Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 13

Sharky Terumbu Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

Celebrating Earth Day with the Naked Hermit Crabs at Pasir Ris mangrove boardwalk from Peiyan.Photography

#6 Kent Ridge Park
from My Nature Experiences

Life History of the Plain Banded Awl
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Look ahead to 10 million people by 2100?

Former chief planner says a better living environment is possible even with high density
Janice Heng Straits Times 28 Apr 13;

Singapore should look beyond 2030 and plan for a more distant future - perhaps even one with 10 million people, former chief planner Liu Thai Ker said at a public forum yesterday.

"The world doesn't end in 2030, and population growth doesn't end at 6.9 million," he said, referring to the planning parameter in the Government's White Paper on Population.

Singapore could do well to look ahead, perhaps to 2100 when it might have a population of 10 million, he suggested.

Mr Liu was one of five speakers at a forum organised by the Singapore Institute of Planners (SIP) and co-hosted by the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture, on the topic of planning for 2030.

Mr Liu, who used to head the Housing Board, argued that population growth is necessary for economic growth. And since Singapore's land area is essentially fixed, higher density is thus inevitable.

But he was optimistic that "high density and a better living environment are mutually compatible". Liveability can be preserved with adequate amenities, buffers of greenery, and alternating denser and less dense areas.

Another speaker, ophthalmologist Geh Min, urged a more cautious approach towards development. The past president of the Nature Society argued that preserving green and heritage spaces helps build national identity.

Tussles between citizens and urban planners over areas such as Bukit Brown, a cemetery set to have a road built through it, show "that there are people in Singapore who care about the country - not just their neighbourhood, but the larger Singapore".

Dr Geh also invoked the idea of "public trust" land, held by the Government as a trustee for the public, rather than as a landlord. As land demand rises, she worried that the best lands might end up with private developers.

The other speakers were sociologist Paulin Straughan, transport expert Gopinath Menon and economist Chia Siow Yue.

Dr Straughan argued for valuing every citizen, given low fertility rates: "We have to stop this fixation about whether you are an old Singaporean or new Singaporean."

Mr Menon suggested ways to tackle congestion while Dr Chia spoke on Singapore's future economic challenges.

In the discussion that followed, a member of the audience suggested one way to improve land use: carry out the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, where old flats are redeveloped, on a much larger scale.

But the panellists urged caution, citing the importance of letting the elderly age in place, and the need to preserve heritage neighbourhoods.

"I don't think we should just tear down all the old HDB areas," said discussion moderator and Singapore Institute of Planners council member Tan Shee Tiong.

Read more!

20,000kg of trash in one day of coast clean-up

David Ee Straits Times 28 Apr 13;

A record 20,000kg of trash was cleared off beaches and mangroves during an annual one-day clean-up by International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) last September.

This was double the amount collected in 2008, and more than triple that of a decade ago.

Not all the trash, however, is locally generated, ICCS lead coordinator N. Sivasothi told The Sunday Times.

Some is carried by sea currents from Malaysia and washes up on our shores, he added.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which oversees the cleanliness of beaches in Singapore, confirmed last week that flotsam on coastlines here is brought in by wind and tides from the region, or passing vessels.

And as the ICCS' growing band of about 4,000 volunteers cleans up new sites - for example, previously uncleaned coastlines such as Lim Chu Kang East mangrove - more trash is discovered, some of which has lain there for years.

Even so, Singapore's littering problem is real, said Mr Sivasothi.

For instance, more than 34,000 items of trash were collected on a single day by the ICCS at East Coast Park last year, compared with 30,000 in 2010.

Most of these were cigarettes and styrofoam pieces such as food packets tossed by beach-goers, he said.

"You just have to go cycling there in the morning and you can see.

"Any place where there's high human use, there's a high amount of rubbish," said Mr Sivasothi, referring to litterbugs at recreational areas such as parks and beaches.

The NEA employs cleaners to keep our recreational beaches free of trash. It said that it also works with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore to clean up flotsam from our port waters.

Mr Sivasothi, however, said that more needs to be done by ordinary Singaporeans.

The ICCS has started preparing for this year's upcoming clean-up, including registering volunteers and identifying new sites to clean up.

But educating people about responsibility and the 3Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle - is key to tackling the problem, he said.

"I see the reactions of first-time volunteers (at ICCS) when they see the trash. They have no clue. They thought they grew up in a Singapore that's clean."

Said student Venus Tan, 18, who first joined the ICCS beach clean-up in 2009: "I was shocked at the amount of rubbish. When I would go to normal beaches, it wasn't like that".

About 63 per cent of the ICCS' coastal trash haul last year was disposables such as plastic and styrofoam, bags, bottles, containers and straws.

Keep Singapore Clean Movement head Liak Teng Lit stressed the need to reduce their supply.

For example, he said, businesses could follow furniture giant Ikea's lead, and stop providing plastic bags. Or the Government could incentivise them to.

This year's coastal clean-up takes place on Sept 21.

Mr Sivasothi also organises a separate clean-up on each National Day. "The patriotism I'd like to see is for people to clean up after themselves," he said.

Interested volunteers may sign up at

Read more!

Sport fishing gaining popularity in Singapore

Patwant Singh Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 13;

SINGAPORE: Fishing has been a regular hobby among Singaporeans, but now sport fishing is catching on too.

More Singaporeans are getting into it apparently, going by the jump in sales of recreational-sized speedboats.

About 950 were sold in 2012, up from 750 in 2011.

Enthusiasts fish as far as the waters off Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Many of them also share their big catches on YouTube.

Those who take the sport seriously are snapping up boats. The Singapore Yacht Show has seen the strongest sales for such boats in the last three years.

On the downside, those in the fraternity lament the dwindling number of sport fishing sites in Singapore.

Boat skipper Mohammad Mus Mulyad said: "We still do fishing small time fishing. We go nearby to Sentosa, maybe St John's island, and maybe Lazarus island near to Kusu but most of the space that we have is not enough for us to fish, most of them are complaining."

Despite the various limitations, those in the fraternity feel that this sport still has a bright future even among the young. On any given weekend, up to 40 to 50 boats can be seen around Singapore indulging in sport fishing.

- CNA/xq

Read more!

The food cycle - Cycling in Singapore and Pulau Ubin

The Age 28 Apr 13;

Ian Wilson pedals his way to guilt-free gluttony in the city-state.

As the tropical storm clouds gather, there are two compelling reasons to finish my bike ride in a hurry: avoid death by lightning strike in one of the lightning capitals of the world and, more importantly, be on time for the evening's foodie tour.

Singapore has been on a mission to shed its image as a mere stopover destination, with new hotels, casinos, shopping centres and theme parks to visit. But I'm seeking experiences beyond the airconditioned artificiality, so have opted to explore the city-state and its vibrant food scene by bike.

I wasn't aware of Singapore's new tourism mission until alerted by the front page of the local newspaper. Nor is Singapore renowned for cycling, but there is fun to be had on two wheels. A number of parks feature cycle-friendly trails connected by a network of off-road bike paths, called park connectors.

The Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network links several parks in eastern Singapore in a 42-kilometre loop. You can ride along the 15-kilometre coastline of the popular East Coast Park with its cooling sea breeze or use the park connector network to explore beyond the tourist trail. There are several bike rental kiosks along the route, making it ideal for tourists.

The bike paths take me along the palm tree-lined coastline of Pasir Ris, Changi Beach and East Coast Parks, past Changi Airport and through housing estates.

The East Coast Lagoon Food Village provides the perfect tonic for my exertions in the form of fresh coconut juice, served with a cup of ice to pour into the coconut.

Singapore has a reputation for some draconian laws and the same can be said of cycling. I'll do more walking than riding if I obey every sign to dismount when crossing a road intersection but the locals seem to ignore this rule. The signs threatening $S1000 ($785) fines for riding across an overpass bridge are more persuasive. After taking shelter during the heaviest downpour of rain, I eventually complete the ride and arrive at the Betel Box Hostel tired, late and famished for a six-hour food tour.

If you wish to expand your knowledge of the Singaporean way of life as well as your waistline, then the Betel Box Real Singapore Food Walk is a must. Run by Tony Tan, who also owns the Betel Box Hostel, the tour is a fascinating insight into how Singaporeans live, work, play, pray and eat, far beyond the guidebooks and tourism websites.

Beginning at the hostel, the walk takes our group of seven through the Joo Chiat/Katong district in eastern Singapore.

Our group returns to the hostel for a selection of more than 17 local dishes including the famous Singaporean chilli crab. The food reflects Singapore's ethnic mix with strong Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. I, along with the rest of the group, cannot finish half of the delicious dinner despite Tan's exhortations. Then the dessert dishes are brought out! I miraculously squeeze in a few sweet treats.

I can barely move by this stage but we still have a couple of hours of the tour to go as we venture back onto the streets. By the time we walk by the former president's residence, it's 12.30am and I am stuffed, knackered but euphoric.

Next day, for a different cycling experience, I head to the island of Pulau Ubin, which has avoided modernisation, save for the bike rental shops in the main village. The island is a short ride from Changi Village aboard a small old wooden ferry, known as a bumboat. Bumboats were once used to transport cargo but many now operate as passenger ferries.

The island comprises a series of undulating hills, covered by forest and grassland, picturesque water-filled quarries and the Chek Jawa Wetlands, which can be explored on almost traffic-free roads. I tackle the easy section of the Ketam Mountain Bike Trail but am not confident that my bike or collarbones are prepared for the more challenging sections.

I also catch a cable car to the thoroughly modernised Sentosa Island and cycle along its beachfront, which gives me an excuse to visit Universal Studios afterwards.

The neighbourhood cats must agree that Cookery Magic offers the best cooking classes in Singapore, judging by the continual meowing from a couple of felines seeking food and attention. Ruqxana Vasanwala conducts classes from her eastern-Singapore home, which features an open-air kitchen, lending a sense of authenticity to this local experience - a Malay class cooking nasi goreng (fried rice), percik ikan (grilled fish in a spicy coconut sauce) and tempeh goreng rempah (spicy fried soy bean cake). It is a hands-on, no-nonsense but friendly class as we have plenty of information to absorb and ingredients to cut, peel, pound, combine and cook. We then dine on our home-cooked creations.

Eventually you have to take a break from eating and cycling but you can still indulge those passions, whether by strolling through the Spice Garden at Fort Canning Park, admiring the Girl on a Bicycle sculpture in the Singapore Botanic Gardens or exploring the Food Gallery of the National Museum.

Trishaw food carts have disappeared but some of the ice-cream stands scattered around the city are hooked up to bicycles. Once you choose from the myriad flavours (including durian), the vendor pulls out a block of ice-cream and sticks it between two biscuit wafers or in a slice of bread like a sandwich. With the sun setting, eating a chocolate ice-cream sandwich by Singapore River is one of life's simple pleasures.

Trip notes

Getting there Singapore Airlines operates direct flights from Australia to Singapore. 13 10 11,

Cycling there In East Coast Park or other stops along the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network, you can hire a bike from one of six PCN Pitstops operated by Lifestyle Recreation. Make sure you check the bike first and bring ID.

Catch a bumboat to Pulau Ubin from Changi Ferry Terminal, $S2.50 ($1.95). On Pulau Ubin there are several bike shops in the main village near the ferry terminal. Bike hire costs about $S5.

On Sentosa Island, you can hire a bike from Gogreen Cycle on Siloso Beach from $S12 for the first hour. The Heritage & Island Explorer is a one-hour guided tour on hybrid electric bikes ($S28),

Eating there Betel Box: The Real Singapore Tours' Singapore Food Tour costs $S80, half that if you stay at the Betel Box Hostel. Betel Box offer various tours, including a cycling tour. 200 Joo Chiat Road, +65 6247 7340,

Cookery Magic: Costs $S100 a person. 117 Fidelio Street (off Siglap Road), +65 6348 9667,

Singapore Zoo: Jungle Breakfast daily, 9am-10.30am. Adult $S29, child $S19. Bookings recommended.

More information

Read more!

A billion-dollar business puts grouper species and people at risk

IUCN 28 Apr 13;

At least 12% of groupers – globally-important food fish species that live on coral and rocky reefs – face extinction, putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world at risk, finds a report published today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s (IUCN SSC) Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group.

The overall percentage of threatened groupers could be much higher as there is insufficient data for about 30% of the species, according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

The study points to overfishing and the booming international luxury seafood trade as major threats to the survival of some grouper species, and to the livelihoods of those who depend on them for food and income. Its authors call for urgent conservation and management efforts to prevent further declines of these species.

“The declines in some grouper fisheries are alarming,” says Yvonne Sadovy, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and lead author of the study. “Most of them are not managed at all and their natural ability to reproduce can’t keep up with increasing demand. The rapidly growing international trade in groupers further reduces their populations.”

More than 300,000 tons of groupers – or 90 million individuals – were caught globally in 2009, mostly in Asia, where they are particularly sought-after for the luxury restaurant trade. Groupers are the foundation of the US$ 750 million international live reef fish market centered in Hong Kong and growing in mainland China, where consumers are ready to pay over US$ 200 per kilogram of the species. They are also important food fish in developing countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, where pressure to export reef fish is growing, according to the study.

Groupers are among those species that are most vulnerable to fishing because of their longevity, late sexual maturation and the fact that many form large mating groups known as ‘spawning aggregations’. Despite their economic importance, few grouper fisheries are regularly monitored or managed, and many are in decline.

In the US Caribbean, the Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), which is commonly fished during its brief aggregation periods, has been essentially wiped out. Of the several dozen well-documented breeding grounds, only two continue to support large numbers of the species, and these have also been considerably reduced. In Southeast Asia and the Pacific, several species are considered to be threatened by the international trade, including the Square-tailed Coral Grouper (Plectropomus areolatus), also often taken from its spawning aggregations.

“Overfishing is like mismanaging a bank account,” says Matthew Craig, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and one of the authors of the report. “The current fish population is our principle balance, hopefully earning interest in the form of new fish born. If those initial assets are continually withdrawn faster than the interest accumulates, the principle, that is the fish out there now, will be quickly depleted. It’s easy to see how rapidly we could lose all the money, or in this case, all of the fish.”

Improved management by source countries with priority given to local food security considerations, as well as better monitoring and control of international trade are urgently needed to reduce threats to these species, according to the authors.

The study, Fishing groupers towards extinction: a global assessment of threats and extinction risks in a billion dollar fishery, was published in the journal Fish and Fisheries. It is based on data accumulated by experts over a period of 20 years.

Read more!