Best of our wild blogs: 8 Feb 14

Attenborough: “One of the most important films ever made” – Away, a film about plastic pollution in oceans from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Clean-up works on beaches of Kusu, St John's islands being completed: MPA

Channel NewsAsia 7 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE: Clean-up works on the beaches of Kusu Island and St John's Island are being completed, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

MPA said there have been no oil patches reported in Singapore waters since Monday, February 3.

The oil spillage occurred after two separate collisions on January 29 and 30 involving a chemical tanker and container ship, and another container ship and a barge.

As a result of the collisions, about 680 metric tonnes of fuel oil was spilled.

MPA said Sentosa Development Corporation is cooperating with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ensure the surrounding waters are free from oil pollution.

MPA added that the islands remain open but the public is advised to keep away from the areas on the beaches affected by the oil spill.

NEA will continue to monitor the beaches and will inform the public when the closed parts of the beaches are re-opened.

- CNA/gn

Oil spillage clean-up operations- Final update
MPA 7 Feb 14;

Following the collision between chemical tanker, "Lime Galaxy" and containership, "Feihe", on 29 January and collision between containership, "NYK Themis" and barge "AZ Fuzhou", on 30 January 2014, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has worked with its partners from various agencies and the industry to contain and clean up the bunker fuel oil spilled.

Containership "Feihe" spilled about 280 metric tonnes (mt) of fuel oil, while containership "NYK Themis" spilled about 400mt of fuel oil as a result of the collisions.

As of 7 February 2014, a total of 40 craft, two skimmers, two harbour busters, more than 1000 metres of containment boom and more than 400 personnel were deployed by MPA and oil spill response companies as part of the containment and clean-up efforts at sea.

Since 3 February 2014, no oil patches have been reported in our waters. MPA will continue to monitor our waters closely and carry out any necessary clean up.

Sentosa Development Corporation is completing clean-up works on the beaches of Kusu and St John's Islands and co-operating with the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ensure the surrounding waters are free from oil pollution. The islands remain open, but the public are advised to keep away from the areas on the beaches affected by the oil spill. Signage are located on the beaches to inform and guide the public. NEA will continue to monitor these beaches and will inform the public when the currently closed parts of these beaches are re-opened.

NEA is also working closely with the National Parks Board and the Singapore Land Authority on the clean-up efforts at Pulau Semakau and will provide more updates when the operations are completed.

MPA would like to record its appreciation to the following organisations for their invaluable assistance:

1.Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore
2.Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (NUS)
3.International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited
4.Ministry of Defence
5.National Environment Agency
6.National Parks Board
7.Oil Spill Response Ltd
8.Public Utilities Board
9.Republic of Singapore Air Force
10.Republic of Singapore Navy
11.Semco Salvage & Towage Pte Ltd
12.Sentosa Development Corporation
13.Shell Eastern Petroleum (Pte) Ltd
14.Singapore Salvage Engineers Pte Ltd
15.SMIT Singapore Pte Ltd
16.SPICA Services (S) Pte Ltd
17.Svitzer Salvage Asia Pte Ltd
18.Tian San Shipping Pte Ltd
19.Masters and crew of ships that reported sightings of oil patches

End of release.

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Bin turned into monkey trap: AVA, NParks to probe

The “monkey-proof” public litter bin that was allegedly converted into a monkey trap by contractors hired to catch them.
Feng Zeng Kun The Straits Times AsiaOne 8 Feb 14;

SINGAPORE - A “monkey-proof” public litter bin that was allegedly converted into a monkey trap by contractors hired to catch them is being investigated by two government agencies.

An animal welfare worker spotted the National Parks Board (NParks) bin on Old Upper Thomson Road at a site near Upper Peirce Reservoir Park where she had not seen it before.

It has a lid which the animals may find difficult to open – but this had been propped open and tied to some fruit, while peanuts had been scattered nearby as bait.

An unofficially modified lock had been added to trap the monkey once the fruit was disturbed.

NParks told The Straits Times that it was alerted to the trap on Monday and that it had been set up without its knowledge.

“We take a very serious view of this matter and are investigating the incident,” said its conservation director Wong Tuan Wah.

The bin is believed to have been converted by three monkey catchers hired by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) – which is also investigating.

Ms Sabrina Jabbar, 23, who works for the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, discovered the device and dismantled it before heading to the nearby Upper Peirce Reservoir Park to see if any more had been set up.

When she returned she found three men resetting the trap.

“They were unhappy that it had been dismantled,” she said. “When I told them what they were doing was wrong, they showed me their AVA permits and said it is legal.”

She alerted NParks but the agency said that by the time an officer arrived that night, the trap was no longer there.

Ms Jabbar said the trap may have posed a danger to visitors to the Upper Peirce Reservoir Park because a trapped monkey may cause others to crowd around the bin.

They might view passers-by as threats and attack them.

NParks said last October it had fined AVA-contracted monkey catcher Jack Pang after he illegally set up a monkey cage trap in an area where he was not meant to be operating.

This was just 10m from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – where catching animals is illegal without permission.

Contractors are believed to be paid for each animal captured. The AVA has said it checks the condition of all animals taken to it upon arrival.

It has said its contractors have to comply with its requirements on capturing, handling and transporting the animals.

“The AVA also conducts surprise inspections on our contractors regularly to ensure compliance,” a spokesman had said previously.

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Malaysia: Hot spell to continue

New Straits Times 8 Feb 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The hot weather in Malaysia is expected to continue for the next seven days as the northeast monsoon will be coming to an end, said the Malaysian Meteorological Department.

Its Central Forecast Office director, Muhammad Helmi Abdullah, said the hot and dry season was a normal phenomenon during this period because of the lack of cloud formation.

"Less cloud formation causes the public to experience high temperatures in the morning and low temperatures at night as there are no clouds to cover them in the morning or to trap heat in the night.

"The temperature changes from day to night are intense as some places experience differences by up to 15ºC compared with only 7ºC to 8ºC on normal days."

He said the extreme changes in temperature might affect people's health. The normal temperature is 33ºC but the temperature in certain areas is now 34ºC to 35ºC .

"Those living in urban areas will feel the effects of the hot weather the most," said Helmi .

He said the hot and dry spell also occurred in several countries, such as Indonesia and Singapore, which went without rain for 20 days, the longest dry spell in five years.

In Malaysia, he said, small amounts of rainfall occurred in remote areas at Sarawak, Perak, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.

Read more: Hot spell to continue - General - New Straits Times

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Indonesia: Residents on alert as haze strikes again

Severianus Endi and Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 7 Feb 14;

While thousands of people in Java are facing an extreme rainy season and flash floods damaging their homes and farms, people in other parts of the country have been choked in thick haze from forest fires.

The haze in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, has prompted the city administration to close kindergartens and elementary schools from Thursday to Saturday.

Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji has also urged residents not to burn trash, which could add to worsening air pollution.

Pontianak Environmental Agency (BLH) head, Imran, said the intensity of haze on Thursday was higher than Wednesday. The Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) showed conditions were between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” at certain times.

“These are very unhealthy conditions. The ISPU level was above 200 at 11 p.m., while the hazardous level was over 300 between 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. During normal conditions the ISPU level is between 0 and 50, and moderate conditions between 50 and 100,” said Imran.

Based on observations by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Supadio Pontianak office via satellite images on Feb. 4, hot spots were detected in 97 locations, some of them in peatland areas on the fringe of Pontianak. It has not rained in the area for almost a month.

Pontianak resident Tavib has anticipated the pollution by buying a pack of masks. Every time he leaves home, he always bring the masks, which he has moistened to protect his lungs.

“I’ve learned from the previous haze that hit the city in 2007,” Tavib said.

Haze also caused flight delays on Thursday when 12 flights — six departures and six incoming
flights — were delayed due to poor visibility.

An early flight from Jakarta to Pontianak was rerouted back to Jakarta by the Supadio International Airport authorities due to the dense haze.

State-run airport management firm PT Angkasa Pura II operational division head at the airport, Syarif Usmulyani, Alqadrie confirmed to The Jakarta Post on Thursday that the thick haze in the morning had caused visibility of only 200 meters.

PT Angkasa Pura II was forced to close Supadio airport for more than two hours on Thursday. At 6 a.m. visibility was 200 meters and gradually improved every 30 minutes.

Riau is also facing similar problem as the Pekanbaru BMKG detected 261 hot spots across the province on Thursday. Head of data and information division at the Pekanbaru BMKG, Slamet Riyadi, said most hot spots were seen in the Bengkalis, Pelalawan, Siak and Indragiri Hilir regencies.

“The hot spots have spread to eight of the 12 regencies/cities in Riau. The hot spots are also detected in Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu and Kampar regencies and Pekanbaru city,” Slamet said, adding the dry season would last until mid-March.

Although most areas in the province have been blanketed by smog, it is unlikely the haze will reach neighboring countries at this moment.

“Malaysia and Singapore are still safe [from haze] as the smog is heading southeast. The wind pattern most likely changes around May or June,” he added.

Riau Health Agency head Zainal Arifin said his office had procured 500,000 masks to anticipate a worst-case scenario.

Land and forest fires have for years been a major problem for Riau as smallholders and plantation firms allow slash-and-burn farming methods. In 2013, more than 10,000 residents suffered acute respiratory infections (ARIs) due to haze. The fires have also sparked diplomatic tensions between Indonesia and neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, in Batam, Riau Islands, the prolonged dry season has also caused droughts in a number of areas on the island, causing widespread bush fires.

BMKG Hang Nadim head Philip Mustamu said Batam was categorized as a non-seasonal region, with rain lacking in the months of January and February.

Batam Free Trade Zone Management Agency (BPK FTZ) spokesman and One-Roof Integrated Services (PTSP) director Dwi Djoko Wiwoho said the fire-fighting unit had apparently received many reports of fires near housing areas.

Fadli contributed to the story from Batam.

Hot spots in Riau rise to 261
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 7 Feb 14;

The number of hot spots in Riau has increased significantly from 78 to 261, according to the latest satellite observation.

Head of Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) information and data Slamet Riyadi said most of the hotspots were spotted in Bengkalis Regency with 127 spots, followed by Pelalawan Regency with 59 spots, Siak with 44 spots and Indragiri Hilir with 25 spots.

He added that a lesser number of hot spots were also seen in Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu, Kampar and Pekanbaru city.

“The hotspots are seen in eight out of 12 regencies in the province,” he said.

He then warned that the number would keep growing as the province had entered its first phase of the dry season. He said this condition would likely last until mid-March.

“After that we will experience some rain closely followed by the second phase of the dry season,” he said.

Despite the entire province being blanketed by hot spots, Slamet said that the haze would not reach neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore in the immediate future.

“Malaysia and Singapore will be safe from the haze. The spread of the haze is so far only local,” he said.

Commenting on this, Riau Health Agency head Zainal Arifin said he had prepared a stock of 500,000 masks although there had been no request from regencies/cities hit by the haze.

“To date, everything is still within our reach. However we must be well prepared at all times,” he said.

Extraordinary status declared as forest, land fires rage
Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post Pekanbaru/Jambi 8 Feb 14;

The regency administration of Meranti Islands, Riau province, has declared the forest and field fires in the region as an extraordinary situation (KLB), with the flames becoming increasingly difficult to control.

Meranti Islands Regent Irwan Nasir said the fires now covered 16 subdistricts in the districts of Rangsang, Rangsang Pesisir, Tasik Putri Puyu and West Tebing Tinggi, burning over 2,000 hectares of forests as well as rubber and sago plantations.

“It’s really severe. We are overwhelmed, no longer capable of handling it,” Irwan said.

He said his administration continued trying to extinguish the fires but had technically already surrendered due to limited equipment, human resources and nature.

He also said he had coordinated with the provincial administration and central government to send help to modify the weather. The fire brigades — including the one deployed by PT National Sago Prima (NSP) — were working at the maximum but the fires continued to spread.

“Our only hope is artificial rain,” Irwan said.

PT NSP spokesperson Setio Budi Utomo said his company would rent a helicopter to water bomb and help extinguish the fires. “We’re really overwhelmed. The 100 firefighters and 20 water sprayers are unable to halt the fires,” he said.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Riau branch executive director Riko Kurniawan blamed the fires on the negligence of PT NSP, a subsidiary of the Sampoerna Agro Group.

He said based on Walhi’s investigation, the fires in the area belonging to PT NSP started with a small fire at K 26 block in Kepau Baru, East Tebing Tinggi on Jan. 31.

Separately, acting Riau Governor Djohermansyah Djohan said his administration had sent 100 personnel with firefighting equipment to help extinguish the fires in Meranti.

He added the provincial administration had declared emergency standby status for haze to intensify the handling of forest and land fires in the region. “We’ve prepared
Rp 10 billion (US$822,000) for disaster mitigation purposes, including for floods and haze,” he said.

Meanwhile in Jambi, haze has covered the city as forest and field fires in neighboring provinces expand.

The local office of the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported that visibility on Friday was at only two meters.

There were only two hot spots in Jambi, according to the BMKG, but hundreds of others were seen in the neighboring provinces of Riau, South Sumatra and West Sumatra.

On Thursday, Jambi Deputy Governor Fachrori Umar received the visit of Singaporean consul for Indonesia Mark Low and Singaporean Ministry of Environment representative Tay Romire to discuss handling the haze.

Tay Romire said he was satisfied with the meeting and hoped cooperation between the Singaporean government and Jambi administration could be increased in the future.

Haze has also been thickening in Pontianak City, West Kalimantan. The head of the Supadio Meteorology Station, Bambang Hargiyono, said haze had disturbed flight activities for the last three days.

“Visibility is only 200 meters in the morning while for take-off and landing purposes visibility needs to be 1,000 meters at the minimum,” Bambang said.

West Kalimantan Forestry Agency secretary Lazarus Marpaung said although haze had worsened in Pontianak, no hot spots were found in the city.

He predicted that the haze had come from the 100 hot spots detected in neighboring Kubu Raya regency.

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Malaysia: New flora and fauna species found

Tan Cheng Li and Isabelle Lai The Star 8 Feb 14;

PETALING JAYA: Botanists have discovered two new plant species and a new species of gecko within an undisturbed portion of limestone forest on Gunung Kanthan that many fear will be quarried in the near future.

Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) plant taxonomist Dr Ruth Kiew said the new discoveries were further proof that the area, known as Zone C of Gunung Kanthan, near Ipoh, has critical conservation value.

Kiew said they had found a diminutive herb with purple flowers (Gymnostachyum nov) from the Acanthaceae family, and a tree (Vatica nov) from the Dipterocarpaceae family.

“In addition to these two new species, Zone C is also home to nine species on Malaysia’s Red List of Endangered Plants. They are in danger of extinction,” she told The Star.

Kiew said the find was made during one of several plant surveys last year in Zones C and D at the southern portion of Gunung Kanthan to compile a complete record of all plant species there.

Botanists also suspect that the critically endangered Paraboea vulpina of the African Violet family had gone extinct on Gunung Kanthan due to quarrying in the northern portion of the mountain.

The plant was recorded there by the Malaysian Nature Society in its 1991 study, and with its extinction at Kanthan, only two other population sites on other limestone hills remain.

American herpetologist Dr Lee Grismer, who had led a group of local and foreign biologists in surveys of the area last July, has also discovered a new species of gecko there.

Named the Gua Kanthan bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus guakanthanensis), the 7cm-long lizard bears five dark bands on its body and seeks refuge in cracks on the limestone walls.

Grismer said the species appeared to be restricted to the hill, as it was not seen in nearby limestone hills. This makes it the second endemic fauna species in the area, besides the trapdoor spider Liphistius kanthan.

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