Best of our wild blogs: 27 May 14

World Environment Day documentary screening: In Transition 2.0
from Green Drinks Singapore

28 Jun (Sat) morning: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Biodiversity for kids during the June school holidays
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Full and Part time Job Opportunities in Freshwater Ecology
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Conversations on Sustainable Singapore (Waste and the 3Rs)
from Green Future Solutions

Recycle Your E-Waste @ Funan DigitaLife Mall
from Otterman speaks

Families and friends having fun at Chek Jawa!
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

eagle vs eagle @ SBWR - May 2014
from sgbeachbum

Butterflies Galore! : Malayan Eggfly
from Butterflies of Singapore

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NTU club pops plan to release balloons

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 May 14;

SINGAPORE - A plan to release several hundred balloons at a Marina Barrage charity carnival was burst after environmentalists convinced organisers of the harm that could be done to marine life.

Nature enthusiasts had voiced concerns that, after the helium balloons deflate and fall in the sea, they would prove deadly to sea turtles and other creatures in Singapore's waters that mistake them for food such as jellyfish.

Less than a day after receiving this feedback on their website and Facebook page last Tuesday, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Cultural Activities Club (CAC) decided to scrap the balloon release as a show of solidarity.

They had planned the release at sunset on June 15 as part of organising Arts From The Heart, a carnival in support of the Children's Cancer Foundation.

A statement posted on the event's Facebook page early last Wednesday morning read: "We have been receiving several concerns over our proposed release of balloons at our event and have made a decision to stop the mass release of balloons in a bid to care for the environment."

In its place, "other suitable, environmentally friendly alternatives" to mark the event will be looked at, said Mr Kenneth Lo, chairman of the event's organising committee.

NTU CAC's president Joel Lim told The Sunday Times no helium balloons would be used at the event, only standard, air-filled ones.

Last December, a balloon release for a New Year's Eve party in Punggol was similarly canned after nature lovers wrote in.

Ms Ria Tan, 53, who petitioned organisers both times, was glad that their U-turns were swift.

"I find that most people immediately understand when we explain nicely the harmful effects of a mass balloon release," said the nature blogger, who has found deflated balloons in mangroves and on beaches here.

These releases are "equivalent to mass littering", she added.

She hopes that with greater awareness, they will soon become a thing of the past.

Professor Chou Loke Ming, a marine biologist at the National University of Singapore, said that balloons and plastic bags that sea turtles swallow would clog up their intestines and kill them.

According to the non-profit US-based Sea Turtle Conservancy, more than 100 million marine animals are killed each year due to debris in the ocean.

"I think most people don't know that the impact is like this when they send balloons into the air. Where the balloons go or end up, they don't have any idea," said Prof Chou.

Related link
Help stop mass balloon release on 15 Jun at Marina Barrage on wild shores of singapore blog.

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Local organisations developing contingency plans in case of haze

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 26 May 14;

SINGAPORE: Experts have warned that an El Nino season in the region, characterised by dry weather and high temperatures, could prolong the haze this year.

Some businesses Channel NewsAsia spoke with, however, said they have yet to implement specific contingency plans to tide them through. But others said it makes good sense to have such plans in place -- both for staff welfare, and to also minimise work disruptions.

The haze has frustrated the region for decades. But last year's episode -- during which the PSI reached more than 400 at its peak -- caught most in Singapore off-guard.

The 2013 haze affected many businesses especially retailers and food & beverage outlets badly -- with some saying they lost as much as half of their business, as many people chose to stay indoors. Some reports also suggested that the Singapore economy could have lost as much as S$1 billion a week.

One year on, public and private entities Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they have learnt important lessons.

The coordinating chairman of the PAP town councils Dr Teo Ho Pin, said: "After the haze in June last year, the PAP town councils came together and we have discussed this to see what are the ways in which we should respond with respect to different levels of PSI in our working environment.

"We also consulted the MOM and their safety guidelines. That's the reason why we have come up with the working protocol with respect to different levels of haze PSI."

Dr Teo said at a PSI of between 100 and 200, N95 masks will be issued to workers at all the 15 PAP-run town councils. Cleaning the estate would consist of quick sweeps, and outdoor work will be reduced.

Beyond a PSI of 200, non-essential work such as block washing will be stopped. And above 300, only essential services such as lift rescue and refuse removal will be undertaken.

Dr Teo said aspects of essential and emergency services may need to be further tweaked if the haze goes on for a prolonged period.

Others will turn to established contingency plans.

In 2013, technology company Bosch offered its 750 employees in Singapore the chance to work at home during the haze. About 150 employees took up the option when the PSI reached "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels.

This was achieved through a tool called the Bosch Communicator -- a voice and messaging system that is installed on all laptops.

It forwards calls from office phones to laptops so that employees remain contactable, regardless of where they are.

Bosch said the tool has been available to employees in Singapore for more than three years.

The company also maintains a stock of masks, and disseminates information through its notice boards at the lobby to facilitate internal communication.

Angeline Kwek, human resources manager at Robert Bosch Southeast Asia, said: "It makes sense because once the basics -- which is the health and safety of the employees is taken care of -- they know what to do in times of emergency.

"That would indirectly ensure business continuity. When they know what they need to do, they will be able to do their work just like any other day."

Bosch said the recent initiative to distribute N95 masks to all Singapore households prompted it to also take action by checking and stocking masks for its employees.

- CNA/ac

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China opens first environmental court

Stian Reklev PlanetArk 26 May 14;

The court established in the southern province of Fujian has appointed 12 specialist consultants who will assist litigators on technical issues, Xinhua news agency reported.

Environmental scandals have plagued China in recent years as the country pursued a strategy of high growth and rapid industrialization. Faced with growing anger over pollution, Beijing has adopted a more environmentally-friendly strategy.

A new environmental law approved last month is expected to give the government power to impose tougher penalties on polluters when it enters into force on Jan. 1 next year.

Hitherto, many companies found it cheaper to pay fines rather than clean up production methods.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

China to scrap millions of cars in anti-pollution push
David Stanway and Kathy Chen PlanetArk 27 May 14;

China to scrap millions of cars in anti-pollution push Photo: Jason Lee
Vehicles drive through the Guomao Bridge on a heavy haze day in Beijing's central business district January 29, 2013.
Photo: Jason Lee

China plans to take more than five million ageing vehicles off the roads this year in a bid to improve air quality, with 330,000 cars set to be decommissioned in Beijing alone, the government said in a policy document published on Monday.

Pollution has emerged as an urgent priority for China's leaders as they try to reverse the damage done by decades of breakneck growth and head off public anger about the sorry state of the nation's air, water and soil.

In a wide-ranging action plan to cut emissions over the next two years, China's cabinet, the State Council, said the country had already fallen behind in its pollution targets over the 2011-2013 period and was now having to step up its efforts.

As many as 5.33 million "yellow label" vehicles that fail to meet Chinese fuel standards will be "eliminated" this year, the document said. As well as the 330,000 cars in Beijing, 660,000 will be withdrawn from the surrounding province of Hebei, home to seven of China's smoggiest cities in 2013.

According to Beijing's environmental watchdog, vehicle emissions in Beijing were responsible for about 31 percent of the hazardous airborne particles known as PM 2.5, with 22.4 percent originating from coal burning. [ID:nL3N0N8144]

Beijing plans to limit the total number of cars on the road to 5.6 million this year, with the number allowed to rise to 6 million by 2017. Last year it cut the number of new license plates by 37 percent to 150,000 a year and is also paying for another 200,000 ageing vehicles to be upgraded.

The State Council document did not say how the plan would be implemented, but Beijing's municipal government has previously offered subsidies of between 2,500-14,500 yuan ($400-2,300) to drivers who voluntarily hand in their ageing vehicles to be scrapped. However, the subsidy didn't cover "yellow label" cars that fail to meet even minimum gasoline standards.

Beijing currently forbids vehicles that do not meet required standards from entering the city, but officials have admitted that China currently lacks the monitoring and policing capability to ensure all cars make the grade, and drivers have also found ways to avoid detection.

"Many vehicles have problems and many didn't even meet the standards when they came out of the factory, and fining them on the streets isn't the way to solve this problem," said Li Kunsheng, an official responsible for transport emissions at the Beijing municipal environmental bureau.

The policy document also set new targets for the closure of coal-fired heating systems as well as the installation of equipment to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at power stations, steel mills and cement plants.

It said China was aiming to cut carbon emissions per unit of economic growth by more than 4 percent this year and more than 3.5 percent in 2015 as it tries to meet a binding 17-percent target set in its 2011-2015 five-year plan.

China also seeks to reduce energy consumption per unit of growth by 3.9 percent this year and next in order to meet a 16 percent target for the 2011-2015 period.

In a report on human rights, China said its spending on energy saving and environmental protection in 2013 rose 14.2 percent year-on-year to 338 billion yuan ($54 billion). "Focusing on solving the major environmental problems that seriously endanger people's health, (China) investigated and punished harshly illegal pollution and environmental crimes, so as to safeguard people's right to a healthy and clean environment," it said.($1 = 6.23 yuan)

(Additional reporting by Stian Reklev, Editing by Nick Macfie)

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