Best of our wild blogs: 19 Apr 13

Speaking at the Clean & Green Hackathon 2013
from Otterman speaks

The Youth for Ecology dialogues (this Sat and Apr & May), NEA Hackathon (22; 26-28 Apr 2013) from habitatnews at Yahoo! Groups

Hammerhead worm (Bipalium kewense) in Bukit Brown
from Rojak Librarian

Places - Southern Sojourn

Unidentified toxin caused the deaths of Borneo elephants
from news by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

'Where we live': Portraits of Pulau Ubin

A series of environmental portraits of the residents of Pulau Ubin’s kampong by TODAY’s Alex Westcott
Today Online 18 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE — Following the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) apology yesterday regarding the confusion over a notice served to 22 households on Pulau Ubin last month that was misconstrued as an eviction notice, TODAY photographer Alex Westcott visited the island kampong to compile a series of environmental portraits of eight residents in their homes. All of the residents featured have lived on Pulau Ubin since they were children; some are second generation residents of the island, having inherited their houses from their parents. Favouring a peaceful, remote existence, the majority of the residents are elderly with their children living on mainland Singapore.

Photographer’s comment: “Environmental portraits are often as not the most telling means of illustrating a community lifestyle, as photographing someone in their home not only bears subtle indicators of their interests in the way that their personal space is composed, but they also present the subject at their most genuine as they are relaxed in their comfort zone. Despite the language barriers (being a foreigner), I was truly touched by the genuine warmth of the people in Pulau Ubin’s kampong, who opened their doors to their homes for their portrait(s) to be taken.”

Read more!

Green challenges thrown up at "Youth for Environment Day" forum

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 18 Apr 13;

Organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), the event also sought to get youths thinking about ideas to create a sustainable future for Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Some 300 youths participated in the first forum aimed at encouraging them to take ownership of the environment.

Organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), the event also sought to get youths thinking about ideas to create a sustainable future for Singapore.

Some of the questions thrown up: Will the country's reservoirs be depleted as the population grows? Does Singapore have plans to use renewable energy? How to keep Singapore clean?

Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said lessons can be learnt from Japan. He related his personal experience.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "I asked a diplomat, 'I want to meet the street cleaner in Japan' and the answer was 'No, you cannot'. I said, 'Why can't I meet the street cleaner?' There aren't any street cleaners, so that made me puzzled because the streets are so clean.

"In Japan, everyone owns the street. In Japan, there's very powerful peer pressure. They are not afraid to go up to you and say you should not do this."

Some youths also shared their personal experiences when embarking on green projects.

One such project was Participate in Design, where two architecture students aim to give the community a greater say in the design of their neighbourhood.

Jan Lim, co-founder of the project, said: "For a typical architectural project, you have your paying clients, industry professionals and consultants. But for us, we always thought that the missing people were the users, the public and the wider community - where do they come in? We are trying to create ways for them to contribute as equals in their own right. They are experts of their own environment and that's what we see in them."

The project kickstarted in the MacPherson community where they worked closely with residents and stakeholders during the design process. They also came up with another project called Safe Street - a proposal to make changes in the streets to make it more safe.

Participants in Thursday's forum also broke into smaller groups for discussions where they brainstormed and presented their ideas. The best ideas will be finetuned in the next month as participants discuss how their solutions could be carried out in the community and how they would like to get involved.

- CNA/ir

Read more!

Botanic Gardens' type specimens take root in cyberspace

Gardens joins global effort to archive its collection for researchers to study
David Ee Straits Times 19 Apr 13;

THOUSANDS of old and fragile plant specimens from the Singapore Botanic Gardens' 138-year-old herbarium are being given a second home - on the Internet.

The Gardens is digitally scanning its approximately 8,000 "type specimens", the oldest of which dates back to 1802, and uploading the high-resolution images to online academic library JSTOR for taxonomists all around the world to study.

This is its contribution to the Global Plant Initiative, an international effort started in 2003 to create a comprehensive online record of plant type specimens.

A plant type specimen is the very first of each species or sub-species of plant to be described and named.

They are crucial references for taxonomists - biologists who specialise in classifying organisms - when they examine specimens that are subsequently collected.

Being able to access the images in a central online library would save time and money for taxonomists, who would otherwise have to travel to view the type specimens, said Dr George Staples, a senior researcher at the Gardens' herbarium.

This speeds up the identifying, naming and understanding of plant species, which may aid in their conservation. The process could sometimes take five or 10 years.

"We are losing biodiversity at a faster rate than ever before. If we can do something to speed up its study, we should. With this, you can study (type specimens) from anywhere on Earth. All you need is an Internet connection," he said.

It also ensures a back-up exists if the specimens - some of which are of extinct or endangered plants - were lost or destroyed.

The US-based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding the global initiative. It gave the Gardens, whose type specimen collection is the region's second biggest after Bogor Botanical Gardens' in Indonesia, a $97,000 grant.

It also provided a scanner known as Herbscan, which digitises the specimens without damaging them. The Gardens began work on the project last September and expects to finish it in a year's time.

While its herbarium may hold some of the oldest botanical records in the region, it is by no means a finished collection.

Two years ago, Gardens ginger taxonomist Jana Leung-Skornickova identified two new ginger species in Vietnam, and they have found a place in the herbarium.

Said Dr Staples: "We are a long way from finding all our type specimens. People are going to continue to find new species."

Researchers and members of the public who sign up at JSTOR can access the archive, which has more than 1.6 million images, at

Read more!

Indonesia: Batam airport on high alert as haze reduces visibility

Fadli The Jakarta Post Batam 19 Apr 13;

Haze from forest fires on Sumatra Island blanketing Batam, Riau Islands, since Tuesday morning, has drastically reduced visibility from 10,000 meters under normal conditions to only 2,500 meters.

The low visibility has forced airplanes to be extra careful when landing at Hang Nadim International Airport. The airport’s flight safety head, Indah Irwansyah, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that such low visibility was triggered by haze from forest fires, especially from Riau.

“Based on a report from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency [BMKG], the haze originated from 94 hotspots and spread to Batam via westerly winds,” said Irwansyah.

According to him, a number of flights requested the Air Traffic Control (ATC) to switch on the runway lights to the maximum level to aid the landing process, such as a Lion Air flight JT 971 from Surabaya, which landed at
10:05 a.m.

“The runway lights are activated at night or during the day for emergencies, such as during heavy rain, fog and haze. Perhaps the Lion Air pilot wanted to make a good landing, especially after the incident in Bali,” said Irwansyah.

Besides Lion Air, he added, a helicopter also requested for the runway lights to be turned on for better visibility.

“However, visibility at airports in Pekanbaru and Jambi remains normal, based on the accounts of a Sky Aviation pilot who flew from Pekanbaru to Batam. He said he was surprised with the situation and asked ATC officers where the haze came from,” Irwansyah said.

According to Irwansyah, despite being equipped with the Instrument Landing System (ILS), the airport runway lights will be activated upon request from pilots.

Flight traffic at the airport, however, remains normal. There have been no flight delays or cancellations. However, airport authorities will take measures if visibility drops to 1,000 meters.

Meanwhile, limited visibility has not hindered sea transportation, according to Azhar, secretary of the Batam chapter of the Indonesian National Shipowners Association (INSA).

“It is not yet necessary to halt sea transportation as long as the vessels are traveling carefully,” Azhar was quoted as saying by Antara news agency.

An officer with the Hang Nadim weather station, Tri Agus, said the current visibility of between 2,000 meters to 3,000 meters was below the safe shipping visibility level of 5,000 meters.

Read more!

Alliance to promote Asean marine tourism

Jacqueline Woo My Paper 19 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE - Singapore is a focal point for luxury yachting in the region, and has been referred to as the "Monaco of the East".

But a group of marinas has banded together as the Aseanarean Bluewater Alliance to promote cruising across Asean waters, in a bid to change that perception.

"I got tired of it, and I thought we should have our own brand name," said corporate consultant Francis Lee, 67, who co-founded the alliance - comprising 12 marinas - last September.

"The name Aseanarean suggests that we are one contiguous region, and that we should promote the region as a whole."

With the alliance, Mr Lee - who is also president of Raffles Marina - hopes to encourage liberalisation of marine tourism within the region, to give boaters easier access and "make regulations more user friendly".

There are also hopes that the alliance will eventually be expanded to include marinas in all 10 ASEAN countries.

It currently involves marinas from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, with talks of adding a 13th marina in the works. Raffles Marina, in Tuas, is the only Singapore member of the alliance.

Mr Lee was speaking yesterday on the sidelines of Boat Asia 2013, an annual boating and luxury lifestyle show held at Marina at Keppel Bay. The show, which runs till Sunday, will see more than 30 yachts exhibited both on and off the water.

A superyacht which made waves yesterday was the Tango 5, the latest ocean-going vessel by Horizon Yachts. It was designed with an ocean adventure in mind, with five staterooms, an extended cockpit for fishing, and a customised dive area.

The event also saw the public debut of an Aseanarean Expedition Series book entitled Marine Parks Of Indonesia.

The 368-page not-for-profit coffee-table book explores marine tourism and conservation efforts in Indonesia, and was co-authored by Dr Chou Loke Ming, Ms Patricia Seward and Mr Lee.

It is on sale at Raffles Marina and the Nature Society of Singapore, and will be available at other locations in the future as well.

Read more!

Ad campaign aims to reduce Vietnamese demand for rhino horn

TRAFFIC 18 Apr 13;

Ha Noi, Viet Nam 18th April, 2013—Vietnamese citizens are being encouraged to stop buying or consuming rhino horn through a series of advertisements developed by WWF and TRAFFIC as part of their campaign against Illegal Wildlife Trade.

The print adverts were conceptualized by Ogilvy & Mather Viet Nam and depict a rhino with human hands or feet in place of its horn. They provide a novel and intriguing visual to communicate to the Vietnamese public that rhino horn is made largely of keratin, the same substance that makes up your finger nails and toe nails.

“Rhino horn is largely made of keratin and will do nothing to treat cancer or help one’s sexual prowess. There are traditional medicines that have proven to be effective for treating a variety of ailments and symptoms and have saved millions of lives. Rhino horn is not one of them,” said TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Programme Coordinator, Dr Naomi Doak.

“Widespread lies, myths and rumours are fuelling demand and use of rhino horn.”

A dramatic spike in demand for rhino horn is believed to be driven by myths related to its curative properties in regards to disease and illness, along with renewed interest in other non-traditional medicinal uses such as a treatment for hangovers, as a sexual stimulant and a detoxifier.

Although rhino horn remains in the pages of a number of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine texts, its sale is illegal and it has not been included in the publication of the official pharmacopeia in Viet Nam for a number of years.

“Currently hundreds of rhinos are being poached each year in South Africa, their horns hacked off and smuggled to meet the soaring demand in Asia including Viet Nam, where rhino horn is considered as ‘miracle medicine’, despite a lack of supporting medical evidence. It is high time to stop the poaching crisis and save African rhinos from extinction” said WWF-Vietnam Communications Manager, Ms Nguyen Thuy Quynh.

Illegal wildlife trade has become an issue of global concern that is pushing wildlife populations to the brink of extinction. Rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa have surged from 13 in 2007, to 668 in 2012. Already more than 200 rhinos have been killed in South Africa since the beginning of 2013, with other African and now also Asian countries experiencing a surge in rhino poaching.

”We are seeking support and cooperation from many corporates, businesses, celebrities, universities, international organizations and mass media who all have an important voice in reaching and influencing the community” Ms Nguyen Thuy Quynh said.

The adverts will be displayed through many different communication channels, including mass media such as newspapers, television, in public areas as well as social media platforms like Facebook. In partnership with Mindshare, a global marketing and media network, WWF and TRAFFIC have been able to secure a number of placements including in hundreds of offices and residential buildings, airports, corporate offices and universities throughout Viet Nam.

The public can support and join the campaign by visiting and pledging their commitment not to use rhino horn.

In order to help stem the poaching crisis, and to strengthen, elevate and accelerate Viet Nam’s efforts to address the country’s illegal trade in, and consumption of rhino horn, WWF and TRAFFIC have launched a national campaign against the illegal trade of rhino horn. The campaign is seeking better law enforcement, more effective deterrents against traders and sellers and a reduction in demand for rhino horn in Viet Nam.

To learn more about WWF and TRAFFIC’s global campaign against the illegal trade in wildlife, visit or

Read more!

Solomon Island chief hopes to end dolphin harvest

Radio Australia 18 Apr 13;

The deposed chief of the Malaita village which recommenced dolphin slaughters last year, is hopeful he can convince people there to again give up the cultural practise.
Fanalei chief hopes to end dolphin harvest (Credit: ABC)

Last year Fanalei Village on Malaita announced it was recommencing its traditional dolphin harvest and ending a three year old memorandum of understanding with the conservation group, the Earth Island Institute to give up the hunt in return for financial assistance.

A group from the village, mostly based in the capital Honiara, said it had not received the promised funds, leading to allegations that they themselves had squandered all the money, and had not accounted for how it had been used.

In the meantime the village killed well over 500 dolphins, and then sacked the chief Wilson Filei, when he voiced opposition to the hunt.

Now the dolphin season is coming to an end, and with the decision of the Solomon's government to allow the harvest of Beche de Mer, people there are turning their attention to the shellfish harvest.

For his part Chief Wilson is heading home soon and hopes to convince the village to recommit to a dolphin hunting ban.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker:Chief Wilson Filei speaking from Honiara

WILSON: Yeah it's nearly go to finish it depends on the weather, so those dolphins that are seen in the harbour are not going out for hunting, especially people just engaging harvesting Beche de Mer.

COONEY: They're harvesting Beche de Mer now, they've moved on from the dolphins?

WILSON: Yes the wind is now coming so the people are not easy to get out for hunting. So they just engage in diving Beche de Mer.

COONEY: What's your status now, have you been reinstated as the Chief?

WILSON: My chieftanship always remain, they say they will out me from my office, but for myself I find no reason why they have to put out from my chieftanship because I inherited from my grandfather. So I always remain the chief of Fanalei.

COONEY: Will you be going back to Fanalei soon?

WILSON: Yes of course, maybe next week I will go back to Fanalei after they stop hunting dolphins.

COONEY: So you are still opposed to the hunt and the breaking of that MOU, is that correct?


COONEY: Do you think that they will listen now to what you have to say when you go back to Fanalei?

WILSON: Yes those people always listen to me, they will not listen to anybody else, they always listen to me. So if I go back in the village I will still maintain my leadership role in the Fanalei community.

COONEY: Will you be discussing renegotiating the MOU?

WILSON: That of course depends on when I go back home to consult my people then maybe we can do some kind of renegotiation again from them, but we have to consult them.

COONEY: Do you feel that the move by Fanalei to continue hunting and to break that MOU, has it affected them in a negative way?

WILSON: Yeah maybe the people of Fanalei they just listened to this Honiara association. Maybe when I get back home I will consult my people and do whatever things we can do with the Earth Island again.

Read more!

Clean energy progress too slow to limit global warming: report

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 18 Apr 13;

The development of low-carbon energy is progressing too slowly to limit global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday.

With power generation still dominated by coal and governments failing to increase investment in clean energy, top climate scientists have said that the target of keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius this century is slipping out of reach.

"The drive to clean up the world's energy system has stalled," said Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA's executive director, at the launch of the agency's report on clean energy progress.

"Despite much talk by world leaders, and a boom in renewable energy over the past decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago."

Global clean energy investment in the first quarter fell to its lowest level in four years, driven by cuts in tax incentives at a time of austerity, according to a separate report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance this week.

The IEA said that coal-fired generation grew by 45 percent between 2000 and 2010, far outpacing the 25 percent growth in non-fossil fuel generation over the same period.

A revolution in shale gas technology has triggered a switch from coal to cleaner natural gas in the United States. Elsewhere, however, coal use has soared, particularly in Europe, where its share of the power generation mix increased at the expense of gas.


With the world still reliant on fossil fuels, the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is critical, but there are no commercial plants in operation, the report said.

The IEA has envisaged that CCS, which buries and traps CO2 underground, should play a major role in cutting global emissions and had forecast 63 percent of coal power plants should be equipped with the technology by 2050.

However, there are only 13 large-scale demonstration projects in operation or being built, with the capacity to store about 65 million metric tons (72 million tons) of CO2 a year. This represents only a quarter of the storage capacity needed by 2020.

New nuclear plant construction is also well behind target and global biofuel production stalled in 2012.

Government policies and the EU's emissions trading scheme need to be strengthened to enable more energy efficiency and clean technology uptake, the IEA said.

"Unless we get (carbon emissions) prices and policies right, a cost-effective clean-energy transition just will not happen," the report said.

The IEA did see some positive developments, however. From 2011 to 2012, the more mature renewable energy technologies of solar photovoltaic and wind power grew by an impressive 42 percent and 19 percent respectively.

(Editing by David Goodman)

Read more!

Carbon bubble will plunge the world into another financial crisis – report

Trillions of dollars at risk as stock markets inflate value of fossil fuels that may have to remain buried forever, experts warn
Damian Carrington The Guardian 19 Apr 13;

The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists.

"The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it.

The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a report published on Friday, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses. But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change.

The stark report is by Stern and Carbon Tracker, a thinktank supported by organisations including HSBC, Citi, Standard and Poor's and the International Energy Agency. The Bank of England has also recognised that a collapse in the value of oil, gas and coal assets as nations tackle global warming is a potential systemic risk to the economy, with London being particularly at risk owing to its huge listings of coal.

Stern said that far from reducing efforts to develop fossil fuels, the top 200 companies spent $674bn (£441bn) in 2012 to find and exploit even more new resources, a sum equivalent to 1% of global GDP, which could end up as "stranded" or valueless assets. Stern's landmark 2006 report on the economic impact of climate change – commissioned by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown – concluded that spending 1% of GDP would pay for a transition to a clean and sustainable economy.

The world's governments have agreed to restrict the global temperature rise to 2C, beyond which the impacts become severe and unpredictable. But Stern said the investors clearly did not believe action to curb climate change was going to be taken. "They can't believe that and also believe that the markets are sensibly valued now."

"They only believe environmental regulation when they see it," said James Leaton, from Carbon Tracker and a former PwC consultant. He said short-termism in financial markets was the other major reason for the carbon bubble. "Analysts say you should ride the train until just before it goes off the cliff. Each thinks they are smart enough to get off in time, but not everyone can get out of the door at the same time. That is why you get bubbles and crashes."

Paul Spedding, an oil and gas analyst at HSBC, said: "The scale of 'listed' unburnable carbon revealed in this report is astonishing. This report makes it clear that 'business as usual' is not a viable option for the fossil fuel industry in the long term. [The market] is assuming it will get early warning, but my worry is that things often happen suddenly in the oil and gas sector."

HSBC warned that 40-60% of the market capitalisation of oil and gas companies was at risk from the carbon bubble, with the top 200 fossil fuel companies alone having a current value of $4tn, along with $1.5tn debt.

Lord McFall, who chaired the Commons Treasury select committee for a decade, said: "Despite its devastating scale, the banking crisis was at its heart an avoidable crisis: the threat of significant carbon writedown has the unmistakable characteristics of the same endemic problems."

The report calculates that the world's currently indicated fossil fuel reserves equate to 2,860bn tonnes of carbon dioxide, but that just 31% could be burned for an 80% chance of keeping below a 2C temperature rise. For a 50% chance of 2C or less, just 38% could be burned.

Carbon capture and storage technology, which buries emissions underground, can play a role in the future, but even an optimistic scenario which sees 3,800 commercial projects worldwide would allow only an extra 4% of fossil fuel reserves to be burned. There are currently no commercial projects up and running. The normally conservative International Energy Agency has also concluded that a major part of fossil fuel reserves is unburnable.

Citi bank warned investors in Australia's vast coal industry that little could be done to avoid the future loss of value in the face of action on climate change. "If the unburnable carbon scenario does occur, it is difficult to see how the value of fossil fuel reserves can be maintained, so we see few options for risk mitigation."

Ratings agencies have expressed concerns, with Standard and Poor's concluding that the risk could lead to the downgrading of the credit ratings of oil companies within a few years.

Steven Oman, senior vice-president at Moody's, said: "It behoves us as investors and as a society to know the true cost of something so that intelligent and constructive policy and investment decisions can be made. Too often the true costs are treated as unquantifiable or even ignored."

Jens Peers, who manages €4bn (£3bn) for Mirova, part of €300bn asset managers Natixis, said: "It is shocking to see the report's numbers, as they are worse than people realise. The risk is massive, but a lot of asset managers think they have a lot of time. I think they are wrong." He said a key moment will come in 2015, the date when the world's governments have pledged to strike a global deal to limit carbon emissions. But he said that fund managers need to move now. If they wait till 2015, "it will be too late for them to take action."

Pension funds are also concerned. "Every pension fund manager needs to ask themselves have we incorporated climate change and carbon risk into our investment strategy? If the answer is no, they need to start to now," said Howard Pearce, head of pension fund management at the Environment Agency, which holds £2bn in assets.

Stern and Leaton both point to China as evidence that carbon cuts are likely to be delivered. China's leaders have said its coal use will peak in the next five years, said Leaton, but this has not been priced in. "I don't know why the market does not believe China," he said. "When it says it is going to do something, it usually does." He said the US and Australia were banking on selling coal to China but that this "doesn't add up".

Jeremy Grantham, a billionaire fund manager who oversees $106bn of assets, said his company was on the verge of pulling out of all coal and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil from tar sands. "The probability of them running into trouble is too high for me to take that risk as an investor." He said: "If we mean to burn all the coal and any appreciable percentage of the tar sands, or other unconventional oil and gas then we're cooked. [There are] terrible consequences that we will lay at the door of our grandchildren."

Read more!