Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jan 14



Proposal for Conversations on Sustainable Singapore
from Green Future Solutions

Olive-backed sunbird courtship dance
from My Nature Experiences


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Environmental group pushes for more nature parks

Nature Society urges focus on sustainability in response to URA’s draft Master Plan
Kok Xing Hui Today Online 4 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE — Conduct environmental impact assessment on development plans, designate more areas as nature parks and plant trees that could act as buffers between development sites and the nature parks that they are built close to. These were among the recommendations tabled by the Nature Society (Singapore) in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s draft Master Plan released last November.

Making public its 24-page report yesterday, the society said the Master Plan seems to involve more salvaging rather than conserving or preserving effort, with an emphasis on curbing the impact of urbanisation. A thrust towards sustainability should be employed instead, it said.

The group submitted its recommendations on Dec 19 last year, saying environmental impact assessments should be conducted for development plans to assess their impact on the biodiversity as well as the culture, recreational, economy, air and water — depending on the size of the green area. It said residents and other stakeholders should also be consulted and that such assessments must be made before the development plans are finalised and put out for tender.

While creating more public parks is laudable, the NSS felt the emphasis should be on designating wildlife-rich areas, such as the Kranji Marshes Park, as nature parks. This will help preserve the areas’ biodiversity, while making them accessible to the public for eco-friendly uses. Suggestions put forth include the “highly scenic and beautiful” Sungei Khatib Bongsu, the mudflats and mangroves of Sungei Mandai, Bukit Brown Cemetery and the secondary forest in Clementi, which has recorded 21 per cent of the total bird species in Singapore.

The society said it was grossly deficient that out of the 29 per cent of land identified as Spontaneous Greenery (comprising secondary forest, scrubland and mangrove among others) by a research team from National University of Singapore, only 4.4 per cent of that are truly or permanently protected as Nature Reserves.

Marine conservation is pretty deplorable, said the NSS, adding it had submitted proposals to the authorities requesting for four coral zones to be restored as nature areas, but only one has been designated as such so far.

The status of parks classified as nature areas should also be clearer, the group said, pointing out that some are located within military zones and the NSS has “no clue” what the sizes and boundaries of these areas are. It cited the examples of Mandai Mangrove, Khatib Bongsu, Pulau Semakau and the four coral zones, which were nature areas in 1993 but “deleted as such in the 2012 revised SGP (Singapore Green Plan)”. Nature area Chek Jawa has also been planned for reclamation at its shoreline.

The NSS also proposed that the percentage of secondary forests, which it said are extremely important and viable habitats for native fauna, under the SGP be increased from 6 to 12 per cent and that this should come from outside the nature reserves.

Related links
NSS's Feedback on the URA Master Plan 2013


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Programme aiming to connect children with nature makes comeback

Wendy Wong Channel NewsAsia 3 Jan 14;

SINGAPORE: A programme engaging children with Singapore's green spaces returns this year, with the aim of bringing them closer to nature.

The second edition of the Young Explorer Programme was launched by Environment and Water Resources Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday.

The three-month programme - organised by the National Geographic Channel - takes a hands-on approach in getting children aged between seven and 10 to learn about Singapore's green corridors and spaces.

Participants go on outdoor lessons through nature trails and workshops, conducted by partners such as the National Parks Board and Nature Society Singapore.

The trails include those to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Bottle Tree Park.

Conservation biologist and National Geographic host Casey Anderson will lead 10 participants and their parents on an expedition to Borneo's Kinabatagan River in March.

They will also be taught the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability.

Elango Velautham, assistant director at Singapore Botanic Gardens, said: "The kids can understand what nature is all about, and using that information, learn further and develop themselves to become better guardians of nature, as future citizens of Singapore."

The programme hopes to involve up to 4,000 participants this year, with registration starting on Saturday.

- CNA/xq


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Near Singapore’s Concrete, an Oasis of Nature - Pulau Ubin

Sanjay Surana New York Times 2 Jan 14;

After cycling a half-mile along a soggy clay track that sliced through a corridor of rubber trees, tailed by an electric-crimson-colored dragonfly, arches of bamboo creating a canopy, I emerged by a small, silty lake. A dilapidated jetty reached out into the water, a mint-green fishing boat loosely tied to it; a splintery, whitewashed wooden sign nailed to a sea grape tree announced “Cold Drinks.”

But there wasn’t a soul in sight, only a dozing dog that roused itself, momentarily, at my presence. Such are the simple, solitary pleasures of Pulau Ubin.

This four-square-mile island, formerly thrumming with granite quarries (Pulau Ubin is Malay for Granite Island), is only a 10-minute boat ride from its motherland, Singapore, but the gulf between the two couldn’t be more pronounced. While the Lion City, which marked its 48th year of independence last month, has grown rapidly in the last five decades — outward more than 20 percent (through land reclamation), upward (via the endless construction of office and condo towers), financially (it’s the world’s third-richest country in gross domestic product terms), and in crowdedness (it has the second-highest country population density after Monaco) — Pulau Ubin, which has no electricity or running water, is like a land that time forgot, stuck in the 1960s, when newly independent Singapore was a scattering of low-slung, stilt-housed villages. And for that, many Singaporeans are thankful.

According to folklore, hilly Ubin was formed when an elephant, a pig and a frog challenged one another to cross the waters to Johor, across the Straits of Johor. Whichever failed — and all three did — was turned to stone. The pig and elephant became Pulau Ubin, and the frog Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island), visible off Ubin’s southern coast. The stone, granite, was the island’s sole industry from the 1800s up to 1999, when the last quarry closed, and in its heyday thousands called Ubin home. Today fewer than 50 Singaporeans live here, and nature is very much in control, reason for the government to categorize Ubin as “open space and reserve land” in 2001.

Compared with the glass-clad skyscrapers, air-conditioned shopping malls and rush-hour-traffic-choked roadways of Singapore, Pulau Ubin is a grounding antidote to urban existence. This quality is its attraction, judging by the arrivals — about 2,000 each weekend, and a handful of French families, British backpackers and Singaporean youths looking to temporarily change scenery on weekdays — who come to experience a long-forgotten Singapore.

From Ubin’s jetty, reached by bare-bones wooden vessels called bumboats, and tiny main village, a few paved roads fan out to coastal campsites, dirt paths, lotus ponds or beautiful wetlands. The most striking constant is the lack of noise. Apart from the odd muted roar of a 777 landing in Singapore, sounds are limited to the crowing of red junglefowl, the chirps of the scaly-breasted munias, straw-headed bulbuls, Oriental magpies and collared kingfishers, or the wind rattling candlenut, jambu bol and nipah palm leaves.

But despite the unspoiled character of Pulau Ubin, there are ripples of concern among the holdout residents who doggedly champion the island’s anachronistic lifestyle. In January, the government published “The Population White Paper: A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore,” projecting that the city-state’s populace could hit 6.9 million by 2030 (it is currently 5.3 million), requiring 25 square miles of additional land in a country only three and a half times the size of Washington, D.C., possibly through developing “some of our reserve land.”

Two months later, the island’s householders received a letter from the government’s public housing body, ominously titled “Clearance Scheme: Clearance of Structures Previously Acquired for Development of Adventure Park on Pulau Ubin,” again raising the specter of development. In July the government quashed any rumors, stating, “There is currently no development plan for Pulau Ubin. Our intention is to keep Pulau Ubin in its rustic state for as long as possible, and as an outdoor playground for Singaporeans,” and that the earlier letter was notification of a census survey, not an eviction notice, and “could have been more carefully worded.

For now, Ubin residents believe that the island’s primitive ways are safe, and there are reasons for optimism that green spaces will continue to be valued. Last year Singapore unveiled its “50 Years of Greening” campaign (part of the nation’s vision that it be known as a City in a Garden), and in April Singapore announced its application to Unesco for World Heritage site status for the 154-year-old Botanic Garden. On the day of my visit to Ubin, National Parks Board employees were diligently tagging birds to study their habitats and migratory patterns. (Board statistics also flaunt the island’s biodiversity: 603 species of plant, 207 species of birds, 153 species of butterfly, 39 species of reptile.)

After the restlessness of Singapore, Pulau Ubin’s gentle wilderness is a relief. I biked to Chek Jawa Wetlands on Ubin’s southeast coast, a preserve that incorporates six types of ecosystem (including coral rubble, coastal forest and mangroves, all visible from a boardwalk); it is home to the piercingly vocal oriental pied hornbill, has a Tudor house for a visitors’ center, and a 70-foot viewing tower that once summited, clich├ęs aside, will make a visitor feel like the king of the jungle. Cycling west, I spotted an elderly couple milling around outside their tin-roofed home. Ahmad Benkasim and Sapia Bentitayeb have been married 50 years (Benkasim has lived on the island for all of his 70 years), and their love of Ubin is evident. “Here we have everything, rubber, durian, jackfruit,” Mr. Benkasim said. “In Singapore you have what ... steel? There it is hot and noisy. Here, you have peace, and at night it is cool. We have three children in Singapore, but still like to be here. This is our house.”

Ubin’s parallel universe soon feels normal. On the main island, shade comes courtesy of man-made walkways or the shadows of skyscrapers; here, the abundance of trees ensures shade is ubiquitous. In Singapore, office workers are glued to smartphone screens; here, visitors quickly learn to look in all directions, with visual stimulation from a wild boar muscling through the forests to the side, or a Malayan water monitor slinking into the reeds by the roadside up ahead, or a troupe of long-tail macaques leaping from branch to branch overhead.

Ubin has Singapore’s only off-road mountain biking track, a circuit of gravel trails, rocky hills and flowering meadows. And Puaka Hill, the island’s highest point, provided a vista that I hope to never forget. Below, dark blue waters filled the abandoned Ubin Quarry, the surrounding forests giving it the appearance of a giant sapphire on a bed of emeralds. Singapore’s outline stretched across the horizon. That there was nobody with whom to share the view was reward in itself.

IF YOU GO

How to Get There

Bumboats to Pulau Ubin leave from Changi Point Ferry Terminal when 12 passengers are ready to board, cost 2.50 Singapore dollars (about $2 U.S.) each, or charter the whole boat for 30 dollars. To reach the terminal by public transport, take the MRT East-West subway line to Tanah Merah, then bus No. 2 to Changi Village Bus Terminal (the last stop), right by the ferry terminal. Or take the MRT to Simei and bus No. 9 to the “After Changi Golf Course” stop; from there the terminal is a five-minute walk.

Getting Around

The main village has many bike shops. For about 8 dollars (10 dollars on weekends), I rented a 21-speed Raleigh mountain bike from Comfort Bicycle Rental. Cyclists planning to attack Ketam Mountain Bike Park’s double-black-diamond trails can rent Cannondale and Trek bikes for20 dollars per day.

Dining

A few coffee shops, as they are known in the local vernacular (cafes with some standard dishes), dot the village but the only full-service restaurant is Seasons Live Seafood. It has large plastic tanks filled with crustaceans and fish, and prepares better-than-average renditions of chile crab, Hong Kong steamed fish and drunken prawns. The chilled fresh young coconut is a lifesaver after a day on the bike.

Staying

There are basic campsites on the island (campers have to register at the park kiosk by the Ubin jetty), and the average, overpriced Celelstial Ubin Beach Resort close to the jetty, but Pulau Ubin is perfect as a long day trip.

Related links
More about Pulau Ubin, how to get there and what to see and do on wildsingapore


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Malaysia: A Mahathir Solution To Flooding

Bernama 3 Jan 14;

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 (Bernama) -- Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has suggested that the first floor of buildings and houses be raised in order to prevent floods and reduce damage from the recurring disaster in the future.

He said the first floor - lobby or entrance hall - of a building should be raised to about 12 feet or more above the level of the street or the road, with concrete walls surrounding the space below the first floor extending down to surround the car park below the building.

In the latest post on his blog at www.chedet.cc, Mahathir also said that a ramp must be built from the road to the entrance of the building on the first floor and another ramp for the cars to drive down to the multi-level car park below.

"The road or street will become virtual drains during the floods due to the rain or the tide. This will help the floodwaters to drain quickly into the canals or rivers as soon as the tide goes down or the rain stops," he said.

On the east coast where floods regularly occur during the monsoon rains, Mahathir said, the simplest solution was to go back to building houses on stilts like the old Malay houses.

"The first floor of the houses must be above the highest floodwater mark. The stilts supporting the houses must be sturdy and buried deep in the ground. Concrete should be used," he said.

To avoid cars from 'drowning' during the monsoon season, Mahathir said, a ramp could be built so that the cars could be driven up to the first floor.

He said the government had spent quite a substantial amount of money for flood relief and, by insisting that houses be built on stilts, the money would be saved.

"Part of the savings can be used to subsidise the cost of the stilts, at least initially. The house-owners or occupants too would save money," he said.

Mahathir said that if the idea was to be accepted, architects could design the stilts to look attractive while competitions could also be held for new styles of houses on stilts.

"If we don't do something, every year thousands will have to be evacuated and a few will lose their lives. And lots of money would be wasted on food, evacuation and repairing flood damage," he said.

Last month, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan and Sarawak were hit by floods following incessant heavy rain and the overflow of rivers in several areas, forcing thousands of residents to be relocated and incurring much damage to property.

-- BERNAMA


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