Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 12

AMLive interview and basket star at the Northern Expedition Day 16 from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

Filefish Feeding
from Pulau Hantu and Slipper Lobster

Talks at National Junior College High
from Pulau Hantu

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NParks to get companies, schools to volunteer with green activities

Sing Geok Shan Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 12;

SINGAPORE: Starting next year, a new National Parks Boards (NParks) initiative will help companies and schools do good while reaping the benefits of nature.

The Nature Cares programme will match corporate staff and student volunteers with welfare organisations and to create activities that can help protect the environment.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam launched the programme on Tuesday at St Theresa's Home in Upper Thomson.

As the residents of the home for elders are less mobile, volunteers brought a little nature indoors.

Keppel Group employees and students from Queenstown Primary School showed the senior citizens how plants can be grown on driftwood.

NParks said activities will be tailored to match the needs of beneficiaries.

For instance, if volunteering organisations are paired with a children's home, suggested activities could be guided nature walks or rollerblading in the parks.

As with gardening, the programme is a long-term commitment.

Organisations which are joining the programme will have to pledge at least a year's support so that the interaction with the beneficiaries can be sustained.

Calling the initiative a "very worthwhile effort", President Tan hopes that more can volunteer and contribute based on their strengths and interests.

He said: "What is important is to let people know that working for the community doesn't only mean giving money, which is important, or making a donation, but also giving of your time, your energy, your special skills and in that way, everybody can make a contribution in their own area of interest."

Volunteers also picked up new knowledge from their stint.

"I found it very interesting because it's my first time planting air plants (plants which do not root in soil)," said Benjamin Seet, a Primary 5 student volunteer from Queenstown Primary School.

"I like to help the elderly with what they are doing. It helps to make them more active and it will help to bring a smile to their faces."

- CNA/ck/xq

NParks makes volunteering a walk in the park
Pearl Lee Straits Times 31 Oct 12;

TAKING a walk in the park with the elderly may not sound like a typical student-volunteer activity, but that is one of the options available under the new Nature Cares programme of the National Parks Board (NParks).

The programme partners staff from corporations with student volunteers to reach out to community groups, such as the elderly or children with special needs, through nature-related events.

Activities range from community gardening and nature walks to in-line skating and art and craft with plants. The programme calls for a minimum one-year commitment from both organisations and schools to their beneficiaries.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, NPark's deputy CEO and commissioner of parks and recreation, said it wanted to "connect corporations, children and the community in a sustained and structured platform".

Speaking at the launch at St Theresa's Home in Upper Thomson yesterday, he said he hoped the programme would reap the benefits that nature can bring.

"Studies show that contact with nature confers health benefits," he said.

He also noted that while the rate of volunteerism has risen, young working adults form the lowest percentage of volunteers. This programme would change that in years to come, he believed.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who graced the event, commended NPark's efforts. He said the plan, which begins its pilot run in January, "not only introduces the residents of St Theresa's Home to a fun activity, but also gives them some companionship".

Already, it looks like it will be a success. Madam Bertha Hang, 64, a resident of the home since 2004, described the morning event with the students and volunteers as a "very nice and wonderful experience". She said: "I like nature, plants and animals. I like to admire the plants."

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Citizens' safety key factor in Singapore nuclear power study

'Deliberate and extensive' 2-year process looked at range of technologies and risks
Grace Chua Straits Times 31 Oct 12;

A STUDY which ruled out Singapore's use of nuclear power for now took two years to complete because those involved had to understand the full range of technologies and evaluate the risks.

The main factor in deciding to forgo the nuclear option for now concerns the safety of Singaporeans, said one expert in the national nuclear pre-feasibility study, which started in 2010.

Another said newer, safer power- plant designs may one day be applicable to Singapore if they become proven technologies.

This month, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said in Parliament that current nuclear-energy technologies were not suitable here and that the risks, given the country's size and dense population, outweigh benefits.

The study recommended that Singapore continue to monitor new technologies and develop capabilities in technology and emergency response.

A Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) spokesman said it was a "deliberate and extensive" two-year process that involved government agencies, external consultants and expert advisers.

Each of the three independent experts has more than 40 years of experience in nuclear energy.

Mr Konstantin Foskolos is former deputy head of nuclear energy and safety research at the Paul Scherrer Institute, a Swiss research institute.

The other two are Dr Gail Marcus, formerly of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, and Dr Dennis Berry, nuclear energy programmes director emeritus of the US' Sandia National Laboratories.

The study addressed aspects such as security and risk assessment, regulatory regimes, management of radioactive waste and emergency planning but did not generate specific figures for costs and risks.

Mr Foskolos said environmental impact did not affect significantly the decisions. "The main factor for the decision of the Government was the need to ensure the safety of the population."

There are no global standards that restrict populations around nuclear- power plants, the MTI noted. Some plants in the United States, Canada and Switzerland have towns within a 5km radius.

The study did not focus only on big costly reactors, said Mr Foskolos. It also included small modular reactors and reactors of various technologies, such as gas- and liquid metal-cooled reactors, which are still under development.

Said Dr Berry: "For nearly every country considering a new nuclear-power plant, today's designs are judged to be quite safe.

"But these designs have not been demonstrated and have not received regulatory scrutiny. Some of these 'futuristic' designs may some day be found acceptable to Singapore."

Dr Marcus noted that the performance claims of many new designs cannot be verified yet and not all are likely to be commercialised successfully.

"So it would be premature for Singapore to make decisions on such technologies at this time," she added.

The MTI spokesman also said that in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in March 2011, "we also took the opportunity to include preliminary lessons learnt from the accident".

Currently, about 80 per cent of electricity here is generated from natural gas, with the rest linked to fuel oil and other sources such as waste.

Regional countries poised for nuclear energy
Straits Times 31 Oct 12;

EVEN as some countries have scaled back nuclear-energy plans in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan, others, especially in South-east Asia, are forging ahead.

Singapore's immediate neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia are keen to develop the sector.

Malaysia is studying the possibility of operating two 1-gigawatt nuclear reactors, with the first expected to be operational by 2021. A feasibility study, including the selection of potential sites and development of infrastructure plans, is now underway.

Indonesia has been building capabilities in nuclear energy since the 1960s. Its nuclear agency has its eye on two sites in Java - Muria and Banten - and one in Bangka off Sumatra.

Farther afield, Vietnam may get South-east Asia's first nuclear power plant. It has awarded contracts for plants to be built by the 2020s and intends to build 10 nuclear reactors by 2030.

Singapore's nuclear pre-feasibility study recommended that it play an active role on issues of nuclear safety.

In 2010, Asean set up a nuclear-energy cooperation network.

Singapore is also part of the Asian Nuclear Safety Network and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an inter-governmental group for cooperation on nuclear safety and security.


An underground plant may be safer from attacks
Straits Times 31 Oct 12;

SITING a nuclear power plant underground may be the best option should Singapore decide to build one, said a National University of Singapore civil engineering professor who has done research on the topic.

Professor Andrew Clennel Palmer said an underground facility could be safer from terrorist and aircraft attacks than one on the surface, and that Singapore has experience building infrastructure below-ground - such as the MRT system and caverns for storing oil and munitions.

In a talk at the Asia Future Energy Forum last week, part of Singapore International Energy Week, he outlined the pros and cons of generating electricity from nuclear energy here.

Singapore, said the petroleum-engineering expert and Keppel Professor of civil engineering at NUS, is currently almost wholly dependent on fossil fuels. But nuclear energy produces no carbon-dioxide emissions and does not contribute to climate change. "Singapore is a strong and disciplined country, it could keep a nuclear power plant safe," he said.

But the country could also rely on natural gas, especially from unconventional sources, for a long time yet.

He has assessed 19 sites islandwide from Tuas to Pulau Tekong for suitability to house a nuclear power plant, based on factors from population density and proximity to neighbouring countries to risks of terrorism and tsunamis.

Together with colleagues, he is working on a book about the metropolitan siting of nuclear reactors, supported by a Ministry of Education research grant. It will be published next year.


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Indonesia: Coastal birds go urban

Dinda Btari Jakarta Post 30 Oct 12;

One lunchtime in Medan, Marjoko from the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Environment Forum pointed to a flock of coastal birds now becoming “urban birds” on the city’s outskirts, Deli Serdang regency. “They shouldn’t be here. They’ve flown here only to find something to eat. Their mangrove habitat has been destroyed,” he said with deep concern.

Mangrove forests in Indonesia constitute 75 percent of Southeast Asia’s mangrove area, or 27 percent of that of the world’s. Indonesian mangroves, according to Marjoko, have the highest diversity in the world.

Mostly covering the coastal regions of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, Indonesia has around 9.36 million hectares (ha) of mangrove forests, but 48% is categorized as “moderately damaged” and 23% as “badly damaged”.

In North Sumatra, one of the provinces with the largest mangrove areas, 77 percent are reported to be severely damaged, and 13 percent moderately damaged, leaving only a paltry 36,000 ha (10 percent) in good condition.

The decline shows a real degradation of mangrove forests, progressing annually at the rate of around 200,000 ha, due to conversion into fish ponds and oil palm estates, the charcoal industry and illegal logging. Weak law enforcement and graft has strengthened corporate control over mangrove swamps, resulting in environmental damage and the destruction of coastal communities.

The forests are shrinking in the eastern coastal region of Sumatra too, destroying potential resources and the diversity of mangrove forest vegetation, while obliterating the environmental protection aspects of the mangroves.

To restore the mangrove forests, the damage needs to be clearly measured. Local communities must join in conservation efforts. Mangrove land is vital in lessening global warming and climate change.

Indonesia ratified the international Convention on Wetlands by presidential decree in 1991, but conservation of mangrove forests hasn’t been properly implemented and their destruction through estate and pond expansion hasn’t been stopped or even slowed by law enforcement.

The law on environment protection and management was also introduced in 2009, including its enforcement. The 1999 Forestry Law prohibits tree felling within a certain distance from the shore. Today, mangrove wildlife reserve zones where some migratory birds stop over are also considerably damaged.

“Mangrove forest degradation on the eastern coast of North Sumatra is so serious and the rate of deforestation is so alarming that the habitat for wild birds is now gone. Such coastal birds as great-billed herons, purple herons, pied herons, striated herons, gray-crowned night herons, Malay herons, white-tailed kingfishers and little egrets are forced to move to safer urban areas to survive,” Marjoko raged.

The Cemara Asri luxury housing complex on the fringes of Medan is an area that could become an alternative habitat for wild birds. The management has reserved a plot of 5 ha as a reserve for wild birds. The land, worth billions of rupiah, is now a luxury home for birds from the coast of Langkat and Deli Serdang.

“There’re at least 5,000 birds of many different species now in the new habitat at Cemara Asri. This location is also a tourist and student destination, with facilities for monitoring and research. This kind of thing should happen in every new development,” he said.

Istanto, head of the North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA), admitted the loss of 30 percent of mangroves in Langkat, even in Karang Gading wildlife reserve, to oil palm estates and ponds. Istanto has promised to overcome the issue by arresting those involved, but so far nothing has been done.

The partial solution to some of the forest damage is replanting in ravaged areas, which according to Istanto has been carried out since 2010, with one million mangrove trees already planted. A model conservation village has been initiated in Tanjung Ibas, by providing seedlings and cattle. The community is now cooperating with local rangers for joint patrols in the wildlife reserve and mangroves.

Protected forest and conservation zone utilization coordinator of the provincial BKSDA, Ida Marni, said the destruction of mangroves had caused local people, particularly farmers, to lose their source of livelihood, besides the source of food for coastal birds.

“Oil palms pose a major threat. Similarly, coastal bird habitat has been occupied by men. Everybody should work together and share the vision of safeguarding nature — the source of income of coastal farmers and fishermen — against harm,” she added.

Fauzan, of the Mangrove Forest Management Center (BPHM) said his office had been training regional and national conservation groups while managing mangrove areas as resources for ecotourism, such as those in Hamlet II, Sei Nagalawan village, Deli Serdang.

Meanwhile, Conservation Mentality (Come), set up in 2008, has been drilling conservation ideas into students and the communities who face the impact of the destruction.

“Beginning with students, we are trying to teach people in Pakpak Bharat regency, which is a conservation zone, to respect and preserve nature, because it is for their own good. 85 percent of the area is forestland,” said Jenny RL Berutu, director of Come.

In North Sumatra, Come is replanting mangroves in Pantai Gading village, Sicanggang district, and Tanjung Ibus village.

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U.N. urges foreign fishing fleets to halt "ocean grabbing"

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 31 Oct 12;

"Ocean grabbing" or aggressive industrial fishing by foreign fleets is a threat to food security in developing nations where governments should do more to promote local, small-scale fisheries, a study by a U.N. expert said on Tuesday.

The report said emerging nations should tighten rules for access to their waters by an industrial fleet that is rapidly growing and includes vessels from China, Russia, the European Union, the United States and Japan.

"Ocean-grabbing is taking place," Olivier de Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food and the report's author, told Reuters. "It's like land-grabbing, just less discussed and less visible."

The 47-page report on "Fisheries and the Right to Food", which said 15 percent of all animal protein consumed worldwide is from fish, will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly.

De Schutter said ocean grabbing involved "shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations."

The report cited the example of islands in the western and central Pacific that get only about 6 percent of the value of a $3 billion tuna fishery off their coasts. Foreign fishing fleets get the rest.

Equally, Guinea-Bissau nets less than 2 percent of the value of the fish caught off its coast under a deal with the EU. De Schutter said some countries where industrial fleets were based were already taking steps to tighten laws.

"What's getting worse is that the capacity of industrial fishing fleets is increasing," he said. Governments give an estimated $30-34 billion in subsidies to fishing each year.

That money is often spent on boat-building or fuel that skews competition.

"We need to do more to reduce the capacity of the industrial fishing fleets and to manage the fish stocks in a much more sustainable way," said de Schutter. Food security is also at risk from threats such as climate change and pollution, he said.


De Schutter said aquaculture was disproportionately concentrated in Asia which is responsible for 88 percent of all production. "Extremely little has been done in Africa and Latin America in particular. There is a huge potential there," he said.

Fisheries received less attention than farming, he suggested, partly because the sector employed only about 200 million people globally. By contrast, the world has 1.5 billion small-scale farmers, he said.

The report said that local fishing was more efficient and less wasteful than industrial fishing, urging measures to promote small-scale fishing such as the creation of "artisanal fishing zones".

"Small-scale fishers actually catch more fish per gallon of fuel than industrial fleets, and discard fewer fish," it said. It praised some measures which have already been taken to promote local fishing - such as in Cambodia's biggest lake or off the Maldives.

Estimates of the scale of illegal catches range from 10-28 million metric tons, while some 7.3 million metric tons, or almost 10 percent of global wild fish catches were discarded as unwanted by-catches every year, the report said.

It said industrial fishing was by far the most wasteful.

Total global fish production was about 143 million metric tons - 90 million from wild fish catches and 53 million from fish farming, the report said.

De Schutter said fish farming would have to expand to feed a rising world population, now just above 7 billion. Population growth would raise demand by a forecast 27 million metric tons over the next two decades, he said.

(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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"Wild West" timber trade threatens Congo forests: report

Jonny Hogg PlanetArk 29 Oct 12;

Officials in Democratic Republic of Congo are colluding with foreign logging firms to support illegal logging, harming local communities and risking the destruction of the world's second largest forest, a report by a campaign group says.

Derelict ports in Congo's riverside capital Kinshasa are piled high with logs ready to be shipped out to China and Europe as part of the lucrative timber trade.

Much of the timber has been harvested using permits signed by the ministry of environment in direct contravention of Congolese law, advocacy group Global Witness said in the report.

Congo's forest is part of the Congo Basin that spans six countries in the central Africa region covering about 500 million hectares, over 130 million of which is in the Congo. It contains thousands of species and a quarter of the world's remaining tropical forest.

According to the report on Thursday so-called artisanal logging permits - meant only for small scale tree felling by Congolese nationals - are being awarded to foreign firms.

The companies then use industrial methods to cut and export large quantities of wood out of the country, while sidestepping the environmental and social obligations demanded of industrial logging operations.

Attempts to bring order to Congo's chaotic forestry sector have seen a ban on all new industrial logging licenses since 2002, but this has done little to improve the situation according to Colin Robertson, one of the report's authors.

"Basically this is a new system to get around the moratorium... Officials have been giving out artisanal permits to industrial loggers, and it's created a completely chaotic situation in the forests," he told Reuters.

Robertson said that licenses seen by Global Witness - many of them for Chinese or Lebanese companies - had been signed by a former environment minister.

"Wild West"

In the heavily forested province of Bandundu at least 146 artisanal logging permits have been issued in the last 2 years according to the report, which also shows evidence of some firms having cut far more than is allowed by artisanal licenses.

Local chiefs are paid off with anything from motor bikes or beer to allow the trees to be felled, while rural communities see no benefit at all, the report states.

Congolese conservationists say the situation is as bad if not worse elsewhere in the country, which is home to 86 million hectares of forest.

Victor Vundu, director of the ministry of environment's legal team said they were working on clarifying and tightening up legislation under a new minister.

"It's not surprising, in a post conflict country where the administration has been really weakened, that the state should be accused of not sufficiently controlling the application of the law," he said.

Industrial logging output from Congo has dropped in recent years and currently stands at around 350,000 m3 per year, as companies say that without far tighter regulation they cannot compete with the illegal market.

Congo signed a contract with Swiss company SGS in 2010 to introduce a traceability program for the logging trade, but they are still waiting for the green light from the government to go ahead, according to Lionel Nardon, head of the SGS project in Congo.

Nardon said they had already identified more than 100,000 m3 of illegal wood in Kinshasa's ports and described the sector as being like the "wild west" in which contraband timber is traded in the port before being transported out by lorries under the cover of darkness.

"The cost (to the Congo) is millions of dollars, and to the forests, it is incalculable," he said.

(Editing by Bate Felix and James Jukwey)

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