Best of our wild blogs: 6 Sep 13

Purple rain and Sungei Pandan Kecil
from wild shores of singapore

Reviving the Kent Ridge Walks
from Otterman speaks

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Nature lovers take issue with trail run

Adrian Lim The New Paper 6 Sep 13;

AN ANNUAL race to be held at MacRitchie Reservoir next month has sparked concerns from nature lovers that it will disturb the wildlife in the nature reserves.

The North Face 100, now in its sixth year, will take place on Oct 4 and 5. The race will start and end at MacRitchie, and will take runners through the Central Reserves, and Bukit Timah and Mandai areas, said race organisers.

An estimated 3,700 participants are expected, and nature enthusiasts have taken issue with the timing of the overnight event. They said that the large number of participants will affect the behaviour of rare nocturnal creatures like the pangolin and slow loris.

The 100km category of the race, with about 100 participants, is expected to kick off at 10pm, while the race's other categories - 50km, 25km and 13km - will be flagged off progressively from 5am the next day.

The organiser, The North Face Singapore, said approval has been given by the National Parks Board (NParks), and it has adhered to the board's requirements.

The North Face Singapore's senior marketing executive, Mr Marc Pereira, said his team regularly meets NParks officials to validate the race route and identify ways to preserve the nature reserves.

The route has also been changed since 2010, he said, to ensure runners stay on the outskirts of the nature reserves.

Mr Pereira said: "The exact route will be kept confidential until a few weeks before the event."

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathura told My Paper: "There's no less impact just because they have chosen some fringe trails."

He explained that nocturnal animals are known to venture onto the trails when they forage at night, and he expected the run to still go through MacRitchie.

Dr Adrian Loo, a member of the Raffles Museum Toddycats nature volunteer group, said shy creatures, like the pangolin and Malayan colugo, might be frightened away from the trails, and this could affect their foraging behaviour in the long run.

Mr Pereira said runners doing the overnight run will have only a small headlamp that illuminates the area about 2m in front of them.

He said: "The runners would be spaced out (and) concentrating on running, so noise would be minimal."

Related links
Discussion of the issues on the North Face facebook page.

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'Not acceptable' for major expressway to close due to flooding: Minister Balakrishnan

Yahoo Newsroom 6 Sep 13;

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said it's "not acceptable" for a major expressway to shut down due to flooding.

He was referring to the early morning floods sparked by a torrential downpour on Thursday which hit mostly the western areas of Singapore and forced the temporary closure of the Ayer Rajah Expressway.

"We're going to need to do some work there," he said.

"We will need some time, but I am confident that we can make an improvement to the situation...I told (national water agency) PUB we've got to do our best to make sure this doesn't recur in the future."

He was speaking on the sidelines of an event at the National University of Singapore.

PUB said in a statement that all four lanes of the Expressway were temporarily closed due to overflowing drains and the rising tide. Flood waters reached a depth of half a metre and subsided within 40 minutes.

PUB said it has plans to upgrade the Sungei Pandan Kechil, which serves this section of the AYE.

Heavy rain plus high tide cause flooding
Overflowing Sungei Pandan Kechil canal due for upgrading, says PUB
Daryl Chin Straits Times 6 Sep 13;

YESTERDAY'S floods were the result of the unfortunate coming together of two forces of nature - heavy rain and high tide.

The rain was particularly heavy as a result of "the convergence of winds over the region", according to the National Environment Agency.

It fell heaviest near Kent Ridge, reaching 102.8mm in just over an hour. The nearby Sungei Pandan Kechil canal was supposed to direct the rainfall out to sea, but it was already filling up fast because of the high tide.

The ensuing lack of drainage led to flood waters rising to a height of half a metre across 90m of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE), where all four lanes leading to the city were closed for about 40 minutes.

National water agency PUB's chief engineer of drainage planning, Mr Ridzuan Ismail, said yesterday that the canal was due for an upgrading and that a preliminary study had already been done.

It had overflowed before. In 2011, the flooding led to the basement carpark of Varsity Park Condominium along West Coast Road becoming inundated, leaving cars in bumper-high water.

Then in February this year, intense rain in the area led to the closure of one lane of the AYE.

Yet upgrading of the canal in this problematic area will not happen immediately. Mr Ridzuan said that it will take a further nine months to determine the scope of works needed, including how much the canal's capacity can be expanded and what construction method to use.

At the earliest, work will only begin in the first half of 2015, and it may take a few years depending on the scale of work and site conditions, he added.

Meanwhile, the heavy rain also caused trouble in other parts of Singapore. Water rose to a height of half a metre along 100m of Commonwealth Avenue, closing two lanes of the road.

Maxwell Road, Cuscaden Road, Alexandra Road and Lorong Kismis were hit with flood water reaching a height of up to 0.2m.

PUB data showed that drainage improvement work in these areas is either ongoing or will soon begin - with the exception of Alexandra Road.

The work in Commonwealth Avenue, for instance, will cost $13 million and involves putting in a new 50m-long culvert and enlarging the existing road drain. It will be completed by 2015.

Assistant Professor Vivien Chua from the National University of Singapore's civil and environmental engineering department said these areas could have faced an increased risk of flooding because the surrounding area was built up, leaving a lack of permeable surfaces to absorb the rain.

Another alternative solution, she added, could be to use detention basins. The West Coast Park near the Sungei Pandan Kechil canal, for example, could house a "dry pond" which stores water during heavy rainfall and high tide conditions, but can be drained and used for recreational purposes during drier weather.

Mr Ridzuan said that PUB also has an ongoing drainage improvement programme to alleviate floods in hot spot areas and to increase flood protection. In 2010, PUB identified 22 canals and waterways that needed upgrading.

"However, we cannot possibly design our drainage system to cater to the most extreme of storms, due to limited land space," he noted.

Major drainage works in pipeline: Balakrishnan
Dylan Loh Channel NewsAsia 5 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Heavy rain on Thursday morning pelted the island and caused flooding in parts of Singapore.

Flash floods were reported at the junction of Commonwealth Drive and Commonwealth Avenue, Alexandra Road at the junction of Delta Road, Lorong Kismis, the junction of South Bridge Road and Maxwell Road, the junction of Cuscaden Road and Tomlinson Road, and along the Ayer Rajah Expressway towards Clementi.

The National Parks Board reported four cases of fallen trees at Bukit Timah, Outram and Bukit Batok. No injuries were reported.

One fallen tree at Dunearn Road damaged three cars and obstructed three lanes. The obstructions were subsequently cleared.

One of the places worst hit by floods was the Ayer Rajah Expressway which was closed to traffic as drains overflowed due to intense rainfall and rising tide.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on his Facebook page that plans are in place to expand the Sungai Pandan Kechil canal along the expressway and added that these plans have to be expedited.

In the longer term, a barrage may even be built to control water levels.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "We're bringing new technology to bear on getting accurate topographic maps. We can also then use that to model future events under greater climate or weather stress and that will also help us plan, in a more refined way, our future infrastructure that will be necessary to deal with these events.

"We will need some time but I'm confident that we can make an improvement to the situation. I think it's not acceptable to have a major expressway shut down because of a flood."

National water agency PUB said construction work to upgrade a section of the Sungai Pandan Kechil canal will commence in the first half of 2015.

And to increase flood protection for the area, PUB will expand the culvert openings that drain into Sungei Pandan Kechil to improve the flow. The work will be completed by end of this year.

The PUB said in a statement issued on Thursday afternoon that the downpour over the central and western parts of Singapore began at 8.15am and ended around 9.30am.

The heaviest rainfall was recorded at Kent Ridge with a rainfall of 102.8mm from 8.10am to 9.40am. It peaked between 8.15am to 8.50am, with a rainfall of 82.2mm.

At Kent Ridge, a mini-waterfall was spotted as undergraduates reported ankle-deep waters within and around the National University of Singapore (NUS).

At the university’s science faculty bookshop, damage control was underway.

Staff said while this is not the first time a flood has occurred, it was definitely the worst, with an estimated S$20,000 worth of books damaged.

Patricia Foo, assistant manager at NUS' Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society Limited, said: "The water level rose to above the drain level and we tried our best to put in a lot of cardboards to actually stem the water from flowing into the shop but it was too late. The water just came in, rush in and we couldn't even salvage any books."

The shop is looking at investing in sandbags to prevent similar occurrences.

NUS said classes and daily operations on campus were not affected by the flash floods.

The university has enhanced the drainage system to mitigate flooding due to heavy downpours and will continue to look for solutions to reduce the incidence of flash flooding.

Over at Fairfield Methodist School in Dover, students had to clamber around fences to avoid wet ground.

The National Environment Agency said a convergence of winds over the region led to heavy rainfall on Thursday.

It added that for the next few days, thundery showers are expected mainly in the morning and early afternoon.

- CNA/fa

Flash floods shut down part of AYE for 40 mins
Western Singapore hit by floods, expect wet days in next two weeks
Rachel Au-Yong Straits Times 6 Sep 13;

FLASH floods hit many parts of western Singapore yesterday morning, shutting down a city- bound stretch of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE) for 40 minutes during morning rush hour.

Cars were stranded along the expressway, after water from the heavy rain, which could not find its way into the bloated Sungei Pandan Kechil canal, spilt onto the 90m stretch, creating a 0.5m deep pool.

It is not the first time that the canal has overflowed onto the expressway, although yesterday's episode was the worst.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said PUB, the national water agency, will have a lot to do in that area now. "I think it's not acceptable to have a major expressway shut down because of a flood, so I told PUB we've got to do our best to make sure this doesn't recur in the future."

The most immediate task, he said, is to expand the culverts immediately to the south of the AYE. For the long term, PUB will look at expanding the canal. A barrage may even be necessary, added Dr Balakrishnan.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said 119.2mm of rain was dumped before noon yesterday. That is more than the amount of rain that fell for the whole of last September - 107.6mm.

At least five trees were uprooted by the torrential downpour, including one during evening peak hour on Orchard Road which blocked four of its five lanes.

Two cars were hit by the tree outside Singapore Visitors Centre, with a pregnant woman who complained of giddiness taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Earlier, the Bukit Timah area also faced pile-ups after two trees fell on cars in Dunearn Road and Sixth Avenue. A Jaguar bore the brunt of a large fallen tree at Dunearn Road, with its exterior crushed and its seats exposed.

The driver, a retiree who wanted to be known only as Mr Seah, told The Straits Times: "I was on my way home when I heard a loud bang. Thank goodness I did not get a heart attack."

PUB said the heaviest rainfall was recorded at Kent Ridge, where several facilities in National University of Singapore were submerged in knee-high water.

Third-year life sciences student Uthara Nair said: "It was like the making of Atlantis - benches and chairs were completely covered, and water was coming down the stairs."

Commonwealth Drive was also badly hit, with major congestion after the Sungei Ulu Pandan canal overflowed as well. At least two lorries and a car broke down at the junction of Commonwealth Avenue and Commonwealth Drive, with water levels reaching the car's steering wheel.

Expect more rain than average in the next two weeks. NEA says south-west monsoon conditions will mean the likelihood of short thundery showers in the late morning and early afternoon, and widespread showers with gusty winds in the pre-dawn hours on one to two days.

PUB advises the public to exercise caution as flash floods may occur when there are heavy storms. Information is available from its 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600 or its Facebook page.

Additional reporting by David Ee and Royston Sim

Floods hit western Singapore
Xue Jianyue Today Online 6 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Flash floods, uprooted trees and massive traffic jams were reported in many areas yesterday morning after a thunderstorm lasting over an hour dumped copious amounts of rain over the central and western parts of the island. The flash floods led to the unprecedented closure of a stretch of a major highway, the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE).

Meanwhile, parts of the Kent Ridge MRT Station, commuters said, resembled a stormwater drain, as water cascaded down escalators and walls. Several motorists reported that their cars had been inundated with water, and uprooted trees made it a miserable morning for other drivers. One fallen tree at Dunearn Road damaged three cars and obstructed three lanes, according to the National Parks Board.

The intense thunderstorm was behind at least four reported cases of fallen trees at Bukit Timah, Outram and Bukit Batok, but no injuries were reported.

At the National University of Singapore (NUS), students and staff had to wade through knee-high waters in some areas, as the heavy rain caused flooding at the science and engineering faculties.

Yesterday’s flooding was the most widespread since 2010, when parts of Orchard Road were inundated, rendering the busy Scotts Road junction all but impassable to traffic, the closure of several businesses and millions of dollars worth of losses. That episode led to a raft of measures to control flooding in several vulnerable areas, some of which are in progress till this day.

At the AYE, the drains overflowed due to the intense rainfall and rising tide, said the national water agency PUB. “Flood waters reached a depth of half a metre and subsided within 40 minutes,” it added.

This was the second time a stretch of the AYE, which spans 26.5km between Telok Blangah and Tuas, was inundated. On Feb 8, a stretch near the 9.6km mark had experienced a flash flood due to intense rain. One lane was affected then but the expressway was passable to traffic, said the PUB. This prompted the authority to draw up plans to upgrade drainage capacity at this stretch.

Still, the closure of a stretch of a major expressway due to flash floods was unacceptable, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event at the NUS, he said: “I think it is not acceptable to have a major expressway shut down because of a flood. I have told PUB that we’ve got to do our best to make sure that this doesn’t recur in the future.”

Posting on his Facebook page earlier, he said the expansion of the Sungai Pandan Kechil — one of two canals that overflowed — would be expedited.

The PUB said heavy rain fell over the central and western parts of Singapore yesterday morning from 8.15am to 9.30am. The heaviest rainfall was recorded at Kent Ridge, with 102.8mm from 8.10am to 9.40am. It peaked between 8.15am and 8.50am, with a rainfall of 82.2mm. By noon, 119.2mm of rain fell at Old Toh Tuck Road — more than half of the average monthly rainfall of 168.7mm for the month of September. The National Environment Agency put yesterday’s thunderstorm down to “the convergence of winds over the region”.

At Boon Lay Way, traffic was forced to a near standstill, according to commuter Shin Tan, 24. “The bus 188 took 40 minutes to move one stop,” said the NUS undergraduate. He subsequently disembarked at the next stop, taking another bus in the opposite direction towards Jurong East MRT for an alternate route to school.

Flash floods at Commonwealth Avenue also forced smaller vehicles to take alternative routes. One vehicle attempted to plough through flood waters but got stranded on that road, according to TODAY reader Mohamad Hadir, who snapped a picture of the inundated road. Buses and other large vehicles, however, managed to drive through the flooded road and pick up commuters at the bus stop, he added.

At Kent Ridge MRT Station, the underpass linking the station to a nearby bus stop was also flooded. “I was shocked when I saw the scene,” said NUS Alumnus Ho Kinh Dat, 24, whose photo of stormwater cascading down walls went viral in cyberspace.

“People were hiding under the shelters and few dared to walk past the ‘waterfall’. Some took off their shoes to walk through the water.”

For the next few days, thundery showers are expected mainly in the morning and early afternoon.

Flash floods hit several areas in western Singapore
David Ngiau Today Online 5 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Heavy rain triggered flash floods in many areas in the west this morning (Sept 4), closing a section of the Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE). The floods had subsided by 9.48am, according to the PUB.

Motorists travelling towards town on the AYE encountered massive congestion before Clementi, with electronic road signs announcing that the three-lane expressway was closed after the Clementi exit. The PUB said that drains overflowed at the AYE due to the intense rainfall and rising tide, with flood waters reaching a depth of half a metre, and subsided within 40 minutes.
Flash floods in Singapore, Sept 5 2013
Flash floods in Singapore, Sept 5 2013

All four lanes of AYE towards ECP were closed to traffic during the flood.

The PUB said in a statement issued in the afternoon that the downpour over the central and western parts of Singapore began at 8.15am and ended around 9.30am.

The heaviest rainfall was recorded at Kent Ridge with a rainfall of 102.8mm from 8.10am to 9.40am. It peaked between 8.15am to 8.50am, with a rainfall of 82.2mm.

TODAY readers sent in pictures of a flooded Kent Ridge MRT station and reported waters at the National University of Singapore campus reaching knee-deep levels at the science faculty blocks on Lower Kent Ridge Road, near the National University Hospital (NUH). Other reports said that waters were only ankle deep at the engineering faculty near Clementi Road, on slighly higher ground.

On Dunearn Road, a tree fell on two cars, blocking traffic to all vehicles except for motorcycles.

Some of the worst floods were reported in the Commonwealth area, with reader Mohamad Hadir sending us a photograph of the interior of a car flooded up to near the steering wheel.

In its statement, the PUB said that flash floods were reported on the AYE at the 9.6km mark, towards the East Coast Parkway (ECP); on Commonwealth Avenue, Commonwealth Lane and Commonwealth Drive; the junction of South Bridge Road and Maxwell Road in Chinatown; the junction of Cuscaden Road and Tomlinson Road near Tanglin Mall; on Alexandra Road towards Lower Delta Road (near Ganges Avenue); and Lorong Kismis near Jalan Jurong Kechil.

The PUB said it has plans to upgrade Sungei Pandan Kechil, which serves this section of the AYE near the NUS High School. Sungei Pandan Kechil connects to Pandan Reservoir.

For Commonwealth Avenue, the PUB has scheduled drainage improvement works, which will commence in the fourth quarter of this year and are expected to be completed by first half of 2015.

The PUB added that it advises the public to exercise caution as flash floods may occur in the event of heavy storms.

Drainage network has to be ‘future-proofed’
Sumita d/o Sreedharan Today Online 6 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the drainage network will have to be “future-proofed” to cope with intense thunderstorms that may hit the island, similar to the one that caused yesterday morning’s flash floods in several parts of Singapore.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Balakrishnan laid out immediate and long-term plans for the two rivers, Sungei Pandan Kechil and Sungei Ulu Pandan, which overflowed as a huge amount of rainwater fell yesterday morning.

The walls near the opening of the culvert below the Ayer Rajah Expressway, near NUS, will be widened to improve water flow. Work will start this month and be completed by the end of the year. The Sungei Pandan Kechil canal would be extended to make sure it has sufficient capacity to deal with the increased run-off.

Construction work will commence in first half of 2015, said national water agency PUB. Beyond these moves, the authorities are also examining if a barrage is necessary in the future to deal with the tidal influence.

As for Sungei Ulu Pandan, the area around Commonweath Avenue is undergoing drainage improvement works but the culvert underneath Clementi Road will have to be examined in the long term. These works are “a major operation” as the drainage system is inter-connected, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Engineering experts TODAY spoke to said even though more can be done to ensure that significant flooding does not happen again, it will be unrealistic to eliminate it forever.

Engineer Chong Kee Sen, who is the Vice-President of The Institution of Engineers in Singapore, said the works will “take time”. “We must be realistic, the whole problem cannot be eliminated and we can never say there will never be a temporary build-up of water at all. But the authorities will have to look into areas of serious flooding and they will have to relook what other measures can be done, those with significant flooding have to be re-looked at as flooding on major infrastructure can cause significant inconvenience,” he added.

Dr Chiew Yee Meng, who is Head of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, noted that the scale of the area affected yesterday was “quite extensive”, spanning from the Tanglin area to Chinatown and to the southwest of the island.

“The authority is trying its best to overcome the problem, but the flow of flood water has to be tackled holistically because fluid is a continuum and cannot be solved individually as interfering in one area may bring about unexpected effects both upstream or downstream of the initial problem area,” said Dr Chiew, who is a Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

He called for greater studies to be conducted. “While the authority has carried out certain large drainage works in the country in the past, how this affects the overall drainage pattern in the whole country should be carefully studied.

“This will allow one to come up with a holistic mitigation approach. The issue of climate change, or changes to rainfall intensity, is another topic that remains unresolved presently,” said Dr Chiew.

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CAAS, SIA to study alternative fuel use

They will look at cost and benefits amid global push to cut carbon emission
Karamjit Kaur Straits Times 6 Sep 13;

IN A push for cleaner skies, Singapore is studying for the first time the feasibility of airlines using alternative fuels.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) are doing the joint research, with the aid of hired consultants.

They will look into the benefits, requirements and cost of using alternatives, a CAAS spokesman told The Straits Times.

The study, expected to start later this year, should take about six months. The cost has not been finalised.

Whether the intention is to eventually draft policies to require or encourage Singapore carriers to make the switch is premature to say, industry observers said.

SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides said the new collaborative effort will take the studies it has done on its own to the next level.

Its move is also in concert with the International Air Transport Association's (Iata) global drive to get airlines to eventually switch from fossil fuels like oil to alternative sources, namely biofuels, which cause less pollution.

It will help to further reduce the industry's carbon emission, which is about 2 per cent of man-made greenhouse emissions currently.

But it wants to do better. Said Iata's assistant director of environment (technology), Mr Thomas Roetger: "We must put in place appropriate steps to further limit and reduce carbon emissions."

Iata has pledged that from 2020, the industry will achieve growth without increasing its carbon emission. By 2050, the target is for its carbon emission to be half that of 2005.

The focus on biofuels follows the significant strides made by the industry in recent years in reducing its carbon footprint, Mr Roetger said, citing the investment in more fuel-efficient planes and air traffic service providers helping to shorten flight times.

Biofuels used in aviation are typically extracted from plant sources that are not used in food, such as algae.

Since 2011, they have been certified safe for planes when used with today's jet fuel. Further studies and tests are being done on whether a complete switch is safe.

Sixteen airlines have tried out the mix since then, completing more than 1,500 commercial passenger flights. The carriers include Air France, Air China and Thai Airways.

SIA has not done any such test flights.

The biggest obstacle to the widespread use of biofuels is price, which is almost double that of jet fuel, Mr Roetger said.

But he foresees prices falling in the coming years as demand grows and suppliers achieve economies of scale.

Iata is also talking to governments on how they can incentivise the use of alternative fuels for aviation, he said.

Mr Ionides shares his vision: "The way forward is to ensure there is enough supply and ready infrastructure to support the deployment of alternative fuels in an economically viable manner."

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Lease extension: Golf clubs to know their fate next year

SLA reminds them to hold off on major development plans till then
Rachel Scully Straits Times 6 Sep 13;

GOLF clubs across Singapore, facing an uncertain future, have been told they will learn of lease extension plans early next year.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has urged the golf clubs to hold off on major development and recruitment plans for now.

In January, the Government flagged plans to redevelop some golf courses to better optimise land with such low-intensity usage.

Last month, Raffles Country Club members voted down a plan by the club to proceed with a $26 million revamp on one of its two courses. Members had not been told that the authorities would be initiating lease renewal talks with the club soon.

An SLA letter, dated Aug 16, went out three days after The Straits Times ran a story reporting that the members had been kept in the dark.

The SLA told The Straits Times that talks on the issue with some clubs had already started last month.

A spokesman said: "The SLA has started engaging the affected golf clubs on lease extension plans, which will continue over the next few months.

"An announcement is expected to be made early next year."

The January announcement concerning the Land Use Plan sparked uncertainty among many golf club members and those thinking of joining.

Singapore has among the highest concentrations of golf courses in the region, with 18 golf clubs covering 1,500ha.

Thirteen are leased out on tenures of 30 years by the SLA, and received the Aug 16 letter informing them of the timeline. The first leases to expire are those for Keppel Club and Changi Golf Club - in 2021.

Others with less than 10 years left on their leases include Tanah Merah Country Club, Seletar Country Club and Singapore Island Country Club. Those with more than 20 years remaining on existing leases include Jurong Country Club and Laguna National Golf and Country Club.

The five clubs which did not receive the SLA letter are those on short tenancy agreements or with public courses, as well as Sembawang Country Club, managed by the Defence Ministry.

The SLA added that the letter "serves to gently remind golf clubs to hold off on all major development and recruitment plans for the time being, until the lease plans are certain".

Many Raffles Country Club members did not know the SLA will start lease renewal talks with golf clubs before the year end. Close to two-thirds of those present at the club's extraordinary general meeting on Aug 14 opposed the upgrading plans.

A check with the 13 clubs which received the SLA's latest letter showed most were holding off on heavy capital expenditure until after lease renewal talks are concluded with the authorities.

Laguna National, however, is going ahead with plans to spend more than $100 million on a new golf resort hotel and refurbishment works on its clubhouse as its lease expires in 2040, said Mr Patrick Bowers, managing director and chief executive of Laguna Hospitality. "Work is slated to begin within weeks with a soft opening planned for September 2015 and a grand opening in January 2016," he said.

The club has the longest lease of 27 years, followed by Jurong Country Club, which has 22 years left on its lease.

A member of Tanah Merah Country Club, who wished to be known only as Mr Tan, said he is happy that the authorities will clarify lease renewals soon.

But he feels that golf clubs and courses should be viewed as recreational facilities for those who have worked hard and done well in life and aspire to own a club membership.

Another golfer, Mr Ong, who is in his 60s and owns three golf club memberships, said: "My health would probably allow me to golf for 10 more years, so I won't be selling any of my club memberships.

"I'll probably let them lapse when the land lease expires to avoid paying a top-up fee. Besides, not many people see the need to own multiple golf club memberships any more; we can play the game at other courses at the invitation of our friends."

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Malaysia: Stop tiger poaching, NGOs urge govt

New Straits Times 6 Sep 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Close to 1,000 snares were detected in tiger priority areas nationwide, making poaching the greatest immediate threat to the survival of wild tigers in Malaysia.

Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC and WWF-Malaysia called on the government to act against poaching by establishing a national tiger task force.

There are three tiger priority areas in Malaysia, namely Belum-Temenggor, Taman Negara and the Endau-Rompin forest complexes.

In a memorandum sent to the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, it was stated that there are now less than 500 tigers left in the wild, with 95 per cent of the country's tiger population having diminished.

The memorandum, which was sent together with 100 cards which carried "save the tiger" messages from the public, also outlined specific mandates of the task force, includes identifying resource needs in terms of personnel, equipment, facilities, training and incentives to combat poaching.

TRAFFIC and WWF said the poaching threat could not be more urgent.

"Most of these poachers are armed and they, especially foreigners, enter the forests without any fear of getting caught. Poor sentences meted out to tiger poachers and low prosecution rates of wildlife criminals are stumbling blocks in the fight to save the Malayan tiger," the two wildlife groups noted.

They said the implementation of a national tiger action plan would only be possible if government agencies, such as the Forestry Department, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks as well as other agencies, such as the Royal Malaysian Army, Royal Malaysians Customs Department and the police are involved.

"These are ambitious initiatives but we are optimistic that with the setting up and effective implementation of the task force, the rampant poaching of tigers and other wildlife can be brought under control."

Assistant director-general of Customs Datuk Zainul Abidin Taib said approximately 45 tonnes of African elephant ivory have either been seized in Malaysian ports, transited through them before being seized elsewhere or been specified to be shipped to Malaysia at the point of origin.

Speaking at a workshop on the dynamics and industry of illegal wildlife trade held by TRAFFIC and attended by 30 of the department's frontline officers, Zainul said airports and ports were inevitable transit points for the trade for most goods between Africa and the Far East.

"While ivory is not traded domestically, the Customs Department is in the position to assist the international community in combating the illegal trade in ivory," he said.

The workshop, which will be held in two phases, will be attended by 70 officers and was the first collaboration between the department and TRAFFIC after the string of large scale ivory seizures.

The officers include those specifically assigned to oversee the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations as well as risk assessment officers stationed at some of the country's busiest ports, and those who have intercepted ivory shipment in the past.

"Customs has displayed the kind of initiative we need to see throughout the Southeast Asia in order to tackle the severe problem of ivory trafficking between Africa and Asia," said acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, Dr Chris Shepherd.

"TRAFFIC is excited to be working with the department to ensure that increased intelligence-led enforcement efforts halt the use of Malaysia as a transit hub for ivory."

According to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), 46.5 tonnes of illicit ivory was seized in 2011 and an estimated 17,000 elephants killed at sites monitored through the CITES-led Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme that same year.

'Tiger task force can pounce on poachers'
Robin Augustin New Straits Times 8 Sep 13;

DWINDLING NUMBERS: Conservation proposal sent to PM's Office

KUALA LUMPUR: INCONSISTENT sentences meted out by courts and insufficient monitoring are hampering Malayan Tigers' conservation efforts.

Alarmed at the dwindling numbers, the WWF-Malaysia and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, last Wednesday submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister's Office calling on the government to set up a National Tiger Task Force.

The task force would be responsible for identifying resources needed to combat poaching as well as coordinating efforts by various agencies, the army and police.

Foreign poachers, poor sentences and low prosecution rates were cited as stumbling blocks in conservation efforts.

In response to the memorandum, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said such a system was already in place, giving the Malaysia Wildlife Enforcement Networks as an example.

"Apart from this, there is an enforcement cooperation (1NRE Enforcement Team), which comprises agencies under the NRE and other agencies such as the Royal Malaysian Customs and Excise Department, Anti-Smuggling Unit, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the army and police.

"Also, NRE and Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) take part in regional and international wildlife enforcement networks."

Palanivel said monitoring and enforcement in jungles were a challenge and efforts would be continually improved.

He said last year, more than 50 deep jungle patrols covering 2,000 sq km of Taman Negara were undertaken, adding the authorities found over 1,400 snares between 2010 and August this year.

Lead research scientist for WWF-Malaysia's Tiger Conservation Programme, Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj, said the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 was equipped to mete out penalties and jail terms to convicted poachers and smugglers.

"Although the laws are robust enough, the sentencing is inconsistent," he said.

"This year, there was a case where a smuggler caught with tiger parts received a mere 24-month sentence.

"Although we have the 1NRE Task Force, the number of tigers keeps dwindling."

He said the proposed task force, modelled after India's tiger conservation task force, would promote better coordination between NRE, NGOs and the public.

Set Up National Tiger Task Force to Combat Poaching or Risk Losing the Malayan Tiger and Other Wildlife, Urged WWF-Malaysia, TRAFFIC
WWF 4 Sep 13;

4 September 2013, Petaling Jaya: WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC today called on the government to set up a National Tiger Task Force to save Malaysia’s remaining wild tigers that are fast declining in numbers.

It is thought that there are now less than 500 tigers left in the entire country which includes the three tiger priority landscapes – Belum Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin forest complexes.

The call was made in a memorandum that WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office today, together with some 100 cards which carried “Save Our Tiger” messages from members of the public.

The Task Force should be established under the purview of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment as the cooperation of multiple departments and agencies is essential to ensure greater and more comprehensive enforcement.

The memorandum, which cited poaching as “the most immediate threat to the survival of wild tigers”, reported that between 2010 and 2011, close to 1,000 snares were detected in the tiger priority landscapes.

Local and foreign poaching syndicates are emptying the forests of tigers, their prey, and other wildlife. Most of these poachers are armed and they, especially the foreigners, enter the forests without any fear of getting caught, mentioned the memorandum.

Poor sentences meted out to tiger poachers and low prosecution rates of wildlife criminals were also highlighted as stumbling blocks in the fight to save the Malayan tigers.

The memorandum also outlined specific mandates of the Task Force which included identifying resource needs in terms of personnel, equipment, facilities, training and incentives to combat poaching; coordinating the joint enforcement efforts between the Forestry Department of Malaysia and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks as well as other agencies such as the Royal Malaysian Army, Royal Malaysian Customs Department and Royal Malaysian Police; and ensuring the effective implementation of the National Tiger Action Plan for Malaysia.

These are ambitious initiatives but WWF-Malaysia and TRAFFIC are optimistic that with the setting up and effective implementation of the Task Force, the rampant poaching of tigers and other wildlife can be brought under control.

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Protected nature areas are 'focusing on places without as many endangered species'

Scientists warn the wrong kind of land is currently being protected as national parks and other types of national wildlife zones
Steve Connor The Independent 5 Sep 13;

Efforts to save some of the world’s most endangered species may be missing their targets by concentrating on the places in the world that do not have the richest density of animals and plants, scientists have found.

Global treaties aimed at preserving threatened wildlife have failed to identify the regions of the world with the highest proportion of endemic species that are not found anywhere else, according to a study published in the journal Science.

The scientists analysed a database of 110,000 plants compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and found that two thirds of endemic species live on just 17 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, yet less than one sixth of this land is legally protected in some way.

Two international agreements, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, aspires to protect 17 per cent of the world by 2020 and in doing so aims to conserve 60 per cent of plant species.

However, the study found that although it is possible to conserve up to two thirds of endemic species by protecting 17 per cent of the land, the wrong kind of land is currently being protected as national parks and other types of national wildlife zones.

“To achieve these goals, we need to protect more land, on average, than we currently do, and much more in key places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and Ecuador,” said Professor Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who led the research.

“Our study identifies regions of importance. The logical and very challenging next step will be to make tactical local decisions within those regions to secure the most critical land for conservation,” Professor Pimm said.

The analysis found that plant species are not distributed uniformly around the world but concentrated in “biodiversity hotspots”, with some regions such as Central America, the Caribbean, the Northern Andes, and parts of Africa and Asia, having high densities of endemic species. Islands are also particularly rich in endemic plants.

“Species endemic to small geographical ranges are at a much higher risk of being threatened or endangered than those with large ranges,” said Lucas Joppa of Microsoft Resarch’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, and lead author of the study.

“We combined regions to maximise the number of species in the minimal area of land. With that information, we can more accurately evaluate each region’s relative importance for conservation, and assess international priorities accordingly,” Dr Joppa said.

“We essentially asked the question: what’s the smallest amount of land area that we can possibly fit the most endemic species. When you do that you see it is possible to conserve more than 60 per cent of species by protecting 17 per cent of the land, but it is not so easy when most of the species don’t fall into the protected areas,” he said.

Professor Pimm said that it is good that the world has set aside a sizeable chunk of the land surface for protection status but more effort needs to be spent in matching up the protected areas with the areas with the densest concentration of threatened wildlife.

“The problem…is that some ecosystems are much easier to protect than others. It’s easy to protect ice sand sand – high mountains and remote deserts – but we need to protect more of the places where plant species are concentrated,” Professor Pimm said.

Protecting 17 percent of Earth's land could save two-thirds of plant species
EurekAlert 5 Sep 13;

DURHAM, N.C. -- Protecting key regions that comprise just 17 percent of Earth's land may help preserve more than two-thirds of its plant species, according to a new Duke University-led study by an international team of scientists.

The researchers from Duke, North Carolina State University and Microsoft Research used computer algorithms to identify the smallest set of regions worldwide that could contain the largest numbers of plant species. They published their findings today in the journal Science.

"Our analysis shows that two of the most ambitious goals set forth by the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity -- to protect 60 percent of Earth's plant species and 17 percent of its land surface -- can be achieved, with one major caveat," said Stuart L. Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"To achieve these goals, we need to protect more land, on average, than we currently do, and much more in key places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and Ecuador," Pimm said. "Our study identifies regions of importance. The logical -- and very challenging -- next step will be to make tactical local decisions within those regions to secure the most critical land for conservation."

Plant species aren't haphazardly distributed across the planet. Certain areas, including Central America, the Caribbean, the Northern Andes and regions in Africa and Asia have much higher concentrations of endemic species, that is, those which are found nowhere else.

"Species endemic to small geographical ranges are at a much higher risk of being threatened or endangered than those with large ranges," said Lucas N. Joppa, a conservation scientist at Microsoft Research's Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, U.K. "We combined regions to maximize the numbers of species in the minimal area. With that information, we can more accurately evaluate each region's relative importance for conservation, and assess international priorities accordingly."

To identify which of Earth's regions contain the highest concentrations of endemic species, relative to their geographic size, the researchers analyzed data on more than 100,000 different species of flowering plants, compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.

Joppa and Piero Visconti, also of Microsoft Research's Computational Science Laboratory, created and ran the complex algorithms needed to analyze the large spatial database.

Based on their computations, Clinton N. Jenkins, a research scholar at North Carolina State University, created a color-coded global map identifying high-priority regions for plant conservation, ranked by endemic species density.

"We also mapped where the greatest numbers of small-ranged birds, mammals and amphibians occur, and found that they are broadly in the same places we show to be priorities for plants," Jenkins said. "So preserving these lands for plants will benefit many animals, too."

Without having access to the Royal Botanic Gardens' plant database, which is one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, the team would not have been able to conduct their analysis, said Joppa, who received his Ph.D. in ecology from Duke in 2009.

Pimm and Jenkins lead the conservation nonprofit Saving Species,, which works with local communities and international agencies to purchase and protect threatened lands that are critical for biodiversity.

"The fraction of land being protected in high-priority regions increases each year as new national parks are established and greater autonomy is given back to indigenous peoples to allow them to manage their traditional lands," Pimm said. "We're getting tantalizingly close to achieving the Convention of Biological Diversity's global goals. But the last few steps remaining are huge ones."

"Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity's Goals for Plant Conservation," Lucas Joppa, Piero Visconti, Clinton N. Jenkins, Stuart L. Pimm. Science, Sept. 5, 2013 DOI: RE1241706/HJ/ECOLOGY

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Well-managed mangroves 'can survive rising sea levels'

Richa Malhotra SciDev.Net Reuters AlertNet

The prevailing idea that sea-level rise will inevitably wipe out mangrove forests — fragile ecosystems that protect nearby communities fromnatural hazards such as floods and storms — is challenged by a recent report.

Mangroves in some areas will be able to survive climate change-induced sea-level rise as they can slowly increase the level of soil in which they thrive, but only if they are managed and protected, according to 'The response of mangrove soil surface elevation to sea level rise' report.

Activities such as building dams on rivers and converting mangrove areas into shrimp farms may have a stronger impact on the health of mangroves than sea-level rise, the report adds. Once weakened by such changes, mangroves will be less able to adapt to changes in sea level.

"A lot of the rivers [that feed mangrove areas] are being dammed, and by doing that we reduce the freshwater flow and sediment flow to mangroves. Both can be very deleterious for mangroves," says Anna McIvor, lead author of the report and a researcher at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

"Once mangroves are degraded, they are much less likely to keep up with sea-level rise," McIvor tellsSciDev.Net.

The report surveyed key literature published from 2006 to 2011, and found that mangroves in some areas have adapted to rising sea levels and would continue to do so in the future.

But, it notes, longer-term data on the effects of sea-level rise on mangroves are missing.

"Most of the current measurements span [only] about ten years," says McIvor. Yet, sea levels do not rise that quickly.

She says that evidence is currently also limited by the small number of locations in which mangrove studies have taken place, restricting researchers' abilities to assess differences in local conditions and make global predictions on the future of mangroves.

Alfredo Quarto, executive director of US conservation NGO the Mangrove Action Project, says that the report's main benefits are that it highlights the need for further study and the need to act.

"One of the problems with such studies," he says, "is that [though] they highlight things that are important, how does one take those bits of information and put them into practice to conserve the mangroves? So, I hope the report stimulates action by governments and that they see the value of mangroves in protecting [communities]."

The report, published in July, is the third in a series on mangroves brought out by conservation bodies the Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. The two earlier reports examined the coastal defence that mangroves provide against waves and storms.

Link to 'The response of mangrove soil surface elevation to sea level rise'

Link to 'Reduction of wind and swell waves by mangroves'

Link to 'Storm surge reduction by mangroves'

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Mankind's global warming plays role in extreme weather

Kerry Sheridan (AFP) Google News 6 Sep 13;

WASHINGTON — Climate change caused by human use of fossil fuels played a role in about a half dozen extreme weather events last year, international scientists said Thursday.

A team of experts examined 12 wild weather episodes in 2012, from droughts in the United States and Africa to heavy rainfall in Europe, Australia, China, Japan and New Zealand.

About half of the hand-picked events showed some sign of being worse than expected due to elements like warmer oceans and hotter temperatures brought on by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and aerosols in the atmosphere.

The report, called "Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective," was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

The peer-reviewed study included 18 research teams from around the world.

"All of the 2012 extreme events considered in this report, based on the authors' analyses, would have likely occurred regardless of climate change," said Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency's National Climatic Data Center.

The goal of the research effort is to understand whether extreme events are likely to occur more frequently in the future, and "whether their intensity is changing because of natural factors or human-caused change," Karl told reporters.

Human influence on climate could be partially to blame for heavy rainfalls in Australia, drought in East Africa and in the record winter drought in southwestern Europe, scientists said.

Another example was a two-day event that saw 67.4 centimeters (27 inches) of rain dumped over New Zealand in December 2011. Deemed a once in 500 years rainfall, scientists said it was made more likely by the extra moisture in the air due to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

However, unusual rains in China and Japan, while extreme, did not appear to have a clear link to human-caused climate change.

Nor did the US drought of 2012 appear to be influenced by climate change, even though the same group of scientists reported last year that a harsh dry spell from 2011 did appear to have been worsened by human-caused global warming.

Attribution of extreme events is difficult because climate change may be a contributing factor, but is not the sole factor, said Tom Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

"If you add just a little bit of speed to your daily highway commute, you can substantially raise the odds that you will get hurt someday. But when you do get into an accident, the primary cause may not be your speed itself, it could be wet roads or texting drivers," said Peterson.

While natural variability in climate may be the equivalent of dangerous drivers or slick streets, speeding could be likened to increases in rain and sea level rise that are caused by global warming, he said.

"We know that the world is warming and the primary reason is the burning of fossil fuels," Peterson added.

One of the strongest examples of human influence was seen in an unusual heat wave in the eastern US from March to May 2012. Mankind's contribution to that event was estimated at 35 percent, raising the risk of such a hot spell by a factor of 12, the report said.

Arctic sea ice hit a record low point of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 milion square miles) in September 2012, about half of the 1979-2000 average for that time of year.

The phenomenon that could not be explained by natural variability alone, though the extent of human influence was unclear, the report said.

Scientists expect Arctic sea ice extent will continue to decrease and may be all but gone by mid-century.

When it came to Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc along the coasts of New York and New Jersey, the storm "required many different factors to come together to create the major impacts that it did," said the report.

"Therefore, Sandy is probably one of the most difficult extreme events of 2012 to fully explain."

In the future, even weaker storms will be able to produce similar levels of devastation due to sea level rise and coastal erosion, the report warned.

Such superstorms are also expected to become more frequent in the United States and elsewhere, it said.

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Biodiversity offsetting proposals 'a licence to trash nature'

Government criticised for plans that would allow developers to destroy wildlife and woodlands if they create new habitats elsewhere
Damian Carrington 5 Sep 13;

Developers will be allowed to destroy wildlife and woodlands if they create new habitats elsewhere, under government plans published by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, on Thursday.

Ministers hope the proposals, called biodiversity offsetting, will make it easier for new housing and commercial schemes to go ahead, boosting the economy. But environment groups dubbed the plans a "licence to trash nature".

"Offsetting is an exciting opportunity to look at how we can improve the environment as well as grow the economy," said Paterson, launching consultation on the plans. "There is no reason why wildlife and development can't flourish side-by-side."

Ministers have been frustrated that some major schemes have been obstructed by wildlife concerns, such as the 85 nightingales blocking a £1bn housing development in Kent.

But Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), said: "Nature is unique and complex – not something that can be bulldozed in one place and recreated in another at the whim of a developer. Instead of putting nature up for sale the government should strengthen its protection through the planning system and set out bold plans to safeguard and restore wildlife across the UK."

The Woodland Trust chief executive, Sue Holden, said: "It is critical that any habitats created to compensate for loss are placed within the local area that suffered the original impact. Unfortunately, this still appears open to debate [in the proposals]."

Tom Tew, chief executive of the Environment Bank which is the company acting as the independent broker between planners and developers, told the Guardian: "I think FoE and others completely misunderstand how biodiversity offsetting works. It is not a licence to trash, it is the complete opposite. When you put a value on biodiversity, you are putting a financial incentive for developers not to trash it."

A major recent assessment of Britain's natural world showed that wildlife has declined steeply in the last 50 years. It found 97% of flower-rich lowland meadows, which support birds, bees and butterflies, had been destroyed since the 1930s.

Tew, a former chief scientist at Natural England, said the current planning system is not working for nature. He said most biodiversity offsets would be compensating for degraded grassland developed for housing by restoring meadows elsewhere. Tew added that local planners were likely to insist on offsets "being just down the road". He said: "If done well, it could be one of the most beneficial schemes for wildlife in the last 30 years."

The government is running six biodiversity offsetting pilots but has yet to report any results. A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a trial in Warwickshire was closest to the government's new proposals, but Tew said the slowness of the planning system meant that trial had yet to deliver any offsets.

Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, said: "Offsetting can be a useful tool for compensating harm to wildlife when all other options have been exhausted. But it is very difficult to get it right, and it is much safer to maintain wildlife habitats where they are. There is a real danger that offsetting could simply amount to a licence to trash."

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