Best of our wild blogs: 8 Aug 13

A LIVING Cone Snail on Cyrene Reefs!
from Psychedelic Nature and wild shores of singapore

Seagrass surprises at Tanah Merah
from wonderful creation

Cliff notes
from The annotated budak

“Hungry Ghost Month” – Reflections
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

White-throated Kingfisher sidestepping
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singaporeans' appetite for farming growing

Waiting time to rent plots from farms stretches up to four years
Janice Tai And Lee Jian Xuan Straits Times 8 Aug 13;

WITH land in short supply, green-fingered Singaporeans are renting plots from farms so they can grow their own vegetables.

At least three farms here allow locals to do this, and charge between $250 and $1,000 per month for land plots ranging from 700 to 7,000 sq ft. Waiting lists can stretch up to four years.

"No one wants to give up their plot so the waiting list is about three pages long now," said Madam Lynn Lee, 55, who has adopted two plots from Green Valley Farms in Bah Soon Pah Road in Khatib.

Since the farm opened up a quarter of its 6.9ha land area for people to farm in 2003, its tenants have risen from six a decade ago to close to 30 now.

The appeal of urban farming lies in the growing appetite for organic produce. Others see it as a form of recreation that allows them to escape the crowded city and its hectic pace of life.

"No pesticides are used and the vegetables are sweeter and crunchier. I frequent the supermarkets less now," said Mr Roy Tong, 59, an insurance agent.

His flexible work schedule allows him to swing by his plot of land for a few hours every day to tend to his crops, which include chye sim, long beans and lettuce.

For Mr Lim Shun He, 77, farming takes him back to his childhood days of living in a kampung in Mandai. "Most of what I know, I learnt from my parents," said the retired factory worker.

In response to an increasing number of residents who wish to grow vegetables at home, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) recently came up with a space-saving way of cultivating vegetables vertically.

The system, named Veggie Pipe, uses PVC pipes commonly used to carry sewage and water. The pipes can be bought from hardware stores. When they are stacked together to form a vertical structure, they can be mounted onto walls.

Yet, spaces at home - whether it is the rooftop, balcony or backyard - often prove insufficient.

"Here, there is enough space for me to plant five or six types of vegetables," said Mr Richard Goh, 62, a businessman. He harvests about 30kg of vegetables, including long beans and lady's fingers, every two weeks from his 1,000 sq ft plot.

Others take to farming to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

"Instead of going to expensive gyms or spas to detox, I come here for my exercise and my frozen shoulders have gotten better," said Madam Lee.

Vegetable supplier Zhang Aimin, 52, sensed the demand for healthier vegetables after his customers complained of allergies from eating pesticide-laced vegetables. After a fruitless four-year wait for a land plot to become available at Green Valley, Mr Zhang applied to the authorities for a piece of land in Lim Chu Kang in July last year.

He received the green light early this year and is currently doing up 140 plots of land, each roughly 700 sq ft. He intends to give up about half for adoption to other organic farming enthusiasts.

His farm, Sky and Land Organic Agriculture, is the new kid on the block. Green Valley started opening up its land for adoption in 2003 while farm resort D'Kranji did so in 2008.

The only catch so far is licensing. Under their lease conditions, farms which wish to sublet their land are required to obtain approval from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

As part of the evaluation, the SLA will consult the AVA, which licenses farms in Singapore. This is to ensure that the farming activities comply with AVA's bio-safety and bio-security requirements.

For now, there are signs that this activity is taking root - even among the young.

Mr Tay Lai Hock, founder of local environmental group Ground-Up Initiative, said he has been approached by more young people who want to find out how to set up their own food gardens.

He added: "I hope it is not just a fad as urban farming allows people to appreciate the beauty of nature."

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Mynah birds, major headache

Appeals to authorities fail to silence birds roosting in trees in Jurong West estate
Rachel Au-Yong Straits Times 8 Aug 13;

FOR the last three years, Mr Clement Lim has had a hard time getting any sleep, thanks to his noisy Jurong West neighbours.

But telling them to keep things quiet is impossible in what has become one man's battle against thousands of mynah birds that roost in his estate's trees.

The 38-year-old leasing executive has been struggling to find a solution to the problem since he moved into his flat in February 2011.

The mynahs' chatter grows to a "ferocious roar" between 6pm and 8pm, when the birds return to the trees to roost, he said. Worse, their cries start up whenever a heavy vehicle drives by. One video that Mr Lim sent to The Straits Times shows the birds squawking for 10 minutes at 2.50am.

"When I come back home from work, all I want is a little peace and quiet, but I can't have that unless I close every single window and door in my house," he said.

In spite of several appeals to the authorities over the years, he told The Straits Times he "remains frustrated".

After representatives from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and the National Parks Board (NParks) visited Mr Lim's flat, an NParks arborist e-mailed him on July 10.

He was told that 43 trees along Jurong West Street 72 would be pruned within 12 days.

But only seven had their branches cut by July 22. Mr Lim also felt that the pruning had not done much, saying birds which once roosted in the trees closest to his block simply flew to neighbouring ones.

All eight of Mr Lim's neighbours that The Straits Times interviewed agreed. One said: "I didn't even realise they pruned the trees because the birds are still so noisy."

According to Mr Lim, the NParks tree manager, when pressed, told him that the remaining trees would be dealt with "during the next pruning cycle".

That raised only more questions for Mr Lim. Why promise 43 trees in the first place, and when would the next pruning cycle take place?

NParks told The Straits Times that although the statutory board had "initially intended to prune more trees", it decided to cut only the ones closest to Mr Lim's block after further evaluation.

It added that it was "not advisable to carry out extensive roadside tree-pruning because it can result in birds moving to trees at nearby residences".

The mynah situation continues to be an issue for many Singaporeans, who complain about the birds' noisiness and droppings, especially in other hot spots such as Orchard Road and Clementi.

AVA, which is the first responder for animal-related issues, said it works with several agencies on various measures, including tree-pruning to deter birds from roosting and proper food waste management to cut down on food sources for the birds.

Last October, it also told The Straits Times that it had commissioned a study on mynahs in June last year to identify a more effective way of managing the population here. An AVA spokesman said on Tuesday the study is "currently ongoing".

But not everyone finds the birds a nuisance. Mr Lim's neighbour, Madam Norizah Ramly, 50, said: "I quite like the birds' singing. I think I'd go crazy if it were completely quiet."

15 hot spots in Singapore: Study
Straits Times 8 Aug 13;

THE common mynah and the Javan mynah rule Singapore's skies, with the latter numbering at least "a few hundred thousand" here, said experts.

Mynahs love large, shady trees, and easy access to food sources like hawker centres, said Bird Ecology Study Group co-founder Wee Yeow Chin.

Nature Society Bird Group committee member Yong Ding Li said he identified 15 "hot spots" in a study three years ago, including in Orchard Road and Clementi.

Dr Wee suggested that the authorities plant alternative roosting sites away from residential areas, or smaller trees with less dense canopies, like the pink mempat.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority received 260 mynah reports in the first seven months of this year. There were 360 for all of last year and 80 in 2011. It said the bird nuisance can be reduced by keeping food out of sight or properly covered.


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One teen's campaign to cut waste

Undergrad ropes in 27 food outlets to use less styrofoam and plastic on National Day
Grace Chua Straits Times 8 Aug 13;

BUY takeaway food from a hawker centre, coffee shop or cafe, and the chances are it will come in a polystyrene or plastic box. But one person is on a campaign to cut down the number of such disposable boxes used, in the name of saving the Earth.

On National Day tomorrow, undergraduate Tamsin Chen, 19, has got 27 food outlets - including VeganBurg and Food for Thought at the Botanic Gardens - to use 70 per cent fewer styrofoam or plastic containers and switch to more eco-friendly Cornware or reusable ones.

The campaign, called Operation Zero Waste Dabao ("Dabao" means "takeaway" in Chinese) has received funding and other support from the National Youth Council, youth environment group ECO Singapore and the Singapore Environment Council.

Polystyrene cannot be recycled, and plastic can be recycled only when clean.

While there are no figures for how many disposable food containers Singapore uses, the country throws away some 721,300 tonnes of plastic each year, and about a sixth of household waste is food and beverage packaging.

So far, 17 cafes and cafe chains have agreed to take part in Ms Chen's campaign, and some plan to extend their efforts beyond it.

Madam Rajeswary Sinan, 51, who owns Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant at Fortune Centre, said: "We're also concerned about what is happening to the Earth."

Does she think it will work? "We have to try," she said. But filling customers' own containers can take extra precious minutes, and customers sometimes complain after they bring larger containers that the cafe's standard portions don't fill, she said.

Madam Tan Say Ghim, 53, from a vegetarian stall at a Toa Payoh North coffee shop, is not taking part in the campaign. "We can't take too much time, or customers will complain," she said.

Ms Chen, a Singapore permanent resident studying in the United States, held a takeaway picnic with volunteers on Sunday and has been surveying diners since last week about takeaway habits. Preliminary findings from 100 surveys show more than half do not bring their own containers.

The main obstacles are inconvenience and not knowing or planning when a person will take food away. But diners say they will do so if stores encourage them with signs or discounts.

"We might expect that if it becomes a norm in society, perhaps more people would be comfortable doing it," Ms Chen said.

Diner Satnam Kaur, 34, who is in middle management, pointed out that takeaways are not always planned, unlike supermarket trips where shoppers can take reusable bags. "But I feel guilty about it, and try to reuse and recycle the plastic containers."

Ms Chen said she would pass the data on to green organisations to take up the cause. "If I could, I would have done it (the campaign) at foodcourts too, because people eat there every day."

Environment consultant Eugene Tay of Green Future Solutions said the campaign was "a good start to educate the public and nudge people and businesses towards using fewer disposables".

He called for more government regulations restricting the use of disposables over time, especially for the public sector and large food companies.

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We’re all soldiers in the war on coal

Peter Singer Today Online 8 May 13;

Earlier this year, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time there was that much CO2 in our atmosphere was three million years ago, when sea levels were 24 metres higher than they are today.

Now sea levels are rising again. Last September, Arctic sea ice covered the smallest area ever recorded. All but one of the 10 warmest years since 1880, when global records began to be kept, have occurred in the 21st century.

Some climate scientists believe that 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is already enough to take us past the tipping point at which we risk a climate catastrophe that will turn billions of people into refugees. They say that we need to get the amount of atmospheric CO2 back down to 350 ppm. That figure lies behind the name taken by, a grassroots movement with volunteers in 188 countries trying to solve the problem of climate change.

Other climate scientists are more optimistic: They argue that if we allow atmospheric CO2 to rise to 450 ppm, a level associated with a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise, we have a 66.6 per cent chance of avoiding catastrophe. That still leaves a one-in-three chance of catastrophe — worse odds than playing Russian roulette. And we are forecast to surpass 450 ppm by 2038.

One thing is clear: If we are not to be totally reckless with our planet’s climate, we cannot burn all the coal, oil and natural gas that we have already located. About 80 per cent of it — especially the coal, which emits the most CO2 when burned — will have to stay in the ground.


In June, US President Barack Obama told students at Georgetown University that he refused to condemn them and their children and grandchildren to “a planet that’s beyond fixing”. Saying that climate change cannot wait for Congress to overcome its “partisan gridlock”, he announced measures using his executive power to limit CO2 emissions, first from new fossil-fuel power plants, and then from existing ones.

Mr Obama also called for an end to public financing of new coal plants overseas, unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies (which are not yet economically viable), or else there is, he said, “no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity”.

According to Professor Daniel Schrag, Director of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped to advise Mr Obama on climate change: “Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

Prof Schrag is right. His university, like mine and many others, has a plan to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet most of them, including Prof Schrag’s and mine, continue to invest part of their multi-billion-dollar endowments in companies that extract and sell coal.

But pressure on educational institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels is beginning to build. Student groups have formed on many campuses, and a handful of colleges and universities have already pledged to end their investment in fossil fuels. Several US cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have agreed to do the same.

Now financial institutions, too, are coming under fire for their involvement with fossil fuels. In June, I was part of a group of prominent Australians who signed an open letter to the heads of the country’s biggest banks asking them to stop lending to new fossil-fuel extraction projects, and to sell their stakes in companies engaged in such activities.


Speaking at Harvard earlier this year, former US Vice-President Al Gore praised a student group that was pushing the university to sell its investments in fossil-fuel companies, and compared their activities to the divestment campaign in the 1980s that helped to end South Africa’s racist apartheid policy.

How fair is that comparison? The dividing lines may be less sharp than they were with apartheid, but our continued high level of greenhouse-gas emissions protects the interests of one group of humans — mainly affluent people who are alive today — at the cost of others. (Compared to most of the world’s population, even the American and Australian coal miners who would lose their jobs if the industry shut down are affluent.)

Our behaviour disregards most of the world’s poor, and everyone who will live on this planet in centuries to come.

Worldwide, the poor leave a very small carbon footprint, but they will suffer the most from climate change. Many live in hot places that are getting even hotter, and hundreds of millions of them are subsistence farmers who depend on rainfall to grow their crops. Rainfall patterns will vary, and the Asian monsoon will become less reliable. Those who live on this planet in future centuries will live in a hotter world, with higher sea levels, less arable land, and more extreme hurricanes, droughts, and floods.

In these circumstances, to develop new coal projects is unethical, and to invest in them is to be complicit in this unethical activity. While this applies, to some extent, to all fossil fuels, the best way to begin to change our behaviour is by reducing coal consumption.

Replacing coal with natural gas does reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, even if natural gas itself is not sustainable in the long term. Right now, ending investment in the coal industry is the right thing to do.


Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include Practical Ethics, One World, and The Life You Can Save.

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Indonesia: Mapping protected lands a challenge

Bruce Gale Straits Times 8 Aug 13;

"IT'S like a puzzle." Mr Kiki Taufik, Greenpeace's forest campaign manager was trying to explain to me the latest attempt by Indonesia's Forestry Ministry to produce a unified map of all the primary forest and peatland areas in the country.

The map is needed in order to implement a US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) deal Jakarta signed with Norway in May 2010 to protect Indonesia's forests. But the logic behind the frequent and seemingly contradictory updates produced by the ministry has observers baffled.

The map it is creating is different from the one requested recently by the Singapore and Malaysian governments in response to the haze from wildfires in Sumatra.

Foreign governments want detailed information about oil palm and other concession boundaries so that those responsible for the fires can be pinpointed.

The Forestry Ministry's task, on the other hand, is even more basic: to identify the primary forest and peatland areas subject to the agreed moratorium on deforestation. When it's hard to map out these areas permitted for cultivation, it's even harder to figure out which plot of land belongs to which concessions.

But since the agreement with Norway does not apply to pre- existing logging, mining and oil palm concessions, a general knowledge of such concessions would presumably be important when identifying the forests and peatlands to be protected.

When I met Mr Kiki at Greenpeace's Jakarta office last month, he showed me a copy of the ministry's latest effort - officially named Indicative Moratorium Map (IMM) No. 4. Updated maps are published every six months.

IMM4 was released in May this year, about the same time that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made his widely expected announcement extending the moratorium on new land concessions for another two years.

According to Mr Kiki, successive IMMs reveal inconsistencies that officials rarely explain. Basing his analysis on data produced by the Forestry Ministry itself in 2010, Mr Kiki concludes that IMM4 has erroneously included around three million ha of pre- existing logging concessions as subject to the moratorium. The same error, however, does not occur on IMM3. It is unclear whether these areas are now protected as a result of the withdrawal of the logging concessions, or whether the concessions themselves have somehow been overlooked.

Greenpeace's examination of other official and unofficial databases on concession areas reveals similar anomalies. Data released by the National Land Agency (BPN), for example, shows at least 860,000ha of oil palm concessions overlapping with areas designated in the IMM4 map as subject to the moratorium.

A similar situation exists with mining. According to the records of industry body Association of Coal Mining Industries, around one million ha of pre-existing coal mining concessions have apparently been ignored. As in the case of the oil palm concessions, IMM4 shows these areas as subject to the moratorium.

One possible reason for the difficulties the Forestry Ministry has been experiencing in drawing up accurate maps is a lack of coordination between various government agencies.

Apart from the BPN, the ministry needs to consult the records of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (for mining concessions) as well as various provincial- and regency-level planning agencies involved in the issuance of oil palm concessions.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the maps maintained by these agencies are believed to be outdated.

But this does not explain everything. As more information is gathered, successive maps should become more accurate as overlaps between existing concession areas and those earmarked for the moratorium are identified. According to Greenpeace, however, this has not happened.

Based on currently available data, says Mr Kiki, a study of IMM4 reveals that a total of 5.5 million ha of land earmarked for the moratorium overlap with pre-existing concession areas. This figure is not very much different from earlier versions. Errors appearing in earlier maps are often corrected, he says, but later maps reveal fresh anomalies.

The government, however, insists that it is making progress.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has already declared the first moratorium a success, saying that the move slowed the country's deforestation rate to a mere 450ha a year during 2010 to 2011. This compares to an average of 3.5 million ha a year in the period from 1999 to 2002.

If this is indeed the case, then it is a major achievement worthy of considerable praise.

What needs to be done now is to take advantage of the extended moratorium to review the legality of existing concessions, increase transparency in the way licences are granted, and establish clear and credible land-use policies.

Can Indonesia do it? Obviously, the oft-cited collusion between corrupt officials and unscrupulous logging and palm oil companies is not the only impediment. Research by Greenpeace on the various maps produced by the Forestry Ministry suggests a worrying degree of administrative incompetence as well.

When it comes to conservation, the challenges facing policymakers in Jakarta are far more complex than many imagine.

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