Best of our wild blogs: 19 Sep 13

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RWS' Dolphin Island to open on Sept 30

David Ee Straits Times 18 Sep 13;

THOSE much-awaited bottlenose dolphins at the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) finally have a date to make a splash with the public.

The huge marine park will open its new Dolphin Island attraction on Sept 30, but do not expect a mass audience show like those at Sea World on Australia's Gold Coast. Think up close and personal instead.

In groups of five or fewer, up to 80 people a day will be allowed in the water to get acquainted with the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Each group will have half an hour to interact with a dolphin while accompanied by a trainer.

The sessions, conducted in the shallow edges of the dolphins' 11 interconnecting lagoons, are open to non-swimmers, but visitors must be above 122cm tall to take part.

Prices exceed that of Sentosa's other dolphin experience - the Underwater World's Swim With The Dolphins, featuring the humpback variety - at $198 versus $170. Children 12 and under and those over 60 pay $188.

Those who prefer to stay dry can watch for $68 each, or $58 for children and seniors. RWS announced this yesterday as it invited 10 children from The Little Arts Academy to be Dolphin Island's first guests.

Its director of marine mammal operations Adrian Penny said: "Education is our main goal. Visitors get to learn a variety of things about dolphins, especially their anatomy."

Animal rights groups are calling for the rehabilitation and release of the 24 bottlenose dolphins back to the wild. Three of the original 27 caught from the Solomon Islands died from bacterial infections before they arrived in Singapore last year.

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Singapore urban planners to tackle challenges in future city planning

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's urban planning agency, the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority), is taking a serious look at ways people can work from home and in offices in suburban areas outside the city.

URA Chairman and former senior civil servant Peter Ho made this point on Wednesday at a conference titled "Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore", adding that a key issue in the planning process is whether everything has to be done in the city.

Discussing the role played by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the physical transformation of Singapore, Mr Ho noted this was done through leadership and good governance, and sometimes with a dose of tough laws.

But speakers at the conference also said that as the population grows, the challenges for urban planners will evolve as well.

Chairman for Centre for Liveable Cities Lui Thai Ker said: "The bigger challenge for HDB is that with the continuous increase in our population, how are we going to make a long term plan to accommodate them with no loss in the quality of life? In the process of doing that, we also have to think of new MRT lines, new bus routes."

Mr Ho said: "We can't have the cake and eat it unless we can find innovative ways to use our space. And technology is beginning to make that positive.

"There has been some recent talk about underground space and I think underground space, if you put more of your functional types of activities underground, (it) opens up enormous possibilities. We will have to continue to innovate along the way. There is no such thing as an end point; it is always work in progress."

CEO of PUB Chew Men Leong said: "It is not possible to eliminate flash floods completely because nature is a powerful force and given the land constraints that we have, we can only build our capability up to a certain level of capacity. Impact of climate change is something we have to be concerned about; it’s extremity of weather we have to be concerned (about); it’s flash floods we have to be concerned. I think even more critical, (is) how we are going to prepare ourselves for prolonged drought."

Executive Director for Centre for Liveable Cities Khoo Teng Chye said: "When it comes to planning for a flood, our engineers have had to grapple with (Singapore being) a tropical country, we get lots of rain and we get lots of intense rainfall, so our drains have been designed for a certain intensity of rainfall and that has stood us well over the years.

“Even as we urbanise progressively over the years, the incidents of flooding has drastically reduced but with climate change and changing weather patterns it is very difficult to design what used to be an intensity that doesn't happen, now seems to happen more often.

"When you talk to the climate experts or the weather experts, they cannot give you a clear answer because these kinds of things need many years to play out before you can scientifically conclude that the weather pattern has changed. But there seems to be enough evidence over the past four (or) five years that things have changed so much… that PUB, without waiting for the final conclusion from scientists, have already taken certain decisions to minimise the risk of flooding in Singapore."

In his opening address at the conference, organised by the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and the Centre for Liveable Cities, former President SR Nathan said: "This physical transformation of Singapore is a story of foresight, political will and people working together to beat what seemed at that time, despairing odds. It is a story of the challenges to find and implement the right policies, which has made our physical development and living conditions what it has become. But at its heart, it is about our story -- how our hopes, dreams and aspirations have been transformed. It is the story of our lives."

- CNA/gn

Challenge for urban planners: Better integrating groups into society
Sumita Sreedharan Today Online 19 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Rather than infrastructural or technological hurdles, the biggest challenge confronting urban planners over the next two decades could be on the social front.

Banyan Tree Holdings Chairman Ho Kwon Ping said this yesterday, as he noted how policymakers would have to work at better integrating groups, such as the aged, the disabled and foreign workers, into Singapore society.

Speaking at a panel session during a conference organised by the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, Mr Ho said: “The transformational challenges for Singapore over the next decade or two are, in fact, not going to be physical at all, they are not going to be technological at all and, in fact, if you look at the world’s greatest cities, their greatest challenges are social in nature, it is the threat of social disintegration and the challenge of social cohesion.”

Other panellists had suggestions to co-locate services, such as nursing homes or day care centres, within the community.

Dr Aline Wong, Academic Adviser for SIM University, felt that community spaces, such as void decks, should be allocated based on needs, rather than be given to the highest bidder.

“At a local level, there is tremendous competition for space. And the allocation system, if it depends on the market, may not be the most efficient, as it’s not where the local needs are,” said Dr Wong, who once helmed the Housing and Development Board and was Senior Minister of State (Health and Education) from 1995 to 2001.

The conference also heard from Urban Redevelopment Authority Chairman Peter Ho that the URA is taking a serious look at ways people can work from home and in offices in suburban areas outside the city.

The event was held in conjunction with former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s 90th birthday and aimed at understanding Mr Lee’s role in the transformation of Singapore, in the areas such as urban planning and housing policy. SUMITA SREEDHARAN

Mr Lee 'showed foresight in urban development'
He ensured the bold plans were followed through, say speakers at conference
Elgin Toh And Charissa Yong Straits Times 19 Sep 13;

MANY countries have a concept plan to guide physical development, but Singapore stands out in that it made bold plans early on and actually stuck to them.

That was largely because founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had the foresight to insist on it, the men who worked with him to transform the city said yesterday.

However, speakers at the second conference this week to mark Mr Lee's 90th birthday also identified areas in Singapore's urban development where meticulous planning came with costs, or were inadequate in addressing problems.

One said it made inequality "invisible" and, therefore, kept it under the radar. Another noted that it could not change uncivil forms of behaviour like littering.

The meeting - dubbed "Lee Kuan Yew and the Physical Transformation of Singapore" - was jointly organised by the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities and the Centre for Liveable Cities.

Speakers highlighted the importance of the 1971 Concept Plan - Singapore's first blueprint.

Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) chairman Peter Ho said this plan was "seminal" and that its "essential features are recognisable even today as the basic structure of Singapore".

These include: a nature reserve in the island's centre, heavy industry in the west, a network of transport links, as well as sea and air ports placed where there is space for capacity upgrades.

As Mr Lee said in an interview last year: "There's a definite plan, and we stuck with the plan. There is no corruption and nobody can deviate from the plans."

Former chief executive of URA Liu Thai Ker, who advises cities around the world, including over 20 in China, said Singapore's plan had "teeth to be implemented".

Deliberate planning ensured public housing was available to many, ethnically mixed and well connected.

But Professor Chua Beng Huat of National University of Singapore (NUS) also noted the move to mix all public housing types - one-room, three-room and above - so no ghetto developed had the unintended consequence of making inequality "invisible".

This, he said, resulted in a "neglect" of the "idea of poverty" until recently, when the inequality problem grew more pronounced.

Furthermore, these plans may be struggling to keep up with newer problems. Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping said that the inability to integrate "sub-communities" in the population, such as blue-collar foreign workers living in dormitories, may turn into a social problem.

On plans for a clean and green Singapore, Gardens by the Bay chief executive Tan Wee Kiat described the effort Mr Lee put into parks and reserves. He noted how former prime minister Goh Chok Tong once remarked Singapore was the only country that read a gardening report in the Cabinet.

But these plans did not always accompany change in human behaviour. Mr Simon Tay, president of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said that the city is clean because before dawn each day, "armies of cleaners" sweep up the litter Singaporeans leave.

Some plans were hard-nosed, even unpopular, but necessary.

Moving the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi when it was not yet clear there would be sufficient demand paid off, said Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong. Selling public housing to recover costs made it sustainable, said Prof Chua.

Certificates of entitlement for cars prevented traffic jams and, crucially, were done early enough, at a time when fewer could afford cars, noted URA's Mr Ho.

But "tough love" was not always appropriate. Mr Liew objected to how some pre-school space is tendered out in closed bids to the highest bidder to maximise land value, making it difficult for socially minded operators who want to charge low fees.

"Maybe we should have a more gracious use of our natural resources and land," he said.

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Singapore’s second and largest seawater treatment plant opens

Woo Sian Boon Today Online 19 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — A quarter of Singapore's water demand will now be met by desalinated water, with the opening of the Republic’s second and largest seawater treatment plant today (Sept 18).

The Tuaspring Desalination Plant was officially unveiled this evening by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, along with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan and his Second Minister Grace Fu.

Situated on a 14-hectare site in Tuas, it will supply 70 million gallons of water per day – or 125 Olympic-sized pools worth of water – to Singapore’s water supply for 25 years. It is the second plant to be developed and operated by Singapore’s biggest listed water treatment company Hyflux.

Construction of the plant began in 2011. It also features an on-site combined cycle gas turbine power plant which will supply electricity to the desalination facility.

Desalinated water, or treated seawater, is one of Singapore’s four “national taps” – the other three are imported water from Malaysia, NEWater and water from the reservoirs. Singapore’s first desalination plant, Singspring Singapore, was opened in 2005 and supplies 30 million gallons of treated water a day to PUB, making up 10 per cent of Singapore’s total water supply. Singapore’s daily water demand is about 400 million gallons.

New desalination plant brings Singapore closer to self-sufficiency
Woo Sian Boon Today Online 19 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — The Republic yesterday took a major stride towards becoming self-sufficient in water, with the opening of the second desalination plant here.

Sitting on a 14-ha site, Tuaspring Desalination Plant is the largest seawater reverse-osmosis desalination plant in Asia. With the capacity to remove dissolved salts from seawater amounting to 70 million gallons daily — equivalent to the amount that can fill 125 Olympic-sized pools — it will triple the amount of water the country gets from desalination.

Desalinated water, or treated seawater, is one of Singapore’s four national taps. The three others are imported water from Malaysia, NEWater and water from the reservoirs.

The new S$1.05-billion facility — developed and operated by Singapore’s biggest listed water treatment company, Hyflux — will deliver desalinated water to national water agency PUB over a 25-year period. Hyflux’s first desalination plant Singspring was opened in 2005 and is also located in Tuas.

Currently, Singspring produces 10 per cent of Singapore’s daily water needs of 400 million gallons. NEWater meets another 30 per cent of the needs, with the remaining supply coming from imported water and local catchment.

Together, the two desalination plants will now be able to meet 25 per cent of water needs.

At the opening ceremony — which was attended by 800 guests, including foreign dignitaries, government officials and industry representatives — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that Singapore was “almost totally dependent” on water supply from Johor when it achieved independence in 1965. Singaporeans lined up at public taps for water, employed night-soil collectors because homes lacked sanitation, he recounted. But the Republic has since turned a “strategic weakness” into “a source of thought leadership and competitive advantage”, he added.

This was achieved through political leadership, partnerships with various stakeholders and the work of the PUB, said Mr Lee.

For example, political decisions were made to enlarge Singapore’s water catchments, upgrade infrastructure and build a deep sewerage system. The Government also engaged the industry in public-private partnerships to explore and pilot new technologies and develop water infrastructure.

To secure the country’s water resources, the PUB expanded the reservoirs, built new ones, developed technologies to collect rainwater from urban catchments and promoted research and development to develop new sources of water such as NEWater, Mr Lee said.

He said: “We must continue to work together to secure our future needs for water. This is not an inexhaustible gift of nature, but a precious resource which we must husband and use wisely.”

Mr Lee also singled out the Government’s “difficult political decision” to price water “properly”, in a way that got Singaporeans to take water conservation seriously and minimise wastage and abuse.

At the same time, the authorities defray low-income households’ utility bills “so that nobody is unable to not afford the water which they need”, he added.

At Tuaspring, seawater is taken into the plant and goes through a two-stage reverse-osmosis treatment process — where impurities and salts are filtered out by ultra-fine semi-permeable membranes that can remove particles of up to 0.01 microns in size.

Because of a combination of factors, such as an on-site power plant and better technology, treated water from Tuaspring will be priced at 45 cents per cubic metre for the first year — lower than the price of 78 cents per cubic metre during SingSpring’s first-year of operation.

Under a tiered tariff structure that charges heavy users of water a higher rate, the PUB prices drinking water not only to recover the full cost of its production and supply but to reflect its scarcity value.

With water demand set to double by 2060, the desalination capacity will be increased in tandem.

By 2060, NEWater and desalinated water will meet up to 80 per cent of water demand.

Singapore’s existing bilateral agreement to import water from Johor will expire in 2061.

An earlier agreement had expired in August 2011, which saw PUB handing over the Gunong Pulai Waterworks to Johor State Government.

Tuaspring opens – latest milestone in Singapore's water journey
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore took a major step towards being self-sufficient in its water supply on Wednesday with the opening of the Tuaspring Desalination Plant.

It is Asia's largest seawater reverse-osmosis desalination plant and the second for Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who opened the plant, said what was once "a strategic weakness" for Singapore is now a "source of thought leadership and competitive advantage".

The new plant adds 70 million gallons of desalinated water daily to Singapore's water supply, tripling the supply from the country's fourth "national tap".

That amount is more than the capacity of 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The other three "taps" are local water catchments, imported water and NEWater.

Mr Lee said Singapore has come a long way since independence in 1965, when the country was almost totally dependent on water supply from neighbouring Johor, Malaysia.

Today, the country is able to supply a large part of its water needs by itself.

But Mr Lee said Singaporeans should not take that for granted.

He listed several factors that enabled Singapore to move towards self-sufficiency in its water supply, and chief among them was political leadership.

Water, Mr Lee said, was a matter of survival.

He added that a major political decision was made to price water properly in Singapore.

Mr Lee explained: "It was a difficult political decision because very few countries have done it and it affects every household. But it's a way to make people take water seriously, take conservation seriously to minimise wastage and abuse. But it is not the only thing we do. Because at the same time, as we price our water properly, we also have USave to defray low-income households' utility bills so that nobody is unable to afford the water which they need."

Tuaspring will deliver desalinated water to PUB over a 25-year period from this year to 2038.

The combined capacity of the two desalination plants, including Singapore's first desalination plant Singspring, meets 25 per cent of Singapore's current water needs.

Both plants are built by Singapore water solutions company Hyflux.

- CNA/gn

Tuaspring taps new technology to boost capacity and cut cost
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: The new Tuaspring Desalination Plant offers greater capacity at a lower cost by tapping new technologies.

Singapore's newest desalination plant has been two years in the making.

Water solutions firm Hyflux won the tender to build the Tuaspring plant in 2011, and it is using some of its latest technologies to make the plant more efficient at producing potable water from seawater that is fit for drinking.

Tuaspring boasts one of the world's largest installations of Hyflux's Kristal ® proprietary Ultrafiltration membranes, which are more effective at removing dissolved salts from seawater.

When seawater from the surrounding sea is passed through the membranes, virtually all bacteria is blocked out and impurities as small as 0.01 micron can also be filtered away.

The filtered water is consistently of high quality and this helps boost the performance and life span of membranes used in the next step of desalination -- the reverse osmosis process.

Hyflux’s Executive Chairman and Group CEO Olivia Lum elaborated: "The key advantage is that we are able to make it more efficient, make the whole plant more efficiently operated. At the same time, using ultrafiltration membrane as pre-treatment would allow us to bring down the costs of water produced.

“We have integrated a power plant and this power plant together with the desalination plant, side by side, will be able to bring down also the operating costs because most of these costs in producing seawater desalination are energy, so we put the energy power plant side by side. This will help also the operations to be more efficiently run."

To make it even more efficient, a power plant has been integrated into the design of the plant to provide electricity.

Any excess energy generated will be sold to the national grid. These measures have resulted in significant cost-savings.

The first-year price for the desalinated water to be delivered to PUB is 45 cents per cubic metre.

That is about 40 per cent cheaper than that of Singapore's first desalination plant, SingSpring, which was also built by Hyflux.

The first-year price of water for SingSpring Desalination Plant is S$0.78 per cubic metre.

PUB said this will not affect the price of water for households as other factors are also taken into consideration.

Desalination is an important supply of water for Singapore as the country has little land to collect and store rainwater.

Chief Executive of PUB Chew Men Leong said: "Desalination is an important and integral part of our four national taps. It will actually enhance our water security and actually enable us to achieve greater resilience against weather uncertainties, especially prolonged drought situations.

“The opportunity for us here through the public private partnership working with industry here, Hyflux has enabled us to tap on the innovation and efficiency of the private sector. Hyflux optimises the technology configuration, thereby giving us competitive pricing (and) with that we are able to expand our supply of water, enhance our water security, and at the same time, keep a lid on the rising pressures of cost.”

The government intends to ramp up production capacity by 2060 so that desalinated water can meet up to 25 per cent of total water demand in the long term.

The other sources of water are local catchment water; imported water from Malaysia; and reclaimed water known as NEWater.

- CNA/gn

Another milestone as second desalination plant opens
Grace Chua Straits Times 19 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE'S second and largest desalination plant was opened yesterday, more than tripling the nation's capacity to turn seawater into fresh water to meet up to a quarter of its total demand.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who opened the Tuaspring Desalination Plant at Singapore's far south-western edge, called it the latest milestone in the city state's decades-long water journey.

At its start, people queued for water and lacked basic sanitation, he noted.

But pricing water right, working with academia and industry to develop water infrastructure, and having national agency PUB manage the entire water cycle from supply to recycling, have given Singapore a clean, reliable supply of water.

"What was once our strategic weakness is now a source of thought leadership and competitive advantage," he added.

Singapore plans to extend a deep tunnel sewerage system to the west to reuse more of its wastewater, and to have Newater and desalination meet up to 70 per cent of demand by 2030.

Tuaspring, like its neighbour SingSpring, is designed, owned, built and operated by Singapore- listed water firm Hyflux.

It can supply up to 70 million gallons of water a day, while SingSpring, which opened in 2005, can supply up to 30 million.

Singapore uses 400 million gallons of water a day, but that could nearly double by 2060. By then, it aims to have Newater and desalination meet up to 80 per cent of demand.

Water agency PUB has a 25-year agreement to buy desalinated water from Tuaspring, starting at 45 cents a cubic metre for the first year.

The $1.05 billion Tuaspring also has an attached power plant fuelled by liquefied natural gas, to provide a secure energy supply for desalination operations.

This makes it the first water project here to be combined with energy generation.

This will ensure that "Tuaspring is not just self-sufficient in its energy requirements" but "also allows us to produce desalinated water at a competitive cost", said Hyflux executive chairman Olivia Lum.

With greater dependence on energy-intensive technologies like water reclamation and desalination, it raises the question of whether water prices will rise for the consumer.

Not necessarily, said PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong on the sidelines of a water utility leaders' conference organised by the agency.

Improvements in technology have lowered the costs of desalination and water reclamation, he said, while other energy-efficiency improvements mean that the reclaiming and de-salting of water use less energy than they used to.

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Energy efficiency a critical concern for Singapore: Vivian Balakrishnan

Sharon See Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said that energy efficiency has overtaken sustainable water supply as a critical concern for Singapore.

He said there is a need to "focus extensively and deeply" on the issue of energy efficiency.

Dr Balakrishnan said: “What has really happened globally is the substitution of one critical vulnerability - water - with another critical vulnerability - energy, simply because the process of reverse osmosis is energy intensive.

“So yes, we may not be so vulnerable now to water shortages because you can always produce NEWater or desalinate water, but it means energy is now the main game in town.”

Speaking at the Water Utilities Leaders Forum at the Singapore International Water Week, Dr Balakrishnan said that it currently takes 3.5 kilowatt-hours to produce one cubic metre of water in Singapore, and there is a need to bring this down by "several orders of magnitude".

3.5 kilowatt-hours can power a fridge for a day.

Dr Balakrishnan said that new technologies could hold the key to increasing energy efficiency.

He said used water by definition contains organic material, which has caloric value. This means it has energy that can be harnessed.

He said: "What is the most efficient way of harnessing that energy, and then recycling that energy to produce recycled water to produce reverse osmosis?

“So there is a whole rich bed of research and development, which will enable us, I believe and I hope, to make a breakthrough in energy efficiency and ultimately, in enabling us to improve the catchment and the yields of water through reverse osmosis at much lower energy costs."

But even as energy efficiency becomes a key priority, Singapore remains focused on ensuring a secure and sustainable water supply.

It is planning to expand its water catchment area from two-thirds to 90 per cent of the island's land area.

It is also ramping up capacity for NEWater production and desalination. In 50 years, NEWater and desalination together are expected to meet up to 80 per cent of Singapore's overall water demand.

- CNA/ms

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Singapore most prepared country to respond to changes: KPMG study

Channel NewsAsia 18 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has topped a list of 90 nations for being the most prepared country to respond to changes, according to a KPMG study.

Sweden and Qatar were ranked second and third respectively.

KPMG's second edition of the Change Readiness Index (CRI) covered 90 countries and evaluated their capabilities to respond to changes such as natural disasters, global competition, economic shocks and demographic trends.

Singapore was ranked first in the areas of enterprise and government capability to respond to changes and came in fifth for the people and civil society component.

KPMG's head for government & infrastructure in the Asia Pacific Satyanarayan R said: "Countries are being exposed to a vast array of changes -- globalisation, automation and rising costs among others -- and these create both opportunities and risks. We cannot underestimate the importance of a nation's ability to respond to change as this capability is vital to a country's success in building a sustainable economy and equitable society."

Among other findings, the CRI revealed that a country's wealth does not always translate to change readiness. A number of lower-income countries have been ranked as having greater change readiness capability compared to some of their more developed counterparts.

For example, several lower-middle income countries, including Panama and the Philippines, outperformed some higher-income countries in the rankings, placing above Italy, Poland, Brazil and China.

- CNA/gn

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Take extra care when exercising at nature trails

Straits Times Forum 21 Sep 13;

WE ARE sorry to hear of Mr Larry Quah Chai Koon's unfortunate accident ("Dangerous obstacles along MacRitchie trail"; Forum Online, last Saturday).

We regularly carry out trail maintenance work to remove large rocks and fallen tree branches. But it is not feasible to remove all the rocks and cut all branches and roots of trees along a trail in a nature reserve.

We remind everyone to take extra care when exercising at nature trails.

Wong Tuan Wah
Director (Conservation)
National Parks Board

Dangerous obstacles along MacRitchie trail
Straits Times 14 Sep 13;

ON JULY 12, I was exercising at the MacRitchie nature trail when my foot struck a protruding stone. I lost my balance and flew forward, crashing onto my left shoulder. I fractured my left collarbone, cracked two ribs and suffered multiple lacerations on my body.

The incident happened at a downhill segment of the trail, leading to the TreeTop Walk and parallel to the Singapore Island Country Club service road. This stretch is not only undulating but also full of short tree stumps, protruding roots and stones.

I have heard of other accidents along this trail that left visitors injured.

Feedback has been given to the National Parks Board but it seems that no action has been taken to clear the obstacles.

I understand that the nature trail has to be left untouched as much as possible, but maintenance should be undertaken to remove protruding stones, branches and roots that may pose a danger to visitors.

Larry Quah Chai Koon

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Indonesia: Research in Borneo Shows Some Bat Species Resilient to Habitat Destruction

Jakarta Globe 18 Sep 13;

New research conducted by academics from the University of Kent in the UK has determined that rainforests in Borneo that have been subjected to repeated logging are still valuable from a biodiversity standpoint and may play an important role in conservation.

Matthew Struebig and Anthony Turner from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation Ecology (DICE) said on Wednesday in a statement that their findings challenged the long-held belief that heavily logged forests have limited, if any, conservation potential.

The research, which monitored bats as an indicator for environmental change on Borneo, is the first of its kind to monitor wildlife in forests logged more than two times.

Struebig who is also a lecturer in Biological Conservation from DICE, explained that recent studies have emphasized similar numbers of species living in unlogged and logged sites.

“But what surprised us, was just how resilient some species were, even in sites almost unrecognizable as rainforest,” he said.

Only by viewing forest sites along a gradient of logging disturbances — ranging from pristine to heavily degraded — was the team able to detect a gradual decline of some key bat species.

The research confirmed the most vulnerable bats were those that tend to live in the cavities of old growth trees. By linking bat captures with vegetation measurements from nearby plots, the researchers were able to reveal how these animals declined as successive rounds of logging took their toll on forest structure, and crucially, the availability of tree cavities.

Although logging damage was clearly detrimental to some of the species studied, the findings also offer some hope for forest restoration efforts.

“Across the tropics there is increasing investment to restore the timber and wildlife in logged rain forests,” said Struebig. “For biodiversity, simple measures, such as setting artificial nest boxes for bats and birds may, if guided by research, help bring some species back to the numbers found in unlogged areas”, he said.

Malaysian, Indonesian and Canadian researchers, in addition to scientists from the University of Kent and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, assisted in the project.

The statement said that the study is the first field data to be published from the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems Project in Sabah, Malaysia – a new landscape experiment which combines the efforts of more than 100 researchers around the world to investigate the impacts of logging, deforestation and forest fragmentation in the natural world.

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Malaysia: NGOs burn over plan for coal-fired power plant

Stephanie Lee The Star 19 Sep 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The Government must stick to its word and permanently scrap any plan to build a coal-fired power plant in Sabah.

According to Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) executive director Cynthia Ong, the Malaysian Government must not be seen as flip-flopping over the plant, especially after it gained accolades from the international community for agreeing to scrap the plant two years ago.

She said that Sabah cannot risk having a polluting source of energy while telling the world that the state is a front runner in biodiversity and conservation efforts.

Ong was responding to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Dep­uty Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid’s revelation that the Federal Go­­vernment was seriously considering the reintroduction of the project in Lahad Datu in order to boost the availability of electricity in Sabah, which is currently suffering a shortfall in supply on the eastern side.

She said five NGOs had formed Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future) in October 2009 to oppose the project, which at that point had been proposed for a third time.

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Study Suggests Overfishing of Sharks Is Harming Coral Reefs

Science Daiily 18 Sep 13;

A team of scientists from Canada and Australia has discovered that a decline in shark populations is detrimental to coral reefs.

"Where shark numbers are reduced due to commercial fishing, there is also a decrease in the herbivorous fishes which play a key role in promoting reef health," said Jonathan Ruppert, a recent University of Toronto PhD graduate. Ruppert was part of a team engaged in long-term monitoring of reefs off Australia's northwest coast.

Team leader Mark Meekan, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), said that the results might, at first glance, seem strange.

"However our analysis suggests that where shark numbers are reduced, we see a fundamental change in the structure of food chains on reefs," Meekan said.

"We saw increasing numbers of mid-level predators -- such as snappers -- and a reduction in the number of herbivores such as parrotfishes," said Meekan. "The parrotfishes are very important to coral reef health because they eat the algae that would otherwise overwhelm young corals on reefs recovering from natural disturbances."

According to Ruppert, the study comes at an opportune time -- coral reefs are facing a number of pressures both from direct human activity, such as over-fishing, as well as from climate change.

The reefs studied are about 300 kilometres off the coast of northwest Australia where Indonesian fishers target sharks -- a practice stretching back several centuries and which continues under an Australian-Indonesian memorandum of understanding.

"The reefs provided us with a unique opportunity to isolate the impact of over-fishing of sharks on reef resilience, and assess that impact in the broader context of climate change pressures threatening coral reefs," said Ruppert. "Shark fishing appears to have quite dramatic effects on coral reef ecosystems.

"Given that sharks are in decline on reefs worldwide, largely due to the shark fin trade, this information may prove integral to restoration and conservation efforts."

Tracking studies show that, in many cases, individual reef sharks are closely attached to certain coral reefs. This means that even relatively small marine-protected areas could be effective in protecting the top-level predators and allowing coral reefs to more fully recover from coral bleaching or large cyclones which are increasing in frequency due to the warming of the oceans as a result of climate change.

The study will appear in the September 28 issue of journal PLOS One.

Journal Reference:
Jonathan L. W. Ruppert, Michael J. Travers, Luke L. Smith, Marie-Josée Fortin, Mark G. Meekan. Caught in the Middle: Combined Impacts of Shark Removal and Coral Loss on the Fish Communities of Coral Reefs. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e74648 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074648

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Food crisis fears prompt UN wake-up call to world leaders

United Nations urges governments to do more to support small farmers to curb hunger, poverty and climate change
Claire Provost 18 Sep 13;

Governments in rich and poor countries alike should renounce their focus on agribusiness and give more support to small-scale, local food production to achieve global food security and tackle climate change, according to a report from Unctad, the UN trade and development body.

The 2013 Trade and Environment Review, calls on governments to "wake up before it is too late" and shift rapidly towards farming models that promote a greater variety of crops, reduced fertiliser use and stronger links between small farms and local consumers.

Persistent rural poverty, global hunger, population growth and environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis, argues the report, which criticises the international response to the 2008 food-price crisis for focusing on technical "quick-fixes".

"Many people talk about energy, transport, etc, but agriculture only comes on to the agenda when there is an acute food-price crisis, or when there are conflicts at the national level over food," said Ulrich Hoffman, senior trade policy adviser at Unctad. "At the international scene most of the discussion is on technicalities, but the matter we have before us is far more complex."

The report warns that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause big disruptions to agriculture, particularly in vulnerable regions of poorer countries.

It says that while the 2008 crisis helped to reverse the long-term neglect of agriculture and its role in development, the focus has remained on increasing yields through industrial farming.

The report, which includes contributions from 60 international experts – covering topics from food prices and fertiliser use to international land deals and trade rules – demands a paradigm shift to focus efforts on making farming more sustainable and food more affordable through promoting local food production and consumption.

Several of the contributors call for a focus on food sovereignty, a concept introduced more than a decade ago by the international peasants' movement La Via Campesina. Unlike food security, often defined as ensuring people have enough to eat, food sovereignty focuses on questions of power and control. It puts the needs and interests of those who produce and consume food at the heart of agricultural systems and policies.

The report argues that industrial, monoculture agriculture has failed to provide enough affordable food where it is needed, while the damage caused to the environment is "mounting and unsustainable". It echoes the work of Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen in arguing that the real causes of hunger – poverty and the lack of access to good, affordable food – are being overlooked.

Agricultural trade rules must be reformed, it says, to give countries more opportunity to promote policies that encourage local and regional food systems.

The report follows last week's publication of Unctad's annual trade and development report, which urged governments to focus more on domestic demand and inter-regional trade and rely less on exports to rich countries to fuel growth.

"Export-led growth is not the only viable development path," said Nikolai Fuchs, president of the Geneva-based Nexus Foundation and a contributor to the trade and environment report. "We don't say 'no trade', but … trade regimes should secure level playing fields for regional and local products, and allow for local and regional preference schemes, for example in public procurement.

"Highly specialised agriculture does not create enough jobs in rural areas where most of the poor are." He argued that industrial, export-oriented farming typically offers a few highly skilled and specialised jobs, or low-skill, seasonal and precarious employment.

The report says governments should acknowledge and reward farmers for the work they do to preserve water sources, soil, landscapes and biodiversity.

Hoffman acknowledged it would be difficult to implement the agenda the report was suggesting. "Subsidies are a key hurdle … at a national level but also [in terms of] dealing with subsidies in the context of the WTO [World Trade Organisation]," he said. There must be more scrutiny of agricultural subsidies, he argued, including those that appear to promote environmentally sustainable farming, as there were "ample opportunities for abuse or misuse".

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