Best of our wild blogs: 11 Oct 12

Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker: Time to Fledge
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Toddycats clear 223kg of trash at ICCS Berlayar Creek Mangrove!
from Toddycats!

grey-headed fish eagle @ sg buloh wetland reserve - Oct2012
from sgbeachbum

Biological Approaches to Coastal Enhancement and Restoration
from Raffles Museum News

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Singapore population: Consider settling for a smaller number

Straits Times Forum 11 Oct 12;

IT SEEMS counter-intuitive for a very small island state to rely on population increase as a strategy for survival ("Population 6m: Is there room?"; last Saturday).

If indeed this increase is required to support our ageing population, wouldn't that generation itself grow old in the future, thus needing a bigger population to sustain it?

Aren't we merely passing the buck to later generations?

How did the official narrative change from the "procreate sustainably" family planning campaign to this "procreate or go bust" mentality, both in the name of survival? Perhaps that is where the answer lies.

It was for the sake of survival that the population was allowed to balloon even while the family planning exercise was taking place in the 1970s, ostensibly to address the declining total fertility rate.

In reality, the population increase, aided by immigration, was more likely to meet manpower shortages and was needed to capitalise on the prevailing economic opportunities in the 1970s and 80s.

That was the only way we knew how to survive.

We bit the bullet, took the chance and came out rich.

In the meantime, earlier concerns about sustainability took a back seat.

The question now is whether the formula will still work now, given that the population has tripled while the island can hardly be doubled.

Arguably, we have the technology and know-how to pack in six million people. But what would that do to our humanity?

We miss the big picture when we fail to notice that we have become a population that is refusing to reproduce - contrary to human instinct.

We must be coaxed, rewarded and penalised to procreate, which, in itself, is a signal that we are not comfortable with the current population density.

Instead of presuming that the population must increase to sustain the economy, can we also consider alternative economic models that suit a lower, more comfortable population density?

Osman Sidek

Better off with a smaller population
Straits Times Forum 20 Oct 12;

MR OSMAN Sidek has touched on a very important point ("Consider settling for a smaller number"; Oct 11).

He suggested that if we have to rely on population increase as a strategy for survival, wouldn't we need ever more young people in the next generation to support the elderly? How can this be ecologically sustainable?

The costs that we will have to bear from a rising population would be higher property costs, smaller homes, longer commutes, road and transport congestion, and the loss of green spaces.

We may also face increasing pressure on resources ranging from energy supply to food and water.

A decline in the population tends to conjure up visions of devastated communities and decrepit seniors with no young people to replenish and support them.

This may be true if the population decline were rapid. But a gradual population decline will be a different matter.

The environmental benefits that are associated with a gradual population decline are obvious - fewer cars, more green space, a smaller carbon footprint.

It could also empower workers, raise the status of the socially marginalised and reduce inequality.

A declining workforce puts those who work in a far stronger position. For those who are marginalised in the workforce, it can have a very dramatic effect. Companies will need to train the unskilled, provide family-friendly policies to retain women and to entice the elderly to stay on, rather than force them out.

True sustainability means providing every person alive as well as the future generation with a reasonable standard of living, which can be maintained in the foreseeable future.

While the political leaders seem to be afraid of a decline in population, I think we are better off with fewer people.

Tham Su-yin (Ms)

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Population key to building a better Singapore: DPM Teo

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's leaders want to build a better and brighter nation for its citizens and Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the country's population growth is key to achieving this vision.

Mr Teo, who is also Minister-in-Charge of population policies, made the point when wrapping up a townhall session on population challenges late Tuesday.

The townhall was held to get feedback on the nation's population policies and ways to reverse the declining birth rate in Singapore. The views would go into shaping the White Paper on population due by the end of 2012.

It was a no holds barred discussion as the session ended an hour later than scheduled.

This was to allow everyone a chance to speak and voice his or her concerns, and it was evident that not everyone shared the same view.

Mr Teo said: "I could see that, just watching the faces of the audience; some of the things, people nodded their heads while some shook their heads. This represents the kinds of dilemmas and difficulties that we have, as the government, to try and meet the aspirations of our people."

He added that Singaporeans have to ask themselves what is the future for Singapore even if it has become "harder and harder to predict the future".

Mr Teo stressed that besides planning for the future ahead, Singapore must also be able to make adjustments along the way to overcome various obstacles.

"A number of you have pointed out that it is important to be resilient about the future and to be able to plan for a number of different sets of scenarios and be able to cater for them. You may not get it right every point in time but you should be able to make adjustments along the way," said Mr Teo.

He added: "At this point in time, we are making adjustments along the way for the very rapid population growth we had in the last few years and we are also adjusting the way our population is being developed in the future."

Mr Teo added the aim was all about developing a vibrant and liveable city.

"If we don't have a sustainable core Singapore population, we won't be able to sustain the kind of Singapore that we want in the future. That is a critical element of the Singapore in the future. The current birth rate is not enough for us to sustain our population or even maintain it at its current level. We want to be able to raise the population through encouraging births," he said.

Mr Teo said Singapore should be open to immigration to make up for shortfalls in birth.

"Immigrants will grow old, but they are making up for shortfall that we have today when they come in," he said.

Mr Teo explained the government is trying to achieve a sustainable population for a dynamic Singapore and that requires a resident population which is stable and not shrinking or ageing.

He said: "Where are we going with our population? Have we gone crazy and are we taking in anybody who wants to become a Singapore citizen or anybody who wants to be a PR? The numbers would blow away. Are we just taking any numbers of foreign workers and the population would keep on growing without bound? The answer is no."

"We want to maintain a strong Singapore and we are going to try and do that by increasing our birth rates as much as possible and by supplementing it with new citizens who share our values and who can assimilate and integrate as much as possible."

And that means also creating a role for foreign workers in the economy.

"The foreign workforce is interesting. They add to the workforce but they don't retire and grow old here. It's an advantage to have a transient workforce here," said Mr Teo.

He added: "They are only here when they are active and therefore they don't contribute to our ageing population. So there is an advantage in having a transient workforce here which helps to contribute to the economy and economic growth but which doesn't impose a social load on us when they grow old or doesn't demand a social load from us when they are very young."

And to build a good living environment for its residents, the country's land use plan should also have the flexibility to cater to a range of scenarios.

Among other concerns raised at the dialogue are affordable homes for newly married couples, work life balance and suggestions for one parent to stay home to raise the children.

Also present at the dialogue was Minister in Prime Minister Office, Grace Fu.

Ms Fu said: "From speaking to many women and men, many of them want to have both a family and a career. And if you make that as the only option, it may just become a real and significant obstacle especially among many women whom I have spoken to. Look, if you have children, you have to stay at home.

"Women want to have both options - a good career (in which they can get) satisfaction from working and making a mark in the workplace but also settling down and having children. So we have to find policy options that allow quite a wide spectrum of people who are driven by different things in life. Whether we can shape everybody to consider marriage and settling down as a priority, I definitely hope so."

Speaking on Total Fertility Rate (TFR), Ms Fu believes a TFR of 2.1 may be out of Singapore's reach.

She said: "I don't think we will ever get back to a total fertility rate of 2.1 or at least not in my political lifetime. If we look at the trend, we are bucking a very dangerous trend."

The collation of ideas doesn't stop with the townhall dialogue.

Singaporeans have been urged to continue sending their views on the subject to the National Population and Talent Division.

- CNA/fa

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Gardens by the Bay, East Coast Park to be linked

Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Gardens by the Bay will be joined to East Coast Park, creating the country's longest continuous stretch of coastal parkland - from the island's north-east to south-central Singapore.

Construction works to link the two are expected to start in late-2013 and finish in end-2014.

The National Parks Board is now studying details of how to bring the two major green spaces closer.

The Eastern Coastal Loop of park connectors currently lets residents in Simei, Bedok, Tampines and Pasir Ris, among other estates, access East Coast Park on bicycle or on foot. When the park is joined to Gardens by the Bay's East section, they can cycle, stroll, or jog to the attraction without using public roads.

Starting from Changi Beach Park, they can cycle through the Coastal Park Connector to East Coast Park, and head to the Bay East Garden of Gardens by the Bay via the new link.

This route measures over 25 km and at more than half the island's length, makes it the country's longest sweep of park space along the coast.

From the Bay East Garden, people can already access the Bay South Garden, where the two cooled conservatories and Supertrees are, by crossing the Marina Barrage at the mouth of the Marina Reservoir.

People can also head to the future Sports Hub from Bay East, by using the Tanjong Rhu Promenade Park Connector, and crossing the Tanjong Rhu suspension bridge.

Construction on the Marina Coastal Expressway is currently being carried out and are set to be completed by end-2013. After that, works to link Gardens by the Bay and East Coast Park will start.

Associate Professor Tan Puay Yok of the Architecture Department at the School of Design and Environment with the National University of Singapore, said: "The terrain itself is not very challenging, I think it's a fairly easy site to work with. And the fact that Singapore has already a fairly large, extensive network of park connectors, means that the design intention, design considerations could be followed for this site."

Currently, cyclists who wish to access Gardens by the Bay from East Coast Park have to exit the park from near the western end of the park along East Coast Park Service Road, and head onto public roads. This will not be necessary anymore when the two green spaces are finally linked.

19-year-old polytechnic student Chang Teck, who is an avid cyclist, is happy with the new link.

He said: "It will be more safe for cyclists like me. Because we don't have to go on the roads and look out for cars...and follow the traffic rules. [With the] straight path to the Gardens by the Bay, we can have a longer route, we can have more recreational activities for cyclists, we can cycle a longer path."

Joining both green spaces also opens up possible new routes for the many organised runs taking place yearly around downtown Singapore.

The National Parks Board's long-term goal is to create a Singapore-wide park connector network, linking up the whole of the island.


Linking Gardens by the Bay to Changi
Lim Yan Liang Straits Times 11 Oct 12;

GETTING from Changi Point to the Gardens by the Bay will literally be a walk in the park come 2014.

This will be possible once construction on a park connector linking East Coast Park and the Gardens, scheduled to start next year, is completed, said the National Parks Board (NParks) yesterday.

Responding to media queries, NParks director (Parks) Chia Seng Jiang confirmed that the agency is studying plans to form an uninterrupted stretch of parkland around Singapore's south-eastern shoreline.

"Construction is expected to start by end-2013, and be completed by end-2014," said Mr Chia.

This means that cyclists and joggers will be able to use the Eastern Coastal Loop to get from the north-eastern tip of Singapore to the Gardens, without stepping on a public road. The Eastern Coastal Loop links up parks in the east like Changi Beach Park, Bedok Reservoir Park and East Coast Park through a series of park connectors.

The current tree-lined route from Changi Beach Park to East Coast Parkway is about 18km long. Once the new connector is complete, the total length of the uninterrupted path from Changi to Gardens by the Bay will stretch to about 25km.

Cyclists interviewed by The Straits Times welcomed plans to build the new connector.

Avid recreational cyclist Han Jok Kwang, 58, who has been cycling on park connectors for the past six years, said the new link will make the route from East Coast Parkway to the Gardens "more contiguous". He likened it to the Geylang Park Connector route that seamlessly links Dakota Station to Bay East.

"Today there is a break. You have no choice but to go on the road, and to get to the other side, it's a bit of a chore," said Mr Han, who is the chief information officer of Venture Corp, an electronic manufacturing services provider.

"I think the new connector will be wonderful. It's definitely safer cycling on a park connector than on the road."

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Indonesia: Residents blame oil palm plantations for haze

New Straits Times 11 Oct 12;

PONTIANAK (Kalimantan): The haze here is so predictable that its coming is like an annual event.

But while the millions of people in the Indonesian half of Borneo have learned to live with it, resentment is growing among them against the oil palm plantations which are the root cause of it all.

Locals, like restaurant owner Karmawandy Jogya, 29, blamed the plantation owners for the open burning that triggered the haze.

But what angers them more is that the authorities here "are not doing anything about it".

"After years of experiencing this, we have learned to ignore it" Karmawandy said.

"Yes, we have learned to live with it. Life still goes on," said farmer Yenny Suroyo, 43.

Yenny and several of the villagers at the outskirt of the provincial capital ignored the thick haze that was enveloping their village as they worked in their padi fields.

A thunderstorm last Sunday, reportedly the first downpour in more than two months, brought little respite.

Luckily, despite visibility going down to less than 3km, all commercial flights coming into and out of here, a city of nearly five million people, have not been affected.

"The haze situation today is the worst we have seen in two months," said trader Iwan Firdaus, 42.

Iwana said while open burning was the traditional and cheapest way for farmers to clear land for agriculture, their burning activities were only on a small scale.

"The major plantation companies are the ones which are to blame for this haze because of their large-scale burning."

Despite the danger to their health, people like Karmawandy, Iwan and Yenny continue with their daily chores outdoors as they have to earn a living and feed their families.

For the farmers, the current dry season is the start of their second padi planting season.

As of Tuesday, the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre satellite image showed moderate to dense haze over southern Borneo.

Last month, during the Asean environment ministers' meeting in Bangkok, Indonesia was urged to ratify its stand in the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

At the meeting, one of the main issues discussed was the identification of companies responsible for causing the haze by sharing of concession maps and cross-referencing hotspot locations.

The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution is an environmental agreement signed 10 years ago between all member countries to reduce the haze pollution in Southeast Asia.

The agreement binds signatory countries to take proactive steps in stopping haze pollution from land and forest fires within their territories, through strict regulations, heat-seeking satellites and firefighters' training.

Although the agreement was signed by all member countries, Indonesia is the only Asean member which has yet to endorse it.

Four years ago, Indonesia refused to endorse the bill on trans-boundary fire haze because the bill did not mention illegal logging issues. By Dennis Wong


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Bird Extinctions on the Rise

Megan Gannon Yahoo News 10 Oct 12;

From the flightless dodo in Mauritius to the passenger pigeon in North America, 279 bird species and subspecies have vanished in the last 500 years, researchers estimate. The rate of extinctions worldwide peaked in the early 1900s and then started to decline, but a new study found that bird die-outs have been on the rise since the middle of the 20th century.

"Until this study it had been hoped the rate of extinction was slowing," researcher Judit Szabo, of Charles Darwin University in Australia, said in a statement. "Historically most extinctions have occurred on islands, particularly those in the Pacific, but most of the really susceptible species are long gone."

Bird extinctions mainly occurred on islands in previous centuries as humans expanded in the Pacific and colonized the Americas, disrupting fragile ecosystems. But as island extinction rates have been declining over the past century, more and more species have disappeared on the continents, Szabo and her team said.

Their study, published online Monday (Oct. 8) in the journal PLoS ONE, shows that habitat destruction for agriculture development is the main cause of recent extinctions on continents and poses the greatest current threat to endangered birds. Unsustainable hunting and the introduction of invasive species, such as cats and rats, have been the greatest drivers of extinctions in past centuries, according to the study.

The researchers warn that a combination of invasive species and habitat loss can pose a particularly high threat to birds. For examples, pigs were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands several centuries ago — first by Polynesians, then again by Europeans. The animals' foraging changes the native landscape in a way that promotes the spread of invasive mosquitoes, which in turn carry bird diseases like avian malaria and avian pox.

By setting off such chains of events, humans have directly or indirectly caused most bird extinctions since 1500, the researchers said. They traced only one subspecies extinction to a natural catastrophe: the San Benedicto Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus exsul), the entire population of which was buried by volcanic ash on an uninhabited island off the coast of Mexico in the 1950s.

The researchers said conservation interventions have helped prevent at least 31 bird extinctions, but now there are many species that only survive because of constant conservation efforts.

"This list would have been much longer were it not for the work being done around the world to stop extinctions," study researcher Stuart Butchart, of BirdLife International, said in a statement. "But we need to scale up our efforts substantially to avoid further human-induced extinctions."

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UN warns of rising food costs after year's extreme weather

Warning comes as shops struggle to fill shelves and farmers' union reports wheat yields are at lowest level since 1980s
John Vidal, Rebecca Smithers and Shiv Malik The Guardian 10 Oct 12;

The UN has warned of increasing meat and dairy prices in the wake of extreme weather in the United States and across large parts of Europe and other centres of global food production.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, global wheat production is expected to fall 5.2% in 2012 and yields from many other crops grown to feed animals could be 10% down on last year.

"Populations are growing but production is not keeping up with consumption. Prices for wheat have already risen 25% in 2012, maize 13% and dairy prices rose 7% just last month. Food reserves, [held to provide a buffer against rising prices] are at a critical low level

"It means that food supplies are tight across the board and there is very little room for unexpected events," said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the FAO.

"The decrease in cereal production this year will result in a significant reduction in world reserves by the close of seasons in 2013, even with world demand sliding as a result of high prices," he said.

The warning of further food prices came as some British supermarkets said they were struggling to keep shelves stocked with fresh produce and the National Farmers Union (NFU) reported that UK wheat yields have been the lowest since the late 1980s as a result of abnormal rain fall.

The NFU president, Peter Kendall, said: "There are many farmers who are down 25% to 30% on the wheat crop. In some cases you looked from the outside and you thought, this crop will do over four tonnes to the acre – and it's been struggling to do three and some cases two tonnes to the acre."

"It's been soul-destroying for the farmers growing the crops," he said.

Kendall added that the increase in the global price of wheat over the past year was also putting pressures on pig and poultry farmers, who rely on grain to feed their livestock.

Confirmation of one of the worst global harvests in years will come on Thursday, when the US government is expected to announce that drought and heat damage to crops this year has reduced its wheat, maize and soy harvests by more than 10%.

Because the US is by far the world's biggest grower and exporter of grains, this is expected to have repercussions around the world.

Farmers are still harvesting their crops but the maize harvest is expected to be the lowest in nine years.

Nearly 40% of all US maize is now used in biofuels, further restricting exports and raising prices.

British supermarkets said they had not ruled out the prospect of price rises of staple foods, but they pledged to offer "competitive pricing" of essential food items in their value and economy ranges.

A spokeswoman for Waitrose said: "There's no doubt that this has been an exceptionally tough growing season for our farmers, who have been coping with very bad weather and rising costs for critical inputs such as fuel. We are working closely with all our growers to help them manage their costs and get as much of their crop on our shelves as possible through initiatives such as selling cosmetically imperfect but good-quality fruit and veg – something we have always done."

Sainsbury's said in a statement: "We continue to work with British farmers and growers to get the most out of the crop. We've taken the decision to radically change our approach to buying British fruit and vegetables as a result of this year's unseasonal weather."

The run of unpredictable weather this season has left farmers and growers with bumper crops of "ugly"-looking fruit and vegetables, with reported increases in blemishes and scarring, as well as shortages because of later crops. This week, Sainsbury's launched a trial of its Basics range of potatoes, which have visible cracks and blemishes, in more than 35 stores in the Midlands. Last month, the supermarket said it was relaxing its rules on the cosmetic appearance of fresh produce.

New research by the consumer group Which? found that the average cost of a shopping bill is now £76.83 a week – an increase of £5.66 in a year. Richard Lloyd, the group's executive director, said: "The rising price of food is one of consumers' top financial worries and is changing the way we shop. Recent Which? research found more of us are shopping at discount supermarkets and four in 10 people told us they planned to cut back on their food shopping. We want retailers to be clearer about food pricing and offer responsible price promotions that give the consumer the best possible value for money."

New figures from the charity FareShare – which fights hunger and food waste in the UK – shows that lower-income families have cut their consumption of fruit and vegetables by nearly a third in the wake of the recession and rising food prices, to just over half of the five-a-day portions recommended for a healthy diet.

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