Best of our wild blogs: 6 Feb 14

Pulau Semakau Workshop
from The Leafmonkey Workshop

Malayan Water Monitor with a collar
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterflies Galore! : Cruiser
from Butterflies of Singapore

German Girl Shrine (Ubin Island)
from Rojak Librarian

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Dry, hot weather could have caused fishes' death: PUB

Channel NewsAsia 5 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Hot, dry weather may have caused the death of some 400 fishes in the Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park on Tuesday.

National water agency PUB said in statement on Wednesday that the recent dry spell could have led to lower levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.

The recent hot weather in Singapore is due to a dry phase of the Northeast Monsoon season, which is predicted to persist for another two more weeks.

Only two types of fish -- Tilapias and Mayan Cichlids -- were affected.

The PUB said the fishes did not die from a drop in water quality or contamination, and it is continuing with its investigations.

The clean-up of the river began on Tuesday and was completed at 3pm on Wednesday.

The PUB has urged the public to continue with water activities in the river as it is safe for use and the agency will continue to monitor the situation closely.

- CNA/rw

Hot weather may have caused fish deaths in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park
Today Online 6 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE — Hundreds of dead fish were found floating in the scenic river at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park yesterday, with national water agency PUB attributing the mass deaths to the hot and dry weather.

Several residents in Bishan said they were surprised to see clusters of dead fish floating in the usually clean river, with some wondering whether the water had been contaminated. Others had spotted the dead fish on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s the first time we are seeing anything like this in our river,” said Madam Karen Seah, 56.

Following reports of the sighting on Tuesday morning, the PUB said it immediately deployed contractors to clean up the section of the river between Marymount Road and Bishan Road.

After collecting water samples from the river, “laboratory results showed that the water quality is not affected and there is no contamination”, a PUB spokesperson said.

“However, due to the hot and dry weather, there are lower levels of dissolved oxygen in the water (and) that could have led to the death of the fish. The two species of fish affected are Tilapia and Mayan Cichlid. About 400 fish were affected,” the spokesperson added.

TODAY reported yesterday that the dry spell in Singapore over the past few weeks had prompted the PUB to ramp up the supply of NEWater and desalinated water to maintain water levels in the reservoirs.

When TODAY visited the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park yesterday afternoon, workers were seen cleaning up the area, picking up the dead fish near the lower end of the river, opposite Block 221 on Bishan Street 23.

While the change in oxygen levels in the water had a fatal effect on the two fish species, it did not appear to affect other marine life, with catfish and turtles spotted yesterday swimming in the river, which is part of the Kallang River.

Dr Tan Heok Hui, from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Biological Sciences, said this was because “oxygen demand varies for different species”.

For instance, catfish and terrapins breathe air the same way as humans do. Thus, both were not affected by the oxygen content in the water, he said.

The PUB said it released more water from Lower Peirce Reservoir into Kallang River yesterday to improve the circulation and the low dissolved oxygen levels arising from the dry weather.

With clean-up work at the river completed, the PUB spokesperson said: “It is safe for the public to continue with water activities at Kallang River @ Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. PUB will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

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Volcanic ash affecting several areas in Malaysia

The Star 6 Feb 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Department of Environment (DOE) has recorded unhealthy and moderate API readings at several locations across Malaysia following a thin layer of ash cloud blowing from a Sumatran volcano located 271km west of Pulau Pangkor.

The highest API was recorded at SK Jalan Pegoh in Ipoh, Perak at 124 while Cheras, Kuala Lumpur reached 107, breaching an unhealthy level, followed by Nilai, Negeri Sembilan at 96, 95 in Banting, Selangor, 87 in Putrajaya and 86 in Seremban, according to its website.

Other API readings recorded were 83 in Malacca city, 72 in Sri Aman, Sarawak and 71 at both Bukit Rambai, Malacca and Jalan Tasek Ipoh, Perak as at 5pm yesterday.

API reading of below 50 is regarded as good, 50-100 (moderate), 100-200 (unhealthy), 200-300 (very unhealthy), and above 300 (hazardous).

The Meteorological Department in a statement on Monday had said that volcanic ash from Mount Sinabung, which erupted over the weekend and again on Monday, could be blown towards the southern states due to a northwesterly wind.

An advisory by the department had been sent to the aviation industry as the ash could affect flights and reduce visibility.

The peak of the volcano located in north Sumatra is 2,450m above sea level. AFP reported that 15 people were killed when Sinabung erupted over the weekend, shooting hot ash and rocks into the air.

Local authorities had evacuated about 30, 000 people.

Sinabung, which had been sporadically erupting since September, is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

The DOE also recorded moderate API readings in several states including Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Pahang, Perlis, Penang, Terengganu, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

The department said that there was no significant effect on air quality due to the ash cloud from the Sumatran volcano.

“Referring to areas which appeared to be affected by haze in Klang Valley, the department said it was due to dust and particles during hot weather. We also found no open burning that could cause haze in Klang Valley,” it said in a statement.

46 hotspots were also detected nationwide by the NOAA-18 Satellite and shown on the Meteorological Service Singapore’s website as at 4pm yesterday.

Malaysia: Current haze from local sources
New Straits Times 6 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The current hazy spells are caused by local elements and has nothing to do with the eruption of Mount Sinabung in Indonesia.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department Central Forecast Office director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah said the cause of the haze included open-burning, emissions from vehicles and industrial gas release.

Debris from Mount Sinabung and the forest fire in the Riau province, he said, would not adversely affect Malaysia.

"The situation will be bad only at areas close to these disaster zones.

"The mild winds from Indonesia are not strong enough to bring massive amounts of ash here.

"We do not predict the haze would worsen, as it is currently the northeast monsoon season, where wind is coming from China."

Helmi said the wind from northwest could transport only small haze particles to Malaysia and that at the most, only the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia would be affected.

The air quality in Seremban, Negri Sembilan and Cheras, Kuala Lumpur at 5pm yesterday, reached "unhealthy" levels with the Air Pollutant Index (API) recording readings of above 100.

The Department of Environment (DoE) website listed the API readings for both areas at 103 and 108 respectively.

The air quality in 23 areas was recorded at a moderate level, with API readings of between 51 and 100.

The department said the haze was caused by suspended particles in the air because of the hot and dry weather as well as human activities.

It also said the stagnant state of the atmosphere and the topography of the Klang Valley caused the suspended particles in the air to be trapped and not dispersed quickly.

Following the current air condition, DoE has enabled the Open Burning Prevention Action Plan in all states.

Hot and dry weather expected throughout M'sia until Monday
Patrick Lee The Star 6 Feb 14;

PETALING JAYA: It is going to be hot and dry in most parts of Malaysia, with scorching afternoons to be followed by cold nights.

“It’s going to be dry for most of the regions. Some showers here and there, but mostly dry and hot weather,” said National Weather Forecast Centre director Muhammad Helmi Abdullah,

Muhammad said the dry spell was caused by regional wind patterns that were not conducive for rainy weather.

These, he said, were attributed to an inactive monsoon trough; a lack of a monsoon surge from China and the non-influence of easterly winds from the Western Pacific Ocean.

He added that rain clouds appearing north of Australia might have also been responsible for drawing moisture from our region, further drying the weather here.

Muhammad said lack of clouds in the region meant that cold nights and hot afternoons were going to be common.

As an example, he said rural areas such as Kuala Krai and Chuping may experience temperatures below 20°C.

This, he said, might also hold true for northern sides of Peninsula Malaysia and the eastern and western parts of Sabah.

“There will be some fluctuations in wind pattern, but we don’t expect much different weather for the next few days,” he said, adding that widespread rain was not expected.

According to a list by the Meteorological Department, it has not rained in more than 50 areas in all states in the peninsula for five or more consecutive days as of Feb 4.

They include Padang Besar, Langkawi, Seberang Prai Utara, Petaling, Klang, Kepong, Jasin, Cameron Highlands, Muar, Besut and Kota Baru.

According to the Meteorological Department’s website, Kuala Lumpur was expected to see a constant maximum temperature of 33°C from now until Feb 10, with no rain on the horizon.

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Indonesia: Riau Haze Back Again as Dry Season Sets In

Jakarta Globe 6 Feb 14;

Jakarta. Heavy smog has been reported in the provinces of Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan from suspected slash-and-burn forest clearing, reviving the specter of the diplomatic row sparked by the same problem last year.

Tri Budiarto, the deputy for disaster management at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said in Jakarta on Wednesday that those regions had for the past two weeks been experiencing a dry spell, while the rest of the country was hit by torrential rains causing widespread flooding.

“What we’re seeing in Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan is local weather that’s different from the general weather across the country,” he said.

“Elsewhere it’s raining, but there it’s already dry.”

The extended spell of days with no heavy rain is believed to have encouraged residents to begin clearing land for farming, Tri said, with most setting forest fires as the easiest means of doing this.

The BNPB has recorded haze from forest fires in the Riau districts of Bengkalis and Meranti and the town of Dumai, as well as in the Central Kalimantan district of Pontianak and two other districts in Central Kalimantan.

“We’ve notified the local offices of the BNPB in all three provinces, and they’ve begun observing the spread of the fires and the haze,” Tri said.

He said the provincial disaster mitigation agencies, or BPBD, were working with other local authorities to stop the spread of the fires and to be on the alert for fires burning out of control.

Forest fires in Riau last June generated immense amounts of smoke that drifted across the Malacca Strait, shrouding Singapore and parts of Malaysia and Thailand for several days, and sending air pollution indexes there to record highs.

The conditions prompted officials from Singapore and Indonesia to trade diplomatic blows over who was responsible for the thick smog covering much of the region. Singapore criticized Jakarta for failing to curb the annual fires, while Indonesian officials alleged that the plantation companies accused of setting the fires were registered in Singapore and Malaysia.

At the time, several individuals were named suspects by the police for setting some of the fires, but no prosecutions have taken place.

In Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province, officials recorded 61 fire hot spots as of Sunday, following a week of heavy smog.

The local office of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the most hot spots, each indicating a major fire, were in Bengkalis district, which had 29, followed by Siak district, Indragiri Hilir (nine), Pelalawan (eight), and Rokan Hilir with three hot spots.

The number of hot spots is expected to increase, with the BMKG saying the rainy season had effectively ended in Riau.

Officials at Pekanbaru’s Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport said visibility was down as a result of the haze, but not to the point that flights would have to be grounded or redirected to other airports.

However, in Pontianak, the West Kalimantan capital, heavy smog prompted officials at the city’s Supadio Airport to ground seven flights on Wednesday morning because of poor visibility.

Chandra Dista Wiradi, the airport’s general manager, told that flights scheduled to take off in early the morning had to be delayed for two hours until the haze lifted somewhat.

He said 700 passengers were affected by the delay.

The local office of the BMKG has recorded 55 hot spots in neighboring Kubu Raya district.

Indonesia: Haze back in Riau as farmers slash and burn
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times/ANN, Jakarta Post 6 Feb 14;

An unusual dry spell in Riau over the past fortnight has seen farmers taking the opportunity to start fires to clear land, creating haze over the city of Dumai and elsewhere in the Indonesian province second-closest to Singapore.

Dumai was at the epicentre of the worst haze in the region in years last June, when air pollutant levels hit record highs in nearby Singapore and Malaysia.

On Wednesday morning, more intense haze was reported in West Kalimantan, and flights at Pontianak's Supadio airport were disrupted for several hours due to low visibility.

The new Riau fires suggest that the root cause of last year's severe transboundary haze has yet to be resolved, even as officials step up action against offenders.

Open burning is against Indonesian law but the law is widely flouted.

"Farmers used the two weeks without rain to carry out slash- and-burn," Tri Budiarto, the National Disaster Management Agency's deputy for emergency management, said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

"We are closely monitoring the situation in these areas."

So far, Singapore has been spared, but experienced slightly hazy conditions Wednesday morning, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement.

With the northeast monsoon prevailing, the likelihood that Singapore will be affected by the haze is low, said an NEA spokesman.

The air pollutant index in Dumai, some 270km north-west of Singapore, fell from 186 on Tuesday morning to 89 on Wednesday. A reading above 100 is deemed unhealthy.

The Bengkalis and Meranti Islands districts, south-east of Dumai, also saw haze from burning peatland. The area has many oil palm plantations.

This is usually Indonesia's rainy season, which tends to last till March.

But Riau and West and Central Kalimantan are instead seeing raging fires even as disaster workers tackle floods across Java.

The local authorities in Riau and affected areas of Kalimantan have appealed to residents to wear a mask outdoors.

Dumai residents such as Rahimi, who is in her 30s, fear a repeat of last year's severe haze, when many people suffered respiratory infections.

"We are worried this haze will spread and stay like it did last year," she said.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency head Said Saqlul Amri said that a recent drop in hot spots detected by satellite was likely to be momentary as the hot weather looked set to continue - a point also made by weather forecasters in Pontianak.

The Jakarta Post reported that, apart from forests and farms, seven hot spots were spotted in oil palm plantations and forest concessions.

Air quality drops, health at risk
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post Pekanbaru 5 Feb 14;

Residents living in a number of regions in Riau province have been reminded of the dangers of inhaling haze from forest and peat fires, which has caused air quality to drop.

In Dumai city, the quality of air on Tuesday was categorized as unhealthy and sunlight was obstructed by the haze. Based on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), the air quality touched 186 PSI in the morning.

“Air pollution exceeded the normal tolerable level, which is 100 PSI,” Dumai Health Office head Marjoko Santoso said.

On Monday, nearly 7 hectares of the Wisata Dumai forest conservation area was razed by fire.

“Residents should be more careful when engaged in outdoor activities and if they have to be outdoors, wear a mask,” said Marjoko.

“Besides respiratory issues, the haze and dust can also cause eye irritation. Residents must wear a mask and something to cover their heads, such as a helmet, when outdoors,” he added.

In Siak regency, the local health office has been distributing masks to motorists traveling on main roads so as to minimize the impacts of the haze. Office head Tony Candra urged residents, especially parents with toddlers, to cease outdoor activities.

Separately, Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Said Saqlul Amri said the latest satellite images showed there were 62 hot spots in Riau stood, compared to the previous count of 93. The majority were in Meranti Islands, followed by Bengkalis and Pelalawan.

“The drop is most likely momentary, as Riau is still experiencing hot weather,” he said.

Besides hot spots detected in forests and on farms, seven hot spots were spotted in oil palm plantations owned by five major private companies. In the concession areas of Industrial Forests (HTI), 16 hot spots were seen, while four others were found in production forest concessions (HPH).

“All companies have been asked to tackle the fires in their respective concessions. According to law, firefighting and anticipation is the companies’ responsibility,” said Amri.

“All plantation and forestry companies are required to have their own firefighting teams. In the event of fire, they must be prepared to extinguish the fire,” he added.

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