Best of our wild blogs: 24 Oct 13

Wed, 30 Oct 2013, 10.00am @ SR1: Daniel Ng on “Impacts of climate change on Singapore amphibians” from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Sharks in Singapore Waters!
from Pulau Hantu

Butterflies Galore! : Purple Duke
from Butterflies of Singapore

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NTU, maritime body to set up facility to test alternative fuels

David Ee Straits Times 24 Oct 13;

SHIP operators looking for alternative fuel sources amid rising bunker fuel costs may find the answers through a maritime energy test-bed facility to be established in Singapore by 2015.

To be set up by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI), the facility, the first of its kind in South-east Asia, will enable the shipping industry to research and test alternative fuels such as biodiesel and liquefied natural gas.

Companies will also be able to explore new technologies in the areas of emissions control and fuel additives, for example.

The establishment of the $8.1million facility, to be located on NTU's premises, was announced yesterday by SMI chairman Teo Siong Seng at the institute's annual forum.

Speaking after the event, NTU Energy Research Institute co-director Chan Siew Hwa said the research carried out at the facility would benefit maritime players. "Ship operators are under intense pressure because of rising fuel costs," said Professor Chan.

Cargo ships run on bunker fuel, which can account for more than 70 per cent of an operator's voyage expenses. As of last month, bunker fuel cost US$597 (S$740) per tonne, which was four times that at the end of 2008.

The facility will welcome scientists and engineers from around the world to conduct research there, and also aims to train maritime doctorate students.

At least 12 ship operators and equipment suppliers are already lined up to use it, said Prof Chan.

Mr Teo said that the facility could be a boost for the maritime sector here, which contributes about 7 per cent of Singapore's annual gross domestic product.

SMI executive director Lam Yen Chin agreed, saying the facility would "attract more business to the whole maritime value chain, ranging from local suppliers to shipyards and ports".

NTU sets up South-east Asia’s first green maritime energy test facility
The facility is expected to be ready by 2015
Today Online 24 Oct 13;

SINGAPORE – The first South-east Asia advanced maritime energy test facility for research and development work in green ship and port technologies will be set up by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in a joint fund with the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI).

SMI Chairman Teo Siong Seng announced this today (Oct 23). The facility is expected to be ready by 2015.

According to a statement, the SMI will contribute S$4.7 million over the next 10 years, while NTU will provide S$3.4 million, with support from the industry.

Mr Teo said: “The establishment of the Maritime Energy Test Bed will help in the translation of innovative technologies from lab-scale to large-scale application where new technologies will be tested prior to sea trials.”

The new facility is built according to International Maritime Organisation (IMO) requirements, said Professor Chan Siew Hwa, Co-Director of ERI@N. It will also have a 1.5 megawatt diesel engine which can be modified to run on different fuels, as well as advanced equipment for research in energy storage, noise pollution and waste heat recovery.

“To develop new technologies for green ships and green ports, all aspects of energy usage have to be studied, from the type of fuel and its associated emissions issues, to the efficiency of engines and waste heat recovery systems,” said Prof Chan.

Maritime manpower training and development is also an important objective of the new facility as it will also be a platform to train PhD students and engineers, said MI@NTU executive director Lam Yen Chin.

“With the creation of new knowledge and green technologies, as well as skilled manpower, Singapore will be able to attract more business to the whole maritime value chain, ranging from local suppliers to shipyards and ports,” said Mr Lam.

“In addition to Singapore getting a share of the multi-billion dollar green shipping industry through R&D, this initiative will also help to promote Singapore’s international standing when it comes to environmental sustainability in the maritime industry.”

NTU to set up Southeast Asia's first green maritime energy test facility
Channel NewsAsia 23 Oct 13;

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is setting up an advanced maritime energy test facility for research and development work in green ship and port technologies.

SINGAPORE: The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is setting up an advanced maritime energy test facility for research and development work in green ship and port technologies.

Called the Maritime Energy Test Bed, it will be open to scientists and engineers from both academia and industry, and is expected to be ready by 2015.

NTU and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) are jointly funding the centre, which they say will be the first in Southeast Asia.

SMI Chairman Teo Siong Seng said: "The establishment of the Maritime Energy Test Bed will help in the translation of innovative technologies from lab-scale to large-scale application where new technologies will be tested prior to sea trials."

SMI will contribute S$4.7 million over the next 10 years to the centre while NTU will provide S$3.4 million with support from the industry.

- CNA/de

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Malaysia: Boycott civet coffee, Peta urges public

Atiqa Hazellah New Straits Times 24 Oct 13;

ABUSE: This is to prevent cruelty to catlike animals

KUALA LUMPUR: ANIMAL protection group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has called on Malaysians to boycott kopi luwak, or civet coffee, saying that animal abuse was part of the production of the coffee beans.

Peta Asia vice president (international operations) Jason Baker said most of the civets producing the famous coffee were confined to cages and subjected to cruel, unnatural treatment.

"Purchasing a product that's the direct result of animal abuse supports the abuse, which is why Peta is asking consumers to boycott civet coffee."

He said that the abuse was worse than drinking a beverage derived from beans pulled from animal excrement.

"Although unappetising, drinking coffee made from beans that were plucked from faeces isn't the most revolting aspect of civet coffee."

Kopi luwak is made out of coffee beans that are eaten and then excreted by Asian palm civets -- a small grey and black cat-like mammal that inhabits Asian forests.

After passing through the animal's digestive tract, it's said that the beans become less acidic and acquire a "smooth and unique" taste.

A Peta Asia investigator who visited civet coffee farms in Indonesia and the Philippines documented that the catlike creatures were confined to tiny and filthy cages which made them suffer from malnutrition and skin infections.

"Undercover video footage showed how the civets incessantly pace, spin and bob their heads -- indications that they're going insane from confinement and depression."

Peta alleged that the companies had put a wild-sourced label on its packaging, when actually its coffee came from caged civets.

"Even though it is impossible to produce large amounts of coffee from beans excreted by wild civets, some of the farms that kept civets advertise their beans as 'wild-sourced'."

The group also found that civets were generally caged for a maximum of three years before being released back into the wild, where some failed to readapt and died.

The video footage from Peta's investigation can be found at

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Malaysia Budget 2014: Environment, wildlife, heritage conservation efforts need boost in funds

Dina Murad The Star 24 Oct 13;

PETALING JAYA: When it comes to allocations in the national budget, everyone fights for a slice of the pie. Amidst the calls for accelerating economic growth and social welfare, conservation groups are hoping that a little is put aside to safeguard our environment, wildlife and heritage buildings.

"What we would like to see in the 2014 budget is the creation of an institutional framework to mainstream sustainable development in Malaysia, through committees such as a National Cabinet Committee for Sustainable Development" said Nithi Nesadurai, president of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia.

"Under this system, before any projects get approved, those seeking approval will have to consider if the projects are good for Malaysia's environmental sustainability," he explained.

Nesadurai also recommended the establishment of a National Council on Sustainable Development which allows for vertical integration.

"This will bring all players on the federal, state and local government sectors on one table to bring emphasis to environmental protection," he said.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Professor Maketab Mohammad advocates substantial tax breaks for truly green industries and tax exemptions for corporate social responsibility (CSR) conservation programmes from major companies.

In addition to that, financial support for environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and similar organisations should also be taken into account, he said.

Currently, he said MNS' rent for its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and Penang is subsidised but it does not receive any financial funding from government agencies.

What about wildlife?

Malaysia's abundance of flora and fauna makes it an irresistible target for wildlife poachers and traffickers. Apart from the high demand for endangered animals in traditional medicine and in the exotic meat market, Malaysia also serves as a significant transit area for ivory smuggling.

As such, a large number of enforcement officers is required to be able to handle the stream of wildlife criminals who make base in our lands.

Dr Chris R. Shepherd, wildlife protection NGO Traffic deputy regional director, argued that although our nation has very good wildlife conservation laws, enforcement is still lacking.

"The number of staff patrolling Malaysia's protected areas is very low, considering the size of the area, and the constant threat from local and foreign poachers," said Shepherd and added that a bigger presence of authorities works as a deterrent to poachers.

"This is an area that the Malaysian government should look into when tabulating the budget."

He said there was also the issue of specialised training required in species identification, wildlife trade policies and handling wildlife crime cases, all of which require further funding.

Preserving culture and history through heritage buildings

At present, conservation measures of heritage buildings are mainly reactive in nature. To encourage the preservation of our architectural history, perhaps it is time to go the extra mile and implement preventive conservation in addition to present reactive measures.

"The 2014 budget can look into allocating funds to establish a specialised team in every state which are trained to look for and restore heritage buildings. This will allow for better maintenance and progressive restoration," said Khoo Salma Nasution, Penang Heritage Trust president.

Khoo also recommended the establishment of a task force within specific government bodies, which is trained to handle conservation.

"Some of these buildings require immediate attention. If we don't take quick action, their condition will only worsen," said Khoo, who added that good maintenance and preventive conservation would save costs on extensive restoration later on.

"This specialised body can help to oversee repairs and make sure they are done in a way which is compatible with conservation approaches," said Khoo.

While it may be difficult to allocate resources to restore private sector buildings, Khoo believes that government assets deemed heritage, at the very least, should be taken care of.

"Now that the Government is asking the private sector to conserve its buildings, it must make sure none of its own heritage buildings are badly renovated or left in derelict conditions."

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Malaysia: Ringlet dam disaster - The perfect storm

The Star 24 Oct 13;

IT was like a perfect storm. For years, persistent and unchecked land clearing has caused land erosion and heavy sedimentation in the Sultan Abu Bakar dam at Ringlet in Cameron Highlands.

On Tuesday, it started pouring cats and dogs. And at midnight, while most of the farmer residents of the area were fast asleep, the siren at the dam went off, signalling the release of excess water.

For 40 years now, the residents have heard the sirens only to see the Sungai Bertam water level rise a little. So, those who could hear the siren over the din of the pouring rain slept on.

And the waters came in a torrent, sweeping away cars and houses and destroying vegetables worth a fortune gone.

It was tragic story.

“But these are all man-made mistakes,” said Regional Environ­mental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach) president R. Ramakrishnan.

The mistakes led to the death of three people, and left hundreds more homeless or with wrecked houses and lives that they will have to nurse back to normalcy.

Ringlet dam disaster: Man-made mistakes contributed to deluge, says Reach
The Star 24 Oct 13;

PETALING JAYA: Heavy rain and persistent land clearing over the past few years probably contributed to the need to release more water from the Sultan Abu Bakar dam, says Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach) president R. Ramakrishnan.

He added that land clearing upstream of the dam would have created erosion and contributed to heavy sedimentation.

“These are all man-made mistakes. The siltation caused the water level in the dam to rise while the sand also damaged its turbines,” he said in an interview.

Ramakrishnan, who has constantly spoken out against ongoing land clearing in Cameron Highlands, warned that the same thing could happen near the new Ulu Jelai hydroelectric dam if massive land clearing went unchecked.

“Should the Ulu Jelai dam be required to release excess water, Lipis can be flooded,” he added.

Ramakrishnan said many farms were swept away in the torrent of water in yesterday’s incident.

However, he claimed that the farms were illegal because they had been set up on the river reserve despite the existence of TNB signboards warning farmers against doing so.

“No structure is supposed to be built in that particular area, while no human activity should take place on river reserves,” he added.

Ringlet dam disaster: Area around dam undergoing massive land clearing
The Star 24 Oct 13;

PETALING JAYA: Commissioned in 1963, the 39.6m-high Sultan Abu Bakar Dam was built across Bertam river to generate electricity by then Lembaga Letrik Negara by impounding water from a 183.4sq km catchment in the highlands.

The dam forms part of the Cameron Highlands-Batang Padang Hydro-electric Scheme, which has an installed capacity of 262MW.

Under normal operating circumstances, water from the dam, located 1,071m above the sea level, is channelled via a tunnel to an underground power station further downstream.

Overtopping of a dam beyond its spillways can cause its eventual failure. Overtopping surface runoff will remove earth on both sides of the riverbank that hold the dam in place.

To counter this, dam operators normally undertake controlled discharges via the spillways, something that TNB claimed that it did early yesterday morning, to prevent flooding the entire Bertam valley.

The area around the dam is widely known to be undergoing massive land clearing activity, legal or otherwise, for agriculture and tourism.

Even to the most casual of observers, siltation over the years from land clearing in Cameron Highlands is forcing TNB to put in place a near-continuous desilting programme to maintain the reservoir, which was once a popular tourist attraction.

Number of tragedies at veggie and flower farms in Cameron Highlands
The Star 24 Oct 13;

PETALING JAYA: Vegetable and flower farms in Cameron High-lands have been the scene of a number of tragedies over the years.

Prior to yesterday’s mud flood in Bertam Valley which killed three people after water was released from a dam, there have been at least three other incidents of farm workers killed due to a land or mudslide.

On Oct 10, 1996, three farm workers were buried alive when a landslide hit a farm located at KM48 Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Terla in the highlands.

Four years later on Jan 6, 2000, two pre-dawn landslides hit farms in Kampung Raja near Tanah Rata after the nearby Sungai Ikan burst its banks, killing five people.

The most recent incident prior to yesterday’s tragedy took place on Jan 17, 2008, when two foreign workers were buried alive after a slope gave way in a flower farm in Tringkap.

Bertam Valley which was hit by the floods yesterday is a village located in the town of Ringlet which is Cameron Highlands main vegetable and flower farming hub.

The village is located near the Bertam river bank, a flat valley which is where many of the farms are located.

Other farming villages located in Ringlet include Boh and Habu, both of which are popular for their vegetables, flowers and tea.

Cameron Highlands hit by land clearing for farms
Silt build-up in rivers and lakes due to development, clearing of hillside land
Yong Yen Nie Malaysia Correspondent In Cameron Highlands Straits Times 28 Oct 13;

ON THE tree-lined patio of a colonial-style hotel, tourists sip their drinks as they enjoy the cool air that many come to Cameron Highlands for.

Their view of the lake in front of them, fortuitously, is blocked by the foliage. If it was not, all they would see is a muddy brown body of water, no thanks to silt building up over the years.

Sultan Abu Bakar lake has been like this for more than two decades, said Mr Mohamad Ariffin, 45, a vegetable distributor who has lived here all his life.

"People stopped hanging out by the lake after the water got more and more murky," he told The Straits Times at the weekend.

It is not just the colour of the water in the lake and rivers that troubles residents and environmentalists about Cameron Highlands, one of Malaysia's top exporters of vegetables and flowers and one of Singapore's sources of fresh vegetables, from capsicum and cabbage to iceberg lettuce.

Years of development and illegal clearing of hillside land for farming have turned the area into an environmental hot spot.

Farms and hotels are perched - some precariously - on the slopes. In some places, gigantic plastic sheets plaster the hillside to prevent the soil from loosening and triggering a landslide.

Environmentalists say that as more forest vegetation is cleared to make way for farms, it is causing more and more silt to build up in the rivers, including Sungai Bertam and the Sultan Abu Bakar hydroelectric dam. During heavy rain, the rivers and dam are likely to overflow, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

Last week, water released from the nearly full dam triggered a flash flood that swept Ringlet, a district in Bertam Valley, leaving three people dead and hundreds of homes and vehicles destroyed.

Residents said the waves of water that gushed through the village, carrying mud and debris, were as high as 4m. Many watched in horror from the upper floors of their homes as the mudflow destroyed their furniture, television sets and refrigerators downstairs.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced when unveiling the 2014 Budget that RM40 million (S$15.7 million) would be allocated to widen and deepen a 3km stretch of the river, and that people living along that part of the river would be relocated.

This will take two to three years, Natural Resources and Environment Minister G. Palanivel said last Saturday.

But environmentalists and geologists say that deepening the river is merely treating the symptoms that could cause a flash flood like the one last week. Excessive rubbish and a lack of silt traps in farms will eventually narrow the river banks again, they argue.

"The government needs to ensure that farms have proper silt traps and farmers stop clearing land illegally," geologist Tajul Anuar Jamaluddin at the National University of Malaysia told The Straits Times. "If not, such a tragedy is bound to happen again."

In the 1990s, the Pahang state government stopped issuing temporary operating licences for land-clearing in response to environmental concerns.

But many farms have taken advantage of lax enforcement to encroach onto state land illegally as demand for vegetables rises.

Activists claim some 1,200ha of land is being cleared illegally for vegetable farming now. Many foreign workers have also been brought in illegally to work and squatter houses are built there.

A farmer who wanted to be known only as Mr Liew claimed that such illegal expansion goes unchecked because some farmers have bribed officers.

"The farmers don't mind paying because they know they will make back from the profits of selling more vegetables," he said.

Last year, Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Commission said it was investigating allegations that some people, including staff of the Cameron Highlands district and land office, had leaked details about raids on illegal land-clearing.

The status of the probe is unknown.

Meanwhile, a community- based group, the Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands, is doing what it can to get farmers and schoolchildren to recycle plastic sheets and containers used in farming and not to throw them into the river.

"It is only in the past few years that more farmers are paying attention to farming sustainably," said Ms Carroll Lawrence, 44, a founding member and volunteer of the group.

"We still have a long way to go."

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Asia-Pacific nations at UN call for urgent global approach to mitigate climate change

UN Press Release 28 Sep 2013

28 September 2013 – Asia-Pacific countries, some of them threatened with extinction from rising sea levels, took to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly today to call for an urgent global approach to mitigate climate change, voicing concern at the lack of progress so far.

“Climate change is no longer an environmental or political issue,” said Deputy Prime Minister Vete Palakua Sakaio of Tuvalu, a low-lying country of atolls in the direct line of onslaught from rising oceans.

“It is a borderless human security issue. Everybody must act to urgently reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and provide adaptation,” he added, echoing concerns already expressed by other leaders of small island developing states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) at this year’s 68th Assembly General Debate.

On a new post-2015 development agenda to succeed the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cycle, the theme of this year’s 68th Assembly, he stressed the importance of partnerships. “The UN continues to be a beacon of hope and through strategic advocacy, and awareness-campaigns, brings the real issues and current events into the consciousness of the public and membership to propel action and redress,” he said.

“The scale of challenges can only be addressed by reforming ourselves, the UN and each member country.”

Deputy Prime Minister Manasseh Maelanga of the Solomon Islands called for a new spirit of partnership to reform the global economic architecture. “Climate change remains a global issue that needs a global solution,” he said.

“We join all SIDS and LDCs in conveying our concern on the slow progress of climate change negotiations. The alarming pace of climate change is posing unprecedented threats to humanity’s survival.”

Deputy Prime Minister Leo Dion of Papua New Guinea called for SIDS to remain a special case for sustainable development as the UN draws up a post-2015 blueprint for long-term sustainable development for the decades following the end of the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cycle.

“The adverse impacts of climate change continue to be of serious concern to the global community but especially for small island developing States,” he said. “While contributing the least to this threat, small island countries are not only suffering the most from the serious impacts of climate change but also run the risk of being submerged by rising sea levels...

“We therefore reiterate the challenge to the international community to accept its responsibility and leadership role.”

The Pacific countries received support from another small island but highly developed State – Singapore, which called for the views and concerns of small nations to be incorporated in the post-2015 development agenda as a priority.

“Many, especially small island developing States are among the more vulnerable members of the UN family,” Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said. “Singapore identifies closely with our fellow SIDS countries' urgent concerns.”

He also cited two other priority areas: allowing countries flexibility in which goals they choose to prioritize and how they will achieve them; and emphasizing urban management and the intertwined issues of water and sanitation.

“The UN has a critical role in the evolution of the post-2015 development agenda,” he declared. “Only the UN, with its universal membership and access to global data, has the standing to establish a new global development agenda that is inclusive, effective and adaptable.”

Lao People’s Democratic Republic also highlighted the UN’s important role in establishing the new development blueprint. “It is more crucial than ever for the international community to redouble its efforts in enhancing development cooperation based on sincere and mutual assistance for the benefits of all and for a secured world,” Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told the Assembly.

“As the world today becomes increasingly inter-dependent, no single country can develop and survive on its own without engagement and cooperation of the international community. In this context, the global institutions, like the United Nations, have an important duty to fulfil in advocating international development cooperation."

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IUCN: There is hope for the ocean

IUCN 23 Oct 13;

Thirty one new Hope Spots - places that are critical to the health of the ocean - were announced yesterday by renowned oceanographer and IUCN Patron Sylvia Earle, a global initiative of the Sylvia Earle Alliance “Mission Blue” and IUCN, with the aim to scale up the marine protection necessary for a sustainable development of the ocean.

A Hope Spot is an area of ocean that merits special protection because of its wildlife and significant underwater habitats. Some are already formally protected, while others still need protection.

The Central Arctic Ocean, The White Shark Café and Ascension Island are among the new areas added yesterday to the 19 Hope Spots that Mission Blue has been working to protect over the last four years.

“What we’ve done here is identify a number of critical areas that represent a real hope to restore the health of our imperiled ocean,” says Sylvia Earle. “The pristine seas, the World Heritage areas, marine sanctuaries, marine protected areas, reserves – whatever they’re called. We started with 19, now the number is 50 but for me there really is just one Hope Spot – it’s the ocean.”

“The ocean as a system, our life-support system, is in trouble and whatever we can do, whether it’s in our community, state or country, region, or in the high seas, we should really respect what the ocean gives us,” says Sylvia Earle. “Not what we can take out of the ocean in terms of pounds of fish, minerals, oil or gas or the fact that we can use the ocean as a dumpsite. What we extract from the ocean that’s most meaningful is our existence. Our job should be to return this favour and keep the ocean alive.”

"Hope Spots are a wonderful network of places around the world which are new to many of us," says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director, IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme. "These are areas that in many ways represent all the wonderfully things we have in the ocean. This is a great opportunity to really cherish these areas and make sure we take care of them for the next generation.”

The new Hope Spots were announced during the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC3) currently taking place in Marseille, France. Co-organized by IUCN and the French Marine Protected Areas Agency, IMPAC3 gathers over 1,200 marine specialists and ministers from around the world to propose solutions for the conservation and sustainable development of our oceans.

To find out more and see a map of the Hope Spots please visit the Mission Blue website:

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