Best of our wild blogs: 25 Jun 14

Young eagle strangled by fishing net
from wild shores of singapore

Green Media Roundtable Discussion: Singapore and the Environment
from Green Future Solutions

Indonesian presidential candidates ignore environmental concerns as haze returns
from news by Rhett Butler

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We’ll work with Singapore over land issue, says Anifah

New Straits Times 25 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has assured Singapore that it remains committed to international law amid concerns over possible massive land reclamation in southern Johor.

Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Malaysia
had been engaging Singapore through the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment (MSJCE).

“The Federal Government, led by the Department of Environment (DoE), has close consultation with the Johor government and the project developers.

“The ministry and other relevant agencies are also engaged in the consultation,” he said in a statement in response to Singapore’s concerns yesterday.

The joint committee is co-chaired by the DoE director-general and the chief executive of the National Environment Agency of Singapore (NEA).

On Saturday, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a statement, said it was concerned about possible transboundary impact from the property development projects that involved reclamation works in the Straits of Johor.

“There are also international obligations for both Malaysia and Singapore authorities to work closely on such matters,” the statement said.

The statement also mentioned that Singapore requested for more information so that it could undertake a study on the impact of the reclamation works.

The Forest City project in Johor would see massive land reclamation work near the Second Link and this has raised concerns across the Causeway.

The project was said to involve several connected islands with a total land size of about 2,000ha — bigger than Pangkor island.

Anifah said the government was committed to fulfilling its obligations under general principles of international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He said the government also took cognisance of the provisions of the 2005 Settlement Agreement between Malaysia and Singapore for the exchange of information and discussions on matters affecting their respective environments in the Straits of Johor.

In Johor Baru, the state government has clarified that the Forest City development project
has stopped for the past week, but were done in stages by developers so as not to jeopardise works in the area.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the state government would not interfere in the matter and would leave it to the DoE and the project developer.

Malaysia in discussion with Singapore over land reclamation work in Johor
rahmah ghazali The Star 24 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Federal Government has assured its counterparts in Singapore that it remains committed to international law amid concerns over possible massive land reclamation work in southern Johor.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Malaysia has been engaging Singapore on this issue through the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment (MSJCE).

"The Government of Malaysia remains committed to fulfilling its obligations under the general principles of international law and in particular, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said on Tuesday.

He added the Government takes cognisance of the provisions of the 2005 Settlement Agreement between Malaysia and Singapore for the exchange of information and discussions on matters affecting the environment of the two countries over the Straits of Johor.

It was reported on Saturday that a project called Forest City would see massive land reclamation work near the Second Link and this has raised eyebrows across the Causeway.

The project is said to involve several connected islands with a total land size of about 2,000ha - bigger than Pangkor island - which could have potential transboundary effects.

Hanifah said the Federal Government, led by the Department of Environment (DOE), is having a close consultation with the Johor state government and project developers.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry and other relevant agencies are also engaged in the consultation.

The MSJCE is co-chaired by the DOE’s Director-General and the Chief Executive of the National Environment Agency of Singapore.

Singapore started voicing its concern after a report appeared in The Star in March on the project by China's Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd and Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.
The project will involve land reclamation to build luxury homes on man-made islands off Pendas in southern Johor.

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Indonesia: Sumatran provinces prepare haze emergency procedures

Rizal Harahap and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 25 Jun 14;

Riau and Jambi, the two provinces in Sumatra that are traditionally worst hit by annual haze caused by forest and land fires, are taking steps to anticipate the potential worsening of the situation due to increasing hotspots.

The Riau administration has reopened the Haze Disaster Response Task Force command post at the Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase in Pekanbaru as part of its efforts to prepare for and combat future haze.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Said Saqlul Amri said every party had to react quickly in responding to the smallest fire, as the heat during the dry season raised the risk of major fires, which would be difficult to tackle.

“The command station aims to coordinate between relevant agencies, regency and city administrations and private-sector entities, as well as to unify command on the deployment of firefighters,” he said on Tuesday.

According to Said, firefighting agendas would be discussed at the command post during morning briefing each day, while report evaluations from all firefighting operational zones and subsequent firefighting locations would be examined daily at 5 p.m.

The administration has set aside Rp 10 billion (US$833,868) to support the firefighting operations.

Heading an initial meeting on Tuesday morning, the Riau administration’s second assistant, Wan Amir, said the governor had appointed his deputy, Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, to be head of the Haze Disaster Response Task Force.

Meanwhile, the person responsible for aerial operations at Roesmin Nurjadin Airbase, commander Col. M. Khairil Lubis, said three helicopters and a patrol helicopter had been put on standby to support water bombing operations at blaze locations.

Khairil said an Indonesian Military (TNI) Air Force Hercules plane had also been prepared to carry out weather-modification sorties, such as cloud seeding to make rain.

Based on images from the Terra and Aqua satellites, the number of hotspots in Riau as of Tuesday morning stood at 97. Despite a drastic drop from the 236 hotspots discovered just the previous day, the hotspots have expanded to 10 of Riau’s 12 regencies and cities. Previously, only eight regencies and cities were detected with hotspots.

“Rokan Hilir, Bengkalis and Pelalawan regencies and Dumai city have been detected as having the highest number of hotspots. “That’s why water bombing has been focused there,” he said.

Separately, Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI Warsi) spokesman Rudy Syaf said on Tuesday that the El Niño phenomenon, which is predicted to occur from July to October this year, had prompted Jambi province to gear up its efforts in combating forest and peatland fires and resulting haze.

According to Rudy, peatland fires would most likely occur during an El Niño because, based on KKI Warsi observations, the peatland in Riau and Jambi was already dry, making it highly combustible. The utilization of peatland by plantation companies is one factor contributing to its dryness.

Rudy said the impact of the El Niño — if it came — would be worse this year compared to 1996, given the current condition of the peatland. The government and plantation companies should have carried out anticipatory measures as, so far, firefighters had only been deployed if and when a fire began, he added.

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Malaysia: Johor hit by haze

Halim Said New Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

JOHOR BARU: The recent dry weather and heatwave have resulted in haze hitting several areas in the state.

The Air Pollution Index (API) reading in the afternoon taken from Department of Environment website on several parts of Johor namely Kota Tinggi, Larkin Lama, Muar and Pasir Gudang showed a moderate level in the air quality.

However, the state government has not issued any directtive on closure of schools yet.

Johor Education, Information, Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Committee chairman Md Jais Sarday said the state government may form a special task force if the haze situation worsened.

"Like previous haze occurrences, the state will form a task force to deal with the haze issue if the air quality worsens," he said at the southern region trademark and industrial design seminar here today.

Poor air quality recorded in Selangor
EUNICE AU New Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

SHAH ALAM: The air quality in Banting reached unhealthy levels today while other areas in Selangor recorded increasingly deteriorating air quality.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) for Banting was hovering around 113 to 121 since 12am.

An API reading between 0 and 50 is good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 100 to 200 (unhealthy), 200 to 300 (very unhealthy) and more than 300 is hazardous.

Dept: Fire cases have doubled in the past week
The Star 24 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The number of open burning, forest and peat fire cases around the country has more than doubled in just a week, from 416 to 999 yesterday.

A check on the Fire and Rescue Depart­ment’s website showed that the number ranged between 61 and 102 cases daily.

It was reported that more than 40ha of land was engulfed in flames last Friday near the KL International Airport as 10 firemen fought to bring the flames under control.

Cyberjaya Fire and Department head Izman Adnan said a major operation was being carried out to stop the peat fire at Km25 of the Elite Highway before its smoke affected motorists and air traffic.

Izman said it was the second time since February that the department had to put out a fire in the area.

Environment and Natural Resour­ces Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said peat land, especially in areas which caught fire often, was under constant monitoring under its standard operating procedure on the Prevention and Management of Fire in Peat Areas programme.

Under the programme, field checks would be carried out daily to monitor the water level at dams and to pump ground water to moisten the peat layers to prevent them from drying and catching fire easily.

The haze affecting several west coast areas in peninsular Malaysia was caused by burning activities in central Sumatra, said Palanivel.

“According to the Singapore-based Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, moderate haze was detected from burning areas in the Riau region last Saturday,” he said.

Port Dickson and Seremban recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index readings as at 4pm yesterday while the air in Cheras was also unhealthy between 2pm and 3pm.

The Department of Environment urged the public to report open burning or forest fires to the Fire and Rescue Department at 999 or its hotline at 1-800-88-2727.

Dry weather to likely bring hazier situation in Peninsular Malaysia
The Star 25 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The hot and dry weather will likely prolong the haze situation in Malaysia while the number of hot spots is expected to increase within the next few weeks, according to the Meteorological Department.

Its spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the increase in the number of hot spots in Sumatra and the change in monsoon winds are likely to bring a hazier situation to Peninsular Malaysia.

“There is a possibility the haze will be worse than that early this year due to the movement of the wind from Indonesia.

“The wind below the upper atmosphere is a bit slow and the haze will move slowly,” he said yesterday.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre reported 116 hot spots detected by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration satellite images in Sumatra on Sunday, and the number increased to 129 a day later.

Fifteen additional hot spots were detected in Peninsular Malaysia, three in Sabah and five in Sarawak.

Dr Hisham said there could be scattered showers in the middle of next week, which could reduce the impact of the haze.

Meanwhile, the air quality in Banting reached unhealthy levels yesterday while several other areas in Selangor recording increasingly deteriorating air quality.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) for Banting hovered from 113 to 121 from noon and by 3pm it was at 125.

Port Dickson recorded readings in the moderate range earlier but passed the unhealthy mark (100) at 8am. It reached 107 at 3pm.

Klang, Batu Muda, Cheras and Putrajaya also showed recordings above 100 at 3pm.

An API of between 51 and 100 is considered moderate, 101-200 unhealthy, 200-300 very unhealthy and 300 and above hazardous.

Sting in the hot, dry weather
The Star 25 Jun 14;

PETALING JAYA: The Aedes mosquito is more aggressive and bites more frequently in hot and dry weather, according to a dengue expert.

Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar, who is with the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Arbovirus Research and Reference at Univer­siti Malaya, said the lack of water makes the mosquitoes more aggressive.

“They will breed and grow faster although their life cycle will be shorter and they will bite more often,” he warned.

He said many people would leave the doors and windows open in the hot weather, enabling mosquitoes to enter their homes more easily.

“They should protect themselves by putting mesh screens over doors and windows,” he said.

Dr Sazaly said there had been a spike in dengue cases at the Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre, with about 300 recorded per week last month, similar to the peak in cases recorded in March.

He advised people to stay indoors during dusk and dawn and use mosquito repellent when outdoors.

“People should wear light-coloured clothing as dark colours attract mosquitoes,” he added.

Dr Sazaly said homes and the surroundings should be checked for containers or places where there was stagnant water.

“During the hot and dry season, any pool of water left by rain attracts mosquitoes to breed.

“Aedes mosquitoes can even breed in an amount of water the size of a 20 sen coin,” he said.

He also advised the public with family members running a high fever to take extra precaution because the Aedes mosquito could spread dengue if it sucked blood from the sick person and then bit another.

Dry spell could see a drop in dengue cases: Subra
FAZLEENA AZIZ New Straits Times 24 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: An average of 1500 of dengue cases were reported weekly but the dry spell could see a drop in numbers Health minister Datuk Seri Dr Subramaniam said.

However, Dr. Subramaniam said the Aedes mosquito eggs can survive for six months without water, only needing some pool of water for it to hatch.

"We are at the peak in terms of number of cases so it is advisable for people especially those storing water to carry out anti-larvae measure to discourage mosquito breeding," Dr. Subramaniam said after launching the Astro Uruthunai Initiatives through 4 Wellness Camps today.

When asked about action taken by local authorities at abandon buildings in the city that are potential mosquito breeding grounds, Dr. Subramaniam said that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had the authority carry out action against building owners.

"Even if the company has gone bankrupt and under receivership, DBKL can carry out anti-dengue operation but the issue lies with the cost, which would have to be borne by them," he said.

Dr. Subramaniam also said that despite the high level of awareness among people on health issues such eating habits, intake of sugar, smoking and dengue, there was still a lack of participation.

He said people don't translate what they know about health related issue into actions.

"We need a change in attitude among the people and instill the importance of having a healthy lifestyle.

"This why wellness camps organised by media organisation are praised by the ministry because they're able to reach a wider scope of people.

"Enhancing the state health in the country is vital because we have become preoccupied with eating, hence becoming the most obese country in Asia and have unusually high diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

"All of these diseases are something within our control," he said.

The Astro Urunthunai Wellness Camp is held from June 28 to July 20 together with Pantai Hospital KL and Pantai Hospital Ipoh.

Venues for the camps are SMK Sultan Ahmad Shah, Cameron Highlands, SJK (T) Batu Caves, Selangor, SJK (T) Persiaran Raja Muda Musa, Port Klang and SJK (T) Kinrara, Puchong, where health screenings activities are carried out.

Saving water most effective way to face El Nino phenomenon
The Star 24 Jun 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Consumers should practice the habit of saving water, which is the most effective step to help the nation face the El Nino phenomenon that is expected to hit next month.

According to researchers, residents in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya should cultivate this habit from now.

Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) Faculty of Environmental Studies deputy dean, Prof Madya Dr Ahmad Makmom Abdullah said saving water was the most effective step to ensure that the water stored in the dams did not drop drastically during the phenomenon.

"We have to start saving water, because it (supply) is not sufficient. We cannot blame the suppliers because they are only trying various initiatives to increase the capacity of the dams, including water from mining pools," he told Bernama on Tuesday.

He said the water crisis would definitely recur, especially in the Klang Valley due to the hot weather and haze, and would have an impact on the water stored in the dams.

Latest records from the Selangor Water Management Authority revelaed that the water level in the Sungai Selangor dam was only at 43 percent and the dam supplies almost 60 percent of raw water to residents in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Water Research and Analysis Centre (ALIR) head Professor Dr Yang Farina Abdul Aziz said statistics provided by the National Water Service Commission (SPAN) in 2012 showed that average, Malaysians use an average of 212 litres of water per person per day while the World Health Organisation recommends only 160 litres of water per person per day.

"Clearly we are wasting water and this has to stop immediately. If not, the water crisis will happen because of the increasing demand for water, she said. - Bernama

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Bird study group gets $200,000 from Singapore donor

David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Jun 14;

A GROUP of volunteers pioneering the study of bird behaviour in Singapore has received a surprise donation of $200,000 from a member of the public who wishes to stay anonymous.

The Bird Ecology Study Group, whose decade-old blog documenting the minutiae of local bird habitsis one of the 10 most visited bird blogs in the world, received the money in April from a Singaporean woman in her 50s.

The avid bird-watcher wanted to contribute towards research that goes beyond simply bird- watching, said former Nature Society Singapore president Wee Yeow Chin, 77.

The group's founder, he single-handedly runs the blog, with input from a few hundred contributors.

"After a while, bird-watching is just more of the same thing," said Dr Wee, a retired botanist who got hooked on studying birds in 2005.

"She wanted to make a contribution to science.

There's so much about our local birds to learn about that most Singaporeans don't know."

With the donor's permission, Dr Wee - who is also an honorary curator at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum - has given the donation to the museum, to hire a full-time avian curator-cum-researcher.

The money will be placed in an endowment fund dedicated to the study of birds, said the museum's new head, Professor Peter Ng.

Once donations to the fund reach about $800,000, interest from it will be sufficient to hire someone.

The museum, which will open early next year, aims to become a "powerhouse for research", said Prof Ng.

He hopes that other passionate champions like Dr Wee will attract donations to the museum in their respective fields of study, be it birds, butterflies, mammals or fish.

It is already raising funds to hire a butterfly researcher, with the help of retired Malaysian entrepreneur T.H. Tan.

An endowment fund for each field ensures the money can be used only for it, Prof Ng said, even if the museum changes tack.

"As the years go on, one generation after another, the research expertise and knowledge will grow and grow. After many decades, we will become very strong."

The Bird Ecology Study Group, whose website has attracted nearly five million visits in total, compiled an online archive last year, listing over 300 species of plants and trees, and the birds which frequent them.

It hopes planners will use the archive to guide them.

And if the museum succeeds in hiring a bird researcher, Dr Wee will know that its work will continue, even if he isn't running the show.

"I've always been worried about how long my work will last," he said.

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Singapore measuring its carbon footprint

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE has started an ambitious five-year project to measure its own carbon footprint, as well as the mitigating effect of the island's greenery.

The authorities want to develop a monitoring system that tracks how much trees, soil and possibly even the grass help to reduce greenhouse gases.

An accurate inventory is needed since international groups, using different calculating techniques, have come up with widely fluctuating emissions figures.

To make sure the system passes muster, the National Parks Board has roped in the National Institute of Education (NIE) and the Austrian Natural Resources Management and International Cooperation Agency (Anrica). Anrica, which comprises several Austrian government agencies and private firms, focuses on climate change and rural redevelopment issues.

The findings will be submitted regularly to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as part of Singapore's obligations as a party to the convention.

The project started last November and will be completed in 2018. It will span five phases, each lasting about one year.

Satellite images will be used to classify Singapore's vegetation into different categories. Sample land plots will be chosen, and researchers are expected to be in the field by the end of this year to collect data, such as trunk diameters, from vegetation.

Soil samples will also be taken as the earth also absorbs greenhouse gases. Ground and satellite data will be plugged into established equations to calculate how much of the gases are absorbed by the various plant species here.

"The report will be an attempt to estimate, with the highest possible degree of accuracy, Singapore's carbon inventory," NIE lecturer and Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said.

Carbon accounting experts said the data could help Singapore take better care of the environment. If the research reveals that a certain plant species absorbs more carbon dioxide, for instance, more could be planted.

A 2010 report by environment group World Wide Fund for Nature ranked Singapore's carbon footprint per person as the highest in the Asia-Pacific, based on all imports here.

The Government disagreed with how this was measured, and said it uses the UN method, which attributes such emissions to the country producing the goods.

Singapore contributes less than 0.2 per cent of global emissions, it added. The Government has pledged to cut emissions by between 7 per cent and 11 per cent below 2020 estimates of 77.2 million tonnes per year.

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Vertical gardens' benefits go beyond dollars and cents

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - Those who live or work in buildings with vertical gardens enjoy being closer to greenery, birds and butterflies, and feel inspired to lead more environmentally friendly lives, they say.

Earlier this month, City Developments (CDL), the developer of the Tree House condominium in Bukit Timah, announced that its 24-storey vertical garden had clinched a Guinness World Record for being the world's largest.

It is one of 154 vertical garden projects in Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) said in response to queries.

Others include vertical gardens in hotel Parkroyal on Pickering and the Ocean Financial Centre, which last held the record of being the world's largest vertical garden.

Vertical gardens are often highlighted for helping save costs by cooling surface temperatures and reducing the need for air-conditioning; but those who live or work in such buildings are quick to point out that the benefits go beyond dollars and cents.

Tree House resident Bernard Lee, 35, for one, pointed out how the garden attracts wildlife, such as birds, butterflies and snails.

Said the civil servant: "We see them on our evening strolls around the estate and these strolls serve as science lessons for our two young kids, aged seven and four."

For Ms Mariquel Pacheco, operations manager at Parkroyal on Pickering, working in the green building has inspired her to lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Said the 28-year-old: "In such a green environment, I find myself making a conscious effort to conserve energy, use less water and recycle paper and newspapers."

A National Parks Board (NParks) spokesman said such gardens can reduce "the urban heat island effects" by cooling surface temperatures by up to 12 deg C - something that Mr Lee can attest to.

"There is no need for air-conditioning during the year-end period. In fact, we had to shut our windows in December last year," he said.

Mr Tan Swee Yiow, president of Singapore operations at Keppel Land, which developed the Ocean Financial Centre, noted that tenants felt that green buildings enhance the overall well-being of employees as they benefit from features such as better air quality.

"The urban plaza at Ocean Financial Centre, where the green wall and art pieces are located, has also become a common meeting place for many in Raffles Place," he added.

There is no specific requirements for a building before a vertical garden can be built, NParks said, although approval is needed from the relevant authorities.

The Government is also encouraging more developers to green their buildings under the enhanced Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (Lush) programme, where developers enjoy perks if they install more skyrise greenery in their buildings.

For instance, those who convert rooftops into gardens at buildings in the Orchard and Downtown Core areas can get bonus gross floor area for an outdoor dining space.

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Mercury tops 36 deg C in hot June

It's been a hot and sweaty June, and the highest temperature in Singapore as of last week was 36.2 deg C.
My Paper AsiaOne 25 Jun 14;

SINGAPORE - It's been a hot and sweaty June, and the highest temperature in Singapore as of last week was 36.2 deg C.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA's) Meteorological Service said that the temperature was recorded on June 10 at Seletar, according to Lianhe Wanbao.

Weather statistics on NEA's website, updated in January this year, indicate the highest temperature recorded here was 36 deg C in March 1998.

The El Nino weather phenomenon is expected to lead to hotter and drier months ahead.

The average daily temperature is expected to be about 1 deg C above average, and rainfall for the month is expected to be slightly below average.

There have also been warnings that this year's haze could be worse than last year's.

Singapore's 24-hour PSI was moderate at 59-64 yesterday, said NEA's haze update. Today's air quality is expected to stay in the moderate range.

But the haze has already started to plague Malaysia, where the Air Pollutant Index (API) reached 126 yesterday afternoon in Banting, a coastal town in Selangor.

The API breached 100 in Port Klang, Port Dickson and Putrajaya, Malaysian media reported. A PSI or API reading of more than 100 is unhealthy.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Service is looking into more precise weather predictions, said director-general Wong Chin Ling.

When implemented in one or two years' time, rain forecast can be made for specific areas like Bishan or Marina Bay, instead of broad regions like north, south, east and west.

For now, the temperature in Singapore is expected to be lower today till Thursday, at 32 to 33 deg C in the day, according to NEA's website.

Thundery showers in the mornings are also predicted.

It's been an unusually warm month
Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Jun 14;

If you think this month has felt warmer than usual - especially at night - you are not mistaken.

The highest and lowest temperatures over the last fortnight have mostly been above the long-term average highs and lows for the month of June, according to figures from the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS).

On all but one day between June 9 and 23, the maximum temperature recorded at the Changi climate station exceeded the long-term average high of 31.3 deg C. On 11 of the last 15 days, the minimum temperature exceeded the long-term average low of 24.8 deg C.

"For June 2014 to date, the average daily minimum temperature is well above the long-term average," said an MSS spokesman. The average daily low for this month to date is 26.3 deg C.

At night, the mercury has also hovered above the range of normal night-time lows for June, which usually lie between 23.2 deg C and 26.3 deg C. The minimum night-time temperature reached 28.3 deg C over the past weekend.

Weather researcher Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said these were "unusual" temperatures.

"They're consistent with the above-average temperatures that we've been seeing around most parts of Asia for the past two to three months," he said. "It could be just a fluke of weather."

He refused to blame the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is predicted to occur later this year, and called for more research to be done to explain the spike in temperatures.

He added that residents in built-up areas will be more likely to feel the heat, which may not have been reflected in the Changi measurements.

The Changi climate station, which must adhere to international meteorological-station standards, is in a vegetated area.

However, urban areas trap more heat and thus register higher temperatures, Prof Chow explained.

Meanwhile, haze from Indonesia's Riau province has spread to western peninsular Malaysia, with air quality in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan at "unhealthy" levels, the National Environment Agency said in a haze advisory yesterday.

Some 143 hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday. The number of hot spots has risen steadily over the past four days, up from 88 last Saturday.

For today, thundery showers in the morning and occasional slightly hazy conditions are forecast for Singapore.

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Scientists Warn That a Widely Used Pesticide Could Be Worse for Bees Than DDT

Todd Woody Yahoo News 24 Jun 14;

The indiscriminate use of DDT in the mid-20th century helped nearly exterminate America’s national symbol, the bald eagle, and the pesticide itself became a symbol of an industrial society at war with nature.

Now, more than 40 years after the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT, thanks in large part to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a class of agricultural pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics) poses an even more serious threat to bees, other wildlife, and entire ecosystems, according to a preview of a report to be published next week by an international group of scientists.

“In the case of acute effects alone, some neonics are at least 5,000 to 10,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT,” wrote the scientists affiliated with the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides. “The evidence is also clear that neonics pose a serious risk of harm to honey bees and other pollinators.”

Studies have implicated neonics in the mass die-off of bees that pollinate a third of the global food supply. Many scientists believe the pesticide is one of several interrelated factors—including disease, parasites, and poor nutrition—responsible for the apian catastrophe that has unfolded over the past decade.

The task force analyzed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies that investigated the impact of neonics and an insecticide called fipronil on insects like bees, mammals, birds, and reptiles. Neonics and fipronil have become pervasive in the environment over the past two decades and now account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market, according to the report.

Neonics and fipronil belong to a class of so-called systemic pesticides that are absorbed into a plant’s roots, stems, leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar. Farmers can spray plants with neonics, but seeds are now routinely treated with the chemical, meaning that as the plant grows the pesticide remains part of the flora.

And increasingly the fauna.

“The combination of persistence (over months or years) and solubility in water has led to large scale contamination of, and the potential for accumulation in, soils and sediments, ground and surface water and treated and non-treated vegetation,” the scientists wrote. “The effects of exposure to neonics range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low (non-lethal) levels can be harmful.”

Neonics are nerve poisons, but the effects extend beyond the pests the pesticide is intended to kill, according to the report, damaging bees’ ability to forage and fly and increasing their susceptibility to disease. They are less harmful to birds and mammals but can have indirect consequences, such as killing off insects those animals eat.

Still, the scientists acknowledged that what they don’t know about neonics far exceeds what they do know. For instance, tests to determine neonics’ toxicity have only been done on four of 25,000 bee species, and few toxicological studies have been carried out on other pollinators, such as butterflies.

And 96 percent of those studies have been performed in the laboratory under controlled conditions. How neonics affect the behavior of bees and other wildlife remains largely unknown.

The full report will be published next week in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research. But the scientists left no doubt about their conclusions.

“The current extensive use of this group of persistent highly toxic chemicals is affecting global biodiversity,” the report’s authors wrote, urging governments to regulate neonics more strictly and to begin a worldwide phaseout. “Their continued use can only accelerate the global decline of important invertebrates and, as a result, risk reductions in the level, diversity, security and stability of ecosystem services.”

Widespread impacts of neonicotinoids 'impossible to deny'
Matt McGrath BBC News 24 Jun 14;

Neonicotinoid pesticides are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial species and are a key factor in the decline of bees, say scientists.

Researchers, who have carried out a four-year review of the literature, say the evidence of damage is now "conclusive".

The scientists say the threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.

Manufacturers say the pesticides are not harming bees or other species.

Neonicotinoids were introduced in the early 1990s as a replacement for older, more damaging chemicals.

They are a systemic insecticide, meaning that they are absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests.

But some scientists have been concerned about their impact, almost since the moment they were introduced.

Much of the worry has surrounded their effects on bees.

There's been a well documented, global decline in these critical pollinators.

Many researchers believe that exposure to neonicotinoids has been an important destabilising factor for the species.

'Worldwide impacts'

In 2011, environmental campaigners, the IUCN, established an international scientific taskforce on systemic pesticides to look into the impacts of these chemicals.

The members have reviewed over 800 peer reviewed papers that have been published in the past 20 years.

Their assessment of the global impact says the threat posed goes far beyond bees.

In their report, to be published next month, they argue that neonicotinoids and another chemical called fipronil are poisoning the earth, the air and the water.

The pesticides accumulate in the soil and leach into water, and pose a significant problem for earthworms, freshwater snails, butterflies and birds.

The researchers say that the classic measurements used to assess the toxicity of a pesticide are not effective for these systemic varieties and conceal their true impact.

They point to one of the studies in the review carried out in the Netherlands.

It found that higher levels of neonicotinoids in water reduced the levels of aquatic invertebrates, which are the main prey for a whole range of species including wading birds, trout and salmon.

"There is so much evidence, going far beyond bees," Prof Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex told BBC News.

"They accumulate in soils, they are commonly turning up in waterways at levels that exceed the lethal dose for things that live in streams.

"It is impossible to deny that these things are having major environmental impacts."
DDT comparison

The scientists are very worried about the prophylactic use of neonicotinoids, where seeds are coated in the chemicals and the plant grows up with the ability to destroy pests already built in.

"It is a bit like taking antibiotics to avoid getting ill," said Prof Goulson, one of a team of 29 scientists involved in the research.

"The more they are used, the stronger the selective pressure you place on pest insects to become resistant to them. Using them as prophylactics is absolute madness in that sense."

The task force argues that with neonicotinoids and fipronil making up around a third of the world market in insecticides, farmers are over-relying on them in the same way as they once became over reliant on chemicals like DDT.

"We have forgotten those lessons and we're back to where we were in the 1960s," said Prof Goulson.

"We are relying almost exclusively on these insecticides, calendar spraying 20 times or more onto a single field, it's a completely bonkers way."

While neonicotinoids don't accumulate in human or animal tissue in the way that DDT once did, the modern pesticides are more lethal, about 6,000 times as toxic compared to the older spray.

Representatives of manufacturers say that there is nothing new in the task force study.

"There is very little credible evidence that these things are causing untoward damage because we would have seen them over 20 years of use," said Dr Julian Little from Bayer, one of the manufacturers of neonicotinoids.

"If you look at the tree bumblebee, it is eating the same food as the other bees, and is being exposed to the same pesticide load and weather conditions and yet it is flourishing, whereas some other bees are not.

"If it were pesticides causing the mass destruction of our fauna, surely you would see effects on all bees?"

The European Crop Protection Association said the task force was being selective in their evidence, pointing to recent studies carried out by industry showing that the declines in bee populations have been overstated.

"We respect the scientists who have produced this research, but it appears that they are part of a movement that brings together some academics and NGOs whose only objective is to restrict or ban the use of neonicotinoid technology regardless of what the evidence may show," a spokesperson said.

Europe already has a two-year moratorium in place meaning that neonicotinoids can't be used on flowering crops such as oilseed rape.

Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a pollinator health task force to look at the impact of pesticide exposure on bees and other insects.

Prof Goulson says that he isn't in favour of a ban.

"We have been using these things for 20 years and there's not a single study that shows they increase yield," he said.

"I'm not personally in favour of an outright ban but I think we should use them much more judiciously - if they don't benefit yield we should stop using them."

Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services
IUCN media release 24 Jun 14;

The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.

Concern about the impact of systemic pesticides on a variety of beneficial species has been growing for the last 20 years but the science has not been considered conclusive until now.

Undertaking a full analysis of all the available literature (800 peer-reviewed reports) the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists affiliated with the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and the IUCN Species Survival Commission has found that there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.

The analysis, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), to be published in the peer-reviewed Journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonics pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonics are a nerve poison and the effects of exposure range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low (non-lethal) levels can be harmful. Chronic damage can include: impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.

“The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT," said Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France, one of the lead authors of the study. " Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

The analysis found that the most affected groups of species were terrestrial invertebrates such as earthworms which are exposed at high levels via soil and plants, medium levels via surface water and leaching from plants and low levels via air (dusts). Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected at even low levels and by acute (ongoing) exposure. This makes them highly vulnerable to the levels of neonics associated with agricultural use.

The next most affected group is insect pollinators such as bees and butterflies which are exposed to high contamination through air and plants and medium exposure levels through water. Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected by low or acute exposure making them highly vulnerable. Then comes aquatic invertebrates such as freshwater snails and water fleas which are vulnerable to low and acute exposure and can be affected at the individual, population and community levels.

While vertebrate animals are generally less susceptible, bird populations are at risk from eating crop seeds treated with systemic insecticides, and reptile numbers have declined due to depletion of their insect prey. Microbes were found to be affected after high levels of or prolonged exposure. Samples taken in water from around the world have been found to exceed ecotoxicological limits on a regular basis.

In addition to contaminating non-target species through direct exposure (e.g. insects consuming nectar from treated plants), the chemicals are also found in varying concentrations outside intentionally-treated areas. The water solubility of neonics mean that they leach and run-off easily and have been found to contaminate much wider areas leading to both chronic and acute exposure of organisms, including in riparian zones, estuarine and coastal marine systems.

They have become the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a global market share now estimated at around 40% and sales of over US$2.63 billion in 2011. They are also commonly used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats and dogs and termites in wood structures.

“The findings of the WIA are gravely worrying,” said Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Chair of the Task Force. “We can now clearly see that neonics and fipronil pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concerns around one species and which really must warrant government and regulatory attention.”

Honey bees have been at the forefront of concern about neonics and fipronil to date and limited actions have been taken, for example by the EU Commission, but manufacturers of these neurotoxicants have refuted any claims of harm. In reviewing all the available literature rather than simply comparing one report with another, the WIA has found that field-realistic concentrations of neonics adversely affect individual navigation, learning, food collection, longevity, resistance to disease and fecundity of bees. For bumblebees, irrefutable colony-level effects have been found, with exposed colonies growing more slowly and producing significantly fewer queens.

The authors strongly suggest that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and further tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil and start planning for a global phase-out or at least start formulating plans for a strong reduction of the global scale of use.

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