Best of our wild blogs: 1 Dec 13

Silent Voices in the Wilderness
from Butterflies of Singapore

Morning Walk At Upper Seletar Reservoir And Venus Drive
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Sex and the Birds: 7. Ostriches and polygamy
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Mating of a pair of Collared Kingfishers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Bamboo Tree Brown
from Butterflies of Singapore

Internships, student field assistant opportunities – see Ecotax from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Commemorative Statue of Alfred Russel Wallace
from Raffles Museum News

The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement No. 29
from Raffles Museum News

Video: the conservation drone revolution
from news by Rhett Butler

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What’s a green space?

Need to look beyond headline numbers; dollar value could be attached to Singapore’s forests, say OSC dialogue participants
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 1 Dec 13;

SINGAPORE — Distinguishing the different types of green spaces, putting a dollar value to old trees and forests, and getting the environment to be part of Singaporeans’ day-to-day concerns.

These were among the suggestions made by participants at an Our Singapore Conversation session organised by the Nature Society Singapore and Young NTUC yesterday (Nov 30). Moderated by Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal, it was attended by about 50 people including nature lovers, pre-school teachers and sports enthusiasts. The session aimed to delve into an Institute of Policy Studies survey on the OSC — conducted in January and reported in August this year — finding that 60 per cent of 4,000 respondents preferred the preservation of green spaces over infrastructural development.

Some participants felt that the different types of green spaces — such as nature reserves, urban parks and green roofs — should not be “lumped together”. Whether forested areas are fragmented should also be taken into account, one participant said.

According to a study by National University of Singapore researchers published in 2011, 56 per cent of the island is covered in vegetation, with 29 per cent consisting of spontaneous green areas and 27 per cent consisting of managed green areas like parks and golf courses. Secondary forest and scrubland make up the bulk of spontaneous vegetation, while primary forest, mangroves, freshwater swamp forests and freshwater marshland make up less than 2 per cent of Singapore’s vegetation.

Some participants preferred parks and manicured spaces, but others felt primary forest was most valuable. Noting that some quarters of society want less green space in order to monetise the land through housing or retail, the participants suggested putting a dollar value to forests here.

In increasing biodiversity, it is important to protect not only the nature reserves, but also outlying woodlands, said Nature Society Council member Ho Hua Chew. This is to cater to wildlife like some migratory birds that cannot fly extremely long distances and need “stepping stones”, as well as birds like the black-winged kite that are suited to grasslands.

Also discussed was how to make information on the environment and wildlife more easily understandable for the general public. Noting the short attention spans today, final-year Singapore Institute of Technology student Christine Neo wondered what information would be “most essential” to communicate to the masses. Ms Neo, 24, who is majoring in illustration and planning a final-year project on how Singaporeans define nature, said she found out about Saturday’s OSC dialogue through Facebook.

Ms Faizah said a report from the session will be prepared and submitted to OSC committee chairman Heng Swee Keat and to relevant Government agencies. It could also be submitted as feedback to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Draft Master Plan 2013.

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8m population by 2030?

Razor TV AsiaOne 30 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE - Earlier this year, Singaporeans balked at the idea of having 6.9 million people on our tiny island. But some experts, including Dr Parag Khanna, Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, has said that Singapore can fit 8 million or more by 2030.

That is, if urban planning plays its part in spreading out the load.

"There is a much more physically devolved Singapore in which the towns play a much stronger role, in which there's much more local economic activity and vibrancy, in which everyone is not cramping down into Orchard or CBD every single day. And that Singapore can most certainly accommodate a couple million more people."

Dr Khanna was speaking at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum on Friday.

Population aside, he said that Singapore is also on its way to becoming a leading info state, using technology to canvas information and public opinion.

"As part of the national conversation here, people were creating stories about certain towns and areas within Singapore, and even geo-coding their emotions through various iPhone apps. There are all sorts of ways to harness these technologies."

In an earlier dialogue, The Straits Times correspondents and economic experts discussed key issues affecting Asia, including increased tension between China, Japan and the United States after Beijing unilaterally established an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea.

Peh Shing Huei, deputy news editor, The Straits Times:

"For Beijing, having this air defence zone is an useful experiment to a certain extent. If this air defence zone over Diao Yu Dao or Senkaku, should pay off in terms of a weak response from the Americans, then that would very much embolden the Chinese government when it comes to Taiwan going forward.

But of course, as we have seen with the B-52 bombers, that experiment has kind of failed and um.. pretty much a miscalculation."

The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum is now in its second year. Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam was the event's guest-of-honour.

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Tengah Nature Way park connector to be launched next year

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's latest green initiative -- the Tengah Nature Way -- will be launched next year.

It will be Singapore's fifth and longest park connector, spanning 13 kilometres.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the announcement at the opening of the Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum on Saturday.

Tengah Nature Way will run along Bukit Batok estate. It will pass through Bukit Batok West Ave 2, 3 and 5, until Old Jurong Road.

Mr Lee said: “Tengah Nature Way will connect the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Reserves with the SAFTI live-firing area so that animals can go across and people can walk along the route too.

“We will choose plants to specially complement the natural forests on both sides and we will make a special effort to attract birds, butterflies and other animals so that we can all enjoy nature at our doorsteps."

Mr Lee assured that despite development, people can always be in touch with nature, and the park connector network is a popular way to make Singapore greener.

There are already nature ways at Admiralty, Kheam Hock, Tampines and Yishun.

In addition, plans for the Tengah Nature Way will involve the community. It will be a joint effort between NParks and South West Community Development Council, and will involve grassroots organisations, schools and residents.

NParks said as the nature ways may pass through residential estates, cooperation of residents is needed to plant suitable plants and trees.

NParks aims to create over 60 kilometres of nature ways by 2015.

Mr Lee said Singapore may not have large parks island-wide, nor can it preserve every single green area, but it is determined to keep its green lungs and natural spaces as the city develops.

Poon Hong Yuen, CEO of NParks, said: "One of the major challenges of realising the City in a Garden vision is space. Space is limited in Singapore, so we have to be very innovative about how we go about things. For example, park connectors make use of greater space to give an illusion of space.

“We do have to think out of the box to see how we can green Singapore, and conserve nature in the best possible way."

At the opening of the Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum, Mr Lee planted the final tree in a year-long series of activities to commemorate 50 years of greening Singapore.

He said it is important to preserve the gardens as part of the country's heritage.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum features interactive exhibits and panels. Visitors can learn more about the rich history of the 154-year-old gardens and Singapore's greening journey over the past five decades.

Nature volunteers were also given recognition for their commitment.

Tan Teck Chye, an NParks volunteer who received a 10-year service award, said: "I lead a small group of people on nature walks, for example at Sungei Buloh, Chek Jawa, even Botanic Gardens. Along the walks I will introduce to them the animals and the plants that we come across, share with them about the balance of nature, and the importance of nature."

NParks said it has seen a growing interest in nature volunteerism.

To date, there are more than 1,000 active volunteers, 25 per cent more than last year.

- CNA/fa/xq

New attractions at Singapore Botanic Gardens from Saturday
Melissa Chong Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Visitors to the Singapore Botanic Gardens can expect two brand new attractions on Saturday.

The first is a Heritage Museum, which explores the rich history of the 154-year-old gardens.

Visitors will see old lab equipment and field notes, and learn about early methods for rubber tapping which were pioneered by the Botanic Gardens. The Herring-bone method was a major breakthrough for the rubber industry. It allowed for higher yields while limiting the impact on the tree.

There is also an interactive map, which marks the gardens' expansion since 1859 to future developments until 2014.

Just next door, the CDL (City Developments Limited) Green Gallery celebrates Singapore's greening journey over the last 50 years.

It presents visuals of the future of the country's Destination Parks, scheduled for opening from 2015. These include upcoming slides at Admiralty Park which will be carved out of slopes, and new boardwalk connectors at Jurong Lake Park.

Three parks - Admiralty Park, Jurong Lake Park and East Coast Park - were identified earlier to be redeveloped thematically to attract Singaporeans from all over the island. They are estimated to be completed by 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The CDL Green Gallery is also the nation's first zero-energy gallery - powered entirely by solar panels.

It is also the first building in Singapore to be built with 'hempcrete', a material which can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The vertical green walls on the building are also expected to be a haven for butterflies.

Poon Hong Yuen, chief executive officer of the National Parks Board, said: "The UNESCO bid part of it talks about the importance of people, the community owning the bid, and the community actually feeling that the heritage status of the gardens is very important.

"So this museum will go a long way in inculcating the feeling among the community for the gardens."

The cost of both the Heritage Museum and Green Gallery was over S$2 million, supported by City Developments Limited.

- CNA/ms

NParks sees more active volunteers in 2013
AsiaOne 30 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) saw a 25 per cent increase in the number of active volunteers in the past year, signifying a growing interest in volunteering for biodiversity conservation.

Today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong presented 10-year service awards to NParks' volunteers in recognition of their long-term commitment.

According to a statement released by NParks today, 1,000 volunteers serve on a regular basis. More than half of the new volunteers were involved in the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey (CMBS), a national initiative to take stock of Singapore's marine life.

PM Lee also highlighted plans to involve the community in making Singapore greener and richer in biodiversity, including the launch of public planting for Tengah Nature Way in the first quarter of next year.

The launch will be a joint effort between NParks and South West Community Development Council, involving grassroots organisations, NGOs, schools, and residents.

PM Lee was also the Guest-of-Honour at the opening of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Museum and Living in a Garden exhibition.

Apart from giving out awards, he also planted the 1963rd tree in the 1963 Commemorative Tree Planting initiative. The event marked the end of a year-long series of activities and events held to commemorate 50 Years of Greening Singapore.

Mr Poon Hong Yuen, NParks' Chief Executive Officer, said, " As we commemorate 50 Years of Greening Singapore and look to the future, we encourage more people to join us in creating a greener and more endearing City in a Garden."

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More green features for residents in Yuhua next year

Eileen Poh Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Residents in Yuhua will see more green features in their ward next year.

It will pilot the HDB's Greenprint programme to encourage sustainable and eco-friendly living in existing public housing estates.

For a start, construction of underground pipes for a pneumatic refuse collection system will commence early next year.

In the system, waste will be sucked through underground pipes to centralised collection areas.

Works to install solar panels, vertical greenery and secured bicycle parking facilities will also begin during the same period.

By mid-year, HDB will kick off the construction of green roofs at nine low-rise blocks.

In the last quarter of 2014, lifts at 18 blocks will be made more energy-efficient through the Elevator Energy Regeneration System.

Grace Fu, second minister for environment and water resources, said: "Most importantly, it is to get residents excited about changing their habits, about recycling more, about reducing their consumption, about taking the greener form of commuting. I think this will be really important and significant for this project."

Ms Fu added that while residents may have to make some adjustments to their lives, the overall benefits will outweigh the inconveniences.

She said: "For example, when it comes to the pneumatic collection system, definitely nothing bulky can go in, and at certain times of the day, you may not be able to use the chutes. So there will be some adjustments.

“But I think the overall benefits will outweigh these adjustments because you are talking about not having someone to push the rubbish trucks across the car park, you are talking about a much cleaner environment, probably not a lot of food waste left dripping on the floor."

Ms Fu was speaking at the launch of the HDB's Green Homes Package exhibition on Saturday, where she also presented awards to five companies and individuals for their ideas to encourage green living.

The projects will each receive up to S$100,000 from the Greenprint Fund for test-bedding.

The five ideas are mini parks at covered spaces of HDB void decks, lightweight retractable solar panels at open areas such as car parks and basketball courts, solar-powered street lights with mosquito killer and motion sensor function, more energy-efficient lighting at common corridors, and community farming.

A site at Jurong East Street 21 has been identified for the trial implementation and it is expected to take a year.

HDB said it may replicate the ideas in other towns.

In another green initiative, residents can get 10 to 30 percent savings on electrical appliances under the HDB's Green Homes Package programme.

The discount comes in comparison to the selling prices of the items at major retailers.

The programme aims to encourage the use of energy-efficient appliances in homes.

Some of the appliances under the scheme include air-conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, LED televisions, fans and lighting.

The discount will be available for six months.

Residents can visit the Green Homes Package website to order the discounted appliances.

- CNA/fa/xq

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Philippines: Mangrove defense eyed vs sea surges

Macon Ramos-Araneta Manila Standard 1 Dec 13;

A RECENT British study showed that mangroves are the best natural defense against storm surges, similar to the one that devastated the Eastern Visayas region last month, according to Senator Cynthia Villar.

“They are the most effective tool against storm surges, more effective than seawall or cemented fences,” said Villar, citing a 2012 study conducted by the University of Cambridge.

The study showed that “mangroves slow the flow of water as the surge moves inland and reduce the waves riding on top of the surge, lowering water levels and reducing damage behind the mangroves.”

“They are the most effective tool against storm surges, more effective than seawall or cemented fences,” said Villar.

The planting of mangrove trees will be part of a comprehensive program of environmental protection being prepared as a reaction to the devastation brought about by Yolanda, said Villar who has been opposing the reclamation around the 175-hectare Las PiƱas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, a protected area included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

“The inclusion of no-build zones in coastal areas in this program is a step in the right direction. I also suggest that this program include a moratorium on reclamation because reclaiming of lands could lead to the destruction of natural marine barriers like mangroves,” Villar said.

She welcomed the signing of an executive order delegating to the National Economic Development Authority the approval of any reclamation project.

The senator, whose advocacy includes environmental protection, has welcome the directive of President Noynoy Aquino to put up more mangrove forests in coastal areas all over the country as a natural barrier against deadly storm surges.

She also asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to not only concentrate on areas hardest hit by Yolanda-spawned storm surges but also in other coastal areas.

“We have seen how the storm surge flooded Roxas Boulevard and caused damage to hotels and other establishments in the area. This means urban areas like Metro Manila are as vulnerable as any coastal area in the country,” she said.

“Our action should now be definite because these storm surges, as experts tell us, are not new. We hear of records dating as far back as 1897 where 7,000 lives were lost and in 1912 where some 15,000 died in the Visayas due to typhoon and tidal waves. The experts also tell us that storm surges will be more frequent because of climate change,” she added.

The senator also urged the government to implement the National Greening Program under Executive Order No. 26, which mandates the planting of 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land, including mangrove reforestation.

She pointed out that we have lost 75.6% of mangroves in the past 82 years. We all know that a thriving mangrove cover is one of the best indications of a healthy environment or if nature can still support life in an area.

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Saved by the Mangroves? A Philippine town dodges Haiyan's storm surge

Michael Holtz PRI 29 Nov 13;

But the residents of General MacArthur, a small Philippine community in the path of Super Typhoon Haiyan, probably wouldn't trade their mangrove trees for anything.

The town in Eastern Samar province is named after the American general who defeated the Japanese here in World War II. And now it has another memorable distinction: it largely survived the typhoon that just about leveled the nearby city of Tacloban.

And General MacArthur residents say they have their mangrove trees to thank.

Hundreds of buildings here were damaged by Haiyan’s powerful winds, and many wooden huts were entirely destroyed. But in the town’s public market, on a small bay that opens up into the Pacific Ocean, there’s no sign of the massive flooding that wreaked havoc elsewhere nearby.

Standing on the shore, resident Marianita Calbao says two dots of land about a half-mile out in the bay are part of the reason.

“The islands are there,” she says. “The mangrove area is there.”

MacArthur residents say they owe a lot to that sprawling patch of mangrove trees.

Mangroves form low-lying thickets that hug the shore of coastal areas in tropical regions around the world. They serve as natural barriers that help dissipate swelling storm surges. Mayor Jamie Ty says that protection, combined with a well-executed evacuation plan, meant not one person in MacArthur died in the typhoon.

“We are lucky” Ty says. “We don’t have casualties, although we have a few injuries. But those are just superficial injuries.’’

The storm killed at least 64 people in the next town to the north and more than 5,000 across the Philippines. It’s impossible to know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if other places still had the same natural protective barriers as General MacArthur.

Rough estimates show more than 70 percent of the country’s original mangrove forests were destroyed between 1918 and 1994. Many were replaced with fishponds, resorts and other kinds of coastal development.

But at least some of the mangroves near MacArthur were spared.

“Here, here, and here. The storm surge also hits here,” says University of the Philippines professor Rene Rollon, clicking his mouse over a satellite image of MacArthur and the surrounding islands.

Rollon has studied mangroves for more than 20 years, and he says MacArthur residents are right to thank their humble trees.

“That’s a huge amount of mangroves,” he says. “It dissipates a lot of energy. So, actually, it’s protecting the town.”

In fact many experts consider mangroves one of the best defenses against coastal flooding. That’s why MacArthur officials have designated their mangrove areas a local preservation site.

Many other coastal communities in the Philippines and elsewhere are now trying to replant mangroves from scratch, but experts say many rehabilitation projects here have been slow and poorly implemented. So, for now, MacArthur serves as a rare reminder of the value of natural systems, as the Philippines struggles to regain much of what the country lost to Haiyan.

With its healthy mangrove buffers, that struggle will be far less challenging in MacArthur, where volunteers unload bags of rice, canned meats and instant noodles into a storage room while a group of children plays nearby.

Food remains scarce, the power is still out, and it may take four to six months to repair all that was damaged. But Mayor Ty says he’s optimistic.

“Generally people are calm,” Ty says, “because as far as MacArthur people are concerned, we are all safe.’’

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Malaysia: New species of Rafflesia discovered

Azura Abas New Straits TImes 1 Dec 13;

RARE FIND: UKM research team noticed different traits during study in Gunung Benom in Pahang

PUTRAJAYA: AS a research team was studying the Rafflesia flowers in the forest reserve of Gunung Benom in Pahang two years ago, its members noticed different traits in some of them.
The team members realised that they had discovered a new species of the Rafflesia flower.

"We were excited and began documenting our findings which was later published in the Turkish Botany Journal on Sept 25," said team leader Professor Dr Jumaat Adam Jumaat of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

He has been involved in studying the Rafflesia genus since 1982.

The discovery of the ninth new species of the Rafflesia genus in Malaysia and 32nd in the world was named Rafflesia sharifah-hapsahiae after UKM Vice-Chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hassan Shahabudin.

The recognition was given to Sharifah Hapsah on Friday at the university's research and innovation congress dinner for her constant support in ensuring the success of the research and being the main catalyst in UKM's research programmes. Some of unique characteristics of the Rafflesia sharifah-hapsahiae are its petals which are more closely overlapped and there are more white spots on its reddish brown petals.

Jumaat also hinted another possible new discovery which he expected to unveil in the middle of next year.

"We are still doing our research and it is still premature to reveal anything until the findings have been published in (academic) journals. The discovery of the Rafflesia sharifah-hapsahiae has certainly further strengthened our resolve to look out for other new species," he said.

The Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, can grow up to one metre in diameter and weigh up to 10kg. It is a parasitic plant, without roots or leaves.

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