Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jun 13

deadfish @ northwestern Singapore coast off SBWR & LCK - 29Jun2013 from sgbeachbum

Butterfly of the Month - June 2013
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Indonesia: Jakarta says hot spot situation 'more under control'

Indonesia pledges to continue haze-fighting efforts even as it seeks neighbours' patience
Leonard Lim Esther Teo In Bandar Seri Begawan
Straits Times 30 Jun 13;

Indonesia's haze-fighting efforts have borne fruit, with the number of hot spots down from a high of 265 to seven last Friday, and the size of the affected area a quarter of what it was, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said yesterday.

The situation is becoming "more under control", he told reporters after meeting his Singapore and Malaysian counterparts. He said that was due to efforts in cloud-seeding and water-bombing the burning areas, and propitious weather.

"We must continue these efforts... this is a commitment by the Indonesian government to ensure that we address this problem in a comprehensive way," he said.

Some 2,800 military personnel and 3,000 civilians, along with helicopters and other aircraft, are involved in the effort.

Singapore's Mr K. Shanmugam initiated the one-hour informal meeting in Brunei so that the ministers of the three most affected countries could come to some solution before today's Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM). He termed the reduction in hot spots "substantial".

Earlier yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in a Facebook post that the number of hot spots had fallen steadily over the last few days. "This is good news! I hope the situation continues to improve over the next few weeks," PM Lee added.

The Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore has hovered within the good to moderate range in the past few days, after soaring to hazardous levels a fortnight ago.

With the area affected down from a high of 16,500ha to 4,081ha, Dr Marty issued a plea for patience, highlighting how it was not typical forest fires that were causing the haze but peatland, where fires are below the surface.

"So while you may not have actual trees burning, the smoke is still coming from... underground. So it is a bit more complicated than what you would imagine it to be, and the fire-fighting capacities are working day in and day out."

Dr Marty and Mr Shanmugam, who met Malaysia's Mr Anifah Aman in a hotel lounge without aides present, both called the session constructive and positive.

The trio also discussed ways to prevent a recurrence of the haze and how to mitigate it. Ideas will be presented to the rest of Asean's foreign ministers at today's AMM.

Mr Shanmugam said he expects a "good statement" on how Asean hopes to deal with the haze after today's meeting.

That is expected to be part of an Asean joint communique, a concluding statement traditionally issued after such meetings.

Singapore has also asked Indonesia to clarify whether Singapore- linked firms are involved in starting fires that caused the haze, after contradictory statements from officials there.

Dr Marty said investigations are ongoing and it was not appropriate to comment. Still, he said, 18 individuals had been arrested so far.

Indonesia is the only country in the region yet to ratify a 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Dr Marty said Jakarta was committed to doing so.

"But the most important thing (is)... we have actually been in full compliance and have essentially followed up on what is required in the agreement - sharing of information," he said.

He pointed to how an upcoming meeting of environment ministers in Malaysia, where the haze will be discussed, was an initiative of Indonesia's back in 2008.

"So, while focusing on ratification, we must also bear in mind the reality that we have also been essentially implementing the agreement irrespective."

Air clears in Malaysia as Indonesian fires die out
Straits Times 30 Jun 13;

Kuala Lumpur/Jakarta - Rains and a favourable wind have cleared Malaysia of the thick, choking haze that recently sent air pollution levels to hazardous levels.

The fires in Indonesia's Sumatra island, the main source of the haze pollution, have also died down.

Satellite imaging yesterday showed just seven hot spots in Sumatra, compared to a high of 437 on Monday.

However, peatland fires which burn underground are still smoking, and soldiers continue to work alongside firemen in Sumatra's Riau province.

Indonesia, which has been carrying out cloud seeding and water bombing to encourage rain, has also continued to track down the culprits behind the illegal fires.

Police in Riau have detained 18 suspects and are tracking down at least five more, according to the Indonesian news agency Antara.

In Malaysia, most of the areas being monitored for haze were registering moderate to good Air Pollution Index (API) readings.

The poorest API readings were in Kota Tinggi in Johor and Bukit Rambai in Malacca, according to the Department of Environment.

But even these readings - 81 in Kota Tinggi and 86 in Bukit Rambai at 5pm - are a vast improvement from the past week, when readings shot to as high as 746 in Muar, causing the government to temporarily declare emergency status in two districts in Johor.

Meanwhile, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which monitors and promotes sustainable farming of palm oil, has launched its own investigation after five of its members were named as possibly involved in causing the forest fires in Indonesia.

The result of its initial probe is expected to be out by the end of this week.

Illegal burning in Sumatra typically takes place during the dry season around June to September, to clear space for palm oil plantations.

But this year's fires were unusually widespread.

For Riau's farmers, livelihood trumps haze
It will take time to change attitudes on the ground
Joyce Lim Straits Times 30 Jun 13;

All a poor farmer needs is just a match to start a fire.

That fire could spread quickly across forest plantations, especially during the dry season.

Once the land has been cleared, the farmer can start planting crops, which he will later sell to feed himself and his family.

But try telling the farmer not to light up; or tell him to pay $2,000 for excavators to clear the land instead.

Or tell him to find other means to feed his family.

He is, in all likelihood, going to ignore you.

During a recent assignment to Riau - ground zero of the haze which blanketed much of the region - The Sunday Times team met many such farmers.

They are poor, unskilled and rely on farming to feed their families.

These farmers have, for generations, been burning land to clear it for the next planting season.

They live and breathe the haze, year after year.

When I tried to tell them about the hazardous levels of the Pollutant Standards Index, I sounded as alien to them as I looked in my N95 mask.

Many do not think they are doing anything wrong, or that their routine acts have contributed regularly to the thick haze enveloping the region.

Mr Suryanto, head of the Dumai Forestry Department, told The Sunday Times that it is an almost impossible task to try and stop these farmers from burning to clear the land.

As the head of the department, Mr Suryanto acknowledges that he has the authority to issue new regulations or to change existing ones, and empower the forestry police to carry out enforcement.

But it takes more than just changing regulations or stepping up enforcement to stop the burning, he explained. Killing off the haze is as good as killing the livelihoods of these farmers.

"These poor farmers will do anything it takes to protect their livelihoods," Mr Suryanto said.

"When you have nothing, you fight with your life to protect anything and everything that can feed you and your family."

Mr Suryanto even foresees blood being shed if the authorities try to take away the land from the farmers, or chase them away.

"These villagers will unite and fight the police. Even then, the burning will not stop. They will move to another area and start burning again," he said.

The Sunday Times team witnessed such collective kampung attitude when a group of villagers approached our car because the driver refused to pay a jobless villager who helped direct traffic on a road that was partially under construction.

The situation was diffused when the driver offered the man a few rupiah.

Shuttling between the provincial capital of Pekanbaru and hot spots in Dumai and the regencies of Bengkalis and Rokan Hilir in the last two weeks, the team saw plumes of smoke rising from charred plots of lands, every few kilometres we travelled.

Such instances of indiscriminate burning did not happen only in forested areas, but right in the heart of Pekanbaru, and are an indicator of just how commonplace slash-and-burn practices are in Indonesia.

Burning is still the cheapest way to clear land here. It takes just 10 litres of diesel - costing 50,000 rupiah (S$6.40) - to clear 1ha of land.

It goes some way towards explaining why few would move to spend about 15 million rupiah - or close to $2,000 - to hire workers and rent excavators to flatten and clear a plot of land of similar size.

Local farmer Mulia Manurung, 50, said that $2,000 is more than what he earns in a year.

Life is simple for the farmers here, who do not watch television or read the newspapers. So attempts to educate and inform them about the ills of slash-and-burn through the media would be largely ineffective.

Besides, reaching them also poses some challenges for the authorities as 90 per cent of Dumai is forested, and the vast geography makes it difficult to reach these farmers who live deep in the forest, said Mr Khairul Anwar, the mayor of Dumai.

Dumai is a coastal city closest to many of the hot spots in Riau province.

But farmers with smallholdings are just one part of the problem behind the annual outbreak of fires and haze in Indonesia.

Fingers have continued to be pointed at major pulp and palm oil companies which own plantations in Riau, and at least 14 companies are being investigated by the Indonesian authorities.

Most companies refute allegations that they are responsible and claim that they follow strict no-burning policies - and demand that their contractors do the same.

But activists say that when contractors further sub-contract the work to others, including some farmers, burning is often used to clear the land as it is the cheapest and fastest way to get the job done.

Observers, green activists and analysts also charge that corporations or local farmers with deep pockets take advantage of lax law enforcement and continue with the practice of burning to clear land.

The Sunday Times team in Riau spotted at least three such plantations in Dumai - one about 5,000ha in size.

This is despite Mayor Khairul saying that "there are no oil palm plantations in Dumai".

"If there are any," he added, "they are illegal."

Yet the owner of one such illegal plantation disclosed that he has been operating his 5,000ha plantation for the past five years.

A state of emergency was declared in Riau recently by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The initial efforts of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) to put out the fires in Riau province appeared lacklustre, with just three helicopters, a Casa aircraft and one Hercules C-130 used for cloud-seeding and water-bombing operations.

But the efforts, including increased deployment of personnel on the ground and stronger enforcement, picked up pace following the Indonesian leader's apology for the haze.

Given the vastness of the area, and the scale of the problem, it is going to take considerable time and resources before real and effective changes are seen on the ground.

Farmers need to be supported with an alternative to burning, perhaps with subsidies for fertilisers or to buy the equipment they need to clear the land. Similarly, the large plantations need to step up checks and enforcement of practices, including and especially by their contractors.

In the meantime, Singaporeans, like others in the region, should learn to be better prepared when the haze inevitably returns again.

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Malaysia: Move to prevent peatfires nationwide

Lee Yen Mun and Yee Xiang Yun The Star 30 Jun 13;

BANTING: Initiatives are being taken to prevent peatfires nationwide so that these do not contribute to the haze situation.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said peatlands were being monitored so that any peatfire could be tackled quickly.

Also, he said, check dams and tube wells were being constructed to ensure the peatlands retain water during the current dry season as a preventive measure against fires.

The six states where peatlands abound are Selangor, Pahang, Johor, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak.

According to Palanivel, the Government had spent RM11.9mil to deal with the haze problem since 2009.

Under the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015), a total of RM8.9mil has been allocated for this purpose.

The Sub-Regional Ministerial Steer­ing Committee on Trans­boundary Haze Pollution is expected to meet in Kuala Lumpur from July 15-17 to discuss a solution to the annual problem.

Haze is largely due to agricultural slash-and-burn activities in Sumatra during dry weather and winds carry the smoke here and to Singapore.

In Johor Baru, the Department of Environment said it hoped the Indonesian authorities could put out the fires in all 15 hotspots in that country soon, so that the haze does not return to Malaysia.

The air quality has improved tremendously nationwide over the past few days, following a period when the air quality in several areas in the peninsula were hazardous or unhealthy and hundreds of schools had to be temporarily shut.

Department director-general Datuk Halimah Hassan said the current dry season was expected to last until September and there was a possibility of the haze affecting Malaysia again.

“In the event that the fires are not totally put out in time, the south-west monsoon winds will carry the smoke over to our country,” she said.

“But we have received encoura- ging reports from the Asean Speciali-sed Meteorological Centre, so hopefully, the whole episode will be over soon.”

The country has been enjoying good to moderate air quality, according to the department’s Air Pollutant Index readings over the past few days, Halimah said.

“I am happy to report that the readings range between good and moderate, with no unhealthy air quality in any area,” she said.

She was speaking to reporters at a World Environment Day celebration here, where she also urged people not to waste food because this wastage contributes to global warming.

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60 volunteers to start catching litterbugs within next few weeks

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said volunteers from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will be empowered to catch litterbugs in a few weeks' time.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a cleanliness conference on Saturday, Ms Fu said authority cards will soon be given to 60 of these volunteers who have completed training.

More than 400 participants attended the inaugural Keep Singapore Clean Conference.

It was organised by the Public Hygiene Council in support of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement.

They discussed ways to keep Singapore clean.

Ms Fu stressed the importance of having more ground-up initiatives.

Last year, the government mooted the idea of a community-driven effort to tackle public littering.

Powers will be given to members of the community to catch litterbugs.

Under the scheme, volunteers will ask litterbugs to pick up their litter should they witness littering offences. Should offenders refuse to do so, they would be empowered to record the particulars of the offenders. The National Environment Agency will then investigate the cases before prosecuting the offenders.

The NGOs taking part in the scheme are Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Singapore, Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environment Council and Cat Welfare Society.

Ms Fu said: "The idea is really not to have an enlarged enforcement team but rather to have ownership. In other words Singaporeans see that this enforcement or social pressure comes from another person just like me and I think that the effect will be better rather than to have a uniformed person to go around issuing summons. What we want is to have more ground-up pressure to slowly over time inculcate a social norm that it is in our own responsibility to keep the place clean and not to litter."

Giving an update on the dengue situation, Ms Fu said that although there has not been a spike in the number of cases, it is still important to remain vigilant. She said the authorities are still monitoring the situation closely.

Ms Fu will join Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam at the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings in Brunei, which begins on Saturday. She said she is looking forward to meet her counterparts from the region to explain to them some of the environmental issues Singapore is facing. This includes the haze, which adversely affected Singapore this year. Ms Fu hopes to get their support to look for a regional solution.

- CNA/xq

Volunteers to get power to book litterbugs

60 have undergone training and will get accreditation cards soon
Rachel Tan And David Ee Straits Times 9 Jul 13;

ON ORCHARD Road, a group of several volunteers from the Cat Welfare Society stand and observe as an officer from the National Environment Agency (NEA) confronts a litterbug.

They watch as he asks the offender, politely but firmly, to pick up and bin the litter properly.

"We were taught to be non-confrontational and polite. The whole concept is just to persuade them not to litter," said volunteer Phyllis Tan, 36.

This is part of a new NEA training programme to empower volunteers in several non-governmental organisations to curtail littering offences.

Some 60 trained volunteers will be issued accreditation cards in the next few weeks, which give them the authority to ask litterbugs to bin their trash.

And if they refuse, to take down their particulars.

Volunteers are not aware of the exact date they will receive the cards. For a start, the volunteers will come from groups such as the Public Hygiene Council, Waterways Watch Society, Singapore Kindness Movement, Singapore Environment Council and the Cat Welfare Society.

The idea to include members of the public in the effort to prevent littering was first floated by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to NEA last year.

He said then: "We believe that, in fact, we need to reclaim community ownership and community action (over the environment)."

Then-NEA chief executive Andrew Tan said at the time: "We need to get to the very heart of behaviour change by promoting the right social values, including 'zero tolerance' towards litter."

The number of littering offences went down from 41,392 in 2009 to 11,131 in 2011.

But chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, Mr Liak Teng Lit, has said that littering remains a serious issue, and that some Singaporeans litter "with impunity".

Trained volunteers will not go on patrols, but are encouraged to dissuade people when they witness them littering.

Over two half-day sessions last month, volunteers also engaged in role-play.

They also learnt to "walk away" if an encounter with a litterbug turned aggressive, said Ms Tan, who acknowledged the risk of conflict. "I mean, if I'm a litterbug and somebody approached me, I would also ask: 'Who are you?'"

She added: "And if we approach litterbugs and they refuse to pick up their litter, what are the chances that they will give us their particulars?"

Should difficult situations arise, volunteers are advised to seek help from NEA officials or note down the particulars of the offender.

Some commentators expressed scepticism.

Sociologist Daniel Goh of the National University of Singapore said: "Ethically, I don't think it is right for a government agency to pit citizens against citizens and expose people to potential violence."

Associate Professor Goh suggested nudge tactics such as creative campaigns and surveillance cameras to change littering behaviour.

But some believe that the task of keeping Singapore clean should not be left only to the authorities. Getting volunteers to come on board is a good ground-up approach.

Said Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement: "It is important to have a critical mass to create social pressure."

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Thailand: Little Edens may become Paradise Lost

As Thai islands draw more visitors, they face growing strain on basic infrastructure
Tan Hui Yee, Thailand Correspondent, In Koh Tao, Thailand
Straits Times 30 Jun 13;

It's nearly midnight but the air buzzes with music from bars and boisterous conversation. An endless stream of freshly tanned Europeans fills a narrow street lined with guesthouses, cafes and souvenir shops. Some of them stride barefoot, having just emerged from the beach nearby.

This is the liveliest stretch of Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, but it is also typical of scenes in many of the country's famed island destinations.

Thailand, which hosted 22.35 million visitors last year, is expecting an even better showing this year. And its islands are a key draw.

Islanders and environmentalists alike are bracing themselves for this surge in numbers, given the potential strain visitors place on these little Edens.

Many rely on wells and rainfall for water, undersea cables and generators for electricity, and process their own sewage. Space for trash is limited and roads are prone to jams if not developed in line with the growth of tourist vehicles.

"These island paradises have a hard time coping with water shortages and the disposal of solid waste," says environmental management expert Chirapol Sintunawa from Mahidol University.

Koh Tao, a 21 sq km diving hot spot that was last week ranked by the popular travel review website TripAdvisor as one of the world's top 10 islands, pulled in 124,000 visitors in 2011 and an estimated 10 per cent more last year. Its sister island Koh Phangan, famed for its Full Moon beach parties, saw an estimated 530,000 visitors last year - a whopping 60 per cent more than in the previous year.

In December last year, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui - another island in the same province - were hit by a three-day blackout. That triggered soul-searching about how the development of basic infrastructure has lagged behind population and tourism growth.

Groups of locals and activists have teamed up to try to reverse the damage. Two weeks ago, Koh Tao held its annual eco-themed festival, where tourists and tourism businesses were cajoled to recycle, pedal around the island and avoid using plastic bags and styrofoam packages.

Businesses gave out free food, while popular bands drew in the crowds.

But the message was clear - it was time to protect the island from further pollution.

"We have to educate the people," Koh Tao's mayor Chaiyan Thurasakul told The Sunday Times.

The 43-year-old Koh Tao native has seen the island grow from a fishing and coconut-farming outcrop to a bustling attraction teeming with diving schools.

He worries about the unbridled growth of hotels and wants to subject new developments to a more rigorous approval process.

The limited sources of water are a top concern. The 85-room Ko Tao Resort on the southern end of the island has to ship water from the mainland to make up part of the 60 cubic metres it needs for its daily operations.

The high-end Jamahkiri Resort and Spa depends on its own desalination plant. It is costly, admits general manager William DeBaeck, but it is better than facing a shortage if rough seas disrupt water deliveries.

Some local businesses are trying to make a difference.

The 180-room Ban's Diving Resort turns its waste cooking oil into soap and biodiesel, which it uses to run its trash compactors.

At the festival ground two weeks ago, it set up booths to share this expertise.

Environmental advocates urge travellers to do their part by choosing less resource-intensive accommodation.

Thailand's Green Leaf Foundation, which is supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, promotes this practice by running a voluntary accreditation programme for environmentally friendly hotels.

Ultimately though, it is the hotel operators that can play the biggest part in protecting these island destinations, says Dr Chirapol. "If we give tourists good rooms, there is no way they can pollute the environment.

"You can't really tell the guest to only sing one song in the shower," he jests. But you can give them a water-efficient shower head, as well as shampoo without chemicals that damage waterways, he adds.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 13

Terumbu Hantu: beginnings of bleaching?
from wild shores of singapore

Night Walk At Venus Drive (28 Jun 2013)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Zone Captains recce Tanah Merah beaches in May
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Indonesia NGOs call on govt to investigate 117 companies for alleged involvement in forest fires from news by Rhett Butler

Sumatran tiger density lower than previously thought from news by Rhett Butler

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Indonesia: Number of hot spots in Riau decreasing

Antara 28 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The number of hot spots that cause forest fires in several locations in Riau Province has been decreasing from 50 last week to only 19, spokesman to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said here on Friday.

According to a recent survey by the agency, most of the existing hot spots are located in Pelalawan District and Dumai.

"Our focus now is on extinguishing forest fires in the two areas. Today four choppers will be deployed to Pelalawan district and Dumai city to initiate water bomb above the area," he said.

A total of Rp100 billion has been allocated for making rain, procuring materials and providing planes to conduct water bombing to fight forest and land fires in Riau province.

"The government would lease planes from Korea and Russia that are able to carry 4,000 to 5,000 liters of water for water bombing operations," Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Agung Laksono said after a coordination meeting to discuss the problem here on last Thursday (June 27).

The meeting at the Forestry Ministry was attended by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan, the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI)`s Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono, Environmental Affairs Minister Balthazar Kambuaya, Deputy Foreign Minister Wardana, and officials from the police force, the Attorney General Office.

Also the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), the national development planning board (Bappnenas), the Agency for Technology Assessment and Application (BPPT), the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan), the ministry of research and technology, the ministry of agriculture and from Jambi, South Sumatra and South Kalimantan provincial administrations.

Agung said the meeting did not only discuss fires in Riau but also anticipatory measures in eight other provinces.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan meanwhile said 14 people were currently being questioned with regard to the fires. They consist of 11 persons from plantation companies and three from local communities.

"If proven guilty they could be jailed for five years and have their permits revoked," he said.

He said the government is now still focusing on fighting the fires and is expecting support from all parties.

"We need support from all parties and all companies must protect their forests from fires," he said.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Forest fires in Riau reach 16,500 hectares
Antara 28 jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Forest fires in Riau Province from the period of June 1 to 26 reached 16,500 hectares of area, Riau Province`s Chief of Forestry Office Zulkufki Yusuf said here on Friday.

"We have kept updating the data. The number of forest area on fire maybe increasing," he said.

According to recent data from the local forestry service, there are six areas which have the most number of its forest area on fire namely Bengkalis District (6,300 hectares), Rokan Hilir (6,195 hectares), Rokan Hulu (900 hectares), Siak (892 hectares), Indragiri Hulu (510 hectares) and Pelalawan (250 hectares).

Apart from that, Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau Province, is also experiencing forest fires with four hectares of its area being burnt.

Earlier spokesman to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said the number of hot spots that caused forest fires in several locations in Riau Province has been decreasing from 50 last week to only 19.

According to a recent survey by the agency, most of the existing hot spots are located in Pelalawan District and Dumai.

"Our focus now is on extinguishing forest fires in the two areas. Today four choppers will be deployed to Pelalawan district and Dumai city to initiate water bomb above the area," he said.

The government has allocated Rp100 billion for making artificial rains, procuring materials and providing planes to conduct water bombing to fight forest and land fires in Riau Province.

(Reporting by FB Anggoro/translating and editing by Amie Fenia Arimbi/F001)

Editor: Priyambodo RH

Riau remains on alert as sky gets clearer
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 29 Jun 13;

The Riau Haze Task Force claimed on Friday that the land and aerial fire-fighting operation had begun showing positive results.

Task force commander Brig. Gen. Teguh Rahardjo said the success was measured by the reduction in the number of hot spots, improving air quality indexes and improved visibility at the worst-hit haze locations.

Speaking at the Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base, Teguh said air quality indexes in a number of cities had also dropped and shown further reduction in airborne pollutants. In Dumai, the air quality index, which reached 688 pollutant standards index (PSI) previously, dropped to 236 PSI on Thursday.

In Duri, Bengkalis regency, the index, which exceeded 1,000 PSI on June 20, has since dropped to 149 PSI.

“Visibility in Dumai, which was less than 100 meters on June 20, has gradually improved to 900 meters and the farthest at 10 kilometers,” said Teguh.

Despite the improving situation, he added that the fire-fighting operation was still ongoing. Besides deploying three helicopters for water bombing and surveillance missions, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and the Technology Application and Assessment Agency (BPPT) have continued cloud seeding by making two sorties over Kuantan Singingi, Indragiri Hulu, Siak and Bengkalis regencies.

On Friday, however, there were six hot spots compared to Thursday’s two.

Riau Forestry Agency head Zulkifli Yusuf said the razed area in Riau had reached more than 16,000 hectares since June 1.

The worst condition was reported in Rokan Hilir and Bengkalis at 6,195 hectares and 6,300 hectares, respectively.

“This is just temporary data that is still being updated by the forestry agency, Natural Resources and Conservation Center and the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency,” said Zulkifli.

He declined to elaborate on whether the razed areas were state-owned land, production forests, former forest concession areas or oil palm plantations.

He only mentioned that 502 hot spots detected in Riau since June 1 were located in non-forest areas, while 993 other hot spots were in forested areas, including 114 detected in conservation areas such as protected forests and natural preserves.

18 suspects detained over forest fires
Antara 28 Jun 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - Police have arrested 18 suspects in connection with forest and land fires in the Sumatran province of Riau.

"Four of them were arrested on Thursday while others days before," Riau Police Command spokesman Adjunct Senior Commissioner Hermansyah said to Antara here on Friday.

Police arrested two suspects in Bengkalis, 11 in Rokan Hilir, two in Pelalawan and one in Siak.

"The latest two arrests were made in Dumai town," he said.

They were all arrested for allegedly clearing land by burning for plantations.

Hermansyah said their cases were still being processed in their respective police regions, adding that the number of suspects could still increases.

"Efforts would continue to be done to arrest those found clearing land by burning that has caused fires and haze blanketing Riau and also Singapore and Malaysia," he said.


Editor: Jafar M Sidik

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Singapore supports approach outlined by Indonesian president on tackling haze: Shanmugam
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the country fully supports the approach outlined by the Indonesian president to tackle the haze.

This comes as Singapore awaits clarification on whether Singapore-linked companies are involved in the Sumatra fires, causing the bad air.

Mr Shanmugam said he and the Attorney-General have an outline on what can be done to take Singapore-linked firms to task, if they are found to be responsible.

But he said this will be contingent on whether Singapore-linked companies are involved.

So far, he said what has been said by Indonesian officials has been contradictory. He said evidence will also need to be shown.

He said: "We don't have any updates. We have sent a formal diplomatic note through the Indonesian ambassador in Singapore, to let us know, this is simply for us to find out whether indeed any Singapore-linked companies are involved.

"The primary consideration for Indonesia is really to put out the fires. You heard what the president said. And also the Indonesian president has said that the actions are taking place in Indonesia. It doesn't matter where the companies are from, Indonesia must take action, and we fully support the approach outlined by the Indonesian president."

Mr Shanmugam added that beyond the haze, foreign affairs ministers will discuss how ASEAN can work better together to cope with natural disasters in the region.

He said: "It's not just the haze. Countries in this region suffer from a wide variety of natural disasters and it really is in all of our interests. Even the haze, if you look at it, it's not just one country, people in Indonesia suffer, they probably suffer the most, and Malaysia, Singapore.

“Indonesian authorities are aware. You saw what the president has said. They want to do what is right, and the idea is how we can all work together. How can ASEAN as a community… is there something we can do together? And that needs to be discussed and we will be discussing that. I have indicated that I will be raising it.”

- CNA/xq

A regional look at haze issue needed: Shanmugam
Today Online 29 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The first and most important step in dealing with the haze is to put out the fires in Indonesia, even though Singapore’s Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will also need to discuss the frameworks that can be put in place to address future environment issues — such as floods and other natural disasters — that may arise.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of this weekend’s ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei, Mr Shanmugam noted that while Singapore has enjoyed “a few clear days” this week, areas in Malaysia and in Indonesia remain in “a state of emergency”.

“And when the winds shift, we could easily be engulfed again,” he added in the interview, which was aired yesterday.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s “very statesman-like” apology and statement on Monday sent a clear message to his own officials and also gave indications of “substantially increased resources to deal with the fires”, said Mr Shanmugam, who added that both Singapore and Malaysia have also offered their assistance.

“That is the first step — (the) most important — to see,” he said.

Next, the region will need to ensure that the haze will not be happening “every year or once in five years”.

“We really need a sort of a regional look at this because it is not just an Indonesia issue, a Singapore issue or a Malaysia issue. It affects the region and, indeed, the world in terms of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions,” said Mr Shanmugam, who added that he would hold talks with his counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia, with the issue also to be discussed by ASEAN.

Discussions, however, have to be conducted in “a constructive, problem-solving way, rather than looking specifically at individual countries”.

“We’ll have to see how, in what appropriate forum, this can be discussed, what sort of mechanisms can be put in place. This is really a question of trying to work on regional issues. It’s not just the haze — there are floods, there are other natural disasters. How do we handle all these? This is a matter of interest, not just to the three countries but other countries as well,” said Mr Shanmugam.

The minister said Singapore would press Indonesia for evidence concerning the companies which are involved in starting the fires. First, Singapore would like to know who owns the land, which Mr Shanmugam said only the Indonesian authorities would know. Second, it would like to receive evidence, based on eye-witness accounts, as to who was responsible for starting the fires.

“We need these two, and with that, I think we can do something,” Mr Shanmugam said.

When asked specifically about the steps Singapore will take to try to address these issues and go after the companies at fault, Mr Shanmugam replied: “I do not want to go into that right now, but we have worked out with the Attorney-General a set of steps that we can take. If and when we get the evidence, then we will look at it.”

Haze to be hot topic at Asean meeting
S'pore focus: Put out fires, prevent recurrence, tackle firms involved
Leonard Lim And Esther Teo In Bandar Seri Begawan

THE haze afflicting Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Thailand is expected to be a major discussion topic when Asean foreign ministers convene in Brunei this weekend.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam leads a Singapore delegation to Bandar Seri Begawan today for a series of meetings that includes the 20th Asean Regional Forum.

Later today, he will attend a trilateral meeting with his Indonesia and Malaysia counterparts over the haze, a week after the Pollutant Standards Index in Singapore soared to a record 401.

Tomorrow, the group convenes for the Asean Ministerial Meeting, and ways to tackle the haze will once again be on the agenda.

"The idea is, how can we all work together?" Mr Shanmugam told local reporters yesterday.

"How can Asean as a community - and Asean acts by consensus - is there something we can do together? And if so, what?"

There are three issues Singapore will focus on regarding the haze, he told the BBC separately in an interview aired yesterday ahead of his four-day trip.

These are stopping the burning, preventing a recurrence and taking action on any companies with Singapore links which are involved in the burning of land.

The first, most important and urgent step is to put out the fires in Indonesia and make sure no new ones start, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.

"We have had a few clear days. But areas in Malaysia, areas in Indonesia, are still in a state of emergency. And when the winds shift, we could easily be engulfed again," he said.

The second focus is to take a regional look at the haze to prevent the problem - which has plagued not just Singapore, but the region and the rest of the world for over a decade - from recurring.

Finally, he pledged that the Government would be "very firm" in looking at what it could do if there was proof that companies based out of Singapore or with Singapore links had been involved in the fires.

The Attorney-General has "worked out some steps" on what could be done, and has spoken to him, the minister said.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters: "It really depends on, first of all, whether there are Singapore-linked companies. The point on that has been contradictory."

Singapore conveyed a diplomatic note on Monday to Indonesia seeking clarifications. Singapore is also asking Indonesia for evidence of the firms' involvement.

"In terms of due process, we need that kind of evidence," said Mr Shanmugam, who declined to go into the steps that could be taken as the companies had not been identified.

Apart from the haze, the 10 Asean ministers will discuss the grouping's direction and external relations, and the evolving regional architecture, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said yesterday.

Asean ministers will also jointly meet each of their 10 dialogue partners - including Japan, the United States and China - to review ties and ongoing cooperation.

They will engage their counterparts at the Asean Plus Three and the East Asia Summit meetings, and track progress in the Asean Community-building goals.

On Tuesday, ministers from the 26-member Asean Regional Forum, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, will exchange views on regional developments.

Mr Shanmugam will be accompanied by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who is also Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, and Foreign Affairs.

Additional reporting by Rachel Chang

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Malaysia: 'Fraser's Hill cable car project won't harm environment'

New Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

RAUB: The proposed cable car project on Fraser's Hill will not lead to environmental degradation and the hill will be maintained as an idyllic destination.

State Tourism and Culture Committee chairman Datuk Mohd Sharkar Shamsuddin said the project was timely, as it would attract more tourists to enjoy the panoramic view at one of the last hill stations in Malaysia.

He said since no major infrastructure projects could be approved on Fraser's Hill, a cable car was the most suitable mode of transport for shuttling tourists or visitors to and from the resort.

"There are no plans to build new hotels and resorts on Fraser's Hill.

"Instead, we will refurbish the existing English colonial buildings, which have been the main attraction for the town."

He added that once the project was completed, tourists could park their vehicles at the foot of the hill before travelling up Fraser's Hill in cable cars.

He said this would eventually help reduce traffic congestion at the hill resort.

Dong assemblyman Datuk Shahiruddin Ab Moin said a feasibility study for the project must include the types of attractions along the route for people to view, the total distance involved and ways to attract people to use the service.

He expressed hope that the ministry would submit a proposal for the cable car project soon.

Shahiruddin, who is also Raub Umno division chief, said if the cable car project materialised, residents in Raub would enjoy a positive spillover in terms of economic gains.

Pahang Tourism Action Council general manager Idrus Yahya said proper planning should be done before the project was introduced as it would involve a huge cost.

"However, I believe if the project is given the nod (to continue) it will help reduce pollution at the resort."

A spokesperson from the state Environment Department said building the cable car system and routes might require clearing some trees, but it would have minimal impact on the environment.

On Sunday, Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the ministry would review the suggestion from Shahiruddin.

Nazri, who had earlier presented prizes to winners of the Fraser's Hill Bird Spotting Contest 2013, promised to turn the proposal into reality and said that he would discuss the matter with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

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Haze: Sime Darby calls for proactive measures to fight haze

The Star 28 Jun 13;

PETALING JAYA: Sime Darby Plantations says haze-causing fires in Sumatra were not from areas planted by its subsidiary.

It said in a statement Friday that between June 11 and 19, five hot spots were found on land within the concession area of PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati (PT BNS), a company owned by PT Minamas Gemilang, a subsidiary of Sime Darby Plantation.

However, examination of satellite data and on ground assessment teams established that these fires were not in areas planted by the company.

Sime Darby Plantation managing director Datuk Franki Anthony Dass said to address the current issue of haze from fires in Riau Province in Sumatra, Indonesia, and its causes, PT Minamas Gemilang called on all other stakeholders to enter into constructive dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the problem.

“It is time for all stakeholders to work together to find a way to address what has become an annual problem of the haze, and the tremendous toll it takes on the environment and the health of affected communities on both sides of the Straits of Malacca,” he said.

“On our part, PT Minamas would be happy to assist and participate in any constructive discussion on this matter.

"Local communities, civil society groups, academics and other companies operating in affected areas should offer technical assistance and support to the Government of Indonesia to study the issues and address the root causes of the problem,” Dass added.

Sime Darby said among the issues that would need to be addressed include:

(1) the responsibilities of different stakeholders;

(2) how various stakeholder groups can work together to prevent future occurrences;

(3) legal issues pertaining to land use and occupation;

(4) best agricultural management practices.

The statement said fires in the Riau Province have resulted in a hazardous smog blanketing Singapore, parts of Malaysia and southern Thailand and the Indonesian authorities have long sought a solution to this annual problem.

Local communities plant a variety of cash crops such as corn and sugar cane, the statement said.

Under current regulations and conventions dealing with local communities and the preservation of traditional farming methods, concession holders are unable to control or influence the practices and activities of these communities.

“PT Minamas has conducted awareness programmes on the negative impact of slash and burn activities on local communities in the peat areas.

"It intends to intensify this awareness programme together with other plantation companies and local authorities,” Dass said.

Sime Darby Plantation, the world's largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil, has had a zero burning policy since 1985.

In Indonesia, 20 of the company's 25 mills under PT Minamas have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is a voluntary certification body, whose members include civil society groups and players along the entire palm oil value chain.

“There are several companies within the palm oil industry who observe high agricultural standards.

"As an industry, we could contribute significantly to discussions on how to solve this problem,” Dass said.

For its part, Sime Darby Plantation and PT Minamas would bring to the table, more than 100 years of expertise in best agricultural practices backed by cutting edge R&D capabilities, experience in establishing responsible and successful outgrowers' schemes and experience in the management of land, on both peat and non-peat soil.

Sime Darby Plantation has studied two other areas, one where the company is managing an area cultivated on peat land by local communities under the plasma, or outgrowers' scheme, and another where it had acquired a plantation established on peat soil.

In the first area in Jambi, South Sumatra, local farmers, under the plasma scheme, plant oil palm but are exposed to and educated in the company's best agricultural policies.

In the other area in Lavang, Sarawak, Malaysia, Sime Darby Plantation manages a small estate in which no fires have been recorded since the inception of planting in the mid 1990s as a result of efficient water table management, encouraging beneficial vegetation to protect the soil and strict adherence to the company's policies.

“Out in Riau, our officials and fire fighting teams are already assisting the local authorities and communities to spot and put out fires,” Dass said.

“However, for the longer term, sustainable solutions that do not undermine the rights of local communities and traditional farming methods need to be found. For this to be effective, we need multi-stakeholder discussions.”

In 2008, Sime Darby Plantation implemented a strict policy prohibiting the clearing of peat areas. Existing areas that were cleared before the implementation of policy are carefully managed to ensure that there is minimal environmental impact.

Fires started by locals within concession areas, says Sime Darby
The Star 30 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby Plantation has confirmed that five hotspots were detected from June 11 to 19 in concession areas of PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati, a company owned by PT Minamas Gemilang, in Riau province, Sumatra.

However, it said based on satellite data and on-the-ground assessment, the fires were not in areas planted by the company.

“Local communities in these areas plant a variety of cash crops such as corn and sugar cane.

“Under current regulations and conventions dealing with local communities and the preservation of traditional farming methods, concession holders are unable to control or influence the practices and activities of these communities,” Sime Darby Plantation managing director Datuk Franki Anthony Dass said.

PT Minamas is a subsidiary of Sime Darby Plantation and is one of the largest players in the Indonesian plantation industry.

Dass said officials and fire-fighting teams were already assisting local authorities and communities to spot and put out the fires.

He said PT Minamas had conducted awareness programmes with local communities on the negative impact of slash-and-burn activities in peat areas and would intensify these together with other plantation companies and local authorities.

“However, for the longer term, sustainable solutions that do not undermine the rights of local communities and traditional farming methods need to be found. For this to be effective, we need multi-stakeholder discussions,’’ he added.

Dass said PT Minamas had called on all other stakeholders to enter constructive dialogue to find a sustainable solution to address the haze issue proactively.

“It is time for all stakeholders to work together to find a way to address what has become an annual affair and the tremendous toll it takes on the environment and the health of the affected communities on both sides of the Straits of Malacca,’’ he added.

He said local communities, civil society groups, academics and other companies operating in the affected areas should offer technical assistance and support to the Indonesian Government to address the root causes of the problem, but added that these solutions should not undermine the rights of local communities and traditional farming methods.

Dass said 20 of the company’s mills under PT Minamas were certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as businesses that observed high agricultural standards.

Sime Darby Plantation, the world’s largest producer of certified sustainable palm oil, has maintained a zero-burning policy since 1985.

'Work together to tackle haze problem'
New Straits Times 28 Jun 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sime Darby Plantation has urged all stakeholders to enter into constructive dialogue to find a solution to the haze problem from fires in Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia.

Its managing director, Datuk Franki Anthony Dass, said: "It is time for all stakeholders to work together to find a way to address what has become an annual problem."

PT Minamas, a subsidiary of Sime Darby Plantation, is one of the largest palm oil players in Indonesia, with operations in Riau.

"On our part, PT Minamas will be happy to assist and participate in any constructive discussion on the matter. Local communities, civil society groups, academicians and other companies operating in the affected areas should offer their technical assistance and support to address the root causes of the problem."

He said among the issues needed to be addressed were:

THE responsibilities of different stakeholders;

HOW various stakeholder groups could work together to prevent future occurrences;

LEGAL issues pertaining to land use and occupation; and,

BEST agricultural management practices.

Fires in Riau had resulted in haze engulfing Singapore, parts of Malaysia and southern Thailand.

Between June 11 and 19, five hot spots were detected in the concession area of PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati (PT BNS), a company owned by PT Minamas.

Satellite data examination and ground assessment teams had established that the fires were not in the company's plantations.

Local communities in these areas plant a variety of cash crops, such as corn and sugar cane. Under the current regulations and conventions, concession holders are unable to control or influence the practices and activities of these communities.

"PT Minamas has conducted awareness programmes on the negative impact of slash and burn activities by local communities in peat areas. It intends to intensify such programmes together with other companies and the local authorities."

He said company officials and fire fighting teams in Riau were assisting the local authorities to spot and put out fires.

Read more: 'Work together to tackle haze problem' - General - New Straits Times

Sustainable Palm Oil Project in Kalimantan
Jakarta Globe 28 Jun 13;

An international climate change think tank has teamed up with an Indonesian university to continue sustainable palm oil projects in Central Kalimantan.

The focus of the initiative will be on evidence-based reporting in order to quantify the success of sustainable palm oil projects.

In a statement released on Friday, the Climate Policy Initiative and the University of Palangka Raya announced the analytical program, which will support the “production and protection program” through an initial three-year, $1.6 million grant from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

Earlier this year palm oil planters denounced a two-year, forest-clearing moratorium, extended in May, saying it had throttled palm oil production and urged the government against its extension.

The moratorium, which went into force in May 2011, was imposed as part of a deal with the Norwegian government in which Norway would provide $1 billion to Indonesia for programs to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

This new initiative builds on the work of Central Kalimantan’s action plan for green house gases, the REDD strategy, the province’s ground-breaking regulations on sustainable palm oil, and the governor’s own policies.

“CPI and UNPAR will use the funds in partnership with local stakeholders to support the government of Central Kalimantan’s vision for strong green growth underpinned by a high-yield, low environmental-impact oil palm sector,” the think tank’s statement said.

Yusurum Jagau, the dean of UNPAR’s School of Agriculture, said the university hoped to “develop a model for achieving Central Kalimantan’s goals of strong economic growth for businesses and communities, while protecting valuable natural resources, that can be used for a model for other regions in Indonesia.”

“We look forward to working with CPI to provide robust analysis that will support Central Kalimantan’s Green Growth Strategy, increase output of its most important agricultural product, palm oil, relocate palm oil production onto suitable low-carbon lands, and maintain critical natural resources necessary for future economic development,” he said.

Under the initiative, research will be conducted locally by teams at a new Center of Excellence, based in the agriculture school, in close consultation with communities, businesses and government decision makers, to identify options that increase agricultural productivity, expand the use of degraded lands, and protect high conservation value areas.

“The right policies and programs are essential to drive investment in ways that optimize Indonesia’s natural resources and underpin long-term growth and prosperity,” said Thomas C. Heller, the CPI executive director.

“The governor of Central Kalimantan has created a working group consisting of government, business, academia, and civil society representatives who will advise the local government on policy to achieve green growth with palm oil,” it said.

Kadin asks research, technology ministry to study Riau`s haze
Antara 28 Jun 13;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) has asked the Ministry of Research and Technology to study land fires producing haze in eight districts in Riau.

"Riau is a province which has peat lands. Its topographic characters show that the thickness of its peat land can reach tens of meters which enable the ember to stay dormant underneath," Muhammad Herwan, executive director of Kadin for Riau, said here on Friday.

He said that this condition enabled the ember of land and forest fires in previous years to stay and could not be put out at the bottom of the peat land.

Muhammad said artificial rain made to extinguish the fires could only put out fires on the land surface. But the source of fire under the surface some tens of meters of peat land is still there which could easily come to the surface during the dry season.

"There are no deliberate efforts to burn lands, particularly domestic and foreign investors. The fire came to the surface due to hot weather and was ignited by strong winds, just like fires that burn chaff," he said.

He said that this should be study closely by the ministry of research and technology and the palm oil plantations to prove this analysis.

"If it is true, technology that could prevent it or overcome it should be found so that the ember that often stay could really be fought in the bud and forest fires would no longer recur when the dry season takes place," the Kadin official said.

Riau Deputy Governor HR Mambang Mit said last week that about 3,700 hectares of land in Riau Province had been burnt. The worst fires took place in three districts sharing direct borders with Singapore and Malaysia.

"The worst land fires took place in the districts of Rokan Hilir, Kota Dumai and Bengkalis," the deputy governor said.

In efforts to put out forest fires in Riau Province, the government has set a total of Rp100 billion to be allocated for making rain, procuring materials and providing planes to conduct water bombing.

"The government would lease planes from Korea and Russia that are able to carry 4,000 to 5,000 liters of water for water bombing operations," Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Agung Laksono said after a coordination meeting to discuss the problem here on Thursday.

In the meantime, Minister Agung Laksono said that whoever was proven involved in oil palm land fires in Raiu Province would be taken to court and punished.

"Guilty companies, regardless of whether their owners come from Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore, will be acted upon and taken to court," Agung Laksono said on Thursday.

He said that if they were proven to have burned forests, the companies and their owners were to be acted upon. The companies could have their permits revoked and their owners were charged with crime. The punishment would be meted out by the court based facts found in the fields.

Agung said that now investigation in the field was still going on. Police were also still working hard to investigate the problem based on the request of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"I heard this morning that the team in the field had found several pieces of evidence and data such as burning tools in the locations. They will all become evidence in the court. But I could not yet reveal details about it," the coordinating minister said.

Therefore, he could not yet explain the kind of violations that had been taking place in the field. However, if fires were found on lands which would be transformed into palm oil plantations there must be parties who should be responsible.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Major Changes Needed for Coral Reef Survival

Science Daily 28 Jun 13;

June 28, 2013 — To prevent coral reefs around the world from dying off, deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are required, says a new study from Carnegie's Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira. They find that all existing coral reefs will be engulfed in inhospitable ocean chemistry conditions by the end of the century if civilization continues along its current emissions trajectory.

Their work will be published July 3 by Environmental Research Letters.

Coral reefs are havens for marine biodiversity and underpin the economies of many coastal communities. But they are very sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to coastal pollution, warming waters, overdevelopment, and overfishing.

Ricke and Caldeira, along with colleagues from Institut Pierre Simon Laplace and Stanford University, focused on the acidification of open ocean water surrounding coral reefs and how it affects a reef's ability to survive.

Coral reefs use a mineral called aragonite to make their skeletons. It is a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3. When carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid (the same thing that makes soda fizz), making the ocean more acidic and decreasing the ocean's pH. This increase in acidity makes it more difficult for many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons, and threatens coral reefs the world over.

Using results from simulations conducted using an ensemble of sophisticated models, Ricke, Caldeira, and their co-authors calculated ocean chemical conditions that would occur under different future scenarios and determined whether these chemical conditions could sustain coral reef growth.

Ricke said: "Our results show that if we continue on our current emissions path, by the end of the century there will be no water left in the ocean with the chemical properties that have supported coral reef growth in the past. We can't say with 100% certainty that all shallow-water coral reefs will die, but it is a pretty good bet."

Deep cuts in emissions are necessary in order to save even a fraction of existing reefs, according to the team's results. Chemical conditions that can support coral reef growth can be sustained only with very aggressive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

"To save coral reefs, we need to transform our energy system into one that does not use the atmosphere and oceans as waste dumps for carbon dioxide pollution. The decisions we make in the next years and decades are likely to determine whether or not coral reefs survive the rest of this century," Caldeira said.

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Jun 13

Natural reefs on artificial seawalls with OTTERS!
from wild shores of singapore

Down Memory Lane - Orange Albatross
from Butterflies of Singapore

Indonesia to spend $10M on cloud-seeding scheme to slow haze from news by Rhett Butler

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Singapore Zoo hopes to expand current site at Mandai

Alfred Chua Today Online 28 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Zoo is hoping to expand its current site, amid plans previously announced by the Government to develop the surrounding Mandai area into an eco-tourism destination.

The zoo currently occupies 26ha of land and, with the growth in population, space might be an issue, said Ms Claire Chiang, Chairman of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo.

“At our peak of 14,000 visitors a day, we are nudging each other. We need space ... I hope there can be certain extensions and certain enhancements made,” she told reporters at the zoo’s 40th anniversary celebrations yesterday.

Last year, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran announced that the Government was looking to add more tourist developments in Mandai, such as hotels and more restaurants, to transform the area into a complete tourist destination.

Ms Chiang hoped the authorities “can keep this whole Mandai parcel intact for eco-tourism”.

“It has the opportunity to be a huge integrated reserve,” she added.

Former President SR Nathan attended the anniversary celebrations as guest of honour.

To thank visitors for their support, all Singaporeans and permanent residents visiting the zoo next month will enjoy 40 per cent off ticket prices, said WRS.

Sharing her hopes for the Singapore Zoo, Ms Chiang felt that zoos of the future should be “interactive, immersive and edu-taining”.

Commenting on its future, she said: “It’s not just to showcase animals, (but) to look at biodiversity and sustainability, and ... how animals, nature and men can exist in a way that can be a win-win (situation).”

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Haze finger-pointing: Time for companies to show and tell

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 28 Jun 13;

If you felt confused or none the wiser after reading reports on the names of several major palm oil and pulp companies thrown up as culprits of the haze, as well as their subsequent denials, you could hardly be blamed.

If the companies accused say they are not behind the fires, who is?

Some media reports and non-government organisations (NGOs) have spelled out clearly what needs to be done by governments, corporations, as well as consumers to prevent the haze from occurring annually. This includes Indonesia ratifying the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and enforcing its laws.

An essential — and highly achievable — first step forward is for companies to regularly disclose all their concession areas and geographical coordinates, so that the information can be overlaid with satellite images of hot spots for current and future burning seasons.

Since the names of companies under investigation emerged, some major palm oil and pulp companies have publicly stated their no-burn policies and noted the presence of fire management programmes and efforts to assist in fire-fighting.

But none have volunteered detailed information of their concession areas to enlighten NGO watchdogs and the public.


In the absence of up-to-date, comprehensive information, organisations such as Greenpeace, WWF and the World Resources Institute (WRI) have utilised the best-available data. Over half of Riau province’s fire alerts occurring between June 12 and 23 were in concession areas, the WRI found.

It noted in a June 24 Insight article that “concession maps for 2013 are still not available to the public and cannot be accessed freely online. This and other data, such as details on company ownership, would strengthen the ability of groups working on this issue to conduct analysis, including the Indonesian government”.

Singapore-listed First Resources has indicated its willingness to help establish facts, saying on Sunday that it “welcomes and will provide assistance to any party who wishes to confirm information pertaining to its plantations and concessions”.

This is more than what some others are doing — but it is not enough. Companies need to disclose much more, if we are to move beyond the current stalemate of finger-pointing and better investigate future episodes of burning.

Maps of forestry, timber and oil palm concessions; how they overlay with forest and peatland areas (especially peat areas deeper than 3 metres, which are illegal to develop) and the distribution of hot spots when they occur, as well as information on fire risk and weather conditions should be made available by the Indonesian government on its websites, said Professor Luca Tacconi, Director of the Asia Pacific Network for Environmental Governance.

The Indonesian government should also publish records of companies on whose concessions fires have occurred, the actions taken and their outcomes, Prof Tacconi told TODAY.


On its part, Singapore can legislate the disclosure of concession areas, as well as land-clearing and planting practices by firms, as part of its stock exchange-listing requirements, said Professor Alan Tan Khee Jin, executive committee member of the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

At least seven companies with palm oil operations in Indonesia are listed in Singapore, including major players like Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources.

The path to greater disclosure may not be easy, however.

Concessions and their boundaries are extremely ill-defined in Indonesia and, often, companies “do not know for certain (nor do they care) where the boundaries are”, said Prof Tan. The land could also be subject to overlapping rights such as community lands and protected areas.

In the confusion, local governments tend to award concessions to large companies without regard to existing occupants, he said. Fires could be set by farmers doing slash-and-burn or out of anger, with companies retaliating in similar fashion, he noted.

It is also inaccurate to assume companies with the concessions own their lands and have control over them, said Prof Tan. The term “concession” could mean no more than a right to purchase the oil palm harvest from local farmers at a pre-determined price, with firms sub-contracting clearing of land and planting to the locals.

“In such circumstances, the companies can claim they have no role in the burnings, and the involvement of powerful and corrupt local leaders often results in little or zero enforcement of anti-burning laws,” he said.

Under Indonesian law, any company or person guilty of an illegal forest fire could be jailed up to 10 years and fined up to 5 billion rupiah (S$640,000).


The challenges are real, but they should not derail any disclosure of information. Companies could report concession zones with caveats on areas that are unclear or ill-defined, for example.

Also, given how some companies have stated that no fires have been detected in their operating areas, the logical assumption is that they are clear what their operating areas are.

One of the purported benefits of palm oil plantations is the provision of jobs and livelihoods to local communities. But when we drove last week through some areas blanketed with smog and close to massive plantations that had been burnt in Riau province, villagers — including children — without face masks were a common sight.

There was no respite for them, no air-conditioned space to escape to. I could only imagine the respiratory and other illnesses that could afflict them through prolonged exposure to the fumes.

The companies owe it to local communities to do better. Greater disclosure could also help consumers around the world to equip themselves with information to make the right choices.

Tackling the haze effectively will be complex and almost certainly long-drawn. But for a start, companies, perhaps with prodding by the authorities, must be more accountable.


Neo Chai Chin is a senior reporter with TODAY who reports on the environment. She spent five days in Riau recently to cover the hot spots and fire-fighting efforts.

More plantations, more haze to come?
Simon Tay and Chua Chin Wei Today Online 28 Jun 13;

In the wake of record levels of haze, environment ministers from Malaysia and Singapore will be meeting their Indonesian counterpart as soon as July 17 for the Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC).

This follows the apology graciously given by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and — more importantly — the actions taken by the Indonesian government to suppress the worst of the fires. Governments must do their part to signal, as well as to act.

But they are not the source of the problem. Past MSC meetings have recognised that palm oil corporations are key to reducing the haze, yet this is the first time that governments in Malaysia and Singapore have called for the companies to be named and pledged to act no matter what the nationality of these companies.

It is right to take action against errant corporations — not only to name them but also to shame and penalise them. While fire has been traditionally used by smallholders for hundreds of years to clear land, the key difference today is scale. The rapid expansion of plantations across Indonesia is the reason why it was only from the 1990s that the haze has caused alarm across the region; further growth explains many of the spikes in haze pollution since.

According to a report, the total plantation area in Indonesia grew by 50 per cent from 2005. Come 2020, this is slated to increase by a further 60 per cent — a total of five million hectares, about 70 times Singapore’s size. Unless the industry can be greened, more haze must be anticipated.

More information needs to be gleaned from transposing satellite images on maps of plantation concessions, but there are gaps in these maps. Plantations also claim that the fires were set by others or spread to their concessions from other areas. Ultimate ownership and responsibility are often ambiguous.

To establish the facts, much hard groundwork is needed. The Indonesian authorities can only do so much of this, given the vast land areas and limited capacity. Non-government organisations will need to work with the local communities to provide eyes on the ground.

To date, few cases have been brought to court and fewer still have been successfully prosecuted.

Given this, some argue that the entire industry must be boycotted. However, palm oil is near ubiquitous — contained in more than half the products sold in a typical supermarket.

Moreover, in a multi-billion-dollar industry, Indonesia is the world’s No 1 producer, Malaysia is second and Singapore supports the trade and financing with some major producers based and even listed here. Governments want to solve the haze but would not want to kill the industry.


Instead of a blanket ban, effort must be made to recognise and incentivise companies to act sustainably. This is best done in tandem with prosecutions, as a stick-and-carrot strategy.

Some palm oil companies do try to institutionalise sustainability plans. When quizzed, Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar International have been quick to reiterate their zero-burn policy. But having a zero-burn policy is different from enforcing one.

Certification will be essential to differentiate between those who are green from those who merely claim to be. One attempt has been made by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-led effort. But, with some RSPO members accused of using fire, some question the group’s effectiveness. Investigations by RSPO against errant members will be closely watched to see if companies dodge responsibility or take steps to reform.

Another measure is to provide traceability — so that traders and buyers in the supply chain can trace the product back to the producer and precise plantation. The demand for traceability of food produce has grown and some companies such as Nestle now commit to using only traceable palm oil. Many others, however, still trade and purchase uncertified and untraceable palm oil.

Citizens — not just in Singapore and Malaysia but also in Riau nearest the fires — have called for the haze to be ended. Governments are starting to address the issue, notwithstanding political sensitivities and the urgency of the meeting of environmental ministers signals progress. But there are clear limits to what environmental ministers can command without the buy-in from their ministerial colleagues in charge of the economy and industry.

Governments will have to coordinate between the environmental ministers who will meet and their counterparts in charge of economic and industry matters. Only then will palm oil and other resource companies have the right stick and carrots to green their businesses.


Simon Tay is Chairman and Chua Chin Wei a Deputy Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

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Shanmugam clears air over his links to firms accused of causing haze

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has clarified his past directorships in Asia Food & Properties Ltd (AFP) and Golden Agri-Resources Ltd (GAR) which are controlled by the Sinar Mas Group (SMG).

Writing on his Facebook page, he said these questions have been raised because one senior Indonesian official said last week that the Sinar Mas Group, which has some companies in Singapore, was among those involved in the forest burning in Indonesia that caused the haze.

Mr Shanmugam revealed that in June 1996, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) had asked him and two others to become independent directors of a listed company called Amcol because Amcol was in serious trouble.

Most of Amcol's then directors were told to step down. Amcol had over 11,000 shareholders and many of them were Singaporeans who had invested using their CPF.

Amcol went into Judicial Management, and a white knight, the Sinar Mas Group was eventually found for Amcol.

The group took over Amcol in 1997, through Asia Food and Properties Limited (AFP), an SMG subsidiary.

Mr Shanmugam said AFP was then listed and he became a director of AFP. He stressed that he did not charge or receive any legal fees for this work as the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders.

Legal fees refer to payment that a lawyer performing work in a similar situation could have received.

He added that Golden Agri Resources was listed in 1999 as a subsidiary of AFP, and he was appointed a director of the company.

When AFP was listed in 1997, Mr Shanmugam said he wanted to step down as the work SGX had asked him to do was completed.

However, Sinar Mas Group asked him to stay on for a period to give confidence to shareholders, given that the company had gone through difficult times.

Mr Shanmugam agreed to the request.

In 2001, he stepped down from both the AFP and GAR Boards, as the transition was over, and SMG had found new directors.

Throughout this period, Mr Shanmugam stressed he did not own any shares in Amcol, AFP or GAR.

However, as a director of AFP and GAR, he said he received director's fees, similar to other directors.

- CNA/fa

Shanmugam clears air on past links to firms
Andrea Ong Straits Times 29 Jun 13;

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday explained his past position as director in two companies controlled by an Indonesian conglomerate reportedly linked to the fires causing the haze.

The conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG), has some companies in Singapore and was named by a senior Indonesian official last week as one of the alleged culprits burning forests and contributing to the haze enveloping the region.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, detailed how he came to be involved in the two SMG-controlled companies: Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Asia Food & Properties (AFP).

In June 1996, he and two others were asked by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to be independent directors of then listed company Amcol, he said. The company, many of whose shareholders were Singaporeans who had invested using their Central Provident Fund savings, was in "serious trouble".

Most of its directors had been told to step down, he said.

"The three of us were asked to go in and see how the investing public shareholders of Amcol could be helped," said Mr Shanmugam, then a lawyer with expertise in securities law.

They managed Amcol's affairs with judicial managers and a white knight, SMG, was found.

SMG took over Amcol in 1997 using AFP, which was listed that same year. In 1999, GAR was listed as a subsidiary of AFP.

Mr Shanmugam was appointed director of both companies after their listing. The Amcol shareholders who kept their shares ended up getting "a substantial benefit".

But, he said, "I did not charge or receive any fees for this work - the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders". He had wanted to step down when AFP was listed in 1997 as the task given to him by SGX - to help Amcol shareholders - had been completed.

He, however, agreed to SMG's request to stay on for a period, to give confidence to shareholders.

He stepped down from the boards of AFP and GAR in 2001.

"Throughout this period, I did not own any shares in Amcol, AFP or GAR," he said. "I did my duty on behalf of shareholders as requested by SGX. And I have never owned any shares in any of these companies." He received director's fees for his AFP and GAR posts, similar to other directors.

Mr Shanmugam said he had also been asked about Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which a top Indonesian official said owned land with hot spots. GAR and APP are units of SMG. Noting that APP was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, he said: "I had no dealings whatsoever with APP."

On Tuesday, a foreign online report highlighted Mr Shanmugam's links with these companies.

Late on Wednesday night, he called lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, who co-founded The Online Citizen, to discuss the report. Yesterday, he said he knew Mr Choo and had discussed issues with him before over dinner and the phone.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Choo, 28, said: "Minister shared his views about the article, noting that he thought it was libellous... I agreed that there were many unverifiable facts in the article and that it appeared to me that the article was libellous." He added that he had told friends of the conversation and the minister's views. "I had earlier in the day informed them of my opinion that the article was libellous under Singapore's laws on defamation."

Mr Shanmugam said he was "surprised" to see blogger Kirsten Han posting on Thursday that she found the late-night call "troubling" and "worrying".

"Unfortunately the picture Ms Han has painted is quite untrue. To give her the benefit of the doubt, she was not part of the conversation and may not therefore have had the full picture," he said.

Yesterday, he also told reporters that Mr Choo had sent him an e-mail saying his posting explaining what happened was fair.

In another post last evening, Mr Choo took responsibility for the mischaracterisation of the minister's phone call to him, which was a personal call. "I apologise to both the minister and Kirsten for the miscommunication, which was solely occasioned by me," said Mr Choo.

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Canal pleasures

The transformation of canals and reservoirs into recreational areas puts water play back in style
Nicholas Yong Straits Times Life 28 Jun 13;

The haze over the past couple of weeks has cast a pall over outdoor activities. But if the weather holds out over the weekend, stir-crazy folks cooped up indoors can head for some idyllic water spots located right in their backyards.

There are currently 27 Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) projects all over the island. The long-term initiative aims to transform Singapore's drains, canals and reservoirs into streams, rivers and lakes that are also recreational spaces.

More than 100 potential sites have been identified for ABC Waters Implementation by 2030.

The ABC Waters Programme even bagged the Public Utilities Board the Utility Performance Initiative of the Year at the Global Water Awards 2013.

From Sengkang to Jurong to Kallang Bahru, Life!Weekend takes a look at five of the lesser known projects, where you can take a stroll, cycle, fish and even race remote-controlled boats.


Completed in 2011, the 1.2km stretch of Alexandra Canal from Tanglin Road to Delta Road has become an open waterway.

A short stretch of the waterway has been decked over to create a water cascade and a shallow stream. A series of viewing decks gives visitors and residents a bird's eye view of the waterway.

There is a series of urban wetlands with flora and fauna such as turtles and aquatic plants, which help clean the water. They also provide outdoor learning opportunities for nearby schools such as Crescent Girls' School.

When Life!Weekend visits on a weekday afternoon, stay-at-home dad Gary Millers, 44, is keeping an eye on his son Ayden. The eight-year-old is zipping up and down the viewing decks on his skate scooter.

Mr Millers, an Australian expatriate who has been living in the area for four years, appreciates the effort to beautify the area. He notes: "We like the park. It's quiet and there are not many cars. There are not many places in Singapore that are this compact."

Domestic worker Loida Cantano, 41, whose employer also lives in a nearby condominium, enjoys walking at the viewing decks at night. She says: "It's nice to walk here and it's very breezy. I also like the view of the water features."


The three-year-old Sengkang Floating Wetland at Punggol Reservoir provides a natural habitat for birds and fish and plant species such as dwarf papyrus, piai raya and pandan wangi.

Located just behind Serangoon Sports and Recreation Centre, its features include boardwalks that get you up close and personal with the water plants.

Dotting the boardwalks is a large mangosteen-shaped shelter, as well as benches shaped like oranges cut in half. There are also educational signboards all around, with information about the wetland ecosystem.

The first of its kind in Singapore, the floating wetland also connects the Anchorvale Community Club and Sengkang Sports Complex on one bank, and the Sengkang Riverside Park on the other bank.

Junior college student Kelvin Tan, 17, lives a 10-minute walk from the wetland and often goes there to study. The eldest of three siblings, he enjoys the peace and quiet in the area.

"Here, you can get close to nature and it's different from other parks because it's connected to other areas.

"You can reach Punggol and Serangoon from here. It's also ideal for running and cycling at night, which I do once a month. Sometimes, I come here with my siblings too."


Sitting in the shadow of HDB blocks that surround it, Kolam Ayer ABC Waterfront is the result of a project that has transformed a 250m stretch of Kallang River between Bendemeer Road and Kolam Ayer Pedestrian Bridge.

Located in Kallang Bahru, the project brings the waterfront literally to the doorstep of the heartlander. The main features of the Kolam Ayer project include water sensitive landscaping along the riverbanks, a floating deck and tiled pavements.

There are also interactive water features such as a water wheel with bicycle pedals and three Archimedean screws for visitors to play and get closer to the water.

Completed in 2010, kayaking and dragon boating are also a regular feature along this stretch of water. Kolam Ayer Community Centre also conducts regular elementary kayaking clinics here, on the first Saturday of every month, which start from $18 for members.

Retiree Syed Esa, 63, lives just five minutes' walk from the water. The grandfather of six often takes relatives and visitors to the water body.

"It's beautiful and very peaceful here. The kids will run about and they like to play with the wheels," says Mr Syed, who has been living in the area for almost a decade.

He adds: "I like the river. It's a very different feeling from when I'm in the city because they developed this place with the concept of a natural riverside."


The three-year-old Pandan Reservoir in the West Coast is a vibrant water sports arena for canoeing, sailing and rowing, with an amenities centre housing the offices of several national sports associations.

Landscaping and wetlands help soften the banks of the reservoir, while there are also platforms for viewing and fishing, as well as radio-controlled boating.

There is an unusual-shaped pontoon boardwalk, with space for anglers and strollers alike. Fountains also spout water between 11am and 2pm and 8 and 9pm.

When Life!Weekend visits on a Monday afternoon, there are almost 10 anglers along the boardwalk, casting their lines and comparing their catches.

One of them is Tan Kwang Jie, 18. The ITE student is a keen angler who travels all the way from his home in Toh Guan to Pandan Reservoir every few months. He says: "I come here to be alone. It's quiet and peaceful for people to fish. You can catch fish such as tilapia."


Located near Yuan Ching Road and Chinese Gardens MRT station, Jurong Lake was designed as a water playground for families in the west.

Completed in 2010, amenities include a stage, a viewing promenade for community events and a boardwalk for visitors to enjoy views of the lake. Wetlands also keep the waters clean and attract wildlife such as fish and birds.

Kayaking and dragon boating are a regular feature on the lake, with dedicated lanes for competitive rowing. There is also a water activity-based centre operated by the People's Association.

Automated fountains on the lake also go off three times every day, from 7 to 9am, noon to 2pm and 6 to 9pm.

Technician Ruzaman Mohd (top), 45, grew up in the area and comes to Jurong Lake once a week. A passionate angler, he is drawn by the many species of fish in the lake such as snakehead, tilapia and soon hock.

"I have at least one catch each time I come here," says the father of one who grew up in the area and has been frequenting the water spot for the last three decades.

He adds: "It was more natural last time, with a lot of aquatic vegetation and a very good ecosystem for the fish. The water looks clean, but it all feels a bit artificial. But it's still a nice place to hang out. I bring my wife and daughter here on weekends, they ride bicycles and we have quality time."

Gardener Johnny Yek, 67, helps maintain the greenery around Jurong Lake and says he has a great job. "I love working here because of the scenery. It's very quiet and peaceful. It's my wife's favourite place for morning walks, and sometimes, I accompany her."

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