Best of our wild blogs: 4 Sep 13

What is a nature reserve??
from Nature rambles

Our Delicate McRitchie Park
from Glass Ark

Crow culling in Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore Futures Sustainability Symposium 2013
from Otterman speaks

Green Drinks & Beyond Business As Usual: Limits to Growth
from Green Drinks Singapore

Butterflies Galore! : Black Tipped Archduke
from Butterflies of Singapore

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NGOs happy Tan Chuan-Jin remains their govt point man

He is 'unofficial point person' as he is passionate about these causes: Khaw
Tessa Wong Straits Times 4 Sep 13;

SOME environmental and animal rights groups welcomed the announcement that Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin will continue to be their Government point man even after he leaves the Ministry of National Development (MND).

Leaders of non-governmental organisations told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Tan had built up familiarity and goodwill with the sector.

Said Nature Society president Shawn Lum: "He has made a sincere effort to engage with us, and he has built up a lot of experience in the past two years. It would have been a shame to lose that."

Mr Louis Ng, president of animal rights group Acres, described Mr Tan as "open to dialogue and feedback", noting that he recently helped push through policy changes on animal welfare based on groups' recommendations.

Though he is no longer in MND, "he remains in the Cabinet, so he can still relay our concerns to the other ministers", said Mr Ng.

Singapore Heritage Society's vice-president, Dr Chua Ai Lin, said Mr Tan's presence "may offer some continuity in the state-NGO engagement process" and added that the group is also looking forward to sharing its views with him.

Mr Tan oversaw NGO issues when he was Senior Minister of State for National Development, a role which he officially relinquished on Monday as part of a Cabinet reshuffle.

Commenting on Mr Tan's departure on Monday in a blog post, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said while the new Minister of State Desmond Lee will take over some of the portfolio, Mr Tan will remain as their "unofficial point person" for the NGOs as "he feels passionately for these causes, and we too".

"He walked, jogged, cycled, dived, and of course Facebooked, to build up a strong and productive relationship between MND and the interested NGOs," said Mr Khaw.

Mr Khaw said projects such as the Rail Corridor and Bukit Brown, animal welfare and biodiversity conservation issues were among many which benefited from Mr Tan's suggestions.

Mr Tan has said little on his change in duties since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the Cabinet reshuffle last week.

PM Lee said he wanted Mr Tan to drop his MND role so he could concentrate on helming the Manpower Ministry.

But last Friday, Mr Tan posted the following message on his Facebook page: "For your many kind thoughts and messages, thank you very much. I'm deeply humbled. There is a reason why we serve, and it doesn't depend on our appointment. I'm already blessed to have this opportunity and will continue to make a difference where I can."

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Government mulling master plan for underground spaces

Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the government is considering the possibility of developing a master plan for underground spaces.

The purpose is to find out how practical underground plans can complement the above-ground master plan to make the city more exciting and liveable.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Mr Khaw noted the possibilities of creating underground transport hubs, pedestrian links, cycling lanes, utility plants, storage and research facilities, industrial uses, shopping areas and other public spaces in Singapore.

Singapore has made good use of underground spaces, said Mr Khaw.

For example, locals and visitors enjoy the air-con comfort and security of shopping and commuting underground from Orchard Road to City Hall, Tanjong Pagar and Marina Bay.

About 12 km of expressways and nearly 80 km of MRT lines are already underground.

The Marina Coastal Expressway, which will be completed this year, is also mostly underground.

Still, he said, the boundary of usage may be pushed - to experiment, to learn and to evolve practical innovative solutions - so as to prepare for the future.

But Mr Khaw said underground developments do cost more, so the authorities will not rush the underground master plan.

He said it may not be possible to draw up a comprehensive underground master plan in the first attempt, but it would be easier for the plans to be realised if the process is started earlier.

He added that the above-ground master plan is being updated, and a draft will be put up for public consultation through an exhibition soon.

- CNA/xq

Govt mulling large-scale underground developments
Kok Xing Hui Today Online 4 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Signalling for the first time that urban planners are exploring the possibility of large scale underground developments that further “push the boundary of usage”, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that a subterranean statutory land use plan could be on the cards.

Policymakers are currently in the midst of updating the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan and a draft will be put up for public consultation via an exhibition soon, Mr Khaw noted. “In parallel, we are thinking about the possibility of developing an underground equivalent of the Master Plan to see how practical underground plans can complement the above ground Master Plan to make our city even more exciting and liveable,” he revealed.

Writing on his blog, he added: “We will not rush to do this underground Master Plan. We will also not be able to formulate a comprehensive underground Master Plan in our initial attempt(s). But the earlier we begin this process, the faster we will learn and the easier it would be for us to realise these plans.”

Citing cities in the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Japan, Mr Khaw said there was a full range of possibilities such as underground transport hubs, pedestrian links, cycling lanes, utility plants, shopping areas and other public spaces.

Tokyo, for instance, has automated underground bicycle parking systems while in Oslo, Norway, an underground sports hall and swimming pool double as civil defence shelters during emergencies.

Every day, half a million people pass through the “underground city” at Montreal’s RESO, which comprises 32km of tunnels covering an area of 12 sq km, linking facilities, including offices, hotels, retail shops, cinemas, universities and train stations.

Mr Khaw noted that the Republic has “made good use” of underground spaces for shopping malls and underpasses, as well as 12km of expressways and almost 80km of MRT lines. It has also used subterranean spaces for storage: When it comes into operation next year, JTC’s Jurong Rock Caverns will be South-east Asia’s first underground storage facility for oil and petrochemical products.

The Singapore Armed Forces has also relocated its Seletar East Ammo Depot to an underground ammunition facility — a world’s first when it was unveiled in 2008 — built under a former quarry site in Mandai.

“Still, there is scope to do much more,” Mr Khaw pointed out.

He acknowledged the higher cost of underground developments, “especially if the cheaper alternative of using surface land is available”. Still, “we can try to push the boundary of usage — to experiment, to learn and to evolve practical innovative solutions — so as to prepare for the future”, he said.

Members of Parliament (MPs) and architects whom TODAY spoke to welcomed the possibility of creating “more common space beyond the physical limitations of land”, as Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng put it.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh noted that not only will underground developments help address the land scarcity, a subterranean Master Plan will also provide opportunities for architects, engineers and builders here to “try building new things beyond what we already have”.

Mr Frven Lim, Director of Architecture at building consultancy Surbana, said a coordinated approach will give Singapore’s underground ambitions a “greater chance to succeed”.

Still, Mr Seah reiterated that underground projects come with huge price tags. “I support the idea, but it must be used in places where the costs can be justified by the benefits it creates,” he said.

Apart from costs, architect Victor Lee noted the design challenges to maximise the supply of natural air, light and greenery to these “controlled environments”. For starters, Mr Lim suggested that the Government build automated underground car parks. “Parking does not require a high quality space — you don’t need the space to be well lit, you don’t have to walk into it,” he said, adding that these car parks will also generate revenue to offset the costs.

Such car parks are present in France, where motorists leave their cars in a building and the vehicles are moved underground, he said.

“This will be the first trigger to get people to start thinking about how else the underground space can be used.”

Govt considering underground masterplan: Khaw
Daryl Chin Straits Times 4 Sep 13;

AN UNDERGROUND city with shopping malls, research facilities and even cycling lanes.

This is worth exploring to make Singapore "even more exciting and liveable", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on his blog yesterday, suggesting that the Government is considering an "underground" masterplan.

The current land use masterplan, last reviewed in 2008, sets out how much needs to be built to efficiently spread the population across the island.

"We are currently in the midst of updating our master- plan... In parallel, we are thinking about the possibility of developing an underground equivalent... to see how practical underground plans can complement the above-ground masterplan," revealed the minister.

Although expanding underground will be expensive compared with building on the surface, "we can try to push the boundary of usage - to experiment, to learn and to evolve practical, innovative solutions - so as to prepare for the future", he added.

Building underground is not a new concept here.

Already, about 12km of expressways and nearly 80km of train lines are below the surface. Once completed, Jurong Island's Rock Cavern, located at a depth of 130m, will also become Southeast Asia's first underground petrochemicals storage facility.

But Mr Khaw believes there is scope to do more, pointing to other cities which have exploited subterranean spaces well.

Montreal's underground city Reso, which is used by 500,000 people daily, has offices, hotels, cinemas and even universities. And in Scandinavia, swimming complexes and even concert halls and churches have been built underground.

With Singapore's population projected to grow from the current 5.3 million to more than six million by 2030 according to a recent White Paper, experts believe building downwards is a viable alternative.

This is especially since parts of Singapore, like Bukit Timah, are blessed with a foundation of hard rocks such as granite, which provides the needed structural support for underground structures, explained Mr Chong Kee Sen, vice-president of the Institution of Engineers. He said building beneath the surface "essentially doubles the space you can have for development".

But the studies that are needed to see if a massive underground project is feasible, and the construction time involved, mean that any subterranean solution will take at least 20 years to see the light.

In his blog, Mr Khaw said the Government will not rush into going underground. He added: "We will also not be able to formulate a comprehensive underground masterplan in our initial attempt. But the earlier we begin, the faster we will learn and the easier it would be for us to realise these plans."

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Malaysia: First sea mammal rescue unit

Joseph Kaos Jr The Star 4 Sep 13;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Malaysia has launched its first ever team to rescue marine mammals stranded on beaches.

Spearheaded by the Fisheries Department, the team has 46 members from 23 government agencies, statutory bodies, universities and non-profit groups.

“With the setting up of this team, Malaysia will be more efficient in saving stranded marine mammals and also reduce the number of deaths.”

“This will increase Malaysia’s image internationally as it will show our commitment to save and protect marine mammals,” said Fisheries Department director-general Datuk Ahamad Sabki Mahmood when launching the team in Rantau Abang, Dungun, yesterday.

He said the department had recorded five cases of stranded animals in the country last year. These included dugongs, whales and dolphins.

“Before this, we did not have enough expertise in rescuing stranded animals. The team members will be trained to handle such situations. They will also be given the proper equipment to help them,” he said.

Ahamad Sabki said that Malaysia was the second South-East Asian country after the Philippines to form a team to handle beached animals.

“Besides rescue work, the team will also be involved in creating public awareness on the importance of protecting endangered marine mammals.”

The Fisheries Department is currently promoting the use of the turtle excluder device to fishermen, which is a tool to help marine creatures like turtles, dugongs and dolphins to escape from fishing nets.

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Malaysia's Mangrove Forest Rapidly Depleted And Degraded

Jailani Hasan Bernama 4 Sep 13;

LABUAN (Bernama) -- Mangrove forests in Peninsula, and Sabah and Sarawak are being rapidly cleared due to the pressures from growing populations in coastal areas.

The ever changing population dynamics has led to changes in land use and over-utilization of resources.

The mangrove depletion is further exacerbated by rapid economic development in the coastal areas apart from unsustainable forest practices, land conversion/reclamation for agriculture, aquaculture, mining, industrial, port expansion, urbanisation, tourism, infrastructure development.

"For instance, many mangrove reserves gazetted during the colonial period have since been de-gazetted and made available for other uses," said Cheryl Rita Kaur, a senior researcher at the Centre for Coastal and Marine Environment Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA).

And even those mangrove forests that survived the onslaught are being choked by coastal pollution contributed by domestic and industrial wastes.

"Therefore, we needs to find a balance between meeting increasing present-day needs on the one hand, and conserving the environmental support system provided by mangroves, on the other," she said.


Of course, there are many options before the government to achieve such a goal.

Given their multiple-use potential, she said it is imperative that the management of mangrove based terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems be undertaken within the context of integrated coastal area management planning.

This would essentially require cooperation and commitment between various agencies and stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of mangrove resources, now and in the future.

"For instance the MIMA International Conference on Mangroves a few years back called for a 'no-net loss' policy, where the goal was to balance the loss caused by economic development through reclamation, mitigation and restoration efforts - so that the total acreage of mangrove areas in the country does not decrease, but remains constant or, preferably, increases.

"One good example that would relate to this approach would be the Matang mangrove forest in Perak. Through an integrated management approach and strong support from the government, this forest is one of the best managed areas under sustainable forest management system in Malaysia and is also recognised as the best managed mangrove forest in the world," she said.


The total mangrove area in Malaysia is estimated to be approximately 575,000 hectares, of which 60 per cent found in Sabah, 23 per cent in Sarawak and the remaining 17 per cent in Peninsula.

Of the total, 85 per cent have been gazetted as forest reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, RAMSAR sites, and as state and national parks. For instance, there are five mangrove-based RAMSAR sites in Malaysia which include Kukup Island, Tanjung Piai, Sungai Pulai, Kuching Wetlands, and Kinabatangan.

However, it is said that mangrove cover in Malaysia has declined by 30 per cent over the past five decades from 800,000 hectares in the 1950s to 575,000 hectares at present.

The lost of mangrove areas are highest in Perlis, Selangor, Johor, Sarawak, Negeri Sembilan and Penang.


Mangroves are unique especially in terms of their adaptation abilities in response to harsh environments. Mangroves stabilize shorelines and protect coastal communities by acting as a buffer against storm surges and strong winds.

Their function as effective natural barrier againts tsunamis, weather typhoons, cyclones and storm surges as a result of global warming is crucial.

The critical role of the coastal ecosystems including mangroves in maintaining the climate is also being increasingly acknowledged.

"For instance, the term 'blue carbon' sinks/storage is used to define this further. Out of all the biological carbon (or green carbon) captured globally, over half (55 per cent) is captured by marine living organisms, not on land, hence, it is called blue carbon. Continuously increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change," she said.

Moreover, in many countries, Cheryl said especially those going through periods of rapid economic growth were increasing their carbon emissions but with the depleting of these mangrove forests that is classified as 'blue carbon' sinks/storage, their ability to absorb CO2 is also being reduced.

"And these data, records and various other global initiatives in this regard are largely assisting policy makers to mainstream the mangrove ecosystems into national and international climate change initiatives," she concluded.


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Race on to fight deadly shrimp disease

Virus-triggered toxin hitting farms across South-east Asia; annual losses estimated at $1.3 billion
Nirmal Ghosh Indochina Bureau Chief In Bangkok Straits Times 4 Sep 13;

SCIENTISTS around the world are racing to find a solution to a deadly disease that is spreading through shrimp farms in South-east Asia, killing shrimp en masse.

Earlier this year, the Global Aquaculture Alliance estimated that Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS), which emerged in China in 2009 and reached Thailand this year, is causing annual losses of more than US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) across China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.

Thailand, the largest shrimp exporter in the world with last year's exports worth 95.3 million baht (S$3.8 million), is being increasingly hit by a virus-triggered toxin which kills the shrimp.

"We are at a very early stage and there are different opinions," said Dr Simon Funge-Smith, an aquaculture expert at the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Bangkok. "It is not clear yet how the virus is arriving in the ponds."

The worst-affected countries are China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, which together account for 70 per cent of global shrimp exports. Losses caused by EMS are ruining some shrimp farmers across the region and driving up prices in importing countries.

Thailand's shrimp production this year is expected to fall to 350,000 to 400,000 tonnes from around 500,000 tonnes last year, estimated Ms Karnda Kraikajornkitti, an executive at the Thai Shrimp Association.

There are around 30,000 to 40,000 shrimp farms in Thailand, most of them small-scale, Ms Karnda said. An average of 25 per cent to 30 per cent of farms in any given area are affected by EMS, she said.

The worst-hit area was eastern Thailand, but EMS recently affected farms in the south as well.

The association was hopeful that the situation would return to normal next year, she said.

The disease is caused by a virus that affects bacteria naturally present in the gut of the shrimp. The bacteria then create a toxin that kills the shrimp.

Outbreaks typically occur within the first 30 days after stocking a newly prepared shrimp pond, and mortality can exceed 70 per cent.

"One laboratory in the US claims to have replicated the effect of the virus," Dr Funge-Smith said. "Right now other labs are trying to do the same. It is only when labs are able to recreate this that you understand the mechanism of the disease and can then take steps to manage it. Until then, it is shooting in the dark."

The vulnerability of shrimp farms is linked to the fact that they are usually open-air systems with water flowing in and out.

Converting them to closed systems using mostly recycled water is expensive. And with profit margins low, few shrimp farmers can afford the systems.

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World Bank targets air pollution in climate battle

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 4 Sep 13;

The World Bank said on Tuesday it was planning "aggressive action" to help developing nations cut emissions of soot and other air pollutants blamed for causing climate change, in a shift also meant to protect human health and aid crop growth.

Of its funding to poor nations, almost 8 percent - $18 billion from 2007-12 - goes to sectors such as energy, farming, waste and transport that have a potential to cut emissions, a bank report said.

The bank said it would shift policy to insist that such projects in future - it did not predict levels of funding - included a component to curb air pollution.

"We will try to turn it (the funding) into aggressive action" to cut the pollutants, Rachel Kyte, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting a 38-nation group in Oslo looking at ways to cut short-term air pollution.

"Anything that delays the pace at which global warming is arriving buys time for our clients, the poor countries in the world," Kyte said.

The bank would look for new ways to help, for instance, reduce pollution from public transport, curb methane emissions from rice irrigation, and improve the efficiency of high-polluting cooking stoves and brick kilns.

Soot comes from sources ranging from wood-burning cooking stoves to diesel engines. Methane comes from decomposition of plant and animal matter and from farming, for instance from the digestive tracts of cattle and sheep.

Environment ministers at the meeting in Oslo of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, set up 18 months ago in Washington as a new front in combating climate change, also outlined projects to cut air pollution in areas from forestry to gas flaring.


The focus on short-lived air pollutants is meant to complement efforts to cut carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities that a U.N. panel of climate scientists says is the main cause of global warming.

In a statement, members of the coalition said that cutting the short-term pollutants could reduce global warming by up to about 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) by 2040-50.

That would help achieve a goal, set by almost 200 nations in 2010, of limiting a rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times to avoid more heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

And cutting short-lived pollutants would also protect human health - six million people worldwide die early every year from air pollution, it said.

"First aid for the climate can also be first aid for people's health," Norwegian Environment Minister Baard Vegar Soljhell said.

Reducing pollutants "can also help rural economies, with current estimates showing the potential to save about 50 million tonnes (45.359 million metric tons) of crops each year", the statement said. Pollution poisons plants and can block sunlight, stunting growth.

The coalition statement did not refer to an academic study last month that suggested the temperature benefits of an assault on the short-lived pollutants might be far less, only 0.16 degree Celsius (0.3F) by 2050.

Drew Shindell of NASA, the head scientific advisor to the coalition, said that report wrongly assumed that air pollution would fall with economic growth. "That doesn't automatically happen," he said.

(Editing by Pravin Char)

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