Best of our wild blogs: 12 Nov 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [5 - 11 Nov 2012]
from Green Business Times

Biodiversity for kids during the year end school holidays
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Reef Friends (Blue Water Volunteers) - Training session!
from Psychedelic Nature

Three months of Naked Hermit Crabs' walk at Chek Jawa
from wonderful creation

Plant-Bird Relationship: 11. Non-Flowering Plants
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Thick-billed Green-pigeon and Ficus virens
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Sunda Pangolin
from Monday Morgue

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Companies, ministries take shark's fin off menus

Campaign by Shark Savers Singapore gains ground as more organisations are saying 'no' to shark's fin
Tan Weizhen Today Online 12 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - The anti-shark's fin movement is gaining traction, with more organisations - including at least two government ministries - coming on board in recent months to officially take the dish off the menu at their functions.

Apart from some organisations joining campaigns by conservation groups, others have taken their own initiative to say "no" to shark's fin.

Since Sharks Savers Singapore started rolling out its campaign at the beginning of the year, eight companies - including Hong Kong-based City Chain, homegrown companies Optical88 and Pets Lovers Centre, as well as South-east Asia's largest furniture retailer Courts - have heeded its call to stop consuming the dish at corporate functions.

Other companies such as SingTel - Singapore's largest company by market capitalisation - and international banks Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank have also taken the dish off the menu at corporate events.

A SingTel spokesperson said: "As part of its environmental campaign, SingTel has officially taken shark's fin off the menu for company functions, corporate events and dinners for customers since March this year. In addition, we do not offer shark's fin products for customer redemption in our Red Rewards programme. Staff who order gifts for customers are also required to avoid items containing shark's fin products."

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and the Ministry for Environment (MEWR) have also hopped onto the bandwagon.

A MEWR spokesman said it makes "a conscious decision" to avoid shark's fin on the menu for official functions, with MinLaw adding that it has done so since earlier this year.

Shark Savers Singapore Director, Mr Jonn Lu, reasoned it was "more difficult for government agencies" to join the cause, as shark's fin is part of Singapore's trade. Last year,Singapore imported about 3,500 tonnes of shark's fin, 40 per cent more than the previous year.

Mr Lu said Shark Savers are targeting its campaign mainly at Singapore and Asian companies.

"We want local companies to come on board and Singaporean CEOs to make this pledge. It doesn't make sense, for instance, for Bill Gates to come and tell Singaporeans not to eat shark's fin. This isn't a foreign imported agenda,"said Mr Lu.

Mr Lu added that approaching Asian companies is more effective in influencing mindsets, as compared to Western multi-national companies.

He said: "Chinese consumption of shark's fin soup accounts for the lion's share of the market demand ... if the Chinese can reduce consumption, the shark depletion problem won't be as urgent."

Apart from taking the dish off the menu at corporate functions, the companies involved in Shark Savers' campaign engage their staff on the issue.

For instance, Courts - which has about 2,000 employees in Singapore and Malaysia - has had its key managerial staff sit through "shark conservation education sessions", while its other employees watched videos "on the importance of sharks to the marine environment".

"As a responsible corporate entity, it is our role to look at practices that may be harmful to the environment and then implement change to shift mindsets,"said Courts CEO Terry O'Connor.

Pet Lovers Centre said in August that it had informed and educated its 1,000-strong staff about its new policy of "not ordering or serving any shark's fin at any corporate event".

It added: "We understand the cruelty of how shark's fin is obtained, and therefore decided to undertake this policy a few months ago, as part of our internal corporate social responsibility."

While various organisations are warming up to the cause, some remain on the fence, including the People'sAssociation.

A PA spokesman said: "The serving and consumption of shark's fin at constituency events is left to the discretion of the Organising Committees of the respective events."

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Study: Underground landfill possible

Such a facility is technically feasible, but costs have to be worked out
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 12 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE could have an underground landfill to contain about 40 years' worth of rubbish, a feasibility study has found.

The facility would be in western Singapore and take up about 8 sq km, slightly more than one-hundredth of the country's land size.

The findings of the government-initiated study were presented last week during the 13th World Conference of the Associated Research Centres for Urban Underground Space, which ended last Friday. Singapore hosted the event for the first time.

Urban Redevelopment Authority group director Richard Hoo said: "We are still at the design and study stages. We have to make sure the cost equation works out."

Currently, organic waste here is incinerated. The ashes and non-incinerable waste are deposited on Pulau Semakau, an offshore landfill in use since 1999.

Work on the Semakau landfill, which is expected to have a completed capacity of 63 million cubic m, is ongoing.

The study on the underground landfill was part of a wide-ranging look at 10 possible uses of below-ground space here. Other ideas were for power stations, warehouses and reservoirs.

Initiated by the Government in 2008, the study was carried out by Singapore-Norwegian consortium Sintef-Tritech-Multiconsult and completed a year later.

According to the study, the underground landfill could consist of 840 silos, each 60m deep and with a diameter of 40m, laid out in a grid about 60m underground.

It would have a capacity equivalent to the Semakau facility's.

The authors of the study said the design of the underground landfill has some flexibility because it consists of multiple silos. Fewer or more can be excavated depending on efforts to reduce waste, for example, via recycling.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan said during the conference that Singapore faces challenges in developing underground space.

"Our terrain is mostly flat, with good rocks located deep beneath the surface. These mean greater capital and operational costs for underground development," he noted.

The Republic can look to other cities such as Toronto and Tianjin, which have more experience in the field, he added.

The Ministry of National Development has called for research proposals to create new space and highly liveable, compact model towns for Singapore's long-term growth. The deadline is Wednesday.

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JTC looking at plan for underground science city

R&D facilities, data centres could be located under Kent Ridge Park: Study
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 12 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE'S first underground science city could have 40 linked rock caverns for research and development (R&D) facilities and data centres, a feasibility study has found.

These would be located under Kent Ridge Park in the west and up to 4,200 scientists, researchers and other professionals could work in them.

Some findings of the study - commissioned by the Government in 2009 and completed in March this year - were presented here last week during the 13th World Conference of Associated Research Centres for Urban Underground Space.

Experts at the event said other underground projects were feasible here, including a landfill to contain about 40 years' worth of rubbish.

Two papers from the science-city study presented last week focused on the technical feasibility and did not estimate cost.

Asked about the project's future, a spokesman for government industrial landlord JTC Corporation said it is studying the findings.

In 1999, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) studied the possibility of an underground science city which would connect three above-ground science parks in the area.

Although it concluded it was possible and published a report in 2001, the idea did not pick up steam until 2008 when JTC said it was exploring concepts for an underground science city and an underground warehouse.

The latest study, by a Swiss-Singapore consortium of two firms, built upon NTU's findings. The consortium came up with a design for 40 linked rock caverns, each about 25m high and with a cross-section of about 500 sq m. In total, the caverns would have 192,000 sq m of rentable space across three or four levels, about twice VivoCity's retail space.

The study recommended using the caverns for IT, biotechnology and life sciences R&D as well as data centres.

If other uses are considered, they should benefit from the caverns' natural advantages, said the authors. The caverns are free of noise and vibration from surface activities, such as construction, and can be "easily sealed off" to limit the fall-out of dangerous work.

The study recommended safety guidelines and ways to make the caverns comfortable. These include a fresh-air and smoke-control system, main concourse with socialising spaces and lighting that simulates daylight.

Four engineers here who have worked on or done research on underground projects told The Straits Times that below-ground offices are as safe as those on the surface.

"Providing water and electricity (to underground offices) would be similar to what we already do for some retail shops under the surface," said Mr Niu Jianxin, managing director of GeoAlliance Consultants.

The challenges are cost, with underground construction about four times pricier than for surface projects, and the need to conduct extensive site investigations and provide leeway for changes.

"Above-ground power and water facilities are easy to change or replace. This is much more inconvenient for facilities below ground," said NTU's Assistant Professor Louis Wong, an expert in rock mechanics and underground engineering.

The engineers said stringent engineering and emergency safety codes could allay most fears.

Singapore can also study the experiences of nations such as Japan, which has built underground shopping districts, they added.

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Social pressure can help deal with littering habits: PM Lee

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 11 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said putting social pressure on litterbugs is one way to deal with the problem.

Mr Lee though did not rule out the possibility of adjusting the penalties for littering.

He was speaking to reporters at the launch of the Clean and Green campaign at Ang Mo Kio constituency on Sunday morning.

Statistics from the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed there are about 3,500 complaints about littering in public places every year.

Since August, surveillance cameras have been installed to catch high-rise litterbugs.

PM Lee said it's not easy to nab people who litter. And, he hopes the public can pitch in, to promote good social habits.

He said: "Members of the public will look at you and you will know that you have done something which is no good and that's how I think the Japanese do it, the Koreans do it.

"It's most impressive when you go and see their cities how they have kept it clean. They don't have as many cleaners or foreign workers as we have.

"So, really it's something which we have got to get into our kids and into ourselves, whether you are at home whether you are overseas. This is the correct behaviour not to be anti social."

And while penalties for littering may be adjusted, Mr Lee made clear that they have to be proportionate, to the offence committed.

He said Singapore's anti-littering campaign has existed for a long time.

Yet, he's noticed the standard of cleanliness going down.

Mr Lee said: "Maybe the city is more crowded now that there are more people but it's also because I think over the years a bit blase about it.

"So if you look at the pictures before and after which we showed how our own precincts before the cleaners have cleaned it and after the cleaners have cleaned it, a lot of stuff and a lot of it have been thrown from higher storeys. People, instead of just using the dustbin, they use the window as dustbin and I think that's no good."

As part of the Clean and Green campaign, the Ang Mo Kio Town Council will focus on tackling issues relating to cleanliness at common areas, high rise littering, and responsible pet ownership.

In addition, the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang constituency will form a Clean and Green Taskforce.

It's a volunteer group made up of representatives from different grassroots organisations. The aim is to raise environmental awareness and promote social responsibility in keeping the estates clean.

The Town Council is also providing more convenience to residents and encouraging good binning habits. It's adding 35 more of colourful painted bins at bus stops along Ang Mo Kio-Hougang area. The Town Council hopes that with these bins, more people will use it and litter will be reduced.

There are also plans for more energy savings initiatives. The Ang Mo Kio Town Council will replace 50,000 lamps at 193 blocks with energy saving LED ones from June 2013.

When fully implemented, a net savings of S$1 million on electrical tariffs every year, may be achieved.

More solar panels will also be installed next year to reduce energy consumption in common areas.

- CNA/xq/ck

PM: Pitch in to keep up cleanliness levels in Singapore
Standards slipping; penalties may be raised; social pressure is best answer
Janice Heng Straits Times 12 Nov 12;

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has thrown his support behind the move to raise standards of cleanliness in the country, urging Singaporeans to play their part in keeping it tidy.

He noted yesterday that standards of cleanliness had slipped as people were getting blase about littering.

But PM Lee stopped short of backing some of the tough proposals that have been put forward, saying he thought the best approach was one of social pressure.

The penalties for littering may have to be adjusted, he said. "But I don't think it's the correct solution that if we catch you once in a while, then we send you to jail. It has to be proportionate to the offence."

The problem is best addressed by Singaporeans themselves frowning on those who litter, and doing their part to keep the city clean, green and special, he said.

Mr Lee's hope is that, when someone litters, it will not be left to the authorities to go after the person "but everybody else who is there, members of the public, will look at you and you will know that you have done something which is no good".

Such social pressure is felt in Japan and South Korea, where cities are clean despite fewer cleaners, he said.

Mr Lee was speaking to reporters at the launch of Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West's two-year Our Clean And Green Home campaign.

Keep Singapore Clean Movement head Liak Teng Lit said he "fully agreed" with Mr Lee.

"Unless there is social disapproval, no amount of enforcement, no amount of nagging will work," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

Mr Liak has also called for tough new measures on litterbugs who are impervious to social pressure, including giving thousands of citizens the power to issue summonses to offenders.

Enforcement is still important for the small minority who disregard social norms, he added. He thinks falling cleanliness standards are due in part to a lack of enforcement, observing that "no one fears being caught now".

Another factor is the frequency of cleaning. Some estates are now cleaned two or three times a day, so residents do not feel that littering is a problem, he said.

The campaign by Ang Mo Kio Town Council and the community centres' youth executive committees, addresses issues such as cleanliness at common areas, high-rise littering, responsible pet ownership, the feeding of strays, and saving energy.

Yesterday's launch included an exhibition of photographs showing the contrast before and after cleaners had made their rounds of the precincts.

Three town council cleaners received $200 NTUC FairPrice vouchers and plaques from Mr Lee for winning the National Environment Agency's Best Cleaner awards. One of them, Ms Sharifah Nooraidah, 41, took the job five years ago to support her wheelchair-bound parents and younger brother.

Mr Lee's remarks on keeping Singapore clean came on a day when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong pitched in with others to pick up litter.

At the MacPherson constituency yesterday, 30 cleaners were given the day off as a reward for their efforts at keeping the estate clean. In their place, doing the usual job of picking up litter and sweeping void decks were PCF kindergarten pupils, grassroots volunteers and Marine Parade GRC MPs.

The other MPs there besides Mr Goh were Mr Seah Kian Peng and Ms Tin Pei Ling, and Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten).

Holding a black trash bag and metal tongs, ESM Goh walked around the common areas picking up litter with kindergarten pupils at the Balam Road estate. Ms Tin said the event aims to promote the idea that keeping the estate clean is a shared responsibility.

Yesterday was also the day that new tray return points were introduced at West Coast Hawker Centre. The popular eatery is the first to be outfitted with the new racks, which allow for trays containing larger crockery items.

Such tray return points will be rolled out in all 107 hawker centres under the National Environment Agency, which is leading the campaign to get consumers to return their plates and utensils.


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Indonesia: Sumatra Downpours Leave Flood Trail Heading South

SP/Muhammad Hamzah, SP/Arnold Sianturi, SP/Usmin & SP/Radesman Saragih Jakarta Globe 9 Nov 12;

Banda Aceh/Medan/Bengkulu/Jambi. Floodwaters have begun receding in parts of Aceh and North Sumatra, but the torrential rains that have wreaked havoc there over the past week are now moving south and inundating large swaths of Bengkulu and Jambi provinces.

In Aceh Singkil district, one of the worst-hit areas, floodwaters that swamped nearly 500 hectares of farmland and swept away two bridges since the start of the week were reported to be going down as of Wednesday.

Nasruddin Solin, head of the Aceh Singkil Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said on Thursday that the waters, in some places as high as two meters, had receded enough for some schools to reopen.

He said his agency was now working with the district health office and the local military command to deal with an outbreak of skin rashes and other waterborne illnesses being reported by residents.

Dulmusrid, the deputy district head, blamed the severity of the flooding in Aceh Singkil on overflowing local rivers and on torrents of water rushing downstream from Southeast Aceh district and the town of Subussalam.

In West Aceh district, floodwaters up to a meter high have also begun receding.

However, three subdistricts remain isolated, with thick layers of mud cutting off access to those areas and leaving residents unable to get out and authorities unable to send relief supplies in.

Fadli, the head of Woyla subdistrict, said there were thousands of residents in his area and neighboring East Woyla and West Woyla
subdistricts stranded there with no way to get out, while the authorities had no way to get relief supplies in.

He urged the district authorities to start clearing up the roads as soon as possible.

In North Sumatra’s Serdang Begadai district, water levels were also falling by Wednesday, but a flash flood in the afternoon swept away a 5-year-old boy. His body was later found not far from where he had been dragged into the water.

Nearly 2,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the district because of the flooding on Monday and Tuesday that left entire neighborhoods inundated in up to a meter of water.

Many residents said they would continue to remain in government shelters, until the water level had receded even further, before returning home, for fear of more flash floods.

With the rains moving south, officials in Bengkulu and Jambi are bracing for similar flooding in their regions.

Eko Agusrianto, a Bengkulu administration spokesman, said on Thursday that Acting Governor Junaidi Hamsyah had called on all officials to be ready for the high possibility of flooding.

“We’re not hoping for floods in Bengkulu, but our experience shows that every rainy season, there are regions here that get flooded, so we need to prepare for this,” Eko said.

The provincial capital, Bengkulu, as well as the districts of North Bengkulu, Seluma and Lebong have already seen minor flooding, with the situation feared to get worse before it gets better.

“If the heavy rains continue for quite a while, then people living on the banks of rivers should be ready to evacuate, so that when the floods and landslides hit, we can minimize fatalities,” Junaidi said.

In Jambi, provincial authorities have highlighted the lack of preparedness by district and municipal officials to deal with potential flooding.

Syahrasaddin, the provincial secretary, said on Wednesday that Jambi city and East and West Tanjungjabung districts did not have their own disaster mitigation agencies. Those regions have a combined 20 neighborhoods known to be prone to severe flooding.

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Troubled times for endangered Yangtze finless porpoise

WWF 11 Nov 12;

Wuhan, China - A research expedition underway on the Yangtze is looking to discover how many of the world's only freshwater finless porpoises can be found in the river - and how to save the remaining population from extinction.

The endangered Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides asiaeorientalis), which numbers less than 1,800 in the wild, lives mainly in the central and lower reaches of the 6300km Yangtze River and two large adjoining lakes, Dongting and Poyang.

Led by China's Ministry of Agriculture and organized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) and WWF, the expedition comes only six years after the Baiji dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) - another rare cetacean and close relative of the finless porpoise - was declared functionally extinct after a similar Yangtze survey that also looked at porpoise numbers.

"We are not optimistic about the estimated results in the mainstream investigation at this moment," said Wang Ding general director of both the 2006 and 2012 investigations and Research Fellow at the IHB. "But in addition to the numbers and distribution of the population of Yangtze finless porpoises, we will also investigate the fishery resources and water quality of the Yangtze River."

Estimates from the 2006 survey say that the finless porpoise is expected to decline to around 200 by 2035 - Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List - if no effective protection measures are taken. More recent estimates are even less optimistic, saying that the species could become extinct in 15 years if no action is taken.

Recect survey finds stable population in some areas, sharp decline in others

A survey conducted in October 2012 in Dongting and Poyang lakes brought mixed news, with a sharp reduction in the Dongting population while Poyang Lake numbers were mostly stable.

"The initial findings from the 2012 survey in the two lakes show that there are around 450 finless porpoises in Poyang Lake, and 90 in Dongting Lake," said Wang Ding. "Compared with the survey results in 2006, the population in Dongting Lake has sharply declined, and their habitat has also shrunk. This shows their living conditions are getting worse and worse. "

The downturn in porpoise numbers is the result of many different factors including food shortages, accidents with boat engine propellers, pollution and electro-fisihing, where electrical currents are sent into the water to stun fish before they are caught.

"As a symbol of the Yangtze ecosystem, the status of the finless porpoise is a reflection of the the health of the Yangtze River. It has already lost the Baiji dolphin, and cannot bear losing Yangtze finless porpoise!" said Wang Kexiong, Research Associate from the IHB.

Protection plan

Scientists at the Wuhan-based IHB are now formulating an action plan to help conserve the rare porpoise. In addition to existing calls for more research on artificial propagation, scientists and policymakers will integrate data gathered during the expedition and include it in the final plan.

"If we are going to save the Yangtze finless porpoise from the same fate as the Baiji, we must take immediate action to keep the Yangtze River and its lakes healthy," said Lei Gang, Director of WWF China's Freshwater Program. "This means better laws and enforcement - we need to see harmful fishing practices stop, sand dredging better controlled, and new reserves developed."

"But the Yangtze River isn't going to be problem-free overnight. So to ensure the finless porpoise survives, we will also need to better understand where the best places are for this ancient animal to live, and learn a lot more about artificial propagation," Lei Gang added.

The expedition will cover a 1,700km expanse of the Yangtze, taking researchers from Yichang to Shanghai and back again. Preliminary results will be announced from mid to late December, and the complete report will be released in March 2013.

High notes: Chinese pop star Zhang Liangying

WWF's Yangtze finless porpoise conservation ambassador Zhang Liangying (Jane Zhang) showed her support before the expedition got underway at a Friday night concert in Shenzhen with a performace of the song "Grateful". Acknowledging that the porpoise is known for its mischievous smile, the pop star said the song will help "keep the smile on Yangtze finless porpoises' face" to a packed house.

The musician also said that the song will be presented to WWF, with all proceeds donated to Yangtze finless porpoise conservation.

"The Yangtze finless porpoise is the symbol of our mother river, the Yangtze River, and to protect them means to protect ourselves." said Jane Zhang. "WWF and the experts from the Institute of Hydrobiology have done a lot to protect Yangtze finless porpoise, and that is worth admiration. I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Yangtze finless porpoise again in the Yangtze River, and do more for Yangtze finless porpoise, she added.

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