Best of our wild blogs: 24 Jun 14

BESG gets S$200,000 from a local donor
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Mini Wonders with Chay Hoon
from Hantu Blog

Butterflies Galore! : Brown Awl
from Butterflies of Singapore

Sungei Buloh walk with FASStrack Asia students
from Toddycats!

Read more!

Johor reclamation works stopped

BEN TAN AND CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU: The Department of Environment has issued a temporary stop-work order against all coastal land reclamation works for the development of the massive Forest City off Tanjung Kupang here pending a detailed study.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said any negotiation on lifting the suspension would be between the department and the project’s jointdevelopers, China’s Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd and state-owned Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

“The order came about a week ago and all land reclamation work in the area have been suspended pending further studies on the environmental effects of the project,” hetold the New Straits Times yesterday.

The reclamation works for the proposed 49-hectare Forest City tourist hub project began in early March and was expected to be completed by year’s end.

The project hit a snag after the Singaporean government raised concerns over the state’s coastal land reclamation projects, citing that it might cause trans-boundary issues.

It also sent several diplomatic notes and a formal request to the Federal Government for more information on the state’s coastal projects, specifically in the Straits of Johor.

In a statement, its Foreign Affairs Ministry had said there were international obligations for both countries to work closely on such matters.

Environmental activists have also voiced their worries on Johor’s shoreline reclamation works.

Ayub said the state government would monitor the progress of discussions between developers and the Department of Environment.

“We will wait for the department to complete their studies on the project, after which we will also ensure that all guidelines are met.”

On the concerns raised by the Singaporean government, Ayub said the state government valued the bilateral ties with its neighbour.

“We will look into the issue of other trans-boundary effects because of the land reclamation works.”

Ayub clarified that there was a preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the proposed Forest City project.

“Normally, shoreline reclamation projects below 50ha in size, such as the proposed Forest City project, does not need a EIA report under the Environmental Quality (prescribed activities) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Order 1987.

“However, as the project will have a 80-room hotel, increasing the area’s density, a preliminary EIA report was conducted and its findings submitted to the relevant authorities.”

Country Garden Holdings, which has its international office in Johor Baru, did not reply to queries.

Yesterday, the New Straits Times reported that the Johor government confirmed it had received a request by Putrajaya to furnish details on land reclamation projects in the state.

'Reclamation works do not need EIA report'
The Star 24 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU: Reclamation works under the “Forest City” project, that is feared by Singapore to have a possible impact on the island republic, do not require the Envi­ronmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report as the area reclaimed is not more than 20.2ha.

According to the Johor director of the Department of Environment (DOE) Mokhtar Abdul Majid, currently reclamation works at the Johor Straits, near the Gelang Patah Second Link, only involved an area measuring 19.8 ha.

“As the area reclaimed is not more than 20.2ha, it does not require the EIA report,” he said when asked on the sea reclamation works that drew concern from the Singapore government.

He confirmed that the sea reclamation works at the Johor Straits were being implemented by a developer from China, Country Garden Holdings Ltd, and a subsidiary of the Johor state government, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ).

Mokhtar said the reclamation works began in early March and were expected to be completed within eight months.

Two days ago, the Singapore Foreign Ministry had expressed concern on the possibility of cross border effects on the republic as a result of the real estate development project at the Johor Straits.

Its spokesman said there was an international responsibility on the part of the Malaysian authorities and Singapore to cooperate on this matter and asked Malaysia to submit information on the reclamation works concerned.

Mokhtar said the Johor DOE had already submitted certain information on the Forest City sea reclamation project to the DOE headquarters for further action. — Bernama

Experts, NGOs call for greater oversight
New Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Experts and environmentalists are concerned by the consequences to the coastal environment and the community caused by land reclamation projects along the Straits of Johor.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Environmental Studies lecturer Dr Mohd Yusoff Ishak said coastal reclamation projects would have an adverse environmental impact, particularly with soil dumping.

Yusoff said once soil is dumped onto beaches, mangroves would be affected, especially during high and low tide.

“Mangroves are breeding grounds for fish, and without it many coastal fishing areas and habitats would deteriorate, affecting fishermen.

“In a mangrove ecosystem, some flora and fauna require water, while others require air. When this pattern is altered, the ecosystem of both groups are disrupted.

“Soil dumping means sunlight cannot penetrate into the sea, which will affect seagrass and aquatic plants growing near shallow areas,” said Yusoff.

The Johor government is preparing information about the state’s coastal land reclamation for property development at the request of the Federal Government following a request by Singapore.

The project is located off Tanjung Kupang, in southwestern Johor near the second link bridge to Singapore.

Yusoff said a previous reclamation project by Singapore had affected the movement of Royal Malaysian Navy vessels at the Tanjung Pengelih base near Pengerang and also affected the local community and environment.

He has also urged authorities look into the latest reclamation work at Pulau Merambong and Sungai Pulai, which is near the project site, as both areas are breeding grounds for seahorses.

“These areas, which are within the vicinity of the Port of Tanjung Pelepas, are known to be breeding grounds for seahorses and dugong. When looking at the proximity of the projects, it raises real concerns over the preservation of these animals.”

“With the scale and nature of these projects, it would be best if stakeholders carried out a special assessment to discern its effect on coastal communities.”

He said local groups have also been working to create awareness on seagrass, seahorses and tidal flats in the area.

Environmental Protection Society Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai concurred, saying that mangroves would be most affected by the project.

“When mangroves are disturbed, you are directly affecting nature and the people who rely on the mangroves.”

Nithi said there was a possibility that soil dumping would also impede the movement of vessels.

“Vessels will not be able to move freely because of the shallow seabed.”

He urged stakeholders to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the projects, despite the fact that reclamation of parcels of land were less than 50ha each, and do not require EIAs.

He said an EIA would be able to assess the risks, remedial measures and effects on coastal areas.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia geologist Prof Dr Abd Ghani Rafek questioned if the project developer had conducted a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment, as it was a requirement under the Department of Environment for any coastal projects.

“Construction will have an impact on the movement of vessels in the vicinity. Transportation of construction material also needs specific corridors at sea and on land.”

Controversial reclamation project in Johor Straits halted
Today Online 25 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU — Malaysia’s Department of Environment (DOE) has issued a stop-work order on a massive reclamation project to create a housing development in the Straits of Johor near the Second Link, said a Johor state official.

“The order came about a week ago and all land reclamation work in the area has been suspended pending further studies on the environmental effects of the project,” State Health and Environment Committee chairman Ayub Rahmat was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times (NST) yesterday.

Singapore had earlier expressed concern about the possible transboundary impact from the reclamation work in the Straits of Johor and requested more information from the Malaysian government.

“We have asked the Malaysian authorities to provide more information so that we can undertake a study as soon as possible on the impact of this reclamation work on Singapore and the Straits. They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon,” said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on Saturday.

On Monday, the NST reported that the Johor government confirmed it had received a request from Putrajaya to furnish details on land reclamation projects in the state.

Malaysia media reports earlier said that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also wrote to his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak about the issue, after two diplomatic notes on the matter were sent to Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry last month.

A third note was handed to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mr Wahid Omar, when he visited Singapore recently, the reports said.

Mr Ayub told the NST that any negotiation on lifting the suspension on reclamation work for the development of the massive Forest City off Tanjung Kupang would be between the DOE and the project’s joint developers, China’s Country Garden Holdings and the state-owned Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

“We will wait for the department to complete its studies on the project, after which we will also ensure that all guidelines are met,” he said.

On the concerns raised by the Singapore Government, Mr Ayub said the state government valued the bilateral ties with its neighbour. “We will look into the issue of other transboundary effects because of the land-reclamation work,” the NST quoted him as saying.

The Forest City project involves creating a 1,817ha island almost three times the size of Ang Mo Kio and the construction of luxury homes. The project, which includes a 49ha tourist hub and recreational facilities, is expected to be completed in 30 years’ time.

The NST report said that reclamation work for the tourist hub began in early March and was expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Based on Malaysian regulations, projects that are larger than 50ha in size require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report before they can be approved.

However, The Malaysian Insider reported that, as of June 15, publicly available information on the DOE’s web portal showed that no EIA report was submitted either for the Forest City project or another 1,410ha reclamation project off Tanjung Piai, undertaken by Benalec Holdings for the purpose of building an industrial oil and gas hub. AGENCIES

Johor government orders halt on land reclamation
AsiaOne 24 Jun 14;

Malaysia's Department of Environment has ordered all coastal land reclamation works for the Forest City project be stopped temporarily.

The New Straits Times reported on Tuesday that the stop-work order was issued about a week ago, and all land reclamation works in the area were suspended pending further studies on the environmental effects of the project.

Reclamation off Tanjung Kupang is part of a project handled by Chinese property developer Country Garden Holdings and a Johor government company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

The planned 2,000 hectare man-made island is expected to include a 49-hectare tourist hub. Reclamation works were estimated to finish by end of 2014.

Singapore recently expressed concern over the project, sending a formal request for Malaysia to provide more details so it could study the possible impact on the strait.

Environmental activists also voiced their worries of any negative effects.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat told the Malaysian paper that the Johor government valued its ties with Singapore.

"We will wait for the department to complete their studies on the project, after which we will also ensure that all guidelines are met," he added.

Ayub also told the New Straits Times that there was a preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the proposed Forest City project.

"Normally, shoreline reclamation projects below 50ha in size, such as the proposed Forest City project, does not need a EIA report under the Environmental Quality (prescribed activities) (Environmental Impact Assessment) Order 1987.

"However, as the project will have a 80-room hotel, increasing the area's density, a preliminary EIA report was conducted and its findings submitted to the relevant authorities," he said.

Here is the statement released by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier:

"Given Johor's close proximity to Singapore, we are naturally concerned about any possible transboundary impact on Singapore from property development projects that involve reclamation works in the Straits of Johor.

"There are also international obligations for both Malaysia and Singapore authorities to work closely on such matters.

"We have asked the Malaysian authorities to provide more information so that we can undertake a study as soon as possible on the impacts of these reclamation works on Singapore and the Straits. They have agreed to do so and we hope to receive the information soon."

Read more!

Haze In Malaysia's West Coast Caused By Fires In Central Sumatra

Bernama 23 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 (Bernama) -- The haze, which is affecting several areas of the west coast in the peninsular, including the national capital, is caused by burning activities in Central Sumatra, Indonesia and the southern-westerly that brought it to the country.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G.Palanivel said according to the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC), moderate haze was detected from the burning area in the Riau region last Saturday.

"ASMC reported there are 88 hotspots detected through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite imagery in Sumatra on June 21," he said in a statement here today.

The satellite imagery also detected 17 hotspots in the country, including Pahang and Terengganu (one each), Sabah (five) and Sarawak (10).

Palanivel said the Department of Environment (DOE) constantly monitored open burning while DOE officers were empowered to arrest environmental criminals under section 37 C of the Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 2012.

Meanwhile the DOE portal revealed that 30 areas recorded a moderate air pollutant index (API) nationwide.


Dry season triggers start of nationwide monitoring plan
RAHIMY RAHIM The Star 24 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Open Burning Prevention Plan has been activated nationwide for the authorities to monitor air pollution because of the current dry season, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel.

He said that the change in the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings to the unhealthy level was due to the haze, which normally occurred during the south-west monsoon season, with the hot and dry weather expected to persist until this September.

“Several measures have been taken due to the hot weather and El Nino, including monitoring and enforcement activities, especially areas identified as hot spots.

“Court action can be taken for open burning cases at construction, industrial and farm areas,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page yesterday.

It was reported that unhealthy levels of air pollution were recorded in Port Klang, while other areas in the country recorded moderate and good readings.

An API reading of 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.

Palanivel said aerial surveillance was also being conducted to prevent any form of burning, especially in areas prone to burning and high-risk rural areas.

The Department of Environment (DoE) also recorded a total of 3,854 cases of open burning, involving 825 cases in forest, agricultural areas (1,225 cases), industrial areas (31 cases), construction areas (117 cases), land fill areas (66 cases), bush areas (905 cases) and other small open fires (685 cases) as at June 10.

“A total of 256 cases of open burning have been issued compounds while 86 cases have been given warning orders. 43 investigation papers have also been opened for prosecution in courts,” he said.

Haze: Unhealthy air in Seremban, Port Dickson
VICTORIA BROWN The Star 23 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: Port Dickson and Seremban moved into the unhealthy air category based on the air pollutant index (API) reading at 5pm Monday. Port Dickson registered an API of 101 and Seremban 107.

An API reading of 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).

Areas showing API readings close to unhealthy levels are Banting (96), Balok Baru in Kuantan (97), Bukit Rambai in Melaka (90), and Bandaraya Melaka (90).

However, Cheras' API reading which rose up to 105 at 2pm improved to moderate (73) at 5pm.

Other areas with moderate to unhealthy air are Kuala Selangor (75), Port Klang (77), Petaling Jaya (77), Shah Alam (76), Batu Muda (74), Putrajaya (75).

The API reading could change due to shifting wind conditions. The Department of Environment issues hourly API reading on its website.

The API is calculated based on five major air pollutants, namely Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ground Level Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometers (PM10).

Haze: Several west coast areas close to unhealthy
The Star 23 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The haze looks to be back if the air in Cheras is any indication. The air pollutant index (API) in Cheras showed the district has moved into the unhealthy zone of 105 at 2pm Monday.

Other areas on the west coast with API close to unhealthy levels are Port Dickson (89) and Banting (92). Balok Baru in Kuantan recorded an API of 98.

The air in Malacca is also close to unhealthy with the city centre and Bukit Rambai recording API of above 85.

Areas showing worsening API are Kuala Selangor (80), Port Klang (80), Petaling Jaya (78), Shah Alam (77), Batu Muda (78), Putrajaya (70).

The API reading could change due to shifting wind conditions. The Department of Environment issues hourly API reading on its website.

An API reading of 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).

The API is calculated based on five major air pollutants, namely Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ground Level Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometers (PM10).

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Indonesia: Haze blankets Dumai and Pelalawan in Riau

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 24 Jun 14;

The number of hotspots in Riau province has risen as the dry season approaches, creating a debilitating haze in Dumai and Pelalawan regency.

“The further increase in the number of hotspots has caused Pelalawan regency and Dumai city to be covered by haze,” data and information head at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said on Monday.

Agus added that as many as 236 of the 290 hotspots in Sumatra were located in eight of the 12 regencies and cities in the province, with the highest concentrations found in Dumai (29); Rokan Hilir (97); Bengkalis (46); Pelalawan (19); Kampar (17); Rokan Hulu (11); Kuantan Sengingi (10); and Siak (7) regencies.

According to Agus, the haze had cut visibility in Pelalawan to 5 kilometer (km), while maximum visibility in Dumai in the morning reached just 3 km.

Two days earlier, the number of hotspots in Riau reached 250, but by Sunday the number had dropped to 109.

According to Agus, the increase in the number of hotspots on Monday was due to temperatures that reached 35 degrees Celsius combined with humidity of just 40 percent.

“The weather conditions in Riau are hot and dry, which makes the province prone to forest and peatland fires. Therefore, extreme caution needs to be taken by those engaged in any activities that could spark a fire,” he said.

Based on annual data, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Riau predicted that hotspots in Riau would appear between June and October, with the peak period falling between August and October.

The Riau Health Agency has yet to receive reports on the impacts of haze recurring in a number of regions.

According to Agus, each of the regencies and cities in Riau was equipped with face masks available free of charge to community members who needed them.

Separately, Riau Governor Annas Maamun expressed anger and regret over arsonists who caused hotspots to flare up in a number of fire-prone regions. He urged law enforcers to be firm and fair in dealing with persons connected to forest and peatland fire cases.

“Currently, the number of hotspots is enormous. I urge the Riau Police chief to immediately arrest perpetrators, from the lowest levels all the way to the financiers. Village, neighborhood and community unit chiefs must catch those responsible for starting the fires,” said Annas.

Separately, Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Condro Kirono said he had deployed a patrol helicopter and 30 Mobile Brigade (Brimob) units to help the forest and peatland fire teams in every police sector charged with clamping down on arson and illegal logging.

“Besides daily patrols and campaigning, they are also tasked with securing and monitoring areas that are prone to forest and peatland fires. They have the ability to read GPS devices to aid in the mapping of locations,” Condro said.

“If they find burning areas, the GPS information will help the team coordinate with the nearest police station and local Disaster Mitigation Agency [BPBD] office so that fire-extinguishing operations can be carried out immediately,” he added.

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Singapore Met Service developing more accurate rainfall model

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 23 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE: The Meteorological Service Singapore is working on a modelling system that could forecast more accurate information of heavy rainfall across the island. This means being able to predict where it could rain, and how much rainfall that area could experience.

The Met Service said such a model could be developed within the next year or two, and give authorities a longer lead time than the current 20 to 30 minutes, to react to potential flooding or other situations.

At the Changi Meteorological Station, which is located near Changi Airport, observers take readings of rainfall, runway visibility, wind speed, temperature and the amount of sunlight hours Singapore receives.

A day-shift typically sees about two staff and one supervisor working about 10 hours, while the night shift goes on for about 14 hours.

The observers code the data and disseminate it to the Met Service's headquarters, located within the airport terminal. The data is collated with other information and then passed on to incoming aircraft, as well as the relevant authorities.

The data is also used to make weather forecasts -- ranging from three hours to three days.

However, experts said even with current technological advances, being in the tropics has its challenges.

Dr Chris Gordon, director of Centre for Climate Research at the Met Service, said: "A lot of the rainfall which is a particular aspect of the weather for Singapore is being produced by thunderstorms.

"Thunderstorms have some particular characteristics -- not only do they produce a lot of rain, but they also appear and disappear relatively quickly compared to other types of weather systems in different parts of the world.

"One of the challenges here is how do you forecast such a system that's going to arrive, do its thing, and then disappear in a very short period of time? The other aspect of it is that they're in a very small scale."

Dr Gordon said the Met Service is looking at adapting the existing United Kingdom unified modelling system by plugging in local and satellite data into the model.

By adapting it, the model can give a finer scale resolution of forecasting thunderstorms.

The Met Service also looks at various satellite data to detect haze and hotspots, but this may be hampered by passing clouds and the lack of real time information as some satellites pass through only twice a day.

The Met Service expects better pictures and updates from next year when a new breed of satellites are activated.

The Met Service is also preparing for emerging hazards that could have an impact on Singapore.

One area it is studying is space weather -- where solar flares may cause a disturbance to the Earth's magnetosphere. Such magnetic storms could affect communications, power and satellites.

Dr Felicia Shaw, the deputy director of the Met Service's Hazard, Risk and Impact Assessment Unit, said: "Even though magnetic storms are thought to impact high latitudes more, understanding the impact on the world is going to benefit Singapore because it could potentially impact us.

"We have many sensors for weather, but we may now need new ones for emerging hazards and also expertise because to analyse, to interpret the information, requires a certain intellectual capability."

- CNA/ac

System to raise weather forecast accuracy in the works
SIAU MING EN Today Online 24 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE — The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) is developing a modelling system that will provide more accurate predictions on where and when heavy rainfall will hit areas in Singapore, eventually providing a longer lead time for various parties to react.

The Singv Model, adapted from the Met Office’s unified modelling system in the United Kingdom, plans to narrow the scope of weather data supplied by global met services and incorporate local weather data to provide a more accurate forecast.

Speaking to reporters yesterday on the sidelines of a media tour of facilities at Changi Airport that are used to observe, monitor and forecast the weather, MSS director-general Wong Chin Ling noted that, while the model is not entirely new, it is one that had not really been tried in the tropics.

“We hope the model is actually able to better predict convective-scale — (or) small-scale — localised thunderstorms that are common in Singapore all year round. These are the kind of weather systems we encounter,” she said.

With more accurate forecasts, Dr Chris Gordon, Director for the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, noted that it would also help in contingency planning for floods here, for instance.

Ms Wong added that national water agency PUB would benefit from the longer lead times the forecasts could provide.

The current lead time is between 20 and 30 minutes, and the MSS hopes to eventually improve it to a few hours with the model.

At present, global forecasts can be produced at 12-hour intervals and at coarser spatial resolutions of about 25km — that is, providing weather data, such as temperature, humidity and wind conditions, for every 25km.

The model aims to provide weather data for every 1.5km on the island.

This could mean that, instead of forecasting rainfall over central parts of Singapore, the model could further pin-point it to an area such as Toa Payoh, said Ms Wong.

Likewise, Dr Gordon noted that a 12-hour forecast might miss out thunderstorms that come and go in a few hours.

Thus, to produce more regular forecasts, local weather data — from weather radar and automatic weather stations, for instance — will be included in the model.

Dr Gordon added that the model is expected to produce useful forecasts in the next one to two years, as the team continues to build on its ability to assimilate data.

'Wild weather' not from climate change
Lim Yi Han My Paper AsiaOne 24 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - If you think that global warming is behind the erratic weather patterns here, such as the recent heavy rainfall or dry spell, you may be wrong.

This is because climate change here due to global warming may only be seen a century from now, said Chris Gordon, director of Centre for Climate Research Singapore, which is part of the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) Meteorological Service yesterday.

Global warming is caused by the release of greenhouse gases from human activity. Experts like Dr Gordon say they "cannot definitively answer" what could be the culprit for intense weather patterns such as the heavy rainfall, which led to recent flash floods that have wreaked havoc in parts of Singapore, which included shutting down the Ayer Rajah Expressway last September.

"So it is true that in this region, climate change will also project increasing extreme rainfall, but that is in 100 years' time."

In fact, the current weather changes could be "just a natural variation of the climate", he pointed out, adding that urbanisation may also be a cause, which is the case for other major cities in the region as well.

"(This is because) the actual change in the surface characteristics of the island can affect the convective thunderstorms that we've been having," noted Dr Gordon.

Apart from the intense rainfall, February was Singapore's driest month in nearly 150 years, and the windiest in three decades, according to the NEA.

Going forward, there is "no reason to expect" that Singapore will see more of such conditions but, at the same time, there are also limitations in the current climate models.

But as Singapore is in the Tropics, it makes it more difficult to accurately predict the weather.

This is because tropical weather systems have unique features such as thunderstorms caused by convections, a process where hot moist air rises and forms clouds.

Currently, the accuracy rate of the three-hour forecast is about 90 per cent.

The lead time for a heavy rainfall prediction is about 30 minutes at best, but this could also be improved to more than an hour.

Wong Chin Ling, director-general of the Meteorological Service, said: "The challenge for us... is that there is always this demand for information about where exactly is heavy rainfall going to fall, and how much is this.

"These are very difficult questions for us to address but we are looking into a very high-resolution model and making use of latest technology to help us provide a more reliable forecast of heavy rainfall."

Read more!

Quest to shed light on ocean

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Five Singapore scientists on a sailboat have helped make global history.

The team sailed into the Singapore Strait yesterday to collect marine samples for the first-ever Ocean Sampling Day.

The annual international campaign - which involved scientists at more than 160 sites across the world - aims to collect information on the world's oceans and their organisms, such as the waters' temperatures and salinity, and the roles of its living creatures.

The wealth of data will be shared publicly and allow researchers to better study a wide range of topics, from the waters' relationship to climate change, to when tuna stocks may run out.

The Singapore team was led by former Italian national sailor Federico Lauro, who is now an associate professor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (Scelse).

The other four scientists are from Scelse and NTU's Earth Observatory of Singapore. They were joined by Dr Lauro's wife Rachelle, who handled the expedition's communications with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

The team had selected three sampling sites with the authority's help.

The expedition started at 9am and finished about seven hours later, with 50 litres of water collected from two sites.

The water was filtered through cartridges that retained biological organisms, from tiny phytoplankton to even smaller bacteria. One drop of ocean water contains millions of micro-organisms.

One set of cartridges will be sent to European research centres for analysis, and preserved in the United States's Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum and research complex.

"This will allow future generations, even decades from now, to see what the oceans were like now," said Dr Lauro.

He added that the team will keep another set of cartridges for its own research: "We have machines that can break the cells apart, analyse their components, and then piece them together again like jigsaw puzzles so we know what goes where."

The scientists can then study the parts' functions and extrapolate this to, say, figure out how much carbon dioxide the Strait absorbs. The data can also help determine Singapore's coastal waters' health.

"There's so much about the oceans that we don't know," said Dr Lauro. "This will help us to learn a little - or a lot - more."

Read more!

How to keep Singapore clean

Lee Jian Xuan The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Jun 14;

While enforcement is still needed to keep the streets tidy, more community involvement can set the right values and social norms, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said yesterday.

She was speaking at a group discussion on how best to keep Singapore clean. Organised by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), it involved 63 participants, ranging from youth to grassroots leaders and environmental groups.

The three-hour-long session sought feedback on two issues: littering and keeping community spaces clean.

One group proposed holding a "No Cleaners Day" more regularly at more places, such as town councils and companies. Some constituencies, like Nee Soon South, already have such a practice, which sees members of the public do the job to gain appreciation of what it involves.

Ms Fu said: "It's effective in drawing awareness to the amount of litter that each person is responsible for... but I don't see that we will do it for an extended period of time in too many places."

Other ideas raised included publicly shaming wrongdoers online - as happened last week to a woman who was caught on camera urinating at a lift in Pinnacle@Duxton.

While this would establish a "strong norm" of what is wrong for future reference, Ms Fu stressed that it is important to target the action, not the individual.

Participants agreed that while enforcement was needed to take litterbugs to task, efforts to educate the public on cleanliness must be ramped up.

"We need to get youth more oriented to nature through increased exposure, especially since many of them grow up in an urbanised environment," said kayaking coach Ding Kian Seng, 31, who has observed a lack of awareness and knowledge of nature among his students.

But Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit felt that strict enforcement is still vital to clamp down on a "sizeable minority" of persistent litterbugs.

He said foreign visitors have told him that the Republic is not as clean as it was five years ago.

"Each of us must take responsibility in our sphere of influence, and rally our colleagues, neighbours and friends to apply peer pressure on people who litter."

The discussion is part of MEWR's public consultation efforts for the revision of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. Unveiled in 2009, the blueprint serves as a guide for the country's sustainable development until 2030.

The public can give their comments on public cleanliness via an online form on http://www.sustainablesingapore.

Read more!

Singapore targets highest vehicle emission mark

Christopher Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jun 14;

Singapore will adopt the Euro 6 emission standard for petrol and diesel vehicles as early as 2017, making it possibly the first country in the region to embrace the most stringent regulation to reduce harmful exhaust emissions.

Currently, the standard for petrol and diesel vehicles in Singapore is Euro 4 and 5, respectively.

The emission standards are set by the European Union, and impose strict rules on tailpipe gases of new vehicles sold in EU member states. It has also been progressively implemented in Singapore and other countries.

Singapore's move towards Euro 6 is yet another effort to reduce fine particulate matter in the air - a serious health hazard.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, responding to queries from The Straits Times, explained that the aim was "to address the concern that recently popular compression injection diesel engines and gasoline direct injection engines actually increase the emissions of ultra-fine particulates".

These ultra-fine particulates make up the bulk of particulate emissions and are very small and light.

Apart from tightening up on particulate emissions, the Euro 6 emission standards will also reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides - another harmful air pollutant - said the ministry.

Although the ministry said that it has not arrived at an implementation date, motor industry players said they have been informed of a rollout in the second half of 2017.

While European brands are confident that they will be able to meet such a deadline - all new European cars registered from January will have to be Euro 6-compliant to meet EU requirements - it may be a challenge for the Japanese, as there is currently no equivalent standard in Japan.

A Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific spokesman said: "We are reviewing our product strategy while working closely with the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, who we understand has provided input to the National Environment Agency."
Mr Vincent Ng, product manager at Honda agent Kah Motor, said: "Honda has indicated that a three-year notice would be a comfortable timeline."

That means it needs formal written notice about now.

A BMW Asia spokesman added: "Currently, about 95 per cent of our portfolio is Euro 6-compliant. Only some models require updates... but all are scheduled to be compliant by end-2015."

Mr Neo Nam Heng, president of the Automobile Importer and Exporter Association, said that it has been told of the 2017 implementation.

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Bottle Tree Park reaches end of road

Carolyn Khew My Paper AsiaOne 24 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Last-ditch efforts to save Bottle Tree Park in Yishun have come to nought, as the attraction will close by the end of next month.

The park, which first opened 10 years ago, will finally close its doors after its operator moves out of the leafy surrounds, despite recently putting in a bid to re-develop the area, whose lease expires on Aug 18.

Although the tender is expected to be awarded on Aug 4, Bottle Tree managing director Alex Neo said he "more or less" already knows how it is going to turn out.

According to the Singapore Land Authority website, Mr Neo's firm submitted a bid worth $68,000, well below the top bid of $169,000, which was submitted by Fullshare Group.

Mr Neo said that he did not put in a higher bid because he did not want the rustic enclave to become commercialised.

"If we bid anything more than this price, we would have to think of how to recoup the money... When we first started, we wanted this place to be affordable," added the 54-year-old.

Located just opposite Yishun Stadium, the 7ha park is renowned for its kampung-like atmosphere.

Apart from its interestingly shaped bottle trees, the place has ponds for fishing, a seafood restaurant and paintball facilities, among others.

Mr Neo said it took $4 million to turn what used to be an empty plot of land with old, unused ponds into the much-loved park.

"A lot of hard work and time were put into transforming this place from a bare land into a place that people like," said Mr Neo, who built the place with four other partners.

"Of course, I feel sad that whatever we have developed will now have to be passed onto the next tenant."

The fate of the park has been hanging in the balance over the past year, as Mr Neo's lease was not renewed.

A bottle tree was moved to Satay by the Bay in early April.

In 2012, he also had to shut down his other business in Sembawang, dubbed Bottle Tree Village, when its lease expired.

There are no plans in the pipeline for the park but Mr Neo said that the management is looking for a suitable site.

HR management trainee Toh Ming Xuan, who paid a visit to Bottle Tree Park just last week, said it is a pity that the place will have to go.

"My passion for fishing was started from my maiden trip to the park," said the 25-year-old. "I think the overall atmosphere of the park makes Bottle Tree unique and different from the other pay ponds in Singapore."

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Malaysia: Kuala Penyu set to become key turtle nesting ground again

The Star 24 Jun 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts are under way in Sabah’s southwest Kuala Penyu district to once again become a key nesting ground for turtles.

The district office has set up a turtle hat­chery and the first hatchlings were released to the sea on June 18.

The release spelt hope for local officials as the turtles would often return to nest at the same place where they were hatched.

Kuala Penyu district officer Edmond Teoh said though the area got its name from the turtles that used to land at the beaches to lay their eggs, conservation efforts were never a priority there.

“In the past, turtle landings were quite common but due to irresponsible individuals who harvested the eggs and the female turtles, the number of landings dropped considerably over the years,” he said.

Teoh said the district action committee started a hatchery programme with the state Wildlife Department to revive the turtle population as well as the number of landings.

Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said the effort had begun to pay off as a participant of a turtle awareness programme found a turtle nesting site in Kuala Penyu and transferred 102 eggs to the Turtle Hatchery Centre on April 23.

He said 56 days later, 92 baby Hawksbill turtles successfully hatched and were released along the beaches of Kg Menumpang on June 18.

Dr Ambu said another 105 turtle eggs had since been transferred to the hatchery and another batch of baby turtles would be released soon.

“This programme will take some time to have a direct effect on increasing the turtle population and turtle landings but it is on the right track,” he said.

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Malaysia: Authorities save 1,290 tortoises bound for the pot

SYED AZHAR The Star 23 Jun 14;

KUALA KRAI: The Kelantan Anti-Smuggling Unit intercepted and seized a lorry laden with 1,290 tortoises on Saturday at Kampung Derdap, Tumpat, headed for restaurants in Thailand serving exotic food.

Kelantan National Park and Wildlife Conservation Department director Mohammad Khairi Ahmad said the Unit based in Pengkalan Kubor had tracked the lorry until it reached the border checkpoint in Pengkalan Kubor.

"Based on a public tip-off, the Unit trailed the lorry from Kampung Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas until Kampung Derdap at 6pm. The driver of the lorry abandoned the vehicle after he realised he was being trailed.

"The suspect ran towards Sungai Golok and jumped into the river and escaped into Thailand," he told reporters at a press conference held at the Department's office here on Monday.

Mohammad Khairi added that upon inspection, the tortoises believed to be worth at least RM200,000 were found hidden in 160 plastic containers buried under fish containers.

"This is the biggest haul of a protected species from illegal traffickers so far this year.

"We believed they were destined to restaurants serving exotic food in Thailand, which are highly sought-after.

"The tortoises will be kept by the Department for safekeeping until we decide what to do with it," he said, adding that a well-organised syndicate was believed to be responsible for the cross-border smuggling attempt.

He said the tortoises (Amboina box turtle) were a protected species under the First Schedule of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

Rescued - over 1,000 tortoises bound for Thai restaurants
The Star 24 Jun 14;

KUALA KRAI: More than 1,000 tortoises bound for the dinner table in restaurants in Thailand were rescued by the Kelantan Anti-Smuggling Unit officers here.

Kelantan National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department director Moham­mad Khairi Ahmad said officers based in Pengkalan Kubor near the Malaysia-Thai border had received a tip-off and followed a lorry that was heading to the border check-point.

He added that the officers had tailed the lorry from Kampung Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas until Kampung Derdap at 6pm on Saturday.

The driver, who realised that he was being followed, stopped the lorry and jumped into Sungai Golok before escaping to Thailand.

“Our officers found fish containers inside the lorry. But buried under the containers were 160 plastic containers filled with 1,290 Asian Box turtles.

“The tortoises are believed to be worth about RM200,000. This is the largest seizure of a protected species so far this year,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Mohammad Khairi said the tortoises are protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.

“We believe that the tortoises are destined to restaurants that serve exotic food that are much sought after in Thailand,” he added.

He added that the tortoises would be kept for investigations until the next course of action.

“We believe that a syndicate with expertise in cross-border illegal trade is behind the smuggling attempt,” he said.

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Australia: Coral bleaching an ongoing trend in the Pilbara

Lucie Bell ABC News 24 Jun 14;

Researchers from the CSIRO have just wrapped up their most recent visit to reef ecosystems along 300 kilometres of Pilbara coastline in Western Australia.

They've been collecting data on the health of corals, as part of a five year joint study with the University of Western Australia.

The Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership is now coming to the end of its second year.

Initially researchers mapped the biodiversity in the region and studied the currents, to track how organisms flowed from place to place.

Senior research scientist Dr Russ Babcock, says the team's latest visits, which stretched from sites in the northern Ningaloo right through to the top of the Dampier Archipelago, have confirmed coral bleaching is ongoing and widespread.

"In our initial surveys we found coral bleaching, which seemed to have occurred over the past few years, and we saw more of that in this most recent survey.

"It's quite extensive and seems to be ongoing, even over the past summer.

"A lot of the coral has died and some of the giant corals, that we noticed at the end of last year, are again bleaching and have little patches of algae starting to grow on them."

The bleaching is believed to be due to a series of marine heatwaves, which affected much of the state.

Some of the corals in question are up to 400 years old and while the prognosis isn't good, Dr Babcock says there is a chance that they'll be able to repair themselves.

"We'll have to hope that they can recover naturally, but it's going to take a long time for other corals to grow to that size and replace them in the context of the whole reef."

The health of larger corals is being assessed using a coring method, according to Dr Babcock.

"These giant varieties are very interesting, in that they record their growth over the centuries, laying down rings similar to the way trees do.

"A team has been going out to bore down with a drill core into some of these corals to collect samples, which they'll analyse back in the lab to look at things like growth rate.

"They can even use ratios of chemicals in the coral core to determine the water temperature at the time the coral was growing."

The team will return to the Pilbara for more site assessments in around 12 months time.

Dr Babcock says the researchers' work will be made available to other government agencies, including the WA Department of Fisheries and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Ningaloo spared coral damage

Exmouth's major tourism drawcard, the Ningaloo Reef, seems to have been the exception to the widespread coral bleaching trend.

The CSIRO worked with local authorities to assess the reef, following April flooding which was described as a once-in-a-century event.

Dr Russ Babcock says the area was protected mainly due to the narrow continental shelf.

"It [the shelf] makes it easier for deep cool water to come up and mix with shallow warmer waters, keeping the reef at a more even temperature.

"The main part of the Ningaloo seems to have been pretty well protected from the bleaching, so it's a real sanctuary for corals in the region.

"You only have to go across the other side of the cape, to Bundegi at the top of the Exmouth Gulf, and the bleaching is really severe from there right across to the eastern side of the Gulf."

Local authorities from the Department of Parks and Wildlife will continue to monitor the Ningaloo Reef in coming months.

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Plastic Waste Causes Financial Damage of US$13 Billion to Marine Ecosystems Each Year as Concern Grows over Microplastics

UNEP press release 23 Jun 14;

Nairobi, 23 June 2014 - Concern is growing over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year, according to two reports released on the opening day of the first United Nations Environment Assembly.

The eleventh edition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Year Book looks at ten issues flagged as emerging by previous reports over the past decade, including plastic waste in the ocean. The UNEP Year Book 2014 gives an update on each issue and provides options for action. Other areas covered include the environmental impacts of excess nitrogen and marine aquaculture, air pollution's deadly toll, and the potential of citizen science.

Valuing Plastic, a UNEP-supported report produced by the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) and Trucost, makes the business case for managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry. It finds that the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is US$75 billion - financial impacts resulting from issues such as pollution of the marine environment or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic.

The report says that over 30 per cent of the natural capital costs of plastic are due to greenhouse gas emissions from raw material extraction and processing. However, it notes that marine pollution is the largest downstream cost, and that the figure of US$13 billion is likely a significant underestimate.

"Plastics have come to play a crucial role in modern life, but the environmental impacts of the way we use them cannot be ignored," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director. "These reports show that reducing, recycling and redesigning products that use plastics can bring multiple green economy benefits - from reducing economic damage to marine ecosystems and the tourism and fisheries industries, vital for many developing countries, to bringing savings and opportunities for innovation to companies while reducing reputational risks."

"Our economies are still largely fossil-fuel based, with the environmental, economic and health costs hidden," he added. "For example, in the polar regions, scientists have recently found tiny pieces of plastic trapped in sea ice. Transported by ocean currents across great distances, these contaminated particles eventually become a source of chemicals in our food. The key course of action is to prevent plastic debris from entering the environment in the first place, which translates into a single powerful objective: reduce, reuse, recycle."

A large and unquantifiable amount of plastic waste enters the ocean from littering, poorly managed landfills, tourist activities and fisheries. Some of this material sinks to the ocean floor, while some floats and can travel over great distances on ocean currents - polluting shorelines and accumulating in massive mid-ocean gyres.

There have been many reliable reports of environmental damage due to plastic waste: mortality or illness when ingested by sea creatures such as turtles, entanglement of animals such as dolphins and whales, and damage to critical habitats such as coral reefs. There are also concerns about chemical contamination, invasive species spread by plastic fragments, and economic damage to the fishing and tourism industries in many countries - by, for example, fouling fishing equipment and polluting beaches.

Since 2011, when the UNEP Year Book process last looked at plastic waste in the ocean, concern has grown over microplastics (particles up to 5 mm in diameter, either manufactured or created when plastic breaks down). Their ingestion has been widely reported in marine organisms, including seabirds, fish, mussels, worms and zooplankton.

One emerging issue is the increasing use of microplastics directly in consumer products, such as microbeads in toothpaste, gels and facial cleansers, the Year Book says. These microplastics tend not to be filtered out during sewage treatment, but are released directly into rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Communities of microbes have been discovered thriving on microplastics at multiple locations in the North Atlantic. This "plastisphere" can facilitate the transport of harmful microbes, pathogens and algal species. Microplastics have also been identified as a threat to larger organisms, such as the endangered northern right whale, which is potentially exposed to ingestion through filter-feeding.

Production trends, use patterns and changing demographics are expected to cause increasing plastic use, and both reports call for companies, institutions and consumers to reduce their waste.

Valuing Plastic finds that consumer goods companies currently save US$4 billion each year through good management of plastic, such as recycling, and that there is potential for greater savings. However, plastic use disclosure is poor: of 100 companies assessed, less than half reported any data relevant to plastic.

"The research unveils the need for companies to consider their plastic footprint, just as they do for carbon, water and forestry," said Andrew Russell, Director of the PDP. "By measuring, managing and reporting plastic use and disposal through the PDP, companies can mitigate the risks, maximize the opportunities, and become more successful and sustainable."

Initiatives such as the PDP and the UNEP-led Global Partnership on Marine Litter have helped raise awareness of, and begun to address, the issue. However, much more needs to be done. Recommendations for further action from the reports include:

Companies should monitor their plastic use and publish the results in annual reports.
Companies should commit to reducing the environmental impact of plastic through clear targets and deadlines, and innovate to increase resource efficiency and recycling.
There should be an increased focus on awareness campaigns to discourage littering and prevent plastic waste from reaching the ocean. An application that allows consumers to check whether a product contains microbeads is already available and is expanding its coverage internationally. It can be downloaded from
Since plastic particles can be ingested by marine organisms and potentially accumulate and deliver toxins through the food web, efforts should be stepped up to fill the knowledge gaps and better understand the capacity of various plastics to absorb and transfer persistent, toxic and bioaccumulating chemicals.
"Natural capital valuation has the power to help organizations understand their environmental impacts, including pollution of the ocean," said Richard Mattison, Trucost Chief Executive. "By putting a financial value on impacts such as plastic waste, companies can further integrate effective environmental management into mainstream businesses. By highlighting the savings from reuse and recycling, it builds a business case for proactive sustainability improvements."

Other issues

"Ten years ago UNEP alerted the world to the development of dead zones in coastal waters resulting from excess nitrogen seeping into the water," said Mr. Steiner. "That was in the first edition of the Year Book series. In the intervening period many more emerging issues have been identified, with some rising to crisis level and others showing encouraging improvement."

"The 2014 Year Book shows how scientific endeavours and policy actions have led to innovative solutions and vital advancements," he added. "It reconfirms the critical role that the environment plays in maintaining and improving the health of people and ecosystems; from well-managed soils and nutrients that underpin food production to the critical role of biodiversity in protecting human health against the spread of infectious diseases. Clean air in our cities prevents the premature death and illness of millions and can save society trillions of dollars."

The UNEP Year Book 2014 lays out the state of play in critical areas, including:


First looked at in 2003 by the Year Book team, nitrogen continues to be used inefficiently as a plant nutrient in many of the world's agricultural systems. The amount of usable nitrogen produced by humans is now about 190 million tonnes per year, greater than the 112 million tonnes created through natural processes.

As nitrogen moves through the environment, the same nitrogen atom can contribute to multiple negative effects in the air, on land, in freshwater and marine systems, and on human health. This sequence continues over a long period and is referred to as the "nitrogen cascade".

Excess nitrogen in the environment contributes to many problems, including:

Coastal dead zones and fish kills due to severe eutrophication (a high concentration of nutrients, which leads to excessive plant growth and oxygen deprivation). There are currently over 500 known coastal dead zones in well-studied areas of the world, whereas in 2003 only around 150 such oxygen-depleted areas were reported. Once other regions start reporting, it is estimated that 1000 coastal and marine areas will be identified as experiencing the effects of eutrophication.
Nitrogen emissions to the air, notably those of nitrous oxide (N2O), contribute to climate change. Sometimes referred to as the "forgotten greenhouse gas", N2O is over 300 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Human activities such as agriculture, deforestation and fossil fuel combustion are increasing the amount in the atmosphere.
Better management practices are essential for improving nitrogen use efficiency, the Year Book finds. This is the most cost-effective option for reducing nitrogen losses to the environment from agricultural sources.

According to the recent UNEP-commissioned report, Our Nutrient World, a 20 per cent improvement in global nutrient use efficiency by 2020 would reduce annual use of nitrogen by an estimated 20 million tonnes. This could produce savings of between US$50 and US$400 billion per year in terms of improvements in human health, climate and biodiversity.

Marine Aquaculture

Aquaculture production has increased since the 1950s from 650 thousand tonnes to almost 67 million tonnes, and today provides half of all fish for human consumption. Marine aquaculture production by volume grew by 35 per cent during the last decade, while production in fresh and brackish water grew by 70 and 83 per cent, respectively.

While progress has been made towards making marine aquaculture more sustainable, environmental concerns remain. Fish farms can release nutrients, undigested feed and veterinary drugs to the environment. They can also increase risks of diseases and parasites and of harmful algal blooms. In some countries, certain forms of shrimp farming have destroyed large areas of coastal habitats, such as mangrove forests.

Healthy marine ecosystems are fundamental to reaching development goals, with respect to securing food and providing jobs. Marine aquaculture's impacts and predicted growth call for strengthened efforts towards environmentally sound development of the sector to avoid the loss of important ecosystem services.

Technical innovations, the experience and growing skills of aquaculture producers, and improved knowledge of environmental impacts and operational and governance opportunities provide hope for a sustainable marine aquaculture sector supporting a growing world population with food and livelihoods.

Air Quality

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2012, air pollution led to around 7 million premature deaths (one out of eight total global deaths), more than double previous estimates. It is the leading cause of environmentally related deaths.

Air quality is deteriorating in most cities where there are sufficient data to make comparisons with previous years. The WHO guideline for average annual fine particulate matter is 25 microgrammes per cubic metre. Cities in low- and middle-income countries far exceed this level. For example, in Kathmandu, Nepal, particulate matter (PM2.5) levels of over 500 microgrammes per cubic metre have been measured.

The cost of air pollution to the world's most advanced economies, plus India and China, is estimated at US$3.5 trillion per year in lives lost and ill health. In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the monetary impact of death and illness due to outdoor air pollution is estimated to have been US$1.7 trillion in 2010. Research suggests that motorized on-road transport accounts for about 50 per cent of that amount.

In light of the high costs related to the health and environmental effects of air pollution, all countries should invest in clean air policies, the report says.

Daily global air quality indices are available on UNEP Live:

Citizen Science

Citizen science, research conducted in whole or part by the public, can go beyond simple data collection to help shape fundamental questions about our world and provide intriguing answers, the report finds. It has grown in the past decade, due in part to the Internet, social media, and other technologies. Opportunities to volunteer to take part in scientific research have exploded, from analyzing cancer data to theoretical physics.

Indigenous groups can make important contributions through citizen science, including the use of traditional knowledge, to help protect resources and influence environmental policies. Data and other information generated through citizen science projects have been shown to be reliable and accurate. However, there are barriers to realizing the full potential of citizen science, which can be overcome by:

Better coordination among scientists and project developers to make use of and collaborate with established and proven projects, in order to reduce the redundancy of projects.
Stronger recognition of data from citizen science by scientific communities.
Global coordination to aggregate and analyze data generated by citizen science, which would help reveal valuable information that might be useful for policymakers.
Additional information

The UNEP Year Book 2014 is published in the form of an App and can be downloaded here: and

Valuing plastic: the business case for measuring, managing and disclosing plastic use in the consumer goods industry can be downloaded here: The report will be discussed by Richard Mattison, CEO of Trucost, at the Plasticity Forum conference in New York on 24 June 2014. Information is available here:

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UN: World's forests fundamental to human well-being

Mark Kinver BBC News 23 Jun 14;

A senior UN official has described the world's forests as "fundamental" to human well-being and survival.

Eva Mueller, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Forestry Division, said trees provided a direct source of food, fuel and income.

Commenting on the findings of the UN's State of the World's Forest report, she added forests habitats were home to an estimated 80% of global biodiversity.

The report has been published at a UN forestry meeting in Rome, Italy.

She added: "Food from the forests - like fruit, nuts, mushrooms, leaves, roots, insects and wild animals - often contributes a nutritious supplement to rural people and provides a safety net in times of hardship.

"Forests, trees, farms and agroforestry systems contribute to food security, nutrition and livelihoods in several ways including as a direct source of food, fuel, employment and income," Ms Mueller explained.

"They are fundamental to the survival of forest dwellers, including indigenous people.

The report, which was published at the start of the UN's World Forest Week, said that it was time for the sector to shift its focus from "trees to people".

Knowledge gap

It stated: "State of the World's Forests (SOFO) 2014 argues that this will enable the development of the socioeconomic benefits from forests to meet the growing demands of society, while maintaining the integrity of the forest resource base.

"Across the world, forests, trees on farms, and agroforestry systems play a crucial role in the livelihoods of rural people by providing employment, energy, nutritious foods and a wide range of other goods and ecosystem services.

"They have tremendous potential to contribute to sustainable development and to a greener economy. Yet, clear evidence of this has been lacking."

In the findings, the report's authors said income from the formal forestry sector accounted for about 0.9% of the global economy. However, the informal income (from woodfuel, construction materials, food etc) took forests' contributions to about 1.1% of the global economy.

In employment terms, the formal sector provided 13.2 million jobs, while an estimated 41 million livelihoods were dependent on the informal sector.

The report also outlined the importance of forests' contribution to food and nutrition security. In 2011, it observed, about 10.9kg of edible non-wood forest products (NWFP) were consumed per capita globally.

As a fuel, it estimated that one-in-three of the world's population depended on woodfuel for cooking, while 764 million people used woodfuel for boiling drinking water.

Ms Mueller added forests also played an important role indirectly in people's well-being.

"Forests are important providers of ecosystem services," she said. " For example, they help to deliver clean water by protecting water sheds and water courses.

"For most of the year, herders in arid and semi-arid lands depend on trees as a source of fodder for their livestock.

"As habitat for an estimated 80% of the world's biodiversity, forests provide genetic material important for crop and animal improvement, and are home to many pollinator species."

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Environment, economy linked at new UN assembly

Associated Press By JASON STRAZIUSO Yahoo News 23 Jun 14;
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The first-ever United Nations Environmental Assembly opened in Kenya on Monday, as more than 150 high-level delegations began a weeklong examination of the intersection between global economic progress and the environment.

The environment is no longer a niche topic backed by a passionate minority, Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Environmental Program told The Associated Press, but is clearly linked to economic and societal issues.

The changing environment — including climate change, pollution, land degradation and access to water— shows that the world's economy needs to be reinvented or progress will suffer, Steiner said. The U.N. recently upgraded UNEP's standing and the weeklong assembly is the highest-level U.N. body ever convened on the environment.

"Wherever you live on the planet these phenomena are going to change the lives and economies of people, whether it's in Ohio, somewhere in Siberia or western China," Steiner said.

Sanjaasuren Oyun, minister of environment and green development in Mongolia, told the opening session that a shift toward more environmentally sound policies is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Oyun on Monday was elected the president of the newly constituted U.N. Environmental Assembly.

The conference will discuss ways to increase the progress of what is known as the green economy, including alternative energies, smart grids and new transportation options. Delegates will also look at the illegal wildlife trade, including rhino and elephant poaching. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to attend later in the week.

UNEP, Steiner said, argues that the world is on the verge of a technology revolution that in the coming decades will allow humans to tap into endless sources of energy. That will fundamentally change a continent like Africa, where 70 percent of residents today don't have access to electricity.

Put another way, he said, the globe will see another block of people the size of China demanding access to energy. Already, Steiner said, air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths a year, four times the combined number of deaths from AIDS and diarrhea, a huge killer in Africa.

"A healthy environment is about healthy people," Steiner said. "What we are doing is helping people understand how people will live better and longer and how their children will have a world that is not so polluted that the quality of their lives will be compromised."

World leaders recognize that global environmental cooperation must be achieved, Steiner said.

U.S. President Barack Obama this month proposed new rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The proposal has been well received in Africa, which is seen as being highly vulnerable to changing climate patterns, changes African leaders blame on the West.

Obama's announcement sent a strong signal that the U.S. will undergo a sustained and serious effort to bring down its carbon footprint, Steiner said. Climate change is a dramatic driver of a rethinking of global economies, he said.

"At the beginning of the 21st century the environment and natural resources are perhaps more critical than ever before in allowing our economies to advance," Steiner said.

If economic penalties such as carbon taxes are not adjusted and the world continues to see the environment as an expendable commodity for national development, "we are facing an increasing dramatic set of scenarios where tipping points kick in and we reach a point of no return," Steiner said.

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Highest Global Temps on Record for Month of May

Becky Oskin Yahoo News 23 Jun 14;

Last month was the warmest May ever measured on Earth in 134 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today (June 23).

The record warmth comes from a combination of global warming and a natural climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño, scientists think.

Several regions around the world suffered record heat in May, while a few were colder than average, but NOAA looks at the planet's overall temperature to gauge global trends. The average combined land and ocean surface temperatures in May were 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit (0.74 degrees Celsius) higher than the 20th-century average of 58.6 F (14.8 C), NOAA said in a statement. The last time May temperatures dipped below the 58.6 F average was in 1976, according to NOAA. The last below-average month was in 1985.

May's toasty temperatures were boosted by record-setting surface heat in the tropical Pacific Ocean, NOAA said. The global sea surface temperatures during May jumped 1.06 F (0.59 C) above the 61.3 F (16.3 C) average, also a new May record. [Video: Watch 60 Years of Rising Temperatures]

This Pacific Ocean warmth is a feature of the vast El Niño climate event developing in this region. During an El Niño year, typical Pacific weather patterns reverse, with bathlike warm water replacing cold currents in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

This huge swath of warm water strongly points to an El Niño, a periodic climate swing that can shift global weather patterns, such as rainfall and drought. However, forecasters still haven't officially declared the "child" has arrived, because atmospheric signals still lag behind the ocean temperatures. The chances for an El Niño fully developing are now at 80 percent by fall, NOAA said.

Whether El Niño arrives sooner or later, as the Pacific's oceanic heat wave continues to pump warmth and moisture into the atmosphere, global temperatures will likely continue to rise this year, scientists think. The warmest years in the past decade featured El Niños, and the previous record for warm ocean temperatures in May was set in 1998, another El Niño year.

May's record warmth continues a long-term trend, NOAA said. The last 351 months have been warmer than average, and much of the planet was unusually hot in recent months. Here are some highlights from the NOAA report:

Australia saw its third warmest May on record, with record highs set in South Australia.
South Korea sweltered through its warmest May since record-keeping started.
Alaska had its sixth-warmest May since 1918.
Scotland had its warmest spring on record.
Norway also welcomed its warmest spring since 1900, and one of the wettest.

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