Australia: Prawn fishery bounce back informs on seagrass importance

Aaron Fernandes Science Network Western Australia 22 Aug 13;

tigerprawnProf Loneragan says this study highlights the value of monitoring and adaptive management to conserve fish stocks. Image: James F ClayINSIGHTS into the impact of cyclones on tiger prawn habitats in north Western Australia has demonstrated the resilience of the species, as well as underscored the importance of protecting seagrass for fisheries production and marine biodiversity.

In 1999, a team of researchers began evaluating tiger prawn (Penaeus esculentus) stock in Exmouth Gulf but later expanded their research to assess the impact of Cyclone Vance when it struck before research began.

Murdoch University’s Neill Loneragan says tiger prawns are highly dependent on beds of seagrass and algae at the juvenile stage, and the destruction caused by Cyclone Vance gave them the opportunity to assess the impact on species when seagrass cover is lost.

“Our first survey was in June 1999, three months after the cyclone hit,” Professor Loneragan says.

“The whole system had been devastated by Vance, there was a 40 per cent loss of mangroves, the sediment had been overturned and there was virtually no seagrass or algae present in the system.

“We recorded the cover of seagrass and algae across the eastern and southern Exmouth Gulf, in relatively shallow waters less than 5m deep.

“Seagrass is most abundant in those areas and it’s also where the postlarvae and juvenile stages are found.”

The cyclone caused major disruption and loss of seagrass and macroalgal beds, the critical prawn nursery habitat, and mangroves in the shallow inshore waters.

As a result, prawn landings and recruitment to the fishery were markedly lower in the two years immediately afterwards, before rising again as the cover of macrophytes increased to over 40 per cent in 2003.

“In the year [2000] the prawn catch was extremely low, it had dropped to 80 tonnes and in fact, the Department of Fisheries closed the fishery early to conserve the prawn stocks,” Prof Loneragan says.

“Seagrass can take a long time to recover depending on the species, but in this case within three years it increased its cover up from around two per cent immediately after Cyclone Vance to 30–40 per cent.”

Prof Loneragan says the huge loss of seagrass and macroalgae reduced the settling habitat for post-larvae and the nursery habitat for juvenile tiger prawns, which likely lead to the lower recruitment to the fishery in subsequent years.

“This study demonstrates three things. Firstly, we were quite surprised to observe the resilience of both seagrass and the prawns after suffering the impacts of the cyclone,” he says.

“Secondly, it highlights the value of monitoring and adaptive management to conserve fish stocks.

“Lastly, it illustrates the importance of seagrass and macroalgae as habitats for fisheries and biodiversity.”


The research, Impact of cyclones and macrophytes on the recruitment and landings of tiger prawns, Penaeus esculentus, in Exmouth Gulf Western Australia was recently published in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.

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Best of our wild blogs: 22 Aug 13

Hungry Ghost Festival 2013
from Pulau Ubin Stories

Chek Jawa checkup - 21082013
from Psychedelic Nature and wild shores of singapore

A south landing
from The annotated budak

Ashy Tailorbird feeding a large Plaintive Cuckoo fledgling
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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New homes, parks on cards after air base moves

Sumita d/o Sreedharan Today Online 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — New residential areas, parks, schools, community facilities and job clusters for residents in the north-eastern and eastern parts of the island. These are some of the “exciting possibilities” thrown up by the relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday in response to TODAY’s queries.

Apart from freeing up 800 hectares of land, the relocation could also see height restrictions removed for surrounding estates such as Toa Payoh, Hougang, Sengkang, Punggol, Bedok and Tampines — giving rise to more development possibilities, be it in the form of taller residential buildings or towering office skyscrapers.

Currently, the tallest flats in these areas are the 40-storey Toa Payoh Crest and 42-storey The Peak @ Toa Payoh.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that over the next two decades, the air base will be moved from Paya Lebar to Changi.

Adding that the relocation is a “large-scale endeavour and will take time to realise”, the MND nevertheless said that the “large size of the site and its fairly central location give rise to many exciting possibilities for new developments to enhance the living environment in the eastern part of Singapore”. It added that new transport corridors across the land currently occupied by the airbase could potentially be created, enhancing connectivity for residents in the area to commute to the city and the western part of the island.

The specific development plans will be shaped over time to “support development options for future generations of Singaporeans”, MND added.

Analysts have estimated that the area which the Paya Lebar Airbase sits on could potentially house at least 60,000 new homes.

The airbase is currently flanked by the industrial areas of Ubi Avenue, Defu Lane and Kaki Bukit to the West and residential estates such as Tampines and Pasir Ris to the East. It is also on the fringes of fast-growing Punggol and Sengkang new towns.

The planned Cross Island Line (CRL) could pass through estates near the area such as Hougang and Pasir Ris.

Analysts cited older flats in the Chai Chee/Bedok area, two-storey shophouses in the Kovan area and industrial buildings in the Paya Lebar area as some potential places for redevelopment.

Mr Colin Tan, Head of Research and Consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said: “There are also shophouses in the Serangoon/Hougang area that are getting older and they may catch the eye of private developers now that higher properties can be built.”

Mr Tan said that there is “great potential” for the area to be “an alternate employment hub” to the Central Business District if it is combined with the neighbouring Tampines area. “There is the potential of a mega hub that is greater than Woodlands and the Jurong Lake district,” he added.

Chris International Director Chris Koh said that the industrial properties around the airbase in Paya Lebar have leases of between 30 to 60 years.

“These properties can be taken back by the authorities when the lease is up and without the current height restrictions, they can be very attractive locations based on the infrastructure that has been building up in the area,” said Mr Koh. “The road structures were built with the expected high population in mind, so it will not be difficult to develop the area around it.”

ERA Key Executive Officer Eugene Lim allayed concerns that all low-rise blocks, especially those that are built below their potential plot ratio due to existing height restrictions, may be put on enbloc sale. “Based on urban planning principles, there will always be variations in height... so I think the worry is unfounded,” he said.

More details on the redevelopment of the areas affected by the relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase could be shared by the Government when the Land Use Master Plan is unveiled later this year.

Air base move will revive ‘sleepy town’
Emily Liu and Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — Whenever he needs a change of scenery from the four walls of his office at Kaki Bukit Avenue 3, exhibition designer Rodney Lim needs only to look out of his window — where an uninterrupted view of Singapore’s south-eastern cityscape awaits him.

This is because his office is on the top floor of a 10-storey industrial building, one of the tallest in the vicinity.

“You can see all the way to Marina Bay Sands,” he explained, gesturing towards the familiar silhouette in the distance. The view was the reason he picked the spot as his office — which overlooks the entire eastern side of Singapore — seven years ago, Mr Lim, 47, added.

High-rise buildings remain elusive in large swathes of the east due to height restrictions — which are imposed for safety reasons — on areas around Paya Lebar Air Base.

During the National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to relocate the air base to Changi, thus freeing up these areas from the height restrictions for future redevelopment.

Some residents TODAY interviewed, such as those living in Jalan Tenaga near Kaki Bukit Avenue 1, were looking forward to the changes, even though they are many years away.

“The redevelopment of this place will hopefully inject some life into the entire area and have a positive effect on our property prices,” said businessman Hashim Sulaiman, 40.

Others hoped for more amenities and recreational facilities.

“Right now, we live in a rather sleepy town. So, somewhere we can take our children to on the weekends, for sports or to shop, would be great,” said insurance agent Susan Chua, 38.

Many are unlikely to miss the sound of planes flying overhead on busy afternoons — although some residents and workers in residential neighbourhoods, such as Eunos, Tampines and Hougang, said they had learnt to tune out the engine noise.

“I’ve been here for more than 10 years, I think I have got used to it already,” said Mr Darren Lee, 30, sales manager of Monster Garage Trading at Bartley East Road, which is located south of the air base.

While the industrial area surrounding Mr Lee’s auto-repair company is not easily accessible by public transport — most of his customers either drive or come by taxi — the location still attracts a lot of traffic.

Traffic congestion could be particularly bad during rush hour in the mornings and evenings on roads leading from the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway to the Kaki Bukit Industrial Park.

“Eunos and Kaki Bukit area is famous for the traffic jam,” said Mr Nor Azman, a 50-year-old building management executive.

The widening of Eunos Link — which borders between Kaki Bukit and Ubi — from three to four lanes about two years ago has offered some relief, but not solved the entire problem, he said.

Mr Lim, who also drives to work, avoids the traffic by coming in early in the mornings and leaving late in the evenings. “More development in the area will only add to the traffic,” he said.

In any case, those interviewed said they appreciated the practical benefits of moving the air base out of the area.

“It’s a good thing, because Singapore’s land is scarce, we need to build vertically,” said Mr Nor Azman.

Transport corridors, lifting of height limits after airbase moves
Melissa Tan Straits Times 22 Aug 13;

NEW transport corridors and the relaxing of height restrictions for at least six housing estates in the north-east and east are in store after the air force moves out of Paya Lebar, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said yesterday.

The relocation of the Paya Lebar Airbase, expected to happen after 2030, will free up 800ha of land for redevelopment.

"The large size of the site and its fairly central location give rise to many exciting possibilities for new developments to enhance the living environment in the eastern part of Singapore," MND said in an e-mailed statement in response to media queries.

There was "potential to introduce new transport corridors across the land", it added, and height restrictions could be lifted in several towns currently affected by flight paths.

These towns include Toa Payoh, Hougang, Sengkang, Punggol, Bedok and Tampines.

MND also told The Straits Times that existing height restrictions for buildings affected by flight paths range from between one and two storeys for industrial buildings in Kaki Bukit Industrial Estate, to between 16 and 17 storeys for housing developments in Punggol.

Transport experts said yesterday that an MRT line, as well as major roads and expressways, could be built through the 800ha of land freed up by the relocation.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said that a Cross Island MRT Line proposed by the Government in January would previously have had to go around the airbase rather than through or under it due to security reasons.

"But now that the airbase will be relocated, there's no need to compromise (on the line's route). It could also be built cheaper and faster," Professor Lee said.

Slated to be ready by 2030, the planned 50km Cross Island Line will run from Jurong to Tampines.

Nanyang Technological University adjunct associate professor Gopinath Menon, a retired Land Transport Authority planner, noted that parts of the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) had to be built underground because of the airbase.

"The KPE could be moved to the surface level," he said, adding that any new township built on the vacated land would require surface-level access roads. That township could also get its own MRT station.

Knight Frank research head Alice Tan said future developments in the area would complement the growth of the proposed North Coast Innovation Corridor, a commercial belt stretching from Woodlands and Sembawang to the future Seletar Regional Centre and Punggol.

However, CBRE Research associate director Desmond Sim said that the impact of the relocation on property prices in surrounding areas "would depend on how state planners react". He expects the Urban Redevelopment Authority to release Singapore's Master Plan 2013 - a statutory plan on land use - by early next year.

Paya Lebar Airbase is surrounded by low-density developments such as industrial estates, but consultants said that the land use for those areas could eventually be intensified or changed.

As for the towns such as Bedok and Tampines that could have height restrictions relaxed, Mr Sim said the future en bloc potential could result in property prices appreciating 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

However, he cautioned against any "knee-jerk" price rise, saying the airbase relocation was many years down the road.

MND said yesterday that the relocation was "a large-scale endeavour and will take time to realise". It added: "The specific new development plans for Paya Lebar Airbase and the surrounding area will be shaped over time."

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The rising challenge of Singapore's fragile food security

Barry Desker Today Online 22 Aug 13;

The world is being haunted again by the spectre of a global food shortage.

Demand for food over the next decade is expected to increase by 1.1 per cent annually. But global food productivity gains have declined from 2 per cent in 1970-2000, to 1.1 per cent today — and are continuing to decline.

A 2011 study reported that the world consumed more than it had produced for seven out of the past eight years. These concerns will lead to growing attention paid to the nexus between food, water and energy resources, especially as climate change is expected to have an increasing impact globally.

Nineteenth-century economists struggled with the Malthusian dilemma: As populations rose, it was assumed that a forced return to subsistence agriculture would act as a check on population growth. The reality was that the opening of new agricultural land, technological innovation and higher-yielding crops resulted in a capacity to feed an ever-growing population.

However, as once-autarkic economies such as China and India have opened to global trade — and more wealthy societies are eating more protein, consuming more calories and enjoying more varied diets in recent years — there is growing concern with the fragility of the global food system.

These concerns were highlighted by the spike in food prices and disruptions in food supply during the 2007-2008 global food crisis.


My colleagues at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies have emphasised that governments need to work with the private sector and other key stakeholders. Instead of piecemeal strategies, an integrated and holistic approach to policy formulation and implementation is critical to deal with the four dimensions in food security: Availability, physical access, economic access and utilisation.

Although agricultural issues appear distant from an urbanised Singapore, food security is politically sensitive precisely because we are dependent on international markets for our food supply. Sharp increases in the price of key food imports, export bans by major food suppliers and difficulties in obtaining adequate supplies could have significant domestic ramifications.

Three trends warrant attention. Firstly, over the next decade, rapid urbanisation will increase the problem of managing food production. In Asia, major cities such as Jakarta, Bangkok and Yangon are located in fertile rice-growing regions. Urban sprawl is taking over some of the most fertile lands in the surrounding countryside as rural migration to urban centres occurs.

Rapidly increasing urban populations will lead to growing pressures on governments to curb food price rises, undermining the incentive for rural populations to increase food production. This phenomenon is replicated around the world.

Secondly, this is often accompanied by mistaken agricultural policies, such as the encouragement of rice consumption in the islands of eastern Indonesia under former President Suharto. This led to shifts in food preference by the local population, even though these areas are better suited to growing root crops such as cassava.

Elsewhere, food exporters like Argentina implemented export controls when local supply shortages occurred as farmers responded to global price increases.

This resulted in food importing countries seeking long-term supply contracts and negotiating purchases of agricultural land in poverty-stricken economies. In recent years, this has been a significant cause of unrest in African and Asian countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Myanmar and Cambodia, as Chinese companies have purchased huge tracts of agricultural land.

At the same time, price support schemes such as Thailand’s above-market purchases of rice produced rice mountains as the government is reluctant to sell on world markets at a substantial loss.


Thirdly, there is a negative impact on global food supply as major grain exporters such as the United States, Canada, Argentina and Brazil encourage biofuel production through high government subsidies.

The diversion of grain production to produce biofuels is occurring at a time when there is rising demand for protein and cereals by a growing middle class globally. This “fuel/grains” trade-off will lead to grain prices fluctuating in global markets at prices higher than current levels.

Although it was earlier anticipated that energy security and food security would be competing objectives, the rise of the shale oil and gas revolution has changed the global outlook. The US will soon be self-sufficient in oil and natural gas, Australia could rival Qatar as an exporter of gas, and Europe is re-thinking its opposition to exploiting its shale resources.

Questions are being raised on whether biofuel policies, established as a response to energy supply panics, will be re-thought as governments become aware of the negative impact on food supply.

There is a policy lag as farmers will continue to push for biofuel subsidies, even though the rationale for such subsidies has disappeared. In the US, for example, 30 to 40 per cent of the corn crop is diverted to biofuels annually, and the influential American farm lobby will seek the retention of current subsidies.


Another critical issue will be water management, as agriculture uses 70 per cent of global freshwater resources, primarily through the farming of livestock.

And, with rising incomes, there is a shift to meat-based diets — especially in East Asia — leading to rising demand for meat products.

The issue of water management will assume growing importance as water scarcity will be a constraint in expanding food production. Pricing is a critical issue.

Most governments charge farmers 10 to 20 per cent of the price paid by industrial users or households for water consumption.

This leads to sub-optimal use of scarce water resources, such as the growing of water-intensive crops in semi-desert conditions. With water scarcity, conflicts over access to water between countries, as well as between farmers and ranchers within states, will also attract attention.


If food-price inflation occurs, the greatest impact will be felt by food import-dependent countries like Egypt and Bangladesh.

There will be pressure to increase food subsidies for basic foodstuffs, but their governments will find it impossible to accede.

Rising powers like China and India will face similar pressures, but could shield themselves through policies of self-sufficiency, increasing subsidies for vulnerable groups within their domestic population and imposing export bans to stabilise domestic prices.

Globally, the challenge of higher food prices will result in innovation and experimentation. Advances in molecular biology — such as the transfer of genes from one plant species to another to produce crops with new or improved features — offer the most promise for significant increases in food production. Although there is strong resistance to genetically modified (GM) crops, especially from the European Union and Japan, food price pressures will lead to greater acceptance elsewhere.

There are already commercially-available herbicide- and insect-resistant soybean, cotton, corn and potato species; ongoing research on rice and canola is likely to result in commercial applications within the next five years.

Salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant crops, micro-irrigation systems and hydroponic greenhouse technologies are significant new directions of research, while techniques aimed at reducing inputs such as seed, fertiliser and water will reduce the negative environmental impact of farming and increase yields.

Concurrently, automation of farming processes will lead to greater efficiency, reduce manpower demands and lower costs of production. As there are major losses during post-harvest storage and transportation, significant increases in food crops for consumption could be obtained through better storage facilities and greater efficiency in food distribution and supply chain networks.

Policymakers and observers of international affairs tend to focus on “hard” security issues such as great power rivalry, nuclear competition, territorial conflicts and competing maritime claims.

But issues like food, energy and water security affect many more people and have an immediate domestic impact. Expect more discussion of this issue.


Barry Desker is Dean of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

More awareness needed on importance of food security
Chelsea Wan Today Online 2 Sep 13;

I read the commentary “The rising challenge of our fragile food security” (Aug 22) with much interest. Mr Barry Desker rightly highlighted that food security is a “politically sensitive” issue, especially for import-dependent nations like Singapore.

Just because agriculture and farming is out of sight for many of us does not mean it should be out of our minds. However, among my peers, I find that young Singaporeans are not aware of the challenges facing food supplies and do not seem to care.

Singapore ranks 16th among 107 countries in the Global Food Security Index 2013 compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. We scored much higher compared to our neighbouring countries in South-east Asia, and even higher than other wealthy Asian nations such as South Korea and Japan.

This ranking, I believe, is testament to our high standards of living, our government agencies’ good work in regulating quality of food and the assistance available to help poorer Singaporeans with access to food.

But we should not take high levels of food security for granted. As a nation, there are four things we should do.

First, we should do more to boost local production of food to decrease our reliance on import markets. This can be done through agricultural research and development, which might help us maximise the limited land and water resources that we have.

At our frog farm, we have successfully harvested frog fallopian tubes (which were usually thrown away) and processed it into edible hashima.

Second, we should look at alternative sources of food. If people are willing to try out different sources of protein, such as frogs, crocodiles and quails, the strain on food supplies might be eased.

Third, we should look at ways to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Mr Desker mentioned that “most governments charge farmers 10 to 20 per cent of the price paid by industrial users or households for water consumption”. We, farmers in Singapore, do not enjoy such subsidies and pay the same rate for agricultural water as other manufacturers. Thus, we have to make judicious use of water.

At our farm, we have worked with local tertiary institutions on ways to recycle frog skin by making it into usable hide. We have done internal R&D on processing the frog fats into usable oil for lamps.

We also encourage our customers to bring their cooler bags or recycle the styrofoam boxes (provided by us) when they shop with us to enjoy a recycling effort rebate.

Finally, we should educate young Singaporeans more about agriculture and food production.

Many of our senior citizens are familiar with agriculture, as Singapore used to have more farms. They may also have experienced periods of hunger and food shortage in Singapore’s early days.

But our younger Singaporeans never had to worry about having enough food to eat and may take things for granted.

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Malaysia: Captured rhino boost for breeding plan

New Straits Times 22 Aug 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to increase the Sumatran rhinoceros population in Sabah is on with the capture of a wild female rhino.

Earlier this year, the state government approved the target capture of a female rhino in Danum Valley for breeding purposes.

"We think that there are no more than 10 Sumatran Rhinos left in Sabah," said state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

Although some had claimed there were about 30 rhinos, Masidi said evidence collected via camera trap and other methods showed that the number was tiny.

"It is probably safer to assume there are no more than 10 in Sabah now. Of the total, three are in captivity, including Tam, a male, and Puntung, a female, in Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

"These two have been together for more than two years for the purpose of captive breeding but there is no indication that they are even interested in mating," Masidi said after a meeting with the Sabah Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and WWF-Malaysia here, yesterday. The capturing of a female rhino was a long-term aim to reestablish a fully wild rhino population in the state.

The female rhino will be placed in an enclosure in Danum so that she can mate with the male rhino in captivity.

"We have given ourselves until July next year to see some results," said Masidi, adding the government was considering working with the Cincinnati Zoo in United States for the rhino breeding if the initial effort failed.

In the process, he said Tam's sperm would be sent to the zoo to be artificially inseminated into its Sumatran Rhino with the hope that it would be successful.

Sabah Perhilitan director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said governmental and non-governmental professionals in Sabah say there was an urgent need to get as many rhinos into fenced and managed conditions as soon as possible.

"This is so that every rhino can be closely monitored and treated as necessary, to get them producing embryos."

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Malaysia's fish stocks at very low level

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 22 Aug 13;

THREAT TO ECONOMY: High demand, overfishing blamed for situation

KOTA KINABALU: MALAYSIA has lost almost 92 per cent of its fishery resources due to overfishing between 1971 and 2007, to meet increasing demand, said WWF-Malaysia.

At 55kg per capita, the non-governmental organisation said Malaysians are one of the largest consumers of seafood in Asia.

Hypothetically, in 2048, which is the predicted doomsday for global fisheries, Malaysians would require almost double its current production.

"The inevitable crash of the fisheries could potentially cripple the nation's economy and jeopardise the food security and livelihood of our people," said WWF-Malaysia executive director and chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma.

"We are working with government agencies, businesses, local communities and consumers to reverse the decline in fish stocks and achieve sustainable fisheries management."

Dionysius, said yesterday campaigns like "Save our seafood 2.0" introduced a guide which helped consumers to make ocean-friendly decisions on seafood.

"To help shift our fisheries towards this direction, consumers are encouraged to look for Marine Stewardship Council or Aquaculture Stewardship Council certified products."

On the subject of timber, he said, exports were expected to double by 2020 based on predictions by the National Timber Industry Policy 2009-2020 and the Ministry of Plantations and Industrial Commodities .

"The current demand for timber products far exceeds its supply.

"This increase in demand will inevitably put pressure on the remaining natural forest, resulting in it being unsustainably harvested."

Therefore, he said sustainable forest management was essential in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems and important for the wellbeing of forest-dependent people.

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