Route of MRT line a concern: Nature Society

Design shows line runs through nature reserve; LTA to study impact
Natalie Kuan Straits Times 25 May 13;

THE Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) has called for a realignment of the Cross- Island MRT line (CRL), to protect the nature reserve in the central catchment area that includes MacRitchie Reservoir.

It noted that the present design has the train tracks passing through the nature reserve to connect Bukit Timah and Ang Mo Kio. This will cause habitat fragmentation and soil erosion, leading to significant environmental damage, it said.

The society's official spokesman on this issue, Mr Tony O'Dempsey, said: "Nature reserves are gazetted for the purpose of conserving native flora and fauna.

"We should not even be thinking of putting infrastructure through our nature reserves."

The society is suggesting that the line runs around the nature reserve, though it is aware that alternative routes pose new challenges.

They are keeping their options open, and are only advising that the line not run through the nature reserve, the society said in a position paper it plans to put up on its website by the end of this month.

Going around the nature reserve instead of cutting through it means a longer route but has the benefit of protecting the reserve, the society said.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) unveiled the CRL in January this year. A date for construction has not been set, but the line is slated for completion in 2030.

Earlier this month, the LTA said it will start feasibility studies for the line at the end of this year.

This includes soil investigation works, where 70m-deep holes are bored at 15m to 20m intervals to determine the strength of soil in the tunnelling area.

The society said its position paper will include geographic information systems (GIS) analysis to show that this will lead to unavoidable soil pollution in forest streams, killing stream flora and fauna, and causing imbalances in the surrounding ecosystem.

It is also conducting targeted fauna surveys in the affected areas, which will take several months to complete. It will continue to update its position paper as survey results and members' feedback come in.

When contacted on this issue, an LTA spokesman said "the LTA fully intends to commission an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to study the environmental impact of the Cross-Island Line".

She said a consultant would be engaged before engineering investigative works into the central catchment nature reserve begin.

The engineering investigative works, which also include soil investigations, will be carried out in compliance with guidelines set by the EIA consultant, she added.

The spokesman also stressed that the LTA will engage and consult various stakeholders such as the NSS to "ensure that their views and concerns are accommodated as part of the EIA study".

She added: "We ask for some patience as we continue to make preparations for the consultation and the EIA."

Still, Mr O'Dempsey, who holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Surveying) and has worked in the GIS industry in Singapore for 19 years, feels it is too late to conduct an environmental impact assessment if soil investigation is to begin by this year.

He estimates that a credible EIA would take almost a year to complete. "It is never too late to start but if you start now, there won't be any possibility of doing soil investigation along the alignment this year," he said.

The society hopes that with this paper, the LTA will take into account its concerns over the CRL. It welcomed being engaged in the process of considering alternative designs.

Other local environmentalists such as Ms Teresa Guttensohn from Cicada Tree Eco-Place are also getting in on the action. Ms Guttensohn has a protest planned for June 22 to 23 at Hong Lim Park.

Cicada Tree Eco-Place will also be organising walks through MacRitchie Reservoir on June 16 and June 30, from 8.30am to 11.30am, to raise awareness of the issue.

Both events are open to the public.

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 May 13

Saving MacRitchie forest: A youngster’s view
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Nudilicious on Day 5 of the Southern Expedition
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

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Population White Paper 'never meant to predict future'

Straits Times 25 May 13;

THE backlash against the White Paper on Population was "unfortunate", said head of the civil service Peter Ong, and there are lessons to be learnt.

But he stands by his officers who worked hard on the plan and insists that it was never meant to predict the future. Rather, it was intended to look at all the factors that could affect Singapore in the future, and to engage the public in deep discussions about the trade-offs, he said.

But the public outcry against having a 6.9 million population figure in 2030 highlights two lessons for the Government.

One, it could have better anticipated that one parameter, the 6.9 million figure, could draw attention away from everything else.

Two, the timing was off.

The paper should not have been launched at a time when many issues on transport and housing had yet to be settled.

"We really intended it to launch many serious and deep conversations on the structure of the future economy that we need to have... very serious existential issues. However, they were all swamped by the attention on that one figure," he said. He added: "There were pressing current issues that were not fully addressed yet, so it was very difficult to have a conversation about the future."

The White Paper led to a heated debate in Parliament, and two protest rallies at Hong Lim Park in February and on Labour Day this month.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong later said his Government was not planning on ever reaching the 6.9 million figure, and would leave it to the next government and people to decide for 2030.

Mr Ong noted that his officers had engaged the public for more than a year before the release of the paper. To criticisms that the paper was not well researched as it lacked citations, he said it was a "matter of presentation".

He said: "Just because something has no citation doesn't mean references and research were not done. If we came up with a whole list of citations, then who would read those? The average Singaporean?" He added: "We were trying, at the end of the day, to think about what might happen in 2030. It was not meant to be a deterministic or predictive exercise. I don't think any of us are smart enough to predict (the future)."


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Underground reservoirs could be S'pore's "fifth tap"

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 24 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Experts said finding underground reservoirs of water could solve Singapore's problem of not having enough space to hold rainwater, and it could also prove to be the country's fifth tap.

The comment follows a recent tender called by national water agency PUB to study the feasibility of extracting groundwater from the southern and western parts of Singapore.

If the three-year study shows promise, Singapore could join a host of countries that source drinking water from the ground.

Groundwater could then add to Singapore's water supply that now depends on four sources -- imported water, catchment water, treated recycled water and desalinated water.

The four sources are referred to as the "four national taps". These sources provide for the nation's current water demand of some 400 million gallons of water each day. PUB said this number is projected to almost double by 2060.

Currently, the area under scrutiny is a 200-million-year-old land space called the Jurong Formation.

Dr Grahame John Henderson Oliver, a geologist and senior lecturer with the National University of Singapore, said: "The Jurong Formation in the west of the island is made up of porous rocks -- lots of sandstone. They know there is water going through the rocks. The next question is: 'How much water?' The next question after that: 'Is it drinkable?'"

Experts also hope the study will show how water can be extracted from these aquifers, also known as underground reservoirs, sustainably.

Associate Professor Tan Soon Keat, deputy director of the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said that if water is removed and not replenished, it could lead to the land subsiding.

"Because of this void being empty, the soil particles come together, occupying a more compact surface. If you look at a wide expanse of an area, the compaction of the surfaces means that it has to go downwards -- the ground surface has to settle down to occupy the space that has been emptied out," added Assoc Prof Tan.

Recharging the ground with water can avert the problem. To sustain water extraction from the reclaimed land and from deeper in the aquifers would mean creating a cycle -- pumping water out at one end, and allowing rainfall to replace it while giving time for the groundwater to be naturally cleaned before being pumped out again.

"If we can establish an aquifer, and through our engineering contributions, develop it into a sustainable water source -- in an island state like this, I think it will be something exciting to do," said Assoc Prof Tan.

The Jurong Formation could be just one source -- the Old Aluvium is a 100-million-year-old formation in eastern Singapore.

Geologists said this formation is made of sand and gravel, and based on geological studies in similar formations elsewhere, its potential to hold groundwater can be even greater.

- CNA/ac

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PUB's efforts against illegal fishing

Straits Times Forum 25 May 13;

PUB thanks Mr Lee Swee Mun ("Have single agency to enforce law against illegal fishing"; Tuesday) and Ms Mallika Naguran ("Fishing with long nets endangers wildlife, people"; Forum Online, Tuesday) for their letters.

PUB recognises the increasing public interest in recreational fishing and has since 2004, progressively opened up our reservoirs for recreational activities, including fishing. Currently, there are 10 reservoirs, such as the Marina, Lower Seletar, and Bedok reservoirs, with designated fishing areas where the public can fish safely without inconveniencing others.

For safety reasons, PUB does not allow fishing in the drains and canals and has installed signs at strategic locations to remind the public not to fish in these places.

Anglers can do their part to keep the environment safe and clean by adopting good fishing practices and clearing up any litter after fishing.

Anglers should use only fishing rods and artificial bait, and exercise care when casting the lines.

It is also important that they fish only at the designated areas - these are sites which do not have steep slopes and will not pose a risk to other water activity participants.

We also encourage anglers to practise "catch and release" to help ensure that the fish population in the reservoirs is not depleted.

To promote good fishing practices, PUB works with community partners such as E-waves Fishbyte and the Gamefish & Aquatic Rehabilitation Society to provide public education on responsible fishing as well as conduct fishing clinics to teach anglers techniques like catch and release and to not use live bait when they fish.

Signboards are also installed at the designated fishing sites to provide anglers with information on good fishing etiquette.

PUB officers carry out daily surveillance at our reservoirs and this includes looking out for illegal fishing activities such as fishing with live bait or outside designated areas.

Those caught fishing outside our designated areas and/or using live bait in our reservoirs will be issued a composition fine of $50 on their first offence and $200 on their second offence.

Offenders will be prosecuted on subsequent offences and may be fined up to $3,000. Signs informing anglers on fishing ethics and etiquette are found near the designated fishing sites.

PUB also works closely with the National Parks Board to look out for illegal fishing activities during routine patrols. The public can call the PUB hotline (1800-2846600) should they spot any irresponsible fishing activities.

Tan Nguan Sen
Director, Catchment and Waterways Department

Use artificial lures when fishing in reservoirs
Straits Times 1 Jun 13;

THE national water agency PUB does its best to keep the reservoirs clean, with good landscaping and by providing rubbish bins ("PUB's efforts against illegal fishing"; last Saturday).

There are signs warning against using live or dead bait and encouraging the use of artificial lures. Perhaps more can be done to educate the public against using bait, which cause pollution and disrupt the ecological balance of the reservoir. Remember, this is the water we drink.

While it is easy to confine anglers to designated fishing areas, PUB officers who enforce the rules need to be able to readily identify those who use bait. Here are some basic tips:

- "Lurers", which is slang for anglers using artificial lures, usually stand and actively move their fishing rods to mimic the action of fish at the end of the lines. They usually practise catch and release, and treat fishing as a pastime.

- "Baiters", which is slang for anglers using baits - live or dead - usually sit down and place their fishing rods on stands while waiting for fish to take the bait. They usually practise catch and keep or kill, as they have paid for the baits and want returns.

Victor Tai

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Spike in number of chikungunya cases here

Salma Khalik Straits Times 25 May 13;

THE chikungunya outbreak appears to have taken hold in Singapore, with over 60 reported cases of infection this month alone.

This brings this year's total to 184, more than three times the 60 cases that were reported over the past three years.

The infections currently appear to be centred on the industrial area in Sungei Kadut and along Bukit Timah Road.

A Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman said at least 37 of those identified with the disease are locals. Two were hospitalised but have been discharged.

At least 18 of the people infected in the Bukit Timah area are foreigners, she added.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency said: "Over the past two months, NEA has been conducting intensive mosquito-control operations within the vicinity of the patients' workplace and residences, and the areas that they frequent."

It inspected 260 factories in the Sungei Kadut industrial area and fined 129 of them for breeding mosquitoes. At Namly Crescent and Fifth Avenue, it inspected 655 places and fined 29 homes where larvae was found.

Unlike dengue, this virus is not endemic here. Of the 60 cases between 2010 and last year, 48 people were infected overseas and only 12 got it here.

The picture is very different this year. Of the 184 cases, only six were infected abroad. The rest caught the virus brought in by one or more of the six.

Those with chikungunya often suffer from fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.

There is no cure and treatment consists of relieving the symptoms, many of which mirror that of dengue, another mosquito-borne virus raging here.

Infectious diseases expert Indumathi Venkatachalam from National University Hospital said: "Dengue can cause death when severe, and in that regard is more serious than chikungunya.

"But for non-fatal infections, dengue resolves with no long- term consequences. Chikungunya, however, can cause joint pains for months after resolution of the acute illness."

More than 7,500 people have already been infected by dengue this year, with about one in four needing to be hospitalised.

The infection is spreading rapidly, with about 2,000 people diagnosed with dengue this month.

The MOH spokesman said dengue patients currently make up less than 1 per cent of hospital patients.

Changi General Hospital in the east, where dengue has been on the rise for some months, has been recording occupancy rates of between 90 per cent and 95 per cent. Its spokesman said the number of dengue patients turning up at its emergency department has risen from 163 in January to 555 last month. It has already seen 460 patients this month.

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Indonesia: 171 sea turtle hatchlings released on Riau Islands

Antara 24 May 13;

Tanjungpinang, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - As many as 171 sea turtle hacthlings were released by Banyan Tree Bintan Hotel and Resort on Tanjung Said Beach, Lagoi, Bintan, to celebrate the World Turtle Day.

"The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) hatchlings that we released to the sea today were captive bred in Tambelan Island, about 125 nautical mile away from Bintan District," Manager Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of Banyan Tree Bintan Henry Ali Singer said on Friday.

The program of sea turtle hatchlings release on Friday has been the third time in 2013 conducted by Banyan Tree Bintan, or the 17th since its first sea turtle conservation program in 2008, Singer said.

"This has been our contribution and commitment to nature preservation," he said.

Banyan Tree Bintan had also received an award from Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) in 2008 for its effort in nature conservation.

Since 2008, Banyan Tree Bintan had secured 1,732 sea turtle eggs from poaching and 1,002 of them had hatched and released to their habitat.

The sea turtle hatchling release on Friday was participated in by around 150 people consisting of international tourists, hotel employees, local residents and students of Maritim Raja ALi Haji University (UMRAH).

Banyan Tree Bintan cooperated with the Faculty of Marine and Fishery of UMRAH to conduct the program which is also aimed to identify the sea turtle hatch rate in Lagoi.

As many as 171 out of 193 eggs taken from Tambelan were hatched. "The hatch success rate was quite high, around 88.6 percent," Singer said.

On the same day, Banyan Tree Bintan also gave education on sea turtle conservation to elementary students in North Bintan Sub-district.

The purpose of World Turtle Day, May 23, is to bring attention to, and increase knowledge of and respect for, turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.


Editor: Suryanto

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Malaysia: Wild jumbo puts up fight

New Straits Times 25 May 13;

KUANTAN: An aggressive 20-year-old male elephant put up a fierce fight during a relocation attempt by the Pahang Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) at Kampung Seberang Kawah, here, yesterday.

Despite having been shot with three tranquilliser darts, the 2,500kg animal still thrashed around, forcing two elephant guides -- Kala and Rambai -- to take nearly an hour to coax their counterpart out of the jungle before it was loaded onto a waiting lorry.

State Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Shariff praised the efficiency of the conservation centre's staff, who were assisted by the state Elite Elephant Capture Unit. The operation was completed around 1.30pm.

"This operation was among the most challenging ones that the department has encountered.

"It is due to the elephant's size and aggressive behaviour, coupled with the wet and slippery ground where the operation was carried out."

Khairiah said this was the third elephant capture-and-relocation operation carried out by the department this year.

It is preceded by a similar operation in the forest areas of Kemasul and Lanchang, Temerloh, earlier this year.

"It is understood that there are another five or six elephants, which are split into two groups, wandering in the jungle areas of Kampung Seberang Kawah and Kampung Seberang Kolek, here.

"These animals have caused damage to the oil palm plantations and fruit orchards in both villages."

She added that the department was now focused on tracking the elephants for relocation purposes.

Khairiah said it was hoped that the capture and relocation of the latest elephant would lead to a decrease in elephant excursions into settlements here, as the pachyderm is believed to be the pack leader of a herd that used to roam actively in the forests of Sungai Lembing.

"I advise the people of Kampung Seberang Kawah and Kampung Seberang Kolek to immediately contact Perhilitan should their plantations continue to be damaged by elephants that are still roaming in those areas."

Khairiah added that the mammal would be relocated to the Elephant Training Centre in Pengkalan Gawi in Tasik Kenyir, Terengganu.

Meanwhile, regarding a separate incident, Kampung Batu Enam village chief Abdullah Taib, 46, said residents were grateful to Perhilitan for acting quickly and capturing an elephant after receiving their complaints.

A team of rangers from the Kuala Gandah Elephant Unit caught the male elephant on May 12.

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