Best of our wild blogs: 30 Apr 14

12 May - 17 May 2014: Pulau Ubin Celebrates the Chinese earth god's birthday from Peiyan.Photography

Job Opportunity: Specialist Associate (2 vacancies)
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, Singapore

Parakeet and Squirrel feeding on seeds of Acacia auriculiformis
from Bird Ecology Study Group

17/2014 – Dairy Farm Nature Park (23 April 2014)
from Bugs & Insects of Singapore

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Uphill task to get homes to cut waste

While Singapore's overall recycling rate is around 60 per cent, only 20 per cent of households do so, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has told Parliament.
Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Apr 14;

When visitors come to Singapore, they always remark on how leafy and clean the island is. That is, until they find out how household recycling works - or doesn't.

While 61 per cent of all the rubbish chucked out last year was recycled, this was hardly the case for household waste streams such as plastic and food waste. Just 11 per cent of plastics and 13 per cent of food waste were recycled.

"Our overall recycling rate is around 60 per cent, but at the domestic (household) level, it is only around 20 per cent," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in the Budget debate in February.

In 2010, British visitor Mary Veel wrote to The Straits Times Forum to express her surprise at Singapore's dismal progress in recycling.

"England is not particularly well-organised in many areas, but in the matter of recycling, we appear to have mastered more of the issues involved," she wrote.

Singapore residents, too, complain about recycling not being a social norm, and about a lack of infrastructure. "The concept of recycling is lacking in Singapore, compared to other developed countries. All one needs to do is look into any rubbish bin to find recyclables mixed with organic garbage," wrote Mr Elgar Lee last year in a letter to The Straits Times.

What exactly does recycling entail and why does it matter that Singapore is no role model in this area?

When you harvest newspapers or cardboard or cans instead of putting them into the bin, that is the first step. But after that, the materials need to be collected and processed. Newspaper gets pulped and turned into new paper; glass bottles are melted down and re-shaped into new ones.

Technologically, those steps are relatively easy. But collecting enough material to justify the cost of investing in a paper mill, or distributing the recycled paper to users, can be much harder.

Yet in a society that consumes more and more, recycling makes our environment a little bit more sustainable.

If copper and aluminium are not recycled, they have to be mined; recycling aluminium uses about 5 per cent of the energy of mining bauxite and manufacturing aluminium from it. If plastic is not recycled, it has to be made from fossil fuels, which in turn have to be extracted from the earth.

And of course, all this extraction and processing takes energy and water. As energy costs become higher and resources more scarce, the balance begins to tilt in favour of recycling.

In Singapore, there is no need to separate recyclables into metal, paper and plastic. Instead, they are separated at a centralised facility. If recyclables are put in the recycling bin properly, public waste collectors are contractually bound to collect, separate and recycle them. Usually, this means selling them to larger firms overseas that aggregate metals and sell those to metal smelters, or that collect plastics and turn them into pellets for future use.

But if the recyclables in the bin at the foot of each HDB block are contaminated with food waste or other non-recyclables, the public waste collector has to toss them out. If trash in Singapore does not get recycled, not all is lost. It gets incinerated to generate a tiny percentage, roughly 3 per cent, of Singapore's electricity.

At least, it does not get buried. In other countries, rubbish that is not recycled often goes into landfill, where plastics can take thousands of years to decompose.

Singapore does have a landfill - Pulau Semakau, south of the mainland. After rubbish is incinerated here, the ash goes to the island, along with waste that cannot be incinerated. But Singapore disposes of more than three million tonnes of rubbish a year. At this rate, Semakau will run out of space between 2035 and 2045.

So why don't we recycle more?

Many do make an effort. But there is little clarity on what can be recycled. And until 2006, no public housing block in Singapore had a recycling chute, but all had a rubbish chute, making it easier to toss everything down the chute than haul recyclables downstairs.

Things are changing, however. In 2011, the National Environment Agency started putting one bin at the foot of each block, up from one bin for every five, and new waste collection contracts from that year required public waste collectors to collect the recyclables every day. (But blocks are becoming taller, with correspondingly more recyclables and waste.)

And this year, the HDB announced it would put separate recycling chutes in all new HDB blocks, based on evidence from tests of such chutes at the Treelodge@Punggol estate. The tests found that Treelodge residents threw out far less than their neighbours - 40.4kg to 49.9kg per household a month, compared with 50.7kg to 77.2kg for other blocks in Punggol - and recycled about three times more recyclable waste than comparable housing estates without such chutes.

But in the end, some items simply do not make economic sense to recycle. For instance, the combination of plastic, foil, coffee grounds and paper in a single-serving coffee capsule is difficult to take apart.

Labour has to be very cheap in order to make some of these things economical to recycle.

For instance, it takes very cheap manual labour to painstakingly pick the tin foil apart from the plastic of a blister pack so that each can be recycled, as Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet, saw in India.

Moreover, it still takes energy to process old glass, melt down metal cans and shred phone books.

Most importantly, even as recycling cuts waste and saves resources, there are still two other Rs in the "reduce, re-use, recycle" triad - and these should come first even before recycling.

So to really save the planet, consumers should first use less of the stuff they do not need, and repair or re-purpose old items. When they do buy new items, they can choose from firms that have take-back programmes. For instance, telcos SingTel and StarHub have drop-off points for old phones, accessories and chargers. And they can avoid non-recyclable materials like styrofoam food boxes.

Ditching the convenience of a buy-and-throw culture for the slight inconvenience of the three Rs today is a small price for a more sustainable tomorrow.

Besides legislation, efforts being made to change habits

In Singapore, both the public and private sector have been involved in keeping the nation's waste down.

Currently, Singapore discards more than three million tonnes of garbage a year, which works out to around 8,000 tonnes a day.

This year, the Government has introduced mandatory waste-reporting for big hotels and malls.

Hotels with more than 200 rooms and malls with net rental areas of more than 50,000 sq ft (4,645 sq m) have to collect data about how much waste they generate and what their targets are for reducing and recycling it.

Typically, such moves precede a gradual broadening of legislation.

For instance, the National Environment Agency first set out mandatory energy-efficiency performance labels for some appliances, then in subsequent years, made it compulsory for those appliances.

In the past few years, the Government has also introduced physical infrastructure such as recycling chutes and more recycling bins to make it easier for residents to recycle.

On the waste minimisation front, it started the Singapore Packaging Agreement in 2007, a voluntary agreement to get packaging companies to reduce the amount of plastic and other materials they use as such waste makes up a third of domestic rubbish.

Plastic continues to make up close to a quarter of all waste disposed of in Singapore, so the agreement's effectiveness is not clear.

Meanwhile, companies and non-government organisations are working on other ways to cut waste.

In a report last year, the Singapore Environment Council pointed out that Singapore uses a staggering three billion plastic bags a year. It recommended a nationwide "bring your own bag" weekend campaign to cut the number of bags given out at supermarkets.

There are also firms engaged in the sharing economy, which involves people giving away, lending or renting items and services to maximise the efficient use of resources and reduce waste., for one, allows users to rent everything from bicycles to wedding decor from one another.

Ultimately, for the three Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle - to become a way of life, people's behaviour must change too. As the SEC wrote in its plastic bag report: "The common thread is that human behaviour is at the heart of each possible solution."

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Solar power map to help Singaporeans see the light

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - A sky-high government-funded project is under way to map and analyse each and every one of the thousands of rooftops here.

The aim? To figure out on average how much each is exposed to the sun.

This information will be shared with Singaporeans in the hope that more will warm towards installing solar panels, as the nation ramps up its use of the sun's energy.

This work by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) is part of an ambitious, wider effort by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to photograph and map, in 3D, the entire country's landscape.

Since April 10, light planes have been criss-crossing the island at an altitude of up to 1,200m, taking aerial shots and doing laser scans. The effort will take about 40 days.

The project is expected to be completed by 2016.

An SLA spokesman said that the mapping would "improve decision- making" as users such as government agencies can then visualise, analyse and understand the landscape better.

For example, national water agency PUB will be using the map to better manage storm water.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will harness it to design more efficient flight paths.

The first of the project's two phases will cost about $3.3 million.

When complete, the 3D map will be adapted for public use.

As for Seris, which is funded by the National Research Foundation, the Economic Development Board and the National University of Singapore, it aims to make its version of the map publicly available online within a year.

The Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, which mapped the German city last year, has a similar map on its website.

Every rooftop on the Singapore map will be coloured red, orange or yellow, depending on how suited it is to harnessing solar energy.

Seris will rate this by using models to assess the slant of each roof, and simulate shadows formed as the sun rises and sets.

For example, a higher building may shade a nearby one, giving it less sun, while flat roofs are more suitable for solar panels.

Far from being just a technical exercise, the aim here is education, said Seris deputy chief executive Thomas Reindl.

A bungalow owner, condominium developer or factory owner who clicks on their rooftop would learn how much solar panel capacity they could fit on it, what this might cost, and how quickly they could recoup their investment.

It is about informing people, he said. "Solar energy has not fully taken off because people don't know too much about it yet... it has come down in price."

In October 2012, The Straits Times reported that the cost of installing and maintaining solar panels had become on a par here, for the first time, with that of using conventional electricity. Conventional electricity tariffs are 25.73 cents per kilowatt hour.

Seris is also revamping its National Solar Repository website to better educate people. Giving the public "full understanding" of solar energy's potential would help them harvest it, added Dr Reindl.

But he stressed the need to manage the impact of connecting more solar power to the national grid, an issue the Government is aware of. Solar energy generation can vary, depending on factors such as weather.

Seris will work with the Energy Market Authority to simulate the impact, using the 3D map.

Solar panels installed here as of June last year can generate at most about 12MW, six times that of 2009's figure, but a tiny fraction of the country's electricity demand.

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S$20m initiative to make NTU among greenest universities

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Nanyang Technological University (NTU) aims to reduce its energy and water usage as well as carbon footprint and waste output by 35 per cent by 2020.

The move will make NTU one of the most environmentally-friendly universities in the world.

A S$20 million initiative called the EcoCampus, launched on Wednesday by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S Iswaran, will be behind that transformation.

Under the initiative, NTU's 200-hectare campus will be used as a test bed for research projects -- from smart building systems to electric transportation.

It is a collaboration between NTU, the Singapore Economic Board and JTC Corporation.

Companies and organisations will also be involved at the projects level. 12 projects have been earmarked so far.

- CNA/nd

NTU to spend S$20m to become green varsity
Today Online 1 May 14;

SINGAPORE — Companies with ideas on how to reduce energy and water usage could see them tested out at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) campus, which will be turned into an eco test bed as part of a S$20-million initiative by the university.

Under the EcoCampus initiative launched yesterday, NTU aims to work towards a 35 per cent reduction in its energy and water usage, carbon footprint and waste output by 2020.

To achieve this, 12 research projects have been selected by NTU so far, among them an air-conditioning management system that detects energy consumption patterns and adjusts the temperature accordingly, as well as electric buses to replace the diesel ones currently plying the campus. The projects are the result of NTU’s collaborations with 11 firms, including 3M, Siemens and Phillips.

In partnership with JTC Corporation and the Singapore Economic Development Board, NTU’s 200ha campus, together with the JTC’s 50ha CleanTech Park will be transformed into a massive test bed for companies to experiment with and commercialise sustainable urban solutions. They can range from smart building systems and renewable energy, to electric transport and water conservation technologies.

Programme director of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N), Mr Nilesh Jadhav, said not only would NTU be able to provide companies the space needed as a test bed for their technologies, but it can also provide them researchers to further improve their projects. “Many companies have told us that by working through this process, they will not only benefit from the common knowledge that comes from various people who joined the initiative, but also commercial opportunities,” he said.

NTU students and staff will also be actively taking part in the research projects, with possible adjustments to the undergraduate curriculum along the way. Over time, ideas that work will be implemented successively and take NTU closer to becoming one of the world’s most eco-friendly campuses. The university said its target of 35 per cent reduction was made in line with the goal set out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint in 2009.

At the official launch of the Eco Campus initiative yesterday, Mr S Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, said growing urbanisation has led to a greater demand for resources such as energy, water and food.

With climate change considerations and the growing demand, Mr Iswaran, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said sustainability is now a strategic imperative for cities around the world.

“As a high-impact integrated Living Lab, the EcoCampus will create exciting green-collar jobs, raise our international standing and inspire Singaporeans to adopt sustainable practices.

“It offers opportunities for systems-level test bedding, which will enable us to assess innovative technologies at both the building and district levels, and establish best practices for Singapore and the tropics,” he said.

NTU is inviting companies to submit their innovative green ideas for test bedding through either the ERI@N website or the Government Electronic Business (GeBIZ) Portal. Applications can also be submitted through the EcoCampus website beginning later this month.

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Malaysia: Ships seized for illegal fishing

Jassmine Shadiqe New Straits Times 29 Apr 14;

KOTA TINGGI: Two ships seized while anchoring illegally in the Tanjung Sedili waters here in Pengerang were found with 100 to 150 tonnes of fish.

The ships were seized and its 63 crew members were detained in separate incidents on Friday and Saturday.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Tanjung Sedili enforcement division chief Captain Amran Daud said the ships' captains and crew members were detained for anchoring the ships without permission and failing to settle the light dues.

He added upon checks both ships were found with fish, believed to be in violation of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

At 10.30am on Friday, MMEA enforcement officers on routine patrol found the FV Ming 5 (FV Thunder) anchoring at three nautical miles southeast of Teluk Ramunia.

The ship was seized and its crew members were detained after the captain failed to submit the relevant permits for anchoring.

Captain Amran said FV Tai San (FV Chang Bai) was seized at 8.30pm on Saturday at 2.3 nautical miles of Teluk Ramunia.

Malaysia is among the member countries of CCAMLR.

The commission is an international effort to conserve and manage shared fish stocks that threaten the sustainability of all fisheries against IUU fishing, where areas are marked under Convention Area are opened for vessel listed, allowing them to conduct commercial fishing.

Tackling seafood fraud nationally, and cracking down on illegal fishing internationally, and protecting marine resources and their habitat and also help safeguard the health of seafood consumers, and the livelihoods of coastal communities, are among the areas where the commission governs over.

In order for vessels and ships owners to participate in fishing activities inside the Convention Area, they must be issued a licence to their flagged vessels detailing the specific areas, species and time periods that fishing is authorised.

The details of these licences must be provided to the CCAMLR's secretariat. The list of licensed vessels operating in the Convention Area is made available to all countries' enforcement agencies and also the public.

"Initial investigations revealed that one of the two ships detained, had entered the Pasir Gudang Port in Johor Baru, and loaded out their cargo of fish," Amran said.

He added that the owners may also face action under the domestic IIU regulation for fishing in Malaysian waters and using the facilities at the port, complex, and jetty without permission and permits.

Read more: Ships seized for illegal fishing - Johor - New Straits Times

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Malaysian travellers prefer eco-friendly hotels

The Star 29 Apr 14;

A survey reveals that travellers are conscious about the environment but don’t want to pay more to protect it.

THE majority of Malaysian travellers care about the environment and are willing to pay more to protect it, a recent survey by revealed.

Most Malaysian holidaygoers (60.64%) indicated that they prefer eco-friendly hotels, with 42.8% willing to pay US$10 to US$50 (RM33-RM163) more to stay in one. Another 15.2% said they would be willing to fork out more than US$50 (RM163).

This puts Malaysia third in the ranks of Asian travellers who are willing to pay more to stay at an eco-friendly hotel. Brunei and Indonesia came in first and second respectively.

The online survey asked 57,000 customers how they felt about environmental efforts by hotels. While 58% of all travellers said they preferred hotels that claimed to be environmentally friendly, 39% said they would pay an extra US$10 (RM33) or more per night to stay in one. Seventeen percent said they’d pay up to US$5 (RM16.30) more, and 31% said they wouldn’t pay anything more.

Travellers from the Netherlands, Denmark and Britain cared the least about eco-friendly hotels. Only 35% of Danish and Dutch travellers and 38% of British travellers said they preferred them. They were among the least likely to want to shell out more cash, too, with 57%, 47% and 47% respectively saying they would not pay anything extra to stay in a green hotel.

The biggest fans of green hotels were travellers from China. An impressive 79% said they were more likely to stay in eco-friendly hotels. When it came to opening their wallets, though, they were a little less enthusiastic. Only 35% said they would pay US$5 (RM17.50) or more per night to stay in a green hotel.

When asked which environmentally-friendly hotel practices they liked the most, travellers picked use of environmentally-friendly cleaning products and recycling as their favourites, each taking about 37% of the total votes cast (respondents were allowed to select as many as they wanted from a list of eight common practices). The least popular was reusing towels and sheets, which got only 23% of the votes.

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Vietnam: Coastal regions ravaged by flood tides

VietNamNet Bridge 28 Apr 14;

Rising sea levels caused by climate change and offshore land exploitation for building hydroelectricity plants are threatening the safety of the locals and Ba Dong Beach.

The Ba Dong Beach, located in Tra Vinh Province's Duyen Hai District, is famous for its well-preserved primitive beauty, sand dunes, tranquil sea, and fresh air.

It is a blazing hot day, but Dang Van Phuong and his entire family are engrossed in removing the furniture from their low, tin-roofed house supported by wooden columns that are buried in a sand bank.

Living in proximity to the place where flood tides had destroyed the sea dyke last year and caused a huge crack measuring 1,400 metres in length, Phuong and his kin are apprehensive about the looming dangers.

Thus, they want to move over to a new house further towards the mainland, though it is only some hundred metres away from their current home.

"My house was once at a distance from the sea, but flood tides have encroached on the sea coast, thereby displacing it nearer to the sea," Phuong said, recalling the night when flood tides inundated his neighbourhood of Con Nhan in Duyen Hai District.

"I heard the roar of the sea waves throughout the night. When I woke up, my house was already submerged in knee-deep waters," he recollected.

Flood tides inundated the entire area under watermelons that Hai intended to harvest for sale in the previous Lunar New Year.

Although Phuong has buckled down on growing new crops, the fruit can no longer be grown, as the soil has become alkaline due to the sea water.

He is no exception, as nearly 197 households in Con Nhan have suffered property losses from the flood tides.

Con Nhan means leisureliness in Vietnamese language. But, according to Phuong, people residing in the neighbourhood are always in a hurry and are toiling away all year round.


Moreover, the flood tides are also affecting hundreds of households in Truong Long Hoa, Hiep Thanh, and Dan Thanh communes, which form the Ba Dong beach in Duyen Hai District.

According to Deputy Chairman of Truong Long Hoa Commune People's Committee Nguyen Van Uol, as many as 146 households in the three hamlets of Con Trung, Khoan Tieu and Nha Mat are being threatened by flood tides.

The commune is renowned for its sand dunes, which are naturally shaped by the sea breeze, and Nha Mat, which is a pleasure house built by the French in the early part of the 20th century.

"People in the coastal areas are living in fear, particularly 85 households in Khau Lau neighbourhood where sea dykes and forest trees were swept away by flood tides, inundating all houses and forcing the local people to relocate to higher places. Though the people have returned to their houses, they are always in a state of anxiety and uncertainty," Uol noted with a grim look.

Hundreds of households in Hiep Thanh Commune have also lost their land to flood tides. A wife of a war martyr, Truong Thi Dinh, remarked that a water nymph had taken over her house and farming land, so her family is leading a life of destitution.

"Our life is precarious because we do not have any farming land. My only child has to work as a hired labourer, even then we find it hard to feed all our grandchildren," the 74 year-old woman claimed.

According to Chairman of Hiep Thanh People's Committee Nguyen Van Kiem, flood tides have washed away about 2 kilometres of land at the deepest site and several hundreds of metres at the narrowest point. The commune has lost about 200 hectares of arable land.

Once protected by mangrove forests, Hiep Thanh and other adjoining communes were covered by alluvium. But, things started to change since 1997, when a huge storm damaged the residual mangrove forests. Adding to the natural disaster is the human destruction of forests to procure land for shrimp farming, thereby causing severe land erosion at the seashore.

By 2010, land erosion caused property losses amounting to more than VND3.7 billion (US$1.8 million). Currently, more than 500 households have been affected by sea erosion, of which 165 households need to be relocated immediately, Kiem pointed out.

Due to limitations in the state budget, the commune has been able to build just one resettlement area to accommodate 48 households that were prioritised. Specifically, each household was given a plot of land and VND10 million to build their own house.

The resettlement area has been put into use since 2011, but it is yet to have its own school and clinic. Kiem noted that a clinic is being built, and there are plans to build a kindergarten here.

Numerous difficulties still lay ahead. Kiem explained that an increasing number of households need to be relocated to resettlement areas every year. In addition to this, they also face the thorny issue of how to help the resettled households earn their livelihood in new places, he added.

Causes of flood tides

The Duyen Hai District People's Committee has recently issued a report on the impact of sand dredging, climate change, and rising sea water levels as the key reasons behind land erosion, though diverse opinions exist related to the document.

Director of Tra Vinh Irrigation and Flood Control Department Nguyen Van Truong elaborated that although it is already clear that climate change and the impact of rising sea levels have caused land erosion, more research is necessary to find whether land dredging is also the culprit because land erosion had occurred in places located miles away from sand dredging sites and before the Duyen Hai Electricity Centre was built.

Deputy Chairman of Duyen Hai District People's Committee Chau Hoang Nghia shared the same viewpoint, stressing that sand dredging will cause geographical changes in a vast region, and facts have shown that land erosion has become formidable since such projects have begun.

"Exploiting sand at the seashore will change its terrain and create a whirlpool, thereby causing landslides at the seashore and adjacent areas," reported Professor Nguyen Ngoc Tran.

Located in Dan Thanh and Truong Long Hoa communes, the Duyen Hai Electricity Centre needs more than 26 million cubic metres of sand to level the surface of its ground for the construction of three thermoelectricity plants.

To achieve this, it sought permission from local authorities to dredge sand at the seashore. It not only exploited sand in areas approved by the local government, but the centre also did it illegally, though they were not able to obtain licences to exploit sand in other places.

Having imposed administrative fines upon its illegal sand dredging for a long time, the local government decided to bar the centre from mining sand last year, as land erosion at the seashore continues to occur in the province.

Nghia added that Duyen Hai District has a 55-kilometre-long shoreline. But, flood tides encroached and caused landslides on nearly 14 kilometres of sea dykes, destroying vast areas of forest and affecting thousands of households.

Though several billions of dong have been spent on consolidating the sea dyke system each year, such investment has proven futile in the following year due to the flood tides.

Necessary measures

To mitigate the ravages inflicted by the sea, Truong believes that it is necessary to build a stone embankment to cope with the sea waves. Accordingly, the district has invested VND83 billion ($39 million) in building a 2-kilometre-long embankment to protect its land.

Yet, such investment is still too small in comparison with the province's actual needs.

Chairman of Tra Vinh People's Committee Dong Van Lam emphasised that the province urgently needs VND475 billion ($226 million) to build 6-kilometre-long stone embankments in vulnerable areas, and another VND743 billion ($353 million) to build sea dykes.

"Once the projects are completed, thousands of households living at the seashore will be able to live and work in peace," he claimed.

In addition to this, Truong stressed that the mangrove forests will help to maintain the shoreline. To do so, efforts need to be taken in order to preserve alluvium for growing forests. Tra Vinh Province will grow 500 metres of mangrove forest on alluvial soil as a pilot project in the coming time, he said.

A peaceful life for the local people in Tra Vinh is still a far-fetched dream, as fund shortage remains a major hindrance to realising that dream.

Source: VNS

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Fears rising sea temperatures stifling coral larvae spread

Allyson Horn ABC News 29 Apr 14;

Reef researchers says rising sea temperatures are leaving large reef systems less interconnected and potentially more vulnerable.

Scientists from James Cook University have simulated high ocean temperatures to see if coral larvae still move freely in reef waters.

They found the larvae or coral babies are more likely to stay in the reef where they were spawned.

Professor Sean Connolly says it could mean changes to reef diversity.

"For systems of very highly connected reefs like the Great Barrier Reef where there's likely to be a lot of exchange of larvae, by weakening coral's ability to do that it puts greater pressure on things like evolutionary adaptation and so forth, which can have a lot of trouble coping with periods of rapid change," he said.

"For corals, because they're attached to the reef as adults, the only way they can migrate is through the dispersal of larvae and so the less dispersal there is, the more their capacity to change their geographic range to follow suitable temperature conditions, the more that capacity is going to be impaired."

Coral stays home when the heat's on
As the ocean gets warmer, baby coral are becoming more reluctant to leave home.
9 News National 28 Apr 14;

A Queensland study has found that as ocean temperatures rise more coral larvae may remain on their birth reefs rather than exploring the underwater world and finding a new system on which to settle.

This is bad news for larger reefs like the Great Barrier Reef which rely on the recruitment of larvae from other systems but good news for smaller reefs which will retain larvae that would otherwise drift elsewhere.

Study co-author James Cook University Professor Sean Connolly says this will make it more difficult for larger systems to recover after cyclones and coral bleaching because fewer larvae will disperse from other reefs.

"The loss of connectivity can make reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef more vulnerable," Mr Connolly, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), said.

Although smaller reefs will have better protections by retaining their larvae, they will have fewer opportunities to change their species to adapt to climate change, he says.

Study co-author Professor Andrew Baird, also from the Coral CoE, says the research shows climate change presents both challenges and opportunities to those who manage the reef.

"The stronger link between adults and recruits means an even greater benefit if we reduce local threats such as dredging and fishing," he said.

"(However) this does not reduce the need for global action on climate change."

Increased Local Retention of Reef Coral Larvae as a Result of Ocean Warming was published in the Nature Climate Change journal.

More coral babies staying at home on future reefs
ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies Science Daily 29 Apr 14;

Increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change will soon see reefs retaining and nurturing more of their own coral larvae, leaving large reef systems less interconnected and potentially more vulnerable. "We found that at higher temperatures more coral larvae will tend to stay on their birth reef," says the lead author of the study.

Researchers have found that increasing ocean temperatures due to climate change will soon see reefs retaining and nurturing more of their own coral larvae, leaving large reef systems less interconnected and potentially more vulnerable.

"We found that at higher temperatures more coral larvae will tend to stay on their birth reef," says the lead author of the study published today, Dr Joana Figueiredo from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University.

"This is good news in an otherwise cloudy picture for isolated reefs, because in the future they will be able to retain more of their own larvae and recover faster from severe storms or bleaching events," she adds.

Professor Sean Connolly, also from the Coral CoE, explains that while more coral larvae will stay close to their parents, fewer will disperse longer distances, leaving reefs less connected.

"The loss of connectivity can make reef systems such as the Great Barrier Reef more vulnerable," he said.

"So interconnected reef systems that depend on the recruitment of coral larvae may take more time to recover after a disturbance, such as a cyclone, because fewer larvae will disperse from other reefs to the disturbed reef."

Professor Connolly adds that weaker connections between reefs means warm-adapted corals, such as those in the northern Great Barrier Reef, may take longer to expand their ranges to the south.

Similarly for isolated reefs, Dr Saki Harii from the University of the Ryukyus says, "While isolated reefs can retain more of their own larvae, this also leaves them with fewer possibilities to change their species composition to adjust to climate change."

Professor Andrew Baird from the Coral CoE says the implications of the research present management with both challenges and opportunities.

"Our results demonstrate that global warming will change patterns of larval connectivity among reefs. On a positive note, the stronger link between adults and recruits means an even greater benefit if we reduce local threats such as dredging and fishing methods that can damage corals," Professor Baird says.

Nevertheless, he explains, "This does not reduce the need for global action on climate change."

Increased local retention of reef coral larvae as a result of ocean warming by Joana Figueiredo, Andrew H. Baird, Saki Harii and Sean R. Connolly appears in Nature Climate Change.

Journal Reference:

Joana Figueiredo, Andrew H. Baird, Saki Harii, Sean R. Connolly. Increased local retention of reef coral larvae as a result of ocean warming. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2210

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Megacities contend with sinking land

Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News 29 Apr 14;

Subsiding land is a bigger immediate problem for the world's coastal cities than sea level rise, say scientists.

In some parts of the globe, the ground is going down 10 times faster than the water is rising, with the causes very often being driven by human activity.

Decades of ground water extraction saw Tokyo descend two metres before the practice was stopped.

Speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, researchers said other cities must following suit.

Gilles Erkens from the Deltares Research Institute, in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, said parts of Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and numerous other coastal urban settlements would sink below sea level unless action was taken.

His group's assessment of those cities found them to be in various stages of dealing with their problems, but also identified best practice that could be shared.

"Land subsidence and sea level rise are both happening, and they are both contributing to the same problem - larger and longer floods, and bigger inundation depth of floods," Dr Erkens told BBC News.

"The most rigorous solution and the best one is to stop pumping groundwater for drinking water, but then of course you need a new source of drinking water for these cities. But Tokyo did that and subsidence more or less stopped, and in Venice, too, they have done that."

The famous City of Water in north-east Italy experienced major subsidence in the last century due to the constant extraction of water from below ground.

When that was halted, subsequent studies in the 2000s suggested the major decline had been arrested.

Pietro Teatini's research indicates that significant instances of descent were now restricted to particular locations, and practices: "When some people restore their buildings, for example, they load them, and they can go down significantly by up to 5mm in a year." How far they descended would depend on the type and compaction of soils underneath those buildings, the University of Padova researcher added.

Like all cities, Venice has to deal with natural subsidence as well.

Large-scale geological processes are pushing the ground on which the city sits down and under Italy's Apennine Mountains. This of itself probably accounts for a subsidence of about 1mm each year. But on the whole, human-driven change has a greater magnitude than natural subsidence.

Scientists now have a very powerful tool to assess these issues. It is called Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar. By overlaying repeat satellite images of a specific location, it is possible to discern millimetric deformation of the ground.

Archives of this imagery extend back into the 1990s, allowing long time-series of change to be assessed.

The European Space Agency has just launched the Sentinel-1a radar satellite, which is expected to be a boon to this type of study.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Apr 14

Love MacRitchie Walk – Happy campers despite the drizzle and a blue coral snake appears! from Toddycats!

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Botanic Gardens enjoyment to reach new heights in 2016

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - Trees that go up to 20 storeys and an unblocked bird's-eye view of the forest floor.

Visitors will get to take in these sights from an elevated boardwalk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' upcoming Tyersall Learning Forest when it is ready in 2016.

Two Sepetir trees were planted yesterday at the boardwalk's proposed site to mark the start of the development of the $2.4 million walkway and the 9.8ha learning forest.

The planting was done by Dr Lee Boon Yang, chairman of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) - the boardwalk's co-sponsor - and representatives of the National Parks Board (NParks) which is leading the project. The Sepetir tree, which is native to Singapore, can grow up to a height of 50m.

SPH chief executive Alan Chan also attended the event.

SPH has donated $1.2 million to the boardwalk, which will take visitors up to a height of 8m. The donation is part of a series of activities scheduled in conjunction with the organisation's 30th anniversary this year.

The other half of the boardwalk's cost will be paid for by NParks.

The Gardens will increase by a sixth in size to about 74ha when the new Tyersall extension is ready.

It will house rare fruit and nut trees such as wild durian, persimmon and chestnut trees.

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Turning Earth Hour into Earth Hours

Richard Hartung Today Online 29 Apr 14;

It has been a month since we marked Earth Hour 2014, when buildings across the island plunged into darkness for an hour from 8.30pm to 9.30pm on March 29.

Organiser World Wildlife Fund and its partners extolled the success of the event here and in more than 160 countries, saying “millions of people were touched by this unifying movement”.

Post-event reporting focused on top-level entertainers, lights going out at iconic buildings and a one-hour focus on environmental concerns ranging from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Zayanderud River in Iran.

A month later, though, it is hard to see how much has changed here. Lights are back blazing on all the buildings, air conditioning keeps temperatures in conference rooms far too cold and commuters continue to drive their cars.

While Earth Hour CEO and co-founder Andy Ridley said “Earth Hour is more than just this hour” and “you feel that a collective effort is collective power”, in many places, this collective power largely dissipated after 9.30pm on March 29.

The reality seems to be that, for many people, Earth Hour was, once again, a one-hour event with great publicity beforehand, lights turned off for an hour and celebrations in a slightly darker city. Then, it was back to the status quo.


To make a real and longer-lasting difference, changing the approach to making Earth Hour the beginning of a year-long transformation rather than a short one-hour event could have a far bigger impact. While the Earth Hour organisers did suggest longer-term events and launched Earth Hour Blue as “a global crowd-funding platform that lasts longer than 60 minutes”, we can do more over the course of a full year.

For instance, organisers here could get supporters to obtain pledges from banks, factories, hotels, malls, property developers and other companies as well as ordinary citizens to conserve energy for an entire year, starting from when Earth Hour happens. Recognising the companies that change their practices and the people who obtain the pledges, as well as setting up processes to monitor the results, could be the catalyst for real change.

Some cities have started on this path. Chicago, for example, won the 2014 US Earth Hour City Capital award and is encouraging residents to “go beyond the hour” through a programme that helps homeowners install solar panels. In India, Earth Hour kicked off a year-long project to reduce carbon footprints in 15,000 schools by recording carbon output and educating children on efficient energy usage.

Earth Hour has indeed become an amazing event, and the organisers deserve kudos for starting it. Seven years on, it has been easy to fall into the trap of doing the same thing every year and calling it a success as more and more people participate. However, rather than simply repeating the same theme on a bigger scale year after year, innovating to make longer-lasting change can have a far greater impact.

In commemorating Earth Hour, it has been common to get celebrities to rally support for the cause. What may be even more important is to involve political leaders and officials to show the way towards change. After all, they are the ones whose agencies will develop the regulations and policies that can have a positive impact on climate change.

It may take time for mindsets towards the event to change. For a start, we should use the 8,760 hours before the next Earth Hour on March 28, 2015 to implement positive changes. Instead of focusing on only one hour, we can start planning now for longer-lasting change to happen.


Richard Hartung is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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Public water supply not affected by Tuas fire: NEA

Seet Sok Hwee Channel NewsAsia 28 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Sunday's warehouse fire in Tuas has raised concerns about its impact on the environment.

But the National Environment Agency (NEA) said public water supply has not been affected and air quality there is within the normal range.

Gutted in the warehouse were petroleum-based products and toxic wastes.

NEA said it did not detect any harmful gases.

It said toxic waste collection centres are located outside water catchment areas in order to prevent any water pollution to reservoirs.

As such, water used to extinguish the fire entered drains that lead to the Northern Tuas Basin, and not the Tengah Reservoir.

NEA said water samples from the Basin showed a slight increase in oil and grease levels following the incident, but the readings returned to normal levels on Monday.

Mr Richard Karim, a security guard from Technochem Environmental Complex, said: "They are clearing the waste water inside the drain. It's advice from the NEA."

- CNA/de

No injuries reported in Tuas warehouse fire
Claire Huang Channel NewsAsia 27 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: A fire broke out at a warehouse housing waste products in Tuas Avenue 11 on Sunday afternoon. The Singapore Civil Defence Force said no one was injured.

The SCDF said it was alerted to the raging fire at the warehouse belonging to Technochem Environmental Complex at 3.38pm.

Eighty SCDF personnel and eight fire engines were despatched to the scene. They took about two-and-a-half hours to put out the fire, which engulfed a warehouse about the size of a two-room HDB flat.

Colonel Ling Young Ern, commander of the 4th SCDF Division, said: "When we arrived, the whole warehouse was already engulfed by the fire and we saw flames going through the roof.

"The warehouse contained a concoction of flammable materials and solvents, so our strategy was to contain the fire using handheld jets at the exterior to prevent it from spreading to the neighbouring companies.

"We deployed the UFM, the unmanned fire-fighting machine, which gave us the strategic advantage of going right into the seed of the fire, manoeuvring through the rubble to tackle the seed of the fire, to apply a layer of foam blanket over an area of 50 by 50 metres. That enabled us to put out the fire very effectively."

- CNA/ac

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Malaysia: 'Rationing to continue'

NURADILLA NOORAZAM New Straits Times 29 Apr 14;

DELAY: Water levels at dams increase only slightly

SHAH ALAM: WATER rationing in Selangor will continue despite the increasing water levels at dams, said Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi yesterday.

Yunus, who is state youth, sports, infrastructure and amenities committee chairman, said despite Sungai Selangor dam recording a reading of 40.08 per cent yesterday, the exercise had to continue for the time being.

The reading was 15 per cent lower than the targeted 55 per cent level at which the water rationing exercise could end, he said.

"Six of seven dams in the state showed slight improvements in water levels compared with last week, mainly because of heavy rainfall.

"But overall, the readings have not met our target yet. We hope that our efforts to pump water from the Hang Tuah old mining pool will increase the water levels in the dams.

"It is fortunate that the downpour in recent weeks had reduced the amount of water released from the Sungai Selangor dam needed for water treatment plants."

As of yesterday, water levels in the Klang Gates dam stood at 58.49 per cent, Langat dam 53.82 per cent, Semenyih dam 75.68 per cent, Sungai Tinggi 62.60 per cent and Tasik Subang 86.77 per cent.

The state government is scheduled to install five more pumps at the Hang Tuah pool today.

The state government had placed an order for another 10 pumps from China, which were expected to arrive here within a month, Yunus said.

Some RM10 million had been set aside for installation and infrastructure costs for the pumps, which will be installed at the Sungai Selangor dam and Hang Tuah mining pool.

"We used less than RM1 million from the budget, mainly to buy five pumps with a capacity of 50 million litres of water per day (MLD) and diesel fuel to operate the pumps. The other 10 pumps will have a capacity of 87 MLD," he said.

On the use of royal rainmaking technology from Thailand, Yunus said the state government had not yet adopted it because of setbacks.

"The state government is negotiating with the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Defence Ministry on the aspects of implementing the technology.

"We have not received clearance from the Defence Ministry to use the technology yet."

Slight increase in dam level
p. aruna AND tashny sukumaran The Star 29 Apr 14;

HULU SELANGOR: Water levels at the Sungai Selangor dam have seen a slight increase after having dipped below 40% of its capacity for the past few months.

As of 8am yesterday, the water level at the dam had hit the 40% mark, according to the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) website.

The Sungai Selangor dam supplies water to over 60% of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor.

Aida Isa, 20, of Kampung Pertak, Kuala Kubu Baru near the dam, said there was finally frequent rain in the area for the past two weeks after a dry season that lasted for almost two months.

“We had water cuts for about two weeks, but now the supply is back to normal,” she said.

A visit to the dam showed that there were patches of fresh grass growing around the dam area.

On March 31, the water level at the dam was at 36.53% while last Wednesday, it rose to 38.97%.

Other dams which showed an improved water level were Sungai Tinggi at 62.6% and Klang Gates at 58.49% – up from 62.05% and 54.24% respectively last week. Selangor began water rationing in early March.

Last week, Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim said the exercise would end this week if the state’s move to pump pond water into Sungai Selangor yielded favourable results, and current weather conditions continued.

Experts, however, had cautioned against its lifting in view of an impending five-month dry spell from June.

In Shah Alam, Selangor Youth and Sports, Infrastructure and Public Amenities Committee chairman Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi said the rationing would not be stopped abruptly.

“If and when rationing ends, it will be done in stages.

“Also, the decision on when to stop is still being discussed,” he told reporters during a briefing on the issue yesterday.

Dr Ahmad Yunus said Selangor would be buying 10 new pumps from China, which would arrive in a month, to draw water from mining pools.

Selangor now has nine pumps and has used “less than RM1mil” of its RM10mil allocation for the purpose.

He also dismissed allegations by Klang MP Charles Santiago that the water channelled from the Kampung Hang Tuah mining pool to the Sungai Selangor dam was unsuitable for consumption.

He added that extensive testing had proved otherwise.

Who is to blame for S’gor water woes?
khairy jamaluddin The Star 29 Apr 14;

The Selangor Government’s reluctance to gradually raise tariffs, to allow water companies to increase supply and reduce leakages, forced the Federal Government to step in and initiate damage control. Unfortunately, public anger is now directed at the wrong party.

THE other day, I was listening to a business radio “talk-back” show. Irate listeners called to air their anger on the Federal Government for the protracted water crisis. Being unaware of the facts, understandably, they blamed the Federal Government for poor planning.

The question everyone should be asking is this: Why is Selangor and Kuala Lumpur the only areas facing water shortage when the rest of the country does not have such a problem?

Is it because we have not expected the increase in demand for Selangor like other states?

No. All states register increases in demand every year and we have reliable forecast of demand growth to provide the right information for planning.

Is it entirely caused by drought in Selangor?

No. There is also drought in other states at different times of the year, and they do not face water shortage.

Is it because Selangor’s non-revenue water (NRW) is too high compared to other states?

No. Selangor/KL’s NRW is at 32% and lower than the national average (36%), and certainly lower than Pahang (56%), Kelantan (55%), Sabah (50%) and Kedah (47%). Yet they do not have water shortage.

So why is Selangor facing water shortage and who is to be blamed?

With proper planning, there should be enough supply of water to cater for increases in demand and drought contingencies.

The current water strategy ensures water reserves at 70% (which will last for 100 days before hitting critical levels). This means we should have water supply to cover 100% of existing demand.

Under the water concession agreement, the previous Selangor Government deliberately established the initial water tariff at very low rates while allowing for gradual increases in the interest of the public.

These increases are needed to provide additional revenue to the water companies so that they can use the money to increase water supply and reduce leakages or NRW.

Except for Selangor, all other states in Malaysia, including Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat states have allowed for increases in water tariff in line with the concession agreement or the business plan.

In 2010 itself, the Federal Government had warned Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim of a water crisis in 2014 if water resources were not managed properly.

Khalid retorted, saying that there would be more than sufficient water supply to meet the demands of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur well up to 2019.

This is in stark contrast to what he said last week that “the water supply will only last 29 days if water rationing is not carried out.”

The state government refused to allow for the construction of Langat 2 and has, since 2009, rejected increases in water tariff. In its obstinacy, the state government has become the stumbling block.

The Selangor Government must be held accountable for this water shortage.

They should not deflect this problem by apportioning blame on the Federal Government. If they had approved Langat 2 in 2009, it would be completed by now and we would have enough water today.

Let’s look at the Selangor Government’s alternative water plans.

Based on their election manifesto, Pakatan promised free water or no increase in water tariff. To achieve this, they wanted to buy out the four water companies.

After more than five years of trying, they failed to acquire the companies on a “willing seller, willing buyer” basis.

To fulfil their election manifesto, the Selangor Government halted any increase in water tariff, even though it was provided for under the concession agreements.

As a result, water companies in Selangor said they were not in a financial position to inject money for upgrading infrastructure as well as undertaking NRW projects.

They were even on the brink of defaulting on their bond and loan repayment.

The water companies sued the Selangor Government for breach of contract. As it was concerned about a looming water crisis, the Federal Government was forced to take its first intervention measures.

The Government had to spend RM6.2bil to take over the bonds and further injected RM400mil for operations and maintenance.

The irony is that the Federal Government has to shoulder the increase in national debt to the tune of RM6.6bil because the Selangor Government effectively held the public at ransom.

Despite this first round of intervention to buy some time, the Selangor Government continued to reject Langat 2 and refused to increase the water tariff.

Recognising the seriousness of water issues, the Federal Govern-ment agreed to step in with the second round of intervention.

Under the recent MoU, signed on Feb 26, the Federal Government agreed to provide a sum of RM9.65bil to acquire the water companies and release all water assets to the Selangor Government to operate.

This is a sweet deal for the Selangor Government. You can call it a “highway robbery” because it effectively gets the Federal Govern-ment to spend billions while the Selangor Government operates the water companies to fulfil its election manifesto of free or cheap water.

Why do you think the Federal Government would enter into such a bizarre deal?

This is done purely because the Federal Government was extremely worried for the people in Selangor. As it is, over 1.3 million households or 6.3 million people have been affected and 820 new projects put on hold. It decided that for public interest, it will set aside political differences with Pakatan to look for ways to avert a water crisis.

As this latest RM9.65bil offer was rejected by the water companies, the Federal Government is left with no choice but to resort to a third round of intervention by invoking Section 114 of WSIA.

There is a complication here. In the interest of the public, the S114 allows the Federal Government to step in and take over management and operation from the water concessionaires.

It does not allow the Government to take over ownership of the companies. Once it has successfully resolved the water issue, it has to return the management/operation back to the water companies.

The catch is that if the Federal Government were to execute S114 of WSIA, the water issue will continue until Langat 2 is completed in 2017.

The Selangor Government can continue to frustrate its efforts by (a) not approving the development order, permits and land for Langat 2 and the two new distribution lines; (b) not approving the water mitigation projects; (c) not allowing water tariff increases; and (d) not extending the licence agreement to extract water from rivers in Selangor.

If (a), (b) and (d) are not allowed, the water shortage will get worse.

If (c) is not done, the Federal Government will be forced to inject money to cover operational costs. Any which way, people will put the blame squarely on the Federal Government.

The Federal Government has no other recourse but to request the Selangor Government to sign an agreement to implement (a), (b), (c) and (d) before it can execute S114 of WSIA.

By doggedly sticking to its election manifesto, the Selangor Government has failed consistently over five years to put in place its alternative plan.

The people of Selangor have to suffer the consequence of a failed water plan by the Selangor Govern-ment.

To make matters worse, in the interest of the public and the Malaysian economy, the Federal Government has to bear the financial costs through three rounds of intervention.

> Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Youth and Sports, is also the chairman of the Barisan Nasional youth wing and leader of Umno Youth.

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Malaysia: Agencies involved to work together to stop peat fires and illegal dumping

sheila sri priya The Star 28 Apr 14;

SEVERAL local authorities have agreed to come together to tackle the on-going illegal dumping problem and put an end to peat fires at the Sungai Kelang riverbank in Taman Sri Manja in PJS3, Petaling Jaya.

On April 24, StarMetro, visited the illegal dumpsite with representatives from the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MBPJ) and councillors, Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Talha, Petaling District land office, Department of Environment (DOE), Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS), Selangor Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and Penchala fire station.

The illegal dumping of waste and the peat fire issue requires the joint cooperation of all parties to tackle the matter and 30 representatives from the various agencies, were positive about resolving the issues together.

Haniza said she was glad that all parties were serious in handling the issue and hoped the agencies involved would support the other, and resolve the matter quickly, to ease residents’ worries.

“Smoke from the peat fire irritates the eyes and residents in Taman Sri Manja and Taman Medan are suffering.

“With the continuous burning and the release of toxic gas, I fear for their health,” she said.

Haniza said she would write to the land office to declare the peat fire situation as a ‘natural disaster.

“The peat fire has not stopped since early March and this has led to health complications. This is serious matter and we need to move fast,” she said.

Haniza said the land office would need to ascertain the status of the land at the riverbank as some occupants had Temporary Operating Licence (TOL).

“We want to clear the riverbank from all illegal activities and to do so, we need to be sure of the land status,” she said.

The fire station together with DOE, she said, would conduct a test on the gas emitted from the peat fire.

Thirdly, a request has been made to DID to place barriers at the illegal dump site, to prevent further activity.

“We hope 5,000kg boulders will be placed at the entrance to the dump site,” she said adding that Penchala fire station chief Zaidi Ahtan said his station had put out fires at the PJS3 site 15 times since January.

“Sometimes it takes 24 hours to put out the peat fire and it is dangerous.

The situation is bad and has affected the health of some of his officers.

“Each time when we get a call, we rush to the site and put out the fire. Three of my firefighters were admitted in the hospital due to the side effects of over inhaling smoke from the peat fire.

“We are not complaining but we hope the issue is tackled soon, otherwise we will be wasting our resources,” said Zaidi.

How it started

The riverbank at Taman Sri Manja, Petaling Jaya has been subject to continous peat fire since March.

In February, StarMetro reported that parts of the riverbank at PJS3 and PJS4 was, for over a decade, used as an illegal dumping ground for construction waste.

Most of the ‘unwanted’ waste was dumped into the river at night and the activity continued on, as the authorities were slow to resolve the matter.

Later that month, firefighters had to deal with a fire at the dumpsite, which took them nine hours to douse the blaze.

Besides the dumping of the construction waste into the river, scavengers contribute to the problem by burning rubbish at the riverbank.

Breathing problems

Taman Sri Manja Flats Resident’s Association chairman Sabtu Atan said residents were directly affected by the peat fire as the three-block flats were 200m away from the site.

“The wind blows the smoke in the direction of the flats and it gets worse at night.

“This has been ongoing for about two months and we have been inhaling hazardous smoke.

“Our clothes which we hang outside to dry, also smells of smoke,” said Sabtu adding that the rubbish was most likely burned at night.

Mohammad Ibrahim, 66, who has been living at the flats for over 10 years, said the smoke from the peat fire was causing health problems to his children.

“Some of my children are coughing non-stop after inhaling the smoke.

“It is a health hazard to the residents here, especially those who have asthma, as this will worsen their condition.

“Authorities should come together and address the problem once and for all,” he said.

Residents were also furious that the dumping of bulk waste has not stopped.

A factory manager in the area, who wished to remain anonymous, said the dumping of waste even took place during the day, nearby his factory.

“We have witnessed lorry loads of construction waste being dumped beside our factory, almost on a daily basis.

“We have even seen lorries bearing the MBPJ logo that comes here to dump waste.

“We do not dare confront the culprits as we fear they may retaliate.

“We are thankful to StarMetro for highlighting the plight as most of the residents and legal business owners are tired of complaining to the authorities.

“We hope there will be an end to this pollution,” he said as he shared some photographs taken of the dumping activity.

The factory manager added that since early March, the culprits had been seen burning the rubbish too.

This resulted in peat fires in the area, and even factory workers were said to be suffering from breathing difficulties because of the smoke.

“I hope the state government will take the lead and put an end to this situation.

“We realise there are a lot of government departments involved in tackling the decade-old problem.

“If there are many departments involved, would it not be easier to overcome the problem instead of playing the blame game?,” he asked.

Resident Dominic Koo claims to have seen trucks loaded with empty bottles at the river bank, recently.

First-hand look

Based on public complaints over the acrid smoke, StarMetro staked out at the area to observe and get an idea of how the peat fire had affected residents.

On April 23, reporters discovered three peat fire locations along the riverbank in Taman Sri Manja.

The peat fire continued to burn non-stop during the seven hours we were there.

The burning took place behind a shack, believed to be an illegal waste dumping station, and the route to this area was secluded from the main road.

In the afternoon, children could be seen loitering at the site.

However, entry to the larger waste dumping site in PJS3, Kampung Medan, was restricted with drum barriers, controlled by a group of illegal operators.

The entry to another illegal dumping site under the Kesas highway, was also blocked with boulders.

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Apr 14

Double dose of Ubin!
from wild shores of singapore

Morning Walk At Dairy Farm Nature Park (26 Apr 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Lumpy Rock Crab @ Terumbu Raya
from Monday Morgue

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Recycling of foodwaste yet to catch on in Singapore

Practice still not common due to lack of infrastructure, costs in sorting such refuse
Siau Ming En Today Online 28 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE — The practice of recycling food waste has not caught on, despite efforts to curb the growing amount of such waste generated.

Food recycling rates in Singapore rose for the second consecutive year in 2013, as 13 per cent of the 796,000 tonnes of food waste generated were recycled last year, figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) show.

However, last year’s food recycling rate was still below the 16 per cent of food waste recycled in 2010.

Industry players said a myriad of reasons account for the low recycling rates, including the lack of infrastructure as well as manpower and logistical costs of sorting food waste.

More importantly, they felt the main contributors of food waste — food caterers, hawker centres, restaurants, supermarkets and hotels — have yet to change their mindset.

Food recycling company Eco-Wiz CEO Renee Mison said food waste recycling is not a priority for some food and beverage (F&B) outlets here. “Some operators feel the effort to reduce food waste is not directly related to their performance or productivity. To them, it’s something good, but it’s not something they have to do now.”

“It’s basically our culture,” said Mr Daniel Ang, president of the Association of Catering Professionals Singapore. “We just dump everything; throw (food away). Nobody collects it for recycling,” he added.

The NEA said the bulk of food waste, mostly uncooked kitchen food and post-meal leftovers, is currently disposed of at waste-to-energy incineration plants. The part that can be recycled, which comprises clean waste such as spent grains from beer brewing, bread waste and soya bean waste, is converted into animal feed.

Some of the food waste recycling technology offered in Singapore is also able to convert food waste to compost, liquid or reusable water for washing.

The lack of infrastructure is a hurdle, said Mr Ang, who is also CEO of catering companies Elsie’s Kitchen and Continental Delight. He added that getting caterers to participate in food recycling is “not really an issue”, but the basic infrastructure — such as the provision of bins to sort food waste from other refuse — should first be provided.

Independent enterprises or the Government could step in to provide these bins and the collection of food waste, he suggested.

A cost-benefit analysis study commissioned by the NEA in 2010 shows there is “a net cost” to recycle food waste at a centralised recycling facility for such refuse, largely due to the costs from collecting and processing the waste. These costs could be lowered with better technology, more efficient operations and improved waste segregation, said the agency.

To address cost concerns and encourage smaller F&B firms to invest in food recycling technology, Eco-Wiz recently launched a smaller version of its food waste digesters, which cost less than S$10,000, but have the capacity to process 50kg of food waste a day.

Currently, its machines offer various capacities to process food waste, from 100kg to 1,000kg a day, with costs between S$30,000 and about S$80,000.

Four hotels and an institute of higher learning have been awarded grants under an NEA fund to recycle food waste generated on-site using food waste digesters.

The aggregate grant awarded to these projects amounted to about S$342,900, with each project lasting three to three-and-a-half years. “The total estimated food waste recycling tonnage over the duration of these projects is 3,805 tonnes,” said the NEA.

Co-founder Nichol Ng of Food Bank, a non-profit organisation that collects excess food and redistributes it to the needy, said some firms are concerned about the costs of separating food as well as the collection of excess food.

While Ms Ng has noticed a growing public awareness about the need to save food, she said guidelines to encourage more to be done are lacking. For instance, some people do not know how to reuse food items that are odd or packaged wrongly and that would lead to food wastage, she said.

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One million flowers made from plastic bags for Chingay display

Amir Hussain Today Online 28 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE — Next year’s Chingay parade will showcase a special contribution by Singaporeans: Flowers handmade from recycled plastic bags. The People’s Association (PA) aims to gather at least one million such flowers, which will be used to form a large display at the event slated for Feb 27 and 28 at the F1 Pit Building, as part of its Chingay 2015 Community Engagement Programme.

The initiative, titled We Love Sg Flowers, is also aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to be environmentally conscious. The programme was launched yesterday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he joined some 500 residents from his Teck Ghee ward to fold flowers at the Teck Ghee Community Club (CC).

PA Chief Executive Director Ang Hak Seng said the flowers are “very simple to make, so all Singaporeans can participate”.

“Chingay next year is going to be a special one because we are celebrating Singapore’s 50th birthday,” he added. Grassroots organisations such as Residents Committees and Neighbourhood Committees will kick-start the drive by collecting used plastic bags from residents.

The PA will also invite external partners such as schools, religious bodies, clan associations and private companies to join in the programme.

After Chingay, the flowers will be distributed for display at the PAssionArts Festival 2015 from April to May, and in celebration of Singapore’s 50th birthday. Thereafter, they will be kept by the CCs or sold for recycling, with proceeds to go to charity.

PA kicks off bid to craft a million flowers from plastic bags
David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - Teck Ghee in Ang Mo Kio GRC yesterday hosted a "bring your own bag" event with a difference.

The special guest was the ward's Member of Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who brought 20 plastic bags and joined 500 residents and volunteers in turning the bags into flowers.

The event kicked off the People's Association's (PA's) effort to get people islandwide to craft one million flowers from used bags, as a way to show their love for the nation as it approaches its 50th birthday next year.

The flowers, which represent people's wishes for Singapore, will eventually be part of a gigantic "flower bed", which will be displayed at the opening of Chingay 2015, to be held on Feb 27 and 28 at the F1 Pit Building.

The PA is inviting groups across the island to take part, including schools, businesses, faith groups, clan and immigrant associations, and ordinary households.

After Chingay next year, the "flowers" will be shown at the PAssionArts Festival next April.

They will then be sold to recycling firms to be turned into flower pots or new bags.

For some of the participants yesterday, their wishes for the nation ahead of a half-century of independence were tinged with gratitude for Singapore's journey.

"I feel happy that Singapore has reached 50 years without too many conflicts," said transport officer Habel Low, 64.

"I wish for harmony and stability, especially with our multiracial society. We have to give and take and tolerate one another."

Teck Ghee Primary pupil Lim Yin Kang, 12, had just two wishes: for the country to remain a safe place to live, and for it to become "less stressful" for students.

Others wished for a more environmentally conscious Singapore and close-knit communities.

Mr Low said that ultimately, he worries about the cost of living and hopes that his two sons, aged 26 and 17, will "get jobs and a place to stay".

As for PM Lee, who made five flowers, he seemed to have babies on his mind. Just before giving out prizes at the Teck Ghee Baby Show, which was held alongside the event, he told the new parents present that raising children is "one of the greatest joys" in life.

He quipped: "I hope that next year when we have a baby show, you will come back. This group of babies may be too old, but I hope you have a new group of babies to participate next year."

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 14

Coral Relocation at Sultan Shoal
from Hantu Blog

“Save MacRitchie”
from My Nature Experiences

New at the Singapore Science Centre – guided tours!
from Otterman speaks

Trashy fun at Kranji Bund with NSS
from Reflections on Nature

Grey Herons Fishing - Amateur vs Professional
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Night Walk At Lower Pierce Reservoir (25 Apr 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

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Relocating corals at Sultan Shoal

Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 26 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: Corals near one of Singapore's lighthouses, Sultan Shoal, are being moved in a conservation project to protect them from development works for the future Tuas Terminal.

Just over half of the estimated 2,800 hard coral colonies on the reef will be relocated, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said divers have completed about 80 per cent of the move so far.

For the past seven months, marine biologists and volunteers have been diving into the waters around Sultan Shoal -- a rare sight in an area normally closed to the public.

Volunteer diver Debby Ng said: "So many sea cucumbers totally littering the reef. The reef had lots of anemonefish... which was really nice to see, so a lot of activity under water."

It is no ordinary fun dive. With chisel and hammer, divers harvest coral from the reef piece by piece, transport them to their new home, and reattach them to the seabed with underwater cement.

From Sultan Shoal in southwest Singapore, the corals will be moved to three different sites on the Sisters' Islands and St John's Island.

"We have one of the busiest ports in the world, so a lot of shipping," said DHI Water & Environment’s principal marine biologist Eugene Goh, who is leading the relocation project. "The waters around the southern islands of Singapore also experience strong currents very often, so that's something we need to plan for before we go diving."

What is being moved are mostly hard corals, the building blocks of a coral reef.

The living tissue is only a very thin layer on the top of the coral. The bottom is the skeleton, and it is literally rock. So the process of removing coral from the seabed, if done carefully, does not actually damage the coral.

Mr Goh said the transplanted coral have about 70 to 80 per cent chance of survival, but moving coral is still a last resort for conservation.

He explained: "You can't totally transplant a reef. It's just not feasible; there are organisms that are just not transplantable."

Even so, relocation may be the Sultan Shoal corals' best bet for survival, as development works for the future Tuas Terminal begin in surrounding waters.

A long-term project, the Tuas port is expected to consolidate all of Singapore's container port activities, currently spread over four locations: Tanjong Pagar, Keppel, Pulau Brani and Pasir Panjang.

The first set of berths at Tuas is expected to start running in 10 years' time.

MPA’s chief executive, Andrew Tan, said: "Singaporeans have reached a stage in development where they would like to see not only a city like ours being globally competitive, but also paying attention to identity, values, environment.

“So I think what we're doing is totally aligned with what Singaporeans would expect, and I think the best part is we're working together to make it all possible."

With coral reefs in decline worldwide, what remains of Singapore's coral reefs today are valuable for their biodiversity, said National University of Singapore’s department of biological sciences Professor Chou Loke Ming.

He elaborated: "Our reefs have been reduced, but whatever has remained is still representative of a very high diversity of corals. 250 species, compared to 600 in the whole of Southeast Asia."

The project team will monitor the health of both the transplanted coral and the Sultan Shoal reef over the next five years.

- CNA/gn

Local coral colonies getting a new home
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Apr 14;

Singapore's coral reefs are among its little known treasures, and some are "moving house" to stay safe.

Some 1,600 coral colonies will be relocated from near the Sultan Shoal - south-west of the country - to near the southern St John's and Sisters' islands to protect them from development.

After all the corals are settled in by August this year, experts will monitor them for five years to make sure that they take to their new home well and remain healthy.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) had found in an environmental impact assessment study in 2012 that the new Tuas Terminal's development near the shoal could harm the corals.

The terminal is part of plans to consolidate Singapore's container port activities in Tuas in the long term, to free up prime land occupied by other terminals.

After the impact study, the MPA hired research and consulting group DHI Water & Environment to carry out a coral relocation programme.

Between last September and March this year, DHI experts and about 20 public volunteers transplanted nearly 1,400 coral colonies out of 1,600.

Although the target does not cover the estimated 2,800 colonies near Sultan Shoal, the relocated corals will include all types of hard corals found near the shoal.

DHI principal marine biologist Eugene Goh said: "Hard corals are the key component of coral reefs, and most of the Sultan Shoal corals are hard corals."

Yesterday, reporters observed the DHI experts and volunteers as they harvested corals near the shoal.

Armed with simple tools such as hammers and chisels, they dived to the seabed about 5m underwater and emerged with the corals collected in baskets.

These will be covered in wet cloth and seawater to prevent them from drying out during the move to their new home.

At the receiving sites, they will be cleaned and an epoxy, a strong glue, will be used to secure them to searocks.

Singapore is home to one-third of the world's coral species.

Ports will face higher standards of marine protection in the future, said MPA chief executive Andrew Tan.

"We want to be at the forefront of these developments, and this will help Singapore differentiate itself from other ports around the world," he said.

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Efforts to reduce food wastage

The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE - We thank the letter writers who recently provided useful feedback on reducing food wastage. This is fundamentally an issue of values and behavioural change.

The Government has engaged stakeholders such as food manufacturers, hawkers, hotel operators, retailers and non-governmental organisations to better understand factors contributing to food wastage.

There are existing measures to support food wastage reduction, such as the 3R Fund administered by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which subsidises an organisation's food waste reduction and recycling projects.

We are currently studying other initiatives such as developing guidelines on unsold food and food waste management. Some of these initiatives have also been suggested by the letter writers.

As many of the letters have pointed out, all stakeholders, from businesses to consumers, have a part to play in minimising food wastage. Consumers should moderate their food purchases and consumption, so as to avoid having to discard excess food products.

To raise awareness of the need to reduce food wastage, the NEA and Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority are also looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme targeted at schools, the community and retailers to reduce food wastage, especially in moderating the way we consume food.

Astrid Yeo (Dr) Director, Regulatory Administration Group Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority

Ong Soo San Director, Waste & Resource Management Department National Environment Agency

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Malaysia: Tour operators endangering visitors

muguntan vanar The Star 27 Apr 14l

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s eco-tourism players are taking great risks when allowing tourists to get as close as possible to look at the endangered Borneo pygmy eleph­ants in the wild.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said it was a dangerous practice, besides putting tourists at the risk of being attacked by wild animals including the elephants.

“I am really disappointed and shocked over the reports I have received from our wardens from Hutan-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP),” he said.

Wildlife wardens have found that tour operators, guides and boatmen are making stops along river tributaries in the Kinabatangan area to allow tourists into the jungle and try to get a glimpse of the elephants.

Dr Ambu said yesterday that photographs were taken this month, which showed tourist boats from the lodges and villages stopping by the banks of Tomanggong Besar River (tributary of the Kinabatangan River) and tourists getting out to have a better glimpse of elephants in the jungle.

“This issue has been brought up time and time again in the media and at various meetings and discussions. There is no excuse for getting out of the boats and risking everyone’s life, including children, as seen in the photographs.

“This kind of behaviour is dangerous for the people and stressful to the elephants,” he said.

He reminded tourism players of an incident in December 2011 when an elephant in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve killed an Australian tourist after she left the trail to take pictures of the animal.

It was believed that the tourist had not heeded the advice of her guide to stay on the trail, he said.

“Everyone in Sabah, particularly those in the tourist industry, is well aware of that case.

“Yet, we have tour guides and boatmen taking such risks by snapping photographs of elephants in the jungle in Lower Kinabatangan.

“If one of the elephants is startled by the camera flash or the presence of human beings, the herd could panic and charge at the tourists,” he warned.

Nurzhafarina Othman, a Mal­aysian doctoral student registered at Cardiff University who has been studying the wild elephants of the Kinab­atangan since 2008, said that a close human proximity to the elephants was unhealthy in the long term.

She explained that it could alter the behaviour of these elephants and jeopardise their movements.

“People need to show respect and keep a distance. We need to keep at least 30m away from the elephants. Tourists must not leave the boat during their river cruise. But yet they continue to get close to the elephants,” said Nurzhafarina, who is also attached to the Danau Girang Field Centre.

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 14

Mass coral spawning 2014
from wild shores of singapore

Coral spawning 2014
from Compressed air junkie

New Butterfly Book Launched!
from Butterflies of Singapore

Read more!

Food manufacturers mull measures to curb wastage

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 14;

SINGAPORE: In a bid to reduce food waste, the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association (SFMA) is looking at developing a set of food standards with Singapore Standards Council.

These will look at the complete food process -- from production in the factory, to transportation to supermarket shelves, and what happens to food when near expiry dates.

Under current practice, when food is very close to expiring, the retailer will exchange the packages with the manufacturer.

The amount of food waste in Singapore has increased by 31 per cent over the last five years.

In 2013 alone, it amounted to 796,000 tonnes, which works out to almost 147 kilogrammes per person.

Wong Mong Hong, immediate past president of SFMA, said: "One of the important things we would like to introduce is try to set a date well before the expiry of the product..."

These standards are likely to take two to three years to be in place.

- CNA/xq

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Malaysia: Anti-pollution Unit not doing its job, claim NGOs

New Straits Times 26 Apr 14;

SLACK: Task force criticised for delay in punishing polluters of waterways and sea

GEORGE TOWN: IT has been one and a half month since a task force was set up by the state government to address the deterioration of Penang waterways and sea.

However, to date there has been no reports on these rivers and marine life or any action taken against polluters.

Non-governmental organisations disappointed with the lack of action have urged the state government to explain the delays.

Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the state government should punish the polluters to show that it is serious in combating pollution.

"They formed a task force to tackle river and marine pollution but until now no action has been taken.

"This shows a lack of seriousness on their part," he said.

Kanda Kumar said the state government should at least explain to the public what was causing the delay.

"They should update us regularly and not leave us wondering," he added.

Also questioning the inaction was Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president SM Mohamed Idris who urged the state government to act swiftly.

"Survey the rivers in the state, identify the pollutants, look for the sources of pollutants and throw the book at the offenders.

"It is simple as that. People would then think twice about throwing their refuse into the river," he said, adding that he was appalled at the delay by the authorities to act.

In February, Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the state government had set up a river and marine pollution task force, coordinated by the state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID), to monitor the waterways and sea.

The members of the task force, which included the Department of Environment (DoE), Public Works Department and two local authorities, will be tasked with identifying polluters and to strictly enforce the law against them.

Meanwhile, Chow when contacted by Streets, said the task force was still preparing the report on the state rivers and marine.

"The DID and DoE are in the midst of preparing the report which will be presented at the state executive meeting early next month," he said.

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