Best of four wild blogs: 12 Jan 14

Butterfly of the Month - January 2014
from Butterflies of Singapore

A Few Critters Along Mandai Track 15
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Night Walk At MacRitchie Reservoir (10 Jan 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Giant African Snails mating
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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URA defends biodiversity commitment

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times 11 Jan 14;

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday defended its land-use draft masterplan's commitment to conserving Singapore's plants and animals.

Answering a charge by the Nature Society (NSS) that the plan's commitment to biodiversity was "embarrassingly negligible", the URA said: "Despite land constraints, parks and nature reserves are and have always been accorded importance..."

The draft of the masterplan, which guides land use over the next 10 to 15 years, was unveiled last November. It will be finalised by June after taking in the public's feedback.

The URA said that "unlike countries with the luxury of land outside their cities for defence, utilities, and nature areas, Singapore has to accommodate all these uses in our small island".

Despite this, 9 per cent of the planned 76,600ha land area in 2030 has been set aside for parks and nature reserves. "This compares very favourably to land allocated to other major uses", such as 17 per cent each for housing as well as industry and commerce.

NSS noted in its 24-page document on the masterplan that parks should not be included as serious conservation efforts as they were mainly meant for people. It said only 4.4 per cent of land in 2030 was seriously committed to preserving flora and fauna.

This proportion includes nature reserves, but excludes reservoirs and previously announced "nature areas", such as a 20ha greenery patch in Admiralty Park, which are only left alone if there is no need for development.

"Singapore has perhaps the most difficult land use balancing act of all countries, and we have done remarkably well," NSS president Shawn Lum said yesterday. "But I think we have the expertise, ideas and ingenuity to make the country greener and richer in nature areas. They are not mutually exclusive with a robust economy and desirable quality of life."

Parks, nature reserves important: URA
Straits Times Forum 11 Jab 14;

LAND is a scarce resource in Singapore, and drafting the Master Plan for land use requires a balanced accommodation of the many competing needs that Singapore has, both as a country and as a city ("Nature Society slams land-use plan"; Wednesday). Above all, we need to ensure that the fundamental and basic needs of our citizens are met first.

Unlike countries with the luxury of land outside their cities for defence, utilities and nature areas, Singapore has to accommodate all these uses in our small island.

Our planning intention is to create a high-quality living environment for our people, and this includes housing, jobs, recreation, schools, hospitals and transport systems for both domestic and international connectivity.

Despite the land constraints, parks and nature reserves are and have always been accorded importance in our plans.

In the Draft Master Plan 2013, we allocated 9 per cent of land for parks and nature reserves. This compares very favourably to land allocated to other major uses, as shown in the table (attached).

In addition, a large proportion of the land allocated for defence is forested and contributes to our biodiversity.

Given our land constraints, we have sought practical and innovative solutions to integrate greenery and biodiversity into our urban environment, through our parks, park connectors, streetside planting, water networks and sky-rise greenery. In this way, we also improve the quality of our living environment.

Likewise, while we are not able to regard and legislate every wooded area as a protected nature area, we have selectively conserved representative eco-systems in our gazetted nature reserves.

We have also designated 20 nature areas with significant biodiversity that will be retained for as long as development is not needed. Most of these areas are, in fact, part of our larger public parks, such as Bukit Batok Nature Park and Kent Ridge Park.

When Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, the former executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, visited Singapore in 2008, he endorsed our approach and even thought Singapore could serve as a model of how cities can overcome their land constraints to conserve biodiversity in an urban setting.

At his invitation, Singapore subsequently partnered the Convention on Biological Diversity to set up the Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, as a tool for cities to benchmark and guide their conservation efforts. This is an achievement Singapore can be proud of, and which we hope to advance through our Master Plan.

We are currently assessing the suggestions from the drafters of the Nature Society's submission. We hope to find opportunities to respond and engage constructively, so as to explore useful suggestions in due course.

Hwang Yu Ning (Ms)

Group Director (Physical Planning)

Urban Redevelopment Authority

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Malaysia: Hope for bridge over Malacca Straits

R.S.N. Murali The Star 12 Jan 14;

MALACCA: Denmark has renewed the Malacca government’s enthusiasm to revive the controversial 48.69km-long Malacca-Dumai bridge project across the Straits of Malacca.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said there was a possibility the project would go ahead.

“As I have stated earlier, the ambitious project could go on as planned. I am not discounting the possibility,” he said yesterday.

On Friday, Idris met Danish ambassador Nicolai Ruge at his office in Seri Negeri where the project was discussed, besides sharing know-how on renewable energy and green technology.

Ruge, when met, said Denmark had the expertise and engineering feats to embark on such a mega project.

Danish engineers had constructed many such bridges in Denmark, he said.

“We could work on the financing aspect of the project as the bridge could impact the fiscal growth of this region,” he said.

However, Idris said the finer details of the project could only be unveiled after the viability study and engineering analysis had been completed.

Talk of the bridge construction surfaced in October last year.

The 48.69km-bridge is expected to link Teluk Gong in Malacca with the port of Dumai in Sumatra.

The project was discussed during the 10th Chief Ministers and Governors’ Forum of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) held in Thailand on Sept 12.

Insights on a feasibility study on the bridge undertaken by Strait of Malacca Partners Sdn Bhd were given during the meeting.

The company had earlier appointed the Hunan Provincial Communi­cations Planning, Survey and Design Institute of China to prepare documents pertaining to the study.

The idea of the bridge was first mooted in 1995 to foster economic opportunities, especially in trade and tourism, between the two countries but it died down during the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

In 2006, then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam resumed interest in the project by saying that the groundwork for it had started and that studies showed that the bridge was technically feasible.

He also announced that the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China had agreed to finance 85% of the link’s total cost, then estimated at RM44.3bil.

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Malaysia: Sabah mulls limiting the number of tourists into state’s islands

Stephanie Lee The Star 12 Jan 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is looking at limiting the number of tourists into islands in the state to prevent the destruction of their ecosystems.

However, state Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said they are not rushing into making any decision as the commercial aspects must be considered.

Masidi said a special committee under the chairmanship of the state permanent secretary was set up around November last year to discuss the matter. The committee involved various tourism agencies and departments.

“We are getting more and more visitors to Sabah, especially to our islands, and this would sooner or later take a toll on our environment,” he said, after launching a coral seedling planting programme by the Malaysia Inland Revenue Board, together with Sabah Parks at the Manukan Island, here, on Saturday.

“The number of visitors to the Manukan Island itself last year was about 400,000, and this shows how much tourists love coming to Sabah and our islands,” he added.

“We are still discussing this and are in no rush to make any decision as yet,” he reiterated.

Sabah to uphold its policy on islands
New Straits Times 12 Jan 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Despite being unpopular with tour operators, the government will uphold its policy of preventing islands in Sabah from being overcrowded by visitors.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the controls were required in order to ensure the state's natural wonders remained pristine.

He said a special committee under the chairmanship of the state permanent secretary was already looking into the possibility of limiting the carrying capacity of each island.

"This may not be favoured by tour agencies, but we need to look ahead and find ways to sustain our tourism products," he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, he stressed that there would be no development within or around Sipadan, which is well-known as one of the top diving destinations in the world.

Masidi was commenting on reports about an investment project said to be focused in Sipadan involving China's Diving Best, a Chinese company.

"To my understanding, they are talking about the Sipadan Mangrove Resort in Kalumpang, which is located near Tawau and is already in operation, and not Sipadan (Island).
"I assume that they are talking about an expansion.

"Everyone knows Sipadan is a highly protected area. No one is allowed to put up a structure, either on the island or around it."

Yesterday, Masidi launched a coral planting campaign organised by the Inland Revenue Board in collaboration with Sabah Parks at Manukan Island off here.

As part of the board's corporate social responsibility programme, 129 divers planted 3,040 individual corals and created a new Malaysian record.

Tourism project to take shape in Semporna
Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 15 Jan 14;

CLEARING CONFUSION: Sipadan Island off-limits to any development, says state govt's investment arm

KOTA KINABALU: THE state government yesterday cleared the air over a RM2.5 billion project by a China-based company said to be carried out on Sipadan Island.

Known as the Sipadan Mangrove Resort, the integrated tourism development project will be carried out in Semporna.

Yesterday, the state government's investment arm, Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (Sedia), issued a statement to clear the air on the project's location.

Stating that Sipadan Island was off-limits to any development, Sedia said it acknowledged the significance of preserving the island in its natural state.

It also expressed regret over a previous statement, which had created confusion.

Sedia chief executive officer Dr Mohd Yaakub Johari had been quoted as saying a China-based group had expressed interest in developing a large area in Sipadan into a tourism-based resort and commercial and high-end residential areas, with a focus on marine activities.

Yaakub said under the company's proposal, the project would be developed under five zones -- a residential area, commercial development, high-end resort, diving school and an administrative centre.

He said Sabah was well known in China as an eco- and marine-based tourism destination, which piqued the group's interest.

In its statement, Sedia said the project with the company, Diving Best, was an expansion of the existing Sipadan Mangrove Resort (SMR), an entry point project listed under the state's regional cities and corridors programme, with an estimated investment value of RM491 million and set to generate RM114.9 million in gross national income by 2020.

"The collaboration between Diving Best and SMR is the result of a match between investors from China and a local business partner after their first meeting recently, which was attended by Sedia officials."

The project will be carried out on a 112ha private land belonging to SMR.

Sedia said the location in Sungai Kalumpang was chosen because of its proximity to Sipadan Island, which is a 35-minute boat ride from the mainland.

Under the project, Diving Best expects to attract one million tourists annually, create 4,000 jobs and house a population of 12,000 within the project location.

"As listed in the Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) blueprint, Sedia is one of the three key principles underpinning SDC activities to ensure sustainable growth via environmental conservation.

"The other principles are capturing higher-value economic activities and promoting a balanced economic growth, with fair distribution."

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun stressed that Sipadan was a highly protected area and no structure was allowed to be constructed either on the island or around it.

Diving Best is best known for its Sanya Diving Training Centre in Sanya City, Hainan Province, in China.

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This could be the year we start to save, not slaughter, the shark

Specialist restaurants in Beijing are changing their menus or closing down as the Far East begins to share world revulsion at cutting off shark fins to make a gourmet soup
John Vidal, The Observer The Guardian 11 Jan 14;

The gruesome practice of shark finning – sawing the fins off live sharks in order to make a gourmet soup – appears to be declining following growing western revulsion and a Chinese government crackdown on corruption and extravagant consumption.

Six months after China banned the soup from all official banquets, the price of fins has fallen by 20-30% in Hong Kong, Macau and other major fishing markets. Some specialist restaurants in Beijing have changed their menus or closed down, and airlines and hotel chains have stopped serving the soup. Meanwhile, in Europe, California and elsewhere, loopholes that allowed shark finning to continue have been closed.

About 75m-100m sharks are thought to be killed each year for their fins, which are prized in Chinese culture for making the gelatinous yellow soup. The sharks are caught, their fins are sliced off and they are often thrown back into the ocean, where they die slowly.

The mass slaughter has led to some shark populations declining by up to 98% in the last 15 years, and nearly one third of all ocean-going sharks are now on the internationally recognised red list of threatened species.

The statistics are unreliable, but the latest Chinese ministry of commerce figures suggest a 70% fall in the consumption of shark fins in China in 2012-2013 and a 30% drop in exports to the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong in 2013. In addition, market prices for fins in Macau and other eastern ports that supply China with fish are 20-30% down on last year, according to the US conservation group WildAid.

"The tide may at last be turning," said Peter Knight, director of WildAid. "We are getting lots of signals that attitudes are changing and prices are dropping because people no longer want to eat shark fin soup.

"At the same time there have been increased attempts by the Chinese government to combat the worst excesses of the exploding economic and industrial development."

The global slaughter of sharks grew hugely in the 1990s as China's new middle classes developed a taste for what used to be a luxury soup served only to elites or at weddings and special occasions. At the peak of the mass slaughter, a bowl of shark fin soup cost up to $300 (£180) and a pair of shark fins could be sold for more than $700 a kilo – enough to encourage fishermen as far afield as Europe and Latin America to target the species. Nearly all shark fins end up in mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan.

"Biologically, sharks simply can't keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species," said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He estimated last year that up to 100 million sharks were being killed a year. Sharks, which can live for 70 years, play a crucial ecological role in the world's oceans. As "apex predators", they are at the top of the food pyramid. Without sharks to hunt second-level predators, it is thought that he whole ecosystem would become imbalanced, leading to the decline of fish stocks and even of coral reefs.

Revulsion at the practice of finning has been steadily growing since China's best-known sports star, the basketball player Yao Ming, said on film in 2009 that he would no longer eat the soup. Yao used the slogan "Mei yu mai mai, jiu mei yu sha hai", meaning "when the buying stops, the killing can too".

Campaigners report a generational divide emerging in China, with young people rejecting their parents' symbols of success and status.

A recent social media campaign in China attracted more than 350,000 pledges not to eat shark fin soup, mainly from young people.

Yao's campaign is said to have helped to reduce consumption of shark fin soup and contributed to the Chinese government's decision to formally ban the soup from all state banquets, along with birds' nests, other wild animal products, expensive cigarettes and alcohol.

The new rules are intended "to promote frugality, oppose extravagance and enhance the anti-corruption efforts among party and governmental authorities", said the official news agency, Xinhua.

Global efforts to reduce rampant shark killing have included setting up marine parks and sanctuaries. Mexico, Honduras, the Maldives, the Marshall islands and other Pacific countries are in the process of establishing, or have already set up, large protected areas, and Britain has created the world's largest marine reserve around the Chagos islands.

Last year the European Union brought in a regulation ending the practice of shark finning; in future, all EU boats will have to land sharks with their fins still attached. California last year banned the sale, possession, trade or distribution of shark fins. And New Zealand last week brought forward to October 2014 a complete ban on shark finning in its waters.

But the Chinese official disapproval is expected to have the greatest effect on prices and consumption.

Last week environmental groups said that they hoped that it marked a change in broader environmental attitudes.

"The regulation stems from a crackdown on corruption and lavish spending, but language in the notice acknowledges the importance of promoting green, eco-friendly and low-carbon consumption habits," said Joshua Reinhart, a vice-president of the Pew charitable trusts.

"China has the potential to play a key role in helping to solve the problems of climate change, overfishing, pollution and conservation. The new shark-fin diplomacy may be a pivotal event."

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