Best of our wild blogs: 10 Apr 12

Strange nudibranch at Changi
from wild shores of singapore

What do ordinary Singaporeans think of dolphins in captivity?
from wild shores of singapore

Yellow Bittern’s Stance
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Land capacity in Singapore to increase

Lynda Hong Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore will continue to augment its land capacity through reclamation, building higher, and going underground.

Still, land allocations for industrial, commercial and residential use will likely remain the same over the next decade.

Currently, one third is used for industry, commerce and housing.

The remaining two thirds are used for roads, sea port, airport, reservoirs, utilities, military training grounds as well as social and community facilities like parks, hospitals and schools.

The National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave the projections in a written reply to Marine Parade GRC MP Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, who asked how land utilisation will be like, and whether a land shortage is likely over the next decade.

With Singapore land limited at 710 square kilometres, Mr Khaw said his ministry will also pursue efforts to recycle and optimise land to make the best use of this limited resource.

Undeveloped lands at Tengah and Bidadari will be opened up for residential needs while the use of existing land within mature house and industrial estates will be intensified.

But Mr Khaw gave the assurance that Singapore will remain highly liveable and a great place to raise families.

Upcoming discussions on the National White Paper will help sharpen the focus on future infrastructure planning and its execution.

- CNA/ck

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Interconnected risks in more complex security environment

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 9 Apr 12;

He said: "We have made plans to protect our coasts and to improve our drainage. Singapore's coastal reclamation sites were previously required to be at least a minimum of 1.25 metres above the highest recorded historical tide levels. For new reclamation projects, this has now been raised by an additional one metre."

SINGAPORE : Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean has said a more complex security environment means there are no dominant risks, but interconnected ones which could come together in a major event.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, outlined a three-pronged approach to tackle such risks.

Speaking at a security conference on Monday, he called for a multi-disciplinary approach where various perspectives are considered to better understand how things are connected.

Mr Teo also said strategies and responses need to be constantly reviewed.

Lastly, he said international collaboration is crucial for effective response to complex issues, and agencies in different countries must work together.

Mr Teo cited how Singapore deals with climate change as an example of how it has to adapt to a complex challenge.

He said: "We have made plans to protect our coasts and to improve our drainage. Singapore's coastal reclamation sites were previously required to be at least a minimum of 1.25 metres above the highest recorded historical tide levels. For new reclamation projects, this has now been raised by an additional one metre."

Mr Teo added that authorities are doing a Risk Map Study - to be completed by next year - to identify specific coastal areas at risk of flooding.

- CNA/ms

Teo: Countries need to cooperate on security

Risk landscape will grow more complex, diverse with interconnectivity
Malminderjit Singh Business Times 10 Apr 12;

WITH interconnectivity comes increased risk of local events escalating into global ones, so countries need to develop a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to security.

That was the gist of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean's message at the opening of the 6th Asia-Pacific Programme for National Security Officers. The growing correlation and connectivity between individual risks and societies have transformed the way countries need to identify and deal with threats to their national interests, said Mr Teo .

'Taken together, what this means is that the risk landscape will become increasingly complex and diverse, with no single dominant risk, but a series of interconnected ones which could coalesce into a major event,' said Mr Teo.

Mr Teo pointed out the paradox of interconnectivity as a key contributor to more complex risks globally as while at the local level being assimilated with a large network may attempt to reduce risk, it 'can increase risk at the overall system level if one part of the interconnected system fails and threatens to bring the whole system down'. Britain, for instance, which has stayed out of the eurozone, is less affected by the eurozone crisis than the countries within it, explained Mr Teo and elaborated that such wider systemic risks could also apply to electrical power grids.

The ubiquity of the internet has in part contributed to inter-connectivity and makes cyber crimes more difficult to track and counter while also amplifying isolated incidents into global events, added Mr Teo.

In addition, he identified demographic and social changes as having a wider impact on national security in the coming years as the growing world population and urbanisation will increase the demand for water and food among other resources, while exposing poor infrastructure and a lack of employment opportunities as pressure points in societies. The pressure on these resources will be worsened by climate change, which threatens to be a risk multiplier, said Mr Teo.

To counter these complex threats, Mr Teo highlighted the need for a multi-disciplinary, adaptive approach and international collaborative strategy.

The first approach is based on developing policies beyond the needs of 'the individual stakeholder, agency or even country', explained Mr Teo, citing the fight against piracy as an example.

Explaining that the current 'mechanism for conducting patrols, escorts and convoying to detect, deter and disrupt piracy in the region' may be inadequate, Mr Teo pointed out that shipowners may need to get involved in these efforts 'by keeping up-to-date with real-time information about pirate activities to better plan their routes and avoid areas of higher pirate activity'.

'Some shipowners and countries have also employed guards, including armed security teams, on board their ships,' he added but acknowledging that a more comprehensive approach will have to include increased efforts by the international community to enhance governance and economic development in Somalia, to address the root causes of piracy.

An adaptive approach is also necessary to deal with the dynamic risks and thus warrants the 'need to constantly review and renew our strategies and responses', said Mr Teo.

Singapore's National Climate Change Strategy is based on such a principle, he explained, as current reviews have led to coastal reclamation sites now being raised by an additional one metre than the minimum level of 1.25 metres above the highest recorded tide levels to safeguard against projected sea level rises by the year 2100, while water agency PUB has developed a diversified water supply strategy through the 4 National Taps. These measures have helped protect Singapore's coasts and improve the resilience of its water supply.

International cooperation is necessary among enforcement agencies to address transnational crime, added Mr Teo and highlighted the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, which will open in Singapore in 2014, as an example of such collaboration.

'This facility will also allow enforcement officers around the world to share real-time criminal data, analyse cyber threats and trends, and work more closely together when fighting new types of crime, including transnational crime and cybercrime.'

Global risk landscape getting more complex
A series of interconnected risks can bring down a whole system: DPM Teo
Bryna Sim Straits Times 10 Apr 12;

THE global risk landscape today is highly complex and will be increasingly so in the future, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

Instead of a single dominant risk, the world could face a series of interconnected risks which could then become a major event, he said.

Mr Teo gave his thoughts on the changing nature of the risks to national security at the sixth Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior National Security Officers, held at Sentosa Resort and Spa.

Started in 2007, the programme brings together government officials from the Asia-Pacific to exchange perspectives on the latest developments impacting national security.

To illustrate how the failure of one part of an interconnected system could threaten to bring an entire system down, Mr Teo used the recent example of how the euro zone crisis was precipitated by the Greek debt crisis.

In his speech, Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister, did not speak directly on the threat of terrorism, but instead highlighted issues such as cybercrime, demographic and climate change, all of which he said would become increasingly important as 'risk multipliers'.

Quoting statistics from the World Economic Forum's Global Risks 2012 Report to show how interconnected the world is today, the minister said that the 'networked and complex' nature of the Internet means cyber attacks on the home front can happen even when its perpetrators are located overseas.

About 470 million smartphones had been sold worldwide by the end of last year, and the figure is expected to double by 2015, he said.

Then there is demographic change: A growing global population means an increased demand for clean water and food - something that could tip the balance in maintaining global stability.

'Food security - not just the production, but also the transportation, distribution and willingness to supply or withhold food exports - will continue to be a challenge,' Mr Teo said.

Of ways to meet these challenges, Mr Teo suggested three: A multi-disciplinary approach, an adaptive approach, and international collaboration.

The minister stressed the need for nations to 'constantly review and renew' their security strategies and responses.

'The risks confronting us are dynamic, and new developments can easily render our solutions obsolete,' he said.

Mr Teo also spoke of the new Interpol Global Complex for Innovation, which will open here in 2014. He said the facility would enable enforcement officers from around the world to work more closely together when fighting new types of crime.

Mrs Evelyn Wu, a programme participant and senior deputy director of the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority training school, agreed that more cooperation between nations is needed.

'We definitely need to work together to learn, unlearn, and re-learn some of these issues,' she said.

Another participant, Mr Bernard Miranda, director of the National Maritime Operations Group, said the focus of national security has 'always been and remains on terrorism'.

He added: 'Mr Teo has brought to the fore issues that we may not have paid enough attention to, which shows how our risk landscape has changed.'

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Tougher laws to ensure clean water in Singapore

Straits Times 10 Apr 12;

KEEPING THE SUPPLY SAFE: New measures have been introduced to regulate the quality of used water entering Singapore's drainage system, in a bid to reduce pollution and protect the water supply. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

LAWS have been tightened to regulate the quality of used water entering Singapore's drainage system, as part of moves to reduce pollution and protect the country's water supply.

Under a pair of Bills passed by Parliament yesterday, regulations have been tightened and higher penalties imposed to reduce the amount of silt and dangerous substances in the water fed into the drainage system.

Specific and higher penalties for those who damage pipes and other water infrastructure were also laid out in amendments made to the Public Utilities Act and Sewerage and Drainage Act, which the House passed after a debate during the second reading.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the new measures were necessary as Singapore intends to expand its water catchment area, which now makes up two-thirds of the island.

'To do this, we must keep our land, waterways and reservoirs clean. Any pollution... will make the water more difficult and costly to treat,' he said.

The changes also close the loop on the country's water management cycle, by allowing national water agency PUB to take over the running of several sewage treatment plants that were built and run by private owners.

Primarily located in remote areas, these treat used water before discharging it into the drainage system. The PUB will start overseeing the operations, maintenance and repair of all such treatment plants by June.Experts said the new water quality laws are likely to affect construction companies the most, as they now have to install silt-control measures and dig trial trenches to make sure that their projects will not damage water pipes, before they can start work.

But Mr Guna, 39, a site superintendent with Tiong Seng Contractors, said most construction companies already carry out both procedures. 'Disruptions to the water supply these days affect many more people, so it's good to be careful,' he said.

During the debate, opposition MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) had raised concerns that the proposed amendments to the laws could mean higher water prices.

But Dr Balakrishnan assured MPs that the move to reclassify two PUB fees - sanitary appliance and waterborne fees - as taxes were to better reflect the tax contribution to the national used water system. It would not affect current water price rates nor the structure of water charges.

'I am not making any announcements on new rates or new charges. That's not on the cards at this point in time.'


Background story


'We must keep our land, waterways and reservoirs clean. Any pollution... will make the water more difficult and costly to treat.'

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, on our water catchment areas


'While you want to be more green, you don't want to impose costs on your consumers. That's why we're technology-agnostic and very careful... in rolling out green renewable sources of energy.'

Dr Balakrishnan, on the authorities' approach to going green

Stiffer penalties for those who pollute water catchment
Wong Jiahui Alicia Today Online 10 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE - Stiffer penalties will be slapped on those who damage water infrastructure or installations as well as those who pollute the water catchment.

The authorities are also seeking to expand the pool of enforcement officers.

Yesterday, Parliament passed amendments to the Public Utilities Act. Under the changes, those who damage water installations - such as waterworks and desalination plants - could fined up to S$200,000 and/or jailed up to three years.

Those who damage water infrastructure will pay higher penalties commensurate with the severity of the damage. Any person who, for instance, damages a water main managed by national water agency PUB could be fined up to S$40,000 and/or jailed up to three months. If the water main is 300mm or more in diameter, he or she could be fined up to S$200,000 and/or jailed up to three years.

Previously, any person who damaged PUB property could be fined up to S$10,000 and/or jail of up to three years.

To avoid damaging underground infrastructure, thorough site investigations will be required before any excavation, piling or similar work is done. Trial trenches must also be dug to physically ascertain the location of any water mains or sewers.

PUB will be allowed to authorise any persons to perform any function or duty subject to conditions specified by the agency.

According to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, PUB is considering engaging agents for catchment surveillance and for the enforcement of laws regulating minor offences such as littering or causing nuisance at reservoir parks and waterways.

The Sewerage and Drainage Act will also be amended to put in place an additional tier of penalties for damages to larger infrastructure in the used-water system (pipes of 0.9m or more in diameter): Those found guilty will be liable to a fine up to S$200,000 and/or jailed up to two years.

Noting that the "challenge of meeting the water needs of our population and economy will be even more complex", Dr Balakrishnan said the amendment that will be put in place "safeguards to enable the expansion of our local water catchments, to protect our NEWater production and to protect key infrastructure across our entire water loop".

Other changes to the Sewerage and Drainage Act include the requirement of adequate control measures for silt discharge at work sites before any work takes place - an order may be issued to stop the works if the measures are inadequate. The maximum fine for those who fail to comply is raised from S$20,000 to S$50,000.

Dr Balakrishnan said a "pre-emptive approach to controlling pollution is necessary" as Singapore continues to expand the water catchment area and any water pollution in these areas would make the water more difficult and costly to treat.

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Malaysia: Thorough Study On Erosion Of Beaches And River Banks To Be Done

Bernama 9 Apr 12;

SANTUBONG, April 9 (Bernama) -- The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will carry out a thorough study on the problem of erosion of beaches and river banks, particularly in populated areas, nationwide.

Its minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said among the main causal factors were rising sea levels due to the global climate change, affecting low-lying areas near beaches and rivers.

"The study will identify coastal areas and river banks which are at risk of erosion, especially heavily-populated areas," he said after visiting a wave breaker project in Kampung Santubong, here, Monday.

Uggah said besides the coastal areas of the Malaysian peninsula, focus would also be given to the coastal areas of Sarawak and Sabah, especially in Miri, Limbang, Bintulu and Santubong, and the banks of the two states' main rivers.

He said the government was prepared to provide a big allocation to overcome the problem.


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Bat-killer fungus likely came from Europe: study

Kerry Sheridan AFP Yahoo News 9 Apr 12;

A deadly fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in North America is likely caused by a pathogen that came from Europe, international researchers said on Monday.

White-nose syndrome (WNS), caused by a pathogen Geomyces destructans, was first observed to be killing bats in a cave in upstate New York in 2006, and has since killed some 6.7 million bats in the United States and Canada.

But the epidemic has not been seen in Europe, leading researchers to wonder if the disease may have been introduced from abroad by tourists who unwittingly brought the fungus into US bat caves.

A research team decided to test this idea by exposing a population of little brown bats from the Canadian province of Manitoba, where WNS has not afflicted the population, to strains originating from the United States and Germany.

One group was exposed to the US strain of the fungus, while another group was exposed to the German type.

The European type was first seen to start killing bats after 71 days, while the North American type began killing bats on day 88, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The results of this experiment are really quite strong evidence of that invasive pathogen idea," said lead author Craig Willis, an associate professor of biology at the University of Winnipeg, in an interview with AFP.

"If anything the European version was a little bit nastier."

European bats have likely evolved some resistance to the pathogen over time, Willis explained. Recent research has shown that some hibernating bats in Europe are infected with the pathogen but that it does not kill them.

North American bats have not evolved that same level of protection and are more vulnerable to the disease, which causes them to wake frequently during hibernation and subsequently waste needed body fat reserves.

The disease gets its name from the light-colored fungus that clusters around the bats' ears, nose and wings.

In some ways, the finding is good news because it suggests that European bats are not at risk from a North American strain of the disease, though a study next year testing the US-Canada strain on European bats should provide more data.

However, the disease continues to wipe out bat populations -- so far afflicting four Canadian provinces and 16 US states -- with no end in sight.

Willis said researchers think the fungus was likely introduced by someone from abroad going into caves in New York state, because the disease was first documented in 2006 an area called Howe's Caverns that receives tens of thousands of visitors each year.

The outbreak of WNS has since spread 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) across the United States and into Canada.

"We know the fungus can survive and persist in the environment on climbing equipment and on boots and shoes and those types of things, so it is possible that someone tracked it into this cave," he said.

"We will probably never know for sure how it arrived but we know where it did arrive."

Now that scientists believe they are dealing with an invasive disease, efforts to control it may focus more intensely on how and when it spreads.

Bats tend to die from the disease during or after their hibernation period, but it is unclear if they spread the fungus as they move from cave to cave in the fall, or if survivors spread it when they emerge in the spring, or if it lives on during the summer only to turn lethal in the cold months.

"Managing the agents that spread the disease is the critical priority for bats and that is really hard to do because they travel so far and they are totally uncooperative -- they won't do what you tell them and they are really cryptic and hard to study," said Willis.

Bats are valuable to the economy because they provide natural pest control for forests and farms, with some research showing they are worth as much as $3.7 billion dollars per year to farmers.

The syndrome is particularly lethal for winter colonies of species that hibernate, including little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and the endangered Indiana bat, and wipes out up to 97 percent of colonies affected according to the United States Geological Survey.

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Polar Bears Have Symptoms Of Mystery Disease: U.S. Agency

Yereth Rosen PlanetArk 10 Apr 12;

Symptoms of a mysterious disease that has killed scores of seals off Alaska and infected walruses are now showing up in polar bears, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on Friday.

Nine polar bears from the Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were found with patchy hair loss and oozing sores on their skin, similar to conditions found in diseased seals and walruses, the agency said in a statement.

Unlike the sickened seals and walruses, the affected polar bears seem otherwise healthy, said Tony DeGange, chief of the biology office for the USGS's Alaska Science Center. There had been no deaths among polar bears, he said.

The nine affected bears were among the 33 that biologists have captured and sampled while doing routine studies on the Arctic coastline, DeGange said.

Patchy hair loss has been seen before in polar bears, but the high prevalence in those spotted by the researchers and the simultaneous problems in seal and walrus populations elevate the concern, he said.

The USGS is coordinating with agencies studying the other animals to investigate whether there is a link, he said.

"There's a lot we don't know yet, whether we're dealing with something that's different or something that's the same," he said.

The disease outbreak was first noticed last summer. About 60 seals were found dead and another 75 diseased, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Most of the affected seals are ringed seals, but diseased ribbon, bearded and spotted seals were also found.

Several walruses in northwestern Alaska were found with the disease, and some of those died as well, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The diseased seals and walruses, many of them juveniles, had labored breathing and lethargy as well as the bleeding sores, according to the experts. The agencies launched an investigation into the cause of the disease, which has also turned up in bordering areas of Canada and Russia.

Preliminary studies showed that radiation poisoning is not the cause, temporarily ruling out a theory that the animals were sickened by contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Spread of the disease among seals continues. A sickened and nearly bald ribbon seal pup was found about a month ago near Yakutat on the Gulf of Alaska coastline, according to the agency. The animal was so sick it had to be euthanized.

All of the afflicted species are dependent on Arctic sea ice and considered vulnerable to seasonal ice loss.

Polar bears are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and listings are being considered for the Pacific walrus and for the ringed, bearded and ribbon seals.

(Editing by Greg McCune; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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