Best of our wild blogs: 16 Mar 14

Morning Walk At Venus Drive (15 Mar 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Second sighting of the Band-bellied Crake in Singapore
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterfly of the Month - March 2014
from Butterflies of Singapore

Logging giant suspends operations to fend off plantations from fires from news

Read more!

Afternoon rainfall not widespread and heavy enough to break current dry spell: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Occasional brief showers on Saturday afternoon mostly affected the eastern and central parts of Singapore. As of 5pm, the highest rainfall recorded was 3.8mm at Scotts Road.

However, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the rainfall on Saturday afternoon was not widespread and heavy enough to break the current dry spell. NEA added that Singapore can expect some rainfall in the coming days with the easing of the dry phase of the Northeast Monsoon.

That will bring some respite to the current prolonged dry spell which started in mid-January 2014.

Passing showers in the afternoon are forecast for Sunday, and thundery showers in the afternoon for Monday.

NEA said in the first 14 days of March 2014, the highest daily rainfall total for March was 15.2mm recorded at Tuas on March 3, and the total rainfall for March 2014 is 18.6mm, also recorded at Tuas.

During this period, brief afternoon showers affected a few areas in western Singapore on some days. Other parts of the island received little or no rain. The daily maximum temperature in some parts of the island exceeded 33 degrees Celsius on most days.

The Northeast Monsoon is expected to transition to the inter-monsoon period in the last week of March 2014. The inter-monsoon period typically lasts from late March to May.

The winds over Singapore and the surrounding region are expected to weaken and become varied in direction.

Singapore may be affected by transboundary haze if hotspot activities in Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia persist, and the prevailing winds temporarily turn to blow any haze toward us.

Despite an expected increase in rainfall during the second half of March 2014, rainfall total for March 2014 is likely to be below the long-term average of 185.9 mm.

- CNA/ac

Slight improvement to hazy conditions after wind direction change, rain
Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) said a slight change in the prevailing wind direction, together with brief showers in the afternoon mostly in the eastern and central parts of the island, brought some improvement to the hazy conditions in Singapore on Saturday.

Winds have shifted from northeasterly to easterly, blowing haze in southern Johor away from Singapore.

The National Environment Agency said that as of 9pm, the 24-hr PSI is 27-52 and the 24-hr PM2.5 is 14-30 μg/m3.

A total of three hotspots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia and 11 hotspots in Sumatra on Saturday.

The low count is due to cloud cover and a partial satellite pass.

Due to improved conditions, the air quality for the next 24 hours is now forecast to stay in the high end of the moderate band.

For the next few days, thundery showers in Singapore are likely in the afternoon. Hazy conditions can still be expected for the next few days in the late afternoons and evenings should the wind direction change to blow from the northeast and if the hotspots in southern Johor persist.

The NEA said given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, most people can continue with normal activities.

- CNA/ac

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Singapore's leaders push for water conservation on World Water Day

Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: There has been little or no rainfall since mid-January, and the importance water conservation was stressed by our leaders as Singapore observes World Water Day on Saturday.

Activities aimed at spreading the water conservation message were held island-wide on Saturday. With the theme of "Going Big on Saving Water" -- activities will be held throughout the month reaching out to more than 200,000 people.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said everyone should make small lifestyle adjustments to make a big difference to Singapore's efforts in saving water.

Speaking at the Marina Barrage which saw some 10,000 people taking part in various activities, he stressed that immediate steps must be taken to cut down on non-essential water usage.

Also spreading the message to save water was Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who addressed some 3,000 people at Jurong Lake.

Mr Tharman said: "I didn't know that if you reduce your shower time by one minute, it will save nine litres of water. I'm told that amongst many of our younger generation, they just leave their shower on while they are soaping themselves. So turn the shower off when it's not necessary."

Mr Teo also had his own conservation tip to share: "Use water from a mug instead of a running tap while brushing your teeth. Wash clothes on a full load or re-use rinse water from the washing machine for flushing. When added up, these savings will help stretch out water resources further."

Also spreading the message of water conservation was Law Minister K Shanmugam at Yishun Pond and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Geylang Serai.

Geyland Serai residents were asked to bring two consecutive utility bills between September 2013 and March 2014. The first 200 residents who reduced usage by at least S$2 get a S$5 NTUC voucher.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck also stressed the importance of saving water to residents at Punggol Waterway.

- CNA/ac

Everyone has a part to play in water conservation: Tharman
Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: With the prolonged dry spell and rise in daily water demand, it is important to make adjustments like cutting down on non-essential water usage -- Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said this on Saturday at one of the five fringe activities celebrating World Water Day in Singapore.

Mr Tharman said it is also important to ensure stable water supply, but emphasised that everyone must make a determined effort to conserve water.

He added: "PUB is increasing the use of NEWater and desalinated water because there is less local water catchment. These two taps don't depend so much on the weather. So even during a dry spell, we have NEWater and desalinated water.

"But to make NEWater and desalinated water, we need energy. And, fuel is needed, electricity has to be generated. So we can't over-depend on NEWater and desalinated water in the long run."

To mark World Water Day, residents took part in a two-kilometre mass walk.

The "I am a Young Water Ambassador" card was also launched for primary schools. Students will be rewarded with a badge after they complete a series of water-related activities.

A water droplet display created using used plastic bottles was put together by the Taman Jurong T-Net club and four schools -- Bukit View Secondary, Fuhua Primary, Swiss Cottage Secondary and Westwood Secondary. The aim is to reduce the consumption of bottled water.

Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who was also at the event, said: "We are always gearing up our alternative supplies. As you know, we have been increasing our injection of NEWater into our reservoir just to keep our reservoir level at a certain (level). But we also like to urge the various users to start thinking about how they can play their part.

"For example, we are asking the industry users to help us step up on water saving and even the town councils have started to do their part. We have written to all the town councils to urge them to start thinking about reducing water usage.

"Also to all the Singaporeans out there... we will have to think about how we can reduce excessive use (of water), anything that can help us minimise waste, stretch the resource longer and benefit more people."

- CNA/ac

Save water' drive to target 200,000 people
David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Mar 14;

Singapore's World Water Day activities will have greater significance than usual when they take place tomorrow, as the country's unprecedented dry spell continues.

Organisers are targeting a record 200,000 people, compared with about 35,000 last year, as they try to drive home the message of saving water.

"We should not be complacent," said national water agency PUB's chief executive Chew Men Leong on Thursday as he chaired a media briefing for the annual event.

Noting that 2014 might be an El Nino year that could extend the dry weather beyond this month, he added: "We need to prepare ourselves for a continuation of the dry spell... It's critical that all of us play a part to conserve and save water."

Though World Water Day is on March 22, Singapore is marking it a week earlier to avoid the school holiday week.

For the first time, PUB has contacted all 87 constituencies and 890 schools to ask for their help in spreading the water conservation message. More than 200 businesses, schools, societies, grassroots groups, government agencies and even religious groups will take part in the various activities.

Geylang Serai constituency is offering incentives. It will reward the first 200 of its households who cut their water bill by $2 - equivalent to 1,000 litres - in consecutive months with a $5 FairPrice voucher.

Meanwhile, Haig Road Market and Food Centre hawkers took part in a water-saving contest that saved more than 17,000 litres, with the winner taking home a PUB hamper.

Pre-school children in kindergartens are being taught habits such as turning off the shower while soaping. Water saving messages will be included in sermons at all 69 mosques today.

Tomorrow, Cabinet ministers and MPs will join 17,500 people at Marina Barrage, Jurong Lake, Geylang River, Punggol Waterway and Yishun Pond for various activities such as mass walks and cycling.

Water usage has hovered between 4 per cent and 5 per cent above average "for the past couple of weeks", said Mr Chew.

He would not be drawn on what options PUB is considering if the trend continues, adding that the nation's water situation is still "reasonably secure".

Last month was the country's driest in 145 years. Singapore's desalination and Newater plants have been running at near-full capacity for a month, producing about 55 per cent of the nation's water. PUB has been pumping Newater into reservoirs since January to keep water levels up.

"How long we're able to last depends on how well we can stretch our water resources and that's exactly why we need to... get everybody to save water," said Mr Chew.

The PUB is also still mulling over holding water rationing exercises as a "good idea" to educate the public, he added.

"Everybody understands that we are in an unprecedented situation," he said, urging people to save water and cut non-essential use.

"We will see how people respond. If (they) see the urgency... if they start taking action today, tomorrow, I think we can start seeing effects. It really depends on everybody playing their part."

Read more!

R&D boost with wider protection for new plants

Maryam Mokhtar The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Mar 14;

The seeds for greater research into new plant varieties with economic potential were sown on Thursday, after Parliament's passing of a Bill.

The Plant Varieties Protection (Amendment) Bill has expanded Singapore's protection of plants to include all genera and species, making it the first country in ASEAN to do so.

Previously, only new varieties of 16 genera and species of plants, which include orchids, vegetables and aquatic plants, were eligible for protection.

The expansion will encourage investments in the research and development of new plant varieties with economic potential, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.

With the changes, anyone who breeds, discovers and develops a new variety can apply for it to be protected. The grant of protection gives the breeder exclusive rights to the new plant variety and can prevent others from producing, selling, importing or exporting this protected variety.

Ms Indranee gave the example of the Jatropha curcas plant, which can produce fruits with a high oil yield and has the potential to be used as a biofuel.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) said on Thursday local breeders have expressed a strong interest to protect plant species that are potential sources of sustainable biofuel.

To cope with the expanded scope of plant species protected, amendments to the Bill will also allow Ipos to engage the services of examining authorities beyond Singapore's shores to perform relevant technical examinations, in addition to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

These examinations are required when a breeder applies for protection of a new plant variety.

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Car-sharing firms call on Govt to address growing business costs

Operators hope Private Car Rental Scheme would be expanded to include weekdays
Xue Jianyue Today Online 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE — Industry players have welcomed the Government’s move to boost car-sharing by adding more car park lots, but they suggested the authorities could also address the low visibility of car-sharing stations in multi-storey car parks as well as growing business costs.

Some car-sharing operators — which count 9,000 drivers here as members — also hope the authorities can extend a private car rental scheme to weekdays and alleviate rising costs caused by increasing car prices.

Their comments followed Senior Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo’s announcement in Parliament earlier this week that more parking lots in the heartlands would be set aside for shared cars.

There are around 300 such cars at 121 stations islandwide today, said Car-Sharing Association (Singapore) President Lai Meng. The number of these vehicles has stayed the same in the last two years.

Challenges faced by the industry include a lack of awareness of how car-sharing works and getting suitable car parks to start new car-sharing stations, said Mr Lai, who is also Managing Director of Car Club. He also flagged the high cost of adding new shared cars — a concern shared by Mr Ho Kok Kee, who is Managing Director of Popular Rent A Car, a car rental company that provides car-sharing through its Whizzcar programme.

Popular Rent A Car had planned to add 10 more car-sharing stations since November, but only added four in Woodlands, Bedok and Jurong due to the rising costs of cars, which make up about half the firm’s total operating cost. “It is a double-edged sword,” said Mr Ho of the rise in Certificate of Entitlement premiums. “On one hand, it enlarges our potential, but it also adds on very significant business cost for us.”

To make the car-sharing option more visible, Mr Ho called for car park lots at the ground floor of multi-storey car parks to be reserved for car-sharing vehicles.

However, iCarsclub Marketing Manager Marvin Mohan felt setting aside parking spaces for shared cars would not be necessary if Singapore utilises the huge numbers of existing private cars. Sharing existing private cars generates income for many car owners who are paying off car insurance and maintenance costs, and it is more sustainable as the country’s population grows, he said.

Mr Mohan added that he hoped the Government would expand the Private Car Rental Scheme to weekdays, too. The scheme was introduced in 1996 to allow private cars to be rented out, but only on weekends and public holidays.

In a written parliamentary reply in November, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew had said the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) review indicated that the scheme was adequate and current levels of demand did not justify further liberalisation. He had added that car-sharing firms would put up 18 more stations in the coming months, which would mean a 20 per cent increase in the total number of stations, with two to three cars at each station.

The LTA and the Housing and Development Board, in consultation with car-sharing operators, are in the process of identifying suitable locations for the 18 stations, said the two agencies in a joint statement yesterday. “Details will be shared when ready,” they added.

Mr Mohamed Khairul, a father of two, found the car-sharing scheme a cheaper alternative to owning a car or travelling by taxi. He spends about S$500 to S$700 each month on car-sharing and uses the vehicle to take his son to school or for family outings. “Without the car, I cannot take my son to class on weekends. I would have to hail a taxi and, on rainy days, (it is) very hard to get a one,” said the 36-year-old.

Read more!

Malaysia: Rain clears up haze in several areas

New Straits Times 15 Mar 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Port Klang in Selangor, which has recorded unhealthy levels of haze, saw its Air Pollutant Index (API) drop to 154 at noon yesterday.

Bernama reported that several areas in the state recorded a drop in API readings, including Banting (125), Shah Alam (110) and Petaling Jaya (103). Twenty-two areas in the country recorded moderate API readings, including Seri Manjung (56), Alor Star (51) , Cheras (80), and Nilai (91).

An hour-long downpour in several locations on Penang island and the mainland brought cheer to Penangites who had endured a two-month dry spell.

About 5pm, it rained in Seberang Prai Utara and Balik Pulau, while downpours brought thunder, lightning and strong gusts of wind in Air Itam and Tanjung Bungah.

Temperatures dropped to 27ºC from the punishing 32ºC average during the dry spell.

The Meteorological Department website said there were forecasted showers today, tomorrow and Tuesday in Penang.

Intermittent rain since Friday night in several districts in Pahang doused bush and peat fires, apart from clearing the haze.

A spokesman at the Pahang Fire and Rescue operations centre said the downpour also helped control the peat fire along Jalan Kuantan-Pekan. But oil palm plantations in Nenasi, Pekan and Sungai Endau in Rompin are still affected by peat fires.

Strong winds and swift-moving rain clouds help clear haze
isabelle lai The Star 16 Mar 14;

PETALING JAYA: Strong winds and swift-moving rain clouds helped clear the sky stricken by haze in parts of peninsular Malaysia, said the Meteorological Department.

A spokesman said rainfall had started in the morning over several areas in the east coast before moving gradually to northern and central states by evening.

In addition, he said strong northeasterly winds had also helped disperse the haze particles, which had caused air quality in Port Klang and Banting to reach hazardous levels on Friday.

“We recorded rain clouds moving across Selangor and the Klang Valley, bringing brief and moderate rainfall over several areas. Parts of Negri Sembilan and Malacca also experienced isolated showers,” he said when contacted yesterday.

However, he said that the rain clouds had been blown out to the Straits of Malacca before they could bring significant rainfall over Johor.

He said that visibility had also improved significantly.

As of 5pm yesterday, the Department of Environment’s Air Pollutant Index (API) showed no places in Malaysia were experiencing hazardous air quality.

Three places recorded unhealthy air quality: Port Klang (124), Banting (103) and Tanjung Malim (123).

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.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said on Friday that the DOE’s ban on open burning was now extended to Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya effective March 13.

“No open burning can be done in these areas except for certain activities such as cremation, for religious purposes and barbecues. Those caught carrying out open burning can be fined not more than RM500,000, jailed not more than five years or both,” he said, adding that a maximum compound of RM2,000 could also be imposed for each offence.

Meanwhile, AirAsia cancelled all flights to and from Pekanbaru until Wednesday due to low visibility caused by the severe haze.

It said in a statement that flights were expected to resume on Thursday, depending on how much visibility improved.

The AirAsia flights affected by the cancellations are Kuala Lumpur-Pekanbaru, Pekanbaru-Kuala Lumpur, Pekanbaru-Bandung, Bandung-Pekanbaru, Pekanbaru-Medan and Medan-Pekanbaru.

Affected passengers can choose one of two service recovery options: 1) Changing their flight departure date within seven days of the original date without additional charges and 2) use a credit shell equivalent to the value of the confirmed booking for any AirAsia flight, valid for three months from the date of issue.

“All affected guests will be notified via their registered member e-mail account as well as an SMS notification of the cancellations. We urge all guests to keep their e-mail address and mobile numbers with their country code prefix updated in their AirAsia member profiles,” it said.

For more information, visit,, or call its Indonesian call centre at +62 21 2927 0999.

1Malaysia clinics to hand out free masks
The Star 16 Mar 14;

BALIK PULAU: 1Malaysia clinics and hospitals throughout the country will give out free face masks if the air quality reaches unhealthy levels, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said.

“So far, Penang’s air quality is considered safe, but the Air Pollution Index (API) in certain parts of Klang Valley had reached hazardous levels.

“The public, especially the elderly, should stay home and not be involved in any outdoor activities. They should also wear face masks to avoid breathing in the pollutants,” he said.

Klang’s API reached a hazardous level at noon on Friday at 315. Puchong, Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam were not far behind.

Dr Hilmi, who earlier attended the launch of Community Transformation Centre in Balik Pulau yesterday, said the centre was meant for people living in areas away from towns.

“Instead of them travelling to towns, we are bringing the services from the National Registration Department, Inland Revenue Board and 1Malaysia Mobile Clinic to them,” he said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Tens of thousands sick due to haze

Jon Afrizal and Yuliasri Perdani, The Jakarta Post 15 Mar 14;

The severe haze, which has blanketed Riau and other provinces in Sumatra over the past two months, has taken its toll on locals as thousands across the island suffer from various haze-related illnesses as the air quality continues to deteriorate.

According to Antara news agency, the Riau Health Agency recorded on Friday over 55,000 residents with illnesses ranging from acute respiratory infections, pneumonia and skin and eye irritations

The highest number of cases were recorded in Pekanbaru, followed by Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis, Dumai, Rokan Hulu, Siak, Pelalawan, Indragiri Hulu, Indragiri Hilir, Meranti and Kuantan Sengingi.

Air pollution standards index (ISPU) equipment installed in Pekanbaru indicated the air quality level had reached 310 on the pollutant standards index (PSI), while the ISPU in Siak regency showed a PSI of 388.

At Dumai city, Duri Camp and Duri Field the ISPU equipment recorded a pollutant level of 500 PSI, in Pekanbaru city the level was 345 PSI, while in Siak Indrapura the pollutant level stood at 500 PSI.

Under normal conditions, the PSI range is between zero and 50, while above 300 is considered hazardous.

“Residents are advised to minimize outdoor activities,” Riau Health Agency Zainal Arifin said as quoted by Antara.

Severe air pollution has prompted expatriates working in a number of companies in Riau to return to their respective countries. Residents, especially pregnant women and children, have also evacuated to a number of areas with better air quality.

Haze has also hit Bengkulu, forcing fishermen to halt their fishing activities due to poor visibility.

In response to the worsening haze situation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched on Friday a three-week integrated operation to combat pervasive forest fires and haze in Riau, with the Indonesian Military (TNI) deploying a brigade of soldiers to put out fires raging across the forests and peatlands.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif has been tasked with heading the operation.

“The three main objectives of the integrated emergency operation are tackling the fires and haze, providing health services to affected individuals and maintaining law and order,” Yudhoyono said during a teleconference in Central Java Police headquarters in Semarang.

“We have decided that the TNI will add one brigade, made up of two Army battalions, one Marine battalion, and a battalion of Paskhas [Air Force’s special forces] […] One brigade of soldiers will be enough to manually extinguish the fires,” he added.

Thicker haze affecting Bengkulu
The Jakarta Post 15 Mar 14;

The thick haze that has been wreaking havoc in Riau province has seeped onto the neighboring province of Bengkulu, reducing visibility to 500 meters and disrupting flights and the local fishing industry.

“It has been a week since the haze descended on Bengkulu,” said Ali Basra, a fisherman from the Malabero Beach Market in Bengkulu, on Saturday.

“The seasonal fog is nothing like this,” he said, adding that the fishermen did not dare to venture out to sea because of the poor visibility.

Haris Sahid Hakim from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station at Fatmawati Soekarno Airport, Bengkulu, has stated that visibility is likely to improve in the early afternoon only to worse later on, adding that the haze had disrupted flying conditions around Bengkulu and the western coast of Sumatra.

Sustri, an air traffic controller at Fatmawati airport, said three flights from Jakarta to Bengkulu had already been disrupted.

“Due to poor visibility, the Garuda, Lion Air and Citilink airlines have been unable to land,” she said, as quoted by Antara News Agency. (tjs/dic)

Pekanbaru Residents Flee Haze-Hit City for Hometowns
Vidya Dahlan Jakarta Globe 15 Mar 14;

People on motorbikes wear masks in Pekanbaru, Riau on March 14, 2014. According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, haze pollution has reached hazardous levels in parts of Sumatra’s Riau province, triggering respiratory and skin problems in about 60,000 people. (EPA Photo/Forza Alfachrozie)

As the haze from forest fires across much of Riau pushes the air quality index to dangerous levels, residents are opting to leave the province, while those staying behind are trying to cope amid a dearth of government advisories.

Yolanda Eviyonita, a third-year student at Riau University who is originally from West Sumatra, said on Friday that the rush to leave Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, was so intense that it took her six hours just to get a bus ticket to her hometown of Bukittinggi.

“I waited from 8 a.m. to get a ticket to Bukittinggi. Every trip there was fully booked,” she told the Jakarta Globe. “I finally managed to get a ticket at 2 p.m. and left the city at half past two.”

She was among those heeding the advice of Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus on Thursday for those not from the city to return to their hometowns until the air quality had improved.

The city administration has called on people to use masks when outdoors, but residents say there has been no medical advisory on the dangers of prolonged inhalation of the heavily polluted air.

“There’s been no awareness campaign whatsoever by the city administration about what the haze could do to our health if we keep breathing it in,” said Dolly Enniza, a homemaker. “The officials just tell us to use masks whenever we go outdoors.”

Dolly said the heads of her neighborhood unit and community unit were constantly reminding residents to keep their children indoors to prevent them developing respiratory problems.

For the past week, Dolly said that her children had also been instructed by their schools to stay at home. The air quality index has hit hazardous levels in the past three days.

“The smell of the smoke comes into the house through the ventilation. We don’t even see the sun anymore,” Dolly said.

She added the smoke hurt her nose and eyes, even when she was in her car.

Hamdan Abubakar, who has lived in Pekanbaru for two years, said the local people seemed to have become accustomed to the annual haze problem.

“Before this they never seemed to be bothered by the haze because they have grown accustomed to it for years,” he said on Friday.

“Now people are angry because they can hardly see anything. Today, from around 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the haze was so thick that visibility dropped to about 50 meters when I was out driving.”

Hamdan said he planning to leave the city as soon as possible.

He blamed logging companies for causing the haze, and suggested that the government bill them for the cost of cloud-seeding efforts to induce rains to combat the forest fires raging across the province.

“They are the ones who have benefited from their permits, so they should pay for weather modification to make artificial rains. The people of Riau are just victims,” Hamdan said.

He commended residents for taking to the streets to hand out face masks for free to motorists at traffic lights.

“Students, volunteers and NGOs and political parties are handing out free masks,” he said.

Read more!

Heritage, environmental assessments could help in preserving Pulau Ubin

Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 15 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Conduct studies on Pulau Ubin life and establish best practices for these studies, as part of efforts to protect and preserve the island -- that was one suggestion from the community in response to the government's call for ideas on preserving the rustic charm and heritage of the island.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said in the Committee of Supply budget debate in Parliament on Monday that he was looking for ideas on nature conservation and thoughts about how the island could be used for education and nature-based recreation.

Visitors to Pulau Ubin are hoping that various aspects of island-life can be preserved. Many are also intrigued by life on the island, and have signed up for tours to find out more.

For instance, the National Parks Board has been conducting the Sensory Trail Tour since 2001. Participants get to see vegetables, fruits and spices that one would normally see in villages, and find out more about the mangroves at Pulau Ubin.

Dr Chua Ai Lin, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, said: "It also plays a very important role in the modern Singapore psyche, because the greater diversity of places that we have, the richer and fuller our lives are.

"We're not just trapped within an urban jungle, but we have all these spaces that we can turn to -- not just for access to nature and greenery, but also as a reminder of what the community of Singapore used to be like in the past."

To preserve such aspects, the Singapore Heritage Society is calling for heritage and environment-impact assessments to be done. These studies would look into areas such as buildings and structures; and the social and community life that revolves around them.

Dr Chua added: "In Singapore, we don't have a strong tradition of conducting these impact assessments, But they're very important in finding out and analysing what are the best things that need to be done. Ubin will be a good chance for us to set into place best practices.

"In terms of heritage impact assessments, we're not just looking out for the physical structures that are there, we also want to know about the communities and social life that go along with those structures.

"For example, there are kampong residents, there's also a Chinese temple -- what are the community life around these places and how can they best be supported."

How wildlife could be affected by projects is another aspect that could be looked into.

Dr Lai Chee Kien, an architectural and urban historian, said: "Much needs to be done to document the different habitats. So for example, you have birds, you have seasonal birds, but you also have coastal habitats, and occasional migratory animals, including mouse-deers. Historically, there was also an elephant that swam across.

"So all these have to be taken into consideration so that there is a slightly more authentic environment in the future for our future generations."

Establishing a conservation process that includes studies and documentation will help to determine the best way Pulau Ubin can be preserved for its charm and heritage.

- CNA/ac

Ministry to seek ideas on protecting Pulau Ubin
While Pulau Ubin’s population has dwindled from 2,000 in the 1950s to 1970s to just 38 today, more than 300,000 visitors throng the island every year to enjoy its rustic setting and nature.
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE - Lovers of Pulau Ubin will be asked to give their ideas on how the popular island can be protected and enhanced.

The Government hopes that a wide range of people, from island residents to interest groups and experts, will give their views in an upcoming consultation announced in Parliament yesterday.

It wants the process to address "nature and heritage conservation, and... education and nature-

based recreation on the island", said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

The 10.2 sq km island, about the size of Changi Airport, hit the headlines in April last year when a notice by the Housing Board led islanders to believe that 22 households would be evicted so an "adventure park" could be built.

The Government clarified shortly after that the island will be kept in a "rustic state for as long as possible".

Ubin's population has dwindled from 2,000 between the 1950s and early 1970s to just 38 today, but more than 300,000 visitors throng the place every year.

Mr Lee told Parliament yesterday that preserving and enhancing Pulau Ubin's rustic character and natural environment while sensitively providing access for the public require help from all Singaporeans.

He noted how the National Parks Board (NParks) has worked with researchers and nature groups to study its biodiversity.

In 2003, for instance, NParks conducted a survey with the help of butterfly enthusiasts and documented more than 100 species.

The enthusiasts - who call themselves ButterflyCircle - advised NParks to plant Butterfly Hill, a knoll made out of wasteland left over from Ubin's granite quarrying industry. The knoll is home to over 130 species today.

Mr Lee, who will be leading the project and the conversation, said the ministry will build on these efforts, adding that it will "consult and engage widely". More details on the project will be announced later this year.

During the debate, Nominated MP (NMP) Faizah Jamal asked for more to be done to conserve places such as Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa. She also called for a national nature conservation policy where, among other things, there is a fair distribution of nature areas across the island.

Nature groups and wildlife enthusiasts said the Pulau Ubin initiative is a step in the right direction. For years, it has lacked a central body to coordinate efforts to enhance its green and rustic character, said the Nature Society (Singapore).

"This process will allow the Government to take into consideration the multiple views on what Ubin can grow to become - like a biodiversity hub or an ecotourism site," said society vice-president Leong Kwok Peng.

Madam Kamariah Abdullah, 54, who opens her 100-year-old Malay kampung on the island a few times a month to visitors, hopes the authorities will also consider conserving the kampung homes. "The kampung vibe and the people living here are integral to the island's identity," she said.

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