campaigns.

Indonesian and European Union Forest Law Enforcement official Andy Roby said local officials could issue temporary licenses, which meant companies could clear land without proper environmental impact assessments and without the ministry finding out until the forest had been cleared.

“The Forest Ministry in Jakarta is continuously in a tense relationship with the local government and there’s a sense that industry here has lost control of what’s going on in the forest,” he said.

“The ministry can’t stop forest clearance and conversion,” he said.

Iman said that tackling illegal logging was difficult as it was under the authority of local government.

“We in the central government only receive information from the concession holders and also local observers, and then we go to the field and see what’s happening and make the necessary legal enforcement,” he said.

Forest clearing has led to land disputes in many regions of Indonesia, most recently in Bima, Mesuji and Riau where violent clashes took place between locals, companies and police.

Earlier this month, police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters in Riau, who claimed that palm oil company PT Mazuma Agro Indonesia (MAI) had taken their land.

The North Sumatra government issued a permit to MAI to develop a 5,800 hectare site, in which the community of Batang Kumuh lives.

A court ruled in favor of Batang Kumuh last year, but MAI appealed to the Supreme Court and continued to work on the land.

This situation is common in Indonesia as many communities inhabit land without titles. Companies can apply for permits to develop their land from local governments without the communities’ knowledge.

However, Iman said he had been in discussion with the local government of Riau, with the latter agreeing that it did not want to disturb the investment climate in Indonesia while resolving the issue.

He also said that not all of the protesters needed the land, but rather some were part of a political movement aimed at land reform.

Andy said there were two ways the central government could tackle the problem. First, by better regulation of local government and improved transparency, and second, by stopping exports of products without an environmental impact assessment, as was now done in the timber industry.

“I think regents need to be held more accountable for what goes on (and) the central government should do more,” he said.

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Climate change threatens tropical birds

Global warming, extreme weather aggravate habitat loss
University of Utah EurekAlert 15 Feb 12;

SALT LAKE CITY -- Climate change spells trouble for many tropical birds – especially those living in mountains, coastal forests and relatively small areas – and the damage will be compounded by other threats like habitat loss, disease and competition among species.

That is among the conclusions of a review of nearly 200 scientific studies relevant to the topic. The review was scheduled for online publication this week in the journal Biological Conservation by Çağan Şekercioğlu (pronounced Cha-awn Shay-care-gee-oh-loo), an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah.

There are roughly 10,000 bird species worldwide. About 87 percent spend at least some time in the tropics, but if migratory birds are excluded, about 6,100 bird species live only in the tropics, Şekercioğlu says.

He points out that already, "12.5 percent of the world's 10,000 bird species are threatened with extinction" – listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (

Şekercioğlu's research indicates about 100 to 2,500 land bird species may go extinct due to climate change, depending on the severity of global warming and habitat loss due to development, and on the ability of birds to find new homes as rising temperatures push them poleward or to higher elevations. The most likely number of land bird extinctions, without additional conservation efforts, is 600 to 900 by the year 2100, Şekercioğlu says.

"Birds are perfect canaries in the coal mine – it's hard to avoid that metaphor – for showing the effects of global change on the world's ecosystems and the people who depend on those ecosystems," he adds.

Şekercioğlu reviewed the scientific literature relevant to climate change and tropical birds with Richard Primack, a biologist at Boston University, and Janice Wormworth, a freelance science writer and ecological consultant in Australia.

Wormworth and Şekercioğlu coauthored the 2011 book, "Winged Sentinels: Birds and Climate Change." The new article is an updated condensation of that book and another 2011 book Şekercioğlu coauthored, "Conservation of Tropical Birds."

The review was funded by the Christensen Fund – which finances community-based conservation projects – the University of Utah and National Science Foundation.

Putting the Heat on Tropical Birds

Scientists expect climate change to bring not only continued warming, but larger and-or more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, fires, cold spells and "once-in-a-century" storms and hurricanes. Birds may withstand an increase in temperature, yet extreme weather may wreck habitats or make foraging impossible.

"The balance of evidence points to increases in the numbers of intense tropical hurricanes (though hurricane frequency could decrease overall)," Şekercioğlu and colleagues write. "This would predominantly affect tropical bird communities, especially species living in coastal and island habitats."

Şekercioğlu says it is difficult to predict how habitat loss, emerging diseases, invasive species, hunting and pollution will combine with climate change to threaten tropical birds, although "in some cases habitat loss [from agriculture and development] can increase bird extinctions caused by climate change by nearly 50 percent."

In addition, "compared to temperate species that often experience a wide range of temperature on a yearly basis, tropical species, especially those limited to tropical forests with stable climates, are less likely to keep up with rapid climate change."

The researchers say studies indicate:

Climate change already has caused some low-elevation birds to shift their ranges, either poleward or to higher elevations, causing problems for other species. Global warming helped rainbow-billed toucans move from Costa Rican lowlands to higher-elevation cloud forests, where they now compete for tree-cavity nest space with the resplendent quetzal. The toucans also eat quetzal eggs and nestlings.

Birds with slower metabolisms often live in cooler tropical environments with relatively little temperature variation. They can withstand a narrower range of temperature and are more vulnerable to climate change.

Climate change may spread malaria-bearing mosquitoes to higher elevations in places like Hawaii, where the malaria parasite can threaten previously unexposed birds.

Longer and less regular dry seasons and droughts expected during global warming may reduce populations of tropical birds that often time their breeding with wet seasons when food is abundant.

Şekercioğlu acknowledges that "not all effects of climate change are negative, and changes in temperature and precipitation regimes will benefit some species. … Nevertheless, climate change will not benefit many species."

Scenarios for Extinction

A 2008 study by Şekercioğlu and late climatologist Stephen Schneider calculated 60 scenarios of how tropical land bird extinction rates will be affected by various possible combinations of three variables: climate change, habitat loss and how easily birds can shift their range, meaning move to new habitat. Citing those estimates, the new review paper says that "depending on the amount of habitat loss, each degree of surface warming can lead to approximately 100 to 500 additional bird extinctions."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius (2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming of the Earth's surface by the year 2100, which Şekercioğlu's study converted into a best case of about 100 land bird extinctions and a worst case of 2,500.

He says the most likely case now is considered to be 3.5 C (6.3 F) warming by 2100, resulting in about 600 to 900 land bird species going extinct. These estimates are conservative because they exclude water birds, which are 14 percent of all bird species.

Because they don't travel far, "sedentary" birds "are five times more likely to go extinct in the 21st century than are long-distance migratory birds," says Şekercioğlu.

The review found:

Tropical mountain birds are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Warmer temperatures at lower elevations force them to higher elevations where there is less or no habitat, so some highland species may go extinct.

Climate change and accompanying sea-level rise pose problems for birds in tropical coastal and island ecosystems, "which are disappearing at a rapid rate," Şekercioğlu and colleagues write. Many such ecosystems already have been invaded by non-native species and exploited by humans.

Birds in extensive lowland forests with few mountains – areas such as the Amazon and Congo basins – may have trouble relocating far or high enough to survive.

Tropical birds in open habitats such as savanna, grasslands, scrub and desert face shifting and shrinkage of their habitats.

Rising sea levels will threaten aquatic birds such as waders, ducks and geese, yet they often are hemmed in by cities and farms with no place to go for new habitat.

Tropical birds in arid zones are assumed to be resilient to hot, dry conditions, yet climate change may test their resilience by drying out oases on which they depend.

More Research and Conservation Needed

To better understand and reduce the impact of climate change on tropical birds, Şekercioğlu urges more research, identification and monitoring of species at greatest risk, restoration of degraded lands, relocation of certain species, and new and expanded protected areas and corridors based on anticipated changes in a species' range.

"Nevertheless," Şekercioğlu and colleagues write, "such efforts will be temporary fixes if we fail to achieve important societal change to reduce consumption, to control the emissions of greenhouse gases and to stop climate change."

"Otherwise," they add, "we face the prospect of an out-of-control climate that will not only lead to enormous human suffering, but will also trigger the extinction of countless organisms, among which tropical birds will be but a fraction of the total."

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