Best of our wild blogs: 18 Dec 12

Breathtaking trip to the Lost Coast
from wonderful creation

Random Gallery - King Crow
from Butterflies of Singapore

Oriental Pied Hornbill calls
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Buy SG Fish Next Time
from mndsingapore by Minister Khaw Boon Wan

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Buy locally farmed fish to reduce fish imports: Khaw Boon Wan

Channel NewsAsia 17 Dec 12;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has made a call for Singaporeans to support local fish farms by buying locally farmed fish.

In a Facebook posting, Mr Khaw said the target is to raise the market share of locally farmed fish, or SG Fish, to 15 per cent from the current 8 per cent.

Local fish farms have come together to brand their locally farmed fish as "SG Fish", which are labelled as such in supermarkets.

Mr Khaw said Singapore imported 150,000 tonnes of fish last year.

To reduce the country's dependence on fish imports, Mr Khaw said the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) actively helps local fish farms raise their productivity through Research and Development (R&D).

Much of this scientific test-bedding work is done at AVA's Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC) on St John's Island.

Mr Khaw, who visited the facility recently, wrote about the R&D efforts made by MAC.

He said one objective of MAC is to help fish reproduce and grow faster.

He said MAC scientists have identified fast growing, good quality fish of several local popular species, such as the Asian Seabass, Pompano and Tilapia.

Secondly, MAC has to get the right environmental conditions for the fishes to spawn.

Third, when the fish larvae are born, they are given an additional boost of a special diet to ensure their healthy growth.

The frys are finally transferred to commercial fish farms for scaling up as adult fish.

Mr Khaw said these R&D efforts have been valuable and have helped to boost Singapore's local fish production, from 4 per cent of total consumption in 2009 to the current 8 per cent.

- CNA/jc

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Economic growth via population increase is unsustainable

Straits Times Forum 18 Dec 12;

WHETHER it is no growth, slow growth, high growth or "growth at all costs", the essential question remains: Can we afford to rely on population growth as a survival strategy ("Why S'pore has to keep up its growth"; last Tuesday)?

We must, as a nation, find an alternative economic model that does not rely on population growth, simply because our land mass is tiny and limited.

Whether it is easier said than done is irrelevant because it is existentially crucial that we find the solution. Yet, neither the growth debate nor the Singapore Conversation has gone in that direction.

This is probably because we, as a population, are simply comfortable with the Government's time-tested economic model, which has brought us riches.

We would rather think about how to cross the river once we reach its bank, which conveniently will happen only after our lifetimes.

I hope that when the Government presents its White Paper on population policy next month, it demonstrates its well-known proactive leadership by acknowledging and addressing the need to eventually arrest this trajectory of perpetual population growth, before our society starts bursting at the seams.

Osman Sidek

Why Singapore has to keep up its growth
Straits Times 11 Dec 12;

THE argument that Singapore is in a position to ease off on its growth path has become fashionable in some circles. So, it called for no less than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to disabuse advocates of the notion that having arrived at developed-nation status, Singapore might assume a permanent state of affluence, much like Nordic and Central European countries of comparable population size.

Singapore is increasingly affluent, but the moorings are not firm. At an Economic Society function in June, Mr Lee averred that Singapore had not gone for "growth at all costs" but only as a means of improving lives and achieving certain goals. Looking at it another way, Singaporeans cannot expect to live off the fat of the land if a prolonged recession occurred. They have to build up the ballast.

Last week, the People's Action Party's biennial conference was told why it would be folly to abandon established national strategies, among them sustainable economic growth that will allow the state to spread its largesse fairly. With its dependence on trade and labour mobility, Singapore's economic foundations are by no means impervious to forces of change. So, it is disconcerting there is a body of opinion which believes sub-optimal growth will not fracture society, as the nation has "arrived". The belief that a slower growth would ease social pressures and raise general contentment is not supported by the facts. Look no further than an old-money society like Japan.

But with every spike in inflation and asset rates and each new labour incident which accentuates uneasy feelings about foreigners, dissatisfaction grows. Such disquiet has to be managed sensibly. While acknowledging the root causes of unhappiness, it would be a leap of logic for dissenters to say high growth rates alone are responsible. Consider a scenario of zero growth, high unemployment and declining earning and purchasing power. Then, an outflow of dispirited young people would turn Singapore into an "old-folks' home", as PM Lee put starkly. This is happening in stagnating Ireland and New Zealand, where the exodus has alarmed their governments.

A maturing economy settles down to a sedate expansion once growth-busting fixed investments have run their course. Japan, Europe and the United States will be happy to have growth at all. Singapore's growth for this year will be around 2 per cent, or lower, against what the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Trade Ministry set as a trend rate of 3 to 5 per cent. Singapore is looking at a sustainable rate of 2 to 3 per cent. Anything lower could leave many workers vulnerable if a downturn happened. Calls to curb the rate of growth should be seen in this light.

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Malaysia: Oil and gas hub in Pengerang will not affect Iskandar Malaysia

Yee Xiang Yun and Edmund Khoo The Star 17 Dec 12;

JOHOR BARU: The oil and gas hub being developed in Pengerang, at the south-eastern tip of Johor, will not affect the environmentally-friendly development being carried out in Iskandar Malaysia.

Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) state commissioner Dr Badrul Hisham said specific zones had been marked within the state for development.

“We are careful about managing man-made developments and eco-tourism development in the region.

“The oil and gas refinery project is located in east Johor while the western part of the state is dedicated to eco-tourism developments,” he said Monday.

The heart of Pengerang's development is Petronas' RM60bil Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development, due to begin by the middle of 2013 and operational in 2016.

The other project is Pengerang's RM5bil deep-water oil terminal, a joint venture between Dialog Group Bhd, Rotterdam-based Royal Vopak N.V. and the Johor government.

Dr Badrul said eco-tourism was a community-based industry and the authority had adopted Kampung Sungai Melayu, popular for birdwatching activities, as IRDA's pilot project to develop the sector.

“On top of hospitality skills, the locals would be educated on how to differentiate between local and migratory birds and ensure correct information to bird lovers as the village is one of the annual stops for thousands of migratory birds from Russia.

“Locals need to realise the potential that their village has to offer and use it as an asset to help boost the economy,” he said.

Dr Badrul said IRDA was committed towards striking a balanced development between Johor's eco-tourism sector and the state's man-made attractions.

He added that while Iskandar Malaysia was currently experiencing vast economic development, it was important to create a sustainable metropolis.

“This is why we are placing emphasis on developing eco-tourism in Iskandar Malaysia as an alternative attraction to the theme parks, such as Legoland Malaysia and the Puteri Harbour family theme park,” he said.

About 150 local and international delegates, including those from Indonesia and New Zealand are attending the three-day eco-tourism summit to discuss ways to develop the industry in Johor.

Eco-tourism projects will go on in Iskandar, says IRDA
The Star 19 Dec 12;

JOHOR BARU: The oil and gas hub being developed in Pengerang, at the south-eastern tip of Johor, will not affect the environmentally-friendly development being carried out in Iskandar Malaysia.

Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) state commissioner Dr Badrul Hisham said this after opening the inaugural Iskan-dar Malaysia National Eco-tourism Summit at Persada Johor here yesterday.

He said specific zones had been earmarked within the state for development.

“We are careful about managing man-made development and eco-tourism development.

“The oil and gas refinery project is located in east Johor while the western part of the state is dedicated to eco-tourism,” he added.

The heart of Pengerang's development is Petronas' RM60bil Refi-nery and Petrochemical Integrated Development, due to begin by the middle of next year and operational in 2016.

The other project is Pengerang's RM5bil deep-water oil terminal, a joint venture between Dialog Group Bhd, Rotterdam-based Royal Vopak N.V. and the Johor Government.

Dr Badrul said eco-tourism was a community-based industry and the authority had adopted Kam-pung Sungai Melayu, popular for birdwatching, as IRDA's pilot pro-ject to develop the sector.

“On top of hospitality skills, the locals will be taught how to differentiate between local and migratory birds and ensure they give the correct information to bird lovers as the village is a stop for thousands of annual migratory birds from Russia,” he said.

Dr Badrul said IRDA was committed towards striking a balanced development between Johor's eco-tourism sector and the state's man-made attractions.

About 150 local and international delegates are attending the three-day summit to discuss ways to develop eco-tourism in Johor.

Iskandar to promote birding activities
New Straits Times 18 Dec 12;

JOHOR BARU: The Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) wants to tap into avitourism, which is based on attractions involving birding activities, in line with its plan for sustainable development in the growth corridor.

Irda state commissioner Dr Badrul Hisham Kassim said more than 100 fishermen in Kampung Sungai Melayu, near Sungai Danga, were being roped in to participate in a pilot project to develop this niche area of ecotourism.

He said the fishermen and other villagers would double up as tour guides, especially for bird lovers who are known to watch the trail of migratory birds.

"Several species of migratory birds make Johor a stopover during their journey from Siberia to Australia between September and March. And there are diehard birdwatchers who will follow the flight of the birds. We had in April launched a training programme for villagers of Kampung Sungai Melayu."

Badrul Hisham was speaking after opening the three-day National Eco-Tourism Summit 2012, which is jointly organised by IRDA, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and the Malaysian Ecotourism Association.

He said the villagers were trained to identify different species of migratory birds and to communicate in English.

"We are creating a wider awareness of how to conserve the natural habitats of the birds."

About 200 participants, comprising representatives from environmental agencies and the ecotourism sector, are attending the summit. It aims to share ideas on how to transform the economy through innovations in ecotourism and developing birding tourism as an ecotourism product, among others.

Present were IRDA head of planning and compliance Maimunah Jaffar and UTM vice-president and deputy vice-chancellor (research and innovation) Prof Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim.

Badrul Hisham said Irda was focusing on four areas to promote sustainable development in Iskandar Malaysia: food and beverage trades; theme parks; heritage and culture; and, eco-tourism.

Badrul Hisham also said the oil and gas boom in Johor would not clash with IRDA's sustainable development concept.

He said IRDA would ensure that there were buffer zones in all projects, adding that care would be given to the Ramsar-gazetted conservation sites of Pulau Kukup, Sungai Pulai and Tanjung Piai.

On the June 27 oil spill at the Tanjung Piai National Park, Badrul Hisham said preventive measures were being carried out.

RM100,000 pledge from Malakoff
By Mahani Ishak New Straits Times 18 Dec 12;

PONTIAN: Malakoff Corporation Bhd (Malakoff) will contribute RM100,000 to plant 7,000 mangrove trees at the Tanjung Piai National Park and Kukup Island in Pontian.

The contribution marked the latest phase of the company's "Save our Mangrove" initiative, a joint corporate social responsibility programme with the Johor National Park Corporation.

Malakoff had launched a mangrove conservation programme in 2009 with an initial contribution of RM200,000.

Malakoff chief executive officer Zainal Abidin Jalil said the replanting is necessary as far as the eco-system is concerned.

"We took the effort to launch the initiative in a move to help conserve the eco-system. I am happy that the state government and the locals have been supportive of this programme since it was launched in 2009," he said.

To date, Malakoff has planted 37,000 mangrove seedlings in Johor.

Of the total, 20,000 were planted in Serkat, Pontian, while the rest in the Tanjung Piai and Kukup Island National Parks.

The replanting programme involved undergraduates in Johor.

Malakoff also distributed pamphlets on mangrove conservation to school representatives and residents

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Malaysia: Caring for Perhentian

Volunteers devote their time for Pulau Perhentian.
The Star 18 Dec 12;

OVER the past 12 months, tourists from all over the world have been doing their bit to make a difference at Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu. Instead of just lying on the beach or snorkelling, they have spent time painting homes, picking up trash, protecting turtles and teaching village kids English and about the marine environment.

The effort was led by Ecoteer, which relies on volunteers to carry out various community work. This year, Ecoteer’s project in Perhentian was financially supported by The Star Foundation, the charity arm of The Star Media Group.

Also lending a hand were 35 employees from Star Publications and nine readers of The Star, who gamely joined the endeavour to promote responsible tourism and preserve the island environment. Here is a round-up of the year’s activities at Perhentian.

Green thumbs: A patch of land, donated by a villager, was cultivated with sweet potatoes, turmeric, ginger and pumpkin to create a community garden.

Island spruce-up: Regular beach clean-ups by volunteers and schoolchildren kept the island clean. The kids were taught recycling practices and a competition at the school saw 325kg of recyclables collected in two weeks. Volunteers collected 800kg of kitchen waste from the village and that was converted into 205kg of fertiliser in a composting machine.

Home improvement: Volunteers painted five village homes and built walls to prevent flood water from entering two homes during the monsoon.

Turtle watch: Talks were held to impart knowledge on marine life to volunteers and hotel guests. Volunteers patrolled the beach at night to protect nesting turtles from poachers, and collected eggs for the hatchery. This year, 95 turtle nests were protected, 1,285 eggs were incubated and 998 hatchlings, released.

Empowering women: The Ladies Community Tourism Group’s kuihmaking sessions and Malay dinners for tourists and volunteers proved to be extremely popular, and gave the visitors an insight into the local culture.

Seeing a difference in Ecoteer project
The Star 18 Dec 12;

The people of Pulau Perhentian see benefits from the Ecoteer project.

Norishani Mohamed Nor, housewife, 39

SHE supported the project by serving Malay dinners, conducting kuih-making sessions, separating food waste for composting, and preparing refreshments during beach clean-ups. Aside from earning income from these activities, she got to know the volunteers from different countries.

“All the activities gave me good memories. I was able to mingle with people from abroad and to know about other countries. I also shared our culture with the volunteers, such as by teaching them how to make local delicacies.”

Che Ayub Che Deraman, school teacher, 55

His involvement in the school recycling competition, English Club, Eco-Snorkel Club, Ecoteer Club and beach clean-ups was a beneficial experience, and allowed him to interact with foreigners. He suggests that budget be allocated for refreshments, prizes and awards for the schoolchildren to encourage them to get involved. He says more incentives from relevant governmental agencies will also encourage the villagers’ participation.

Nik Syazwani Zulkifli, 11

Participating in all the activities, including collecting food waste for composting, beach and village clean-ups, the various clubs, recycling competition and the kuih-making session, has taught her a lot. She says these activities have instilled a spirit of teamwork among villagers. She enjoyed the English Club sessions the most because of the fun and interactive games and is thankful for the opportunity to learn English. For the future, she would like to continue having lessons about environmental issues.

Siti Nur Hidayah Binti Mat Adam, 10

Apart from improving her English, she now knows more about environmental issues and also sees a cleaner village and beaches at Perhentian. She is happy with the presents she got from her participation and would like to see more snorkelling sessions. She likes the English Club as the games were a fun way to learn the language.

Muhammad Afiq Syazwan Mohd Ghazali, 10

His English has improved due to frequent interaction with foreign volunteers, and he is happy with the gifts from the school clubs, recycling competition, and village clean-ups. Like many of his schoolmates, he enjoys the games and activities held by the clubs as they were fun and educational at the same time.

Zainudin Mohd, village head, 43

He sees a cleaner village and a slight improvement in waste management. He is now working with the Marine Parks Department and Ecoteer to set up a women community group. He hopes this association will help get more locals involved in community activities.

Mohamad Jidin Harif, retiree, 63

Ever-supportive of Ecoteer’s work, he had offered a piece of land for the community garden and explained to the locals about the purpose of the compost machine.

“Most of the locals recognise the individuals from Ecoteer but they don’t really understand why Ecoteer is doing all this work in the village. Besides, they have to work, that’s why not many were involved in the activities.” He has fond memories of the volunteers spending Hari Raya at his house and working together on the garden.

“The garden is a trial and we have already harvested some vegetables and fruits. Next year, we will be more experienced at maintaining the garden.”

Hasmah Omar, housekeeper at Abdul Chalet, 54

She says the project offers many benefits, such as providing extra income for the villagers, encouraging knowledge-sharing and cultural exchange, and giving villagers the opportunity to get together. “Although there were conflicts and small misunderstandings while organising the activities, overall, there were no big setbacks or problems. The most memorable experiences are hosting the dinner for the volunteers, meeting and interacting with people from different countries, and showing them traditional games such as congkak.”

Zaharah Deraman,retiree, 56

She is grateful for the extra income she got from preparing Malay dinners for the volunteers and giving kuih-making demonstrations. She appreciates that Ecoteer sought her opinion for its activities, and participation in the activities was flexible; the villagers need not join in if they were busy.

“All this while, Perhentian has been a tourist attraction but the tourists hardly mingle with the locals. With Ecoteer acting as the liaison between the villagers and volunteers, we now have the chance to interact with the volunteers and tourists.”

She says the project has fostered better relationships among the locals and in the future, there should be more discussions on the activities as some villagers are unaware of how they can get involved.

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Vietnamese guards brave attack to reverse destruction of the forest

Vietnam's remote forests have finally come to the attention of ecologists, but efforts to protect wildlife and people risk being stymied by the habits – and hardship – of poachers and loggers
Simon Speakman Cordall 17 Dec 12;

Le Quoc Thien is a slightly-built 25-year-old not long out of state university. He graduated two years ago in forestry, directly before joining the Saola nature reserve as a forest guard. He's on leave now, but in a few days he's heading back into the dense mountainous forests of central Vietnam for a week, living rough and protecting the forest against the near ceaseless assault of illegal logging and poaching.

That Thien is able to do this at all is thanks to the alliance of the Vietnamese government, WWF and the German development bank. Together, they have embarked on one of the most ambitious ecological projects in Vietnam's history, the Carbi (carbon and biodiversity) project. The aim is simple: to reverse as much as possible of the destruction to the natural heritage of central Vietnam and bordering Laos.

Focusing on the Annamite mountain range whose forest-rich slopes bridge the two countries, the project is ambitious. Taking in 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of dense Vietnamese and Laotian forest, Carbi hopes to deliver a sustainable future for the people and the wildlife of the area.

Ultimately, the preserved forestland will serve as a sink for up to 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, (around the amount generated annually by all cars in use in the UK), as well as ensuring the preservation of one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world.

The Annamite mountain range is thought to contain the highest concentration of endemic species in a continental setting anywhere on Earth, with five new species discovered here in the past decade alone. Besides the endangered Asian elephant and Indochinese tiger that occupy the range, there are the reclusive Douc Langur monkey, the giant Muntjac and the near legendary Saola, one of the rarest mammals in existence.

Much of Carbi's success will depend on what happens on the ground. Many of those who live in the area encompassed by the project have a long tradition of using the forest as an adjunct to their livelihoods. For the ethnic minorities of the region, such as the Katu, with an identity distinct from the Vietnamese and Laotians nationals they share borders with, the problem can be particularly acute.

Unemployment and, increasingly, alcoholism make for an unwelcome mix in the deprived areas of the Annamite region, where forest guards such as Thien are at daily risk of being attacked by poachers and loggers. Much of this comes from the isolated and impoverished communities whose traditional lands have now become the centre of worldwide ecological attention. Compared with the illegal industrial operations elsewhere in south-east Asia, logging in the region remains very much a cottage industry, albeit a pervasive and environmentally crippling one.

Le Ngoc Tuan, director of the Saola nature reserve, which falls under the auspices of the project, regards logging as little more than a subsistence activity for those involved. "In the open market, timber from a legally harvested tree would fetch around 26m Dong [about £770]; for illegally harvested timber, that drops to about half." Logging teams working, often by hand, can take up to 20 days from cutting down a tree to selling its timber, with the profits divided between teams of up to four. To Le Ngoc Tuan at least, it is clear that no one is getting rich from this.

Poaching too remains tied to the culture and traditions of those living under the bushels of the project, as well as to the often brutal realities of everyday economic life. Le Quoc Thien describes looking for the snares and stone traps left throughout the prized forest region. "Mostly, villagers are looking to catch the wild boar and goats that live in the forest. Others are foraging for leaves for their roofs, or honey for eating. For the ethnic minorities, particularly at a wedding, fish are very important." In May, two guards were hospitalised after confronting poachers illegally fishing.

Since February 2011, Thien and his colleagues have removed more than 12,500 snares and closed more than 200 logging camps, more than enough, with time, to devastate the area the Carbi project seeks to preserve. The conflict between the interests of conservation and the economic survival of those in the area isn't lost on anyone within the project.

With this in mind, the WWF plan to allocate stretches of forest to individual villages and to train villagers and pay them for the maintenance of that allocation. By giving those who have preyed upon the future of the forest a direct stake in its preservation, it is hoped that the survival of these natural treasures may yet be better guaranteed.

What is clear to all involved is, that without improving the welfare of those living, the project has little chance of enduring success. In this regard, conservation in the Central Highlands has become as much about social, as it has environmental, change.

• This article was amended on 17 December 2012 to correct a reference to the Javan rhinoceros, which is now extinct in Vietnam, and the number of snares, which we incorrectly stated as 2,500

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