Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jan 13

Labrador seagrass monitoring in the rain
from wild shores of singapore

Carcass for Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Bird Encounters at the Northeast Neighbourhood
from Bird Ecology Study Group

January Tides
from Ubin.sgkopi

Dead tigers, dead people: logging by paper industry worsens human-tiger conflict in Sumatra, alleges report from news by Rhett Butler

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Work begins on new NUS museum

Real dinosaur fossils will be among the exhibits when it is ready next year
Tan Dawn Wei Straits Times 12 Jan 13;

MORE than three years after a group of passionate biologists launched an ambitious fund-raising drive to build Singapore's first standalone natural history museum, they are one giant step closer to fulfilling their dream.

The National University of Singapore drove the first pile for the $46 million purpose-built Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum yesterday, on grounds where the school's estate office once stood.

When ready in the second half of 2014, the 8,500 sq m, seven-storey "green" building will house not just three real dinosaur fossils, but also a priceless collection of some 500,000 specimens of vertebrates and invertebrates.

It is, in the words of the honorary National Heritage Board chairman, Professor Tommy Koh, "a dream come true".

Prof Koh, who was the guest of honour at yesterday's groundbreaking ceremony, recalled how his visits to New York's Natural History Museum, Washington's Smithsonian and later the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) had convinced him that Singapore should have a purpose-built museum showcasing South-east Asia's flora and fauna.

"But I couldn't get political support," he said in a speech to 40 guests including former president SR Nathan and Dr Lee Seng Tee, director of donor organisation the Lee Foundation.

Encouraged by his enthusiasm, professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng went knocking on doors to sell this great museum story. Since then, the duo and their team have raised enough money to not only pay for the building, but also buy three 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs, two of which are already in storage here. The third is due to be shipped to Singapore by the end of the year.

With the building of the museum under way, the two professors are wasting no time in focusing on their third fund-raising drive - to raise $10 million in endowment for professorships, fellowships and staff costs.

The museum that it is due to replace, the RMBR, is now operating with just two researchers and four curators. It will need to boost the team as the collection grows and the museum moves to its much larger, more public premises. It is looking at hiring at least half a dozen more of such staff, who will also take charge of teaching students.

"We have started the journey, and we've reached a part of it," said Prof Ng, without divulging how much is in the kitty already.

Designed by renowned home-grown architect Mok Wei Wei, the museum will form part of a cultural hub on campus that includes the University Cultural Centre and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. It will boast state-of-the-art firefighting and humidity-control technology to keep specimens in fine form.

Besides raising funds to pay for manpower, the museum is looking for other kinds of donations.

"Those who can't afford cash, can donate in kind," said Prof Tan. "We will evaluate and see if the specimens are good for public display or research. This is another way to help grow the museum."

Meanwhile, preparing for the big move has begun at the existing RMBR at the university's Science Drive 2, about 850m away. The museum's last day for public visits will be March 31.

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Watch out for flash floods this weekend

High tide and heavy rain could coincide to produce deluge in low-lying places
Grace Chua Straits Times 12 Jan 13;

THERE could be localised flash floods this weekend and early next week, if the forecast heavy rain coincides with high tide levels.

The highest tides will range from 3.3m to 3.4m in the late morning and early afternoon today to next Tuesday.

Afternoon showers are also expected over the next few days, said national water agency PUB and the National Environment Agency.

If the two occur at the same time, flash floods could hit low-lying coastal areas such as Fort Road and Meyer Road which are vulnerable to tidal surges (see box).

Water levels will already be high in canals that open directly into the sea, such as the Bedok and Siglap canals, before more water is dumped into them by the rain.

January marks the middle of the north-east monsoon season, and thundery showers, mainly in the afternoon and evening, can be expected for the rest of this month.

In general, January is the third wettest month of the year, with average monthly rainfall of 243.2mm.

Tides are affected by astronomical factors such as the sun and the moon, said a Maritime and Port Authority spokesman. High tides occur when the moon and Earth are closest to each other.

Today's new moon also means the moon, sun and Earth are aligned, reinforcing the gravitational pull of both sun and moon to cause a spring tide.

At such times, maximum tides are very high and minimum ones are very low - for instance, minimum tides are expected to be about 0.3m in Changi this afternoon.

The highest recorded spring tide in Singapore since 1975 was 3.68m in December 1999. And the last time high tides and heavy rain coincided was in November 2011, causing flash floods on the Ayer Rajah Expressway and Neo Pee Teck Lane in Pasir Panjang.

Residents in affected areas can protect their properties by installing flood barriers such as aluminium panels or stop-boards with sandbags, and by storing belongings at a high level.

The PUB has staff on the ground monitoring the situation, as well as equipment such as pumps on standby, said a spokesman.

Mr Tony Tan, who runs the Betel Box hostel in Joo Chiat Road, recalled the last floods in the area some years ago: "Some of my neighbours' ground floors were flooded."

But flash floods have "not bothered us" for a couple of years, he added. "The recent infrastructure works seem to have been effective."

Since 1991, the Government has mandated that new reclaimed land be 1.25m above the highest recorded tide.

In 2011, the PUB revised its drainage code for better protection against floods. Now, new reclaimed land must be 1m above the previous requirements, while building platform levels must be 60cm above the highest recorded flood level or 30cm to 60cm above ground level.

For weather alerts, the public can visit or, check the @NEAsg Twitter account, call the weather forecast hotline on 6542-7788, or listen to radio broadcasts.

Background story

Areas that may beaffected

LOW-LYING coastal areas, and places where canals and drains open directly into the sea, could be affected by flash floods if high tides coincide with heavy rain. These are:

IN THE EAST: Changi Lorong 101 to 106, Everitt Road North, Langsat Road, Changi Road, Meyer Road, Margate Road, Broadrick Road, Jalan Seaview, Tanjong Katong Road South and Mountbatten Road.

IN THE WEST: Wan Lee Road, First Lok Yang Road, Jalan Mat Jambol, Yew Siang Road, Jalan Pasir Ria, Neo Pee Teck Lane and Clementi Road.



Jan 123.3 10.52

Jan 133.4 11.41

Jan 143.4 12.28

Jan 153.3 13.13

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Regional cooperation on Mekong River in tatters

WWF 11 Jan 13;

Gland, Switzerland – Ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam meeting next week in the Lao city of Luang Prabang must put derailed decision-making on Mekong River mainstream dams back on track or risk sabotaging management of one of the world’s great rivers, warns WWF.

Environment and water ministers had agreed in 2011 to delay a decision on building the US$3.5-billion Xayaburi dam pending further studies on its environmental impacts. This agreement was swept aside last November when Laos decided to forge ahead with construction of the controversial dam.

The 16-17 January Ministerial-level meeting of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four lower Mekong countries – will put transboundary cooperation to the test and the fate of the Mekong River, vital to the livelihoods of 60 million people.

“The Xayaburi dam experiment threatens the health and productivity of the Mekong River and Delta, and could leave millions of people facing critical food insecurity,” said Dr. Jian-hua Meng, WWF’s Sustainable Hydropower Specialist. “Ministers must take a stand against Xayaburi-style diplomacy or it will be the dangerous precedent for the future.”
Xayaburi dam is a crucial test case
As the first dam to enter the MRC’s consultation process, the Xayaburi project is a crucial test case for 10 other dams proposed for the lower mainstream of the river. The MRC process requires countries to jointly review development projects proposed for the Mekong mainstream with an aim to reach consensus on whether or not they should proceed. Laos is now constructing Xayaburi dam without consensus among its neighbours or notifying the MRC.

In November last year, the MRC delivered the much anticipated concept note for a joint study aimed at filling critical data gaps and guiding sustainable development of the Mekong River, including mainstream hydropower projects. The study was requested by Ministers at the 2011 MRC meeting.

“Without the results of the study, dam development on the lower Mekong mainstream is now largely guesswork,” added Dr. Meng. “A fix it as you go approach with Xayaburi dam, and throwing money at problems as they inevitably arise, is not sound engineering nor smart development.”
Thai banks back dam despite severe risks
Thailand is slated to be the prime consumer of the electricity produced by Xayaburi dam, and at least four Thai banks have confirmed their interest in financing the project, despite the acute environmental and social costs, and the uncertainties surrounding the financial return of the project.

“Thailand must act responsibly and cancel its premature power purchase agreement until there is regional consensus on dams,” added Dr. Meng. “And if the Thai banks do their risk assessment homework well, and value their international reputation and financial returns, they’d do well to reconsider and to pull out of this project.”

WWF urges Mekong ministers to defer a decision on the dam for 10 years to ensure critical data can be gathered and a decision can be reached using sound science and analysis.
Future of MRC hangs in the balance
“If decision-making continues to occur outside of the MRC, the institution will soon lose its legitimacy and US$300 million of international donor support to the Commission will be wasted,” added Dr. Meng. “Mekong countries need to stop wasting time picking apart the MRC process, and start using common sense and sound science again to reach joint decisions that are to the benefit of all.”

Reviews of the dam development have identified serious gaps in data and weaknesses with the proposed fish passes for the mega dam, and confirmed the Xayaburi project will block part of the sediment flow, destabilising the river’s ecosystem upon which farmers, fishers and many other economic sectors depend.

WWF advises lower Mekong countries considering hydropower projects to prioritise dams on some Mekong tributaries that are easier to assess and are considered to have a much lower impact and risk.

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Pollution turns Hong Kong harbour from 'fragrant' to foul

Beh Lih Yi (AFP) Google News 11 Jan 13;

HONG KONG — Hong Kong's name may mean "fragrant harbour", but cargo ships burning dirty fuel in what is one of the world's busiest ports add to a foul layer of pollution that kills more than 3,000 people a year.

Now the government is vowing to get tough, with activists hoping mandatory restrictions on shipping emissions will be among a raft of measures announced next week aimed at making the city more environmentally friendly.

A total of 410,560 vessels arrived and left the port in 2011, with cargo ships vying for space in the crowded waters alongside public ferries, tourist junks and luxury yachts.

This level of activity means shipping is a key polluter in a city where, according to the University of Hong Kong, air pollution kills about 3,200 people every year.

Simon Ng of the Civic Exchange think-tank blamed the pollution, which often shrouds the city's dramatic skyline in thick smog, for driving away talent.

"Just imagine a small power plant right next to your doorstep, producing a lot of pollution every day, almost 24 hours a day, what would you do?" he said.

"Ships are now producing a lot more pollutants than we had anticipated, and it is becoming a major problem that we need to address."

Rising emissions from ships, which burn heavily polluting bunker fuel, will have seen shipping overtake the power industry as the biggest source of the colourless toxic gas sulphur dioxide last year, Ng predicted.

Nearly 400 Hong Kong people died last year from breathing in pollution from bunker fuel alone, he added, citing a study on marine pollution by his think-tank.

Activists say Hong Kong lags behind the rest of the world on environmental issues ranging from recycling to cycle lanes.

And when it comes to shipping, while vessels calling in northern Europe and North America are mostly restricted to fuels with 1.0 percent or less sulphur content, Hong Kong allows 3.5 percent.

Last year however, it did introduce a voluntary scheme in which ships using 0.5 percent or less are given a 50 percent discount in port dues.

Christine Loh, an environmental crusader who has become the government's environment undersecretary, said the scheme was just a "small start".

"We want to regulate. We want it to become mandatory and we want to take the scheme across the border to our neighbours in Guangdong," she told an air quality conference last month.

"We would like, within the next few years, to collaborate and work very closely with the Guangdong province so the whole of the water of the (Pearl River Delta) could be turned into a low emission zone."

The Environmental Protection Department said it was working with the mainland Chinese authorities to look into a switch to cleaner fuel for vessels berthed in the delta, which includes Macau and industrial hubs like Shenzhen.

But the Hong Kong Shipowners Association said the reduction in port dues was only enough to cover 30-40 percent of the yearly costs of using cleaner fuel, which amounted to about $2 million per company.

"Asking carriers to spend money that they don't have on switching fuel is quite a difficult thing," the association's managing director Arthur Bowring said.

The industry was operating in a "terrible" environment amid an unpredictable trade volume due to the global financial crisis, he added.

But he said liners were prepared to work with the government and noted that about 18 companies had taken part in a two-year unsubsidised, industry-led initiative to use cleaner fuel that expired at the end of last year.

Orient Overseas, Hong Kong's biggest container ship operator, which took part in the initiative, said mandatory regulation would at least create a level playing field.

The city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged to make pollution one of his top priorities during his five-year term.

But when the Beijing-backed leader takes up the issue in his first annual policy address next week, the question will be not just whether the field is level but also whether he is willing to set the bar high enough.

New air quality objectives announced last year for seven pollutants including sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide were criticised as too little, too late and in August the city choked under the worst smog it had ever recorded.

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Zambia bans hunting of endangered lions, leopards

Chris Mfula PlanetArk 11 Jan 13;

Zambia has banned the hunting of lions and other endangered wild cats such as leopards because it sees more value in game viewing tourism than blood sport, the country's tourism minister said on Thursday.

Sylvia Masebo told Reuters big cat numbers were also too low to have a sustainable hunting industry.

"Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry," Masebo said.

The estimated $3 million that Zambia earned from safari hunting of all its wild animals annually was too little to merit the continued depletion of Zambia's wildlife, she said.

"Why should we lose our animals for $3 million a year? The benefits we get from tourist visits are much higher," she said.

The leopard population for the sprawling southern African country is not known while lion numbers are not believed to exceed around 4,500.

Estimates for Africa's lion population vary from around 20,000 to 30,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is falling in the face of numerous threats including conflict with livestock farmers and loss of prey and habitat.

Zambia's moves follow neighboring Botswana's decision to ban all sport hunting from 2014 as it also works to promote itself as a game viewing destination.

Wildlife-rich Kenya set this trend when it halted trophy and sport hunting decades ago.

Lions and leopards are the feline pair of the so-called "Big 5" group of dangerous African animals coveted by some trophy hunters. The others are elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo.

But there are growing concerns about Africa's big animals in the face of a surge in poaching of elephants for their ivory and rhino in South Africa for their horns to meet soaring demand from Asian countries.

In a separate development, Zambia last week suspended 19 hunting concessions and fired the top management at the Zambia Wildlife Authority because of corruption allegations and a lack of transparency.

(Editing by Ed Stoddard and Paul Casciato)

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Up to half of world's food goes to waste, report says

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 11 Jan 12;

Up to half of all the food produced worldwide ends up going to waste due to poor harvesting, storage and transport methods as well as irresponsible retailer and consumer behavior, a report said on Thursday.

The world produces about four billion metric tons of food a year but 1.2 to 2 billion metric tons is not eaten, the study by the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers said.

"This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands," said.

In developed countries, like Britain, efficient farming methods, transport and storage mean that most of the wastage occurs through retail and customer behavior.

Retailers produce 1.6 million metric tons of food waste a year because they reject crops of edible fruit and vegetables because they do not meet exacting size and appearance criteria, the report by the engineering society said.

"Thirty percent of what is harvested from the field never actually reaches the marketplace (primarily the supermarket) due to trimming, quality selection and failure to conform to purely cosmetic criteria," it said.

Of the food which does reach supermarket shelves, 30-50 percent of what is bought in developed countries is thrown away by customers, often due to poor understanding of "best before" and "use by" dates.

A "use by" date is when there is a health risk associated with using food after that date. A "best before" date is more about quality - when it expires it does not necessarily mean food is harmful but it may lose some flavor and texture.

However, many consumers do not know the difference between the labels and bin food after "best before" dates.

Promotional offers and bulk discounts also encourage shoppers to buy large quantities in excess of their needs.


In Britain, about 10.2 billion pounds' ($16.3 billion) worth of food is thrown away from homes every year, with one billion pounds' worth being perfectly edible, the report found.

By contrast, in less developed countries, such as in sub-Saharan Africa or South East Asia, wastage mostly happens due to inefficient harvesting and poor handling and storage.

In South-East Asian countries, for example, losses of rice range from 37 to 80 percent of their entire production, totaling about 180 million metric tons per year, the report said.

The United Nations predicts global population will peak at around 9.5 billion people by 2075, meaning there will be an additional 2.5 billion people to feed.

The rising population, together with improved nutrition and shifting diets will put pressure for increases in global food supply over the coming decades.

Rising food and commodity prices will drive the need to reduce waste, making the practice of discarding edible fruit and vegetables on cosmetic grounds less economically viable.

However, governments should not wait for food pricing to trigger action on this wasteful practice, but produce policies that change consumer behavior and dissuade retailers from operating in this way, the study said.

Rapidly developing countries like China and Brazil have developed infrastructure to transport crops, gain access to export markets and improve storage facilities but they need to avoid the mistakes made by developed nations and make sure they are efficient and well-maintained.

Poorer countries require significant investment to improve their infrastructure, the report said. For example, Ethiopia is considering developing a national network of grain storage facilities which is expected to cost at least $1 billion.

"This scale of investment will be required for multiple commodities and in numerous countries, and co-ordinated efforts are going to be essential," the report said.

(Editing by Pravin Char)

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