Best of our wild blogs: 10 Dec 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [3 - 9 Dec 2012]
from Green Business Times

hermit crab house swapping @ Ubin - Dec2012
from sgbeachbum

Bidadari (7 December)
from Rojak Librarian

Plant-Bird relationship: 16. Addendum – Plasticaceae
from Bird Ecology Study Group

House Shrew
from Monday Morgue

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A vote to capture the national butterfly

Straits Times 10 Dec 12;

THE hunt is on to find Singapore's national butterfly.

Members of the public will be asked to vote in a poll next year.

One species in the running is the common rose butterfly, which has white and red colouring reminiscent of the national flag.

The exercise is being led by the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and students from the National University of Singapore. Students will fan out islandwide or use social media to carry out the poll early next year.

"Having a national butterfly will generate interest in insect conservation, which is often overlooked compared with other well-known symbols for conservation such as pandas or tigers," said Mr Anuj Jain, chairman of the NSS Butterfly Interest Group.

The search for a national butterfly comes alongside a large-scale butterfly project taking shape in the heart of town.

Nature lovers have been hard at work creating an urban butterfly trail among the glitzy malls of Orchard Road. Billed as the first of its kind in the world, the 4km-long trail starts at the gates of the Botanic Gardens, continues down Orchard Road and ends in Fort Canning Park.

Initiated by the NSS, the self-guided walking route will lead people along five different trails that cut through 15 butterfly hotspots. These include tucked-away green oases between the malls, little-known rooftop and private gardens, and public green spaces.

Since the project started in 2010, three of the five walking trails have been completed. Sixty-two butterfly species, including the common rose butterfly and the common birdwing butterfly, are already attracted to the trail.

Singapore is home to about 300 butterfly species but not all can thrive in urban areas. Still, gems such as the rare black veined tiger butterfly and the cruiser butterfly - usually found in forests - have been spotted along the trail.

The project, which will cost an estimated $400,000, is partnered by the National Parks Board and Singapore Tourism Board.

Mr Jain said volunteers from companies and the NSS had agreed to help. Students from nearby schools have also offered to pitch in.

Some 100 students from schools such as Raffles Girls' School (Secondary), the National Institute of Education and Queensway Secondary School have been helping to plant shrubs and bushes that the butterflies need for food, shelter and breeding. The students have also been counting and identifying the species.

The trail passes through two schools - the Singapore Management University and the School of the Arts - and their students have built their own gardens within the campuses. So far, about 15,000 plants have been planted along the trail.

RGS student Cham Zek Min, 15, has helped the NSS to research and identify the butterfly species attracted to different plants.

She said: "We could share what we learnt about the behaviour of the butterflies with primary school children and families through our workshops."

The students have also been conducting workshops in libraries and schools to raise awareness of urban biodiversity once a month since June.

"Few shopping districts in the world can boast of green areas so this project lets the young see for themselves that there can be biodiversity in the city," said Mr Jain.

"Hopefully, this will spur their interest in conservation."


For information, go to

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Farming in the Sky in Singapore

Kalinga Seneviratne IPS 8 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE, Dec 8 2012 (IPS) - With a population of five million crammed on a landmass of just 715 square kilometres, the tiny republic of Singapore has been forced to expand upwards, building high-rise residential complexes to house the country’s many inhabitants.

Now, Singapore is applying the vertical model to urban agriculture, experimenting with rooftop gardens and vertical farms in order to feed its many residents.

Currently only seven percent of Singapore’s food is grown locally. The country imports most of its fresh vegetables and fruits daily from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as from more distant trading partners like Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Chile.

An influx of immigrants has resulted in a rapid crowding of Singapore’s skyline, as more and more towering apartment buildings shoot up. And meanwhile, what little land was available for farming is disappearing fast.

The solution to the problem came in the form of a public-private partnership, with the launch of what has been hailed as the “world’s first low carbon, water-driven rotating vertical farm” for growing tropical vegetables in an urban environment.

The result of a collaborative agreement between the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and a local firm, Sky Green, this venture aims to popularise urban farming techniques that are also environmentally friendly.

With a robust economy that boasts a gross domestic product of 239.7 billion dollars, Singapore has plenty of money. “But money (is) worthless without food,” according to Sky Green Director Jack Ng.

“That’s why I wanted to use my engineering skills to help Singapore farmers to produce more food,” Ng told IPS.

An engineer by training, Ng created the vertical farming system, which he nicknamed ‘A Go-Grow’. It consists of a series of aluminium towers, some of them up to nine metres high, each containing 38 tiers equipped with troughs for the vegetables.

In keeping with Sky Green’s focus on environmental sustainability, the water used to power the rotating towers is recycled within the system and eventually used to water the vegetables. Each tower consumes only 60 watts of power daily – about the same amount as a single light bulb.

Ng knew that if the system was too expensive or complicated, urban farmers would not be able to survive. And given that he designed the project with retirees and other housebound farmers in mind, he tried to create a situation in which “the plant comes to you, rather than you going to the plant.”

The multi-layered vegetable tower rotates very slowly, taking some eight hours to complete a full circle. As the plant travels to the top it absorbs ample sunlight and when it comes back down it is watered from a tray that is fed by the hydraulic system that drives the rotation of the tower.

This closed cycle system is easy to maintain and doesn’t release any exhaust.

Ng says that such towers, if set up on roofs of the many multi-storey residential blocs that house most of Singapore’s population, could provide livelihoods for retirees and housewives, who would only need to spend a few hours up on the roof to attend to the system.

Sky Green towers currently produce three vegetables popular with locals – nai bai, xiao bai cai and Chinese cabbage, which can be harvested every 28 days.

They already supply NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest grocery retailer that has a network of over 230 outlets and supermarkets. The urban-grown vegetables cost roughly 20 cents more per kilogramme than the imported varieties.

The group’s purchasing manager, Tng Ah Yiam, recently told a Straits Times reporter that these ‘sky farms’ are now able to offer their customers quality, locally-grown vegetables “that are fresher because they travel a shorter distance from farm to shelf”.

Sky Green plans to supply two tonnes a day to NTUC by the middle of next year when they expand their farm towers.

Coordinated efforts

The Sky Green project feeds into a trend that has been underway in Singapore for several decades.

Since the urban expansion of the 1990s Singapore has attempted to respond to the scarcity of land available for traditional cultivation by promoting rooftop vegetable gardens.

A number of local institutions developed hydroponic and aeroponic cultivation systems but none ever took off. “There was always concern over whether or not the rooftops could take the weight of these structures,” Shih Yong Goh, former head of public affairs at AVA, told IPS.

Experts like Lee Sing Kong, director of the National Institute of Education and a long-time advocate of the use of ‘sky farms’, believe there is an urgent need for Singapore to become less dependent on food imports.

Given the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, including “natural disasters such as flooding, which could impact food production, it may be necessary for Singapore to look at producing some of its own vegetables from the food security point of view”, he told IPS.

Kong said that he is currently involved in the development of ‘vegetable factories’, whole buildings designed to grow fresh produce.

“We have (begun) developing a 6-tiered aeroponic system to grow vegetables with the help of LED lights,” he said, adding, “this is in the experimental stage. If the model proves to be successful, then the multi-tiered system can be installed within enclosed buildings for producing vegetables. This will certainly enhance the opportunities for urban agriculture.”

Since 2005, the government has shed some of its reservations about rooftop production. The National Parks Board recently converted the rooftop of a multi-storey residential building in the densely populated Upper Serangoon Road into an educational farm to promote urban agriculture among school children.

Meanwhile, Sky Green has signed an MOU with Singapore’s Temasek Polytechnic technical college. Dr. Lee Chee Wee, director of the School of Applied Science, believes that partnering with Sky Green will expose his students to how technology is used in vegetable farming and make “modern farming so much more attractive as a career choice for our graduates”.

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Fears over Indonesia's thirst for palm oil

Loic Vennin and Olivia Rondonuwu (AFP) Google News 9 Dec 12

PARARAWEN, Indonesia — The roar of chainsaws has replaced birdsong, the once-lush, green jungle scorched to a barren grey. The equivalent of six football pitches of forest is lost every minute in Indonesia.

The disappearance of the trees has pushed thousands of animals -- from the birds they harbour and sustain to orangutans, gibbons and black panthers -- out of their natural homes and habitats.

They have been replaced by plantations that are too nutrient-poor to support such wildlife, instead dedicated solely to producing fruit that is pulped to make oil used globally in products ranging from food to fuel.

A palm oil tree can yield useable fruit in three years and continue doing so for the next 25 years. But such wealth creation has meant environmental destruction.

"We don't see too many orangutans any more", said a worker with a weather-beaten face, taking a break in the shade of a hut built on a path gouged out of the forest floor.

Experts believe there are about 50,000 to 60,000 orangutans left in the wild, 80 percent of them in Indonesia's Borneo and the rest in Malaysia. Exact data on their decline is hard to come by, say primatologists.

"What we see now is a contest between orangutans and palm oil for a home," said Sri Suci Utami Atmoko from National University in Jakarta.

"You can judge that the population is depleting from the loss of orangutan habitats."

Gibbons, often recognisable by the rings of white fur that frame their faces, are among the hardest-hit species.

"There are 100,000 gibbons in Borneo. But in 15-20 years, there will be more viable populations," said Aurelien Brule, a French national based in Borneo for 15 years who runs an animal sanctuary.

Gibbons rescued from the destruction of their forest homes cannot be returned alone into new wild habitats. "Other pairs protecting their own territory would kill them," said Brule, adding that rampant deforestation has wiped out sites suitable for single animals.

There is also a human cost, with the permits for plantations resulting in the eviction of indigenous people.

Abdon Nababan, the secretary general of AMAN, an Indonesian indigenous peoples alliance, said there is no exact data but recorded cases of land conflict are in the hundreds, with thousands of people possibly affected.

"Palm oil has brought fortune to Indonesia, but it has been gained with blood," said Jakarta-based forest campaigner for Greenpeace, Wirendro Sumargo.

Indonesia, the world's biggest palm oil producer, has exponentially increased the land dedicated to the commodity from 274,000 hectares (680,000 acres) in the 1980s to 7.32 million hectares in 2009, government documents show.

The industry has helped push Indonesia's GDP growth rate above 6.0 percent every year since 2005, but at the cost of huge tracts of rainforest.

An area roughly the size of Denmark was lost between 2000 and 2010 across Indonesia and its neighbour Malaysia, according to a study published last year in the Global Change Biology journal.

Despite some backlash around the world, including an unsuccessful attempt in France to push an amendment to quadruple tax on palm oil to discourage consumption -- the destruction is unlikely to stop any time soon.

Indonesia, which together with Malaysia holds 85 percent of the market, aims to increase production more than 60 percent by 2020.

To appease environmental concerns, it last year imposed a moratorium on new permits in primary forests and peatlands. But critics say it is a cosmetic move, with plantations overlapping sensitive environments.

One example can be found in the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest, in the northwest of Aceh province, home to endangered species such as Sumatran rhinos and tigers.

In this area, "we have evidence that five palm oil firms are doing illegal practices", said Deddy Ratih, forest campaigner for WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

Derom Bangun, the chairman of umbrella organisation the Indonesian Palm Oil Board, doesn't deny the issue but says improvements are being made.

"The government has seen (the violations) and has taken steps to fix it. Ultimately we want the palm oil industry to work according to the rules," he added.

In an effort to improve their image, some palm oil firms have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a forum consisted namely of green groups and growers.

The WWF, one of the founders of RSPO, admitted that there is still a conservation shortfall.

"Generally land allocation for plantations still overlaps with primary forests and peatlands, including in areas that are the habitat of key species," said Irwan Gunawan, WWF deputy director of market transformation in Indonesia.

"We are encouraging the government to pay attention to this," he added.

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Heavy Rains and Floods Cripple Several Cities Across Indonesia

Jakarta Globe 8 Dec 12;

Jambi/Bandung/Yogyakarta/Samarinda. Torrential rains over the last several days caused heavy flooding in many areas across the country on Friday, but as of that evening there were no reports of fatalities.

In Jambi, water from the overflowing Batang Hari River nearly paralyzed the entire city on Friday, with floodwater reaching up to two meters in depth in some areas.

Rafts and canoes were being used as a mode of transport.

The floods hit all three subdistricts in the city, residents said, adding however, that the fact that most houses are built on stilts spared many from serious damage.

Despite the extent and depth of the floods, there were no reports of people evacuating for drier ground.

Many residents also said they were reluctant to leave their homes empty for security reasons.

Junaidi Yusak, the head of the Legok urban ward in the Telanaipura subdistrict of Jambi, said the 264 houses in his area have been completely isolated. He said some 1,370 people were affected in his ward.

He also said that residents had anticipated the floods, setting up a flood coordination center and devising evacuation plans in case of emergency. They also prepared canoes and rafts.

“We have been continuously monitoring the water and based on our observations the floods continue to rise in height by some five centimeters every day. We also continuously inform residents so that they can prepare themselves well if they have to evacuate,” Junaidi said.

An observation of the Batang Hari River water level showed that by Friday it was only about 17 centimeters away from the 13.37-meter critical level that would necessitate the evacuation of the some 3,000 residents in the three flooded subdistricts.

In Bandung district, West Java, water overflowed from the Citarum River, flooding several areas and roads in Baleendah subdistrict, blocking people from traveling to and from surrounding areas.

Hundreds of houses and buildings were still inundated as of Friday morning.

In Paser district, East Kalimantan, residents in some neighborhoods climbed onto the roofs of their houses to avoid floodwater while others fled to higher land and buildings.

Several residents blamed bad sewage systems and the habit of throwing garbage to rivers and water channels, blocking water flow and causing it to overflow in their areas.

“The related agency must quickly clean them because the rainy season will worsen the situation,” said Andi, a local resident.

In Yogyakarta, as of Friday morning dozens of houses in Umbulharjo were also still flooded by water coming up from a nearby river which has been filled with garbage.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said on Tuesday that rain-related disasters were expected to continue until January. He said the areas particularly vulnerable are those straddling the Bengawan Solo River in Central and East Java, as well as villages at the foot of Mount Merapi in Central Java and Yogyakarta. They are at risk of landslides from the millions of tons of ash deposits still sitting on the volcano’s slopes following its eruption in 2010.

Sutopo said mudslides and floods across the country in the past two months have killed at least 33 people and forced 35,000 to flee their homes, warning that these figures could rise as the rainy season intensifies.

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