Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jan 13

Sea fan garden and evidence of dugong at Changi
from wonderful creation

Random Gallery - Striped Blue Crow
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sedimental creatures
from The annotated budak

"Reducing Our Environmental Impact Hackathon", 25 - 27 Jan 2013 @ U Town
from Habitatnews

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Bottle Tree Park can stay till Oct

SLA extends plot's lease; master tenant won't bid high when tender is called

Jessica Lim Straits Times 24 Jan 13;

BOTTLE Tree Park in Yishun, popular for its "kampung-like" atmosphere, will stay open until at least October.

But that is unlikely to save the rustic enclave of restaurants and small businesses there. The 7ha plot of state land will eventually be put up for public tender and could be used for other commercial purposes.

Located in Lorong Chencharu, Bottle Tree Park was due to close last year, but master tenant Planar One and Associates successfully fought to get its lease extended.

Its lease will now end on Oct 18, when the Singapore Land Authority will put the plot up for tender to give "all interested parties... an equal opportunity to bid". The lease will be for up to two terms of three years each.

Planar One can submit a bid but managing director Alex Neo, 53, said it will be a modest one as he does not make money from the park.

He is likely to face stiff competition from businesses like recreational fishing, recreational horticulture, a campsite, adventure training ground, plant nursery, agriculture and fish and bird farms.

"We have no intention of changing our operations or become commercialised.

"We will not offer an amount that is much higher than what we are paying now," he said, adding that the place has "heart and soul".

He declined to reveal how much he pays for rent now but said it was only slightly higher than the $15,000 a month he paid when he moved there in 2004.

Then, the land was just an empty plot. He spent about $4 million to build it up, he said.

Father of two Tan Kiam Heong, 43, who was fishing at the park with his family, said he fears the park could end up becoming over-developed.

The engineer, who visits the area a few times a month, said: "My children enjoy it here. It's not easy to find such a place. Singapore is full of shopping centres, not places like this.

"I want my children to experience something different."

Bottle Tree Park has a seafood restaurant, a Japanese eatery, paintball facilities and ponds for fishing.

Unlike many master tenants, Mr Neo does not collect a fixed monthly rent. Instead, sub-tenants pay him a fixed percentage of their monthly earnings.

Mr Kang Ah Chen, 53, who manages the park's fish pond, pays the company $3 for every $15 ticket he sells.

Each ticket allows an adult to fish for an hour. "If business is good, I give more. If it is bad, I give less," he said. "We want to stay. But if the boss closes down, so will we."

Fellow tenant Ground-Up Initiative pays nothing. Mr Tay Lai Hock, founder of the non-profit organisation which offers activities to connect people with nature, said he has "tried to demonstrate to the Government that the land is valuable as a non-commercial entity".

He said: "Now, we just have to let the Government decide. I have done my part."

In response to queries, the SLA said it granted the extension "to facilitate business continuity".

At lunchtime earlier this week, The Straits Times found several people fishing in the park, although the restaurants were empty.

Chesterton Suntec International's head of research and consultancy, Mr Colin Tan, said there is much competition for land, with industries like landscaping and fish farming desperate for space.

"These industries, which are doing business for profit, would definitely be able to bid much higher," he said. "In Singapore, land is scarce. One would expect rentals to have increased significantly over the past few years."

He added that it makes little sense for Planar One to place a high bid. "Doing so would mean that its owner will be continually subsidising the park."

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Coming: New way to treat water

Use of longer-lasting, more efficient filter material could lower costs
David Ee Straits Times 24 Jan 13;

A NEW method to treat water will be rolled out by national water agency PUB within the next 12 months, with the aim of keeping water prices here affordable.

The method, which uses stronger ceramic membranes to filter impurities, will first be installed in Choa Chu Kang waterworks, where the PUB is conducting a trial to improve it further.

The new membranes can last at least 20 years, more than four times the lifespan of existing polymer types.

This, and the ability to process up to three times more water, could help to lower the cost of producing water, said PUB's chief technology officer Harry Seah.

Today, Singaporeans pay $1.52 for every 1,000 litres of water they use, a tariff fixed since 2000. On average, each person uses 153 litres of water a day.

The method has been tested for 11/2 years at the waterworks, using a trial plant set up in collaboration with Dutch water firm PWN Technologies.

It will replace the old sand filters there which have been in place since 1981.

Ceramic membranes are also being tested at the Jurong Water Reclamation Plant and could be used in desalination plants in the future, said Mr Seah.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the signing of a memorandum of understanding yesterday between the PUB and the Dutch firm to work together to identify innovative water solutions.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade Lilianne Ploumen witnessed the signing.

Said Mrs Ploumen: "Our communities are (both) looking for viable solutions in terms of safe drinking water.

It would be wonderful if we could team up, and bring (solutions) to the rest of the world."

Desalinated water and Newater currently make up about 40 per cent of Singapore's water supply, with local reservoirs and imported water making up the rest.

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Jakarta under constant threat of flooding and rising sea levels

Sukristiono Sukardjo Jakarta Post 23 Jan 13;

Jakarta, with its booming population, is facing a challenge from anthropogenic climate change. The city represents an exceptional concentration of 10 million people located close to the sea’s edge and therefore vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Greater Jakarta is a delta city that has constantly been at risk of flooding. During the Indonesia Delta Forum held in Semarang in October 2010, the unabated flood problems beleaguering Jakarta were discussed, and 13 rivers running from Mount Gede, Mt. Pangrango and Mt. Salak in West Java were identified as permanent threats to the capital city.

The quality of all river catchment areas has been degraded due to disposal of solid and domestic waste, continuing illegal development activities and other environmental encroachments have complicated rising sea level mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Jakarta, West Java and Banten mangrove forests occupied 44,453 hectares in 1996-1998, accounting for 0.66 percent of Java’s north coast. In 2009 the forest cover had declined to only 11,370 hectares.

These mangroves support Jakarta bay fisheries, provide coastal protection against typhoons and storms, reduce erosion, stabilize sediments, control flooding and pollution, and serve as habitats for many forms of biota.

Jakarta’s mangroves grow in narrow, discontinuous strips along the seaward face of the stretch from Kapuk Naga to Muara Angke and help Jakarta withstand the tides. Kapuk Naga mangroves, however, have been vastly diminished, while the 25 hectares of mangrove forest in Muara Angke sanctuary are coming under attack from pollutants.

Nature reserves in Penyaliran Barat (18.41 hectares) and Penyaliran Timur (19.50 hectares) as well as fishponds cannot recover despite rehabilitation activities. The Jakarta mangroves have been degraded environmentally and structurally, their natural water regime has been disturbed, rendering them unable to protect the coasts from rising tidal floods.

Meanwhile, forested areas in Mt. Salak, Mt. Gede and Mt. Pangrango and 13 catchment areas are environmentally degrading at an alarming rate as a result of development and other human encroachments. The upland areas are the target of developers hungry for land.

Uncontrolled development of upland regions and the growing wealth of Jakarta’s citizens lead to new high quality residential areas at the expense of small lakes, putting the city under permanent risk of flooding.

The 1993 Kapuk Naga reclamation program, along 30 kilometers of coastline, affects some 4,000 hectares of seashore. This reclamation will fundamentally change the contours of the coastal zones in Jakarta bay and the gradual interface between land and water will be replaced by an abrupt separation of land from the marine environment.

The choice to change the use of shallow coastal zones and build new residential areas to meet demand from the growing population will bring new catastrophes in its tide.

It is now only a matter of time before mangroves are totally erased from the map of Jakarta — a victim of unbridled urbanization and industrialization programs initiated by the government, which, in the same breath, pronounces its concern about Jakarta’s ecological balance. Mangrove forest loss will certainly lead Jakarta to total flooding from tides and from upland, which will rank among the most devastating natural disasters in the contemporary history of the city.

A number of field surveys and scientific studies show a decline in tree density in the three mountains south of Jakarta, reducing their capability to mitigate water runoff during heavy rain. These trees need to be managed for survival and growth as flood mitigation elements against climate change.

Hydrological regimes are justified on the basis of claims that the dense trees of mountain forests have provided protection against flood. Increasing tree density will enhance the mitigation effects of mountain forests. To mitigate the impact of climate change mountain forests, catchment areas and mangroves in the northern Java coastline are important and must be protected for their multifunctions.

In 1923, the mangroves encircling parts of a 50 kilometer-long area along the then Batavia coastline, extending between 2 and 7 kilometers inland, especially from Muara Aluran and Muara Angke, mitigated tidal floods. The amount of mitigation was documented in historical records, but it may soon be reduced to a mere memory.

Tree-planting campaigns to rehabilitate catchment areas and reforest cleared mountain areas are the keys in mitigating flood impact. Attempts to bridge a gap between science and policy can materialize by presenting and synthesizing information on catchment area and forest protection drawn from empirical studies, simulations and mathematical models.

I personally suggest that 13 catchment and coastal areas be rehabilitated as soon as possible. Squatters along the catchment areas in Jakarta, West Java and Banten should also be properly educated to ensure conservation and eco-friendly environments. The 13 rivers with sediment-garbage loads and tree-felling are examples of human egoism.

Not only do floods damage the infrastructure, but also cause humanitarian problems. Jakarta is at risk of global warming, rising sea levels and climate change, therefore it needs mountain forests, mangroves and associated healthy rivers to provide natural protection from hazards. Mountain forests and mangroves, however, are a source of conflict among Jakarta, West Java and Banten. The point is Jakarta needs well stocked upland forests, mangrove belts, urban forest renewal and improvement to 13 catchment areas and the coastal environment to anticipate floods and climate change.

Many environmentalists, ecologists, moralists and sociologists recount how Jakarta’s rapid increase in population gives rise to a demand for housing, living space and other human necessities, without paying attention to social ethics. Jakarta floods can be regarded as a moral issue. Too many talk about the flooding, but are Jakarta, West Java and Banten government officials, councilors and development planners listening to the voices speaking up for the diminishing upland forests, mangroves and 13 unhealthy rivers?

The writer is a professor of mangrove ecology with the Research Center for Oceanography at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

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700 dolphins slaughtered in Solomons money row

Campbell Cooney ABC 24 Jan 13;

A remote village in the Solomon Islands has slaughtered at least 700 dolphins, saying it is in retaliation for a breached agreement with a conservation group.

The village of Fanalei in South Malaita, caught and killed the animals in protest over non-payment of funds promised by the Earth Island Institute to forego their traditional hunting practice.

The chairman of Fanalei Honiara-based association, Atkin Fakaia, has defended the slaughter, saying the villagers resumed their normal dolphin hunt to earn an income.

"The village says the slaughter was held because the conservation group has breached a memorandum of understanding which facilitated it providing money for project development," he said.

"(The agreement) ensured it and other villages have not held their traditional hunt for the past two years."

But the Earth Island Institute's director Lawrence Makili disputes the claim, saying the money has been provided to village representatives, who cannot account for how it was spent.

"The communities used that for an excuse for them to do what they were doing," Mr Makili said.

Last year the Solomon Islands banned the live export of dolphins.

Solomon Islands villagers kill 900 dolphins in conservation dispute
Islanders claim Berkely-based Earth Island Institute failed to fulfill deal to pay $400,000 to stop hunt
Suzanne Goldenberg 24 Jan 13;

Villagers in the Solomon Islands have slaughtered up to 900 dolphins in the course of a dispute with a conservation group, Earth Island Institute.

Accounts of the dispute vary. The islanders say the Berkeley-based conservation group failed to pay them, as agreed, for stopping the traditional hunt. Earth Island says the slaughter was the work of a "renegade group" trying to sabotage conservation work.

What is clear, however, is that a misunderstanding between the villagers and Earth Island has resulted in one of the worst cases of dolphin slaughter in the Solomon Islands for some time, and delivered a huge setback to conservation efforts in a world "hot spot" for the dolphin trade.

The Solomon Islands were notorious among conservationists as a source of live dolphins for sea aquariums in China and Dubai. A captive dolphin sells for up to $150,000.

"We are very very disappointed," said David Phillips, who oversees international dolphin protection efforts for Earth Island. "This is a tragedy. It's bad for dolphins. It's bad for the community. It's bad for the Solomon Islands as a nation to have this blot on the record."

Earth Island had been working with islanders of Malaita for two years to try to stop the hunt. The islanders' account, which was aired by Australian broadcasting, accused the conservation group of failing to live up to a deal to pay up to $400,000 to people in the village of Fanalei, to stop the dolphin hunt. The villagers said they received barely a third of the promised funds before the money dried up.

Atkin Fakaia, a community leader now living in the capital, Honiara, told Radio Australia the disillusioned Fanalei villagers had gone back to hunting when the money did not come in.

"The issue of them going back fishing for and killing dolphins was on the understanding that Earth Island had been reluctant to pay the agreed amount that was due to the community," he said. "They were just disappointed and dissatisfied over the attitude of Earth Island."

Phillips said the causes of the dispute were far more complicated – although he did not dispute the charge villagers in Fanalei had not seen the money they were expecting. Under the agreement, funds were supposed to be paid out as small grants for community projects in the village, and for income generating efforts. However, Phillips said villagers living in the capital had seized control of the funds, and had not distributed the money.

"The renegade group grabbed funds that were supposed to go to the community and that resulted in a lot of the discord," he said. "In our view there are proper charges of corruption in what has happened in the community."

Phillips said the conservation group was still working with two other villages on the island, and hoped to resolve the dispute with the people of Fanalei. Fakaia told Australia radio the dispute would now likely end up in court.

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