Best of our wild blogs: 14 Apr 13

Unsettled over re-settlement
from Bertha Harian

Leave Pulau Ubin as it is
from Justin Peter

Photos CAN make a difference for conservation
from wild shores of singapore

Oriental pied hornbill – courtship feeding on oil palm fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Life History of the Courtesan
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Protect Ubin from too much progress

Important to preserve rustic charm of island that offers precious retreat from city life
Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor Straits Times 14 Apr 13;

My dream destination for a birthday treat isn't Paris, or a fancy restaurant, or a posh mall. It is Pulau Ubin.

I spent a recent birthday on the rustic island. We headed there in the morning, took a 20-minute, $2.50 bumboat ride from the Changi ferry terminal and got off at the Ubin jetty.

We had nasi lemak and tea for breakfast, rented a bicycle and went riding on the trails. We parked our bikes near the boardwalk area. By then, it was close to noon and the sun blazed down. And still I went on, onto the boardwalk that snakes around the mangroves and along the coast, adamant to enjoy the island as much as I could on my special day.

We ate a simple lunch of sandwiches we had packed, and then biked back a different way from the boardwalk, past a quarry, kampung houses and meandering country roads.

And then we walked in the forested areas near town until we got hungry, and had seafood at one of the restaurants before taking the ferry back.

That was one bucolic birthday celebration.

We went back to Ubin a couple of times, most memorably for a Bird Race event with the Nature Society when we joined serious birders on a hunt around the island spotting birds and ticking off species. We were novices but had expert help from seasoned teammates. We also had beginners' luck and brought home two trophies.

And so I was relieved to read in yesterday's Straits Times that Pulau Ubin will stay as it is. A day earlier, the paper reported that residents had received notices from the Housing Board (HDB) saying that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) wanted to clear some of the squatter houses there.

Online, copies of the letter were circulating. It mentioned "clearance of structures previously acquired for development of adventure park on Pulau Ubin". It went on to inform residents: "SLA has sought HDB Land Clearance Section (LCS)'s assistance to clear the above squatter house. In connection with the clearance, officers from LCS/SLA will visit your premises to conduct a census survey for the purpose of determining your eligibility for resettlement benefits."

The news drew dismay from people like me, who value Ubin for its rustic appeal. The island, with about 100 residents who fish, farm or run smaller businesses, draws 300,000 visitors each year.

The SLA and the Ministry of National Development issued a joint statement last Friday to declare: "The planning intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans."

The letter, it transpired, was not a notice of eviction but was to tell residents they had to start paying rent to continue living where they are.

The statement did not explain why the earlier HDB letter had specifically mentioned an adventure park being set up. Readers will wonder if HDB was trigger-happy, or if there was a development plan that MND later asked the relevant agencies to back away from.

But the assurance that Ubin will be kept as an outdoor playground for locals for as long as possible hits the sweet spot.

I can't conjure up any reason why Ubin should ever become a Sentosa.

Ubin is special because it is only a short boat ride away from the mainland, and yet remains rustic and relatively unspoilt. It hasn't been gentrified. Most of all, it offers to the hyperactive modern Singaporean city psyche, a retreat from the intensity of city life. The lush greenery, abundant wildlife and kampung lifestyle soothe the eyes, slow the heart and stir the soul.

It's important to me that there remains a rustic corner of Singapore where time seems to slow down, a place that the flames of property fever have not licked, where I can still go to get away from it all without needing a passport.

A country, to be a home with soul, needs not only bustling commercial and office buildings and residential buildings; it also needs pockets of serenity, green areas and natural spaces. A wise state learns to leave pockets of wilderness untouched, in the same way a wise parent makes sure her children have time to daydream so they tap into their creative selves.

Urban planners of course know this, which is why so much space is devoted to green areas in Singapore, and why Singapore is expanding its already extensive Park Connectors Network of cycling and jogging trails islandwide.

But planned gardens and manicured pathways are no substitute for nature areas. The former, like the Gardens by the Bay, stirs admiration for human ingenuity. But nature humbles by showing us the limits of being human, reminding us of our connection with the soil, and that we share this habitat Earth with many other denizens of life.

There is an inherent tension between the desire to preserve and the need for progress. But to be a country that inspires love, and doesn't just draw investors' dollars, we must pay more heed to the instinct for the former.

In an interview with The Straits Times recently, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan spoke candidly about the challenge for Singapore, to be both a fast-paced global city which needs exciting jobs to keep the young content; and a slower-paced village for the retiring. A big country like Japan offers both: fast-paced Tokyo and slower Fukuoka.

"Do you want to be Fukuoka, do you want to be Tokyo? Unfortunately we are both. Our old folk, the majority of our population cannot be in Tokyo, we are Fukuoka, so we have to look after them. But we want to look after them in a way... (so that) there's still opportunity for those who want the Tokyo type of life."

The late former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee was visionary in refusing to turn Sentosa over to industrialists, resolving to preserve its natural charms as a getaway for locals and tourists.

Today, Sentosa has some rustic appeal, but it has become too gentrified, with its expensive resorts and Sentosa Cove, a gated community of sea-facing mansions and condominiums for the super-rich with fast cars and luxury seacraft.

When population pressures mount, parts of Ubin may need to be developed one day. But I hope most of the island remains an affordable rustic getaway and that it is never tarted up into an exclusive enclave for the rich.

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In search of Singapore's past

Young Singaporeans are responding to the rapid pace of change by documenting lost places and memories
Jennani Durai Straits Times 14 Apr 13;

Nostalgia has surged of late in Singapore, if the recent proliferation of heritage projects, stores and eateries harking back to bygone days is anything to go by.

Against a backdrop of the very prominent closure of longstanding landmarks such as the Bukit Brown cemetery and the Tanjong Pagar Railway station, as well as aggressive documentation efforts by the National Heritage Board, a groundswell of nostalgic feelings from Singaporeans has arisen.

Books, films, apps and photo exhibitions documenting the past and chronicling changes in Singapore have flourished. Film-maker Roystan Tan, for example, has released Old Places (2010) and Old Romances (2012), two documentaries recording the sights and recollections of an older time. Heritage blogger Lam Chun See last year compiled several entries from his blog Good Morning Yesterday into a book of the same title.

Meanwhile, stores that evoke the past with their merchandise and decor, such as childhood memorabilia store The Damn Good Shop in Maxwell Road and eatery Old School Delights in Upper Thomson Road, have also popped up and proved popular.

Experts suggest the recent surge in interest may be a reflection of the stage Singapore is in as a society, immediately following a phase of accelerated growth and change.

Mr Alvin Tan, 40, director of the National Heritage Board, says: "Perhaps we have reached a stage of maturity in our national development where we start to feel nostalgic for aspects of our heritage that were eroded or lost during the recent decades."

The recent groundswell of interest in Singapore's heritage could be "attributed to our need for visible and tangible markers, such as landmarks, as well as shared memories and experiences to anchor ourselves in times of change as we attempt to define what makes us Singaporeans", he adds.

Historian Chua Ai Lin agrees, saying that the phenomenon is "a response to the pace of change".

"Much like elderly people who don't want to leave the house anymore because they don't recognise things around them, when things are changing too fast, we want to hang on to a few things we feel comfortable with - and that's what this surge of nostalgia is about," says Dr Chua, who is in her 30s and is vice-president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Dr Hui Yew-Foong of the Institute of South-east Asian Studies believes that the recent surge in interest in heritage can be largely attributed to two things.

"Demographically, a generation of Singaporeans who have grown up with Singapore have reached an age where they are more likely to reminisce about the past and feel more keenly the changes that Singapore has undergone," says the academic, who conducts research on cemeteries and Chinese cultural heritage in Singapore.

He and his team are documenting about 5,000 graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery where a road is slated to cut through.

At the same time, the growth of social media platforms has also allowed a discourse of nostalgia to develop further, he adds.

Dr Chua agrees and adds that the emergence of nostalgia blogs and Facebook groups, and more seniors learning how to share pictures and stories over the Internet, have meant that "people inspire one another to share their memories".

"When people see something they recognise from the past online, they think 'I remember that too!' or 'I have a similar photo!'," she says. "This platform for interaction is very, very important. When people share this publicly, they provide an information resource for everyone who didn't live through it."

The proliferation of heritage projects now may also be fuelled by a sense of regret at not having appreciated things that are no longer around, says naval architect and heritage photographer Jerome Lim, 48.

Mr Lim, who was approached by the National Heritage Board to showcase his photographs of the old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station before it closed, and who recently launched a series of photographs on Singapore's five-foot-ways, says he began documenting old places as he regrets "not having captured all the things that have changed".

"I was struck by a sense that a lot of places in my memories have vanished," he says. "So now, I feel an urgency to capture these remaining places."

Cafe owner Olivia Teo, 39, who opened eatery Old School Delights with her brother three years ago, says she has been stunned by the overwhelming reaction from customers to the "old-school" interior and details in her cafe.

"We certainly didn't expect customers to get so excited about the five stones, erasers and old card games such as Happy Family, Donkey and Old Maid in our toy boxes which we place at every table in our eatery," she says.

Such nostalgic memorabilia triggers a universal reaction in customers, she adds.

"I never fail to be amazed by the responses and comments we get on our Facebook page whenever we post nostalgic pictures, from an old-fashioned Toyota cab to old school toys, to our heritage buildings such as the Van Cleef Aquarium or the National Theatre," she says. "This just shows how much people reminisce about the past and get sentimental about it."

Dr Hui, 40, says the recent surge in nostalgia "bodes well for Singapore", a nation which turns 48 this year.

"As we approach 50 in a couple of years, it is important to ask and know who we are," he says. "This national soul-searching will strengthen us as a people and help us to stand on the global stage not only as an economic entity, but also as a cultural entity."

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New law to protect Puerto Rico leatherback turtles

BBC News 14 Apr 13;

Puerto Rico has introduced a new law protecting a swathe of the island's coast that has become a major nesting site for the world's largest turtle, the leatherback.

The Northeast Ecological Corridor comprises 14 sq km (5.4 sq miles) of the island's coast.

The law ends a 15-year battle which pitted developers against green activists and several celebrities.

Leatherback turtles are a highly endangered species.

"Today this important, highly ecologically valuable resource is being protected forever... History is being made," said Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, according to the island's Vocero news site.

Developers had been looking to build hotels, golf courses and luxury homes in the area, arguing that this would boost the local economy and create jobs.

But the area - boasting lush vegetation and pristine beaches - is now likely to become a centre for eco-tourism.

As well as being a nesting site for the leatherback turtle, the area is home to more than 860 different types of flora and fauna.

It also contains a bioluminescent bay, featuring micro-organisms which glow in the dark.

Leatherback turtles weigh around 600kg (95st) and their shells can be up to two metres (6ft 7in) long.

The shell is flexible and covered in a black leathery skin - hence the name leatherback.

Last August thousands of leatherback eggs and hatchlings were crushed by bulldozers moving waterlogged sand from key nesting areas.

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Millions face starvation as world warms, say scientists

World is unprepared for changes that will see parts of Africa turned into disaster areas, say food experts
John Vidal The Observer The Guardian 13 Apr 13;

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world's 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: "Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt."

America's agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: "Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

"Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further".

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government's national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have "increasingly negative" impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada's wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. "We've found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected", says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN's World Food Programme director, said: "We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world's poorest people."

Climate change: how a warming world is a threat to our food supplies

Global warming is exacerbating political instability as tensions brought on by food insecurity rise. With research suggesting the issue can only get worse we examine the risks around the world
John Vidal The Observer The Guardian 13 Apr 13;

When the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, it was in protest at heavy-handed treatment and harassment in the province where he lived. But a host of new studies suggest that a major factor in the subsequent uprisings, which became known as the Arab spring, was food insecurity.

Drought, rocketing bread prices, food and water shortages have all blighted parts of the Middle East. Analysts at the Centre for American Progress in Washington say a combination of food shortages and other environmental factors exacerbated the already tense politics of the region. As the Observer reports today, an as-yet unpublished US government study indicates that the world needs to prepare for much more of the same, as food prices spiral and longstanding agricultural practices are disrupted by climate change.

"We should expect much more political destabilisation of countries as it bites," says Richard Choularton, a policy officer in the UN's World Food Programme climate change office. "What is different now from 20 years ago is that far more people are living in places with a higher climatic risk; 650 million people now live in arid or semi-arid areas where floods and droughts and price shocks are expected to have the most impact.

"The recent crises in the Horn of Africa and Sahel may be becoming the new normal. Droughts are expected to become more frequent. Studies suggest anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050 or an additional 24 million malnourished children. In parts of Africa we already have a protracted and growing humanitarian disaster. Climate change is a creeping disaster," he said.

The Mary Robinson climate justice foundation is hosting a major conference in Dublin this week. Research to be presented there will say that rising incomes and growth in the global population, expected to create 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, will drive food prices higher by 40-50%. Climate change may add a further 50% to maize prices and slightly less to wheat, rice and oil seeds.

"We know population will grow and incomes increase, but also that temperatures will rise and rainfall patterns will change. We must prepare today for higher temperatures in all sectors," said Gerald Nelson, a senior economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

All of the studies suggest the worst impacts will be felt by the poorest people. Robinson, the former Irish president, said: "Climate change is already having a domino effect on food and nutritional security for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Child malnutrition is predicted to increase by 20% by 2050. Climate change impacts will disproportionately fall on people living in tropical regions, and particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups. This is the injustice of climate change – the worst of the impacts are felt by those who contributed least to causing the problem."

But from Europe to the US to Asia, no population will remain insulated from the huge changes in food production that the rest of the century will bring.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world's leading Cgiar crop research stations, said: "There's a lot of complacency in rich countries about climate change. We must understand that instability is inevitable. We already see a lot of refugees. Perhaps if a lot of people come over on boats to Europe or the US that would wake them up."
Asia and Oceania

China is relatively resilient to climate change. Its population is expected to decline by up 400 million people this century, easing demand on resources, and it has the capacity to buy in vast quantities of food.

But because more and more Chinese are changing to a more meat-based diet, its challenges will be land and cattle feed. Climate change will affect regions in different ways, but many crops are expected to migrate northwards.

Crop losses are increasingly being caused by extreme weather events, insect attacks and diseases. The 2011 drought lifted food prices worldwide. Wheat is becoming harder to grow in some northern areas of China as the land gets drier and warmer.

In southern China, droughts in recent years have replaced rainy seasons. The national academy of agricultural sciences expects basic food supplies to become insufficient around the year 2030.

A new study for US Aid expects most of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to see 4-6C temperature rises by 2050. The Lower Mekong region of 100 million people, which is prone to weather extremes, could also see rainfall increase 20% or more in some areas, reducing the growth of rice and other staple crops. Many provinces will see food production decline significantly. The number of malnourished children in the region may increase by 9 to 11 million by 2050.

Extreme events will increasingly affect agriculture in Australia. Key food-growing regions in the south are likely to experience more droughts in the future, with part of western Australia having already experienced a 15% drop in rainfall since the mid-1970s.

The number of record-breaking hot days in Australia has doubled since the 1960s, also affecting food output.

Climate change affects agricultural production through its effects on the timing, intensity and variability of rainfall and shifts in temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations.

Crops normally seen growing in the south of Europe will be able to be grown further north. This would allow more sweetcorn, grapes, sunflowers, soya and maize to be grown in Britain. In Scotland, livestock farming could become more suitable. At the higher latitudes warmer temperatures are predicted to lengthen and increase the intensity of the growing season. But more CO2 and a major temperature rise could cut yields by around 10% later in the century.

Latest EU projections suggest the most severe consequences of climate change will not be felt until 2050. But significant adverse impacts are expected earlier from more frequent and prolonged heatwaves, droughts and floods. Many crops now grown in southern Europe, such as olives, may not survive high temperature increases. Southern Europe will have to change the way it irrigates crops.

In Europe's high and middle latitudes, global warming is expected to greatly expand the growing season. Crops in Russia may be able to expand northwards but yields will be much lower because the soils are less fertile. In the south, the climate is likely to become much drier which will reduce yields. In addition, climate change is expected to make water resources scarcer and encourage weeds and pests.

In 2011, Russia banned wheat and grain exports after a heatwave. Warming will increase forest fires by 30-40%. This will affect soil erosion and increase the probability of floods.

In the Middle East and north Africa, declining yields of up to 30% are expected for rice, about 47% for maize and 20% for wheat.

The US is expected to grow by 120 million people by 2050. Government scientists expect more incidents of extreme heat, severe drought, and heavy rains to affect food production. The warming is expected to continue without undue problems for 30 years but beyond 2050 the effects could be dramatic with staple crops hit.

According to the latest government report: "The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity, because critical thresholds are already being exceeded." Many agricultural regions of the US will experience declines.

California's central valley will be hard hit with sunflowers, wheat, tomato, rice, cotton and maize expected to lose 10-30% of their yields, especially beyond 2050. Fruit and nut crops which depend on "winter chilling" days may have to relocate. Animals exposed to many hot nights are increasingly stressed. Many vegetable crops will be hit when temperatures rise only a few degrees above normal.

Nearly 20% of all US food is imported, so climate extremes elsewhere will also have an effect. In 2011, 14.9% of US households did not have secure food supplies and 5.7% had very low food security.

Because few crops can withstand average temperature rises of more than 2C, Latin America expects to be seriously affected by a warming climate and more extreme weather. Even moderate 1-2C rises would cause significant damage to Brazil, one of the world's biggest suppliers of food crops. Brazilian production of rice, beans, manioc, maize and soya are all expected to decline, with coffee especially vulnerable.

Other studies suggest Brazil's massive soya crop, which provides animal feed for much of the world, could slump by more than 25% over the next 20 years.

Two major crops should do well: quinoa and potatoes.

Many African countries are already experiencing longer and deeper droughts, floods and cyclones. The continent is expected to suffer disproportionately from food insecurity, due to fast-growing vulnerable populations.

Egypt expects to lose 15% of its wheat crops if temperatures rise 2C, and 36% if the increase is 4C. Morocco expects crops to remain stable up to about 2030, but then to drop quickly later. Most north African countries traditionally import wheat and are therefore highly vulnerable to price shocks and droughts elsewhere.

A new study of 11 west African countries expects most to be able to grow more food as temperatures rise and rainfall increases. But demand from growing populations may double food prices. Climate change may mean Nigeria, Ghana and Togo can grow and export more sorghum, raised for grain.

Temperatures are expected to rise several degrees in regions close to the Sahel. In Burkina Faso, the sorghum crop is expected to decline by 25% or more, but maize yields may improve.

Other studies by IFPRI suggest crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa may decline 5-22% by 2050, pushing large numbers of people deeper into destitution.

A new UN study suggests climatic conditions in southern Africa will worsen. Climate models mostly predict an increase in annual maximum temperatures in the region of 1 to 2C by 2050. This will favour some crops but shift others to higher ground or further north.

Both of Africa's staple crops, maize and sorghum, are expected to be badly hit by increasing severity of weather.

Oxfam warns that small-scale farmers in the Horn of Africa will bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change. Unpredictable weather here has already left millions semi-destitute and dependent on food aid.

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