Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jun 12

16 Jun (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa Boardwalk trip with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Hornbills, Wild boars, marine critters and OTTERS at Chek Jawa Shore from Peiyan.Photography

World Oceans Day Cleanup 2012 – 75 clear 1.5 tonnes of trash in light rain! from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and Peiyan.Photography and Nature Rambles

from Life's Indulgences

Changi rocky shore with friends
from wonderful creation

Another Quiet Outing at USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

As close to Tekong as I’ll ever get (probably)!
from Nature rambles and Kusu Island has awesome reefs!

Read more!

Expansion plans underway at Semakau Landfill

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 10 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: Work is underway to expand the landfill site on Semakau Island.

Semakau, located among the Southern islands of Singapore, is the world's first offshore landfill created entirely from sea space.

A 160-hectare lagoon at Semakau Landfill is set for a transformation and will soon become a landfill site as part of Phase Two of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) plans to expand the landfill area on the island.

Currently, a 190-hectare of sea space is being used in Phase One of operations.

General manager of Semakau Landfill NEA, Ong Chong Peng, said: "We are actually land-filling the sea space, the so-called Phase One sea space. Based on the current usage and based on the projections of the waste growth, sometime by 2015, the Phase One sea space will be used up. So right now we started early last year, we started the planning for Phase Two."

Operations at Semakau started in 1999. It is Singapore's only off-shore landfill. The island receives more than 1,700 tonnes of incineration ash every day. It's expected to meet Singapore's landfill needs, till 2045 or beyond.

Talks are underway with other government agencies.

Mr Ong said : "For the future expansion of Semakau landfill, we really have to discuss with the authorities, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, Singapore Land Authority, so that's actually the long term plan. But we did have some initial discussion with them."

With expansion plans underway, the National Environment Agency said it's committed to conserving the thriving eco-system at Semakau.

Mr Ong said" "First (it) is to make sure our landfill operations are carried out properly, and also there's no pollution to the surrounding environment. And also, to make sure our perimeter, the structure, the stability of the perimeter bunds are properly maintained. To keep this surrounding water pollution free. So this is the first effort, to make sure the biodiversity can continue to thrive."

The agency said it will call for a tender once its design proposal is approved.

Details will be released at a later date.

- CNA/ck

"Monster Fish" explorer visits Semakau Island
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 10 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: He made his name on the National Geographic channel as the "Monster Fish" explorer.

But on Sunday, marine ecologist Zeb Hogan was in Singapore giving a lesson on conservation at Semakau Island - the world's first offshore landfill.

It's not something that many get a chance to do - exploring Semakau Landfill's inter-tidal area with "Monster Fish" Explorer Zeb Hogan.

Zeb Hogan is known for travelling around the world introducing some of the world's large fishes.

And while there was no "monster fish" to look at, Zeb Hogan said there was still plenty to see and even touch.

"I was surprised when I came to Semakau because it's a landfill - Semakau Landfill. I didn't know what to expect and being out here, there's so much life out here. That was the most surprising thing.

"The biodiversity here, in the inter-tidal zone in Semakau, is equally rich to what I've seen in other areas in other inter-tidal zones. So, that was surprising, seeing so many different kinds of sponges, crabs, different species of shrimps, many different species of fish, very rich life," Hogan shared.

From crabs and sea stars, to an array of colourful coral species, it might be hard to believe Semakau is also where Singapore buries its incinerated rubbish.

It receives about 1,773 tonnes of incineration ash and 557 tonnes of non-incinerator waste daily.

Operations began in 1999.

The island is expected to meet Singapore's landfill needs till 2045 or beyond.

Zeb Hogan said: "Landfills don't normally serve any purpose except for a place to put garbage. And here, the landfill serves two purposes. One is the landfill and the other is the biodiversity conservation zone, and that's unique and makes it very nice to see."

Participants clearly loved the experience.

Stephanie Chew said: "It's a good experience to be outdoors, I would definitely encourage everyone to try. It's also makes a big difference from our air-conditioned shopping centres and it's good to get a breath of fresh air".

Myke Motus said: "I'm a fan of Monster Fish and I watch him most of the time and it's a pleasure meeting him here and talking to him and having an adventure with him."

Despite it being an island for trash, care has been taken to preserve the area's biodiversity.

One way is by ensuring that the island's perimeter bunds are properly maintained to keep the sea, pollution free.

- CNA/ck

Semakau reaching first-phase capacity
Adrian Lim my paper Asia One 11 Jun 12;

Rubbish is serious business, especially in land-scarce Singapore, whose only landfill site is found on the offshore island of Pulau Semakau.

The use of Pulau Semakau as a landfill site is split into two phases and, yesterday, it was revealed that the 350ha site will reach its full capacity for Phase One by 2015.

But this figure is on track, according to an estimate by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The NEA plans to utilise the island as a waste-disposal ground until 2045 and beyond.

Phase One - which got its start in 1999 - will utilise over 170ha, with a landfill volume of 11.4 million cu m.

Phase Two is still in its "planning and design stage", said Mr Ong Chong Peng, general manager of Semakau Landfill.

He added that "there has been a steady increase in waste coming to Semakau in the past three years".

He attributes this rise to a variety of factors, from Singapore's population and economic growth, to the arrival of the two integrated resorts.

One way to ensure Semakau's longevity and to help reduce the amount of waste - which consists mainly of incinerated ash from Singapore - going to Semakau is to recycle, said an NEA spokesman.

Singaporeans currently recycle only 59 per cent of their waste, the spokesman added. NEA's target is for the recycle rate to reach 65 per cent by 2020, and 70 per cent by 2030.

The update on Semakau's status was revealed yesterday, when marine ecologist Zeb Hogan visited the island.

Besides acting as a landfill, Semakau is a wildlife haven that is rich in mangroves and coral reefs.

Dr Hogan - who hosts National Geographic's Monster Fish programme - led a group of 40 nature lovers on a tour of Semakau, as part of a collaboration between the television channel and the NEA. While there, he commented on Semakau's marine diversity.

"The anemones, sponges, crabs and some of the fish here are different from what I've seen in other places. What's here is unique," said Dr Hogan, who is an assistant research professor at the University of Nevada in Reno.

He had never visited Semakau, whose landfill was created using a 7km-perimeter rock bund built to enclose a part of the sea off Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng.

The bund is lined with an impermeable membrane and a layer of marine clay, to ensure that the waste is contained within the landfill.

"Semakau is right in the middle of a busy area, (with) lots of boat traffic... It's surprising that (the marine life) is so intact and so healthy," Dr Hogan said after his visit.

Growing landfill is no wasteland
Semakau Island to be expanded but its thriving eco-system will be conserved
Olivia Siong Today Online 11 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE - Semakau Island, the world's first offshore landfill, is set to be expanded to cover a 160ha lagoon on the island.

This is Phase 2 of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) plans to expand the landfill area on the island, which yesterday hosted a lesson on conservation by marine ecologist Zeb Hogan, the well-known explorer on the National Geographic Channel's Monster Fish.

The National Geographic Channel has worked with the NEA to feature Semakau Island on the former's Nature Journeys, seen through the eyes of Dr Hogan.

Currently, 190ha of sea space is being used in Phase 1 of operations. "Based on the projections of the waste growth, some time by 2015, the Phase 1 sea space will be used up," said the NEA's Semakau landfill general manager Ong Chong Peng. "So ... early last year, we started the planning for Phase 2."

Mr Ong said talks are under way with other government agencies over the expansion plans, but the agency remains committed to conserving the thriving eco-system at Semakau by making sure landfill operations are carried out properly.

It will also ensure that the perimeter bunds of the structure are properly maintained to keep the surroundings free of water pollution.

The agency said it will call a tender once its design proposal is approved. Details will be released at a later date.

Meanwhile, nature lovers enjoyed their outing with Dr Hogan yesterday on Semakau Island, which is home to crabs and sea stars and an array of colourful coral species.

Said Dr Hogan of the island: "I was surprised when I came to Semakau because it's a landfill. I didn't know what to expect and, being out here, there's so much life out here. That was the most surprising thing."

Semakau began operations in 1999 and receives about 1,773 tonnes of incineration ash and 557 tonnes of non-incinerator waste daily.

The island is expected to meet Singapore's landfill needs until 2045 or beyond.

Said participant Stephanie Chew of the experience: "It's a good experience to be outdoors. I would definitely encourage everyone to try. It also makes a big difference from our air-conditioned shopping centres and it's good to get a breath of fresh air".

Pulau Semakau landfill site to be expanded
Straits Times 12 Jun 12;

Another 160ha of landfill space will be added to the current 190ha on Pulau Semakau by 2015. -- PHOTO: NEW PAPER FILE

SINGAPORE'S offshore landfill is about to get larger.

Pulau Semakau currently has about 190ha of man-made cavities underneath it - roughly half the size of Sentosa. These 'cells' are used to dispose of waste, mostly ash from incinerated rubbish.

Under phase two of the National Environment Agency's expansion plans, another 160ha of landfill space will be added.

The existing site - which has been in use since 1999 and receives 2,330 tonnes of waste a day - is expected to be full in about three years.

The agency is working with other government bodies on the expansion, which is due to be finished by 2015.

A tender will be called once its design proposal is approved.

It is hoped that the site will carry on being used until 2045 and beyond.

Pulau Semakau is also the first to combine a landfill with a biodiversity conservation zone.


He waited 10 years, but what a catch
TV's Monster Fish host on S'pore visit shares his passion for research
Siau Ming En Straits Times 12 Jun 12;

FISHERMEN have to endure long waits before they reel in a catch but few arguably wait 10 years to land a whopper.

But that was how long Dr Zeb Hogan, host of National Geographic Channel documentary Monster Fish, took to track down the Mekong giant catfish.

Since 1997, the marine ecologist had spent time in northern Thailand, waiting for fishermen to haul in that catfish.

It was not till 2007, when Cambodian fishermen caught a 2.4m-long one, that he finally manage to tag what is believed to be the world's largest catfish.

The American conservationist was in town last weekend to lead 40 Singaporeans on a tour of Pulau Semakau, the world's first offshore landfill. It was organised by the National Geographic Channel and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The host of Monster Fish, whose fourth season is being shot, said painstaking work is common in his area of research.

'There are so many times when we go somewhere and have an idea of the work we want to do, but we can't find the fish,' said the 38-year-old based in Oregon.

It helps that he 'loves travelling, learning about new fish, going to new places with the television show and my research'.

The remote areas that he visits come with extreme weather conditions.

He recalled a trip to northern Australia three years ago when conditions were extremely hot and dry.

He wanted to take a cool dip but his hopes were dashed by the sight of five to six bull sharks swimming in the vicinity.

These sharks have been known to attack humans.

'Extreme conditions, yes, but I don't want to have a near-death experience,' said Dr Hogan, whose passion for the outdoors and animals started from young.

'When I was in junior high and high school, I did things like the science club and volunteered at an aquarium,' he said.

'I think a lot of children are curious about animals, and for some, they lose that feeling after a while, but I never lost it.'

But he started thinking about conservation only after a trip to Thailand in 1997.

He saw a Mekong giant catfish for the first time that was netted by fishermen there.

It dawned on him that it could be extinct before people worldwide had a chance to see it.

'That made me sad, we had all of these fish that people don't even know about and they could be gone,' he said.

He was also surprised by the biodiversity at Pulau Semakau.

'Semakau Island is being used by Singapore as a landfill, but when you're out there, it doesn't feel like a landfill at all,' he noted.

The island, where landfilling started in 1999, receives about 1,773 tonnes of incineration ash and 557 tonnes of non-incinerator waste daily. In 2005, the NEA opened the place to the public for recreational activities.

Dr Hogan said he saw different species of fish, crab, giant clam and starfish, but what really took him by surprise were stingrays.

'I wasn't really expecting them but I saw a few; they were really brightly coloured and fairly large,' he said.

Water runs in a desert boy's blood
Ng Jing Yng Today Online 16 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE - He plodded through the ankle-deep waters in his flip-flops - no tricked-out adventurer's gear, despite his celebrity status - and his ears pricked up like an eager schoolboy's whenever he heard a ripple in the distance.

Marine ecologist Dr Zeb Hogan was clearly in his element exploring the world's only offshore landfill, which held some surprises for the man who has spent 15 years studying and exploring freshwater ecosystems around the world.

Confessing, after his first recce trip to Pulau Semakau, that he did not expect it to be bursting with "all kinds of life", the 38-year-old stooped to touch sea creatures and paused to admire the huge corals.

But preoccupied as he seemed with his immediate surroundings, some innate sense was keyed to the deeper seawaters 300m away. "Did you see those swirls?" exclaimed the host of Monster Fish. "Those must be the fishes ... I'm curious what's out there."

The Arizona native and National Geographic Channel host was here last weekend to film a clip on the Semakau Landfill, in a partnership between the channel and the National Environment Agency. On Sunday, he returned to the island as guide to 40 Singaporeans.

It may seem a mite peculiar for a boy born in a hot desert state to end up doing what he does - going around the world in search of giant freshwater fish. His dad is an economist and his two brother are bankers.

But Dr Hogan says he grew up loving the water - he was swimming at age two - and never had a doubt about what he was going to do. In junior high, he worked in an aquarium and as an undergraduate served as a research assistant surveying fishes.

At age 23, he went to Chiang Mai University in 1997 as a Fulbright scholar and witnessed the capture of an impressive giant Mekong catfish by a fisherman. Sadly, that was the last year that it was possible to catch such fish in large numbers; their numbers plunged thereafter.

Said Dr Hogan: "What really hit me was that this is probably the world's largest freshwater fish, and it could easily go extinct without anyone knowing about it." The assistant research professor at the University of Nevada-Reno has since been studying the giant catfish and other large fish of the lower Mekong River.

While environmental consciousness is inherent in his work, Dr Hogan is a subtle, not strident, advocate. Pressed by reporters for his views on shark-finning, he did not criticise those who eat shark's fin, only stating that he didn't. He prefers to speak through his actions, he told TODAY.

He said protecting the environment is everyone's job, citing the Semakau Landfill as an example: "It got me thinking of the need to recycle ... I was throwing away a bottle in my hotel room and I thought about how it would end up in the landfill."

The life of a NatGeo host requires being away from home for long periods. And yes, there are dangers, like a car crash in remote Mongolia five years ago where he injured his leg and medical facilities were several miles' walk away. He said: "I don't take things for granted. It is always a race for time to be around my parents and loved ones more often."

Read more!

Upper Bukit Timah residents, authorities reach compromise over land development

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 9 Jun 12;

SINGAPORE: Residents of Dairy Farm, Chestnut and Petir Road have reached an initial compromise with authorities over the development of a parcel of forest land.

The area's MP Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the consultation process is an example of "the way forward" where "plans are shared in advance, views are heard, constructive suggestions are made, and then incorporated into plans".

Dr Balakrishnan, as well as representatives from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Land Transport Authority, met some 200 residents at a dialogue session on Saturday.

The dialogue session was a culmination of four months of intense planning, consultation and meetings. The session lasted for two-and-a-half hours.

The issue for the gathering - the future plans for a 1.86-hectare of forest land between Dairy Farm Estate and Petir Road.

In March, the residents found out that the URA was going to put up the land for sale in June.

Some questioned the need to develop an area that over the years had been reclaimed by nature.

"We have a piece of land that over the last 40 years or so was reclaimed by nature. There are plenty of areas around Singapore that are abandoned industrial estates. I'm asking, why do you have to start the development...that particular plot of land that is fully forested now, instead of taking some of the wasteland that the development and progress has created today," asked a resident.

Others spoke of the need to preserve Singapore's natural areas to leave behind a legacy for future generations.

But instead of merely voicing their grouses, residents presented authorities with a detailed proposal, highlighting what authorities should consider when putting up the land for sale.

Among them - placing restrictions on the height of the development so as to not block the pristine views of the many low-rise housing and reviewing a proposal to extend a road along Jalan Pakis that may cut into a popular canal and jogging trail.

The months of planning and engaging authorities seemed to have paid off.

URA's deputy director of physical planning, Lim Teck Leong, shared one proposal that was incorporated into the plans.

He said: "Storey-height control will be one of the requirements. We intend to cap the storey-height between five to 15 (storeys)."

Authorities added they would also shelve plans to extend the road along Jalan Pakis, for now.

The URA said it would relocate the development of a commercial site from along Dairy Farm Road to Petir Road, after residents said the development would cause heavy congestion.

Dr Balakrishnan said the forest area in question had been part of the government's development plans for decades. He added authorities made sure the plot was not an encroachment of reserve area.

"We make long-term plans, and in Singapore, the PAP's long-term plans are for 50 to 100 years. For decades, we have already convinced ourselves that we would preserve nature reserve. We said we will confine our future development to areas outside the nature reserve," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Still, he assured residents that their views will be heard, and commended them for coming up with solutions.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "People were not just posturing. People were actively looking for solutions, for improvements. You can't get everything that you want, but you can make it better."

Resident Kevin Kho agreed, saying: "This consultative approach, this engagement from the ground is the way forward. We want to be part of our own nation-building."

Dr Balakrishnan said there will be continued engagement with residents.

- CNA/ir

URA amends plans for Dairy Farm site
Height restriction among moves to limit damage to environment from new development, following concerns raised by residents
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 10 Jun 12;

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday announced several changes to the building plans for a controversial site sale in the Upper Bukit Timah area.

In response to residents nearby who want the sale stopped to preserve the forest on it, the URA said it would limit the property development's damage to the environment.

Its measures include removing a planned road that would have cut into a canal-side jogging trail popular with residents.

The announcements were made yesterday at a dialogue with about 200 residents, held at the Senja-Cashew Community Centre.

The Member of Parliament for the area, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, attended the dialogue. Also present was was a representative from the Land Transport Authority.

The 1.86ha site along Dairy Farm Road, about the size of four football fields, borders the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and is slated for residential development.

Residents said that besides the environmental harm, towering condominiums on the site would change the atmosphere of the mostly low-rise neighbourhood.

Two nearby plots of land on the reserve's fringe already have 24-storey condominium blocks being built.

The dialogue lasted two and a half hours and drew many impassioned pleas from the residents for the Government to reconsider the sale of the site, which will be put on the market later this month.

They also asked the Government to consider building the homes elsewhere on cleared land, for example on disused industrial estates.

If this could not be done, the residents also presented an alternate plan for the area drawn up by well-known architect Tay Kheng Soon, who designed the low-rise Dairy Farm Estate next to the site.

His plan included five- and 10-storey housing blocks with generous gardens, surrounded by green borders.

'The concrete wall of the nearby canal should also be removed and the canal developed into a water park, like in Bishan Park,' he said in his plan.

In his closing remarks at the session, Dr Balakrishnan said the Government had struck a balance between preserving the country's natural heritage and advancing its progress.

He added that plans for the site development had been in place for decades.

Asked after the session whether the Government was concerned the saga would cause residents elsewhere to speak up against development plans, Dr Balakrishnan said he viewed it as a positive example for the way forward.

'Plans are shared in advance, views are heard, and constructive suggestions are made and incorporated into the plans,' he said. 'You can't get everything you want, but you can make it better. Conversation is beneficial.'

The minister later said on his Facebook page: 'We will form a local group to continue generating ideas to guide the developments in this precious area in the years ahead.'

Read more!

Anglers unhappy over bans at jetty

They want permission to use live bait and to fish at entire stretch of Admiralty jetty
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 10 Jun 12;

A 400m-long jetty in Admiralty has become the centre of a dispute between avid anglers and the authorities.

On one side is a group of about 200 anglers who want to be able to use live bait at the jetty, with some also wanting to fish in the entire stretch.

On the other side is the National Parks Board (NParks), which has always banned fishing along a narrow part of the Woodlands Waterfront Jetty because sharp hooks used by the anglers may hurt passers-by. It had also banned the use of live bait at the jetty two years ago after anglers preparing bait there left rotten messes.

NParks said its officers had received complaints from visitors about the hooks and litter while patrolling the jetty and its surrounding park. No fines have been issued so far.

Fishing is allowed along another part of the jetty, which is wider.

Since February, the anglers at the part of the jetty where fishing is legal have tried to convince NParks to reverse both bans.

About 200 anglers signed a petition to lift the ban on using live bait and submitted it in February to the area's MP, Mr Vikram Nair. They say it is impossible to catch anything substantial without live bait.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who was copied in the letter, said in his blog in March that NParks would work with the anglers on the issue.

A group of about 10 volunteers have also policed the legal part of the jetty almost every day since February to encourage others to clean up after themselves. They teach new anglers there safe fishing practices such as looking around before they cast their rods and hooks.

Mr Abdul Rashid Hashim, 37, a sales manager and the leader of the volunteer group, e-mailed NParks in April to outline a campaign using fliers to explain how to reduce accidents and unsightly litter at the jetty.

The fliers could also promote safety practices when fishing at night, during thunderstorms and when the jetty is congested, he said.

NParks said it had e-mailed Mr Abdul Rashid to ask for more detailed plans and is awaiting his reply. On this matter, Mr Abdul Rashid said NParks should instead set up a time and place to meet anglers and gather their feedback.

Anglers said that the jetty's cleanliness had improved in recent years, and that rubbish at the site is usually left by weekend picnickers or casual anglers who visit the jetty only once or twice a year.

Mr Michael Chia, an angler in his 40s who goes to the legal part of the jetty on weekends, said there will always be irresponsible anglers who give the group a bad name.

'But every group has its bad sheep. I hope the authorities can work with us to limit their numbers instead of banning the entire community,' he said.

Read more!

What's this plastic bag doing in the river?

Straits Times 10 Jun 12;


Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, with Ms Chak Huiping, chairman of the Pasir Ris Elias Community Club Youth Executive Committee, seated behind him, picking up a plastic bag while cleaning up Sungei Api Api yesterday.

He joined Pasir Ris West residents and young people as they did their part for the environment in cleaning up the river in this year's Kayak Kleanup. Most of the trash that they retrieved comprised plastic bottles, food wrappers and plastic bags.

To the surprise of many, a supermarket trolley was also found among the litter.

This year's event included a park and beach clean-up at Pasir Ris Park that took place simultaneously. A total of 250 people participated in the event.

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Carnival brings back spirit of kampung

Siau Ming En Straits Times 10 Jun 12;

The Bottle Tree Park in Yishun was transformed into a mini-kampung yesterday as part of a volunteer initiative to get Singaporeans to connect with their roots.

Organised by non-profit group Ground-Up Initiative, the event is the latest in Heritage Kampung, the group's five-month campaign which started in February.

The two-day carnival, which began yesterday, included several exhibitions that showcased popular kampung games, such as playing with marbles and kicking capteh - a game where players try to keep a shuttlecock in the air without using their hands.

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who visited the carnival yesterday, said that he hoped the event would encourage more to go outdoors and meet people.

He said: 'To me the kampung spirit is getting together as a community, rather than playing on your own PSP, Xbox and iPad.'

Business development director Caleb Ong, 35, was sewing up a set of 'five stones' - another popular traditional children's game - with his seven-year-old daughter at the event yesterday.

He said he brought his daughter to the event to let her experience the 'kampung spirit - the idea of sharing'.

The carnival is open today from 10am to 8pm. Admission is free.

Read more!

Gene hunter saving endangered species

Don aims to set up genetic database of endangered animals endemic to region
Chang Ai-Lien Straits Times 10 Jun 12;

Gene hunter Stephan Schuster, the latest big name to be hired by Nanyang Technological University, has sequenced the mammoth genome and is helping to save the critically endangered Tasmanian devil.

In Singapore, he wants to set up a genetic database of endangered animals endemic to the region.

His day job at the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering will look at how complex communities of microbial life can be harnessed in areas such as water purification. He will contribute his expertise in microbial genomics, DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to the understanding and biotechnological exploitation of microbial biofilms.

The centre aims to translate the mysterious life of microbial biofilms into environmental solutions, to better produce clean water, process waste and kill pathogens, for instance.

'The majority of microbial life live in complex communities and our goal is to engineer these communities from scratch for applications that can almost instantly give benefit to Singapore,' said Prof Schuster, who splits his time between NTU and Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

For instance, his team is working with PUB to detail how micro-organisms purify used water.

'We have libraries full of knowledge on how the engineering works in such facilities, but when it comes to what's happening inside the reactors, it's a black box. When we figure out why and how it works, we can make it better,' he said.

His passion, however, extends to larger life forms.

Four years ago, he shot to fame as part of the team which sequenced the genome of the woolly mammoth, the first extinct mammal to have its sequence deciphered.

'When the mammoth project first started, it was considered a scientific folly, but we were amazed later at the technology we developed in the course of the project that is relevant for practical areas such as biofilms.

'Even though it's extinct, it lives on in our collective memories and is a fantastic vehicle for science education. And again, it has been shown that basic research has unforeseen practical benefits further down the road.'

Clones of the long-extinct behemoth, however, are out of the question, he said.

What is more important, he noted, is that most of the mammoths examined had far less genetic diversity than other species that are still alive, and that may also give a clue into the biology of extinction.

So he applied this discovery to help save the endangered Tasmanian devil of Australia.

This same lack of genetic diversity is what could lead to the downfall of the critically endangered creature, he said.

The species is blighted by facial cancer which is threatening to send it the way of its extinct country-mates, the Tasmanian tigers.

Scientists first noticed devil facial tumour disease in 1996. The stocky marsupials began showing up in the north-eastern part of Tasmania with ugly, lethal tumours. Since then, the disease has spread throughout the island's devils, killing off as many as 90 per cent of them in some areas.

Captive breeding programmes, already in place to preserve cancer-free individuals, could encourage genetic mixing and even selecting of specific cancer-resistant genes if they knew which genes to look for, he suggested.

Like the ongoing effort to save the Tasmanian devil, his goal is to pick key endangered species and use the scientific knowledge gleaned from the mammoth project to help save them from the same fate.

The Singapore Zoo is a wonderful collection of endangered animals, he said, and his hope is to extend his research into animals of the region.

'My hidden agenda here is to understand genetic diversity of species and how it relates to the extinction, and use this data to aid species conservation efforts.'


Professor Stephan Schuster, 50, is a new cluster head at the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, at Nanyang Technological University.

As a professor at Pennsylvania State University, his work on unravelling the genomic sequence of the woolly mammoth was recognised in Science magazine's 'Insights of the Decade' section in 2010, after being named a 'Breakthrough of the Year' in 2008.

His work on sequencing the genomes of two individuals from southern Africa - a Bushman hunter-gatherer from Namibia, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a representative of the Bantu from South Africa - was recognised by Science magazine as a 'Breakthrough of the Year 2010'.

He has also stepped into the field of conservation biology by investigating the genetic diversity of the remaining population of the Tasmanian devil, the last marsupial predator that is acutely threatened by extinction.

Prof Schuster is also a renowned bioinformatician. He recently won first place in biotechnology company Illumina's iDEA (Data Excellence Award) Challenge 2011, for his contribution to the development of new software.

Chang Ai-Lien

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Malaysia: Sea Turtle Day celebrations to be held across three states

The Star 10 Jun 12;

PETALING JAYA: Turtle lovers are invited to show their support for the reptile in Terengganu, Malacca and Sabah in conjunction with the World Sea Turtle Day celebrations next Saturday.

Three locations in these states will mark the day with events aimed at raising awareness on the need to protect the endangered species and their nesting beaches.

As many as four of the seven sea turtle species can be found in Malaysia.

The events on June 16 are organised by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Malaysia in collaboration with various local agencies.

In Terengganu, the campaign, themed “Telur Penyu: Beli Jangan, Makan Pun Tidak!”, would be held at Bazaar Warisan, Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin, Kuala Terengganu, from 8.30am to 5pm.

Activities that will be held include face-painting, exhibitions, a talk by motivational speaker Dr Harlina Halizah Siraj and a special appearance by players from the Terengganu football team, Skuad Penyu.

Malacca, home to the largest population of Hawksbill turtles in Peninsular Malaysia, would hold its celebration at Dataran Pahlawan in Jalan Merdeka from 11am to 8pm.

Among the highlights are a turtle race and a pledge to save the turtles using origami.

In Semporna, Sabah, a two-day-one-night camp will be organised for children in conjunction with the celebration themed “Celebrating World Sea Turtle Day: Sea Turtle Camp”.

Treasure-hunt games on the beach and snorkelling trips would also be carried out. For further information, log on to

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Indonesian Ministry hails WWF`s guidelines for sustainable fisheries

Antara 10 Jun 12;

Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (ANTARA News) - The maritime affairs and fisheries ministry hails the recent publication of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)`s sustainable fisheries guidelines for Fisheries Better Management Practices.

The guidelines are in line with the current fishery trend which follows the code of conduct for responsible fisheries (CCRF), Endroyono, an official of the maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, said here, Sunday.

The guidelines will be distributed among others to fishermen, farmers, and fishery companies in Indonesia, he said.

WWF-NTT officer Yeni Nomeni said the Fisheries Better Management Practices (BMP) guidelines, the first ever published in Indonesia, are very applicable by fisheries actors; fishermen, farmers and fisheries companies.

The guidelines have been drafted from learning experiences of a WWF-Indonesia team when they worked with fishermen and farmers in several regions such as in Tarakan and Berau in East Kalimantan, Aceh, Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi, Solor Alor Isles in East Nusa Tenggara, Bali, and Bitung in North Sulwesi.

WWF-Indonesia`s National Fisheries Program Leader Imam Musthofa Zainuddin said WWF`s BMP for Sustainable Fisheries are different with other similar guidelines since they emphasize both sustainability aspect and operational level.

The complete set of sustainable fisheries guidelines for Fisheries Better Management Practices concern a number of major fisheries commodities, for instance groupers, snappers, shrimps, tuna and tilapia.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: East Nusa Tenggara`s coral reefs in critical condition

Antara 10 Jun 12;

Kupang (ANTARA News)- The coral reef ecosystem in East Nusa Tenggara is in critical condition due to human activities such as destructive fishing practices using homemade fertiliser bombs and potassium.

Until late 2011, around 23.5 percent of NTT`s coral reefs are seriously damage, and 58.8 percent moderately damage," NTT`s Fisheries Office Head Andreas Jehalu said here Sunday.

Only 17.6 percent of the province`s coral reefs are in good condition, he said in his remarks in the first commemoration of the Coral Triangle Day on June 9, 2012.

Around 75 percent of the world`s coral reefs are being threatened by both the climate change impacts and destructive human activities.

"If the condition continues, it`s projected that 20 years from now, roughly half the reefs globally will experience thermo stress sufficient to induce severe bleaching," he said. Within 50 years, the percentage will increase to more than 95 years.

At least one quarter to one third of all marine species inhabit coral reefs, making the coral reefs being the most endangered marine species in the world, and is even worse than frogs, he said.

Coral reefs are the most important habitats of marine species and the most crucial nutrition source for millions of people throughout the world, and it could protect coastal areas from storms, waves and floods. Millions of people earn their living from coral reefs.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

NTT observes Coral Triangle Day 2012
Antara 10 Jun 12;

Kupang (ANTARA News) - East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) supported the Coral Triangle Day 2012, which is observed for the first time in several Coral Triangle member countries, on June 9 this year at the initiative of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).

"The Coral Triangle Day is observed to promote the awareness of marine biodiversity conservation globally, therefore it should be supported," Vice Governor of East Nusa Tenggara Esthon Foenay said here on Sunday.

in Kupang, the activities of the Coral Triangle Day, which is part of the World Maritime Day, included beach clean-up, coloring contest and maritime bazaar, the vice governor said.

The Coral Triangle encompasses Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste. It is home to six of the world`s seven species of marine turtles, and a place where whales, dolphins, dugongs, and the world`s largest fish, the whale shark, live.

More than 120 million people also depend heavily on the region`s marine resources for food and income.

"The Coral Triangle is where a big portion of the world`s tuna supply comes from. From here, tuna finds its way to local markets and also on to your dinner table. It`s very likely that the seafood you enjoy at your favorite restaurants comes from the Coral Triangle, as it is home to thousands of the world`s reef fish species," said Dr Lida Pet-Soede, the head of the WWF Coral Triangle Programme on the official website of the Coral Triangle Day.

Located in the heart of Asia Pacific`s rapidly expanding economies, the Coral Triangle is facing incredible pressure from the region`s growing financial clout.

Increasing demands for food means that fishing boats are extracting tuna and reef fish out of the sea faster than populations can replenish themselves, and many are caught using highly damaging practices. People are also feeling the crunch, with climate change now dramatically altering the lives of millions of people.

The campaign has been developed through partnership of the WWF Coral Triangle Program and Dentsu Asia, together with WWF-Hong Kong, WWF-Indonesia, WWF-Malaysia, WWF-Philippines and the Asia Pacific Growth Team (APGT), with the support of WWF International.

MyCoralTriangle will be simultaneously launched on 3 November in four pilot markets: Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia and driven by the WWF national offices in these countries.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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90% of Balikpapan Coral Reefs Destroyed: Environmental Activists

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Post 10 Jun 12;

Balikpapan. Only a tenth of Balikpapan Bay’s original coral reefs remain today, with environmentalists blaming shipping activity and the destruction of mangrove swamps for the drastic degradation.

Mumum Saputra, the information and data coordinator for the Kalimantan Coastal Foundation, said on Friday that 89 to 90 percent of the reefs had been destroyed.

“The situation is critical,” he said.

He said the destruction of the reefs began in the 1970s with the development of Balikpapan when huge chunks of coral were blasted out of the seabed for use in construction.

But the main culprits in the past few years, Mumum said, were the increased shipping in the area and the clearing of Balikpapan’s mangrove swamps.

The mangroves, he pointed out, served as natural filters for the water from the Wain River emptying out into the bay. Without them, large amounts of sediment washed into the bay and smothered the coral reefs, eventually killing them.

“Dynamite fishing, which used to be a problem here, is no longer happening,” Mumum said. “So a lot of the destruction is due to ships and sedimentation.”

He said the only way to prevent the complete destruction of the remaining reefs was through a coordinated effort by the three regional administrations that share the bay.

Only 17 percent of Balikpapan Bay falls within Balikpapan’s jurisdiction. Most of it, 80 percent, is in North Penajam Paser district, while the remainder falls in Kutai Kartanegara.

He stressed the importance of preserving the reefs for their special value.

“These are among the most unique coral reefs in Indonesia, because they grow in a bay that is relatively isolated [from the sea],” he said.

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India: Sunderbans may soon feature on Ramsar list

Subhro Niyogi Times of India 9 Jun 12;

KOLKATA: State forest department is on the verge of completing the Ramsar information sheet on the Sunderbans Reserve Forest in India, a critical step towards being listed as a wetland of international importance.

If the proposal is accepted and Indian Sunderbans declared a Ramsar site, it will be the third prestigious citation for the mangrove delta. In 1987, UNESCO declared the Sunderbans National Park a World Heritage site and in 2001, the entire Indian Sunderbans was declared a Global Biosphere Reserve.

The world's largest contiguous mangrove ecosystem stretches over 10,200 sq km across India and Bangladesh. Of this, 4,263 sq km of reserve forest is in India and 5,937 sq km in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh section of the Sunderbans is already listed on the Ramsar site and is a World Heritage site. The Bangladeshi government recently provided an updated Ramsar information sheet on its Sunderbans Ramsar site, enlarging its area from 596,000 hectare to 601,700 hectare.

Speaking to TOI, Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director Pradeep Vyas said the fact sheet requiring information on map of Sunderbans, biodiversity, hot spots and vulnerability was nearing completion and would be forwarded to Ramsar authorities via the state government and the Union ministry of environment and forests.

"The Sunderbans was nominated for recognition as a Ramsar site by the Centre, but the documentation that is required could not be taken up till recently. Now, we have taken it up in earnest and will complete the process soon," he said.

Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including mangroves. It is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem.

International recognition aside, the Ramsar tag will help promote the Sunderbans as an ecotourism hot spot, it will also ensure better conservation as any threat to the ecosystem or change in character will mean derecognition and an international embarrassment.

Apart from being the world's largest tiger habitat, the mangrove forest in the Sunderbans is remarkable for the protection it provides to nearly 4.5 million people on the Indian side and another 3.5 million on the Bangladesh portion from tidal surge generated by cyclonic depression in the Bay of Bengal. About one third of the total area is used as protected area for the conservation of biological diversity. In addition, the abundant fish and biomass resources - timber, fuelwood, pulpwood, leaves, shells, crabs, honey and fish - are harvested by local communities. The Sunderbans is also a major pathway for nutrient recycling and pollution abatement.

The biodiversity of the Sunderbans is also diverse. The delta has the distinction of encompassing the world's largest mangrove forest belt with 84 identified flora species, of which 34 are true mangroves.

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