Best of our wild blogs: 22 May 14

Demons, Dragons and Serpents
from Hantu Blog

New Nudis!
from Hantu Blog

Butterflies Galore! : Plain Banded Awl
from Butterflies of Singapore

Announcing the International Costal Cleanup 2014 Report by Ocean Conservancy – “Turning the Tide on Trash” from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Walking with Nature at SOTA Day 3: Wacky ways to share
from The Leafmonkey Workshop and Walking with Nature at SOTA Day 2: Forests with Vilma!

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Oldest postman, 73, braves Pulau Ubin’s elements to deliver letters to islanders

Gary Goh The New Paper AsiaOne 22 May 14;

Rain or shine every weekday afternoon, you'll find Mr Haron Jomahat sitting on the brown benches at Changi Point Ferry Terminal.

Like anyone else who wants to go to Pulau Ubin, Mr Haron has to wait for 11 others to fill the bumboat before it leaves the terminal.

Then it's a 10-minute journey to the island.

But unlike other boat passengers, who might be going on a rustic adventure, the 73-year-old part-time postman makes the daily trips to deliver mail to the island's last remaining residents.

A Singapore Post spokesman said Mr Haron is the oldest postman in Singapore.

On good days, he can be on his way within minutes of arriving at the ferry terminal.

But rainy days mean fewer people travelling to Pulau Ubin, and he may have to wait for hours.

Mr Haron, the only postman in Singapore to take a bumboat to deliver mail, said with a chuckle: "I spend the time reading newspapers or just relax on the benches."

Yet there is a lot more to his job than having to rely on an irregular ferry service.

He knows each residential address on the island, and sorts the letters at the SingPost delivery base off Loyang Avenue, starting with houses nearest to the jetty.


And mind you, an address may be no more than a house number and the numbers are not in order along a street as it is on the mainland.

For instance, if you write to "12 Pulau Ubin", Mr Haron would know exactly where it is and will be able to deliver the letter.

Relying on his 20 years of experience there, Mr Haron can usually finish his mail run in less then three hours.

When he is done, Mr Haron, who lives in Pasir Ris, waits for a boat back to the mainland.

While his mail runs are typically shorter than those of his colleagues on the mainland, he has to ride through some of the roughest terrain accessible by post.

Some houses have only a narrow dirt track leading to them and at times it is difficult to reach them, even by motorcycle.

Mr Haron said: "On rainy days, these tracks would be too muddy and slippery for me, so I'll just keep the mail for delivery the next day."

Still, Mr Haron does not complain about his job.

He grew up as an islander on Pulau Tekong, and the grandfather of 12 said Pulau Ubin reminds him of his formative years.

"If given another chance I'll still want to be assigned to Pulau Ubin," he said. "It is not as hectic as the mainland and I love the rustic feel of this place."

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Moths come out to enjoy the weather

Carolyn Khew MyPaper AsiaOne 22 May 14;

SINGAPORE - Have you seen those greyish-brown palm-sized creatures of flight in your neighbourhood recently? These moths have not been so visible in nearly a decade. But fret not, say experts.

The Tropical Swallowtail Moths, otherwise known as the Lyssa zampa, are "in season" now and a "population outbreak" is the reason for their recent abundance, said butterfly expert Khew Sin Khoon, who is also an honorary research affiliate at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"These moths are totally harmless. If you touch them you'll probably hurt them more than they'll hurt you," said Mr Khew.

Experts say that the numerous documentation of sightings this time round and heavy flowering due to rainfall could be reasons for the bumper crop of moths this year.

"Many flowers serve as a nectar source and it is well known that higher nectar abundance increases butterfly and moth populations," said NUS ecologist Anuj Jain, who also heads the butterfly interest group at Nature Society of Singapore.

While the emergence of the moths happens throughout the year, it peaks from May to July, with early signs in April. N. Sivasothi, a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS, said that the sightings this time are believed to be the largest since 2005.

So far, he has received more than 700 records of the sightings from netizens who spotted them all over Singapore.

The moths, found also in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, are believed to have emerged from forested areas "where the caterpillars would have eaten leaves of plants and eventually pupated", said Mr Sivasothi, a research associate at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"When they emerge as moths, they would fly away in search of mates and suitable egg-laying sites. Many reach urban areas, attracted by the lights."

Over the last few weeks, netizens have been posting sightings of the insect on social media sites Facebook and Twitter. The insects have been spotted all over the island, from office windows in Collyer Quay to void decks in Bukit Batok Central and even MRT stations.

Teacher Samuel Liu had a few encounters with these flighty creatures on Tuesday. He saw them in his home in Tanah Merah and at a nearby shopping mall.

"These moths are not rare but it's still a nice sight," said the 26-year-old. "We hardly get to see something like this in urban Singapore."

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More open spaces and new amenities slated for East Coast Park

Channel NewsAsia 21 May 14;

SINGAPORE: East Coast Park visitors can look forward to more open spaces, new family-friendly amenities, and a range of recreational options when work at Parkland Green and Marine Cove are completed.

The enhancements by National Parks Board (NParks) include a reduction in infrastructure footprint so as to allow for more open green spaces.

Parkland Green will open in September, while improvements at Marina Cove are slated to be completed in mid-2016.

Once open, Parkland Green will feature a 1-hectare open lawn, as well as eight dining establishments. There will also be a laser tag arena and two sports and retail outlets.

When Marina Cove is completed in mid-2016, its open park space and mix of dining and recreational facilities will complement those at Parkland Green.

The enhancements are part of NParks’ efforts to make Singapore a City in a Garden.

While improvements are going on, park users can still use the dining and other recreational activities in the area.

- CNA/ek

More open spaces at East Coast Park in September
Today Online 22 May 14;

SINGAPORE — Visitors to East Coast Park will have their pick of seaside activities when the National Parks Board (NParks) completes the ongoing development projects at Parkland Green and Marine Cove in September and mid-2016 respectively.

In a press release on the enhancements yesterday, NParks said Parkland Green would have eight new dining establishments and visitors would be able to picnic on a 1ha open lawn or have fun at a laser tag arena.

A 4ha plot of land situated between Big Splash and Marine Cove, formerly known as the Parkland Golf Driving Range, will feature other facilities such as two sports and retail outlets and a garden-themed 306-lot car park. A covered green roof walkway will link Parkland Green to the existing underpass from Marine Parade.

NParks said the enhancements are part of its efforts to upgrade the facilities and improve accessibility and connectivity within the park. To ensure more green open spaces for visitors, Parkland Green’s gross floor area has been reduced by 25 per cent, while the lawn that was previously fenced up will be opened.

“With more than seven million visits annually, East Coast Park is Singapore’s most popular park, catering to the diverse needs of users. There are quiet corners and lawn areas where families and friends can play together,” said Mr Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive officer (park management and lifestyle cluster) at NParks.

Marine Cove is expected to offer more facilities to complement those at Parkland Green, such as a playground with a range of equipment suitable for children of all ages, including those who are physically challenged.

The completion of Marine Cove’s redevelopment projects in mid-2016 will mark six years since the restaurants, pubs and the popular McDonald’s outlet at East Coast Park were shut down.

While Marine Cove is undergoing enhancements, East Coast Park visitors can enjoy dining and other recreational activities in areas such as Rain Tree Cove and Playground @ Big Splash.

More room to play at East Coast Park
Melissa Lin The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 May 14;

SINGAPORE - There will soon be more recreational space for the crowds thronging popular East Coast Park.

Visitors will get to enjoy more open lawns for picnics, family-friendly amenities and recreational facilities when two new developments are completed.

One of them, Parkland Green, will open in September, the National Parks Board (NParks) said yesterday.

The 4ha development will have eight dining establishments, including a microbrewery, two sports and retail outlets, and a laser-tag arena where people can shoot at one another with handheld infrared guns.

There will also be a 1ha open lawn for picnics and gatherings, along with a garden-themed carpark - with 306 parking spaces - lined with trees and shrubs.

A covered walkway will link the area to an existing underpass in Marine Parade.

The site - previously a private golfing range - is being redeveloped by NParks at a cost of $11.5 million, which includes the cost of demolishing existing structures and traffic-impact studies.

Another enclave, Marine Cove, is on track to be completed by mid-2016.

This development will have "a good mix of dining and recreational facilities", said NParks.

It will also have a playground with equipment suitable for children of different ages and those with disabilities.

An iconic McDonald's fast-food outlet used to be located there, but was closed in March 2012 for the area's redevelopment.

NParks will call a tender for Marine Cove's construction by the end of the month.

Both developments are part of efforts by NParks to cater to the large number of visitors at the 185ha East Coast Park, the largest and most popular coastal park in Singapore.

Noting that the park attracts more than 7 million visits annually, Kong Yit San, assistant chief executive of NPark's Park Management and Lifestyle Cluster, said that the projects are part of the board's continual efforts to upgrade amenities, and improve accessibility and connectivity within the park.

National University of Singapore undergraduate Zachary Soh, 25, who lives nearby and goes there two to three times a week, said the new facilities would help to spread out the crowds, especially during weekends when the park is often packed.

"It can be quite hard to cycle at the park on weekends," he said.

"The two places may help to disperse the crowd so that they don't congregate in the same areas."

Corporate trainer Dennis Milner, 43, has been visiting the park at least once a week since he was a schoolboy at St Patrick's secondary school.

"I go there to run and cycle. I hope it keeps its charm," he said.

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Singapore braces for worst "haze" as Indonesia fails to halt slash-and-burn clearances

Rujun Shen Reuters 21 May 14;

SINGAPORE, May 21 (Reuters) - Singapore is approaching its yearly "haze" season, when smoke from forest clearing in Indonesia chokes the air, with this year likely to be worse than 2013's record pollution thanks to lack of action in Jakarta and an expected El Nino weather pattern.

The prosperous city-state, which prides itself on its clean air, was shrouded in heavy smog from slash-and-burn clearances on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Sumatra last June which sent its air pollution index to a record high.

One year on, and an election-distracted government in Indonesia has still not ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and fires continue to burn in Sumatra.

That is despite outrage in Singapore as well as environmental groups putting pressure on Jakarta. Fires are used to clear land on plantations and can burn for weeks because of peat deposits below the surface.

There is also a growing likelihood of an El Nino weather pattern this year, meaning Singapore, as well as parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, could be set for months of intense haze with a knock-on effect on health and business, especially tourism.

A strong El Nino, marked by a warming of the surface of the Pacific, can cause severe drought in Australia, Southeast Asia and India, while drenching other parts of the world such as the U.S. Midwest and Brazil in rain.

"If we get four to six months of dry period in Southeast Asia starting from June, we could be in for a very difficult period, if companies' and people's behaviour do not change," Singapore Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told a conference.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Singapore is taking matters into its own hands by proposing a new law that aims to punish individuals and companies outside its borders that are responsible for polluting its air.

That's expected to be tabled in parliament later this year. Legal experts hail the bill as a bold move, but question how it will be implemented.

Finding who is responsible for the haze is hard given the lack of evidence like maps showing who owns the land where fires are burning. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have refused to share clear and updated land use and concession maps so far.

Bringing a prosecution in Singapore courts will be even tougher.

"The basic evidential inquiry needed to resolve the problem - i.e. to find out who is setting fires to whose land - cannot even be conducted," said Alan Tan, professor at the Faculty of Law and Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. "Let alone the more complex tasks of actually prosecuting perpetrators or managing land use conflicts for the longer term."

Two of the world's largest palm oil companies - Wilmar International Ltd and Golden Agri-Resources Ltd - have been applauded for committing to no deforestation policies after criticism in the past.

Alongside the palm oil industry, paper and pulp companies have also been blamed for haze.

Indonesia's Riau province declared a state of emergency in February as haze from raging forest fires disrupted flights and marine navigation and tens of thousands fell sick with respiratory problems. The airport in the provincial capital closed for more than three weeks.

"The task force the president sent to the field was able to quench the fire but not solve the fundamental problem," Heru Prasetyo, head of Indonesia's REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Andrew Toh in SINGAPORE and Michael Taylor in JAKARTA; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Public sector to lead sustainability efforts: Balakrishnan

Today Online 22 May 14;

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will step up efforts to work with companies to improve the way they manage their resources and adopt practices of the highest standard as it seeks to build a “greener economy”.

Starting next year, large users of water in the main industrial areas, such as Jurong Island, will be required to submit water efficiency management plans, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

They will also work with the MEWR to carry out water-efficient practices, such as using seawater for cooling purposes.

Large users of energy here already need to submit their energy-consumption data and develop energy efficiency improvement plans under the Energy Conservation Act.

Dr Balakrishnan added that the public sector would take the lead in ensuring environmental sustainability.

The MEWR is also reviewing the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint to map out its goals with the people and private sectors, which is slated to be completed by the end of the year.

Dr Balakrishnan said the Public Sector Taking the Lead in Environmental Sustainability framework, which requires public agencies to implement environmental-sustainability measures covering energy efficiency, water efficiency and recycling, would also be enhanced.

The ministry will work further with industry partners to improve air quality, as well as tighten vehicle-emissions and fuel-quality standards.

As concerns over climate change and a growing economy mount, the MEWR plans to build infrastructure that supports Singapore’s needs ahead of demand, such as the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (in its second phase) and Integrated Waste Management Facility in Tuas. It will develop more drainage and water infrastructure to better cope with unexpected weather events, such as flash floods.

To provide Singaporeans with a clean and liveable environment, the ministry is looking at strengthening recycling infrastructure within housing developments.

More greenery will also be added to waterways and water bodies through the expansion of PUB’s Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters Programme.

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Better public infrastructure for a “liveable city”, Government promises

Caryn Yeo Channel NewsAsia 21 May 14;

SINGAPORE: Quality of life will be key areas of focus for policymakers in the second half of the Government’s term, in ways such as increasing public transport capacity, upgrading HDB flats and building more parks, according to a statement issued on Wednesday (May 21).

“We will build a liveable city and an endearing home for all Singaporeans,” the Government said in an addenda statement to President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s address at the reopening of Parliament last Friday.

One key priority for the Ministry of National Development is to step up the Home Improvement Programme to cover another one-third of flats in Singapore - about 100,000 in total - within the next three years.

The ministry will also implement initiatives such as encouraging couples to live near their parents, and making HDB homes and estates elder-friendly, the statement said.

Singaporeans can also expect more recreational facilities, with an expansion of the park connector network and the Round-Island Route, a 150km continuous recreational corridor connecting Singaporeans to parks and places of interest across the island.

The ultimate aim is for “nearly all Singaporeans to live within 400 metres of a park; to be within a 10-minute walk of a sports and recreational facility; and to have convenient access to an island-wide network of arts and culture nodes and heritage trails”, the statement said.

The Government also pledged in the statement to increase the capacity of the public transport system. The Ministry of Transport will undertake a restructuring of the public bus industry, with a new contracting model under which the Government will own all key assets such as bus depots and buses. (Full story here:

The ministry also said it will expand, upgrade and optimise the rail system to ease crowding. There will be major upgrades to tracks and trains, as well as to signalling systems for the oldest lines to run more trains at higher frequencies, and an additional 83 trains to reduce waiting time and crowding.

Incentives to encourage commuters to travel during off-peak periods will also be enhanced, according to the statement.

The ministry will also look into alleviating the taxi shortage by ensuring that more taxis are on the roads, and facilitate better matching of taxi demand and supply.

Amid the infrastructure build-up, the Government will take steps to ensure Singapore remains green. The transport ministry will undertake a trial use of electric vehicles on a larger scale, and study a possible adoption of diesel hybrid public buses.

“Protecting our environment is a collective responsibility,” the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said. To that end, it plans to step up efforts to work with companies to improve their resource efficiency and adopt best-in-class practices.

The ministry said it will also progressively tighten vehicle and industrial emission and fuel quality standards to ensure that Singaporeans can enjoy clean, fresh air.

- CNA/xy

New tech, greenery to raise quality of life
Charissa Yong The Straits Times AsiaOne 22 May 14;

A LACK of size has forced Singapore planners to get creative in the use of both space and technology, experts say, and that in turn has paved the way for the Smart Nation envisioned in the next phase of development.

Yesterday, seven ministries released their brief addenda on how to make Singapore a "liveable city and endearing home".

Their set of broad plans, the third of five to be released this week, added on to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's speech last Friday laying out the Government's priorities for the rest of its term.

A highlight is the plan to tap more new technology to raise the quality of life, and add parks and greenery wherever possible - whether within a 10-minute walk of one's home, or high up on Housing Board blocks. These are a large part of the Government's vision to make Singapore a Smart Nation with better public services and more engaged citizens.

"The problem is that Singapore is a very crowded city. Technology can help by moving people more efficiently from point A to point B," said Professor Bernard Tan of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) information systems department.

For example, traffic lights at junctions with sensors now change according to users' needs rather than at fixed intervals, which improves traffic flow.

This sort of efficiency is crucial as Singapore does not have much space to begin with, said experts.

"It is important for a small city state to adopt these technologies early and, ultimately, innovate," said NUS Institute of Systems Science's chief of research Virginia Cha. "A society with a growing population has more competition for finite resources, which leads to increased friction... When not properly moderated, individuals become more stressed and dissatisfied with living conditions."

But experts agreed that Singapore is off to a good start.

"We have made quite a few steps forward," said Professor Lim Ee Peng, director of the Singapore Management University's Living Analytics Research Centre.

The private sector, he added, already uses smartphone apps that match taxis with commuters.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's latest draft masterplan released last year also promised that almost everyone in Singapore will live within 400m of a park.

Singapore Institute of Planners president William Lau acknowledged that Singapore already leads the global pack in terms of its parks and urban greenery.

"But from the viewpoint of citizens and urban planners, there's a lot more... that can be done," he said. He urged the Government to build more cycling tracks sooner.

Experts said the Government should keep an eye out for issues such as cyber security and privacy concerns. But NUS' Prof Tan said that citizens must also be aware of the trade-offs between the benefits of technology and privacy.

"If I want to enjoy location based services, like being alerted about nice eateries everywhere I walk, I must disclose my location," he said. "The role of the Government is to ensure that information people give up is not subject to abuse."

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World Bank and aid donors accused of enabling land grabs

Millions of smallholder farmers worldwide have been left homeless and hungry because of private investment promoted by policies such as tax breaks and cheap loans, says report
Ellie Violet Bramley 21 May 14;

Aid donors and international institutions including the World Bank and World Economic Forum (WEF) have been accused of promoting an environment that fuels land grabs through policies and initiatives that pave the way for large-scale private investment.

In a report published on Tuesday, the NGO ActionAid says public money and policy incentives such as tax breaks and cut-price loans are facilitating land deals that threaten the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in poor countries.

ActionAid warns that the consequences of such deals, which are too often happening behind closed doors and with little or no consultation with local communities, include "forced evictions, human rights violations, lost livelihoods, divided communities … rising food insecurity and, ultimately, increased poverty".

A spokesman for the World Bank said it was also concerned about the risks of large-scale land deals and stressed that it did not support investments that took advantage of weak institutions in developing countries.

ActionAid's report says weak governance and regulation of land use and agricultural investments have left millions of smallholder farmers and indigenous people in vulnerable situations "lack[ing] recognition over their land rights, even if they have resided in or used the area for generations".

ActionAid's campaign manager, Antoine Bouhey, said a "nexus of different policies" at the global level, which encourage private investment as a route to development, were also to blame.

"Governments are turning to private capital to fill the massive shortfall in public spending but too often this blind rush for investment is leading to land grabs which are leaving communities landless, homeless and hungry. Growth cannot be achieved at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable," he said.

The NGO's report points to the G8's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition as one of the international initiatives "via which taxpayer money and public policies are fuelling land grabs" and failing to ensure strong safeguards to protect the poorest.

The New Alliance was condemned as a new form of colonialism this year, after African governments agreed to change seed, land and tax laws to encourage private investment.

Last month, World Development Movement, the anti-poverty group, said the New Alliance was in effect carving up Africa in the interests of big business.

ActionAid's report also looks at how governments of developing countries are facilitating large-scale land deals through direct intervention in sales and lease agreements, and by introducing public policy incentives such as tax holidays for agribusiness investors.

It says such deals, often justified on the basis of attracting increased investment into food and farming, have come at great human cost.

Public and private investment should be redirected towards supporting sustainable agricultural practices suited to the needs of smallholder farmers, particularly women, says ActionAid. A "zero-tolerance approach" must be taken by governments over land grabs and the incentives that fuel them.

Most of the 1.4 billion people worldwide who live on less than $1.25 a day reside in rural areas and depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Globally, an estimated 2.5 billion people are involved in small-scale agriculture.

A World Bank spokesman said the organisation provided roughly a third of all aid to support countries in improving governance of land tenure. "Securing access to land is critical for millions of poor people. Modern, efficient, and transparent policies on land rights are vital to reducing poverty and promoting growth, agriculture production, better nutrition, and sustainable development," he said. "Our role is to be a leader in assisting countries to improve land governance and the behaviour of private investors."

Lisa Dreier, a senior director working on food security and development at the WEF, said its New Vision for Agriculture helped found the Grow Africa initiative, which created 33,000 jobs and gave 2.6 million small farmers in Africa access to technology, financing and new markets.

"Smallholder farmers are key to the future success of Africa's agriculture and governments can support them by implementing clear rules on land ownership that protect smallholder rights and encourage investment," she added.

What is a land grab?

"Many land deals are, in fact, land grabs carried out without proper consultation, consent and compensation," says ActionAid.

The NGO uses a definition of land grabs that draws on the Tirana declaration, agreed at a 2011 international conference. The declaration defines land grabs as deals that are "in violation of human rights, particularly the equal rights of women, not based on principles of free, prior and informed consent, or are in disregard or fail to thoroughly assess social, economic and environmental impacts, not based on transparent contracts … " or are not based on "effective democratic planning, independent oversight and meaningful participation".

Conclusive, independent data on the scale of land grabs worldwide is hard to come by. ActionAid's report looks at data from the international Land Matrix project, which suggests that the vast majority of large-scale deals have been struck in sub-Saharan Africa (41%), south-east Asia (32%), and the Americas and Caribbean (19%).

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