Best of our wild blogs: 19 Oct 13

Winners at the Asian Environmental Journalism Awards 2013
from Green Business Times

Thu, 24 Oct 2013, 3.00pm @ CR1: Grace Blackham on “Ecological degradation and recovery in tropical peatland ecosystem” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

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Animal lover not out to make the fur fly: interview with Louis Ng

Collaboration with the Government rather than confrontation is the key to successful activism, says Mr Louis Ng, 35. The founder of animal rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres)- which recently earned an honourable mention in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech to the public service - tells Tessa Wong his cause is much thornier than people think.
Straits Times 19 Oct 13;

What do you think of advocacy in Singapore?
Whenever I go for overseas conferences and (tell people) I'm an activist from Singapore, they always joke: "There is no activism in Singapore."

In the Western world they are taught to speak up, voice their concerns, and to question. But Asians are taught not to question. We accept what the teacher tells us, we are always taught to respect our elders.

That mindset has led us to a very silent activism here, where very few people dare to speak up. But I think it's growing now in Singapore, with Gen Y starting to speak up. I also think that if you take the Western brand of advocacy to say, Asia or Singapore, that would backfire. Asians generally don't like aggression. We try to collaborate a bit more than confront.

If you start doing protests outside some of these groups that exploit animals, it would backfire at this point. If you look at what Acres is trying to achieve and how we are doing it, we always back up what we say with good science. So we don't just say dolphins suffer in captivity, we publish a whole report citing scientific evidence on why we came up with this view.

How does this approach inform Acres' interactions with the Government?
The Government doesn't like confrontation, they are more into collaboration and partnerships. Obviously that is a very fair approach, but what Acres tries to do differently is that we do criticise the Government, but we always offer an alternative.

One example is the wildlife rescues we do. It was reported in the media (that) someone called (the police) about a python on the road. And the police responded by killing the python.

Yes, we could have gone on record and say: "It's really bad, the police don't know what they're doing. Why would you kill a non-venomous animal that would probably go away?"

Or we could approach them and say: "Acres is here, we have the expertise on how to handle pythons, we understand you have limited resources, so let us help you handle the pythons." Which is what is happening now. When you call the police for wildlife rescue, they now forward the call to Acres.

So there is now a win-win. The police can focus on proper crime issues, Acres can help the animal, and the animal benefits because we run on a no-kill policy.

The other approach, which is to just keep slamming the police... I think that always backfires, where you push the Government to one corner and you idealistically expect them to change. I don't think it's realistic at this point.

Some might see your approach as "selling out". How would you respond to such criticism?
I have had that feedback. I do help out with (Law and Foreign Affairs) Minister K. Shanmugam, he's seen at a lot of our events, a lot of people have said: "You are selling out, you are now with the Government."

I now sit on a lot of government-formed committees on animal welfare, and sometimes I do defend the Government's policies. Is that a sell-out? I don't think so. Because I do openly criticise when I personally don't agree with it.

The key is how we approach the issue and how we can try to collaborate to form a win-win solution. If we always form a very combative, very negative approach, then it's human instinct to be defensive. But if we can achieve a state where we can criticise and yet sit down at the same table and talk it out and find a solution, then that obviously is ideal.

But do you think Acres has also benefited from the fact that, of all the issues this Government can move on, animal rights is one of the easiest? Other issues such as manpower, or the preservation of Bukit Brown, can be thornier.
I don't think so. It's a thornier issue actually because for a lot of the animal issues, we are really talking about humans changing their behaviour. For example, when dealing with monkeys, we need people to change. If you buy a residence next to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, we now want you to take steps to change your lifestyle, and that is always the hardest part.

A lot of MPs tell us that their residents say: "Why should I change, I paid millions of dollars for this house, now you want me to mesh up, lock up my bins?" Singapore is a very intolerant society now.

In terms of ministers or politicians taking a lead on animal welfare, that's a bigger step than a lot of other issues, say manpower, where you are not really calling for a lifestyle change.

With Singapore's rapid urbanisation, how do you think we can strike a balance between the needs of humans and needs of animals?
If you look at the recent Population White Paper, a lot more land is going to be developed in Singapore, and obviously there is going to be a lot more human-wildlife conflict here in the coming years as the population grows.

We need to have a look at how we can co-exist with these animals, not just wild animals that Acres is focused on but also dogs and cats. Look at how other countries are doing it.

I go to Laos once a month, there are dogs walking on the street in packs... Most of us who have been to Bangkok, you see dogs everywhere. You go to Egypt and you go to the mall and there are cats walking around, you go to the market you see cats on the carpets they are selling. I ask them: "You don't mind?" No, because they are part of the community.

So as we progress this fast, we cannot forget about being a gracious society, which is not just being gracious to our neighbours and family and friends, but also to animals.

But living with packs of animals roaming around might be a difficult concept for Singaporeans to accept. How could you convince them?
It's a false perception that Singaporeans are not convinced. Because in all the surveys that have been done , Singaporeans are convinced, the overwhelming majority has said: "Look, we don't want to kill (them), we want more measures in place to prevent the culling of the animals."

But we fall into this misconception because there is a very vocal minority. They are calling AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority), MPs and community centres repeatedly.

At the same time, we are saying we are here to do something to help animals and residents, and with that approach, residents know we are not trying to alienate their concerns. We are trying to address both and find a win-win solution.

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Work on three Thomson Line stations to start next year: LTA

Woodlands, Lentor, Mayflower stations and Mandai depot civil construction contracts worth S$1b awarded by LTA
Today Online 18 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE — Four civil contracts worth S$1 billion have been awarded by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) for three Thomson Line stations — namely Woodlands, Lentor and Mayflower stations — as well as Thomson Line’s Mandai depot, the agency announced today (Oct 18).

The Woodlands station contract has been awarded to GS Engineering & Construction. The South Korean firm is also involved in the construction for other stations, such as River Valley and Tampines East stations. When completed, Woodlands station will serve as the interchange between Thomson Line and North-South Line.

The Lentor station contract has been awarded to China Railway No 5 Engineering (Singapore branch). Its parent company has contributed to constructing roads, railways and other public works across China.

The Mayflower station contract has been awarded to Gammon Construction Singapore Branch (GPL). GPL has contributed to other LTA projects, and is currently involved in Downtown Line’s Chinatown station.

These stations will serve to connect the Thomson Line to the North-South and Circle Lines through Woodlands and Caldecott stations respectively to improve connectivity for commuters working and residing in Woodlands, Lentor, Thomson and Ang Mo Kio, said the LTA. They will also serve as Civil Defence shelters.

In addition to the various Thomson Line stations, LTA also awarded the construction of Thomson Line’s Mandai Depot to Jurong Primewide. The company is currently involved in constructing the depot for Tuas West Extension.

Construction works are expected to start by the first quarter of next year. The Woodlands interchange station and Mandai depot are scheduled to be completed in the year 2019 while Lentor and Mayflower stations are scheduled to be completed in 2020.

Fully underground, Thomson Line comprises 22 stations, including six interchange stations: Woodlands, Caldecott, Stevens, Orchard, Outram Park and Marina Bay.

4 Thomson Line contracts awarded
Work on 3 stations, a train depot to begin next year
Daryl Chin Straits Times 19 Oct 13;

MORE than a billion dollars' worth of contracts has been awarded by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to four companies for the construction of three stations and a train depot for the upcoming Thomson MRT Line.

Work on the new Woodlands, Lentor and Mayflower stations, as well as the Mandai depot, is expected to begin in the first quarter of next year, according to a LTA statement released yesterday.

The Woodlands interchange station and Mandai depot are set to be completed in 2019, with the Lentor and Mayflower stations following a year later. South Korean firm GS Engineering and Construction Corp, which is also building the Hillview, Cashew, River Valley and Tampines East stations on the Downtown Line, won the Woodlands tender for $292 million.

Located next to Woodlands Civic Centre, the new station will be connected to the existing Woodlands MRT station on the North-South Line.

The $247 million contract for Lentor station, along Lentor Drive and near Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Hospital, went to China Railway No. 5 Engineering Group. The firm is a subsidiary of China Railway Group, the largest integrated railway construction contractor in China, which has built highways and other infrastructure across the country.

Mayflower station, sited next to Kebun Baru community centre along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, will be constructed by the local arm of Hong Kong-based Gammon Construction, which is also involved in the Boon Lay Extension Trackwork and upgrading of Woodsville Interchange in Serangoon.

The $329 million contract for the Mandai depot, located along the Seletar Expressway, was awarded to Jurong Primewide, a local company that was also behind the first MRT Tuas West Extension.

The LTA said that when completed, the three stations on the 30km Thomson Line, which will double up as civil defence shelters, will make it more convenient for those residing in Woodlands, Lentor, Thomson and Ang Mo Kio to commute to the Central Business District as well as Marina Bay area developments.

Commuters heading from Woodlands South to Gardens by the Bay, for instance, are expected to shave around 25 minutes off travelling time, as a direct train ride will take only 45 minutes.

Comprising 22 stations in all, the $18 billion Thomson line will run fully underground.

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Resilient cities are the next big thing

URA chairman Peter Ho considers Boston the epitome of a resilient city. It re-invented itself three times between the 16th and 21st centuries. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Cheong Suk-Wai Straits Times 19 Oct 13;

THE true test of how ready a city is to tackle all threats is how well it operates in storms as well as in sunny conditions.

Urban resilience has long been the desired goal for urban planners and city dwellers alike.

Now, such resilience is a must-have because deep-pocket corporations and investors are saying they want to move their assets only to cities that will not be shaken easily by sudden or prolonged shocks, whether they are flash floods, smog or a dearth of younger skilled workers.

That's according to global government and education chief Jeffrey Rhoda of technology giant IBM, the company that has long been a champion of the idea of smart cities.

In fact, Mr Rhoda said, the United Nations' new International Strategy for Disaster Reduction secretariat will soon introduce a resilience scorecard to assess how well cities respond to serious stresses such as a thick wind-blown haze or continued mining that strips nutrients from land inhabited by 1.5 billion people.

He said it was now no longer enough to be a smart city or one brimming with bright people, big-name universities and spanking-new systems to capture and crunch data on patterns of urban life. "Investors are looking beyond skills and education to really resilient cities," Mr Rhoda told delegates on Thursday at the Future of Urban Living meet here.

The day-long powwow was organised jointly by the Ministry of National Development's Centre for Liveable Cities and the Eisenhower Fellowships chapter in Singapore. Its president is Ms Lim Soo Hoon, the permanent secretary for performance in the Ministry of Finance.

The trick is knowing exactly when and how to strengthen a city against new threats, said Mr Jordan Schwartz, the World Bank's Singapore-based manager for infrastructure policy.

Mr Schwartz noted that responding decisively to uncertainty needed intuition and experience. He likened it to his 10-year-old daughter, who knew exactly when to jump into the middle of two skipping ropes being held and swung in opposite directions by her two friends.

Mr Schwartz was speaking in a pre-recorded video after being recalled to the United States before the start of the conference.

He added: "That is how a city must function today - understand the moving parts of any situation and jump in at the right point. But urban planners want to be able to predict and replicate things. So they turn to models."

But life was not static like modelling, which is about thinking up scenarios and predicting their likely outcomes.

He suggested that urban planners should instead test their ideas by taking "slices of the system", that is, observe how everyone in their city responded to crises and formulate policies based on those real-life experiences.

In the meantime, Mr Schwartz suggested three ways in which city planners could improve resilience.

The first involves stopping urban sprawl. People used to think that crowding people into cities meant poor living conditions. But Mr Schwartz noted that the increasingly popular view today was that the wealthy and talented loved living in cities. This was why money, jobs and information brokers were now concentrated there.

So city planners should encourage many uses for a single plot of land, including mixed developments. "The opposite of density is not rural bliss, but a widening of the carbon footprint and the loss of economies of scale," he pointed out.

The second way to improve resilience, Mr Schwartz said, is to invest heavily in improving public transportation networks. This is because transport delivers the single largest boost to health and happiness by enabling commuters to get to and from work quickly and smoothly.

His final suggestion: monitor the climate more closely. Mr Schwartz urged urban planners to develop a better understanding of why and how local climates may change, and design their urbanscapes for their most extreme instances.

Fellow speaker Peter Ho, the former chief of the Civil Service here, said the sporadic crises that cities face more often these days were "wicked problems", a complex problem with no easy solutions. Indeed, different stakeholders may have very different views on what the solution should be.

Mr Ho, who now chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority and is senior adviser to resilience think-tank the Centre for Strategic Futures here, considered Boston in the United States the epitome of a resilient city. It re-invented itself three times between the 16th and 21st centuries.

Citing urban economist Edward Glaeser, Mr Ho noted how Boston started out as a busy port and centre for learning in the 1600s but was eclipsed in the mid-1800s by the port of Philadelphia. Boston surged again during the Industrial Revolution, but sank during the Great Depression.

It got its third wind in the 1990s, transforming itself into a global information hub. "Boston teaches us that nothing is forever," Mr Ho mused.

Mr Rhoda said that at least one mainstay of smart cities, that is, electronic sensors, would help cities be more resilient in future.

Noting that there were now more cheap, top-quality sensors "than grains of rice", he said that sensors would help everyone detect and deal with threats much quicker.

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Malaysia: Policy to check logging in Sabah forest reserves bearing fruit

The Star 19 Oct 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Year 2013 has been a record of sorts for Sabah because for the first time in perhaps 50 years, no short-term logging or Form I licences have been issued in forest reserves.

This was part of a deliberate policy to bring down timber harvesting volumes in natural forests to sustainable levels through various measures, said State Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan.

Other steps taken included the phasing out and elimination of short -term logging licences, introduction of reduced impact logging since 2009 with third party and independent auditing.

Mannan said this when responding to queries from various groups on the sharp decline in the state’s forest revenue over the past several years. He added that Sabah’s totally protected areas had been increased by some 60% over the past 10 years and now constitute about 20% of the state’s land mass.

There were now about 1.35 million hectares of protected areas compared to just 840,000ha in 2004.

“Our long-term plan is to create two million hectares of protected areas, or 30% of Sabah’s land mass,” he said.

The increase in protected areas has corresponded with a decline in revenue from the states forests.

Some 1.2 million cubic metres or some 30% of the states total timber production were sourced from forest plantations in 2011.

On loss of revenue due to leakage, he said there is no denying that leakages did occur either deliberately or due to technicalities, and even outright abuse.

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Biggest zone closed to fishing announced in the Southern Indian Ocean

IUCN 17 Oct 13;

Two high-seas areas in the Southern Indian Ocean have been added to the network of zones that are closed to deepwater trawling by a fishing industry group, making it the largest such enclosure in the world – IUCN and the Southern Indian Ocean Deepwater Fishers Association (SIODFA) announced today.

Together with the 11 areas that were voluntarily closed to fishing by SIODFA in 2006, the new closures will help protect and conserve the so-called “benthic zone” – the area at the bottom of the sea – and its associated biodiversity. The combined zones cover an area approximately the size of Norway.

“By putting in place self-imposed restrictions with the aim to maintain unsubsidized, profitable and environmentally-sustainable fisheries, SIODFA is setting international best practice for responsible deep-sea fishery management,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme. “We hope that others will follow this example, recognizing how important it is to protect and sustainably use marine resources.”

The two areas now closed to fishing include the Banana Seafloor Feature – an isolated rocky feature off the coast of Madagascar – and a part of the Middle of What seamount of the South West Indian Ridge. These seafloor features are home to coldwater corals and sponges, as well as commercially important fish species, such as alfonsino and the orange roughy. They are often hotspots of marine life and support globally significant biodiversity. Sharks, tuna, marine mammals and seabirds congregate over seamounts to feed.

“By making these areas unavailable to fishing, SIODFA members hope to contribute to the protection and management of their rich and fragile resources,” says Graham Patchell, Chief Scientist of SIODFA.

Bottom trawling can cause significant damage to deep-sea communities which grow and reproduce slowly. The orange roughy, for example, becomes sexually mature at 30-40 years of age and coral reefs are believed to take hundreds, or even thousands of years to recover from physical damage. Indiscriminate fishing has damaged sea-floor fauna in the past.

Formed in 2006, SIODFA is committed to biologically-sustainable and economically-viable commercial fishing operations in the Southern Indian Ocean. Its members include Austral Fisheries Pty Ltd, (Perth, Australia), Kanai Fisheries Ltd (Hokkaido, Japan) Sealord Group (Nelson, New Zealand) and ORAFCO (Jersey, U.K.).

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