Best of our wild blogs: 31 Aug 12

Handsome buggers
from The annotated budak

Green Drinks Singapore: Seagrass & Aqua Republica
from Lazy Lizard's Tales and TeamSeagrass

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Massive construction boom on the horizon

At least $55b of transport projects lined up, plus housing and others
Maria Almenoar & Royston Sim Straits Times 31 Aug 12;

WITH news of the latest mega-project to build the 30km Thomson rail line, Singapore is on the path of another construction boom.

Based on costs that have been announced, at least $55 billion worth of transport infrastructure is currently being built, or will be built, until 2021.

In comparison, Singapore's upcoming Sports Hub has a $1.33 billion price tag.

The biggest projects are the $18 billion Thomson Line and $20.7 billion Downtown Line, which will open in stages from next year to 2017.

Construction of the former will begin in the third quarter of next year, with tenders for civil contracts being called as early as next month.

Other rail projects include the Tuas West extension and North-South Line extension.

All these translate into 80.5km more of rail lines and 61 new MRT stations, including 17 new interchanges.

They come on top of the Circle Line, which was completed in October last year.

Two of the more significant road projects are the $4.3 billion Marina Coastal Expressway and the $8 billion North-South Expressway.

Still more projects are expected to be announced early next year, including rail lines.

The projects will put a spike in demand for - and costs of - engineering expertise, foreign workers, building materials and equipment, said industry observers.

Contractors said they are gearing up for this wave of projects, which exclude another slew of massive non-transport as well as housing projects.

Mr Or Toh Wat, the group managing director of OKP Holdings, which has snagged a number of road projects, said OKP has hired more people and added to its inventory of equipment in preparation for new contracts.

Mr Or added that the coming years will be the busiest the industry has been since the last construction boom between 2007 and 2010, when the two integrated resorts were built.

Industry watchers expect a rise in the cost of building equipment and a labour crunch. Already, the demand for construction vehicles like cement mixers has nearly doubled the cost of Certificates of Entitlement for them to nearly $60,000 in the last one year.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong noted that there are also major transport projects in the rest of Asia.

He said there is a need for more business-friendly measures to reduce the impact of the labour crunch on the industry. In 2010, there were some 355,000 construction workers in Singapore.

Contractors will feel squeezed by the Government's move to cut the number of workers allowed for a specific project and to raise foreign worker levies in a bid to reduce Singapore's reliance on foreign workers.

But Professor Chew Soon Beng of the Nanyang Technological University's division of economics said he expects the Government to stay "quite liberal" about letting foreign construction workers in to meet the demand for labour.

Major rail and road projects


42km Downtown Line: $20.7 billion, ready in stages from 2013 to 2017.
1km North-South Line extension to Marina Bay: $357.5 million, ready in 2014.
7.5km Tuas West extension on the East-West Line: $3.5 billion, ready in 2016.
30km Thomson Line: $18 billion, ready in stages from 2019 to 2021.


5km Marina Coastal Expressway: $4.3 billion, ready by the end of 2013.
New underpass and widening of roads in Kallang: $254 million, ready by 2014.
Road tunnel linking Sentosa to the mainland, widening of surrounding roads: $537 million, ready in 2015.
Interchange connecting three expressways and the Seletar Aerospace Park: $255 million, ready in 2015.
Major arterial road from the Central Expressway to Yishun Avenue 6: $354 million, ready in 2015.
21.5km North-South Expressway: between $7 billion and $8 billion, ready in 2020.

By 2021: Six MRT lines, 220km network
Straits Times 31 Aug 12;

THE MRT network will span more than 220km when the new Thomson Line is completed in 2021.

The 30km Thomson Line will be Singapore's sixth MRT line, after the North-South, East-West, North-East, Circle and Downtown lines.

It will have 22 stations and open in three phases from 2019 to 2021. Commuters can transfer to other MRT lines via six interchange stations - Woodlands, Caldecott, Stevens, Orchard, Outram Park and Marina Bay.

The 42km Downtown Line, which is currently being built, will have 34 stations and open in stages from next year to 2017.

Also in the works are the 7.5km Tuas West Extension, which will add four stations to the East-West Line, and a 1km North-South Line extension past Marina Bay.

When all the projects are completed in 2021, the network will have over 160 stations islandwide.

Passengers will be able to transfer to any of the six lines at various interchanges.

For instance, the Outram Park station will link the East-West, North-East and Thomson Lines. The Bugis station will link the Downtown and East-West Lines once it is ready next year.

The Land Transport Authority said the new Thomson Line will provide better rail connectivity for commuters and reduce travelling time.

For instance, a trip from Sin Ming estate to Gardens by the Bay will take 40 minutes via the new line, compared with 65 minutes via bus and train now.

Some 160,000 households will be within 800m of one of the new Thomson Line stations once the entire line is ready in 2021.


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Thailand: Six injured sea turtles beach in Phuket, Phang Nga in one day

Phuket Gazette 30 Aug 12;

PHUKET: The six Olive Ridley sea turtles that were found washed ashore on beaches in Phuket and Phang Nga on Tuesday were almost all suffering serious injuries from encounters with fishing equipment.

Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, who heads the Endangered Species Unit at the Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), told the Gazette that the beachings were due in part to strong monsoon conditions earlier this week, which also caused other marine species to wash ashore.

“Some of the turtles have minor cuts on their flippers from fishing nets, others sustained more serious lacerations, some as deep as to the bone. Among the injured turtles is one that had both of her front legs cut off by a fishing net. Another one has a big crack on its shell, which was probably inflicted by a boat propeller,” he said.

Four of the turtles were found on Mai Khao Beach in Phuket, while the other two were rescued from Koh Khao Island and at Baan Nam Kem in Phang Nga.

Olive Ridley sea turtles have not reportedly been seen nesting in any of these areas in the past few years. However, Dr Kongkiat noted that it is currently mating season for the species and that all six turtles found were adult females.

“They usually come close to the shoreline to mate, then lay their eggs between November and January,” he explained.

Dr Kongkiat believes the reason the turtles washed ashore was due to injuries sustained by encounters with fish trawling nets.

“When sea turtles get injured. they can’t dive deep; they must remain near the surface. When they stay too long on the surface, they often get sick. In this state, rough sea conditions can force them ashore,” he said.

From August 26 to 28 more than 10 endangered marine species were found washed ashore along the Phuket and Phang Nga coastlines, including dugong and dolphins, Dr Kongkiat explained.

“The number of injured marine animals that have washed ashore recently indicate that the problem of man-made debris in the sea has reached a crisis point,” Dr Kongkiat said.

PMBC officers have noted that more than 60 per cent of the marine animals that have been washed ashore are injured, most are cut by fishing nets.

“We find that only a very small number of animals that wash ashore are suffering from natural illnesses,” he said.

“Beneath the sea, trash created by human is the most worrisome problem,” he added.

“I think it is time to get more serious about raising public awareness, especially among fisherman, about this problem. No one should throw any kind of trash into the sea, whether it be ripped fishing nets, plastic bags or boat engine oil. In the long term, the problem will affect all of us,” he warned.

“When the turtles swim close to the shore and find net with fish trapped inside, they may swim in to eat the fish. But then they can get tangled in the net themselves and may cut themselves trying to get free," he said.

– Kritsada Mueanhawong

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Thai firm pleads guilty over Australian oil spill

(AFP) Google News 30 Aug 12;

SYDNEY — A Thai state-owned firm on Thursday admitted four charges over a huge oil spill off northwestern Australia, the country's worst ever offshore drilling accident.

Thousands of barrels of oil gushed into the sea over 10 weeks following a blowout at PTTEP Australasia's West Atlas rig in the Timor Sea three years ago.

The slick from the Montara oil field spread as far as Indonesian waters and environmentalists said it grew to almost 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 square miles).

The firm, a unit of Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production, pleaded guilty to breaching the Offshore Petroleum Act, admitting it failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent the spill and placed rig workers in danger.

An Australian government inquiry blamed widespread and systematic shortcomings at PTTEP for the spill, over which Indonesia sought US$2.4 billion in compensation for damage to reefs and fisheries.

PTTEP is facing more than Aus$1 million (US$1.03 million) in fines following its guilty plea at Darwin Magistrates Court, with company chief Ken Fitzpatrick saying that "mistakes were made that should never be repeated".

"From the outset we have admitted responsibility for the incident and deeply regret it occurring," Fitzpatrick told reporters outside the court.

"The hearing today draws a line under the Montara incident and allows us to focus on delivering safe, clean operations in Australia now and in the future," he added.

PTTEP paid for the clean-up and Fitzpatrick said the environmental impact was estimated to have cost the company Aus$40-50 million. It had also driven a transformation of the firm's operations and culture, he added.

The court is expected to deliver its sentence on Friday.

PTTEP's Australian offshore drilling licence was renewed in February 2011 on a strict 18-month probation period, with the government warning it would be subject to a rigorous monitoring regime.

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Super-trawler docks in Australia despite protests

Amy Coopes AFP Yahoo News 31 Aug 12;

A massive super-trawler docked in Australia Thursday despite blockade attempts by Greenpeace activists who accuse it of depleting global fisheries and called on the government to turn it away.

The 9,500-tonne FV Margiris repelled Greenpeace protesters to dock at Port Lincoln in South Australia state for re-flagging as an Australian vessel ahead of its proposed deployment to Tasmania for bait-fishing.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Macken said the Margiris powered into port despite repeated attempts to block it by activists in an inflatable boat.

The Greenpeace boat intercepted the Margiris offshore early Thursday and activists attempted to climb aboard before their ropes were cut and the dinghy was forced away by a pilot ship from the port.

The activists then chained their boat onto the wharf in a bid to block the Margiris from docking but Macken said it steamed ahead undeterred.

"When it was coming in to dock one of our inflatables got between the ship and the wharf but that was unsuccessful," Macken told AFP from Port Lincoln.

"It was pretty extraordinary how aggressively the Margiris was moved into position when our activists were actually still in the way, I was pretty gobsmacked by that."

Macken said they just managed to unlock and scramble out of the way as the Lithuanian-flagged Margiris "kept bearing down".

The 143-metre (469-foot) Margiris sparked protests among conservation groups and local fisherman when it was announced earlier this year that it would come to fish off Tasmania.

Greenpeace has led demonstrations against the super-trawler, chaining its propellers and suspending activists from the ship as it prepared to leave the Netherlands for Australia in June.

Now that it had docked Macken said "the ball is in the court of the Australian community" and government.

Canberra is yet to give final approval for the Margiris to fish Australian waters, with Environment Minister Tony Burke seeking legal advice about whether he can intervene over concerns that dolphins and other animals will inadvertently get swept up in its nets.

"He's asked for advice on that and awaiting advice," a spokeswoman for Burke said.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has dismissed concerns about over-fishing, saying the trawler would be allowed to catch just 10 percent of available fish and would have little if any impact on the broader eco-system.

According to local media reports, the Margiris is expected to stay in Port Lincoln for five days to be re-flagged as an Australian vessel, and undergo maintenance and government checks.

Greenpeace Oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said trawlers like the Margiris "literally vacuum up entire schools of fish", amid concerns about the depletion of southern fish stocks and the impact on sea birds, seals and dolphins.

"You could fly a jumbo jet through the opening of its net with room to spare," Pelle added in a statement.

"They have overfished European waters, collapsed fisheries in the South Pacific, and devastated fishing communities in West Africa. We simply can't let the same thing happen in Australia."

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World Bank issues hunger warning after droughts in US and Europe

Damage to crop harvests from exceptionally dry weather this year raises sharply the Bank's food price index
Larry Elliott 30 Aug 12;

The World Bank issued a global hunger warning last night after severe droughts in the US and eastern Europe sent food prices to a record high.

Damage to crop harvests from exceptionally dry weather this year raised sharply the Bank's food price index taking it above its peak in early 2011.

The Washington-based bank blamed the drought in the US for the 25% price rise of maize and 17% price rise in soya beans last month, adding that a dry summer in Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan lay behind the 25% jump in the cost of wheat.

"Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people," said World Bank group president, Jim Yong Kim. "Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly."

The bank said food prices overall rose by 10% between June and July to leave them 6% up on a year earlier. "We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food to compensate for the high prices," said Kim. "Countries must strengthen their targeted programs to ease the pressure on the most vulnerable population, and implement the right policies."

He added that the Bank was spending $9bn this year supporting agriculture and pledged that help to poor countries affected by food price hikes would continue.

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Storms, drought overshadow UN climate talks

Apilaporn Vechakij AFP Yahoo News 30 Aug 12;

World climate change negotiators faced warnings Thursday that a string of extreme weather events around the globe show urgent action on emission cuts is needed as they opened new talks in Bangkok.

The week-long meeting in the Thai capital, which was devastated by major floods last year, aims to prepare the ground for a meeting of ministers under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha starting in November.

"This meeting opens in the immediate aftermath of a deadly typhoon in the Republic of Korea and a hurricane that hit near New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Katrina -- powerful reminders of the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions," said Marlene Moses of Nauru, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States.

For small islands particularly vulnerable to climate change, "development prospects, viability and survival hang in the balance", she warned.

Some experts believe the UN target to limit the rise in global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is already unattainable.

At least 19 people were killed this week by the most powerful typhoon to hit South Korea in almost a decade and thousands of people were evacuated in New Orleans as Hurricane Isaac pounded the southern US city.

In the Philippines, storms and flooding from torrential rains killed at least 170 people in August, while the US Midwest breadbasket is reeling from the worst drought in more than 50 years.

"Climate change and typhoons or droughts like in the United States are interlinked," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

"These strong weather events will occur more frequently and more intensely but they are not caused by climate change. The frequency and intensity is affected by climate change," she told reporters.

Scientists hesitate about pinning extreme weather events to climate change, which is a longer-term phenomenon.

But they also note that worse droughts, floods and storms are consistent with models that link disruption to Earth's climate system with heat-trapping fossil-fuel emissions.

They also point to other evidence that climate change is on the march, including the announcement this week that sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to a record seasonal low this summer.

No major breakthroughs are expected at the Bangkok event, an informal meeting of senior officials from UNFCCC member states, which number 193.

But delegates aim to make some progress on the long road set out in Durban in December to negotiating an accord that would from 2020 bring all major greenhouse-gas emitters under a single legal roof for the first time.

If approved as scheduled in 2015, the pact would become the prime weapon in the fight against climate change.

In the meantime, negotiators face the challenge of reaching an agreement on a second commitment period for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose first roster of legally-binding carbon curbs expires at the end of this year.

Developing countries meanwhile will pressure rich nations to provide financing and technology to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change.

"We need massively increased finance for adaptation and for action to reduce emissions and we need to set up a proper international co-ordination process to deliver resources for adaptation to those in most need," said the chair of the Least Developed Countries group, Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia.

"We cannot live with these issues being deferred until a new agreement is negotiated in 2015 and that would not even come into effect in 2020," he said.

Nations warn of broken promises at U.N. climate talks
Andrew Allan, Stian Reklev PlanetArk 31 Aug 12;

Almost 50 of the world's poorest nations said pledges made by rich countries to provide funds to help them adapt to a warmer planet risk being overlooked as U.N. negotiations over a global climate pact to start in 2020 got underway in Bangkok on Thursday.

The group of mostly African nations said that ill-fated talks launched in 2007 to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol must not end without richer nations pledging financial aid to help them cope with rising sea levels cause by climate change.

Traditional industrialized nations such as the EU, the U.S. and Japan want to close down the talks, which failed in 2009 to produce a legally-binding global pact to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases starting next year.

They want to focus on a new deal to take effect at the end of the decade.

"We cannot live with these issues being deferred until a new agreement is negotiated in 2015 and that would not even come into effect in 2020," said Pa Ousman Jarju, chair of the Least Developed Countries negotiating group.

Rich nations have pledged to find $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help nations combat the effects of climate change, but poorer nations are concerned that existing pledges of $10 billion a year will expire in December without a new interim agreement in place.

"All sides need a clearer understanding on how to get to $100 billion a year by 2020 with no gaps," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.'s climate department and the public face of the talks.

The call comes as traditional rich nations struggle to rein in their national debt and budget deficits, while support for proposals to tap the private sector for cash through regulating or taxing emissions from shipping and aviation have struggled to receive backing.

The Bangkok negotiations, which end next week, will also try to advance talks on whether countries that have refused to be legally bound to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol should be allowed access to the carbon markets launched under the 1997 treaty.

The issue is salient for the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Japan who have either given big emitting companies targets to cut emissions or plan to do so and are keen to allow them to use cheap carbon credits from the Clean Development Mechanism to cut costs.

Poorer countries want to use access to carbon credits as leverage to get those three nations to re-sign Kyoto.

Earlier this month Australia's main opposition party which is tipped to win the country's next general election said it would not object to the country taking on another legal target to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, putting pressure on the government to sign up.

A spokesperson for Australia's climate change minister said the country had not yet made a decision, preferring instead to wait to see how talks advance on the new global treaty, the bare bones of which were agreed at last year's climate talks in Durban.

"The Australian government will take a decision on the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period at an appropriate time. We are carefully examining what the post-Durban international settings mean for our legislated carbon pricing scheme."

The talks will also focus on how countries can deepen voluntary pledges to cut emissions by 2020 made at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

(This version of the story corrects day to Thursday from Wednesday in lede)

(Reporting by Andrew Allan, Stian Reklev. Additional reporting by David Fogarty)

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