Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jun 12

Special anemones at Terumbu Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Singapore's City Reef @ Kusu Island
from Peiyan.Photography

Life History of the Acacia Blue (Surendra vivarna amisena)
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Quality of gardens, community participation improved significantly: NParks

Hanna Begam Channel NewsAsia 9 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: The number of recipients for the Platinum Awards has nearly doubled at this year's Community in Bloom Awards.

The Community in Bloom Awards recognises excellence in gardening efforts by community groups in public and private housing estates, educational institutions and organisations.

The National Parks Boards (NParks) said this shows significant improvement in the quality of gardens and their level of community participation.

For four years now, community gardens have been ranked Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze - to help participants gauge their standing.

And this has proven successful - with the number of Platinum gardens increasing since.

Deputy Director for NParks, Ng Cheow Keng said community involvement has taken to greater heights, with community gardeners taking greater ownership of their gardens and expanding their reach.

This year, 257 community gardens took part in the competition, including 114 entries from public housing estates; 22 from private housing estates; 68 from educational institutions and 53 from organisations.

- CNA/fa

Platinum plots
Avid gardeners let their green fingers do the talking and win accolades for their efforts
Natasha Ann Zachariah Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

Parts of Singapore may be a concrete jungle but nature-loving residents are creating pockets of green in their own backyards.

Amateur gardeners, who volunteer in community gardens which can be found in residential estates, office spaces and schools, have set the bar high with their innovative and pretty patches of urban agriculture.

Their efforts under the sun so impressed the National Parks Board (NParks) that it gave out 47 platinum awards at this year's Community In Bloom Awards - up from 27 in 2010.

The results were finalised this week and awards will be presented to all gardening groups at the Singapore Garden Festival at the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre next month.

The biennial awards, in their fifth year, highlight and reward excellence in gardening efforts by community groups.

This year's crop of gardens has more quality offerings, says chief judge Tan Jiew Hoe, president of the Singapore Gardening Society and who has judged the awards since they started in 2005.

For example, one garden uses homemade compost to keep its growing methods organic while another, in a primary school, makes use of garden space to teach children about the lifecycle of butterflies.

Mr Tan says: 'When I started judging these gardens, the efforts were good. Now they have gone beyond that, improving on their garden design and growing healthy plants which are suitable for this environment.'

This year, 257 out of 480 community gardens took part in the contest - 114 entries were from public housing estates, 22 from private housing estates, 68 from educational institutions and 53 from organisations.

A committee of 12, from government agencies, professional bodies and interest groups, scored the gardens on their aesthetics, community involvement, how well they sustained interest and environmental quality and biodiversity.

Gardens are ranked into achievement bands - platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

Additionally, 11 special awards under the categories of Best Community Garden, Best New Community Garden - open to gardens under two years old - and a new section, Environment And Biodiversity, were given out.

Life! visits four platinum award-winning gardens.

Eco-garden for learning
Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

Lakeside Primary School

Won: Platinum Award for educational institutions and Environment And Biodiversity Award

Sitting in class and poring over textbooks is not the only way Lakeside Primary School pupils learn about plants and animals. Stepping outside, they get an interactive outdoor classroom where they are closer to nature, right down to tilling the soil and watching butterflies grow.

As an introduction to science, the Primary 4 pupils have their own ecogarden where they get to sow seeds for vegetables such as kailan.

They go down at recess and also spend their own time after school tending the garden. Three weeks later, they have the excitement of harvesting the vegetables and taking them home to eat.

Aside from the eco-garden, there is a herb garden with mint and parsley as well as a butterfly garden. Together, the three gardens take up about 750 sq m in the school grounds.

Pupils learn about the lifecycle of butterflies through an incubating 'aquarium' where caterpillars emerge from cocoons as butterflies. There are several species of plants that serve as host and nectar plants for butterflies, attracting the likes of the swallowtail butterfly and common mormon variety.

Mrs Naseema Ansar, head of the school's science department, says: 'It's authentic and engaged learning for the children. Many of them live in flats or homes where they don't have a chance to interact with plants or insects, so this is their chance.'

The school has tapped the knowledge of a resident who lives nearby. Mr Tony Yau, 58, is a semi-retired businessman who also tends a community garden at nearby Lakeside Grove.

He began going to the school regularly six months ago to teach about recycling items such as old shoes into pots for plants and making mini-garden terrariums, which the pupils give to old folks at nearby care centres.

Aside from recycling, the pupils also make their own compost to fertilise plants and use organic pesticides.

Primary 5 pupil Yong Wei Jing, 11, is a member of the school's eco-enviro- engineers club, which takes care of the garden as its extra-curricular activity.

The young gardening enthusiast, who grows a peanut plant in his home, says: 'I like nature and working in the garden brings me closer to it.'

Chipping in with expertise
Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

Bukit Gombak Hillview Garden Neighbourhood Committee

Won: Platinum Award for private housing estates and Environment And Biodiversity Award

Four years ago, a plot of land at Jalan Remaja in the Hillview private estate consisted of just a few palm trees and an unused septic tank buried in the ground.

But where some saw disused land, local resident Joe Chan, 60, saw it as an opportunity to start a garden.

Today, the garden is home to vegetable patches, flowering shrubs and fruit trees. The plot, which won a gold achievement band at the 2010 Community In Bloom Awards, draws residents out of their homes to socialise more with one another.

Volunteer numbers at the garden have grown significantly. It started with about 10 regular residents helping to dig and plant seedlings. Now, there are about 50 active members.

Mr Chan, chairman of the neighbourhood committee, says the garden has drawn people of different races, ages and jobs to lend their expertise. For example, in the early days of choosing the crops to plant, the team consulted a couple who were previously vegetable farmers on suitable plants and how to grow them.

The residents are also keeping their garden organic, using compost they make from fruit skins or chicken dung.

Retired nurse Tan Kee Wong, 65, digs holes in her own garden to bury the compost for about six months to ferment. Once it is ready, she uses it at the community garden as fertiliser. 'It's a healthier option for us because we eat what we grow and there isn't any chemical in it.'

Mr Chan says they always welcome more residents to help out in whatever way they can. 'Starting a garden is not difficult. Maintaining it is.'

A company in a garden
Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

Won: Platinum Award for organisations and Best Community Garden Award

Visitors to the Singapore Technologies Kinetics compound in Boon Lay are often surprised at how many trees, plants and flowers there are.

After all, the company is known more for its land systems and speciality vehicles for military purposes than for its flora.

But the company has about 16,000 plants - all grown by staff at the 3,400-strong office.

Bamboo, hibiscus and bougainvillea shrubs line carparks and parameters of the factory, while there are six small gardens, such as the Heritage Garden, The People's Garden and the Garden In Bloom, inside.

The head of management systems and processes department, Mr Yeap Khek Teong, 51, says when the gardening programme started in 2008 with a tree- planting ceremony, the aim was to get each staff member to plant one tree or shrub each year. It has been a success, with each person planting at least two.

'Having plants and flowers here breaks the harshness of the place, which has barbed wire and cameras around it. It's also a good way for staff to get out of the office and meet people from other departments.'

Staff also use materials they commonly work with, such as industrial-sized PVC pipes, barrels and helmets, to transform the grounds into a blooming garden, growing everything from orchids to herbs and vegetables.

The harvested crop is free for all to take. Those who do not have green thumbs make a donation instead to help fund the garden, keeping them involved in the greening process, says Mr Yeap.

Gardening enthusiast Regina Tan (above), 60, gets excited about going to work, as she can tend to her Cat Whiskers plant (pictured above). She likes its beautiful spray of purple and white flowers and the fact that its leaves can be dried and used for tea with herbal and detoxifying qualities.

The senior executive, who provides administrative support for kinetics design and manufacturing, says: 'I even come back here on Saturdays to tend to the flowers. It's good that the management supports us doing this.

'Every time I come to work, it feels like a company in a garden.'

A green spot to meet neighbours
Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

Thomson Sin Ming Garden Residents' Committee

Won: Platinum Award for public housing estates and Best New Community Garden Award

Just nine months ago, a gateball court sat under-utilised on a patch of land in Sin Ming Avenue.

Not many people there were interested in playing the croquet-like game, so the court went unused, says resident Linda Shee, 59.

After petitioning their Member Of Parliament to let them use the space to create a garden (right), residents there are now honing their gardening skills, growing everything from vegetables to ornamental plants.

It has been a period of trial and error for them when it comes to growing the plants. At first, many plants died quickly.

The solution, says Ms Shee, who lives across the road from the garden, was to plant crops such as kang kong that have a short growing period. The housewife says: 'That way, we can start growing again and can try to grow the new plants better if it doesn't turn out well the first time.'

Much of the cash to pay for seedlings, bricks and soil comes from the residents themselves, with some funding from their town council and NParks.

They have also been resourceful and innovative, using an old wooden bed and discarded chair frames to make a cosy resting corner for them to rest and talk.

About 40 regular residents take care of the garden. There are herb plants such as the sabah snake leaf, vegetables such as ladyfinger, and fruit and flowers such as papaya, loofah and Japanese rose plants. During the school holidays and weekends, many children help out as well.

After harvesting, they give the produce to other residents or sell it at various community events and put the money back into the garden.

Says Ms Shee: 'For the residents, it's a place to chit-chat and meet everyone in the area. For those who have an interest in gardening, now they have a place to work on plants.'

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Tackling crow woes in housing estates

Fewer unpleasant episodes reported after NEA action
Cherie Thio Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

WHEN Bedok North resident Goh Eng Huat leaves food out in the open in his kitchen, his one big fear is not the creepy crawlies but the crowds of crows in his estate.

'Since last year, there have been more of them and it is a problem,' said the 27-year-old, who works in a moving company. He has lived in the area for about 10 years.

Other complaints include the birds swooping down on the heads of residents and their droppings making a mess of the day's washing hung out to dry.

'They flew towards my head once and although I dodged them, it was very frightening because they are big birds,' said Customs officer K. Shirah, 23.

But such unpleasant episodes are fewer these days, residents said, after the National Environment Agency (NEA) began culling the birds a few months ago.

Three nests in the area have also been removed, an NEA spokesman told The Straits Times.

The crow situation is not peculiar to Bedok North, noted veteran nature guide Subaraj Rajathurai.

Last year, the three hot spots for crow complaints were Bishan Street 13, Yishun Ring Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.

Yishun Ring Road had also topped the list the previous year, with 67 people calling about the pesky feathered creatures. But last year, only 34 people called in.

'There are far fewer crows now because the NEA came to shoot them,' said Yishun resident Jimmy Tok, 65.

In 2008, the birds were a pest in the Orchard Road area. Car owners complained about bird poop on their vehicles parked opposite Cathay Cineleisure Orchard.

But the area is no longer plagued by the birds, said the NEA spokesman, after cleaning was intensified and culling introduced.

Indeed, the overall crow situation in Singapore has improved significantly in the last 10 years, said Mr Subaraj. He credits it to a study done by the late conservation scholar Navjot Sodhi in 2000.

The two-year study found that the crow population can be shrunk not only by shooting the birds, but also by covering public garbage bins and clearing hawker centre tables of food scraps.

As a result, their numbers have dropped from 120,000 in 2000 to about 10,000 five years later - a 90 per cent plunge.

The figure has hardly changed since then.

There are also fewer complaints to the NEA about crow attacks, nest sightings and the noise they make. Last year, it received 1,918 complaints, about 10 per cent fewer than the 2,107 in 2010.

Crows do not gather in any particular area, said Mr Subaraj. Instead, they 'go where there is food to be found'.

And it is unusual for crows to attack people, he added. They tend to swoop only at those who walk near their nests as they 'feel threatened'.

The best prevention is not to leave food in the open for them to scavenge, said Mr Subaraj, as he urged people to tie tightly their rubbish bags.

Bedok North residents who spoke to The Straits Times said part of the problem in their estate is a woman who feeds the crows daily.

'Many birds will flock to the ground floor of her block because she throws food for them out of her fifth-floor unit,' said Mr Goh.

Bird Problem

Singapore's crow population is about 10,000 - roughly the same as in 2005. It was 120,000 in 2000.

Last year, the NEA received 1,918 complaints about crows. This is about a 10 per cent drop from the 2,107 it received in 2010. The figures represent the number of people calling about crow attacks, nest sightings and noise nuisance.

Last year, the three hot spots for crow complaints were Bishan Street 13, Yishun Ring Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.

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Malaysia: Fishermen 'destroying fish habitat'

New Straits Times 9 Jun 12;

GEORGE TOWN: The Consumer's Association of Penang (CAP) has warned that Malaysian waters would be left with zero marine resources if fishermen continued to use destructive techniques in fishing.

The use of trawl nets, pukat buaya (crocodile net) and pukat Apollo (pair-trawl net) had caused a negative impacts on the seabed and marine environment, thus causing shortage of fish in the country.

CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris said many trawlers fished at breeding and nursery grounds, and were using nets that might catch schools of fish fry, which depleted their population.

He said in 2003, Malaysia's annual total fish landing exceeded the maximum sustainable yield, which was 900,000 tonnes, including a high percentage of "trash" fish.

"Marine life habitats such as mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs, which are sanctuaries for reproductions and regeneration of marine life such as fish, prawns and crabs have been destroyed."

Idris said the rampant use of inappropriate fishing technologies and small mesh nets had been going on for too long, causing several fish species to become extinct.

"These fishing gear destroy the small fish and shrimps, and also the seabed," he said, adding that 60 marine species could no longer be found in waters off the northern states.

"After speaking to almost 40 fishermen from Penang, Kedah and Perlis, we were shocked to find that over 60 species of fish have disappeared from our waters," he said.

Some of them were bawal, senangin buih, selangat, kembong and four different types of pari.

Idris warned that Malaysians might not have any fish to eat in another 20 years and suggested that the authorities ban fishing during the spawning period in fish spawning areas, as practised in India and China.

CAP also urged the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry to impose stiffer penalties on those who flout the law.

‘Ban seafood export’
Han Kar Kay The Star 9 Jun 12;

THE export of seafood should be banned as it will lead to the depletion of fish stocks in the country, said Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohammed Idris.

He said interviews with some 40 fishermen in the northern region, including those from Penang, Kedah and Perlis, revealed that more than 60 marine species were no longer found in the country’s waters.

Among some of the marine species reportedly depleting are the rayfish, pomfret and shark.

“CAP is concerned that overfishing, trawl fishing and the small mesh size could contribute to the decline of the fish population.

“We need to ensure that fish stocks are sustainable in the long-term for the benefit of locals,” he told a press conference at the CAP office in Jalan Masjid Negeri, Penang, yesterday.

To ensure fish stocks are sustainable, Mohamed Idris called for a ban on trawl fishing and fishing during spawning that varies depending on the fish type.

“Besides, the usage of carpet clam nets (pukat siput retak seribu), boat seine (pukat kisa) and push-nets (pukat rawa sorong) should also be regulated,” he added.

Penang Fisheries Department director Mohd Sidek Md Jahaya, when contacted, said the department viewed the trawling issue seriously.

“We constantly try to overcome the issue from time to time.

“However, it is difficult for us to track down the trawlers who have modified their nets to increase their catch,” he said.

When asked on the suggestion to ban export of seafood, Mohd Sidek explained that only certain grades of fish were exported to other countries.

“This is because of the low demand of these fish among the locals.

“Export of fish also helps to increase the fishermen’s income,” he added.

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