Best of our wild blogs: 23 Jul 14

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve - Our Ailing Forest
from Mountain and Sea

The rarest of the three large herons of Singapore
from Life's Indulgences

Common Flameback feeding on rambutan
from Bird Ecology Study Group

NASA: Sumatra fires in the rise
from news by Rhett Butler

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Malaysia: Johor Port expansion may be affected by Forest City project

SHARIDAN M. ALI The Star 18 Jul 14;

THE country’s biggest and the world’s 16th largest transhipment terminal, Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP), may face difficulties in increasing berths beyond its phase 3 expansion plan due to reclamation works from the ambitious Forest City project near Tanjung Kupang, according to a source familiar with matter.

PTP, a 70% subsidiary of MMC Corp Bhd, is located at the west of the Forest City project in Johor.

According to previous media reports, the Forest City project is backed by the Johor royal family.

“Phase 3 of PTP’s expansion plan will see an additional three berths that will increase the terminal’s annual handling capacity to between 13 million and 14 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from the present 10 million TEUs, which will be completed in two years’ time.

“Beyond this, the port would have problems in expanding as the Forest City project is lapping over the concession area of PTP. This may result in loss of competitiveness for the port against the massive expansion plan by ports in Singapore,” he tells StarBizWeek.

It has been reported that the project developer, China’s Country Garden Holdings, planned to raise a 2,000ha man-made island in the strait to build luxury homes over the next 30 years. Its partner in the project is Johor state company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

It is also reported that a strip sandbank stretching from the mangrove swamps in the south of Johor Baru to the middle of the narrow Johor Strait can be seen from the Second Link some 2km away.

The sandbank is supposedly the first part of this massive project and will be expanded into a 49ha island, roughly the size of 70 football fields.

According to news reports, PSA Singapore Terminals continues to boost capacity via phase 3 and 4 of its Pasir Panjang Terminal. The development will add 15 new berths and nearly 19,700 ft of quay at drafts of up to 59 ft, taking total port capacity to more than 50 million TEUs units per year by 2020, up from its capacity of 35 million TEUs now.

Navigation of vessels

This concern has been raised by certain interested parties, but Johor Port Authority (JPA) in a news report said that coastal reclamation works would not affect the navigation of vessels in the waterway.

JPA general manager Muhammad Razif Ahmad was quoted as saying that all port operations were going on as usual and no vessel operators had reported obstacles caused by reclamation work along the straits.

“There have been no reports that port operations at the PTP, Pasir Gudang Port and Port of Tanjung Langsat are affected,” he said recently.

It is also alleged that reclamation works could increase the sedimentation and eventually raise the height of seabed leading to PTP.

PTP in 2012 embarked on a RM1.4bil expansion programme to cater to the new-generation 18,000 TEU vessels.

PTP has managed to entice Maersk Line to make the port as its regional transhipment hub, moving away from Singapore in 2009, where it also owns 30% of PTP through its port unit APM Terminals.

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Malaysia: Forest City project will not damage ecosystem - Firm

MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 23 Jul 14;

JOHOR BARU: The huge Forest City project that will be taking shape off Tanjung Kupang, near here, will not damage the ecosystem between Malaysia and Singapore, state company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor Sdn Bhd (KPRJ) said.

Before the reclamation works for the man-made island started, Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV) had conducted several tests on the possible environmental impact to the surrounding areas, said Datuk Md Othman Yusof, executive vice-chairman of KPRJ, one of the stakeholders in CGPV.

“We appointed a consultant to carry out hydraulic works to see whether the island will affect the water currents in the designated area.

“The test results proved Forest City will not have a negative impact on the environment,” he told a press conference at the KPRJ office in Danga Bay here yesterday.

“Furthermore, the first phase of the reclamation work is for a 49ha to build our showroom,” he said.

The 2,000ha project – expected to involve the biggest man-made island in the region with a size larger than Pangkor Island – had also raised eyebrows across the causeway.

The Singapore government was reportedly perturbed over the project, which would take three decades to complete, because of the massive reclamation involved.

Furthermore, Singapore said there were international obligations that both countries had to be concerned about.

At around the same time, the Department of Environment (DOE) issued a temporary stop-work order on the reclamation works, pending a detailed study.

RM600 billion Forest City to bring positive impact to locals
CHUAH BEE KIM New Straits Times 22 Jul 14;

JOHOR BARU: The RM600 billion Forest City development will bring more positive impact than negative ones to the people of Johor.

Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ) executive vice chairman Datuk Md Othman Yusof told a press conference here today that the development will bring direct and indirect returns to the state government which will then channel it to the local folk.

Md Othman said the taxes paid by those who occupy the man-made island will be used to build low-cost houses in suitable areas in Johor.

He said the project will also not affect the sea ports, namely, Port of Tanjung Pelepas but complement it.

Property values in the surrounding areas like Gelang Patah will also increase.

However, the stopwork order on reclamation works after several issues were raised had not only caused the developer Country Garden Property View to suffer financial loss, it may also shake the investors' confidence.

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360 volunteers go on litter-picking mission in Bedok

Amelia Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jul 14;

Joining the volunteers yesterday was Dr Balakrishnan, who said people need to change their attitude that “someone will pick up after me”.

Just two years ago, it would be easy to spot cigarette butts, used tissue paper and empty food packets in parks and at the foot of HDB blocks in Bedok.

But Bedok is much cleaner now, thanks to residents and grassroots leaders who roam the neighbourhood regularly to pick up trash. Yesterday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan joined one of these litter-picking efforts in Bedok at an event called "Operation WE Clean Up!".

More than 360 volunteers from schools and other groups took part in the exercise held by the Public Hygiene Council, the Singapore Kindness Movement and the Keep Singapore Beautiful Movement.

They collected about 120kg of garbage after combing through the neighbourhood for an hour.

Speaking to reporters on the event's sidelines, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore may have gained a worldwide reputation for being a clean city, but it can do much more to improve.

One thing that needs to change, he said, is the "someone will pick up after me" attitude.

Dr Balakrishnan said he saw a man throwing a cigarette butt even as volunteers were picking up rubbish around him yesterday morning.

"He did not seem to care. This attitude has to change," he added. Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit agrees.

He recently saw Singaporeans throwing out litter from their cars at a multi-storey carpark in a new estate.

"I saw young, educated couples who did not care that they were littering the ground by throwing out large pieces of rubbish," he said. Yesterday, the council also introduced a litter picking toolkit, which includes trash bags and wet wipes.

It will be distributed during other litter-picking events held this year.

The council is not alone in its efforts to keep Singapore clean.

Anti-littering volunteer group Waterways Watch Society organised a competition to get Singaporeans to submit photographs of the dirtiest places here earlier this year.

Bedok Citizens Consultative Committee chairman Chia Ngiang Hong said community-led anti-littering activities work. "Residents feel bad and stop when they see their neighbours cleaning up their trash," he said.

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Malaysia: Haze in 5 states, schools close

New Straits Times 23 Jul 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze caused a drastic drop in air quality in at least four west coast states yesterday.

It forced the closure of several schools in Perak and prompted
advice for donning of masks outdoors.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor ranged from moderate to very unhealthy level, according to the portal of the Department of Environment (DoE).

In Ipoh, Perak education director Mohd Idris Ramli said six primary and nine secondary schools in the Manjung coastal district, with an enrolment of 5,945, were ordered to close their afternoon sessions.

As at 6 pm, the API in Manjung was at the ‘very unhealthy’ level of 260.

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.

Today’s morning session at the schools would be cancelled if the API remained above 200, said Mohd Idris.

He named the affected primary schools as Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Seri Manjung, SK Kampung Dato Seri Kamarudin, SK Methodist (ACS), SK Methodist, SK Convent and SK Simpang Empat.

The secondary schools are Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan
(SMK) Seri Manjung, SMK Ahmad Boestamam, SMK Seri Samudera, SMK Nan Hwa, SMK Methodist,
SMK Methodist (ACS), SMK Tok Perdana, SMK Ambrose and SMK Dato Idris.

The API for Kampung Air Putih in Taiping was 131 and SK Jalan Pegoh in Ipoh was at 117 at 6pm.

In George Town, the API at an unhealthy level was recorded in several areas, according to Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin.

He said the API in Prai reached 102, Seberang Jaya, 114 and Universiti Sains Malaysia was at 101 at noon.

“The people are advised to wear masks when outdoors and reduce any activity that can expose them to
the unhealthy air,” he said in a statement.

He also advised road users to take extra precautions when driving through hazy areas.

In Selangor, the DoE portal reported the API for Kuala Selangor and Port Klang at 119 and 111, respectively, at 6pm.

In Kedah, the API reading for Bakar Arang, Sungai Petani, was 100 at 6pm.

In Perlis, the reading in Kangar was 72 at 6pm. Bernama

Haze: Unhealthy level in southern Kedah
ZAHRATULHAYAT MAT ARIF New Straits Times 22 Jul 14;

ALOR STAR: Southern Kedah is blanketed by haze as the Air Pollutant index (API) in Sungai Petani and Bakar Arang hit the unhealthy level of 111 as of 9am today.

Alor Star and Langkawi recorded API of 96 and 59 respectively as of 9am, while in Kangar, Perlis the API was recorded at 78, according to the Department of Environment (DOE).

The air pollution level is categorised as good from zero to 50, moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101 to 200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301 and more).

Haze: All schools in Manjung district closed after API recorded very unhealthy
SYLVIA LOOI New Straits Times 22 Jul 14;

MANJUNG: All 102 schools in the district have been ordered closed after the Air Pollutant Index (API) here recorded very unhealthy level.

A source said students in the morning session were allowed to return home at 11am while all schooling for the afternoon session had been cancelled.

A senior assistant of a secondary school in Pangkor confirmed the state Education Department had instructed all schools in the state to close.

A check on the Department of Environment website showed as of noon, Seri Manjung recorded 239 API, the highest in the country.

Haze: Perak recorded unhealthy API
SYLVIA LOOI New Straits Times 22 Jul 14;

IPOH: Perakians woke up to haze shrouded day with Taiping, Ipoh, Seri Manjung and Tanjung Malim recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

At 6am, the API readings in all areas hovered between 101 and 195.

An hour later, the readings rise to between 104 and 199.

Seri Manjung recorded the worst API when its readings spike up to 208 at 8am.

A check on the Department of Environment website found the API readings in Seri Manjung also increased to 215 at 9am.

Haze: 15 schools in Manjung district ordered to close
CHAN LI LEEN The Star 21 Jul 14;

IPOH: Fifteen primary and secondary schools in the Manjung district were ordered to close for the afternoon session on Tuesday after air quality remained at very unhealthy levels.

State Education Department director Mohd Idris Ramli said the schools would remain close Wednesday morning if the Air Pollutant Index (API) in the district did not improve.

“A total of 5,945 children from six primary and nine secondary schools were affected by the closure,” said Mohd Idris.

The affected schools were SK Seri Manjung, SK Kampung Dato Seri Kamarudin, SK Methodist (ACS), SK Methodist, SK Convent, SK Simpang Empat, SMK Seri Manjung, SMK Ahmad Boestamam, SMK Seri Samudera, SMK Nan Hwa, SMK Methodist, SMK Methodist (ACS), SMK Tok Perdana, SMK Ambrose and SMK Dato Idris.

A check on the Department of Environment website showed the API reading of the coastal town to be 208 at 8am and had increased to 250 at 2pm.

API readings for the rest of Perak remained at unhealthy levels.

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.

Selangor dam levels still dropping
LOSHANA K SHAGAR The Star 23 Jul 14;

PETALING JAYA: Dam levels in Selangor are continuing to drop in the face of prolonged hot and dry weather, raising the prospects of authorities having to enforce stringent water conservation efforts.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) president S. Piarapakaran said there was a de­­finite risk of water supply tightening for consumers in Selangor.

“If the dry weather continues and the projected inter-monsoon in September and October is affected, we would be heading for a more severe situation compared to the water crisis we had earlier this year.

“Cloud seeding is not necessarily a reliable method. There is no point seeding clouds with chemicals when there are no clouds to begin with,” he said.

As of yesterday, the Sungai Se­­langor dam, which supplies water to more than 60% of households in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putra­jaya, was at 37.02%, way below the acceptable level of 40%.

Hazy days are also making a comeback, with Seri Manjung in Perak reaching very unhealthy mark on the Air Pollutant Index (API) with a reading of 250, forcing the closure of 15 schools.

The six primary and nine secon­dary schools, with a total enrolment of 5,945, were ordered to close their afternoon sessions, said Perak education director Mohd Idris Ramli.

This morning’s session would also be cancelled if the index remained above 200, reported Ber­nama.

The primary schools affected were SK Seri Manjung, SK Kampung Dato Seri Kamarudin, SK Methodist (ACS), SK Methodist, SK Convent and SK Simpang Empat. The secon­dary schools were SMK Seri Manjung, SMK Ahmad Boestamam, SMK Seri Samudera, SMK Nan Hwa, SMK Methodist, SMK Methodist (ACS), SMK Tok Perdana, SMK Ambrose and SMK Dato Idris.

Tanjung Malim, Taiping and parts of Ipoh were also affected by the haze, with unhealthy API readings ranging between 114 and 121, while Kuala Selangor and Port Klang recorded 130 and 117 respectively.

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.

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Indonesia: Riau sees yet more hotspots

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 22 Jul 14;

The presence of hotspots indicating spreading forest and peatland fires has caused increased concern in Sumatra.

Satellite images on Monday morning detected 570 hotspots in Sumatra, 417 of which are scattered over 11 regencies and cities in Riau.

It was found that the number of hotspots had risen rapidly during the previous two days, from 75 on Saturday to 154 on Sunday, and then to 417 on Monday.

On Monday morning, the highest number of hotspots, amounting to 327, was in Rokan Hilir regency, followed by Bengkalis (27), Rokan Hulu (21), nine each in Pelalawan and Kampar (9), six each in Dumai city and Kuantan, Sengingi (five), Indragiri Hilir (four), Indragiri Hulu (two) and one in Meranti Islands.

As many as 273 of the hotspots are believed to be fires, with a certainty level of 70 percent.

Head of data and information at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Agus Wibowo said the dry weather increased the potential for fires.

“The chances of rain are very slight, so every effort must be made to prevent the recurrence of haze. If we fail to respond immediately, the number of hotspots will further rise and people will celebrate Idul Fitri in the middle of a haze,” he said.

He said that to date, the haze in Riau was still tolerable with a drop in visibility taking place in Rengat and Pelalawan, each to only between 4 and 5 kilometers.

“However, we must anticipate the recurrence of thicker haze, especially now when the wind direction has the potential to carry haze over to Malaysia,” Agus said.

The Riau Haze Disaster Response task force is still carrying out fire-fighting efforts by deploying more than 300 military and police personnel, three helicopters for water bombing and weather modification efforts to create rain.

Separately, Riau Governor Annas Maamun urged all the regencies and mayoralties in Riau to take swift measures. “I’ve instructed the Riau BPBD [disaster mitigation agency] to contact regents and mayors whose regions are affected by hotspots to immediately conduct fire-fighting, especially Rokan Hilir which is the worst-hit area,” Annas said.

He said he would immediately go to Rokan Hilir to conduct a coordination meeting with the police, the military, village chiefs, district heads and the regent.

Annas denied his administration was halfhearted in taking measures to prevent forest and peatland fires.

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Great Barrier Reef's decline buried in government reports, says agency

Australian Institute of Marine Science says the government report on the Barrier Reef focuses on positive conclusions
Oliver Milman 22 Jul 14;

Australia’s marine research agency has warned that the government has downplayed the declining health of the Great Barrier Reef and there is “clear potential for conflicts of interest” in development decisions.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) said assessments of the Great Barrier Reef’s condition, compiled by the federal and Queensland governments, effectively buried the bad news of the reef’s decline.

John Gunn, chief executive of Aims, said that while the federal and state governments should be praised for putting together comprehensive reviews of the reef, the assessments lacked international scientific findings on reef systems.

Furthermore, Gunn said: “Almost all of the ‘bad news’ regarding status and trend is contained somewhere within the chapters of the document, however the summaries of chapters tend to either downplay or leave the bad news until the end of the sections.

“For example, the statement that ‘at the scale of the GBR [Great Barrier Reef] region, most of its habitats and species are assessed to be in good to very good condition’ may be technically correct, but as most of its key habitats and vulnerable species (corals, seagrasses, seabirds, dolphins, dugong, turtles) are in very poor to poor condition and declining in the southern GBR, it would seem appropriate to lead with this point.”

Gunn warned that while the need to monitor the reef’s health was “greater now than ever”, the system for assessing the environmental impact of industrial development near the reef was flawed.

Developers, such as those building ports or dredging the seabed, commission consultants to assess the potential impact of work. This report is then handed to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is responsible for safeguarding the health of the reef.

“While this mechanism allows for adequate resourcing of that scientific work, it does not guarantee independence,” Gunn said.

“There is a clear potential for conflicts of interest since the oversight and quality control of the work is carried out by the developer, whose interests in controlling development costs could conflict with the authority’s interests in minimising environmental and social impacts.

“A more effective mechanism to ensure independence, which has been successfully applied by GBRMPA in the past, would be for the authority, or some other independent agency, to commission and oversee the work, while still requiring the developer to pay the costs.”

Gunn raised his concerns to a Senate committee investigating how the federal and Queensland governments have managed the Great Barrier Reef. The federal government has cut funding for the GBRMPA and is in the process of delegating environmental approvals for nationally important sites such as the reef to the states.

Aims has conducted research that shows that coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has halved in the past 30 years. Pollution, cyclones and a plague of coral-eating starfish have been blamed for the decline.

The development of ports to ship resources such as coal has also been cited as a concern, with critics claiming that dredged sediment, pollution and potential shipping accidents would hasten the reef’s decline. Meanwhile, warming oceans could cause a large amount of coral to bleach and even die off.

Peter Mumby, president of the Australian Coral Reef Society, said the reef would be "pretty ugly” by 2050, with fewer fish and seaweed replacing coral. "The reef is in the worst state it's ever been in since records began,” he told the committee. “There is so much scope to improve governance."

Unesco’s World Heritage Committee is due to decide next year whether to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”. In an assessment handed down in June, Unesco said it was “premature” to hand responsibility for the reef to the Queensland government and that it was concerned about a plan to dump dredged sediment within the reef’s marine park.

The dredging project would displace 5m tonnes of seabed in order to expand the Abbot Point port, near Bowen. The federal government has approved the plan, although a site within the marine park has yet to be selected.

A Western Australian study released last week showed that disease in corals doubled when it was subjected to dredged sediment, raising further fears over the Abbot Point plan.

However, a spokesman for Greg Hunt, the environment minister, said the Abbot Point dredging was approved “subject to some of the strictest environmental standards in Australian history”.

He added: “The disposal of sediment will occur over 40km away from significant coral reefs to ensure that those coral reefs are not exposed to the high sediment and turbidity levels that occurred in the marine waters of Western Australia.”

In its submission to the Senate committee, the Minerals Council of Australia said it was committed to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

“There should be no automatic presumption of incompatibility of specific economic activities with the listed values of the GBR,” it stated. “Instead, the compatibility of particular developments/activities should be considered on a case by case basis, based on sound science and a robust risk-based approach.”

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Dredging linked to diseased corals by new study

ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies Science Daily 16 Jul 14;

Dredging activity near coral reefs can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals. researchers say after a a world-first study. 'At dredging sites, we found more than twice as much coral disease than at our control sites,' says the lead author of the study. "Corals require both light and food to survive," researchers explain. "And unfortunately, dredging impacts corals on two fronts: increased turbidity means less light for photosynthesis, while increased levels of sediment falling onto the coral can interfere with their ability to feed."

In a world-first study published today, researchers say dredging activity near coral reefs can increase the frequency of diseases affecting corals.

"At dredging sites, we found more than twice as much coral disease than at our control sites," says the lead author of the study, Joe Pollock, a PhD candidate from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University (JCU) and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

"Corals require both light and food to survive," Pollock explains. "And unfortunately, dredging impacts corals on two fronts: increased turbidity means less light for photosynthesis, while increased levels of sediment falling onto the coral can interfere with their ability to feed."
Already low on energy, the corals then must spend further energy cleaning the extra sediment from their surface. Such an energy imbalance can lead to chronic coral stress.

"Just like in any other organism, it seems that chronic stress can lead to increased levels of disease in corals," Pollock says.

In the past 20 years, the frequency of coral disease has risen across the world, and has become a significant factor in global coral reef decline. In the Caribbean, disease has diminished coral cover by as much as 95 percent in some locations.

This is the first study to examine the link between dredging and coral disease in nature. It was conducted near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast. The site is close to where an 18-month, 7-million cubic metre dredging project took place, developing a channel to accommodate ships transporting liquefied gas to a nearby processing plant. The site was in otherwise very good condition.

The most common diseases affecting corals after dredging events are the 'white syndromes', where the coral tissues fall off, leaving behind exposed, white coral skeletons. These coral diseases are chronic, and there are fears that they may linger well after the completion of dredging operations.

Dr Britta Schaffelke from AIMS, a co-author on the study, says numerous environmental stressors have been suggested as potential drivers of coral disease.

"Turbidity and sedimentation are critical pressures on the health of coral reefs and are affected by many human activities, especially in the coastal zone," Schaffelke says.

"What this study does is highlight a direct link of coral disease to sedimentation and turbidity."

Coastal industries provide economic stability, food security and reliable energy to billions of people around the world. As the pace of coastal development and demand for larger harbours escalates, the impact of elevated sediment and turbidity on the health of marine species is now a worldwide concern.

"Dredging is a pressing issue on many coral reefs throughout the world, including the Great Barrier Reef," says Pollock.

"A solid understanding of the impacts of dredging, sediment and turbidity on coral health will be indispensable in the development of well-informed management and monitoring strategies for vulnerable coral reef ecosystems," he concludes.

Journal Reference: F. Joseph Pollock, Joleah B. Lamb, Stuart N. Field, Scott F. Heron, Britta Schaffelke, George Shedrawi, David G. Bourne, Bette L. Willis. Sediment and Turbidity Associated with Offshore Dredging Increase Coral Disease Prevalence on Nearby Reefs. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (7): e102498 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102498

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