Best of our wild blogs: 1 Oct 13

Butterfly Behaviour
from Midnight Monkey Monitor

Love unplugged
from The annotated budak

Little Heron and its uropygial or preen glands
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Coal railway could cause 'ecological disaster' in Indonesian Borneo, warn environmentalists
from news

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School design tweaked after Pasir Ris residents' objections

But some still concerned about traffic woes at Pasir Ris international school
Grace Chua Straits Times 1 Oct 13;

A GROUP of residents in Pasir Ris have lost a long-running battle to stop the Government from giving approval for a new international school close to their homes.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) informed the residents recently that the Overseas Family School (OFS) will proceed, but with a design addressing some concerns they had raised.

Some residents were concerned that the school's 12-storey buildings would loom over their homes, while others were keen to preserve a forested area.

Some were also worried that transport for its 4,800 pupils would affect traffic flow.

The $261 million campus on the 4ha plot is at the corner of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road.

Until last month, when it was cleared, the plot boasted woodland that some residents had fought to save. They aired their concerns with the authorities.

Last weekend, about 300 residents of the Pasir Ris Heights area got a URA letter showing the campus layout and detailing measures to assuage some concerns.

These include a new road off Pasir Ris Drive 3 and opposite Pasir Ris Drive 10, providing more planting at the site's edges than the standard 2m requirement, and putting the car and bus parks beneath the school field.

"We have approved the layout of the school campus based on the following major considerations to mitigate your concerns," it said.

Another design feature is that the air-conditioned 12-storey academic buildings are to tilted at an angle to reduce the sense they will tower over homes, mostly terrace or semi-detached homes.

Still, some residents are concerned about traffic congestion and parents of OFS pupils parking their cars in front of their homes.

The Pasir Ris Greenbelt residents' group is still hoping for a townhall-style meeting with the school, URA and the Ministry of National Development to reiterate concerns before piling starts and the layout of the campus is set.

But OFS has a deadline as it must move out of its Paterson Road campus by 2015 to make way for the Thomson MRT Line.

Asked if his views might be considered "not in my backyard" or Nimby entitlement, Pasir Ris Heights resident Oliver Foo, 49, said: "Would we prefer to have a green belt? Yes."

"But do we accept that the school is coming? Yes, we do," said the leadership consultant.

National University of Singapore geographer Harvey Neo, who studies nature and society, said while the authorities have factored in some of the residents' concerns, "fundamentally, the residents are questioning the need and inevitability of building an overseas school in the green belt".

But some have pointed out that some give-and-take is necessary.

There have been incidents of residents opposing developments, like nursing homes, being built near their homes.

MP Lim Biow Chuan, who has dealt with such cases, said: "I always hesitate to use the term Nimby. Although strictly speaking the land does not belong to the residents... we should see if these are legitimate concerns.

"Planning for land use is a complicated affair, and like it or not, some things have to be built. Sometimes residents are concerned because they can't see the whole picture. So communication is important."

Timeline of events
April 2012: Land on either side of a forest patch at the intersection of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road is earmarked for development.
June 2012: Residents form the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee to protect the 4ha patch.
July 2012: They petition to protect the woodland.
Aug 2012: They hold talks with their MP, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Oct 2012: The Ministry of National Development (MND) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) send the group a letter saying the site is to make way for a school.
Nov 2012: The group meets DPM Teo, URA, MND and the National Parks Board.
Dec 2012-Jan 2013: Residents are alarmed to see workers about to cut down a large tree, but MND says the tree is being felled for safety reasons.
June 2013: The lease for the land is awarded to Overseas Family School for $28 million for 30 years.
Sept 2013: The school pays an extra $9.1 million for intensified land use.
Sept 19: Pasir Ris residents meet the school and URA representatives and their MP.
Sept 29: URA sends residents a letter detailing campus plans, to mitigate concerns.

Related link
Pasir Ris Greenbelt on facebook.

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Bukit Brown, development and possibilities for Singapore’s future

Chong Ja Ian Today Online 30 Sep 13;

Recent events should give pause to the proposed construction of the dual four-lane carriageway across Bukit Brown.

Surveys for Our Singapore Conversation indicate that 62 per cent of Singaporeans prefer preserving green spaces over constructing roads and other infrastructure, while 53 per cent prefer heritage preservation over infrastructure building.

Staying road construction in Bukit Brown, before exhumations begin next month, would demonstrate responsiveness to public needs, giving Singaporeans a last opportunity to consider the consequences of altering an important part of our nation’s natural and cultural landscape.

Heavy rush-hour traffic on Lornie Road comes from vehicles filtering on and off a congested Pan-Island Expressway, an issue a road through Bukit Brown cannot solve. In fact, Singapore can probably never build enough roads.

What are the fundamentals behind congestion? Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has observed that the main challenge is sub-optimal public transport, which heightens car demand.

Recent steps to raise Electronic Road Pricing rates and introduce new Certificate of Entitlement restrictions underscore the fact that controlling vehicle population is key to addressing traffic concerns.

The Prime Minister’s National Day Rally speech should provide impetus for maintaining Bukit Brown in its current form, as new plans mean that “we don’t have to worry about running out of space or possibilities for Singapore”.

I hope this means space for a Bukit Brown heritage park in our future. As physical changes become more prevalent, tangible markers of our heritage grow in importance in ways that digitisation can never fully replicate.

Singapore is no longer in the 1960s, when infrastructure development was imperative. Constructing the road, and other developments, over Bukit Brown may even be counterproductive. Floods earlier this month serve as a reminder of the need for cautious development.

As the National Environment Agency noted, the significant factors that may explain the trend of “Changing weather patterns causing more flash floods” (Sept 13) are likely to be “rapid development and urbanisation, as well as global warming”.

The Expert Panel on Drainage Design and Flood Prevention Measures has likewise noted that urbanisation contributes “undoubtedly” to increased surface run-off and flooding. So, would building the road over Bukit Brown potentially create complications?

The authorities should suspend construction until there are more comprehensive and appropriate ways to address the environmental, heritage, traffic and development issues that intersect at Bukit Brown. Is the environmental impact assessment available?

At a minimum, a rigorous study should be made public, the first step towards a more sustainable approach. Halting construction comes with costs, but these may be lower than those from building the road. Singapore is worth the extra effort.

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Hazy skies but air quality healthy

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 30 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore experienced slightly hazy conditions on Monday.

Its Pollutant Standard Index (PSI), which is a measure of air quality, rose to a three-hour average of 48 at 4pm which is still in the "good range".

The moderate range starts at 51.

Providing an update on his Facebook page, Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the hazy condition was due to the southwest winds blowing from hotspots in Riau and local accumulation of particulate matter over Singapore.

He added that the situation should improve as rain is forecast over the next few days which could help put out the fires in Riau.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) says the 24-hour PSI for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the good range.

- CNA/ir

Rain should improve haze conditions: Vivian
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 1 Oct 13;

THE haze here yesterday was exacerbated by unfavourable winds, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

But rain over the next few days should improve the situation, he added.

The National Environment Agency said the air here should remain healthy today as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is expected to be in the "good" range.

"Singapore may experience slightly hazy conditions in the morning, but all people can continue with normal activities," the agency said in an advisory.

The three-hour PSI reading climbed to 48 at 3pm yesterday, just shy of the "moderate" range of 51-100, before falling again in the evening.

People around Singapore complained of hazy conditions and a burning smell in the air in the afternoon.

Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post last night that the "visible haze" was partly due to south-westerly winds blowing from hot spots or fires in Riau province, Indonesia.

The number of hot spots in Sumatra had risen over the weekend from about 25 to 33, according to satellite maps, but some could have been obscured by cloud cover.

"Fortunately, the situation should improve as rain is forecasted over the next few days to douse the fires in Riau," he said.

Last week, Dr Balakrishnan and his Asean counterparts agreed to set up a task force comprising experts on fire and haze assessment and coordination.

This task force will review existing alert levels and formulate trigger points for action. This will help the authorities to act on haze sooner.

Haze in Singapore and Malaysia from forest fires in Riau broke a 16-year record in June, prompting demands for action.

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An idea to charge for plastic bags on weekends

Environment group hopes to spark national discourse on changing consumer behaviour
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 1 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — Wading again into what it calls a “very polarising environmental issue” here, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) yesterday floated the idea of charging for supermarket plastic bags on weekends after a six-month outreach and education effort next year.

Backed by survey findings on how households obtain and reuse plastic bags, the proposal was one of 10 made by the SEC, that also included bins with second-hand reusable bags placed near cashier counters for shoppers who have forgotten to take their own bags to the supermarket. One in three consumers here waste some or all the plastic bags they take for free at supermarkets, the SEC found from questions posed to 2,500 households that were tagged to a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources survey last year.

This was derived from the percentage of respondents who threw bags away after taking them home (6.3 per cent) and those who store more than 20 plastic bags at home at a time.

Nine in 10 respondents said they use plastic bags to contain general waste. The top reasons for not using reusable bags were: That plastic bags were provided anyway; making purchases unplanned and not having reusable bags at hand; forgetting to take them when shopping; and needing plastic bags to dispose of waste.

The SEC’s position paper — consisting of survey findings and its recommendations to reduce wastage — hopes to spark a “national discourse on changing consumer behaviour” on the issue, said SEC Executive Director Jose Raymond.

Consumers here used about three billion plastic bags in 2011.

While it is mindful not to impose extra financial burden on low-income households, or compromise competitiveness of businesses, the council aims to roll out a “Bring Your Own Bag Every Day” education programme next year. Mr Raymond said supermarket chains were receptive to the idea of charging for plastic bags on weekends — when it is presumably less inconvenient to take one’s own bag along to shop — but wanted all major players to first be on board. Asked how much retailers could charge, he suggested 10 cents per plastic bag.

Consumers like Mr Irvin Tan, 31, said he was supportive of charging for plastic bags. “We have to figure out the best way to communicate the message. If this carrot/stick model is going to teach people that plastic bags are used at a price, then I’m for it,” said the entrepreneur.

But Consumers Association of Singapore Executive Director Seah Seng Choon called for more education, and said offering rebates is the “more friendly way”. “The effort to save the environment is commendable. It is better if an incentive is given, instead of imposing a charge,” he said.

Related link
Press release of the position paper can be found on SEC’s website at

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Study reveals volunteers more likely to be happy with life

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 1 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE: A national study has found that Singaporeans who volunteer or donate are more likely to be satisfied and happy with their lives.

The Subjective Well-being Survey was done as part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre's (NVPC) Individual Giving Survey in 2012. It is also the first time this large-scale national study was conducted to establish the link between giving and happiness in Singapore.

The study found that two-thirds of people who volunteered and or donated had high levels of subjective well-being, while less than half of non-givers had a high level of satisfaction.

It also highlighted that among volunteers who were satisfied with their experience with their non-profit organisations they volunteered in, 88 per cent intend to volunteer again in the future. This compared with 70 per cent for those with low satisfaction.

Meanwhile, for donors who were satisfied with their experience donating to non-profit organisations, 92 per cent intend to donate in future, compared to 78 per cent for donors who had low satisfaction.

The NVPC hopes that these findings will spur more people to volunteer, donate or both.

The centre's CEO, Lawrence Lien, said: "It's important in our context because even though we think it's intuitive, there are still people who might not give it priority.

"People on the ground quite often would say 'well, let me settle everything else in my life. I'm so stressed out, I've got so little time', but that shows that they might not give giving a priority in their lives."

- CNA/ec

Happy people give and gain more with volunteer work: Singapore study
Siau Ming En Today Online 30 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — Happy people are more likely to donate and to volunteer, and those who do so tend to become happier, according to results released today (Sept 30) from the first national study in Singapore on the relationship between giving and subjective well-being.

Conducted by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and Professor David Chan — a Lee Kuan Yew Fellow and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute at Singapore Management University — the study covered 1,512 individuals aged 15 and above and is part of NVPC’s Individual Giving Survey 2012.

Mr Laurence Lien, the Chief Executive Officer of NVPC, said today that many do not have time, nor see the act of giving as something that is “personally meaningful” to them. He added that with the survey results, chances are, people will now place volunteering and donating higher on their list of priorities.

Likewise, Professor Chan noted that the survey results are “not obvious” as some people will see it from a standard economic perspective, where giving involves losing time and money. He explained this is why it is “important” to establish the relationship between giving and subjective well-being.

The study showed that 66 per cent of those who volunteered and/or donated were satisfied and happy with their lives as compared to the 45 per cent figure among non-givers.

On top of that, the study also examined the relationship between givers’ intention to give in future and their experience with non-profit organisations.

About 88 per cent of volunteers who said that they were satisfied with their experience with the non-profit organisations they worked with indicated their intention to continue volunteering in the future. By comparison, only 70 per cent of those who were less satisfied said that they would continue to do so.

Me Lien noted that the results showed that it is important for non-profit organisations to manage volunteers and donors effectively, to develop “a positive giving experience” which would then increase the likelihood for volunteers and donors to continue giving.

Charitable people 'tend to be happier'
Janice Tai Straits Times 1 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE residents who volunteer or donate money to help others are more likely to be satisfied or happy with their lives, a national study has found.

Those who give more, whether of time or money, and more frequently, also tend to rate higher on satisfaction and happiness.

This is because people who give derive a sense of personal meaning from helping others and become more grateful for what they have, said Professor David Chan, director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute and professor of psychology at the Singapore Management University.

Prof Chan was the consultant for the survey commissioned by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).

Another motivating factor is the sense of community created through interaction with the people they help, he added.

This is the first time a national study has established the link between giving and happiness.

It was done as part of NVPC's Individual Giving Survey last year, which interviewed 1,512 Singapore residents.

The bi-yearly survey tracks volunteerism and philanthropy trends in Singapore. It found that two-thirds of those who volunteered or donated in the past year were satisfied and happy with their lives. In contrast, 45 per cent of those who did not volunteer or donate were satisfied.

And more than 70 per cent of those who served 12 or more volunteer hours, or gave $100 or more in the last 12 months registered high levels of well-being compared to 63 per cent of those who gave less time and 59 per cent who gave less money.

Well-being was measured using a 10-item index, which asked individuals the extent to which they feel satisfied or happy.

Prof Chan said the results of this survey were consistent with other research. "Happy people are more likely to give, but people who give also tend to become happier. This leads to a positive spiral in which both givers and recipients benefit," he said.

NVPC chief executive Laurence Lien said he hopes the survey results will encourage people to give back to society more regularly.

Madam Tay Hui Chan, 70, embodies the sentiment. She cooks every week for 20 to 30 elderly folks in her neighbourhood.

"When they are happy, I am also happy," she said. "We are a family."

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Malaysia: Pulau Perhentian reefs under attack from algae

Tan Cheng Li The Star 1 Oct 13;

Sewage pollution is slowly marring the coral reefs of Pulau Perhentian in Terengganu.

THE coral reefs of Pulau Perhentian are slowly losing their hues. Instead of a riot of colours that come from healthy coral polyps, they are now increasingly being covered by dull, brown algae.

These marine plants occur naturally on reefs but if there are excessive nutrients in the water, such as from fertiliser and sewage, they will proliferate and crowd out other reef organisms.

A report by Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) says the average algae cover of 10.6% over the last five years at Perhentian is far higher than the national average, which in 2010 was 3.3%.

Once widespread, the algae cover can no longer be kept under control by algae-grazing fish (and other herbivorous organisms). It then takes over the reef, smothering and killing corals. It also reduces the clean surface available for recruitment of new corals on rock and old dead corals, hindering the recovery of reefs. Algae-dominated reefs are less diverse and less productive than coral-dominated reefs, and they lose much of their value, particularly for tourism.

RCM says there has been a marked decline in the area of hard corals in Perhentian since 2009, to just 36% (“fair” condition) in 2011. The decline coincides with a period of consistently high (though fluctuating) levels of algae on the reefs.

Given the absence of other sources of nutrient – there are no industries or farms on the island, plus it is 20km from the nearest river on the mainland – the likely trigger of the algae growth is sewage pollution.

A study by Environmental Resources Management (which was engaged by RCM) has indicated sewage pollution around Perhentian. Of the 13 resorts surveyed, only two were found to have adequate sewage treatment systems that operate according to discharge limits. Eight resorts have systems that require maintenance and refurbishment (generally involving desludging), while three have systems that require complete upgrades.

However, the ERM study discovered poor maintenance of septic tanks, with only one resort reporting that sludge is transported back to the mainland for treatment. Some operators have never desludged their septic tanks. Those which do, routinely discharge sludge directly to sea or land.

“It is considered highly likely that this is contributing to the spread of algae on the coral reefs, which, if not reversed, could significantly damage the reefs in the next few years,” says RCM.

It, however, does not support the plan for a central sewage plant for the island. The reasons: there is limited water and electricity supply to run the facility; the lack of flat land for a large installation; resorts are far apart and to connect them to the plant, sewage pipes will have to traverse the channel between the islands; and the considerable disruptions to terrestrial ecosystems during installation of pipework as the islands are hilly. Also, many resorts are located on rented land with very short rental terms (usually only two years). There would be significant difficulties in negotiating between land owner and resort operator regarding costs of installation.

As an alternative to a large, centralised sewage treatment plant, RCM proposes improving the existing septic tank systems by regular desludging and better maintenance. It says septic tanks, if properly designed and maintained, can be adequate in preventing sewage pollution. Representatives of Indah Water Konsortium (IWK), who visited the island in February 2012, agreed too that a desludging operation is a better option than constructing a full-scale plant.

Other East Coast islands are suffering from sewage pollution similar to Perhentian’s. No detailed survey of sewage treatment systems is available for the islands but RCM personnel, who regularly visit these places for surveys and other programmes, have observed poor sewage infrastructure. In Pulau Tioman, owners of two resorts more than 20 years old said they have never desludged their septic tanks. Water quality sampling by RCM in 2009 at 11 sites in Tioman found several sites to be highly contaminated with coliform bacteria, indicative of sewage pollution. Levels were particularly high at Salang village, which has several large resorts, but lacks adequate sewage treatment facilities. In Pulau Redang, a stream in a resort area regularly has odours related to sewage pollution. In Pulau Aur, reefs near three resorts are covered with algae.

RCM suggests that IWK investigate the possibility of providing a mobile septic tank desludging facility to service the resorts on all East Coast islands. It says providing such a facility should be viewed not as a cost but as an investment in protecting coral reefs, which are the foundation of the economies on the islands, bringing in an estimated revenue of RM360mil annually.

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