Best of our wild blogs: 11 Aug 12

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Singapore Planning Authorities
from AsiaIsGreen

Singapore’s First Crowd-sourced Nature Documentary
from Pulau Hantu

Batesian Mimicry
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Monitor Mayday
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

Visiting the ACRES Rescue Centre
from Lazy Lizard's Tales

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Khaw Boon Wan on recycling excavated materials

Julia Ng Channel NewsAsia 10 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE: In his latest blog entry, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan shared on Friday a little known story of how recycled excavated materials from Singapore's construction sites are turned into a useful construction resource.

(NEWater and New Earth? on National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan's blog.)

He noted that in most countries, excavated materials are dumped on land, which is unsightly and takes up precious space.

In Singapore, unwanted excavated clay and earth are used to reclaim and create new land. Mr Khaw coined this as "new earth".

Just as NEWater is an inspiring story of how Singapore overcame a shortage challenge, through an innovative way to reduce, reuse and recycle used water, Mr Khaw said such "new earth" is a better way to manage excavated materials.

He said last year, 8.5 million cubic metres of materials were excavated to build basement car parks and shops, underground expressways, and MRT tunnels.

Two main types of materials -- soft clay and good earth -- depending on the location and technique of excavation, are dug up.

With many infrastructure and development projects taking place in Singapore, the construction industry is generating a significant quantity of soft clay and good earth.

Some good earth is reused by the construction industry for their projects. As for soft clay, Mr Khaw said when properly treated, both soft clay and good earth can be used for land reclamation.

Currently, excavated materials from the private construction industry are received at the Changi Staging Ground for transport to Pulau Tekong, where they are reused for reclamation.

Earlier this year, lorry queues at the Changi Staging Ground have grown longer. Some Members of Parliament observed this and raised it in Parliament.

Mr Khaw said the longer queues were due to a spike in the amount of materials generated by the construction industry, causing a bottleneck at the Changi Staging Ground.

A number of large construction projects -- such as South Beach Development at Beach Road, Singapore's fourth university SUTD, Singapore Sports Hub, and the National Art Gallery -- with deep excavations, came on-stream at the same time.

To increase the handling capacity of the Changi Staging Ground, the authorities have extended the operating hours, added more weigh-bridges, built a stockpile pit, and also worked with contractors to spread out their deliveries to off-peak hours.

These efforts were underway, and the current congestion problem should ease, Mr Khaw added.

- CNA/cc

Changi congestion woes to ease soon: Khaw Boon Wan
Maria Almenoar Straits Times 10 Aug 12;

The congestion woes in Changi, where there are long lorry queues, is likely to ease soon.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, noting that MPs had raised this issue in Parliament earlier this year, said that the congestion was caused by the transportation of excavated materials to the Changi Staging Ground.

The area is more congested than usual with lorries as a number of construction projects with deep excavations are in progress at the same time, wrote Mr Khaw in his blog.

Lorries carry excavated materials from various construction projects around Singapore to Changi. The materials are later transported to Pulau Tekong to be reused for reclamation.

He explained that the National Development Ministry has already taken some steps to ease the situation, including extending the operating hours of the grounds and asking contractors to spread out their deliveries of excavated materials to off-peak hours among other things.

Where debris from construction sites goes
Daryl Chin Straits Times 11 Aug 12;

SINGAPORE'S construction workers dug up enough soil, clay and rubble last year to fill 3,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools, it emerged yesterday.

And in a resource-scarce nation, as little of it as possible is wasted.

Instead, a portion of the roughly 8.5 million cu m of debris - gathered from works including underground expressways and basement carparks - was used for projects such as land reclamation, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

"In most countries, excavated material is dumped on land," he wrote on his blog. "This takes up precious space and is also unsightly."

Depending on the location of the site and the technique used to excavate, two main types of debris are dug up. One, which is classified as good earth, can be recycled immediately by the construction industry. The other, known as soft clay, has to be treated before being reused, for example in land reclamation.

"Lorries transport these excavated materials from construction sites to staging grounds at our coast," said Mr Khaw.

"There, they are loaded onto barges, which move them to our various land reclamation sites for use as fill material."

A National Development Ministry spokesman said almost 50 per cent of the debris collected - or 3.9 million cu m - was sent to Pulau Tekong for land reclamation.

On his Housing Matters blog, Mr Khaw also addressed recent problems relating to the Changi Staging Ground dumping site. Construction companies have complained of long waiting times - up to five hours - before they can discharge their loads.

Mr Khaw said the queues were caused by a large number of building projects - such as the Singapore Sports Hub and National Art Gallery - which began at the same time.

He added that efforts are being made to resolve the issue. They include extending operating hours, adding more weighbridges and a stockpile pit, and working with contractors to spread out their deliveries to off-peak hours.

Asked if such measures were adequate, Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong said: "The problem seems to be improving slightly but we are still getting many urgent complaints."

Sub-contractor Vincent Ong, who handles the waste dumping for HDB projects, said the queues mean he can make only about three trips a day to the Changi site, down from around eight last year. "As a result, I'm now telling my guys to go to other dumping sites," he said.

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Malaysia, Johor: Tanjung Piai National Park - Tourism icon crying for help

Chuah Bee Kim New Straits Times 11 Aug 12;

NEED TO SAFEGUARD PARK: Wetland in danger of being hit by oil spills due to illegal offshore oil transfers

JOHOR BARU: THE Tanjung Piai National Park, which was hit by an oil spill two months ago, may be affected again if no preventive measures are put in place.

Malaysian Nature Society's Johor branch chairman, Vincent Chow, said the sudden violent Sumatra wind (a squall) causes huge waves that would bring oil spills to the shore.

The June 27 oil spill had adversely affected 5,500 mangrove trees along a 600m stretch of the coast. At least 10 species of marine life and insects were also affected.

The national park was temporarily off-limits to visitors due to the clean up work, but it has since re-opened.

Chow urged the Johor Tourism Department, Johor National Parks Corporation (JNPC), Marine Department, Fisheries Department and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to share the responsibility of conserving what has been dubbed the southernmost tip of mainland Asia.

Besides being a Johor tourism icon, Tanjung Piai is recognised as a Ramsar wetland of international importance.

"The possibility of the area being hit by a repeated oil spill is very high due to the illegal vessel-to-vessel oil transfers in the waters off Tanjung Piai.

"These waters are along the shipping lanes between the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor and the Jurong Port in Singapore," Chow said.

He called for mitigation measures to be put in place to prevent from any re-occurrence as clean-up jobs were not only expensive, but labour extensive.

"It is almost impossible to salvage the damage after an oil spill."

Chow also proposed the setting up of booms and oil containment devices to trap oil spills.

"A joint committee should also be formed by the relevant authorities to save the state tourism icon."

JNPC director Suhairi Hashim said many of the newly-planted mangrove trees had perished after the June 27 oil spill. Other trees which are more than 15 years old were also withering away.

Suhairi said cleaning-up work was being done continuously.

"Visitor arrivals this month stand at 6,000, which is a low figure probably due to the oil spill and fasting month.

"Since January, the park has received about 32,000 visitors. Last year, the park recorded 65,000 visitors," Suhairi said.

He said facilities such as the 50-bay car park and wooden boardwalk at the national park needed to be upgraded.

"The boardwalk has not been upgraded since 1999 and we currently have only 50 car parking bays.

"We have written to the Johor Tourism Department thrice to request for an allocation for upgrading the carpark, but there has been no reply."

The boardwalk leading to a globe structure was among the most damaged facilities during June's oil spill.

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Live Bullfrog Trade Implicated in Amphibian-Killing Disease Yahoo News 10 Aug 12;

Bullfrogs, often shipped live between continents to be eaten, are spreading the deadly chytrid fungus that is threatening amphibians worldwide, new research indicates.

A team of researchers collected bullfrogs on sale at Asian food stores in seven cities in the United States and found 41 percent of the frogs were infected with the fungus.

The chytrid fungus is harmless to people, but it has caused species declines and even extinctions among amphibians. However, it is not fatal to all amphibians. The fungus doesn't kill the North American bullfrog, the type of frog sampled in this study, making this species an excellent carrier.

Frogs in these U.S. shops are imported live primarily from farms in Taiwan, Brazil and Ecuador. In the United States, the live frogs are then sold for their legs.

The team also looked for fungus at frog farms in Brazil and among several native frog species from Brazil's Atlantic Forest, one of the most amphibian-rich regions in the world.

Their work revealed four new strains of chytrid, also known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis or Bd. One of these was found on a bullfrog in southeastern Michigan. This frog appeared to have come from a farm in the Atlantic Forest region, where sampling from native frogs revealed that the four strains are common.

By comparing these strains with those described from studies in Japan, the team found Brazilian chytrid had made its way to Japan.

The Brazilian chytrid probably first infected native frogs in Brazil, spread to farms, and from there, around the world, the researchers say. [7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

The trade in frogs has probably led to the global spread of the disease, said study researcher Timothy James, a University of Michigan evolutionary biologist.

"A lot of the movement of this fungus is related to the live food trade, which is something we should probably stop doing," James said in a statement. "We don’t need to have millions of live frogs being shipped from foreign countries into the United States."

The research was detailed online July 31 in the journal Molecular Ecology.

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We must put a price on nature if we are going to save it

Campaigning against economic valuations could inadvertently strengthen the hand of those who believe nature has little or no worth
Tony Juniper 10 Aug 12;

Recent calculations of the economic value of nature and ecosystem services have caused many environmentalists to react negatively. They point to the risk of a progressive "privatisation" and "commodification" of nature, and argue that society should appreciate the intrinsic values of nature – nature for its own sake. Putting a 'price on nature' will create more enclosures whereby the public benefits derived from ecosystems will be seized by corporations and other private interests.

The new discourse about "natural capital" is seen by some as another step towards the degradation of the biosphere. George Monbiot wrote is such terms this week. He argued:

Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.

But to paint such a one-sided picture is a dangerous game. For decades campaigners have fought for the protection of nature for its own sake, and while there has been notable progress (seen for example in the rapid increase in protected areas worldwide, which will hopefully continue irrespective of purely economic evaluations), the overall trends have not been encouraging.

The destruction of unprotected forests, loss of soils, depletion of aquifers, extinction of animals and plants and plunder of the oceans has continued apace. It seems that the moral argument has gained insufficient traction, and that in the absence of new frames continuing population and economic growth will cause more damage.

One source of hope comes from the growing realisation that nature is essential for economic development. The message is clear: without nature the economy is nothing. That penny is beginning to drop in various important places, and could soon lead to a new era of policy-making. One in which ecology and economics go hand in hand, but only if we have the tools to build bridges between these worlds that are so alien to each other. And that is where the economic valuation of nature can come in.

By appreciating that nature is vital for economics, and has measurable tangible financial values, it is possible to get the attention of people who have at best hitherto regarded nature a supplier of resources, or worse still an economically costly distraction that gets in the way of economic 'growth'. Making the moral case in the face of such beliefs won't work. If, on the other hand, such scepticism can be met with economically compelling logic, then we might get a bit further.

There are of course ecological values (like beauty and the very fact that things exist) that sometimes cannot be assigned financial values, and should be protected by the law, policy and public backing rather than through markets.

There are certainly dangers that come with financial values being attached to natural systems. These might be seen in how countries choose to reflect the value of ecosystems (like forests) that indigenous people rely on and have ancestral rights over (or should do). Those dangers need to be managed with regulations and other safeguards when, for example, those same forests are deemed as financially valuable in supplying a distant city with water, and when managing that water affect the rights of the people in the forest. There are risks but just outcomes can be secured.

While I am alarmed at how some environmentalists reject the economic valuation of nature, I am more alarmed still at how such a position can appear similar to those with deeply sceptical views about whether we should protect the environment in the first place. Nigel Lawson, the arch climate change denier, is like many environmentalists dead against putting financial values on nature. He knows well that if this happens then economics would have to change in fundamental ways requiring new government policies, changes to how capital is invested and shifts in consumption patterns. By campaigning against the valuation of ecosystem services, some campaigners could inadvertently strengthen the hand of those who believe nature has little or no value, moral, economic or otherwise.

And it seems to me there is not a choice here. I have spent the past 25 years campaigning for nature for its own sake, because it is beautiful, because it should exist for its own reasons and because we have no right to destroy it. I have found that not everyone agrees with that though, and while I am trying to convince them, more forests are cleared, oceans polluted and greenhouse gases released.

We could carry on like this, with ideological purity preserved (on all sides), or we could open a new discourse, one that requires the sceptics to meaningfully engage, and on the field where future environmental battles will be won and lost – the field of economics. After all, it is not most environmentalists who have misunderstood the realities that come with 'growth' a finite Earth, but most economists.

• Tony Juniper's book on the value of ecosystems for economies, What has Nature ever done for us? will be published in January

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