Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 13

Masked Lapwing, six years on
from Bird Ecology Study Group

First guided walk at Pasir Ris mangrove for year 2013
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

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Singapore's first LNG terminal

It will import 3 million tonnes a year to diversify sources of natural gas
Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE got its first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) this week, in time for the Republic's first LNG terminal, which will be up and running in the next few weeks.

The LNG cargo arrived on Wednesday from Qatar on a massive QMax carrier ship, heralding a new era in energy security for the island.

Up until now, Singapore has relied largely on piped natural gas from Indonesia and Malaysia for its energy needs.

With the new Singapore LNG Terminal at Jurong Island, it will import some 3 million tonnes of LNG a year to diversify the geographical sources of natural gas, the main fuel it uses for power generation.

Singapore gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from natural gas, about 18 per cent from fuel oil, and the rest from other sources like waste incineration.

The $1.7 billion Singapore LNG terminal is built and run by the government-owned Singapore LNG Corporation.

There are plans to install more tanks to be able to import up to 9 million tonnes a year, and room for even more tanks in future.

For now, Singapore plans to import LNG from Trinidad & Tobago, Egypt and countries in West Africa.

Singapore LNG Corporation had previously said it looked to Qatar for its first batch of LNG because it offered the most competitive terms overall.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times visited Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's answer to Jurong Island.

Where Jurong Island is a mere 32 sq km and lacks natural resources, Ras Laffan is a full 295 sq km and taps a 6,000 sq km gas field off Qatar's north-east shore.

This North Field was discovered in 1971, and today Qatar is the world's largest producer of LNG, accounting for 77 million tonnes a year.

The gas is pumped from offshore platforms, and water, sulphur, carbon dioxide and heavier hydrocarbons called condensates are removed.

What is left is methane, the part that is burnt for energy generation. That is cooled to minus 160 deg C, which turns it into liquid.

Piped natural gas from neighbouring countries needs undersea pipelines. LNG, after it is regasified, will still have to be piped around Singapore, but no undersea pipelines are needed as it comes in by ship.

The world is demanding - and supplying - more natural gas.

The International Energy Agency reckons global use of gas by 2035 will rise 50 per cent from 2010 levels and account for a quarter of the world's energy mix, especially as China's demand rises and if countries use it instead of coal.

Closer to home, Singapore firms will be installing more than 2,000MW of power generating capacity by 2015, adding to the current 10,000 or so MW, largely to meet future industrial de-mand.

Meanwhile, the United States is considering exporting some of its shale gas as LNG.

But will importing LNG lower energy costs for Singapore consumers? Not necessarily.

While a large supply has driven gas prices down in the US, where gas is traded freely, Asian gas prices are still tied to crude oil.

And US pipeline gas must be processed and transported before it eventually arrives in Asia, which will add costs.

As a fossil fuel, natural gas emits the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when it is burned, but a third less than oil and half as much as coal, said Professor Michael Quah, director of the National University of Singapore's Energy Office.

If Singapore wants to de-link its energy use from its economic growth, Prof Quah said, it can keep domestic energy demand down through conservation and increased energy efficiency, while for petrochemicals, manufacturing and power generation, moving to lower-carbon-footprint industries could help along with energy efficiency measures.

But natural gas will be around for the long term.

"At issue are the economics versus Singapore's ability to harness renewable energy, including from our next nearest neighbours," he said.

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Dengue infections on the rise across Asia

Straits Times 30 Mar 13;

DENGUE fever outbreaks are on the rise again in various parts of Asia, claiming victims in remote villages of India as well as tourist spots such as Bali.

In Indonesia, several regions have seen a spike in dengue cases. In East Java province, with 41 million people, there were 4,997 cases in January and February, three times the figure in the same period last year, local reports said. The number of deaths rose to 49, from 32 in the same period.

All four strains of the disease are present in Indonesia. Regions with higher incidence of dengue include Padang in West Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Bali.

Australian media reported this month that 415 cases - or 80 per cent of all dengue cases in West Australia last year - could be traced to Indonesia, mostly in Bali.

The peak season of transmission in Indonesia is from January to May, as the rainy season gives way to warmer weather - a combination that fosters the spread of the mosquito-borne disease. Widespread puddles of stagnant water form perfect incubators for the Aedes mosquito.

Over in Thailand, experts warn that the country could be headed for a record year for dengue fever infections. As of March 11, there were 13,200 cases, a nearly fourfold increase compared to the same period last year.

Dr Monir Islam, acting World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Thailand, said the rising figures are worrying because they are happening even before the start of the rainy season.

Thailand's Ministry of Public Health and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have issued public warnings. The ministry has stocked up on medical supplies and trained more clinicians to spot symptoms, said Dr Islam.

As to the reasons for the surge in infections, he suggested several. "It could be because water is collecting in more places like tyres or coconut husks, or it could be that the surveillance system has gotten better."

Another could be that people were becoming more complacent, and not protecting themselves when the Aedes mosquito strikes.

Dr A.P. Dash, regional adviser for vector-borne diseases at the WHO's South-east Asia regional office in New Delhi, said cases of hospitalisation from secondary infection are rising in India, Indonesia and Thailand. Population growth, urbanisation, and increased movement of people contribute to this surge.

India, with 1.2 billion people, will find it difficult to detect and contain the disease. WHO records show 17,744 cases with 117 deaths in 2011. Last year, the figures shot up to 49,602 cases and 241 deaths.

"The truth is India has a huge population and rudimentary disease recording so the whole shape and size and scope of the problem in India is poorly known," said United States-based tropical disease expert Scott Halstead, who focuses on dengue research. "There could be millions of cases."

Methods of containing the disease usually involve door-to-door checks and fogging. Malaysia, which stepped up such measures after a major outbreak in 2010, is confident of curtailing its spread.

As of March 23, there were some 5,700 cases, with Selangor and Johor registering the highest numbers. But the total number of cases has actually fallen compared to the 6,000 cases recorded over the same period last year.

Reporting by Zakir Hussain in Jakarta, Nirmala Ganapathy in New Delhi, Tan Hui Yee in Bangkok and Yong Yen Nie in Kuala Lumpur

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Yangtze finless porpoise population nosedives to 1,000

WWF 29 Mar 13;

Wuhan, China -- The Yangtze finless porpoise population has declined to a mere 1,000 individuals, making the endangered species even more rare than the wild giant panda, the 2012 Yangtze Freshwater Dolphin Survey Report reveals.

The population in the mainstream of the Yangtze River was less than half of what a similar survey found six years ago, with food shortages and human disturbance such as increased shipping traffic major threats to their survival.

The study also found that the rare species annual rate of decline now stands at 13.7 percent, which means that the Yangtze finless porpoise could be extinct as early as the year 2025.

The report comes after a 44-day and 3,400-kilometer round-trip research expedition on the Yangtze River between Yichang in Hubei Province and Shanghai. Led by China's Ministry of Agriculture and organized by the Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, WWF and the Wuhan Baiji Dolphin Conservation Fund, the expedition first set sail on 11 November 2012.

The crew visually identified 380 individual Yangtze finless porpoise in the river’s mainstream during the 2012 survey. Based on this observation, scientists determined through analyses that the population in the Yangtze mainstream is about 500, down from 1,225 in 2006.

In October 2012, research was carried out in two adjoining lakes, the Poyang and Dongting, where the population was about 450 and 90, respectively, according to the report.

In a sharp contrast, 851 individuals of Yangtze finless porpoise were visually identified in the mainstream of the Yangtze during the 2006 survey. That research, however, did not cover the two lakes.

“The species is moving fast toward its extinction,” said Wang Ding, head of the research expedition and a professor at the IHB.

Attempts to find traces of the Baiji Dolphin, another rare cetacean and close relative of the finless porpoise, failed during the 2012 survey. The Baiji dolphin was declared “functionally extinct.”

According to data captured by acoustic equipment onboard the observation ships, the largest numbers of finless porpoise were found in the river sections east of Wuhan, with 67 percent recorded between Hukou in Jiangxi Province and Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, the report shows.

There is a notable sign of scattered distribution pattern which could be the result of “shipping traffic that made migration harder, projects that altered hydrological conditions in the middle and lower reaches and habitat loss,” said Wang with the IHB.

The report also cautions that small groups of Yangtze finless porpoise living in comparative isolation may have a negative impact on their ability to reproduce.

There are fewer finless porpoise in the mainstream of the Yangtze while more discoveries were made in wharf and port areas, scientists found.

“They may risk their lives for rich fish bait resources there. But busy shipping traffic close to the port areas poses a threat to the survival of finless porpoise,” said Wang.

“Lack of fishery resources and human disturbances including shipping traffic are among the key threats to the Yangtze finless porpoise survival,” Lei Gang, director of freshwater programme at WWF-China, said.

Researchers found dense distributions of finless porpoise in waters that are not open to navigation and attribute this to less human disturbance. Less optimistic was the discovery of illegal fishing practices in these areas, including traps that could affect finless porpoise.

A set of enhanced measures that include in-situ conservation and ex-situ conservation approaches are essential for efforts of saving the species from its distinction, said Lei.

Given that, the report calls for all-year-round fishing ban for all river dolphin reserves, establishment of a national reserve in Poyang Lake and ex-situ conservation reserves along the Yangtze.

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