Best of our wild blogs: 11 Aug 13

Cyrene Reef (10 August 2013)
from teamseagrass

Seagrasses at the natural underwater world on Sentosa
from wild shores of singapore

NDP 2013 @Bukit Brown
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Crabs, stink bugs and ... a cobra!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Pelagic Outing July 2013
from Con Foley Photography

Butterfly of the Month - August 2013
from Butterflies of Singapore

Another Beautiful Spider Under Ultraviolet
from Macro Photography in Singapore

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Put a stop to illegal monkey trapping

Straits Times 11 Aug 13;

The cage that was allegedly set up by AVA contractor Jack Pang at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's Kampong Trail on July 16. It is illegal to capture animals in nature reserves without approval from the commissioner of parks and recreation. -- PHOTO: AMANDA TAN

I applaud the National Parks Board (NParks) for commencing investigations against a government contractor for allegedly setting up a monkey trap illegally in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where monkeys do no harm to visitors and nearby residents ("Contractor caught in 'monkey business'"; last Sunday).

As a concerned resident, I would like the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to assure the public that the contractor will not be carrying out further trapping activities while he is under investigation.

This should apply to his employees as well.

The AVA also has a responsibility to ensure that its contractors are not engaging in illegal activities to make money, since they are reportedly paid for every monkey they catch.

The NParks' probe should send a clear deterrence message to trappers islandwide.

I hope the AVA will not sub-contract the trapping of monkeys to errant trappers.

Going forward, it should take a more sound and scientific approach to managing macaque-human interactions.

Vinita Ramani Mohan (Ms)

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Singapore youth: Apathetic no more

Loh Chee Kong Today Online 9 Aug 13;

It was not too long ago when Singapore youths had to constantly fend off the label of being apathetic. Back then, we were accused of being fixated on the paper chase and material comforts, being out of touch with politics and oblivious to the plight of others.

It even got to a point where the then-Prime Minister had to address the issue at a national forum — in his most important political speech of the year, no less. At the 2002 National Day Rally, Mr Goh Chok Tong challenged the youth to show that they have the same never-say-die, can-do spirit as the pioneer generation: “Has the younger generation of Singaporeans gone soft? Look yourself in the mirror and ask: Am I a stayer or a quitter? Am I a fair-weather Singaporean or an all-weather Singaporean?”

Those words — and labels — stuck. But today’s youth has risen to the challenge, aided in no small part by the medium that they grew up with — the much-maligned Internet.

In our National Day Special this year, TODAY profiles 10 youths who have never known life without the Internet (the true-blue digital natives, if you will) and are harnessing the power of the Web and social media to make a difference — not your typical “keyboard warriors”.


Take haze-hero Jeremy Chua, for example. After witnessing how many people were complaining about the smog and the authorities’ response — though few were doing anything about the situation — the 25-year-old school-dropout-turned-scholar sprang into action.

He started a Facebook page calling for people to donate their excess masks and mobilised hundreds of volunteers to distribute masks to the needy. Soon enough, like-minded people joined his cause and the team tapped online platforms to channel manpower and resources to, for example, estates with a large proportion of elderly. A Google document was also set up for volunteers and donors to list the ways they can contribute, such as cash or mask donations, or air-conditioned rooms for others to sleep in.

Then, there is Youth for Ecology — a group of youths who were stirred into action by the debate over the White Paper on Population. Ms Huang Xinyuan and Mr Eric Bea, both 19, saw how little was said about the environmental impact of the projected population growth — save for a speech by Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal in Parliament.

Despite their lack of expertise in environmental science, they started a youth group advocating environmental issues. Armed with passion and tech-savvy, the group has held dialogues with their peers and is putting together a paper based on the views shared, to be published this month.

It is also working with Fyllum — a social enterprise which promotes bio-diversification of the ecology through youth-initiated projects — to launch a publicity campaign featuring a video of prominent environmentalists in Singapore.


As these youths show, passion and a surfeit of optimism are the basic ingredients to make a difference to others’ lives — along with perseverance.

In March last year, Youth Without Borders co-founders Joseph Tay and Kenneth Yong, both 24, set out to complete 50 social projects by 2015 — to coincide with Singapore’s 50th birthday.

Since then, they’ve only put two in place, including an ongoing project to bring joy to the residents of the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home with the help of volunteers who signed up via Facebook. Along the way, they have been “scolded many times ... because we were amateurish, too upfront, too direct, (and had) no protocols”, in their own words.

But they are undeterred and they’ve since garnered praise from the nursing home’s manager — along with hundreds of likes on the project’s Facebook page.

For the youths, they have come to realise that, as they seek to make an impact on others, they are often the beneficiaries themselves.

Along with two friends, photographer Bernice Wong, 24, has been documenting the lives of Bangladeshi workers here through a website since last year, to debunk the stereotypes and anti-foreigner sentiments. She had volunteered at a soup kitchen in Little India and wanted to do more.

“I was once ignorant about them too, until I started volunteering, and I realised that, just like us, they have families — they are fathers, brothers and sons,” she says.


And to debunk the myth that youths are only interested in cars, condominiums, cash, credit cards and country club memberships, there are those like Ms Delfina Utomo, 25.

She is the lead editor for Singapore’s first live local music gig finder website, “My family was concerned, because after eight years of studying and two degrees, they wanted me to be holding perhaps a S$4,000-a-month job,” says Ms Utomo, who holds a master’s degree in journalism. “I may not get the best pay at, but I’m passionate about what I do and, every day, I come to the office with new ideas.”

For others, the Internet has, in fact, helped to make it less of a dilemma in having to choose between pursuing a passion and having a stable job that pays the bills.

Civil servant Kwok Jia Chuan and consultant Jeremy Au — who are both 25 — are the proud co-founders of Conjunct Consulting, which is touted as Asia’s first pro-bono consulting firm for non-profit organisations and social enterprises.

Conjunct has a total of 200 volunteers. The 16 members on its executive committee are doing it pro-bono. The only person being paid is a part-time technical support staff member. Without a brick-and-mortar office and by using technology, Conjunct is able to operate at much lower costs compared to similar outfits in other countries, says Mr Au.

Like the other projects featured here, the Internet and social media have also helped Conjunct to reach out to people in a way that would have been impossible in the pre-Web days.

“There is a growing wave of empathy for the community, a growing sense that all of us have the ability to act and the capability to make a difference,” says Mr Au, who attributes this in no small part to the digital revolution, which has allowed problems faced by some in Singapore to surface quickly. Singaporeans have many great ideas and lots of “pent-up energy” that need a constructive avenue, the co-founders say.

Perhaps the Singapore youth has all along been waiting for the right tool. Now that it has arrived, it is time to lay to rest the ghost of the Apathetic Singapore Youth, we’d say.

And while we are at it, the Internet deserves some credit too. For all the ease with which it has enabled people to share their ideas and opinions on how to make Singapore a better place, these youths remind us that, when it comes to making a difference, actions always speak louder than words.

Read more about the Singapore youths who have tapped on the Internet to make a difference:

Youths Without Borders running high on passion:

Foreign workers ‘are just like us’:

‘Growing wave of empathy’ for the larger community:

Not your typical misfit:

Jumping on the Bandwagon:

Bonding across the generational divide:

Helping film-makers build a following:

On a mission to ensure that ‘no Singaporean gets left behind’:

From tech noob to CEO of online marketplace:

Not too green to be greenies:

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So much food waste, so little recycling in Singapore

Experts say scarcity of land utilising compost, costs, halal guidelines all add to challenge
Rachel Tan Straits Times 11 Aug 13;

Singapore produced enough food waste last year to fill 600 Olympic- size swimming pools, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The amount soared to 703,200 tonnes last year, a 26 per cent rise from 558,900 tonnes in 2007, outpacing the 15.7 per cent growth in population during the period.

The food recycling rate, however, slowed to 12 per cent last year from 16 per cent in 2010.

This situation is unlikely to improve in the immediate future, experts say. Scarcity of agricultural land that utilises compost, costs of food recycling and cultural considerations such as halal guidelines pose challenges to food waste solutions, they add.

The NEA is monitoring food waste recycling systems at various premises to assess their effectiveness in curtailing food waste.

Food recycling requires users to separate organic from inorganic waste. But the agency said any large-scale effort to cut the amount thrown away "would depend on the economic viability, effectiveness of the system and whether the end-product such as compost can be fully utilised".

These barriers facing Singapore are not unique, say experts like Mr Rowan Williams, regional market development manager for Biodegradable Polymers Asia Pacific.

"In some countries, just recycling glass, paper or cardboard is not well established," he said. "So to get people to think about source separation or organic waste, it's just another level of confusion."

Ms Amanda Tan agrees. The sales manager with Eco-Wiz, a food recycling company that works with the NEA, said that adaptability to such changes has been a challenge faced by many organisations.

Costs remain a key hurdle when it comes to recycling.

"We have the technology to recycle the amount of waste that Singapore is churning daily," said a spokesman for GreenBack, a local fertiliser and compost manufacturer. "But financially it is not viable because both the front and back ends of the business are not paying enough."

He added that making a tonne of compost from food waste costs more than just incinerating it, and landscape contractors are unwilling to pay the $230 per tonne for compost.

Halal requirements also hinder the usability of the compost while the warm weather does not help either.

"Composting is a great practice," said Bacchanalia restaurant executive chef Ivan Brehm. "But due to Singapore's warm climate, we need to be wary of pests."

Some companies, however, have found sustainable ways to get rid of leftover or excess food.

Executive chef Massimo Pasquarelli of the Ritz-Carlton Millenia said: "We've always ended up transferring fresh bread and pastries to the employees' cafe, Hardwork Cafe, and Food from the Heart." The latter is a charity that collects excess bread from more than 100 food outlets and distributes it to the needy.

At The White Rabbit restaurant, meat trimmings are used to make sauces. Reusing animal parts is a practice promoted by groups such as the Food and Beverage Managers Association and culinary schools like At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.

Online supermarket RedMart implemented stock-keeping technology last month in a bid to cut its food waste by half.

Exercising smaller portions and cook-to-order service helps Four Seasons Hotel and restaurant Sakae Sushi minimise waste output.

Noti Restaurant and Bar buys fresh food daily to eliminate almost all waste. Said owner Toni Rosetti: "The only frozen food we have is the ice cream."

Additional reporting by Walter Sim

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Outcome of Our Singapore Conversation similar to IPS survey: committee

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 10 Aug 13

SINGAPORE: The Our Singapore Conversation Committee said the outcome of the dialogue is in line with a survey of some 4,000 people that threw up similar findings.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) surveyed more than 4,000 people -- a sample representative of the Singapore population in terms of gender, race, and age.

It found that the top three issues of greatest concern to Singaporeans are housing, healthcare, and jobs. However, for those in the low income bracket, a caring government is their top concern.

Housing, healthcare and transport -- as priorities -- require infrastructural solutions that may compete with green and heritage spaces. But more than half of those surveyed said they prefer to preserve these spaces, more so than developing the country's infrastructure.

Another finding -- more than half of respondents, especially those who are married with children, prefer a more comfortable pace of life over career advancement. This suggests family may be a higher priority than career for these people.

Full results of the survey are expected in the coming weeks.

- CNA/ac

Efforts to get views of diverse groups
Latest exercise vastly different from previous sessions to engage the people
Rachel Chang Straits Times 11 Aug 13;

The Government was just one participant in the national conversation, said Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) committee members and chairman Heng Swee Keat, as they pointed to efforts to reach out to Singaporeans from all walks of life.

This made the process remarkably different from past engagement exercises, with marginalised voices being drawn out, and diverse groups coming together.

Of the 47,000 who attended OSC dialogues, 4,000 went to sessions organised by community associations and voluntary welfare organisations, and participants included taxi drivers, the families of prisoners and the disabled.

For theatre practitioner and committee member Kuo Jian Hong, 46, the inclusion of "people and voices in places that are not obvious" was important.

Another committee member, Singapore Management University law professor Mahdev Mohan, 34, said that the format of small group discussion, as opposed to a townhall style where people face a policymaker, put people at ease and allowed them to speak freely.

Ministers were only peripherally involved in the sessions.

If they were present, they roved from group to group and listened in on discussions.

Entrepreneur Stanley Chia, 26, said that "in townhalls, only a few vocal ones stand up and ask questions". "So it was radically different in that sense."

That the OSC became the place where scientists met artists, or the young and the old interacted, impressed Singapore Muslim Women's Association board member Noorul Fatha As'art, 35.

"We tend to be (in) silos in our respective communities," she said, adding that the OSC has taught "respectful disagreement".

Mr Heng, who is also Education Minister, said he hopes that the habit of deep and respectful conversation continues.

At a press conference last Tuesday to mark the end of the national conversation and the launch of its newsletter, Reflections, he also repeatedly urged Singaporeans to refrain from judging the exercise by how much impact it had on policymaking.

It did not want to imitate previous engagement exercises like 2003's Remaking Singapore, he said.

That concluded with a list of policy recommendations like the five-day work week.

This time, the committee has distilled five core aspirations from the extensive discussions, and these will guide policymaking in future (see graphic).

Mr Heng added that rather than discrete pieces of legislation, the OSC's policy imprint has been broad and intangible, shaping the real-time drift of policymaking.

For example, a pilot of five Ministry of Education kindergartens, designed for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, was announced in February after OSC sessions showed him "how children from low-income family have difficulties in catching up".

The Reflections newsletter has taken pains to illustrate this, with two timelines running parallel to each other.

One marks the milestones of the OSC process, which comprised more than 660 dialogues; the other lays out policy changes that have occurred through the year as a result, such as new Housing Board flats for singles, and the free off-peak MRT travel pilot.

"Policymaking is not something where you stop mid-stream and say, well, since we are going to have the conversation, nothing gets done and therefore let's finish the conversation, then let's debate what should be done," Mr Heng said. "It is an ongoing, iterative process."

Some 60,000 copies of Reflections will be distributed to the public.

The newsletter is also available online at

Responses to reflections
Straits Times 11 Aug 13;


"We've been very afraid to say as Singaporeans 'I do not agree with you, but however, let's look for something common that we can work on together'.

I think this OSC has managed to provide a platform... for us to begin this process of learning together as a country how to disagree respectfully and yet at the same time, gain through all these different ideas."


"One of the things that struck me is how we always think Singaporeans are really good at complaining and people that came to a lot of these conversations will start with complaining - which is great, get it off your chest. But it always goes to 'So, okay, you have an issue with this. What do you think we should do?' It's that pro-activeness. And I was very touched by some of the ideas and passion that were articulated by especially the young people that came to the conversation."


"Looking at the final report, the first thing that hits me is how different this is from a typical policy-oriented report and that's a good thing. It's a diversity of colour, texture, nuance and spirit.

I think that's what's been captured so far."


'We realised that policy changes are very difficult and it's not an easy process. And what OSC presented was a very organic way for us to engage citizens, and I am very encouraged by where our country is going. I believe that we are growing as a society and a lot of youths want to be involved.'

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Chinese cargo ship opens new trade route to Europe

AFP 11 Aug 13;

A 19,000-tonne cargo vessel is making the first journey by a Chinese merchant ship to Europe via the Arctic Northeast Passage, a shortened route that could revolutionise trade, state media reported Saturday.

The Arctic route has become navigable due to global warming melting sea ice and promises to slash journey times by around 12 to 15 days, saving shipping companies and Chinese exporters millions in lower fuel bills and reduced operating costs.

A freighter belonging to Chinese shipping firm Cosco left the northeastern port of Dalian on Thursday and was expected to take 33 days to reach Europe via the Bering Strait and Russia's northern coastline, the official China Daily reported.

The SinoShipNews website said the vessel was headed for Rotterdam and was due to arrive on September 11.

The new route, which is now navigable for around four months of the year from the end of July, avoids the politically unstable pinch point of the Suez canal, and trims around 7,000 kilometres (more than 4,000 miles) off the journey, according to the China Daily.

Around 90 percent of China's foreign trade is carried by sea and Beijing is also hoping the new shipping route can help develop the northeast.

In 2012, 46 ships used the Northeast Passage, compared with four in 2010, according to Rosatomflot, a Russian operator of icebreakers.

But the traffic is still negligible compared with traditional commercial shipping routes, such as the Suez Canal, which has 19,000 ships pass through it a year.

Previous estimates have suggested up to 15 percent of Chinese foreign trade could use the Arctic route by 2020.

Europe is one of China's largest trading partners, with two-way trade last year worth nearly $550 billion.

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