Best of our wild blogs: 3 Apr 12

Drilling near St. John's reefs Apr-May 2012
from wild shores of singapore

Marine fire fighting and rescue: SCDF takes over from MPA
from wild shores of singapore

三月华语导游Madarin guide walk@SBWR,March(XXVIII)
from PurpleMangrove

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Singapore: Thunderstorms cause traffic snarls

More downpours expected over next fortnight, warns weatherman
Grace Chua Straits Times 3 Apr 12;

VIOLENT pre-dawn thunderstorms known as Sumatra squalls rattled Singapore in the early hours of yesterday and Saturday.

They led to reports of flash floods, fallen trees and disrupted traffic, from Tampines to the town area.

Sumatra squalls are eastward-moving lines of thunderstorms that whip up strong gusty winds and heavy rain, said the Meteorological Service (Singapore). They can develop at any time of the year and happen regularly between April and October.

Singapore can expect a couple more over the next fortnight, as well as afternoon showers with thunder.

Toh Tuck Road had the heaviest rainfall yesterday, with 95.2mm falling by 10am. On Saturday, Tuas had the highest total rainfall by 6am, with 97.4mm.

Three flash floods were reported yesterday. At the Marina South underpass, a drain grating was blocked by debris. Tampines Street 81 was the scene of a localised flood due to intense rain, while water at Bishan Street 21 collected in a depression in the road.

All three areas remained passable to traffic, said water agency PUB.

Traffic on two major roads was disrupted by fallen trees early yesterday, said the Land Transport Authority.

One hold-up happened on the Central Expressway near the Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 entrance between 7.22am and 7.40am, while the other was on Braddell Road from 7.27am to 7.57am.

A goods vehicle also lost control on a slippery stretch at Lornie Road.

It toppled and blocked two lanes towards Thomson Road at about 4.20am, but no one was injured.

On Saturday, a fallen tree caused disruption at Jalan Anak Bukit towards the city from 12.41pm to 2.39pm, a spokesman for the authority added.

Seven other roadside trees were uprooted during intense rain over the weekend, said the National Parks Board.

They were at Bedok, Bras Basah, MacPherson and West Coast. All were cleared within an hour of being reported.

March was a damp month. Its total rainfall ranged from more than 300mm around Kranji and Punggol, to 174-200mm around Bishan and Tuas - above the long-term monthly average of 185.7mm.

April is likely to be wet as well, with average to above-average rainfall expected.

The north-east winds of the monsoon season have been replaced by the light and variable winds of the inter-monsoon transitional period.

For the next fortnight, Singapore is expected to have mostly short, thundery showers in the afternoon on five to six days.

Widespread Sumatra squalls are likely on one to two days.

It could also be a warm month. During the inter-monsoon period, light winds, cloudless skies and more direct solar heating spell hot afternoons.

April also has the highest mean daily maximum temperature in the long term, at 31.7 deg C.

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Malaysia: Preventing flash floods - beyond widening canals

Tan Cheng Li The Star 3 Apr 12;

Rainwater that rushes into drains and rivers can cause flooding downstream. So why not hold back the water for gradual release, later?

FOR as long as many of us can remember, the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) has always been on a building spree to mitigate floods – drains are constantly widened and rivers straightened so that rainwater that gushes off roof tops and land can be quickly whisked away into streams.

Federal expenditure for flood mitigation keeps ballooning, and yet, many urban centres continue to be inundated during downpours. The thing is, drainage engineering works just cannot keep up with the ever-growing volume of stormwater runoffs that results from intensive land development.

The combination of localised heavy rains, and inadequate drainage and water storage systems to cater for rapid urbanisation is a recipe for flash floods.

“The occurrence of floods is increasing due to land use changes and progress. Whatever we do on land will affect the hydrology of an area. The transformation from pervious surfaces to artificial non-pervious surfaces will increase the runoff rates and volume,” says Abu Mutalib Mat Hassan, deputy director at the flood management division at DID.

A DID study has shown that all it takes for flooding to become a problem is for 40% of an area to be cleared. The amount of runoff will double and flow twice as fast. With a yearly rainfall of 2,000mm to 3,000mm – going up to 6,000mm a day and even 100 to 200mm in one to two hours during extreme events – the amount of stormwater that speeds off concrete-paved areas can certainly tax our drainage systems.

Speaking at the Asia Water Resource Expo and Forum in Kuala Lumpur last week, Abu Mutalib asserts that structural measures – such as poldering and pumps, flood mitigation dams, retention ponds, diversion drainage and river bund channel improvements – alone are inadequate in preventing floods. He says non-structural measures are also needed, and this includes measures such as emergency response and flood preparedness, as well as land use and development policies. “We need to manage the water cycle as a whole, and give space for the river. This will need the co-operation of planning authorities.”

Managing runoffs

Traditionally, we manage stormwater by quickly diverting runoffs from drains into rivers in what is known as the “rapid conveyance” approach – sometimes so rapidly that rivers cannot cope with the sudden deluge, leading to downstream flooding. Trash and silt which choke drains and rivers worsen the floods, as the flows are impeded.

If the current way of draining stormwater persists, drains and rivers will forever need widening to cater for swollen flows, and often, not fast enough. Abu Mutalib says expenses for flood mitigation has skyrocketed, from RM330mil in the First Malaysia Plan (1966-1970) to RM7.6bil by the Ninth Plan (2006-2010).

Realising the limitations of the rapid conveyance approach, in 2001 DID introduced a new approach in its Urban Stormwater Management Manual (Manual Saliran Mesra Alam Malaysia, or MSMA), one that centres around controlling the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff.

The “control at source” concept essentially delays the time it takes for stormwater to reach streams – a complete turnaround from the rapid conveyance approach. Stormwater is captured first and then gradually released, so there will be no sudden, excessive water flowing to downstream areas. The new method requires all development to meet “zero peak contribution.” This means runoffs from the site must be similar to or less than levels before land-clearing took place.

The approach essentially makes developers responsible for limiting stormwater discharges each time they transform a vegetated site into a concrete jungle. If, before, developers merely built drains big enough to channel stormwater away from their project area, now they have to contain the stormwater instead. This can be achieved by mimicking nature, that is, simulating the natural hydrological cycle by combining infiltration, storage, delayed flow and runoff treatment techniques.

There are two ways to curb excessive stormwater runoff from newly developed site: store it for gradual release later, or allow it to infiltrate the soil.

Storage or detention options include ponds, lakes, wetlands, underground tanks or pipes, and flat roofs that harvest rainwater. Car parks, driveways and other paved surfaces can also be “ponded” to retain water temporarily.

Infiltration and retention techniques to be considered are gravel trenches, soakaway pits, submerged pervious drains, permeable pavements, car parks and sidewalks, and swales. Swales may just look like grass-covered depressions in the ground but underneath are containers that temporarily trap stormwater.

Many are unaware that stormwater is one of the largest contributors to river pollution. That is because, as it moves across the land, it picks up everything in its path: fertiliser from farms and gardens; abraded tyres and brake lining from roads; soil, dirt and tar from roads; garbage; and atmospheric fallout (pollutants washed down from the air).

The MSMA addresses this by encouraging measures such as erosion and sediment control during earthworks, and installation of gross pollutant traps along drainage channels.

The benefits of both storage and infiltration strategies extend beyond that of controlling runoffs. Ponds built to catch stormwater provide recreation sites and habitat for wetlands flora and fauna. Some developers have used such ponds as landscape features that add value to their projects. Also, harvesting rainwater makes good use of a resource that would otherwise go down the drain. And stormwater, when allowed to seep underground, will recharge underground aquifers.

One example of stormwater detention is the network of water-storing pipes beneath the car park of a hospital in Kudat, Sabah. The system stores 150cu.m of water and has solved the flooding problem at the hospital grounds.

“We usually propose underground storage as there is often a lack of land in cities for ponds. It might be more expensive to build but will be cheaper in the long run,” says Mubin Mohamad, chief executive officer of Hydro Solutions, which had built the system.

His company also markets the Hydrobrake, a device that can be installed along drains or rivers to control the volume and speed of flows, thus reducing the impact of heavy rains on downstream spots.

Ignored rules

Despite it being a decade old, the MSMA drainage guidelines have not exactly been embraced by all. Fears over higher construction costs and maintenance needs (such as desilting ponds or clearing pollution traps) have stymied its full implementation. Some engineers, developers and local authority staff are still not well-versed with the guidelines.

Some development projects have managed to skirt the MSMA requirements due to weak enforcement and inconsistent standards practised by the local authorities, which are involved in vetting drainage plans. Currently, there is no penalty for non-compliance as the guidelines are merely administrative requirements under local authorities.

Mubin points to some ambiguities in the guidelines: for instance, the size of developments that will require flood control devices in order to prevent overflows to the neighbouring land.

Some drainage experts suggest a revision of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 and establishment of bylaws, to give more legal bite to the stormwater management rules. They say retention ponds and constructed wetlands should be gazetted as reserved areas to prevent them from being filled up and built over. Proper drainage masterplans are also sorely needed, to replace the present piecemeal plans.

Taking into consideration the various feedback, the DID has recently revised the drainage rules to make them easier to understand and implement. Hopefully, this spells a better way of draining stormwater. And an end to flash floods, as well as a return to naturally meandering rivers, instead of huge, concrete-lined drains.

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Indonesia: Satellites detect 747 hot spots in Sumatra

Antara 2 Apr 12;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Satellites from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) have detected 747 hot spots in Sumatera during March, according to the Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

A local analyst of BMKG Pekanbaru, Aristya Ardhitama, said the hot spots were detected in eight provinces in Sumatera.

"Most of the hot spots appeared on Wednesday, March 21, when the satellites detected at least 169," he said.

The number of hot spots in Riau reached 60, 32 in Jambi, 25 in South Sumatera, 21 in West Sumatera, 11 in Aceh, 10 in North Sumatera, nine in Bengkulu, and one in Lampung, according to officials.

The next largest number of hot spots were detected on Thursday, March 22, with 114 spots.

"Most of the hot spots are still in Riau Province, reaching 42 spots," he added.

According to Ardhitama, the high frequency of hot spots in most of Sumatra was caused by weather disruptions, such as low pressure areas formed in the Philippines.

He predicted that the number of hot spots might decrease when the rainy season begins in April.


Editor: Suryanto

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Indonesian Authorities Helpless to Stop Dynamite Fishing

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 2 Apr 12;

Environmental authorities in Bontang, East Kalimantan, have acknowledged that dynamite fishing is responsible for much of the damage to the coral reefs off the city’s coast, but say little can be done to end the practice.

Baharuddin, head of the Bontang Environmental Office, said on Monday that 4,200 of the 6,000 hectares of coral reefs in the area were badly damaged, mostly from dynamite fishing.

“It’s a practice that the fishermen here have been using since the 1990s and one that is still commonly used,” he said.

“Not only is it destroying the reefs, it’s also preventing any new marine life from flourishing here for the next several years. That’s because by destroying the reefs, they’re destroying the habitat for hundreds of other marine species.”

Baharuddin’s statement comes a week after the environmental group Concern for Equator Environment Forum warned that 70 percent of the reefs off Bontang were severely damaged from industrial and domestic waste dumping, the use of explosives by local fishermen, and the mining of the coral as construction material.

Forum chairman Laode Udin said last Tuesday that in the wake of the gas and mining boom in Bontang, fishermen began using dynamite to increase their catches, and that the illegal practice was largely ignored by the authorities.

Baharuddin acknowledged that there was little in the way of enforcement against dynamite fishing because of the difficulty in trying to crack down on a practice that was carried out by nearly all fishermen in the area.

“Two fishermen were recently arrested for dynamite fishing, but that won’t discourage them from continuing to do it,” he said.

He added another problem thwarting the authorities was that the chemicals needed to make the explosives was widely available across the city.

“Their awareness of the damage that they’re doing to the environment remains very low,” Baharuddin said. “We’re continuing to campaign against dynamite fishing and trying to encourage the local community to fish in a more environmentally sustainable way.”

Laode agreed that it was difficult to get the fishermen to change their habits, given that other means of fishing did not net them the kind of catches that they could get through dynamite fishing.

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U.S. agency stops seismic tests; worries about dolphins

Cain Burdeau Associated Press Yahoo News 3 Apr 12;

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With sick and dead dolphins turning up along Louisiana's coast, federal regulators are curbing an oil and natural gas exploration company from using seismic equipment that sends out underwater pulses known to disturb marine mammals.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has told Global Geophysical Services Inc. to not conduct deep-penetration seismic surveys until May, when the bottlenose dolphin calving season ends. The agency says the surveys are done with air-guns that the emit sounds that could disrupt mother and calf bonding and mask "important acoustic cues."

The company said it laid off about 30 workers because of the restriction, which it called unnecessary.

But environmental groups suing BOEM over the use of underwater seismic equipment say restrictions should be extended to surveyors across the Gulf of Mexico.

The new limit on exploration highlights the friction over oil drilling in the Gulf since the April 20, 2010 blowout of a BP PLC well that resulted in the death of 11 workers and the nation's largest offshore oil spill in the nation's history.

After the 2010 spill, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity sued to get curbs placed on underwater seismic surveys. The environmental groups argued they harm marine mammals and that the federal government violated animal protection laws after it declared in 2004 that the surveys were safe.

The government is in settlement talks with those environmental groups, according to court documents.

"Imagine dynamite going off in your neighborhood for days, months on end," said Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst at the NRDC. "That's the situation these animals are facing."

Jasny said the restriction placed on Global Geophysical was a good sign, but far from enough.

In its ruling, the federal agency said it was concerned that seismic surveys could affect marine mammals, and even cause them to lose their hearing.

Amy Scholik, a fisheries biologist with NOAA, said it was unknown what kind of effects air-guns have on bottlenose dolphins, but she said there was concern about possible effects on dolphin calves because they are vulnerable to stresses. She added that whales in Alaska have been shown to change migration routes because of seismic surveys.

George Ioup, a physics professor at the University of New Orleans studying the effects of air-guns on marine mammals, said the verdict was out on the effects of air-guns on mammals. He said BOEM seemed to be ruling "on the side of caution."

"Proving there is an effect, I don't know if that has been done," he said. "I don't think the answer is overwhelmingly simple."

The air-guns are towed at low speeds behind a survey ship and emit high-intensity, low-frequency sound waves to find geological layers. Seismic surveying is essential to drillers because they tell them where to drill and not drill.

The government also relies on the seismic data to know where it's safe to drill and to determine how much it should charge for leasing offshore blocks to oil and gas companies.

Marc Lawrence, Global Geophysical's vice president in the Gulf region, said the seismic surveys do not pose a danger to marine mammals.

"We see no hazard to them whatsoever," Lawrence said. As proof, he said dolphins routinely ride along with ships when they are conducting surveys.

He said the restriction covers an area that ranges out to about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast. He called BOEM's restriction unprecedented. His company is searching for overlooked reservoirs in areas along the central Louisiana coast: Grand Isle, Timbalier island, the West Delta and south Pelto.

This is the same area where government scientists say they have found sick and dead dolphins.

From February 2010, NOAA has reported 180 dolphin strandings in the three parishes that surround Barataria Bay — Jefferson, Plaquemines and Lafourche — or about 18 percent of the 1,000 estimated dolphins in the bay.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it had found 32 dolphins in the bay underweight, anemic and showing signs of liver and lung disease. Nearly half had low levels of stress hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.

Lori Schwacke, a NOAA scientist, said the dolphins' hormone problems could not definitely be tied to the oil spill but were "consistent with oil exposure."

Over the same period of time, NOAA says 714 dolphins and whales have been found stranded from the Florida Panhandle to the Texas state line, with 95 percent of those mammals found dead. Normally, the region sees 74 reported dolphin deaths a year.

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