Best of our wild blogs: 15 Jul 14

Special snails at East Coast shores
from wild shores of singapore

Long-tail macaque research students Joys and Chui Ting to speak at Jane Goodall’s birthday celebration!
from Otterman speaks

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5 things about the Sisters' Islands, Singapore's first marine park

FABIAN KOH Straits Times 15 Jul 14;

Singapore's southern Sisters' Islands, together with its surrounding waters, has been designated as the first ever marine park in the nation's history.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee announced this on Saturday morning at the annual Festival of Biodiversity, a nature-education fair held at the VivoCity mall.

Here are some things you might be curious to know about the island:

1. The Legend

A very long time ago, there were two sisters named Minah and Lina, who were inseparable.

One day, a pirate came along and sought younger sister Lina's hand in marriage, but she rejected him as she did not want to be away from Minah. The pirate then kidnapped Lina and brought her onto his boat.

In a desperate attempt to save her younger sister, Minah jumped into the water and swam after the boat, but soon started drowning. Upon seeing this, Lina freed herself from the pirate and jumped into the water to save her sister. But a large wave engulfed them and everyone died.

When the storm subsided, the sisters were gone, but two islands emerged at the spot they had perished.

Big Sister's Island, also known as Pulau Subar Laut (3.9ha), and Little Sister's Island, otherwise known as Pulau Subar Darat (1.7ha), are now collectively called the Sisters' Islands.

It is said that every year on the day the islands were formed, there would be heavy rain and thunderstorms.

2. The marine park

The 40ha park, the size of about 50 football fields, will include the western reefs and seashore areas of nearby Pulau Tekukor, a former ammunition dump, and St John’s Island, currently home to research and recreational facilities.

The intertidal area at the marine park is most suitable for visitors during low tides of 0.4 metres and below. That is when you will be able to see all the marine life which are otherwise underwater and out of sight.

Guided walks are conducted free of charge. Each session had been capped at a maximum of 15 people, but raised to 45 upon high demand.

The first two guided trips in August are already full. The National Parks Board on Tuesday released dates for six more walks between September and December. These trips will be opened for public registration in phases at a later date at Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park will protect Singapore’s coral reefs, which support an ecosystem consisting of rare species of seahorses, clams and other marine life.

Notably, over 250 species of hard corals can be found in Singapore’s waters, 32 per cent of the global total.

NParks will conduct studies to work out how many people currently visit the islands, how many the area can handle, and which areas are safest to walk in. It will also install stepping-stones or boardwalks to give public access while protecting delicate areas.

3. Getting there

For those who signed up with the NParks tours, transport to and from the islands will be provided.

For others, Singapore Island Cruise provides a private charter service from Marina South Pier to the Sisters' Islands.

A two-way trip would cost $400 for a boat that can sit up to 12 people, for one day. An average boat ride to the island takes 40 minutes.

Once there, you can swim and snorkel around the lagoons and reefs.

Camping is also possible, but do remember to apply for a permit.

While having a picnic at the Sisters’ Islands, do not share your food with the local long-tailed macaques. These monkeys can be aggressive. Do not leave food unattended, and clear all rubbish properly into the monkey-proof bins provided.

4. A safe haven

Located close to one of the world’s busiest ports, the marine park will provide a refuge for the vast marine wildlife around the Sisters' Islands and its surrounding waters.

One of the research projects planned at the new park is the reintroduction of giant clams, which are endangered in Singapore.

On Tuesday, Dr Neo Mei Lin, 28, a research fellow at the Tropical Marine Science Institute, planted a lab-grown giant clam underwater off Big Sister's Island.

The area has all along been rich in marine life.

In 2011, for instance, the Neptune’s Cup sponge, long thought to be extinct, was rediscovered off St John’s Island.

5. Success of the Blue Plan

In 2009, civil society groups had presented a Blue Plan. It was the most comprehensive proposal yet to save Singapore’s coral reefs, and called for the Government to formally designate high-biodiversity areas. Among them were Sisters' Islands and the southern islands.

The marine conservation Blue Plan, over a year in the making, was compiled by a team of academics, environmental organisations and civil society groups.

Calls to save Singapore’s reefs date back to the 1980s and 1990s, and the Blue Plan was one in a long line of proposals.

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More guided walks planned for marine park

Alice Chia and Siau Ming En Channel NewsAsia 15 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: More dates have been set aside for guided walks at Singapore’s first marine park, after all 90 places for the walks in August were taken up in just three days, the National Parks Board (NParks) said on Tuesday (July 15).

The guided walks at Sisters' Island Marine Park will now also be held on Sept 10 and 11, Nov 23 and 24, Dec 22 and 23. Those who are interested can sign up at NParks’ website from Aug 1.

The two-hour walks, led by trained volunteer guides, will take up to 45 participants each day, to be divided into three groups of 15. Participants will be introduced to marine species like the giant clams, black sea cucumbers and seahorses, among others. The groups are kept small so as to protect the marine life, NParks said.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a guided walk along Sisters' Islands on Tuesday, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said NParks will also look at how to manage the number of people visiting the area to strike a balance between conservation and visitorship.

"We have bookings online, so we control the numbers through guided tours. Of course people are free to visit the island, but when they do so, we strongly encourage them to be respectful of the biodiversity and fragile ecosystem here," he said.

Future plans for the marine park include building a marine research centre on St John's Island next year and installing light infrastructure, such as stepping stones, to give the public access while protecting delicate intertidal areas.

- CNA/cy

Six more dates released for guided walks at Singapore’s first Marine Park
SIAU MING EN Today Online 15 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE — More dates have been set aside for the introductory guided walks on Singapore’s first Marine Park.

Spanning some 40 hectares — about the size of 50 football fields — around Sisters’ Islands, the western reefs of both St John’s Island and Pulau Tekukor, these areas were chosen for their variety of habitats, including coral reefs, sandy shores and seagrass areas.

Previously, only two dates, Aug 14 and 15, were released for these guided walks. The National Parks Board (NParks) said these sessions have been fully subscribed despite tripling the capacity for the guided walks from 15 to 45 people per day.

Six more dates have since been set for the guided walks, on Sept 10 and 11, Nov 23 and 24 and Dec 22 and 23. Each session can accommodate up to 45 people.

These two-hour guided walks will be jointly organised by NParks and nature groups such as WildSingapore and Nature Society Singapore. Visitors will be introduced to marine species like the Giant Clams, Black Sea Cucumbers, Seahorses, among others.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the guided walk along Sisters’ Islands today (July 15), Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said NParks will also look at how to manage the number people visiting the area to balance conservation against visitorship.

“We have bookings online, so we control the numbers through guided tours. Of course people are free to visit the island, but when they do so, we strongly encourage them to be respectful of the biodiversity and fragile ecosystem here,” he said.

As the guided walks are currently limited to the shores off Sisters’ Islands, Mr Lee said certain areas will have to be maintained first for research and education purposes before considering if they will be opened to members of the public.

Future plans for the marine park include building a marine research centre on St John’s Island next year and the installation of light infrastructure, such as stepping stones, for the area.

Strong demand for tours at S’pore’s first marine park
SIAU MING EN Today Online 16 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s first marine park, located on islands off Singapore’s southern shores, has drawn keen interest.

The number of places for the first two guided tours, which will be held next month, had to be tripled, and all 90 slots have been taken up.

Yesterday, during an introductory guided walk for the media and Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced six more dates for these guided walks from September to December.

Although the marine park, which spans about 40ha around the Sisters’ Islands and along the western reefs of St John’s Island and Pulau Tekukor, is publicly accessible, these two-hour guided tours are led by trained volunteers who can share their knowledge of the origins, habitats and fun facts about these marine species, which are unique to the waters there and visible only during low tide.

These species include carpet anemone, moon snails, black sea urchins, sea stars, octopus, flower crab and black sea cucumber. Coral reefs, relocated from the Pulau Semakau landfill, can also be seen on the shores.

Guides will also share some dos and don’ts with visitors during these walks, such as walking on sandier parcels wherever possible to avoid stepping on the coral reefs.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park — roughly the size of 50 football fields — was first announced by Mr Lee during the launch of the Festival of Biodiversity last Saturday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the walk yesterday, Mr Lee said NParks would look at how to manage the number of people visiting the area to strike a balance between conservation and visitorship.

“We have bookings online, so we control the numbers through guided tours. Of course people are free to visit the island, but when they do so, we strongly encourage them to be respectful of the biodiversity and fragile ecosystem here,” he said. “We want to focus on positive conservation. We do not want to emphasise on prohibition — you can’t do this, you can’t do that. We would rather educate people, share with them and open their eyes to the tremendous beauty and education opportunities on this coral shore.”

On the possibility of setting up more marine parks in the future, Mr Lee said the focus for now would be on establishing the education, research, outreach and conservation aspects of the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park.

He shared some future plans for the marine park, including building a marine research centre on St John’s Island next year and investing in light infrastructure, such as stepping stones and boardwalks, to allow visitors to tread around the shoreline without damaging the fragile coral.

Citing Chek Jawa as an example of how NParks was able to manage the spike in public interest in the area after reclamation plans were called off, Ms Ria Tan, founder of wildlife site, believes the board will be able to handle the new park.

“The marine park announcement garnered a huge amount of public interest. NParks has the experience, so I am quite confident that they can manage it well,” she said.

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Malaysia: Thousands of caged fish found dead near Danga Bay, Johor

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 15 Jul 14;

Gone to waste: Kua (third from right) inspecting some of the dead milkfish at a fish farm near Danga Bay in Johor Baru.

JOHOR BARU: Thousands of caged fish were found dead at fish farms around Danga Bay, with breeders blaming reclamation work in the area as the cause of their losses.

Fish farmer Tay Yong Peng claimed thousands of his milkfish, weighing more than 10,000kg and worth an estimated RM60,000 in two cages, had died.

He said that other breeders also suffered huge losses due to the reclamation work that had been carried out over several months for a planned expansion of the Danga Bay leisure city.

Tay believed that sediment from the reclamation process had polluted the water and entered the fish’s gills, causing them to suffocate and die.

“This is unfair to the fish farming and fishermen community here as our livelihood has been badly affected due to some irresponsible developer,” he said, adding that he supplied up to 1,000kg of milkfish in the country.

Tay, who co-owns 68 cages of milkfish at his farm near the Danga Bay site, said he was devastated when he noticed the bulk of his fish dead in their cages.

“There were hundreds of fish lying dead in the water, while some looked ill as their eyes were swollen when I saw the cages early on Sunday,” he said yesterday.

“The reclamation had been going on for the past few months but we never received any notice from either the developer or the Fisheries department about the works being done so close to our farms,” he added.

Johor MCA public service and complaints bureau chief Kua Song Tuck urged the developer to come forward and compensate the losses that the fish farmers had to bear due to the land reclamation works.

“Since the area has been largely reclaimed, the depth of the water has also dropped from 6.10m to a shocking 1.52m, making it unsuitable for fish breeding.

”I hope the Fisheries Department can help to look into the matter and maybe allocate some other area for fish breeding purposes.

“Also, provide some aid to local fishermen whose livelihood has been robbed by the developer,” Kua added.

The department and the developer were not available for comments.

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Malaysia: 43 to face rap for open burning

New Straits Times 14 Jul 14;

PUTRAJAYA: The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has opened 43 investigation papers on open burning to be produced in court for legal action.

Its minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the ministry had slapped 303 compounds for open burning and issued 94 warning letters from January until July 12.

He said 4,371 cases had been recorded so far this year — 897 cases in forest areas, 1,433 in agricultural areas, 34 cases in industrial areas, 897 cases in construction sites, and 69 cases involving landfills, 1,003 cases in bush areas while 803 involved small open burning cases.

“We will beef up enforcement during the haze season, which could lead to arrests of individuals believed to be responsible for committing offences.”

Palanivel said a provision in the act allowed the ministry’s officers to arrest individuals without the need for a warrant, adding that some 194 officers had been given training and special authorisation letters to enforce the provision.

Those convicted face a maximum fine of RM500,000 and five years’ jail. The ministry could also impose RM2,000 fine for smaller offences.

Air quality drops to moderate level in more areas
The Star 15 Jul 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality in four more areas in the country dropped to the moderate level on Tuesday, raising to 24 the number of places with such air quality compared to Monday.

The highest moderate Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 67 was recorded in Kg Air Putih in Ipoh, according to the Department of Environment (DoE) portal.

It gave the API readings for the other places as Seberang Jaya 2, Perai (65), Bakar Arang, Sg Petani (64), Nilai, Port Klang and Cheras, Kuala Lumpur (60), Jalan Tasek, Ipoh and Seri Manjung (59), Pasir Gudang and the Historical City of Malacca (58), Perai (57), USM (56), Banting and SK Jalan Pegoh, Ipoh (55), Bukit Rambai, Port Dickson, Shah Alam and Kemaman (54), Tanah Merah (53), Kuala Selangor and Petaling Jaya (52), and Muar, Alor Star and Tanjung Malim (51).

An API reading of between zero and 50 indicates good air quality; between 51 and 100, moderate; between 101 and 200, unhealthy; between 201 and 300, very unhealthy and over 301, hazardous.

Members of the public can refer to the DOE portal at to find out the API reading for their areas. - Bernama

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After the peat fires, Riau shows down-to-earth approach to ending haze

Warief Djajanto Basorie Jakarta Post 15 Jul 14;

Riau takes pride in being a major oil exporter. But one export it wants to stop is haze.

In late February through March, the province in central Sumatra withstood wildfires that razed 21,000 hectares of drained and dried peat swamps. It is a serious problem: half of Riau is an extensive peat ecosystem.

At the height of the fires on March 2, satellite images counted 1,234 hot spots spread across five regencies and the port city of Dumai.

The fires were caused by deliberate peat burning to clear the land for lucrative oil-palm planting. The police arrested 116 individuals suspected of arson.

The Environment Ministry found burning had been done on land operated by 26 companies. Big growers lost their palm crops to the wildfires. Small growers with plots of up to 5 hectares (ha) were also unable to harvest.

Canals have been built to drain the moist peat swamps that cover much of eastern Riau. Dried peat allows for easier burning. However, the fires spread quickly due to the brittle-dry peat brush and strong winds.

Unlike in June 2013, the wind did not blow eastward across the Malacca Strait — fortunately, for Malaysia and Singapore.

The burning plants also released great amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Any buildup of large volumes of carbon gases in the atmosphere can accelerate global warming.

More than three quarters of Indonesia’s carbon emissions start from carbon-rich areas. More than 70 percent of this comes from outside forest zones, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). This means peat fires.

Riau’s peat ecosystem suffers from bleeding, or over-drainage. This makes the peat, which is accumulated decayed vegetation, highly vulnerable to fire. The province’s 4 million-plus ha of peat land is half that of the whole of Sumatra’s peat expanse.

The wildfires were such that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hastened to Riau and oversaw the firefighting effort from Rusmin Nurjadin Air Force Base outside Pekanbaru, the provincial capital.

As peat can run deep — more than 3 meters underground — total extinguishing of such fires is no sure thing.

The bill for material losses was estimated at Rp 15 trillion. Some Rp 150 billion was spent on putting out the fires, according to the BNPB.

Wildfires occur annually in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, which have big peat ecosystems. In the midst of the Riau wildfires, Riau University (Unri) on March 3 set up its Total Solution on the Haze Hazard task force (STBA).

The task force seeks to apply approaches from an academic perspective to prevent wildfires from recurring.

Many motivated faculty members in multiple disciplines have joined the STBA initiative. The task force chief is Unri rector Ashaluddin Jalil, while Haris Gunawan is secretary.

One approach in haze mitigation is to restore the function of burned-out peat swamps as a safeguard against wildfire. Tanjung Leban village in Bengkalis regency is one place where widespread fires occurred, causing considerable damage.

Tanjung Leban is a five-hour drive north of Pekanbaru. Tanjung Leban, and particularly its subvillage of Bukit Lengkung, suffered greatly. A big fire happened on Feb. 20 destroyed homes and the small family-owned oil-palm plots.

Village head Haji Atim said he encourages residents to plant pineapples. Pineapples are easy to grow and can be harvested in one year. The fruit is marketable and can resist fires because of its thick leaves, he said.

Atim has 12,000 pineapple seedlings in a 50-by-50 meter plot behind his house. “The village now has 80 hectares planted with pineapples. We have procured big buyers who will take the produce,” he said.

Pineapples are a short-term solution. A long-term option is forest plants. Haris was guided on a visit to a 2.5 ha experimental plot owned by Muhammad Nur, a local elementary school teacher.

Nur said he had allowed his land to be used as an experimental plot to grow seven commercially viable but environmentally friendly forest plants to replace the less eco-friendly oil palm he previously raised, which was repeatedly burned.

The land, like most parts of eastern Riau, was originally moist peat swamp that was drained for oil-palm cultivation. Now Nur’s land is being rewetted by blocking the water flow in two canals on either side of the plot.

As the 3-meter-wide canals are blocked by stacks of sandbags, the water level in the canal rises and is absorbed by the canal banks. This water feeds into the ground and sustains the plants grown on the plot.

“I’ve allowed Dr. Haris from the university to use my land as an experimental plot in 2012 to replace the oil palm that was constantly destroyed by wildfire. Hopefully the seven forest plants grown here can give promise,” said Nur.

Nur admits that harvesting may not come for five to 10 years after planting. Apart from the long-term commercial return, a co-benefit is preserving these species of forest plants to allow younger generations to realize that there are such natural assets.

But what can cause threats to the plot? “Fire,” Nur replied matter-of-factly. But he is confident the moist soil can lower that risk.

Haris concurred. “We are in the beginning of the dry season. Fires could flare again,” he admitted. The Jakarta Post reported on June 26 that satellite images had identified 386 hot spots across Sumatra, with 95 percent occurring in Riau.

Haris explained that the blocking of the canals allows the peat in the soil to regain its moisture. This serves two functions. It induces multicultural cultivation against the water-hungry monoculture of oil palm, while a functioning wet peat swamp can be a fire check and a flood buffer.

Peat up to three meters thick can hold up to 2,700 millimeters of water. This volume equates to one year’s rainwater. Haris is a peat specialist and wears another hat as director of Unri’s Center for Tropical Peat Swamp Restoration and Conservation (CTPRC).

Haris has the vision to use this experimental plot as an example for all parts of Tanjung Leban and Riau, if not the country, that these forest species can re-green drained-out peat land and reduce carbon emissions.

“The wildfires were an extraordinary crime. This [rewetting of drained peat] is one way to stop fires,” Haris asserted.

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