Best of our wild blogs: 14 Mar 14

How does haze affect marine life?
from wild shores of singapore

Mar’14 Sat 15 and Sun 16 Heritage Guided Walks
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Butterflies Galore! : Common Hedge Blue
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sumatra on fire: burning spikes in Indonesia
from news by Rhett Butler

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Hazy conditions persist in Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Hazy conditions continued to affect Singapore on Thursday, with the 3-hour PSI hitting a high of 87 at 8pm - the highest so far this year.

But there could be some reprieve on Friday.

The National Environment Agency website forecasts showers over southern and western Singapore in the late afternoon.

NEA said on Tuesday that the haze could be attributed to smoke plumes from the hot spots in southern Johor, blown in by the prevailing northeasterly winds.

- CNA/ir

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One in 10 construction sites breeding mosquitoes

Grace Chua Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

One in 10 of the inspections carried out at construction sites last year found mosquitoes breeding there.

That is out of some 12,000 inspections that were carried out last year, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in response to MPs' queries in Parliament on the dengue situation.

Contractors have been penalised with fines that total $3.5 million, he said.

In the last six months, the Government has issued 55 stop-work orders and prosecuted 26 contractors in court, Dr Balakrishnan added, urging construction contractors to strengthen the environmental management at worksites.

Last year, dengue cases peaked at 842 a week in June, while for the week of March 2 to 8, there were 210 reported cases of dengue fever here.

Dr Balakrishnan said the current outbreak is driven by a new strain of the dengue Type 1 virus, which accounts for up to 85 per cent of all diagnosed dengue cases, as the population has low herd immunity against this strain.

Meanwhile, he added, the National Environment Agency is deploying new tools like gravitraps which catch mosquitoes and their eggs, allowing officers to monitor where dengue-carrying Aedes mosquitoes are spreading.
- See more at:

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Should Bangladesh export sand to Singapore?

The Financial Express 14 Mar 14;

The country is reportedly missing an opportunity to earn a substantial amount of money as the ministry of commerce is yet to make a decision on export of sand by private parties. One company, according to a report published in the FE last Saturday, sought to export 1.5 million tonnes of sand to Singapore. The Maldives and some other countries expressed their interest to buy sand from Bangladesh. According to the prospective exporters, the country, as the FE report indicated, could earn between Tk 70.0 billion and Tk 120.0 billion by exporting sand. The likely whopping amount of foreign currency earnings from exports of sand by Bangladesh should not overwhelm the authorities concerned. Any imprudent decision, taken without adequate research and consultations with environmentalists and hydrologists, might cost the country heavily. Several fast-track projects in the country are reportedly being hindered because of domestic scarcity of sand. The Gumti river over which lies the long bridge at Daudkandi is fast drying up allegedly due to unabated sand quarrying there. This has to be investigated into.

River erosion in the country has reportedly taken a menacing turn due to unscientific dredging that has, in most cases, changed even the course of rivers. Around one million people have been rendered homeless due to river erosion in the country over the last three decades as the mighty Brahmaputra and Jamuna rivers continue to widen due to decrease in their depth for heavy rush of sediments from the upstream and poor erosion management in the downstream. According to the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), an independent analysis wing of the ministry of water resources, nearly 800 square kilometres of valuable floodplains have been lost due to erosion along the Brahmaputra and the Jamuna's total length of 240 km in Bangladesh.

As hydrologists often say dredging results in lowering of the alluvial water table which, in turn, directly affects groundwater storage capacity. Excessive dredging allows for saline intrusion into the groundwater. The lowered water table implies a rise in costs of water supplies, thus restricting access to only those who can afford it. It results in habitat loss including destruction and fragmentation of fragile, endangered ecosystems and decrease in the variety of species. Sand mining also causes increased shoreline erosion rates, especially when mined unscientifically. Furthermore, it poses a threat to critical infrastructural facilities such as bridges, roads, railway tracks etc. Besides, sand mining has been known to cause loss of livelihoods in several instances. Other macro-economic impacts have also been observed such as changes in land use patterns and increased public health costs.

River sand and stone quarry can impact the ecology of a stream from the base of the food chain starting with aquatic plants through to the communities and fish in two rivers of the country. Quarrying of the river channel has been found to be destroying river reserve habitats for a broad range of species as well as indirectly impairing the functioning of the aquatic ecosystem in the affected areas. Aside from the direct loss of habitat, increased stream turbidity as a result of the quarrying activity may temporarily reduce light penetration within the river. In that event, this will impact rates of photosynthesis and therefore primary production rates. It also prevents migration of fish to the flood plain and also movement to natural feeding and breeding grounds. The Sand Quarry and Soil Management-2010 Act has to be implemented fully before any decision on sand export is taken. The law has provided for scientific quarrying of sand in Bangladesh.

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Granite supply disruption is reminder not to take things for granted: Khaw

Channel NewsAsia 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said a recent disruption of granite supply from Indonesia is a useful reminder not to take things for granted.

Writing in his blog post on Thursday, Mr Khaw said Singapore has limited resources and the country's dependency for any natural resource is at stake at any time.

Therefore, a source diversification strategy has helped the construction industry tide over the granite supply disruption.

And together with the national stockpile, it has buffered Singapore well.

The granite supply disruption from Indonesia happened six weeks ago. Mr Khaw said, fortunately, Singapore was prepared for such surprises.

First, Singapore has a national granite stockpile to help the industry tide over any temporary disruption.

Second, as part of the country's diversification strategy, all importers are required to have a small supply from distant regional sources, even during normal times.

Third, there is a "drawer plan" to respond to such temporary disruptions.

Mr Khaw said the government had put that plan into action.

Singapore activated release of granite from the national stockpile and encouraged importers to ramp up supply from distant sources.

Five weeks after the activation of the plan, Mr Khaw said the situation is returning to normal.

Since early March, there has been a steady resumption of granite supply from Indonesia.

Supplies from other sources are coming in readily, and there has been no request to draw down from the national stockpile for the last 13 days.

Accordingly, the government will suspend the application for granite stockpile release from March 14.

But Mr Khaw stressed Singapore must not be complacent.

He said the stockpile will be replenished.

More importantly, the Building and Construction Authority will continue to promote the use of steel, drywalls and recycled concrete aggregates, so as to reduce Singapore's reliance on imports of natural aggregates.

- CNA/gn

Supply of granite from Indonesia resumes
Melissa Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Indonesia has allowed the supply of granite to Singapore to resume after it banned shipments in January.

There has been a "steady resumption of granite supply from Indonesia" since early this month, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post on Thursday.

He also announced that access to the national granite stockpile will close from today, after no one applied for stock this month.

"The situation is returning to normal... Supplies from other sources are coming in readily," the minister said. He did not disclose these other sources.

The Government allowed granite to be released from the national stockpile at Pulau Punggol Timor early last month, after a sudden Indonesian supply disruption in January caused construction delays.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) told The Straits Times that the volume of granite it released from the stockpile last month was "much lower than expected" and said that it had approved 168 applications "of small quantities" of granite in February.

Mr Khaw said on Thursday the Government has "always required all importers to have a small supply from distant regional sources, even during normal times".

He also said the national stockpile will be replenished, adding that the BCA will also "continue to promote the use of steel, drywalls and recycled concrete aggregates, so as to reduce our reliance on imports of natural aggregates".

Granite is a major component in making concrete.

The Government set the price at $50 a tonne plus GST for granite from the stockpile for this month, up from $30 a tonne plus GST in February, The Straits Times reported last month. These prices exceeded last month's market average of around $25 a tonne.

MP Lee Bee Wah told Parliament last week that some people had asked if the Government was profiteering from the price hike.

Her comments prompted Mr Khaw to make the point in a blog post last week that the issue of whether the Government was making money from its stockpile was "not a relevant consideration".

"Government is profiteering? Of course, not!" Mr Khaw said in that post. "The consideration is not about profit margins but about ensuring the industry is incentivised to actively source for alternative supply sources."

The BCA declined on Thursday to disclose how much granite had been drawn down from the national stockpile last month.
- See more at:

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Malaysia: Govt may be forced to declare water emergency

florence s. samy AND patrick lee The Star 14 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: A water emergency can be declared as early as in three weeks if the weather does not improve.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili said: “If it does not rain this three weeks, then I think the National Security Council, which is studying the whole situation, will have to declare a water emergency.”

“We are all praying for rain. If it does not, it is going to be really bad,” he said yesterday.

Dr Ongkili said water levels had decreased mainly due to the prolonged dry spell.

The Sungai Selangor Dam – the state’s largest reservoir – recorded a 40.53% capacity as of 8am yesterday.

LUAS, the Selangor Water Management Authority, said on its website that the dam – which serves more than 60% of the 7.1 million people in the Klang Valley and Selangor – was at 40.99% capacity at the same time on Wednesday.

This was consistent with the Selangor government’s statement in early February that water in the dam was decreasing by 0.4% every day due to a heatwave in the peninsula lasting several weeks and lack of rain in water catchment areas.

The levels at the other dams were 51.44% (at Klang Gates) 90.72% (Batu), 61.53% (Langat), 77.49% (Semenyih), 71.22% (Sungai Tinggi) and 91.63% (Tasik Subang).

Sources had reportedly said water levels at dams would be deemed critical if they were below 40%.

However, LUAS director Md Khairi Selamat disagreed, saying the critical level was 30%.

“If it continues like this, that is if it doesn’t rain at all, we have about 30 days before it (Sungai Selangor Dam) reaches critical level,” he told The Star.

Selangor is going through a third phase of rationing, which according to SPAN, the National Water Services Commission, affects 722,032 households comprising about 3.6 million people.

They get their supply every two days under the “scheduled distribution” exercise.

Brief rainfall in certain parts of the state has barely helped to increase water levels.

Cloud seeding has been put on hold indefinitely as aircraft meant for this have been deployed to aid the search for the missing flight MH370.

In Johor, thousands of households will be forced to rely on water tankers because rivers have dried up.

According to SPAN, the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant serving the Kluang district can now only produce less than 0.4 million litres per day, as opposed to the normal 31 million litres.

In Mersing, the Congok Dam has reached 4.47m – just above the critical level of 4.5m – forcing a two-day on and two-day off water rationing for 6,418 households in the district.

Weatherman: Haze will gradually reduce with proper dispersal
The Star 14 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Klang Valley residents can expect hazy conditions to improve in the coming days after waking up to the choking smog of late.

The worsening haze conditions over the past few days is due to the weakening of winds, said Malaysian Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip.

“Therefore, the haze particles are not dispersed properly. We expect tomorrow (Friday) and the coming days, the wind will settle again and the haze will gradually reduce,” said Dr Mohd Hisham.

Apart from weakening wind condition, he said peat, bush and open fires were also to be blamed for the worsening haze.

He said more rain was expected soon, especially during the inter-monsoon season due in mid or end of March.

An Andalas Fire Station spokesman said peat fire and agriculture land burning in Johan Setia Klang and along the Kesas Highway had contributed to the bad air quality.

A Meteorological Department officer said satellite imagery showed there were as many as 82 hotspots in Peninsular Malaysia and that most of the fires happened in Pahang and Johor.

Wind blowing from northeast might have also contributed to the poor air quality in the Klang Valley.

As at 5pm yesterday, Port Klang charted a very unhealthy reading of 233.

Twelve other areas in Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Perak and the Federal Territory also recorded unhealthy API readings since noon.

An API reading between 0 and 50 is considered good; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy; and 301 and above, hazardous.

In Klang, residents complained to The Star, wanting the relevant authority to take action to reduce the haze situation.

Prashaandra Ramakrishnan, from Bandar Puteri, said in an e-mail: “Visibility here is really bad and even in the house, I can see smoky air circulating.”

Another resident from the same housing area, Leong Choi Foong, 26, said it was suffocating during the night, especially when it was time to sleep.

“Even after shutting the windows and closing all gaps between doors, smoky air is prevalent in the room,” she said.

In Seremban, state Department of Environment (DOE) deputy director Wan Aminuddin Wan Kamaruddin said it had advised developers to spray water on unpaved roads in their project sites to reduce dust from getting into the atmosphere.

In June last year, schools in Port Dickson were closed for two days after the API reading breached the 300 mark.

Checks at several pharmacies yesterday showed that the sale of masks had increased. Schools were also encouraging students to wear masks.

In Johor Baru, state DOE director Mokhtar Abdul Majid warned those found guilty of conducting open burning activities would be immediately brought to court.

Mokhtar said that if found guilty, those involved could be fined up to RM500,000 for the offence.

In a statement, the National Security Council said the DOE had activated an action plan to prevent open burning in all states, with the act now banned in Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Second tube well in the works
New Straits Times 14 Mar 14;

FOR FIGHTING PEAT FIRE: Construction work expected to start in May

JOHOR BARU: THE state Minerals and Geoscience Department (MGD) will build its second tube well in Kampung Lepau, Pengerang, in addition to the first one that was built last year to help the Fire and Rescue Services Department put out peat soil fire.

Its director, Shahar Effendi Abdullah Azizi, said that the tube well of about 100 metres deep would have water that firemen can use to battle the flames when a fire breaks out.

"However, the real depth to be dug will depend on the geology profile of the drilling area. We are looking into an aquifer (underground layer of water-bearing rock) in alluvium (sands and gravel layer) and fractured hardrock (rock layer that contains water)," he said in an e-mailed statement.

"In Johor, underground water is often found inside a hardrock aquifer."

Shahar said the construction work of the tube well is expected to start in May.

He said the optimum yield will be determined once the drilling starts based on the geological profile and the condition of the aquifer at the site.

"The current tube well in Kampung Lepau has an optimum yield of about 18,927 litres per hour, or 454,249 litres daily."

He said the water distribution would depend on the drainage and irrigation system at the area.

"For example, when peat land catches fire, water distribution will be carried out along the ditch near the tube well of the affected area. A check dam (a dam to reduce the gradient of a ditch), could be built inside the ditch to increase the water level for the firemen to use in times of an emergency," he said.

The Fire and Rescue Services Department could also have their water hose extended to the affected peat soil area from the tube well.

"Our hydrogeology expert has estimated that each tube well is practically able to cover up to one square kilometre," he said.

The tube well will be in operation after the construction is completed, and a request for water pump has been approved.

"Approval will be granted under a standard operating procedure of the National Level Fire Prevention and Peatland Management Implementation Standardisation Committee," he said, adding that the MGD is a committee member of National Level Fire Prevention and Peatland Management.

He said that other districts like Muar, Batu Pahat and Mersing will also be getting new tube wells.

"The department is ready to contribute by building a tube well to prevent peatland fire. Based on our record last year, the underground water source has successfully reduced the number of peatland fire case by 50 per cent in comparison to the previous years," he said, adding that this has prompted the department to build more tube wells.

"Besides serving the purpose of putting out fires, the water from the tube well could be used during a prolonged drought in times of a water crisis. This is because, the underground water source will be less affected during drought in comparison to the water source at the river surface."

However, if the water was to be used as a drinking source, then it needed to be treated in accordance with the Drinking Water Standard stipulated by the Health Ministry.

Haze blankets Sumatra, hampers search
New Straits Times 14 Mar 14;

OUT OF CONTROL: Govt officials say forest fires have raged for the past week in Riau province

HEAVY smoke from illegal fires set to clear land for plantations has blanketed parts of Indonesia's Sumatra island, disrupting flights and hampering search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, officials and a pilot said yesterday.

Forest and brush fires have raged for the past week, mostly in peat-rich Riau province, forcing schools to close.

Children and the elderly have filled local clinics and hospitals, complaining of respiratory problems.

Forty-six hotspots were detected by satellite yesterday across Riau province, down sharply from 168 on Wednesday, said Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, the Forestry Ministry's director of Forest Fire Control.

As much as 13,000 hectares of land in Riau has burned since early last month, according to government estimates.

Panjaitan said a thick haze was covering Pekanbaru, the provincial capital of Riau and the nearest city to the fires, sending a cloud of smoke to the neighbouring provinces of Jambi and West Sumatra. Visibility was reduced to less than 50 metres in some districts.

"The government has tried to halt the burning, but it has gotten out of control," Panjaitan said. He said police had arrested at least 39 farmers for setting the fires.

He did not say whether the farmers were employed by large companies that have been accused of deliberately starting the blazes.

The smoke has left more than 45,000 people with respiratory problems and eye irritation, said Zainal Arifin, who heads Riau province's health office.

Provincial authorities urged people to stay indoors due to "hazardous" levels of pollution. State-run Garuda Indonesia and 15 other airlines have cancelled flights to and out of Pekanbaru, airport official Ibnu Hasan said.

The smoke was also hampering Indonesian navy pilots searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner over the Malacca Strait as part of multinational search efforts, said Major Laksono, a Cassa C-212 pilot involved in the search.

"We had to fly below 152 metres to avoid clouds of smoke," said Laksono, who like many Indonesians uses one name. "But overall, the search went smoothly."

Indonesia's central government has sent planes and deployed more than 2,500 soldiers, police and rescuers to help douse the fires, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

Indonesia banned the practice of open burning in 1999 after widespread blazes sent thick haze over Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and other nearby countries, sparking disputes with Indonesia's neighbours.

However, enforcement of the law is often lax as corrupt officials turn a blind eye.

The haze is at its worst during the dry season, which runs from March to September. AP

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Malaysia: Haze can be avoided -- Activist

New Straits Times 14 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality in certain parts of the country today is getting unhealthy due to thick haze and this should not have happened if the authorities have enforced the existing laws, says a prominent local social activist.
Datuk Seri Ang Lai Soon, dubbed by the environmental fraternity as the 'green crusader,' said the health and welfare of Malaysians should never be allowed to be compromised in the name of 'progress and prosperity.'

The Department of Environment (DOE) today reported that Port Klang recorded a very unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 203 as at 1 pm while 12 other areas in Klang Valley, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka continue to record unhealthy API readings.

In a statement, Ang hoped by now the authorities had acted to bring the current situation, which was rather alarming, under control.

The DOE has listed the main sources of air pollution in Malaysia as industries, development activities, motor vehicles, land clearing and open burning and forest fires.

All the pollution could be controlled through legislation and enforcing strict adherence to that legislation, he said.

Ang, who is also a well-known philanthropist from Sarawak, quoted a finding by BMZ, a German concern, that "Malaysia’s developments into a modern and sustainably managed industrial country requires a modern comprehensive environmental policy, including air pollution control."

On the air pollution that is being generated from outside the Malaysian borders, Ang suggested that the authorities should not only resort to diplomacy but also charge such polluters of the cost incurred in all aspects of dealing with the pollution.

Ang, who is the founder of St John Ambulance Sarawak and President of Sarawak Cheshire Home, said the dangerous polluted air levels needed to be eliminated for the welfare and well-being of the public, especially the very young, the senior citizens, and the vulnerable,
particularly those who have lung problems, heart and cancer patients, diabetics and pregnant mothers.

“Everyone is affected by the bad haze or smog but those who suffer the most are those from the lower income groups. This is not only peculiar to this country but throughout the world. Life has never been fair and it never will be,” Ang said.--BERNAMA

Read more: Haze can be avoided: Activist - Latest - New Straits Times

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Indonesia: President Takes to Twitter Over Riau Haze Debacle

Yudo Dahono Jakarta Globe 14 Mar 14;

Jakarta. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono aired his frustration over the Riau administration’s unsuccessful attempts to get the province’s annual forest fires under control in a flurry of tweets posted to his official Twitter account.

“I understand the restlessness and anger of some of the people over the smoke and fire happening in Riau again. *SBY*” Yudhoyono tweeted on Wednesday night.

The president criticized the local administration of failing to stop illegal land clearing on Wednesday as the haze blanketing Riau province worsened this week, spreading as far as Bukittingi, West Sumatra, where visibility dropped to 300 meters. This year’s haze, which previously showed signs of ending without a significant impact on the region, returned earlier this month as forest fires spread.

On Thursday, most of Riau and West Sumatra reported significant levels of haze, with nearly 50,000 suffering respiratory distress in Pekanbaru and the surrounding areas, according to reports by BBC Indonesia. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) reported some 183 hotspots after viewing satellite images, the BBC reported.

The BNPB plans to do additional water drops from helicopters on Friday in the latest effort to douse the flames. The agency is also working with the Indonesian Air Force to conduct cloud seeding above the heaviest hit areas, according to reports in the local news portal

“We are prepared to cloud seed tomorrow,” Syamsul Maarif, of the BNPB, told on Thursday. “We’re planning to seed [the area] to reduce the intensity of the haze.”

Police have charged 40 people with setting fire to forest and scrubland as of Friday, according to the Indonesian news portal One company, Nasional Sagu Prima, was also charged with the fires after officers reportedly discovered fires on 21 thousands hectares of land owned by the plantation company, according to the local news portal Riau Terkini.

The company, a subsidiary of Sampoerna Agro, was implicated in the haze earlier this week. Police are now investigating a dozen other companies over hotspots seen inside their concessions.

Those caught setting fires should face harsh penalties, Syamsul said.

“It is a national crime, many people are affected by the [poor] conditions,” he said. “The state will punish the perpetrators straight away.”

If local officials in Riau fail to get the burning under control, the president will oversee the mitigation efforts himself, Yudhoyono tweeted.

“If in the next 1-2 days the Riau Administration and the ministers can’t handle it, I will take over the leadership and mitigation. *SBY*” he wrote.

Government prepares water bombs to mitigate Riau haze
Antara 13 Mar 14;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government will drop water bombs in several hotspots to mitigate haze from land fires in the Riau Province on Friday.

"We will deploy Hercules C-130 from Halim Perdana Kusuma Air Base to drop water bombs in several hotspots in Riau," the Chief of Information of National Disaster Mitigation Agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said here on Thursday.

The haze had spread to another city outside the Riau Province, Padang City in West Sumatra Province, and disrupted several flight schedules.

"The visibility range in the Sultan Syarif Kasim II of Pekanbaru City decreased from 500 meters on the morning to 300 meters in the afternoon," he said.

The haze also affected the air quality in Pekanbaru, which caused respiratory diseases.

"The people who suffered from respiratory diseases had increased. The preliminary report from the local health sub-official noted that at least 49,591 people suffered from these illnesses, due to haze," Sutopo said.

Sutopo added that the thick haze also affected the operation of weather modification and water bombing efforts.

"The government effort to mitigate the hotspots by dropping water bombs was hampered as the haze affected the visibility range of the airplane," he added.

He said the government hoped the haze would decrease so that the water bombing flight can be operated.

The haze disaster in the Riau Province had affected the activities and health of 37,500 people in the last six weeks, causing them to suffer from respiratory infections.

There are tens of flight schedules from and bound for Pekanbaru that have been delayed or canceled due to haze.

The Riau province had suffered a loss estimated at Rp10 trillion due to haze from forest and plantation fires.

Riau provincial administration had declared a state of emergency, following the expanding forest and plantation fires, mostly set deliberately to clear land for new plantations. (*)

Editor: Heru

Haze halts flights in Sumatra, 3 men nabbed
The Jakarta Post 14 Mar 14;

Thick haze has disrupted flights in Sumatra due to a lack of visibility.

Several flights were canceled on Thursday at Minangkabau International Airport (BIM) in Ketaping, Padang, West Sumatra.

The general manager for state-run airport management firm PT Angkasa Pura II, Rian Hadihito, said three Citilink flights had been canceled as visibility at BIM dropped to 700 meters, while Garuda Indonesia delayed a flight from Jakarta to BIM.

“Flights early in the morning landed and departed as normal, but they were disrupted from 9 a.m. local time as visibility went down to 700 meters. At 2:20 p.m., the flight schedule returned to normal as visibility increased to 1,000 meters,” Rian told The Jakarta Post.

Besides Minangkabau airport, all flight arrivals and departures at Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Pekanbaru, Riau, were canceled, Antara reported on Thursday

Separately, Transportation Minister EE Mangindaan confirmed the cancelation of the flights, which included both domestic and international routes, due to the lack of visibility because of the haze.

“We won’t jeopardize people’s safety,” he said on the sidelines of an event at the Vice Presidential Office on Thursday, adding that he had urged local administrations to provide travel alternatives for the public.

Mangindaan added that the government would continue to ground flights if the haze posed a threat to safety.

The West Sumatra administration has issued an emergency haze alert due to the continuing density of the haze originating from neighboring Riau province.

At least eight of the 19 cities and regencies in West Sumatra have been affected by the haze, which has restricted visibility to less than 800 meters.

West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Yazid Fadli said the emergency alert, which the administration issued on Wednesday, would remain in place until further notice.

“We have told each city and regency to set up emergency response posts, distribute masks, monitor air quality every day and instruct schools to close if conditions become a health hazard,” Yazid said.

He added that the BPBD had run out of masks, while all those sold privately had sold out. The BPBD is currently getting more supplies, but a lot of parties need to be involved in replenishing the masks.

“[West Sumatra] Governor Irwan Prayitno has verbally complained to the Riau governor and is due to send him a formal letter,” he said.

Meanwhile, the police in Jambi are holding three people on suspicion of setting fires in the People’s Forest Park (Tahura), located in Muaro Jambi regency. They are currently being detained at Jambi Police headquarters.

Jambi Police chief spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Almansyah said the three suspects had been identified as Nofri, 39, a heavy vehicle operator from Kota Baru, Jambi city; Harjo Tamin, 63, a farmer, also from Kota Baru; and Sutrisno, 30, a farmer from Muara Sabak.

Almansyah said the three men had been arrested at the park on Tuesday by a joint team comprising personnel from the Jambi Police, Muaro Jambi Police and the local Forestry Agency. Police seized evidence in the form of an excavator and chain saws.

“The three men were apprehended in Tanjung village, Kumpeh Ilir district, Muaro Jambi, as they were clearing a 12-hectare plot within the Muarojambi Tahura,” Almansyah said on Wednesday.

The suspects allegedly felled trees with the chain saws and later burned them, while the heavy machinery was used to dig trenches.

Ina Parlina contributed from Jakarta

Chevron to relocate employee families affected by haze
The Jakarta Post 13 Mar 14;

PT Chevron Pacific Indonesia (CPI), the local subsidiary of US-based oil company Chevron, plans to relocate the families of its employees from areas affected by air pollution from land fires, to avoid negative health effects.

“Chevron plans to relocate those who seem to be at high risk of developing haze-related problems -- such as newborns, pregnant women, children under five years old and people with a history of lung or heart disease -- and have recommendations from the Chevron Medical team,” said Chevron Riau communications manager Tiva Permata on Thursday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

She further said the employees’ families could evacuate to guesthouses at Camp Rumbai, provided by Chevron, or could stay with other families living in locations with better air quality.

Tiva said that affected employees as well as other Chevron employees who were not included on the recommendation list from the medical team could leave on furlough with approval from their superiors.

Air quality in several areas of Riau, such as Bangko, Dumai, Duri and Rumbai, has worsened due to pollution caused by thick haze from land fires in the province.

Tiva said Chevron had initiated joint measures with the local administration to control the situation by -- among others things -- dispatching fire brigades to land-burning locations near its operating areas.

Chevron has also distributed masks and information on air quality to residents in need.

Internally, Tiva said, Chevron had taken all measures necessary to guarantee the safety and the health of its employees and their families.

“Chevron has distributed respirators to all employees and their families, informing them to refrain from activities outside their homes and to close ventilation in their houses to avoid smoke, and to prepare relocation plans as well,” said Tiva. (yln/ebf)

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Malaysian scientist awarded coveted marine conservation fellowship

Yahoo Newsroom 14 Mar 14;

For the first time, a Malaysian scientist has been awarded the coveted 2014 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to conduct new research on Malaysia’s population of dugongs.

Pew Fellows receive USD150,000 (RM491,000) for a three-year project to address conservation issues facing the world’s oceans and Dr Louisa Shobhini Ponnampalam, a scientist with Universiti Malaya and co-founder of NGO, the MareCet Research Organisaton, will identify areas that are critical for the country’s last remaining population of dugongs.

Using the findings of this research, Dr Ponnampalam will make recommendations to protect the dugong’s habitat.

“Seagrass beds in Malaysia, which are a crucial part of the dugong’s habitat and diet, and support a diversity of marine life including our seafood resources, are currently not afforded any legal provisions,” said Ponnampalam.

“This project would allow us to further understand dugong distribution and behavior and their reliance on this particular area, so that government authorities can soon make informed decisions about enabling the protection of important habitat areas,” she said in a statement.

For the next three years, Ponnampalam will gather scientific data on dugongs and their habitat using visual, acoustic, and underwater surveys. This research will also assist other scientists working to protect dugongs around the world.

The dugong is currently listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, but certain populations of dugongs are likely to be critically endangered, including those found along the coasts of Malaysia.

These herbivorous marine mammals and their seagrass habitats are threatened by human activities such as coastal development, commercial fishing, and a lack of provision for habitat protection.

“The dugong is an increasingly rare and fascinating creature, but little of the habitat it relies on is protected within its range,” said executive vice president and head of environment initiatives for for The Pew Charitable Trusts Joshua S. Reichert.

“Dr. Ponnampalam’s study will shed light on how and where dugongs live in Peninsular Malaysia, and will encourage an exchange of data among countries to better protect these extraordinary creatures,” he added.

Ponnampalam is a research fellow at the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences of the University of Malaya in Malaysia. She earned a B.A. in marine science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and a Ph.D. in marine biology at the University Marine Biological Station Millport, a program of the University of London. She also co-founded The MareCet Research Organization in 2012, a local NGO dedicated solely to the research and conservation of marine mammals as a basis for marine conservation.

The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation has awarded 135 fellowships to individuals from 31 countries. The fellowships fund projects that address critical challenges in ocean conservation

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Malaysia: Wild elephants a danger on highways

The Star 14 Mar 14;

HERDS of wild elephants seen walking along the East-West Highway between Perak and Kelantan are posing a danger to motorists, says Datuk Hasbullah Osman (BN-Gerik).

He said there are an increasing number of elephants in the area because some of them were caught elsewhere and relocated to the Royal Belum Forest Reserve bordering Gerik.

“Although attempts have been made to fence off the road to prevent elephants walking along the highway, the danger to motorists is still there.

“You can see them walking along the highway,” he said in his motion of thanks on the Royal Address.

He called on the Wildlife and National Parks Department to create an elephant sanctuary along the border of the Belum Royal Forest and his constituency.

Hasbullah said villagers, especially small rubber holders, have suffered financial losses after their crops were damaged by the elephants.

Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah (BN-Lenggong) supported Hasbullah’s call for a new elephant sanctuary. He said farmers in his constituency also faced the same issue as their areas bordered the Belum forest reserve.

“The farmers lost hundreds of thousands of ringgit. There was a recent case in a village where an entire 200ha of crops belonging to a villager was destroyed by wild elephants, which resulted in RM500,000 in losses,” he added.

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Malaysia: Green groups in overdrive to preserve Selangor State Park

isabelle lai The Star 14 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: With slightly less than two weeks left to provide feedback over the degazetting of parts of the Selangor State Park for a road, environmental groups are going into overdrive to get at least 100,000 signatures against the project.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) conservation head Balu Perumal said the Protection of the Selangor State Park (SSP) coalition, of which MNS is part, had gathered around 500 signatures so far.

“We have to work 10 times harder. We are taking it upon ourselves to spread awareness among the public and we need support,” he told The Star.

Balu said that based on the latest public notice by the Selangor Forestry Department published on Feb 26, stakeholders could voice their objections to the proposal within 30 days.

The proposal aims to degazette 106.55ha of land from four forest reserves, namely the Ampang, Bukit Seputeh, Ulu Gombak and Ulu Langat forest reserves for the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road project. The Ampang and Ulu Gombak reserves form part of the state park.

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Coral triangle ratification needs Indonesia's leadership

Alan T. White and Abdul Halim Jakarta Post 14 Mar 14;

The six-country Coral Triangle Initiative created to ensure the survival of one of the most critical coastal and marine habitats on earth is at a decisive moment. The Indonesian government, as both the brainchild of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and the leader of its interim secretariat, should push forward on formal establishment of the institution before political will and funds run out.

After seven years in the making, the world is looking to the six countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste — to cement their commitment through the May 2014 launch of the permanent CTI-CFF Secretariat. The lives and livelihoods within the Coral Triangle region depend on a multi-national approach to reverse the imminent collapse of this incredibly important and severely threatened shared coastal and marine resource. As the largest of the CTI-CFF countries and most populous, Indonesia’s leadership at this moment is crucial.

Stretching across marine waters that bridge the natural resources of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and their related seas, the Coral Triangle is recognized as the global center of marine diversity. It is home to more than 600 species of coral (over 75 percent of the global total), more than 3,000 species of reef fishes (almost 40 percent of the global diversity), six out of seven marine turtle species, over 30 percent of the world’s coral reef area (17 percent are within Indonesian waters), and the largest extent of mangrove forests in the world.

More than 130 million people in the six countries depend directly on these fish and marine resources as their principal source of income, food and livelihoods. But these resources are under significant and increasing threat, with more than 85 percent threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing, watershed-based pollution and the impacts of coastal development. When the influence of rising sea temperatures is combined with these local threats, the portion of coral reefs rated as threatened increases to more than 90 percent.

In response to these threats and in recognition of the incredible value of natural marine resources at risk, in May 2009, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste signed the Coral Triangle Initiative Declaration on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF). The CTI-CFF is a multilateral partnership that aims to safeguard the marine and coastal resources of the Coral Triangle region. The six Coral Triangle countries collectively adopted a regional plan of action, followed by each country’s adoption of a national plan of action.

More than US$200 million in multiyear grants has been committed by various international donor agencies to directly support implementation of the Coral Triangle Initiative, and each Coral Triangle country has substantially increased its own national investments in coastal and marine resources management.

For example, Indonesia has mandated the 3.3 million hectare Savu Sea National Marine Park, the largest in the Coral Triangle region and has instituted a process to review and improve the effectiveness of all of its marine protected areas. The Philippines has budgeted for a major national coral reef restoration program, Malaysia is progressing to gazette its largest marine protected area to date located in Sabah which will utilize state-of-the-art design criteria, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have both scaled up their national marine resources management programs through improved legislation and capacity building at the local scale, and Timor Leste is actively beginning implementation and community engagement in its one large marine protected area.

But the six Coral Triangle countries must still ratify the CTI-CFF agreement which will authorize the operation of a permanent regional secretariat and establish the CTI-CFF as a permanent program, to coordinate the enhanced protection and stewardship of the coastal resources and well-being of coastal communities in the region.

The ratification is not yet done and several key actions are pending which must be accomplished in the next two months, because the official launch of the CTI-CFF Permanent Secretariat it scheduled for mid-May in Manado. Of the six countries, only Malaysia has ratified the CTI-CFF agreement in 2013 and the other five countries, including Indonesia, are still completing the ratification procedures.

The initiative has attracted support from members of the G8 and global and regional bodies. Today, the core CTI-CFF partners include the United States, Australia, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the Global Environment Facility, international NGOs — The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International — and the Coral Triangle Center. These partners believe that it is critical for the ratification to be accomplished very soon to ensure that the investment of the last five years by all concerned is not jeopardized.

In the case of Indonesia, it was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who initiated and led the CTI-CFF process in the margin of the UN Convention on Climate Change meetings in Bali in 2007. Then in May 2009, Indonesia hosted the six Presidents of each CTI-CFF country in Manado to endorse the CTI-CFF regional plan of action. Indonesia also contributed the time and expertise of key staff in the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry to assist in guiding the CTI-CFF activities since 2009.

We strongly encourage the government to sign for ratification of the document soon. This action will once again show the true leadership of Indonesia and President Yudhoyono of the CTI-CFF, which will encourage the other countries to follow so that the Permanent CTI-CFF Secretariat can be formalized in May in Manado on the fifth anniversary of the CTI-CFF launch.

Alan T. White is a senior scientist of the Indo-Pacific division at The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Abdul Halim is senior marine policy advisor of the Indonesian Program at TNC.

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Vietnam to clean river with $4 mil mangroves project

Thanhnien news 13 Mar 14;

Vietnam will clean up a heavily-polluted river with the help of mangroves and German experts thanks to a new US$4.13 million project.

The Thi Vai River in Dong Nai Province neighboring Ho Chi Minh City will be filtered by mangrove forests downstream in the city’s coastal district of Can Gio, thanks to a new project announced Monday by the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources at Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City and partners from the Technical University of Braunschweig.

Prof. Nguyen Van Phuoc, head of the institute, said the new method has shown effects in several countries as mangroves can absorb pollutants, especially those from the leather industries like hard metallic element chromium, which has been discharged illegally and in copious amounts into the Thi Vai by local factories.

The experts said the project will treat waste discharged from factories along the river first before pushing the pollution down to Can Gio.

The Thi Vai is a tributary of the Dong Nai River, the longest to run exclusively within Vietnam.

The results will be officially announced October next year as the project is scheduled to finish in June.

The project began in July 2012, aiming to build an environment management system for the area, taking into effect the possibly disastrous effects of climate change.

The Taiwanese MSG maker Vedan dumped 105 million liters of untreated wastewater into Thi Vai through a secret pipe system between 1994 and 2008, when the scheme was uncovered.

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