Best of our wild blogs: 5 Mar 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [27 Feb - 4 Mar 2012]
from Green Business Times

Places still available: Chek Jawa Boardwalk trip 10 Mar (Sat)
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Biodiversity for kids during the March holidays!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

More video clips of the Mangrove Pitta at Pasir Ris
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore Nature
from Singapore Nature

Wild facts updates: Special critters, and sponges and soft corals
from wild shores of singapore

Lower Peirce Reservoir Park
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

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New cruise terminal awaits bigger ships

Marina Bay ICT boasts bigger, deeper docks and will double number of berths here
Ng Kai Ling Straits Times 5 Mar 12;

BIGGER ocean liners will be cruising into Singapore with the opening of the International Cruise Terminal (ICT) at Marina Bay, which has bigger and deeper harbour berths.

At least three ocean liners will be dropping anchor here when the terminal is completed in the second quarter of this year, bringing with them thousands of passengers in and out of Singapore.

Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, with a passenger capacity of about 3,800, will be making its way here from Dubai in May. Next in the line will be cruise operator Celebrity, which is making its Asian debut. Celebrity Solstice will sail into Singapore in November, and Celebrity Millennium in December. They have a capacity of 2,850 and 2,034 respectively.

From here, the Voyager will make is way to Shanghai with stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Xiamen. The Solstice will head to Sydney while the Millennium will go to Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the existing HarbourFront Cruise Terminal will also welcome eight new ships, including Costa Victoria and Azamara Journey, with a total of about 8,000 passengers, which will port here for the first time this year.

The opening of the ICT will give cruise line operators more options as it is able to accommodate bigger ships, said Ms Chin Ying Duan, spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises (Asia) which also represents the Celebrity and Azamara brands.

Currently, the HarbourFront Cruise Terminal can take only ships no taller than 52m. Ships exceeding 270m long are also too big for its two berths.

The Voyager of the Seas, for example, is 311m long, 63m tall. In the past, similar sized ships, such as Cunard's luxurious Queen Victoria, had to dock at the less glamorous Pasir Panjang Container Terminal, located about 5km away from the HarbourFront terminal. This is not ideal, said cruise operators, as the container port lacks proper customs facilities and passengers have to take shuttle buses just to get out of the terminal.

When open, the $500-million ICT will double the number of berths here to four. It will be operated by the consortium of SATS Ltd and Spanish terminal operator Creuez.

Industry players say the opening of the new terminal will attract more ships to Singapore and lift the sinking numbers in cruise travel.

In 2009, 928 ship calls were made here bringing more than 1.1 million passengers in and out of Singapore. The numbers dropped to 393 and 942,000 respectively last year. The decline is mainly due to the closing of three gaming ships which made frequent trips in and out of Singapore.

Beyond just bringing more tourists to Singapore, there are also spillover effects for local businesses, for example, those providing port services and ship maintenance.

Already, travel agents are seeing stronger demand for their cruise packages with some reporting a 30 per cent increase in sales at the recent National Association of Travel Agents (Natas) travel fair.

Ms Jane Chang, marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel, said: 'Currently, Singaporeans have the options of regional cruises or fly-cruises, but with the new terminal and its ability to host bigger ships for long-haul journeys, consumer choices will be expanded significantly.'

Ms Alicia Seah, CTC Travel's senior vice-president of marketing and public relations, added: 'We are already seeing interest especially from markets such as South Korea, China, the Philippines and Europe to fly into Singapore and then ply the cruise liners' tour itineraries.'

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Thai govt touts elaborate plan to prevent floods

But implementing $123b proposal an uphill task
Nirmal Ghosh Straits Times 5 Mar 12;

BANGKOK: An elaborate plan on how Thailand will manage flood waters to prevent a repeat of last year's disaster will be the centrepiece of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's four-day visit to Japan starting tomorrow.

Companies like Toyota were hard hit when rising flood waters forced dozens of factories to close, disrupting production.

Restoring investor confidence to ensure continued investment from Japanese industry is critical to Thailand.

However, implementing the flood prevention plan poses both an economically and a politically loaded challenge for Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party.

An insider who had a major role in preparing the plan described it as sound, but said serious questions remained over whether it would be properly implemented.

The plan requires a coordinated and integrated approach by multiple provinces and close to 20 government departments, he explained. On paper, there will be centralised command, but this does not work in practice, he said.

'There is a lot of water politics in Thailand,' said the source, who asked not to be named.

'Water is a precious resource, that is why management and movement of water are highly political and contentious. The flood management plan is being sabotaged from inside the system,' he said.

'It is difficult to pinpoint exactly who has the power to do what. And there is a danger of it turning into a series of pork-barrel projects.'

Thailand's three trillion baht (S$123 billion) flood management plan, which is expected to take 21/2 years to complete, has a number of elements.

It calls for a flood forecasting and warning system and for millions of trees to be planted in water catchment forests in the north to slow down water run-off from denuded hill slopes.

Canals need to be dredged and widened, and new dykes, especially along the Chao Phraya river, and new reservoirs need to be built.

About halfway down the central plains, at a point just above Nakhon Sawan province, the bulk of the water run-off from the north will be diverted to the east and west so that it flows around the city of Bangkok and the industrial estates clustered around it.

The estates themselves will be protected by new, higher dykes. But engineers say the key to water management is not to turn industrial estates into islands, but to allow water to flow smoothly and not accumulate like it did last year.

With the rainy season just three to four months away, the government is rushing to implement short-term projects, which include dredging and widening canals, and repairs to sluice gates and water pumping stations.

Some 4,000 military personnel are being sourced out to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to help dredge canals across the capital before May.

Ms Yingluck toured provinces in the north and in the central plains last month to inspect water management systems and refine plans. The five-day trip was declared a success but obstacles remain.

Government insiders point to conflict of duties between government departments.

The irrigation department's mandate, for instance, is to plan for droughts and use water for irrigation. This means that it often does not agree with the priorities of other departments and local administrations.

The Agriculture Ministry is controlled by a party led by former premier Banharn Silpa-archa. The old-style veteran politician from Suphanburi province, north-west of Bangkok, is in an alliance with the Puea Thai.

'Banharn doesn't want flooding in Suphanburi, which produces three crops a year. If there is flooding they may lose one crop,' a source told The Straits Times.

'He is the real minister for agriculture. He may not be in the government, but he operates as if he owns the ministry. But (the Puea Thai) needs him to support its push to amend the Constitution.'

Among other challenges is the need to secure public approval through consultation - a complex process - for projects requiring flooding of land, reforestation or shifting of canal-bank communities.

A senior adviser to the Prime Minister, asking not to be named, said: 'In the short term, we are quite confident of implementation.'

But he acknowledged that there will be problems in the long term, and bureaucratic issues will have to be resolved.

The Council of State - the government's high-level consultative body on legal matters - is currently working out how to consolidate all legislation on water management, create a single coordinating body or new agency, and also set out the bureaucratic reforms needed to make it work, he said.

Success in managing floods may be crucial to the survival of the government.

There is almost no room for failure as it would severely dent business confidence in Thailand and also erode Ms Yingluck's credibility.

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Spain wilts in driest winter for 70 years

Gabriel Rubio AFP Yahoo News 4 Mar 12;

February is barely past but already Spanish farmers are on drought alert as reservoirs shrink, crops wilt and brush fires crackle after the country's driest winter in 70 years.

Spain is used to fires in the summer, but this year they have come early, ravaging woodland, while the general dryness stunts crops and leaves farm animals without grass for grazing.

Brush fires have already swept across 400 hectares in the wooded northwestern region of Galicia.

Near the Galician village of Brocos, the Portodemouros reservoir has visibly shrunk and egg-shell cracks have appeared in the mud.

"We have a very hard drought, spectacularly intense in some territories," said agriculture minister Miguel Aras Canete.

"The water reserves are not at alarming levels, but we are beginning to have a lot of forest fires."

Spaniards emerged from their usual choking summer last year gasping for rain, but over the past three winter months Spain has had average precipitation of just 55 litres per square metre, far below the average of 200 litres.

"We have experienced three winter months with minimal levels of rain in all of Spain -- December, January and February have been the driest since at least the 1940s," state weather service spokesman Angel Rivera told AFP.

"Previously the driest winter had been in 1980-81," Rivera said. "Then it rained 30 litres more per square metre than it is now."

The latest official drought report on February 22 said Spain's reservoirs were only two-thirds full, meaning less water for the fields where crops grow and animals graze.

"Leafy plants, vegetables and cereals are suffering the most," said Gregorio Juarez, a spokesman for the young farmer's association ASAJA, warning that olives, vines and almonds may be next.

"There is a large part of southern Andalucia and Aragon where there is land that has already been lost, where there is now no solution whether it rains or not," he added.

"The fields in Granada could lose 35 percent of olive production and are counting on the loss of 50 percent of plant crops."

In the southern province of Malaga farmers are calculating their losses at 14 million euros, he added.

The little water that has fallen "has not soaked through to the earth," said Alejandro Garcia of the farmers' association COAG.

"In the coming month this lack of moisture is going to make plants sprout less strongly and affect the fruit they bear," he added.

He and other officials warn the drought is also threatening livestock, which cannot graze and must eat expensive feed instead.

In Galicia and other northern regions such as Asturias and Castilla y Leon "livestock farmers are seeing production costs rise by at least 20 percent", the Union of Small Farmers and Stockbreeders warned.

"There is the hope that if it rains soon, in the next week or two, things could get a bit better," said Garcia.

Rivera the weatherman forecast four days of rain from Sunday, followed by another high pressure system, likely to bring with it more dry weather.

"We need water, not just because of the fire risk but for grazing," said Galicia's regional rural affairs councillor Rosa Quintana.

"We'll see if the weather helps us."

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