Best of our wild blogs: 28-29 Dec 13

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (27 Dec 2013)
from Beetles@SG BLOG and Short Afternoon Walk At Venus Drive (28 Dec 2013)

Plantain Squirrel and the Reticulated Python
from Bird Ecology Study Group

2013 - Looking Back...
from Butterflies of Singapore

2013 in 13 photos
from Singapore Nature

Read more!

Haze, dengue, floods are issues of future environmental challenges

Channel NewsAsia 28 Dec 13;

SINGAPORE: This year's record high PSI levels during the haze, the dengue epidemic and more intense rains are "amber lights", or early warning signs, of the need to be better prepared for future environmental challenges.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said this in an interview with Channel NewsAsia.

His ministry plans to get tough on transboundary haze by taking to task, companies which contribute to the haze.

Planned measures include the tabling of an Act to hold directors of such companies accountable for the damage caused and the health impact on millions of people in the region.

At the height of the haze crisis in June this year, the PSI level hit a record high of 400.

The crisis prompted leaders of the region to push for more effective measures of haze management.

These include the sharing of concession maps among governments, which indicate where the fires occur, and on which companies' land.

Leaders also urged Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze. The Agreement came into effect in 2002, when 10 ASEAN nations, including Singapore signed it. Indonesia is the last to sign, but it is expected to ratify the Agreement in early 2014.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources is going beyond just monitoring, by taking action against those responsible for the fires.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "Early next year, I'll be going to Parliament to introduce a new Act specifically targeting trans-boundary haze. We will make it a criminal offence. We will hold the companies as well as directors liable for the damage they cause to us, as well as the deleterious health impact on our population. We're about to finalise the drafting, I will present it to the public. We will take the views of the public, adjust it if necessary. I hope to pass this bill sometime within the first half of next year.

"Again, the intention is to send a signal to companies. We are going to hold them accountable and we know who is responsible for causing these problems to literally millions of Singaporeans and Indonesians."

Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry will also collaborate with non-government organisations to highlight the problem within the local and international sphere.

He said the key objective is to ultimately create an awareness among consumers of palm oil, to understand which companies are producing palm oil sustainably and responsibly, and which ones are doing so through indiscriminate burning.

Another concern for Singaporeans is the rising number of dengue cases, which broke the 10,000 cases mark in June.

As of December 27, the number of dengue cases had exceeded 22,000, with seven reported deaths.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has stepped up checks in homes and public places, with about four million checks conducted as of November.

Grassroots leaders were also mobilised to raise awareness among residents.

Dengue inspectors found 18,000 breeding sites. Most of these were in homes, but breeding in construction sites took centre stage when news of a dengue cluster in Orchard Road broke sometime in October.

Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA inspects about 100 construction sites a week, and finds breeding occurring in between eight and 10 per cent of them.

He said the NEA has been issuing more stop-work orders to construction companies. The ministry is also considering raising penalties for construction sites found to have recurring breeding of mosquitoes.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "Whilst I would say It's too early to say that the epidemic is over, I think the worst is over. We are now down to about 350 cases... thereabouts. I think the number will stay around there.

"We will continue to pour in more resources, continue to do more inspections, continue to mobilise Singaporeans and gradually bring the number down. But this remains an ever-present threat to us. Our immunity as a whole is low and this virus has very high epidemic potential."

The year 2013 has also been significant on the climate change front.

In Singapore, intense rainfall over short periods of time continued to cause flash floods in many areas, and experts have warned of more such weather patterns in the future.

The current monsoon season alone could see an average increase of about 20 per cent in total rainfall.

While the national water agency PUB has already embarked on a series of projects to improve and upgrade drainage, observers said there is still room to include a wider section of society to play a part in mitigating floods.

The PUB has implemented new rules, including a requirement for on-site storm water management strategies such as detention tanks or green roofs, for building projects over a certain land size.

Experts suggest incentivising developers, architects and engineers who have come up with creative flood management methods.

Dr Chew Soon Hoe, council member of the Institution of Engineers, said: "One practical incentive measure to encourage developers to put into consideration in reducing run-off is by either lower development fee or costs or increase their usable plot ratio. All these can be translated into monetary gains at a later stage. This is one tangible incentive among other intangible incentives."

Dr Balakrishnan said a review of the Sustainable Singapore blueprint will begin in 2014, and will involve public consultation.

The blueprint maps out the country's strategy for economic growth in an environmentally-sustainable way.

The review will also incorporate NEA's Volunteer Corp Scheme, where members of the public are trained and issued with warrant cards to book and issue littering summonses to offenders on the spot.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "I want this to go through the proper process of public consultation. What type of people should be eligible to have a warrant card, what kind of training is necessary? How should they be deployed, where should they be deployed? Instead of working with individuals, work with NGOs, work with organised groups. The real objective is not enforcement. It's public ownership and peer pressure."

- CNA/de

Read more!

Malaysia: Met Dept issues "most dangerous" warning for east coast states

The Star 28 Dec 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong winds and rough seas classified as third category (most dangerous) are expected until Tuesday in the coastal areas of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor.

The Meteorological Department said strong north-easterly winds at speeds of 60kmph may cause waves measuring over 5.5 metres.

Coastal areas in the affected states can expect increased water levels to last until next Tuesday.

These conditions are dangerous to all beach and shipping activities including fishing, work on oil platforms and ferry services.

Strong winds, rough seas to hit coasts
The Star 29 Dec 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong winds and rough seas classified as third category (most dangerous) in the coastal areas of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor Timur are expected until next Tuesday.

A statement from the Meteorological Department said strong north-easterly winds at speeds of 60kmph may cause waves measuring over 5.5m.

Coastal areas in the affected states are also prone to increased water levels expected to last until next Tuesday.

These conditions are dangerous to all beach and shipping activities which include fishing, work on oil platforms and ferry services.

The statement said that thunderstorms in the coasts of Sarawak (Mukah, Bintulu and Miri) had also been expected to continue until late last night. — Bernama

More floods to come in Kota Kinabalu
Muguntan Vanar The Star 28 Dec 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Heavy rain that coincides with high tides will remain a recipe for flooding in low-lying areas of the city and its greater areas for at least a year to come.

Flash floods lasting several hours continue to be experienced in many low-lying areas around the city as heavy rainfall over the last three weeks came at the same time as the incoming or high tide.

Under high tide conditions, water from rivers cannot flow out to the sea quickly.

According to officials, there was nothing much the authorities could do under these circumstances except to wait for the completion of two flood mitigation schemes, which are expected to be ready in about 18 months.

According to Luyang assemblyman Hiew King Chew, the Federal Government had already approved RM50mil in funding in order to set up two tidal gates in Sembulan and Kapayan here.

He said the project would be implemented by the Drainage and Irrigation Department.

“The project will include a pump house in order to pump out water from inland areas when heavy rains come during high tides,” he said.

Hiew added that the flood mitigation scheme would also help to resolve flooding problems faced in the Luyang, Kapayan and Lido areas.

“I have been informed that they will be starting work by early next year,” he said in response to public complaints over the alleged “inaction” by the Kota Kinabalu City Hall to resolve the flood problem.

Incessant rain on Thursday saw many low-lying areas here, including main roads, flooded for several hours.

However, some felt that the Kota Kinabalu City Hall should be more proactive in cleaning up drains, and should take firm action against contractors whose projects were damaging or blocking up drains.

Kota Kinabalu mayor Datuk Abdidin Madangkir and the city’s director-general Datuk Yeo Boon Hai could not be reached for comment on the matter, while meteorologists have forecast wet weather to continue until next year.

Thunderstorms, strong winds, high waves to continue in coastal areas
The Star 27 Dec 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: Thunderstorms in the coastal areas of Sarawak, Labuan, and Sabah's west coast are expected to continue until late Friday.

In a statement, the Meteorological Department said the thunderstorms could cause strong winds of 50 to 60kmph and choppy seas, with waves of up to 4.5m.

Thunderstorms with winds of up to 50kmph and waves of up to 3.5m are also expected to continue until late in the evening in the coastal areas of Selangor and Sandakan in Sabah.

Meanwhile, strong winds and choppy seas in the coasts of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor Timur, Sabah, Labuan and Sarawak are expected until Tuesday.

Strong northeasterly winds with speeds of 60kmph were also reported in the coasts of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, East Johor, Samui, Tioman, Bunguran, Condore, Palawan, Reef North and Layang-Layang, as well as waves exceeding 5.5m.

Coastal areas in these states are also exposed to a rise in water levels and this is expected to continue until Tuesday.

These situations pose a danger to all beach and shipping activities, including fishing, activities on oil platforms and ferry services. - Bernama

Strong winds and rough seas ahead
The Star 27 Dec 13;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Meteorological Department has forecast strong winds and rough seas up to Tuesday in the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, eastern Johor, Sabah, Labuan and Sarawak.

It said in a statement that strong north-easterly winds of up to 60kph were expected in the waters off Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and eastern Johor and the waves there were expected to rise to more than 5.5m.

It also said that the coastal areas in these states would be exposed to a rise in the sea level up to Tuesday. Strong north-easterly winds of between 50kph and 60kph were expected in the waters off the Pedalaman, West Coast and Kudat divisions of Sabah, Labuan and Sarawak, with waves rising up to 4.5m, it said.

The winds and waves could pose a danger to all coastal activities and shipping. — Bernama

Read more!

Malaysia: Planned reclamation in Johor

Tebrau teams up with Tropicana for RM3.7bil project
The Star 27 Dec 13;

PETALING JAYA: Tebrau Teguh Bhd is tying up with Tropicana Corp Bhd to develop a partially submerged site in Johor that will require extensive reclamation works into an RM3.7bil mixed-use project.

It told the stock exchange yesterday that it had signed a pact with a unit of Tropicana to set up a special purpose vehicle, Renown Dynamics Sdn Bhd, to acquire the leasehold land in Plentong, Johor, for RM444.31mil from Tebrau.

Tebrau and Tropicana will hold 30% and 70% stakes respectively in Renown Dynamics.

The land measures 84.61 acres and is partially underwater. Tebrau has agreed to carry out reclamation works to resurface some 60 acres, the cost of which, estimated at RM190mil, will be borne by the company.

It said the Plentong land is 15km northeast of Johor Baru city centre in Kampung Senibong and surrounded by mangrove swamps.

Tebrau expects to record a gain of RM157mil, or 24 sen a share, from the sale, which is to be completed by the second quarter of 2015.

Separately, the Johor-based property developer announced a number of corporate exercises, including a one-for-one rights issue of up to 669.73 million shares at RM1 each with 334.86 million free detachable warrants on the basis of one free warrant for every two rights shares, as well as an employee share option scheme.

The cash call will raise between RM315.85mil and RM669.73mil for the group, the bulk of which has been earmarked for property development.

Although Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Sdn Bhd’s (IWH) stake in Tebrau is expected to jump to 64.09% under the rights issue from 47.16% currently, an application has been made to exempt IWH from making a mandatory general offer.

Read more!

Indonesia: Endangered Bali Starlings Given New Home on Island Bird Sanctuary

Jakarta Globe 27 Dec 13;

A pair of endangered Bali Starlings taken from West Bali National Park are to be set free at a bird sanctuary on a small island east of Bali, an activist said on Friday.

The starlings, known locally as jalak Bali, will be released on Nusa Penida island on Dec 30, I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha said in a press release.

Bayu is the founder and CEO of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF), a non-profit that works to protect wildlife in habitats. The organization manages the sanctuary on Nusa Penida island.

“Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry, Zulkifli Hasan, will release the birds in a special ceremony near our conservation center at 10 a.m. on Monday,” Bayu said. “These birds will bring a new blood line to the more than 100 Bali starlings already living in the wild within the island sanctuary.”

The FNPF has been providing technical support and advice to the park’s Bali starling conservation program for more than 10 years.

Bayu said that the two starlings were given in exchange for starlings from FNPF’s breeding collection on Nusa Penida.

The sanctuary, the only one of its kind in Indonesia, provides an unofficial haven for endangered birds.

FNPF claimed that the project had the backing of the islands’ 46 villages. The sanctuary also had the backing of the Bali Bureau of Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), which recently sponsored the installation of four bird’s nest boxes on the island, along with the donation seeds and polybags for FNPF’s nursery.

The Bali starling is one of world’s most endangered birds. Nusa Penida is home to an estimated 100 Bali starlings today, up from just 10 birds in 2006.

Earlier this month,cConservation officials in Solo, Central Java, imposed new rules for the trade in the critically endangered species, in a bid to stamp out the illegal practice of passing off wild-caught birds as captive-bred ones.

Read more!