Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jun 14

Moonlight survey of Chek Jawa coral rubble area
from wild shores of singapore

Notes on Spider wasps
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Painted Jezebel laying eggs on a Malayan Mistletoe leaf
frpm Bird Ecology Study Group

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Marina Bay Sands strikes shark's fin off the menu

Lim Yan Liang The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Joining a growing list of businesses which have stopped selling shark's fin, integrated resort Marina Bay Sands (MBS) yesterday announced that restaurants it owns and operates will cease selling the controversial dish.

The Sands Expo and Convention Centre - the largest space of its kind in Singapore, which hosted 70 trade shows last year - will also take it off its menus.

The integrated resort joins supermarket chains like NTUC FairPrice and Cold Storage, hotels including Shangri-La and Swissotel The Stamford and restaurants such as Szechuan Court and Xi Yan, which have already stopped offering shark's fin products.

Singapore is second only to Hong Kong in the global trade of shark's fin, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It is also one of the largest consumers of fins per capita.

According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, Singapore imported some 2,700 tonnes of shark's fin each in 2012 and last year. About 2,300 tonnes were exported in 2012, and 2,600 tonnes were exported last year.

Shark finning often involves separating a live shark from its fin. Fishermen may keep only the fin to save space on a boat as the meat is less valuable, throwing the dying shark back in the sea.

The Mice - meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions - industry represents a large customer base for seafood here because of the size of the events they organise, said Mr Yio Jin Xian, 30, a member of the Marine and Land Products Association.

"They are a big customer, definitely bigger than any single hotel or restaurant chain," he said.

Striking shark's fin off the menu at its wholly owned restaurants is proof that MBS is committed to reducing its environment impact, said Mr Kevin Teng, its director of sustainability.

"Rise restaurant and all our celebrity chef restaurants such as Sky on 57 join our banquet and Mice operations in not offering shark fin dishes to guests," said Mr Teng, though "a small number" of pre-October 2013 banquet agreements with shark's fin will still be honoured.

MBS said that, in the last two years, its restaurants and banquets used about 154kg of fins every month.

Mr Teng added that MBS will work with tenant restaurants like Imperial Treasure, Yu Cuisine, Jin Shan and Beijing No. 1 to encourage sustainable practices such as reducing food waste and removing shark's fin from menus.

"We have the unique opportunity to inspire and influence our customers and partners to adopt sustainable practices," said Mr Teng.

Animal rights groups backed the move and hoped that other restaurants and hotels would follow suit.

"Sharks are a crucial part of marine ecosystems and their populations have a direct impact on fish stocks, which in turn affects many things, including our food security in the future," said Ms Elaine Tan, chief executive of World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore. "We commend Marina Bay Sands for leading the way, given its iconic status in Singapore."

Mr Jonn Lu of advocacy group Shark Savers hopes the move is a "hard ban" on shark's fin dishes.

"Some restaurant groups and hotels here have removed shark's fin from their menus, but it's still available on demand," he said. "When we send people undercover or to do cold calls, they'd invariably say they have this option - just that its off-menu."

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Sharing about a 'sharing economy'

Kash Cheong The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jun 14;

Want to make money from stuff collecting dust in your storeroom and go green at the same time?

Six home-grown companies have banded together to encourage people to rent and share items rather than buying them.

The so-called "sharing economy" idea involves people giving away, lending or renting items or offering services to maximise the use of resources and reduce waste, and is expected to surpass US$3.5 billion (S$4.3 billion) in consumer revenue globally last year.

In Singapore, for instance, users can rent out ladders and drills to others for a small fee using a website called Rent Tycoons.

Another website, PandaBed, allows users to rent out rooms to tourists looking for a more authentic Singapore experience living with locals.

PandaBed and Rent Tycoons are two founding members of the Sharing Economy Association (Singapore). The others are Waste is not Waste, an online waste exchange for businesses, iCarsClub, a car rental firm, Leendy, an app that allows people to swop belongings, and BlockPooling, which enables sharing between neighbours.

Regulatory rules can be an issue though. The Housing Board, for example, recently repossessed two flats as owners had rented these rooms out to tourists for less than six months, which is not allowed.

The association said it will talk regularly with Government agencies to address challenges. It will also partner the Singapore University of Technology and Design to study the sharing economy here, and reach out to youth and businesses.

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High-res photos of Indonesian hot spots to go online

Zubaidah Nazeer The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jun 14;

JAKARTA - Sharper eyes will be trained over Indonesia's forests and plantation land from now till the end of the year in a private sector initiative to zoom in on culprits who illegally clear lands for farming by burning them, sending choking haze into neighbouring countries.

World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based environment non-governmental organisation (NGO), is partnering commercial satellite service provider Digital Globe to use high-resolution satellite imagery to watch over Sumatra and Kalimantan, the two main Indonesian islands often blighted by fiery land clearing methods.

The satellite images will be loaded onto WRI's newly launched Global Forest Watch Commodities website and overlaid with land concession maps it obtained from members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The images can be used to plug the weakest link in the fight against illegal burning of land - the availability of credible evidence that could be submitted in court to punish culprits, says Mr Nigel Sizer, global director of WRI's forests programme.

"It will also be useful for efforts to understand why these fires are happening and why there have been so many," he told a recent discussion with the media in Jakarta.

Singapore and the region were blanketed with the worst episode of the haze in 16 years last year, with the Republic's three-hourly Pollutant Standards Index hitting a record 401 on June 21.

Mr Sizer said the satellite images could "show details like a large potted plant on a front porch from hundreds of kilometres up in space". Within hours, sharp photographs of the fires could be obtained, he added.

WRI has obtained 1.6 million ha of concession map areas by RSPO members across five countries, including Indonesia.

For Indonesia, the NGO has maps sourced from the 54 oil palm growers which are members of the RSPO, a non-profit association that promotes sustainable palm oil products.

Separately, ASEAN leaders had last September approved a joint haze-monitoring system - a database that makes use of land concession maps, hot-spot data and satellite images to identify landowners responsible for burning. But Indonesia's Environment Ministry has said maps can only be shared among governments, citing legal obstacles.

Indonesia's presidential working unit is also attempting to put together a single map that reconciles multiple conflicting land-use maps across the archipelago, but some plantation owners have been unwilling to share information.

The Indonesian government has promised over the years to bring culprits to book, but finding the fire-starters and proving their ill-intent in court have been tough.

Since June last year, 27 companies have been accused of burning land illegally but only one, PT Adei, has been charged in court so far.

"Of the eight companies caught last year for burning land, four of them were caught again this March, showing that the companies are not fazed by the threat of legal sanctions and are acting with impunity," said Mr Muslim Rasyid, coordinator of the Riau-based environment NGO Jikalahari.

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Indonesia: Peatland protection needed to curb Riau fires

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 13 Jun 14;

Conservationists and academics in Riau have urged the central government to save remaining peatland areas to prevent fires and the recurrence of haze, as the long dry season approaches.

Riau University Disaster Studies Center director Haris Gunawan said the haze, that affected Riau annually, indicated the failure of economic development approaches in managing and utilizing peatland.

“Material damage from forest and peatland fires in 2014 amounted to Rp 15 trillion [US$1.3 billion]. As many as 2,398 hectares [ha] of forest biosphere were razed, while 21,914 ha of forest were burned and 58,000 people suffered haze-related illnesses. Around Rp 150 billion in state funds was spent on fire control,” Haris said during a discussion in Pekanbaru.

Surveys conducted in four haze-prone regencies — Bengkalis, Meranti, Siak and Rokan Hilir — indicated that the fires were dominant in dried peatland areas as a result of canalization.

“Riau is home to more than 4 million ha of peatland that retain a tremendous volume of water. Peat as thick as three meters can retain up to 2,700 millimeters of water, equivalent to a year’s rainfall. However, development policies do not favor peatland,” said Haris.

“Peatland, which acts as a climate controller and carbon collector, has been overlooked by the government and concession holders, whereas in fact drier peatland increases the potential for fires,” said Haris.

Another potential threat, he went on, was the damage of peatland along the coastline.

“If it dries up and the water level drops, sea water intrusion reaches further inland. If the sea level rose, Riau would vanish,” he added.

Haris also revealed the outcome of a direct observation in Tanjung Leban village, Bukti Batu district, Bengkalis, which proved that burning dry peatland could not be completely extinguished.

The most practical and efficient method of protecting peatland, he said, was watering it by blocking existing canals.

“We can’t create peatland, so don’t damage it. We must have a sense of this crisis. Don’t let the smog choke us so we all become busy [dousing fires],” he said.

Greenpeace Indonesia spokesperson Yuyun Indradi said the annual forest and peatland fires in Riau were mostly due to plantation companies.

He added that the companies were still carrying out irresponsible practices, such as drying wet peatland.

“Nearly three quarters of hot spots in Riau are in peatland areas and 75 percent of all peatland fires in Indonesia took place in the province, said Yuyun.

“An analysis by Greenpeace experts showed the largest hot spot areas in Riau were found in denuded peatland.”

He urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a concrete policy on peatland protection to end the destructive haze cycle. The President has also been asked to fulfill his promise to cut carbon emissions from the forestry sector.

“The moratorium, which was introduced in May, 2011, has not yet been able to protect peatlands,” he said.

“In February, more than 30 percent of hot spots in Riau were detected in areas that were protected by the moratorium. Of the total number of hot spots in the moratorium, almost 80 percent were detected in peatlands.”

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Riau chapter executive director Rico Kurniawan said the government’s policy, obsessed with boosting crude palm oil production, should also be blamed for the haze disaster.

“The issuance of business permits in peatland areas should be revised. The business permits of companies for concessions located in burned peatland areas must be revoked,” said Rico.

Coordinator of environmental group Riau Forest Rescue Working Network (Jikalahari) Muslim Rasyid has urged the government to strengthen law enforcement as it has proven able to suppress the number of hotspots in Riau.

“When the Riau Police were intense in combating illegal logging in 2007, the number of hotspots in Riau reached the lowest level in the history of the Riau haze disaster which has taken place for 17 years,” said Muslim.

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