Best of our wild blogs: 23 Aug 13

“Forget Not Our Living Forest” talks
from Toddycats!

Starry Punggol Jetty with disturbing trash
from wild shores of singapore

A berry good time
from The annotated budak

The tale of three pairs of grey-rumped treeswifts
from Life's Indulgences

Olive-backed Sunbird panting
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Down Memory Lane - Orange Gull
from Butterflies of Singapore

Singapore, Naturally – a special two page spread in the Straits Times (17 August 2013) from Raffles Museum News

Mon, 26 Aug 2013, 2.00pm @ DBS CR1 – Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz on “MEME – Moving Towards a Science-Driven Conservation of Malaysian Elephants” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

八月双溪布洛华语导游 Mandarin guide walk@SBWR, Aug (XXXXIII)
from PurpleMangrove

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Singapore government considering harsher penalties for companies that harm the environment: Dr Balakrishnan

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (Aug 22) reiterated that the Government is considering legislation to enhance penalties for companies whose irresponsible actions damage the environment and cause transboundary haze.

Speaking at the Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards, Dr Balakrishnan said legislation will be difficult to enforce but added that a “clear and unequivocal signal” needs to be sent to errant companies. This comes after the air quality on Tuesday fell into the moderate range after weeks of clear skies, following Singapore's worst haze episode in June.

Lauding award winners for doing their part for the environment, he said companies should not work at only earning short term profits that cause negative impact to the society at large.

Using the example of the errant palm oil companies operating in Indonesia, Dr Balakrishnan said that their actions have damaged the reputation of the industry and country.

“You privatise the game but you socialise the negative environmental impact. It does not appear on the company’s bottom line but everybody else suffers,” he said.

Govt mulling tougher penalties for firms that harm environment
Channel NewsAsia 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said the government needs to send a clear and unequivocal signal to irresponsible companies whose actions damage the environment and cause transboundary effects.

Singapore experienced its worst haze in June, with PSI levels reaching a record high of 401.

The haze was caused by forest fires in Indonesia.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is currently considering drafting legislation to enhance penalties for irresponsible companies.

However, he noted that such legislation will not be easy to draft, and even harder to enforce.

He said it is still necessary to send a signal to companies that such behaviour is not acceptable -- and that besides the government, companies and individuals also have a part to play.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "If we are to make companies behave responsibly, and to make the more responsible companies more profitable, we require individuals to exercise informed choice."

They can do this by demanding transparency from both governments and companies, as well as choose the right products -- products that have been produced in a sustainable and responsible way.

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at the Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards on Thursday.

Seven organisations were recognised for their environmental initiatives in Singapore and the region.

Dr Balakrishnan said such companies demonstrated that it is possible to do the right thing environmentally and in an economically viable way.

Besides winning the Environmental Achievement Award in the regional category, Malaysia-based KUB-Berjaya Enviro also won the coveted Outstanding Singapore Environmental Achievement Award.

Keppel Land won the Achievement Award in the Services category, while the Institute of Technical Education came out tops in the Public Sector category.

The Housing and Development Board took home the Green Innovation Award, while East View Primary School, Keppel DHCS and M Metal were recognised as merit winners.

- CNA/al

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Tackling haze: Learn from the Swedes

Governments need to be savvier in getting evidence of how the haze harms their countries, and work with activist groups to press neighbours to act.
Asit Biswas And Cecilia Tortajada For The Straits Times 23 Aug 13;

THE issue of transboundary air pollution is back in the spotlight with the return of hazy conditions in several parts of Singapore this week.

Transboundary air pollution is air pollution which originates partly or in whole from one state but adversely affects another state.

The problem first made global news in the 1960s, when Swedish and Norwegian scientists noted that increased acidity levels in large numbers of their lakes resulted in fish and other aquatic life dying. Some species were even wiped out.

Acid rain was the culprit and the source was located outside the Scandinavia region: from the United Kingdom, Ruhr Valley of then West Germany, and the heavily polluting countries of Eastern Europe.

Acid rain is produced by sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere reacting with the water droplets in clouds. The chemical produced returns to Earth as sulphuric or nitric acid in rain. The early solution of building taller chimneys for factories emitting industrial pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides only dispersed the pollution over wider and longer distances.

Sweden then took the issue to the United Nations. In 1979, a convention on long-range transboundary air pollution was adopted in Geneva. It entered into force in 1983 and has since been ratified by 51 UN Economic Commission for Europe members.

This first international legally binding instrument to deal with transboundary air pollution has been hailed as a success.

Between 1980 and 2005, sulphur dioxide emissions declined by more than 75 per cent, nitrogen oxides by 30 per cent and volatile organic compounds by 40 per cent. Countries like Sweden and Norway no longer worry that acid rain will harm their lakes or forests.

In Asean's backyard

THE haze problem in South-east Asia is almost of a similar vintage as Sweden's. But so far, Asean has not proven as effective in dealing with it.

The haze has its origins in forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces. Its impact is felt across borders.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the health and economic implications of the haze problem were neither well known nor properly appreciated. By 1995, haze was deemed a serious regional environmental health issue, prompting an Asean Environment Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur to discuss transboundary air pollution. But the situation did not improve.

In 1997, forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra fuelled serious haze in Malaysia and Singapore. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a "very unhealthy" level of 226. Six countries and some 60 million to 70 million people were affected. The cost of the 1997 haze to Singapore's economy was estimated to be US$300 million, and to the region, US$9 billion.

The haze returned with a vengeance this year. On June 21, the three-hour PSI in Singapore reached a new peak of 401.

Officials from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have held several meetings to discuss the problem. But serious challenges prevent a quick resolution.

For one thing, the fires are caused by farmers who use the "slash and burn" method to clear land for oil palm, rubber and plantation forestry.

Last year, Indonesia exported US$17.9 billion (S$22.75 billion) worth of palm oil, and around five million Indonesians depend on this industry for a living.

It is now evident that the slash and burn method is being practised by both small farmers and large plantations. It will be challenging to make a poor farmer understand that his land-clearing method is causing pollution and respiratory problems in distant lands, let alone consider alternatives. Large plantations are more interested in maximising profits than sustainable agriculture. Corruption is also rife in the issuing of land clearance permits and the enforcement of existing laws.

It is highly unlikely the haze problem will be solved overnight.

Indonesia's hands are tied

ASEAN'S approach towards solving transboundary air pollution differs markedly from Sweden's strategy.

Sweden documented through extensive research the damage wrought by acid rain to its economy and environment. It then aggressively disseminated this information through scientific papers, the media, relevant inter-governmental fora, and through activist environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The problem was almost fully resolved by the early 1990s.

In sharp contrast, Asean takes a "softly, softly" approach, in line with its non-intervention culture. In 2002, it adopted an agreement on Transboundary Haze that came into force in 2003. The pact requires parties to prevent burning of forests, and to provide information and mutual help.

Indonesia, from where the haze originates, has not ratified the pact. It will try again to get its Parliament to ratify it next year.

Having advised several countries on transboundary resources management issues, we feel that even after Indonesia has ratified the agreement, its impact on controlling the haze will be limited.

Several serious structural problems in Indonesia will have to be solved.

First, there are at least three Indonesian laws that prohibit open burning and clearing of forests. But not one major group has been successfully prosecuted and penalised for violating the existing laws. Enforcement of laws is thus a problem.

Second, policies and activities of different agencies are not properly coordinated. At the central level, the Environment Ministry is responsible for haze, but concessions for land clearance are granted by other ministries like Agriculture and Forestry.

Decentralisation has weakened control and oversight from the centre. Local communities and individuals act mostly with limited knowledge of the directives from the central and provincial authorities. It is now a cocktail of overlapping and even conflicting responsibilities that cannot be easily reversed.

Three-step action plan

GIVEN all this, we propose three immediate steps for the countries concerned.

First, apart from going after errant large-scale farms producing palm oil, the main emphasis should be placed on influencing major buyers and pressuring them to buy only from the producers of sustainable palm oil.

These companies are well known and many have already signed the UN Global Compact pledge which stipulates environmental responsibility. One commitment is that "activities on our yard should not cause harm to the environment of our neighbours".

Any purchase of environmentally tainted palm oil will pose a major reputational risk for these companies.

This is more effective than going after the producers who set fire to the land. If the main buyers actively boycott the offending producers, the problem can be promptly controlled.

Second, governments should enlist the help of activist social and environmental NGOs in the region. Unlike most governments, they are also more media-savvy, which will help to raise public awareness.

Third, invite academic and research institutions to conduct definitive studies on the economic, social, environmental and health costs of the annual haze, including in Indonesia. We need reliable estimates of the number of people affected regionally, and the future implications if the haze continues unabated.

An important reason for the Swedish success was persuading its neighbours to control sulphur emissions, based on incontrovertible scientific evidence on the extent of the economic loss and impact on its ecosystem and environment.

Sadly, similar authoritative research on the impact of haze in our region is mostly missing.

Professor Asit Biswas is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a former senior adviser of the first two heads of the United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya, on transboundary resource issues during 1972-1992.

Dr Cecilia Tortajada is the president of the Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico, and has worked extensively on transboundary resource issues.

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More NTUC FairPrice shoppers bringing their own bags: Survey

Today Online 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — About six in 10 NTUC FairPrice customers bring their own shopping bags for groceries and said no thanks to disposable plastic bags, according to a recent survey commissioned by the supermarket chain.

For those who have never practised Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) — 204 respondents among the 536 customers polled — the main consideration was convenience. Top reasons respondents gave for not bringing a bag included finding it troublesome, inconvenient or they were lazy. Only 13 per cent said that they wanted to use the plastic bags as trash bags at home.

Of the customers polled, 62 per cent said that they have practiced Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB), over a third (36 per cent) reported doing so regularly and 13 per cent said that they do it all the time.

FairPrice, which released the results today (Aug 22), added that the results show how BYOB is catching on. Sixty-two per cent of the respondents said they are now practicing BYOB, compared to 33 per cent two years ago.

Encouragingly, eight in 10 customers who BYOB said that they do it to be environmentally friendly and find it convenient to use only one bag for groceries. Only 1 per cent said that they bring their own bags to enjoy discounts and rebates. FairPrice’s Green Rewards scheme gives customers a 10-cent rebate if they brought their own bags and made a minimum purchase of S$10.

The survey also found that more women eschew plastic bags — 69 per cent — with only 48 per cent of men practicing BYOB.

The survey was conducted in May. Respondents were interviewed face-to-face after checking out at NTUC FairPrice supermarkets at 10 locations: Ang Mo Kio Hub, Nex, Jurong Point, Bedok North Street 1, Bukit Panjang Plaza, Chao Chu Kang North 6, Toa Payoh Hub, Tampines Mall, Marine Parade and Bukit Timah Plaza.

Shoppers warming to bring-your-own-bag idea

6 in 10 FairPrice customers have done so at least once, poll shows
Jessica Lim Straits Times 23 Aug 13;

SIX in 10 shoppers have brought a bag from home at least once, as part of a scheme to save the environment, a survey by supermarket chain FairPrice showed yesterday.

The poll shows customers are warming to the idea, which aims to reduce landfill. It found the typical bag-toting shopper is a woman aged 35 to 54 who does it for the environment.

Of those who have brought their own, 58 per cent said it was a regular thing while 21 per cent did so all the time.

And in an encouraging sign, 29 per cent started taking a bag to the supermarket within the past two years.

FairPrice interviewed 536 of its customers for the survey.

It said the initiative, which it introduced in 2007, helped to save seven million plastic bags last year. Those who take part save 10 cents if they spend more than $10 at the chain.

Three billion plastic bags are used a year here.

Singapore Environment Council director Jose Raymond said only a handful of retailers here had cottoned on to the bring-your-own-bag idea.

"It's up to the retailers to decide," he added. "We can push and engage them as much as possible but the decision is ultimately theirs."

Mr Raymond urged shops to train their cashiers to ask customers if they need a bag.

He said the survey results were "a good start", adding: "Hopefully this will encourage others to do the same."

In 2007, furniture chain Ikea became Singapore's first retailer to start charging for disposable plastic bags. It stopped providing them altogether in March. Shoppers were left with two options: bring their own carrier or buy a reusable one for either 30 or 90 cents.

Last year, clothing chain Bossini started charging 10 cents per bag - which led to 80 per cent of its customers deciding not to use one at all.

Cold Storage has started telling its cashiers to ask customers if they need a bag and encourage them to bring their own. But the chain has no plans to charge for them at present, said a spokesman for its owner, Dairy Farm Singapore.

"I think customers still expect bags," she said. "They may find it inconvenient if they had to bring their own."

FairPrice's face-to-face survey also listed the top reasons some continued to rely on carrier bags from the supermarket. These included finding it troublesome to bring their own, or simply feeling too lazy.

Bank worker Amurtha Kumaran, 42, said: "Most of the reusable bags cannot contain bulky items. In the end, we still have to use the supermarket's plastic bag."

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Volunteer youth corps to be set up by early 2014

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 23 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE: The volunteer youth corps, which will start with a few hundred members in early 2014, will aim to offer a volunteering experience that is meaningful and fulfilling so that young Singaporeans will continue serving after their school years.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the programme at the National Day Rally on August 18.

Jonathan Low, a graduate student, is part of a group of computing students from the National University of Singapore who offer IT solutions to non-profit organisations.

Their project not only helps others, but also allows them to apply the skills they learnt in the classroom to real life.

Community projects like this are what the volunteer youth corps wants to generate -- both overseas and in Singapore.

Mr Low said: "Going overseas will allow students to have good exposure. But I think that this is where home is, so we should be volunteering here locally to make this place better."

But going on the streets with a can and asking for donations is not everyone's cup of tea, said Mr Low. Many tend to associate that, and that alone, with volunteering, he added.

He said: "I guess the idea is that with the youth corps we can see more meaningful activities where the students actively engage the beneficiaries, and they can actually see their efforts (paying off)."

The programme will build on and eventually incorporate the existing Youth Expedition Project (YEP), which sends about 4,000 young Singaporeans on overseas community service expeditions a year.

The idea is to have both a local and overseas component in the volunteering experience, said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong said: "We hope we can harness the energies of our young people and expand the opportunities for them to serve, and at the same time make that service a vehicle to serve community needs as well as our national goals."

The programme targets students in polytechnics, ITEs and universities, but also includes young working adults up to age 35.

Volunteers will be equipped and well-trained before they start on their local and overseas projects, said the National Youth Council (NYC), which will be administering the programme.

When projects are completed, senior volunteers may also get a "pay-it-forward" grant that can be used to help more junior members fund their projects.

For students who wish to take a gap semester and volunteer full time, the youth corps will also offer financial support in the form of a stipend.

Volunteerism in Singapore has increased overall, but the NYC said there is a significant drop at the point where young Singaporeans leave school and start working. More are also doing ad-hoc volunteering, rather than committing to longer-term service.

Mr Wong said: "It's not because there's a shortage of opportunities. There are many opportunities to volunteer, but we think that existing opportunities are somewhat ad-hoc.

“We get feedback from young people that sometimes they want to do something for the community but they're not quite sure how to go about doing it.”

Youth and community organisations will be roped in to train, mentor and work on projects with the volunteers.

Details are being worked out, but the target is to support 6,000 volunteers every year.

Mr Wong and the NYC will be holding dialogues in the coming months with youths and community partners to develop the programme.

- CNA/gn

Resources, grants for volunteers with youth corps
Siau Ming En Today Online 23 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — The new volunteer youth corps hopes to attract young people who want to take a break from their studies to do community work, as well as those without any experience in volunteering.

The volunteers will be provided with resources and grants to implement local and overseas projects, the National Youth Council (NYC) said yesterday as it announced more details of the corps.

Supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the programme is expected to be implemented early next year and aims to support 6,000 volunteers annually. Funding for the youth corps will come from the National Youth Fund.

The setting up of the corps — aimed at giving young people more opportunities to be involved in community projects — was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally on Sunday

The programme will be open to students from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics, universities and adults between 15 and 35 years old.

Upon completion of a project with the corps, a “pay-it-forward” grant will be provided to encourage youths to continue with community work and share their experiences with junior volunteers.

The programme will have two key components, one of which involves overseas community projects that are built on the existing Youth Expedition Project (YEP). The latter promotes volunteerism among youths by encouraging them to embark on community service-learning projects.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said yesterday: “So over time, your existing YEP will be subsumed within the youth corps, it will be restructured, it will be more focused.”

The other component involves local community projects. “We will match youths to critical local community needs and enable them to make sustained and meaningful contributions,” the NYC said.

An initiative by the National University of Singapore’s computing students, Computing for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (CVWO), is an example of a local community project that the youth corps might be looking at.

The CVWO, which is supported by the youth fund this year, involves the development of an IT system to better manage the administrative tasks of voluntary welfare organisations.

Fresh graduate Jonathan Low, 26, the CVWO’s current President, said: “We face uncertainty every year when it comes to raising funds”. The club would be able to obtain a “source of sustained funding” if it were to join the youth corps, he added.

Mr Wong, who is also the NYC Chairman, said when it comes to contributing to the community, the feedback gathered from youths is that they “don’t always know how to go about doing so”. Hence, the NYC will work with several youth organisations to develop training and mentoring programmes for the youth corps members.

Volunteer youth corps to start in early 2014
Siau Ming En Today Online 22 Aug 13;

SINGAPORE — A volunteer youth corps, targeted at youths aged 15-35, will be set up by the National Youth Council (NYC) in early 2014 to support overseas and local community projects.

Previously announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the NYC targets reaching out to 6,000 youth corps volunteers annually.

The youth corps will have two components: One component of the youth corps involves overseas community projects that will be built on the existing Youth Expedition Project, and the other component involves local community projects that will match youths to critical local community needs.

Upon completion of the community projects, there will also be a ‘pay-it-forward’ grant for youths to continue with volunteering and share their experiences with junior volunteers.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Chairman of the NYC, Mr Lawrence Wong, said the youth corps will be “an investment in the democracy of deeds” and expand opportunities for youths to service and meet critical community needs.

6,000 sought for youth corps
Janice Heng Straits Times 23 Aug 13;

BEING part of the National Youth Council's (NYC) new volunteer youth corps - which the Council hopes will be 6,000-strong - is more than just signing up for community work.

Participants have to do both an overseas project and a local one.

And although they will be matched to critical local needs at the start, they will have to develop their own projects after doing research on the ground.

"We want the projects to be projects that meet the needs of the community, not just projects that you want to do," said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Lawrence Wong yesterday.

The volunteer youth corps was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, in a move meant to urge more young people to do community work.

Though the eventual target is 6,000 volunteers each year, the pilot will involve just a few hundred when it starts early next year.

"We want to expand the opportunities for young people to serve, and to make that service a vehicle to meet critical community needs as well as national goals," said Mr Wong. These could include caring for the elderly or fighting global warming, he added.

The youth corps, for those aged 15 to 35, is aimed mainly at students in the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities but is open to working adults. They will receive training and mentoring, funding for projects, networking opportunities and allowances if they want to take time out from their studies for full-time volunteering.

They can also get a "pay-it-forward" grant at the end of their youth corps time, which they can use to mentor new volunteers.

The overseas part of the programme will initially be via the Youth Expedition Project (YEP).

The YEP is chiefly for overseas projects, but it will eventually be subsumed and replaced by the youth corps programme, with its more substantial local component. "We don't quite today have a good platform to facilitate community service projects within Singapore itself," said Mr Wong.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) will identify specific local organisations to work with volunteers and mentor them. They may also get funding to help build their mentoring capabilities.

The youth corps' budget has not been decided, but it will tap the $100 million National Youth Fund announced in this year's Budget. Over the next few months, MCCY and NYC will hold dialogues for young people and other community partners to work out further details.

ITE student Terence Koh's project, designing mobility devices for the elderly, was held up yesterday as an example of a local project with long-term impact - the sort MCCY wants to fund in the youth corps programme.

But the 19-year-old said he was unsure if he wanted to be part of the programme, given its overseas part. "I'd rather do it locally as I prefer to help those here."

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Malaysia: Outlet in hot water over exotic menu

Yuen MeiKeng The Star 22 Aug 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Apart from standard fare, the kitchen of a restaurant in Cheras was allegedly serving up exotic dishes featuring bear’s foot and tapir’s nose under its “special order” menu.

Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) enforcement officers raided the restaurant and seized 2.95kg of bear flesh, 1.2kg of pangolin scales, three soft-shelled turtles, 20 bats, 7.4kg of wild boar parts and other types of exotic meat.

“The animal parts were found in the kitchen and freezer of the restaurant during a raid by the Perhilitan wildlife crime unit,” said Perhilitan enforcement director Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim during a press conference here yesterday.

He said Perhilitan officers had observed the restaurant for two months before making their move because the exotic meat was not offered daily.

“The demand for the dishes is high. The average price of an exotic dish sold by the shop is about RM60.

“Those featuring bear’s foot or tapir’s nose should fetch higher prices,” Abdul Kadir said.

Two restaurant workers – a man and his sister, both in their 40s – were arrested to assist in investigations but were granted a RM15,000 bail each with two sureties.

The pair are expected to face court charges on Sept 19.

Among others, the case falls under Section 68(1)(b) of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 for taking or keeping any part of a totally protected wildlife without a special permit.

Those convicted can be fined up to RM100,000, jailed up to three years or both.

Abdul Kadir said Perhilitan officers also raided four restaurants in Kedah for similar offences and made similar seizures that included what is thought to be the head of a clouded leopard.

“There have been 78 cases involving wild boar meat, five involving bats and four involving tapir parts reported since 2006,” he said.

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