Best of our wild blogs: 30 Jul 14

A paddle through the magical watery woods
from The Long and Winding Road

Butterflies Galore! : Psyche
from Butterflies of Singapore

Oriental Plover in Singapore
from Francis' Random Yaks, Articles & Photos

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Unsung heroes behind new park

Grace Chua The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Jul 14;

Fifty years ago, two young men graduated from the same pre-university course at Victoria School.

As biology students, Francis Lee and Chou Loke Ming had gone on field trips to the Southern Islands, peering through the clear waters and marvelling at corals shaped like rotund mushrooms or branching like antlers.

Their paths branched too. One went to Britain where he qualified as a "no-good lawyer". The other stayed in Singapore and became a distinguished marine biologist.

Then, the lives of Mr Lee, the lawyer, and Professor Chou, the biologist, converged again on a common cause: marine conservation. Now, the past three decades of their work have contributed to the establishment of Singapore's first marine park, announced earlier this month - a 40ha patch that includes the Sisters' Islands and reefs off nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

When Mr Lee was growing up in Siglap, the sea was ever-present. Kelongs dotted the coastline, which had yet to be reclaimed, and fishermen sold the day's catch along Joo Chiat Road. "Jalan Ulu Siglap was named because beyond that it was all jungle," quips Mr Lee, now 68.

When he came back from his studies in London, he found his old neighbourhood transformed. "I was amazed at the speed with which we were executing our land reclamation. It was right on my doorstep," he says.

The young corporate lawyer took up scuba-diving and found the Southern Islands also affected by reclamation. In the 1960s and 1970s, the marine environment here was in dire straits. Massive land reclamation projects silted the once- clear waters around the southern reefs. Sisters' Islands, along with other southern islands earmarked for recreation, were partly reshaped to create artificial lagoons.

Soil from excavations was indiscriminately dumped in the sea, and boats dropped anchor on corals. In all, about 60 per cent of reef cover was lost to development.

Meanwhile, Prof Chou took up scuba-diving, too, to switch his field of study from house lizards to the marine realm. Even in the silty waters, he and his colleagues mapped reefs and saw vast globe- like corals, crinkly ones resembling cabbage leaves, fronds of green and brown algae, and delicate starfish.

Already, a small group of marine conservation advocates was struggling to be heard. At the time, National University of Singapore Professor Leo Tan was a lecturer at the University of Singapore.

"Raffles Lighthouse and Pulau Biola were proposed by the Nature Society and Singapore University in the early 70s to the then Commissioner of Parks and Recreation as a marine park or reserve. I recall the commissioner and a few lecturers from SU visited Raffles Lighthouse for an inspection. I was one of the party," says Prof Tan, now 69.

But the view then was that Parks and Recreation had no jurisdiction over wildlife between high and low tide levels, he adds. The agency later combined with the Nature Reserves Board to form the National Parks Board (NParks).

In the early 1980s, alarmed by what he saw, Mr Lee contacted his old schoolmate, Prof Chou. In 1987, they started the Singapore Reef Conservation Committee, training 200 ecology specialist divers to survey the southern reefs.

Mr Benny Yeo was then chair of the Singapore Underwater Federation's technical committee. The dive group was asked to come up with a training plan for the divers.

Mr Yeo, now 58 and a past Underwater Federation president, started diving in 1972 for the adventure. Then, anything went. "At places like Pulau Hantu, we could shoot fish, and collect corals and shells."

He was "reformed" in the 1980s as world groups like Padi, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, introduced environmental awareness into their training.

The federation's reef ecology training scheme in 1987 sealed the deal by piquing his curiosity, Mr Yeo says. "Divers want something to do. I was bored with going out every weekend just to dive. With the ecology programme, there was an educational part to it."

Month after month, divers would descend into the dim greenish depths, laying several metres of white tape along a reef, counting corals along the line, and measuring the thickness of the sediment. In some places, they found just dead coral rubble. In others, like a patch west of Pulau Semakau, they found reefs two-thirds covered with live corals. There were seagrass beds, sandy flats and mangroves.

By 1990, they had cobbled together enough data for a report, submitted in 1991 to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other Cabinet ministers, calling for Semakau, St John's, Hantu and the military's live-firing islands to be conserved as marine parks.

Those reefs were labelled marine nature areas in the 1993 Singapore Green Plan, meaning any proposed development had to be assessed. But the URA's 2003 Master Plan dropped them as nature areas, allowing the option of development.

"The irony was that Singapore led the world at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992," Mr Lee laments, referring to the seminal United Nations meeting on environment and development, chaired by Ambassador Tommy Koh. "But at home, Government felt that (conservation) was too low in the list of priorities to allow it to affect development."

Prof Chou, now 68, adds: "Conservation was an alien language to them."

Meanwhile, nature and dive groups continued with coral relocation and underwater clean-up programmes. They recruited the likes of current Nature Society vice-president Leong Kwok Peng, 57, who got his feet wet relocating corals from Pulau Ayer Chawan to Sentosa when the former was reclaimed for industrial Jurong Island.

And throughout the 2000s, the number of marine enthusiasts who spent their weekends leading dives or guiding seashore walks, such as Ms Ria Tan of and Ms Debby Ng of popular dive site Hantu Bloggers, also grew.

In the early 2000s, Mr Lee and former Nominated Member of Parliament Edwin Khew outlined a bare-bones marine conservation plan that built on the 1991 proposal, and sent it to the Government's Feedback Unit. Mr Lee recalls that it was "courteously received and then lost in the woodwork".

So they had nothing to lose when the International Coral Reef Initiative, an international coral- reef conservation movement, declared 2008 the International Year of the Reef.

Mr Lee and Prof Chou decided to give it another shot. "It is never too late," Prof Chou says. Throughout the year, they worked with a broad spectrum of civil society groups like the Nature Society, Hantu Bloggers, and NUS academics to come up with the Singapore Blue Plan 2009, a comprehensive masterplan for the marine environment that called for a full marine survey and marine nature reserves. All this was done on their own time, in the evenings and on weekends.

At the Asia Dive Expo in 2009, they presented it to then National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and then Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, and sent it to the National Parks Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority and other government agencies. Mr Lee and Prof Chou recall how Mr Mah called a few representatives to the MND offices and, on the spot, told the astonished conservationists that a full-scale marine biodiversity survey would be carried out.

Why the turnaround? The Government's attitude to marine conservation had been changing. In 2003, Singapore and Malaysia went to court over the republic's land reclamation, which Malaysia said would affect its environment and fishermen. Around that time too, says National Biodiversity Centre director Lena Chan, NParks was directed to build its capacity in coastal and marine biodiversity.

"The National Biodiversity Centre was formed in 2006 and was given the remit over both terrestrial and marine conservation," she adds. It is in charge of national conservation policy, and manages a database of relevant research.

Also in place was a new generation of policymakers who understood the need for science-based policy. For instance, National Biodiversity Centre deputy director Karenne Tun did her doctoral work under Prof Chou. The relationship between civil society and Government had also warmed.

"Previously it was arm's length," says Mr Leong. "Today, engagement is a bit more intimate."

Blue advocates are relieved about the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, but not quite ready to celebrate.

Mr Yeo, for instance, is concerned that divers will rush to dive at the park and that might have an impact on the reefs. Also, he cautions, there are strong currents between the two Sisters.

Mr Lee feels Singapore needs a systemic plan for marine conservation, instead of ad-hoc conservation of individual areas.

Ms Tan is keeping an eye on possible reclamation of the western islands, outlined in the MND's Land Use Plan last year. These "difficult decisions" are on the horizon, she says. So conservationists must work even harder to build relationships with agencies and policymakers.

Pleased that Singapore will have its first marine park, Prof Leo Tan says he is "edified that this has come to pass".

"The tensions between economic development and conservation will always be there," he adds. "We just have to soldier on."

As for the lawyer who returned to his first love at sea, Mr Lee says his four children are also avid divers, and the oldest of his six grandchildren is a junior diver.

"I want them to inherit this natural marine heritage - not from me, but from Singapore," he adds. "The task of protecting God's creation is never done, and I hope that my grandchildren will have a vibrant marine ecosystem to inherit."

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Flash floods reported at several locations: PUB

Channel NewsAsia 29 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: Flash floods were reported on Tuesday (July 29) at MacKenzie Road, Kramat Lane, and Bassein Road, according to a media release from the Public Utilities Board (PUB). The heaviest rainfall today was recorded at Handy Road, which saw a total rainfall of 95.4mm from 2.10pm to 4pm.

PUB said the flash floods were caused by intense rain overwhelming the drainage systems in these areas. "The localised flash floods subsided in less than 25 minutes and the roads remained passable to traffic," according to its statement.

The national water agency said that in addition to the drainage improvement works along MacKenzie Road completed in December 2013, the existing culvert at the downstream junction of MacKenzie Road and Bukit Timah Road will be upgraded in tandem with the Land Transport Authority's Downtown Line II works to improve flood protection for the area.

PUB has also scheduled works to deepen and widen the existing culvert at Bassein Road, which are slated to start in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Construction work for the Stamford Detention Tank and Stamford Diversion Canal has also begun, as part of measures to enchance flood protection for the Stamford Canal Catchment, which covers the Orchard Road shopping belt, including Kramat Lane. Works for the Stamford Detention Tank and Stamford Diversion Canal are expected to complete by 2016 and 2017 respectively, said PUB.

To obtain flood updates or report flash floods, the public can call PUB’s 24-hour Call Centre at 1800-284 6600 or go to PUB’s Facebook: or PUB’s mobile app “MyWaters”.

For the latest weather reports, including heavy rain warnings, visit the NEA website or use the mobile weather service (Weather@SG - SMS alert services on heavy rain warning and water level information are also open for public subscription at:


Intense rain causes flash floods at several areas
Today Online 29 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE — As intense rain fell over parts of Singapore this afternoon (July 29), drainage systems in several locations were overwhelmed, resulting in flash floods.

Flash floods were reported at MacKenzie Road, Kramat Lane and Bassein Road, said the PUB. The localised flash floods subsided in less than 25 minutes and the roads remained passable to traffic, said the national water agency.

The PUB said the heaviest rainfall was recorded at Handy Road with a total rainfall of 95.4mm from 2.10pm to 4pm. It peaked between 2.30pm to 3pm, with a rainfall of 49.4 mm.

To improve flood protection, the existing culvert at the downstream junction of MacKenzie Road and Bukit Timah Road will be upgraded in tandem with the Land Transport Authority’s Downtown Line II works, said the PUB. This is in addition to the drainage improvement works along MacKenzie Road that were completed in December last year.

PUB will also deepen and widen the existing culvert at Bassein Road, with work slated to start in the fourth quarter of this year.

As part of measures to enchance flood protection for the Stamford Canal Catchment — which covers the Orchard Road shopping belt, including Kramat Lane — PUB has started construction work for the Stamford Detention Tank and Stamford Diversion Canal. Works are expected to be completed by 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Trees at Punggol, Tuas felled amid thunderstorms
Channel NewsAsia 29 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: Strong winds amid a thunderstorm saw trees toppling in various parts of Singapore on Tuesday (July 29), obstructing traffic in some areas and cutting off the entry to a car park in the north-east.

Callers told the MediaCorp hotline (68 2222 68) that trees or branches had fallen at Pioneer Road, Punggol Drive, Rivervale Drive and Edgedale Plains.

Mr Nor Nizar sent photos to Channel NewsAsia showing a tree along Punggol Drive apparently broken midway along its stem. Mr Nor said the fallen tree had blocked off access to the road leading to the car park at Blocks 637A to D and 638A to C. Another photo, also provided by Mr Nor, showed one lane at Edgedale Plains blocked off, though cars were still able to pass.

Another caller, Mdm Tan, said "six to seven trees" had fallen along Rivervale Drive, near Block 191A. She said pedestrians and cyclists were unable to use the pathway due to the obstructions following "a freak 15-minute storm".

At about 5pm, the police tweeted that the roads affected by fallen trees in Sengkang and Punggol were now passable for traffic.

A third caller, Mr Jiang, said up to three lanes were obstructed along the Jalan Buroh and Pioneer Road stretch at Tuas, though the roads were still passable to traffic.

The National Environment Agency had sent out an advisory on Twitter at 12.17pm, warning of "moderate to heavy thundery showers with gusty wind" over many parts of Singapore. The PUB also tweeted of high water levels at Tampines Road/Jalan Teliti briefly at around 1pm.

- CNA/es

Pouring rain stalls traffic, causes flash floods
NG JING YNG Today Online 30 Ju 14;

SINGAPORE — A heavy downpour accompanied by strong winds that lasted for more than two hours yesterday left a trail of fallen tree branches strewn over roads and pavements, even stalling traffic briefly on some expressways.

Flash floods were reported on some roads, such as Bassein Road, Mackenzie Road and Kramat Lane, although these remained passable to traffic, said national water agency PUB.

A PUB spokesperson said the flash floods were due to intense rain, which overwhelmed the drainage systems in these areas.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) sent an advisory before noon about strong winds and thundery showers. Within an hour, the PUB warned of a high risk of flooding at the area bounded by Tampines Road and Jalan Teliti as water levels in the drains and canals came close to overflowing. The warning was withdrawn minutes later, however, as the water level eased to 90 per cent of the drainage capacity.

As the storm raged on, the PUB started reporting flash floods from around 3pm at Bassein Road near Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Mackenzie Road near Little India and Kramat Lane behind Concorde Hotel Singapore. However, none of these flash floods lasted beyond 25 minutes.

In the Jurong West and Punggol neighbourhoods, residents reported broken, heavy tree branches as well as leaves being strewn across pedestrian walkways and road lanes, causing traffic to be obstructed — including access to a car park along Punggol Drive.

There were also four cases of road obstructions on the Tampines Expressway and one case on the Central Expressway due to fallen tree branches, the Land Transport Authority said, although these were cleared by 4.30pm yesterday. The heaviest rainfall was recorded in Handy Road at 95.4mm, said the PUB.

Reiterating its flood prevention efforts, the PUB spokesperson added that the existing culvert — a structure that allows water to flow under a road — at the downstream junction of Mackenzie Road and Bukit Timah Road will be upgraded along with the construction of Stage 2 of the Downtown MRT Line. Work to deepen and widen the existing culvert in Bassein Road will also commence later this year.

She also said the PUB had started to strengthen flood protection measures at the Stamford Canal Catchment, which covers the Orchard Road shopping belt, including Kramat Lane — with an expected completion date in 2017.

Based on the three-day weather outlook on the NEA website, thundery showers can be expected in the morning mainly over southern, eastern and western Singapore tomorrow.

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Students take charge of cleanliness with launch of Keep Singapore Clean Movement

Chitra Kumar Channel NewsAsia 29 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: The Keep Singapore Clean Movement in schools was launched on Tuesday (July 29), to get students to take ownership of the cleanliness of their school and the environment. The initiative was first announced at the 7th Teachers' Conference in June, and requires students to help keep the places they frequent clean.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who launched the movement today, said many parents had urged him to bring back the 'Use Your Hands' campaign to schools.

"These student-initiated activities are a very important aspect of encouraging them to take ownership of the community. We hope that through student-initiated activities, the values that underpin this will be much more deeply internalised and at the same time, we can tap the creativity and ideas of the students to be advocates of cleanliness and environment protection," said Mr Heng.

The Education Minister also joined Secondary Three students at Woodgrove Secondary School to scrub the boys' toilet today.

Earlier this month, these students conducted surveys around the school to gather information about the cleanliness situation in the neighbourhood. They shared their findings today and brainstormed ideas on how to have a more pleasant living environment.

The Public Hygiene Council will support schools by providing necessary resources such as this litter-picking toolkit containing tongs and gloves. The Keep Singapore Clean movement will be rolled out to all primary, secondary, centralised institutes and junior colleges.

"I believe that we should start young because from young, we can inculcate the values of responsibility and care towards the environment. So from here, we can spread the message of the importance of maintaining cleanliness in Singapore to our friends and family," said Haziq Shukur, Green Club President at Woodgrove Secondary School.

- CNA/by

Students encouraged to keep schools, environment clean
Channel NewsAsia 29 Jul 14;
SINGAPORE: Education Minister Heng Swee Keat kicked off the Keep Singapore Clean Movement in Schools by saying that students here can become role models and advocates of a clean Singapore to the people around them.

Mr Heng was speaking at Woodgrove Secondary School on Tuesday (July 29) at the launch of the programme, which will see students having the opportunity to propose ideas to keep the school and neighbourhood clean, put their ideas into action and carry them out on a sustained basis.

Through this initiative, students can take ownership of the places they frequent - such as the classroom, the school compound and the common areas in the neighbourhood - by keeping them clean, according to a joint statement by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Public Hygiene Council (PHC).

Several schools already have students adopting spaces within their compounds to keep clean. For example, Marsiling Primary School students are responsible for their classrooms and the school's common areas, while Damai Secondary School have adopted public waterways as theirs to maintain.

Mr Heng said: "Through the Keep Singapore Clean Movement in Schools, students can learn to take ownership of our community spaces and our Singapore. Students can become role models and advocates of a clean Singapore to their classmates, family members and people in the community.

"It will help our students develop empathy and responsibility, a sense of belonging and commitment to the community, and a deep understanding of our interdependence."


The Movement is organised in partnership with the PHC, which will support schools by providing various resources, such as litter-picking toolkits, and advice on areas that could be potential littering hotspots.

In 2015, the PHC will also provide every Primary 4 student a checklist to reflect on their habits and how these affect the cleanliness of the environment. Every Primary 5 student will be given a postcard to write to their Primary 1 to Primary 4 juniors, encouraging them to practise good habits and cleanliness.

Said PHC Chairman Liak Teng Lit: “Keeping Singapore clean requires a concerted effort from all. With the strong support from the students and their parents, I believe we are a step closer to being a truly clean Singapore, not just a cleaned one.”

- CNA/kk

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Haze Fines Win Indonesia’s Support With Caveats: Southeast Asia

Brian Leonal and Fitri Wulandari Bloomberg News 30 Jul 14;

The incoming president of Indonesia, a holdout in Southeast Asia’s pact to fight haze, is backing Singapore’s plan to wield heftier fines against overseas polluters as long as sovereignty is respected.

A year after the city-state endured its worst-ever air quality, Singapore presented a bill to Parliament this month that subjects foreign companies to as much as S$2 million ($1.6 million) in fines for illegal emissions, up from S$300,000 before. Indonesia and Singapore have a long-standing dispute over the haze that blows in from land-clearing fires in Sumatra.

Joko Widodo, the Jakarta governor known as Jokowi who won this month’s presidential election, agrees that companies implicated in unlawful fires may be fair game for Singapore’s enforcers. The sticking point is the sovereignty of Indonesia, where “incredibly prickly” officials have yet to join other ASEAN nations in signing a transboundary-haze pact, according to the Jakarta office of Control Risks Group.

“We should have some detailed protocols to guarantee the sovereignty of Indonesia,” said Sonny Keraf, Indonesia’s environment minister from 1999-2001 and adviser to Jokowi. “But we do appreciate the commitment of the government in Singapore to penalize these companies’ activities,” he said in an interview this month.

Accelerating deforestation makes Indonesia the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the U.S., according to estimates from organizations including the World Bank. An outbreak of fires in Riau, a center of Indonesia’s palm oil and paper industries on Sumatra island, were blamed for last year’s record smog in Singapore.

Hazard Threshold

Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index peaked at 401 in June 2013, 100 points above the “hazardous” threshold. While the index in Singapore hasn’t topped 100 in 2014, an El Nino weather pattern may bring drought and worse smog this year to Southeast Asia, said Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who expects final approval for the bigger fines in August.

“There’s a high risk of unusually dry conditions in Riau and Sumatra in August and September,” Nigel Sizer, global director of forests at World Resources Institute, said in an interview. Unseasonably dry weather in February and March sparked 3,101 fire alerts on Sumatra, exceeding the 2013 high.

Washington-based WRI is working with Google Inc. and forestry agencies in Indonesia to use satellite imaging to pinpoint and respond to fires.

Social Media

“On social media and in the streets, we have seen the Indonesian people asking for better information about where these fires are occurring and how their government is responding,” Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s deputy foreign minister, said last week. “With this alliance, we will be able to start answering these questions.”

Singapore’s new fines will require Indonesia to cooperate with gathering evidence in its territories, which may be seen as infringement, said Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University. The city would need “watertight” evidence to win in local courts, he said.

By pursuing culprits in Indonesia, Singapore may risk retaliation, said Alan Khee-Jin Tan of the National University of Singapore Law School. “There is a likelihood of Indonesian lawmakers enacting retaliatory laws that target individuals or entities in Singapore for infringing Indonesian law,” Tan said. “That would be diplomatically messy.”

Largest Emitter

While Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s president since 2004, pledged to cut emissions by 26 percent, the nation’s deforestation rate has surpassed Brazil’s, according to Nature Climate Change, a journal.

Indonesia lost more than 6 million hectares of primary forest -- an area the size of England -- from 2000 to 2012, scientists including Belinda Arunarwati Margono and Fred Stolle wrote in Nature Climate Change on June 29.

WRI’s monitoring showed fires burning this year on land controlled by Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd., the pulp and paper maker with offices in Jakarta and Singapore. The company known as April said it has a no-burn policy and is a victim of fast-spreading blazes set by villagers. The firm has about 700 fire fighters and backs Singapore’s bigger fines.

“The key will be in implementation,” said an April spokesman who asked not to be identified in a July 18 e-mail. Determining the cause of fires and who is responsible is difficult because of overlapping land rights, he said.

Ganging Up

Indonesia has yet to ratify the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ 2002 haze treaty, which requires nations to take steps against forest fires and cooperate with neighbors. Many Indonesians see it as “ganging up,” said Steve Wilford, Asia Pacific director at London-based Control Risks, a consultant on corporate threats and government corruption.

Indonesia’s Parliament is weighing the transboundary bill, Agus Setyaki, a division head at the Ministry of Environment, said July 10. The parliament hopes to approve the bill in September before current legislators end their terms.

Jokowi will push to extend the ASEAN pact beyond haze to include other environmental threats, Keraf said. Jokowi also plans to continue a moratorium on new permits to develop peatlands and primary forests. The ban, set to expire in 2015, was part of an agreement for $1 billion in aid from Norway.

The next president wants a network of drones to help monitor and stop land misuse across an archipelago of 17,000 islands that would stretch from New York to Alaska. “Drones are not only for the military but also for the economy, like for illegal logging,” Jokowi said in an interview on July 21.

Indonesia backs heftier haze fines
Channel NewsAsia 30 Jul 14;

SINGAPORE: The incoming president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, is backing Singapore's plan to impose heftier fines against overseas polluters as long as sovereignty is respected, according to a Bloomberg report.

The Singapore government has proposed stiffer fines of up to S$2 million for companies that cause unhealthy levels of haze. Under proposed laws on transboundary haze pollution that were introduced in Parliament earlier this month, a firm can be fined up to S$100,000 a day for every day of unhealthy haze that blankets Singapore - for a continuous period of 24 hours or more - at about the same time as the company's haze-causing activities.

Also, companies that fail to comply with notices to take preventive measures during a period of haze could be fined up to an additional S$50,000 a day. The maximum penalty for each of the offences is capped at S$2 million.

Widodo, the Jakarta governor known as Jokowi who won this month's presidential election, agrees that companies implicated in unlawful fires may be fair game for Singapore's enforcers.

"We should have some detailed protocols to guarantee the sovereignty of Indonesia," said Sonny Keraf, Indonesia's environment minister from 1999-2001 and adviser to Jokowi. "But we do appreciate the commitment of the government in Singapore to penalize these companies' activities," he said, in an interview with Bloomberg this month and published on Wednesday (30 July).

Indonesia has yet to ratify the ASEAN 2002 haze treaty, which requires nations to take steps against forest fires and cooperate with neighbours. However Jakarta hopes to ratify the agreement by 2015.

According to Keraf, Jokowi will push to extend the ASEAN pact beyond haze to include other environmental threats. The incoming president also plans to continue a freeze on new permits to develop peatlands and primary forests. The ban, set to expire in 2015, was part of an agreement for US$1b (S$1.24b) in aid from Norway.

- CNA/ir

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Malaysia Haze: Unhealthy air quality at two locations

The Star 30 Jul 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Two areas recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings as of 7am Wednesday.

According to the Department of Environment portal, the two affected areas in Sarawak, are Sibu (127) and Sri Aman (102).

Nineteen other locations recorded moderate air quality including Nilai (52), Tanjung Malim (55), Port Klang (87) and Petaling Jaya (73).

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. – Bernama

Dry spell until September
KOI KYE LEE AND DENNIS WONG New Straits Times 30 Jul 14;

PUTRAJAYA: THE Natural Resources and Environ ment Ministry said the current hot and dry spell since May following the south-west monsoon, is expected to last un til September.

Its minister, Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, said the hot and dry spell and the El Nino impact wouldwill result in open fires.

He said based on the Asean Specialised Meteorological (ASMC) report, there were 133 hot spots in Sumatra and 32 in Kali mantan, Indonesia, respectively.

He said in a statement yesterday that the ASMC report had also shown satellite images with haze traces at open fire areas in Riau and West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“The satellite images also show that there is moderate haze movement towards the centre of west coast in the peninsula.”," Palanivel said.

He added that 11 hot spots had been de tected in the country: , mainly in Sarawak (four); Pa hang (two); Kelantan (two); Selangor (one); Negri Sembilan (one) and Johor (one).

“The hot spots in the country will be investigated and ne cessary enforcement actions will be taken.”

As of 2pm yesterday, the Air Pollution In dex (API) showed nine places with unhealthy readings: Samarahan, Sarawak (106); Sibu, Sarawak (155); Sri Aman, Sarawak (105); Banting, Selangor (124); Port Klang, Selangor (113); Petaling Jaya, Selangor (105); Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur (134); Cheras, Kuala Lumpur (123) and Putrajaya (120).

He also said that the ministry had activated the ac tion plan to prevent open burning in the country since Feb ruary in a bid to tackle the hot and dry season brought by the monsoon and El Nino phe nomenon.

Among oOther actions the ministry had taken to address the issue was to monitor peat fires, aside from enforcing the open burning pro hibition order in states such as Selangor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Kuala Lumpur and Putra jaya.

Palanivel said under the order, which was activated in March, the public was prohibited from con ducting open burning, with the exception of religious activities, cremations or barbe cues.

He said the Department of Environment (DOE) had detected 4,408 open burning in the country from January to July 28, and 315 cases had been compounded and 101 cases received warning notices.

It was also learnt that 45 open burning cases in the country would be referred for further action. Fourteen of them had been referred to the deputy public prosecutor and five cases would be prosecuted in the Sessions Court.

Meanwhile in Kuching the long dry spell has created haze in several areas. Among the areas badly hit was Sibu with the Air Pollutant Index reaching unhealthy level of 165 at noon.

"On Monday the situation here was even worse. It was white all over and visibility was poor," said 46-year-old local resident Ramli Bolhassan.

Ramli said the poor weather condition had dampened Hari Raya festivities and many were not going outdoors.

Ramli believed that the poor air condition was also due to open burning activities at nearby oil palm plantation.

"I was told by my relatives that several plantations in nearby districts such as Mukah and Sarikei are also doing open burning. This might be one of the contributing factors for the poor air condition," he said.

On Monday, Sibu's API reached 261 which was Very Unhealthy level. Samarahan and Sri Aman also experienced poor air quality yesterday with both areas recording an API of 106.

Hazy Raya with big rise in hotspots

PETALING JAYA: Hari Raya turned out to be a hazy one nationwide with many areas recording unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

There has been a 40% increase in patients with haze-related respiratory and skin problems at clinics and hospitals checked.

At 5pm yesterday, the worst hit area was Sibu with a reading of 145, followed by Batu Muda at 132 and Port Klang and Cheras, both at 117.

Other areas with unhealthy readings were Samarahan, Sri Aman, Banting, Petaling Jaya and Putra-jaya.

The poor air quality in Sibu was due to a forest fire that broke out in the Bukit Lima Forest Park.

Visibility in Petaling Jaya dropped to less than one kilometre due to the thick smog while in Subang, it dropped to less than five kilometres.

While several people complained bitterly on social media about how the haze was ruining their health and had restricted their Hari Raya celebrations, others decided to take advantage of the public holiday and set out with their families to the zoo to see the pandas in their air-conditioned enclosures or for picnics.

While the haze is expected to last until September, Natural Resources and Enviroment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel warned Malaysians that they would have to endure the current thick smog for at least another day.

Malaysian Meteorological Depart-ment (MMD) spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the current weak winds, which were blowing at less than 10kph, would not blow the haze away.

“The wind strength has been weak since yesterday (Monday). As a result, the thick haze might stay at least until tomorrow (Wednesday),” he said yesterday.

He added that the situation was made worse by the forecast of little rain until the end of next week.

In peninsula Malaysia, seven hotspots were detected on Monday while in Borneo, nine hotspots were found.

The rapidly increasing number of forest fires on Sumatra also indicates that the haze situation here is unlikely to clear up any time soon.

Indonesia’s disaster agency had warned last month that Malaysia and Singapore could be badly hit by haze again after a large number of forest fires in Riau province, which was at the centre of an air pollution crisis last year.

On Monday, there were 133 hotspots detected on the island based on satellite images from the Meteorological Service Singapore website.

In a statement yesterday, Palani­vel said there had been 4,408 cases of open burning locally from January until July 28.

Of this, there were 1,436 cases on agricultural land, 897 in forested areas and 1,011 bush fires.

“There have been 818 cases of small open burning incidents, 137 in construction areas, 75 at dumpsites and 34 in industrial areas,” he added.

Palanivel said 45 investigation papers were opened and compound notices had been sent to those involved in 315 open burning cases, adding that warning letters were sent for 101 other cases.

Under Section 29(A) of the En­­vironmental Quality Act 1974, those convicted of open burning can be fined up to RM500,000 or sentenced to a jail term of up to five years or both.

They also face a maximum compound of RM2,000 for each offence.

Malaysia air quality 'unhealthy' as haze obscures skies
AFP 29 Jul 14;

Air quality around Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and on Borneo island was "unhealthy" on Tuesday, with one town reaching "very unhealthy" levels as haze -- mostly from forest fires in Indonesia -- obscured skies.

Kuala Lumpur residents wore face masks as protection from the choking smog, while visibility was low.

Nine out of some 50 measuring stations recorded air pollutant index readings above 100, which signify "unhealthy" air quality.

Readings in Sibu town in Sarawak state on Borneo breached 200 -- designated as "very unhealthy" -- on Monday, but recovered slightly Tuesday.

A reading of above 300 signifies "hazardous" air.

In Indonesia, the National Disaster Management Agency deployed a chopper to conduct water bombing to West Kalimantan on Borneo to tame 268 so-called hotspots detected in the province as haze also shrouded skies there and on Sumatra island.

In Riau on Sumatra, hundreds of military and police personnel as well as firefighters used water cannons to put out fires that stretched over more than 850 hectares of land.

"Ninety-nine percent of this fire is man-made," said National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

"Hundreds of fire-fighters and volunteers are trying to put out the fire, but the fire, set alight by individuals and groups, are more intensified still."

Haze is an annual problem during drier summer months when monsoon winds blow smoke from fires mostly on the huge Indonesian island of Sumatra, which lies across the Malacca Strait from Malaysia and Singapore.

The fires have been largely blamed on palm oil firms using the illegal but cheap method of burning vast tracts of rainforest and peatland to clear them for planting.

Indonesian authorities had warned last month that Malaysia and Singapore could be hit by haze again after a huge jump in forest fires in Riau province, which was at the centre of an air pollution crisis last year.

Both Malaysia and Singapore were effected, with readings hitting 750 in one town in southern Malaysia in June last year.

This was the highest seen in the Southeast Asian country for 16 years, causing a declaration of emergency in several districts, school closures and a regional diplomatic row.

Malaysia -- usually known for its tropical heavy downpours -- this year has also been plagued by drought, leading to water rationing, particularly in the central state of Selangor, the country's economic hub, which surrounds the capital.

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More than 400 hotspots detected in Indonesia

The Star 30 Jul 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: More than 400 hotspots have been detected in Indonesia.

According to Indonesian Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), 143 of the hotspots were found in Riau province on the central eastern coast of Sumatra and 268 in West Kalimantan in Borneo.

Water bombings were being conducted at the hotspots to put out the fires, BNPB said in a statement on Tuesday.

“A mass area of some 848ha of land was covered in fire,” it added.

In fact, the number of hotspots in Sumatra has been reduced from 329 detected on Sunday, as reported by the state-run Antara News Agency.

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Malaysia: UN status for Perak's Belum-Temengor forest?

SYLVIA LOOI New Straits Times 30 Jul 14;

IPOH: WORK is under way to get the 130 million-year-old Belum-Temengor rainforest to be recognised as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) World Heritage Site.

The National Heritage Department has been tasked to prepare the dossier for the listing, said state Tourism, Arts and Cultural Committee chairman Datuk Nolee Ashilin Mohammed Radzi.

“The department has been given between three and four months to come up with the dossier.

“Although it is a long process, where all the criteria have to be assessed, we are aiming to obtain the recognition in three years.”

Nolee said Lenggong Valley which was declared a World Heritage Site on June 30, 2012, managed to obtain the listing in three years.

Five sites in Malaysia have made it into the listing. Besides Lenggong Valley, Unesco had recognised Penang, Malacca, Mount Kinabalu and Mount Niah as World Heritage sites.

The Belum-Temenggor rainforest, Nolee said, fulfilled
all the criteria of a World Heritage Site.

The Royal Belum State Park which was gazetted on May 3, 2007 encompasses 117,500 hectares of rainforest.

It is believed to be older than the Amazon rainforest in South America and Congo rainforest in Central Africa.

It is the habitat of 14 endangered wildlife species, including the Malayan tiger, Sun bear, Sumatran rhinoceros, elephants and the herbivorous tapir.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had, during his visit to the rainforest in May, said it had all the uniqueness and potential to be recognised as a World Heritage Site.

Nolee said: “It will not be a problem for us to achieve the status. Now, we just need to put in place the best practices.

He said the state was promoting the rainforest with
programmes being lined up.

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Global Tiger Day 2014 — future for Tigers uncertain

TRAFFIC 29 Jul 14;

Celebrations of the annual Global Tiger Day are taking place worldwide today, but the future of the rare cat remains of concern, warns TRAFFIC.

In 2010, at the Tiger Summit in St Petersburg, the 13 Tiger range States—Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Viet Nam—committed to a Global Tiger Recovery Program which aims to secure “Tx2”, a doubling of wild Tiger populations by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

Poaching, alongside habitat destruction and prey base loss are currently the greatest threats to wild Tigers today. Poached animals, obtained both opportunistically and through organized criminal activities, are trafficked to supply persistent market demand for bones and other body parts, used in non-traditional tonics, traditional medicines and for their pelts and other body parts, such as teeth, skin and claws, used as decorative items.

Earlier this month a comprehensive report co-authored by TRAFFIC into the progress made by countries in implementing measures to protect the four species of Asian Big Cats (Tiger, Asiatic Lion, Leopard and Snow Leopard) revealed that parts of a minimum of 1590 Tigers have been seized in illegal trade between January 2000 and April 2014 – an average of two animals per week.

“Overall, the estimated number of Tigers represented by the seizures has grown since the year 2000, from below 100 annually to nearing 150 annually,” states the report.

“With only 31% of these seizures taking place close to protected areas, it’s unclear how many of the parts seized in trade are from Tigers of wild origin, but one thing is certain—that all international Tiger part trade is illegal and threatens to stimulate a demand that would be devastating for the world’s wild Tigers,” said Natalia Pervushina, Global Tiger Programme Leader for TRAFFIC and WWF.

The report, Review of implementation of Resolution Conf. 12.5 (Rev CoP16) on conservation of and trade in Tiger and other Appendix I Asian big cat species (PDF, 2.7 MB), which was commissioned by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), recommends Tiger range countries review and strengthen their relevant national legislation to ensure it precludes all trade in Tiger parts regardless of their origin.

Other recommendations include the adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy towards online advertising for Tiger and other protected species products, following evidence this is becoming a major mechanism facilitating illicit transactions. E-Commerce websites were encouraged to ensure no online advertisements are posted for illegal Tiger products.

Improvements in enforcement activities were also urgently called for in Indonesia, where 20% of all Tiger part seizures took place between 2010–2012.

Meanwhile Myanmar is also of particular concern because of its role as a major wildlife trading hub, with parts of Tigers and other endangered species sold to tourists in border markets such as Mong La, Golden Rock and Three Pagodas Pass, and creating a major law enforcement challenge for Chinese and Thai border authorities.

The report also urged countries to counter the growing use of Tiger parts and derivatives as luxury items as a matter of urgency through targeted behavioural change interventions to reduce consumer demand.

In February this year, the UK Government announced its support for a programme co-ordinated by TRAFFIC to protect and recover wild Tigers by reducing the demand for their bones and other body parts.

“Improving legislation and changing consumer behaviour are among the measures needed to protect wild Tigers, but such efforts need to be backed up by appropriate law enforcement action to reduce poaching on the ground and to ensure anyone involved in trafficking of Tigers is brought to justice,” said Pervushina.

This October, representatives of Tiger range countries will meet in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to review their progress towards implementing the Global Tiger Recovery Program and the progress they have made towards achieving the Tx2 goal of doubling the number of wild Tigers by 2022.

However, even the wild Tiger population is presently not known accurately say WWF, who today called on range countries to carry out Tiger population surveys as a matter of urgency, noting that systematic national surveys take 6–12 months to plan and a minimum of a year to complete. Thus these surveys must start now if an updated global Tiger figure is to be released by the halfway point to Tx2 in 2016.

“We are more than a third of the way to 2022. We need to move at a faster, more determined pace if we hope to achieve the Tx2 goal,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Tigers Alive Initiative.

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Earth May Be in Early Days of 6th Mass Extinction

Laura Geggel Yahoo News 28 Jul 14;

Earth may be in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction, an international team of scientists says.

Animals and plants are threatened. More than 320 land vertebrates have gone extinct since 1500, the researchers said. The world's remaining animals with backbones are 25 percent less abundant than in 1500— a trend also seen in invertebrate animals, such as crustaceans, worms and butterflies, the scientists reported.

The previous mass extinction, which wiped out the dinosaurs, happened about 65 million years ago, likely from a catastrophic asteroid that collided with Earth. In contrast, the looming sixth mass extinction is linked to human activity, Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford University in California, said in a statement. Dirzo is the lead author of the new review of past research on the topic, which suggests Earth is in the early days of this sixth mass extinction.

A past study, which involved data from the fossil record and modern-day conservation biology, suggested Earth could enter such a mass extinction within the next 300 to 2,000 years. That study was detailed in the March 2, 2011, issue of the journal Nature.

Up to one-third of all vertebrates are threatened or endangered, the researchers said. Large animals — such as elephants, rhinoceroses and polar bears — have the highest rates of decline, which is a trend shared by other mass extinctions. These large animals are at particular risk because they tend to have few offspring and low population growth rates. Hunters and poachers, however, find their fur, meat, tusks or horns attractive targets. [7 Iconic Animals Humans Are Driving to Extinction]

Losing a species of large animal can have unexpected effects on the ecosystem and nearby human developments, a process known as defaunation. In one study, researchers isolated patches of land from animals, including zebra, giraffes and elephants. Without the animals, the grass and shrubs grew tall, and the soil became looser. Rodents quickly took over and doubled in numbers, eating the seeds from the plants and living in the patchy soil that was relatively predator-free.

Rodents can carry diseases and parasites that infect people, the researchers said.

"Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission," Dirzo said. "Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle."

The decline of big animals affects not only vegetation, but also invertebrates. In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled, and the number of invertebrate animals has dropped by 45 percent, the researchers said. Much of the loss is a result of habitat destruction and global climate disruption, the researchers said.

Research by Stuart Pimm, a biologist at Duke University, put a number on how fast species are now becoming extinct. His study, published May 29 in the journal Science, suggested that while one species, on average, went extinct per every 10 million each year before humans came onto the scene, that number has soared to between 100 and 1,000 species.

Stopping, or at least slowing, the sixth mass extinction will take time and collaboration. For example, people need to protect vital habitats and tailor their approach to fit each unique region; raising awareness may speed up these efforts, Dirzo said.

"We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth — and that's very important — but there's a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well," Dirzo said.

The review was published July 25 in the journal Science.

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The Future Of Medicine Depends On The Most Fragile Places On Earth

Kevin Loria Business Insider Yahoo News 29 Jul 14;

A cure for cancer might be found here.

Venomous cone snails sting passing fish, paralyzing them so they can be digested alive. Fire coral causes painful scrapes and infections when touched, a means of self-defense. And certain reef-dwelling mollusks swallow microbes to build up a protective coat of toxins on their skin.

Coral reefs and other rare environments aren't just fascinating and beautiful. The potent and diverse chemicals created by nature might hold the key to better treatments for cancer, HIV, and many other diseases that stymie doctors — but only if we can reach them in time.

Harvesting and adapting these natural compounds is crucial to the advancement of modern medicine. There's just one problem: Many of the best potential sources for new drugs are at risk of extinction.

Finding Drugs In Nature

The first modern antibiotic, penicillin, comes from a fungus.

Ancient Greeks used molds to fight infections. Polynesian seafarers and 14th-century Chinese-derived painkillers from reef creatures. And in recent years we've learned much more about how to extract chemicals and medicines from natural sources.

"Mother Nature has been doing her chemistry over the last 3 billion years," says David Newman, chief of the Natural Products Branch of the National Cancer Institute. "She isn't making anti-tumor compounds," he explains, but the same chemical that a sea sponge uses to fight predators might also be able to kill cancer cells or viruses.

Cone snail venom is now being used as a painkiller — one that's 50 times more potent than morphine — that eliminates phantom limb pain in amputees. Tunicates, marine invertebrates frequently found around coral reefs, provide anticancer and antiviral chemicals. AZT, the first effective drug against AIDS, comes from a chemical produced in a lab, but the chemical was first found in, and modeled from, a Caribbean sea sponge.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that more than half of modern pharmaceuticals derive from the natural world. In particular, they say that reefs and the creatures that live on and around them show special potential for medicine.

A 2012 review found that of the new drugs approved to fight cancer between 1981 and 2010, only 20.2% were purely synthetic — meaning purely made in a lab, not found in nature or made, derived, or copied from something natural. The same was true for new drugs used to fight infections. Just 22.6% of those were purely synthetic.

Killing Off Potential Treatments

Nature has amazing medical potential because of its biodiversity, but finding new medicines is hard work.

For every medically useful molecule found, thousands have been tested unsuccessfully. Some of those useful molecules, and the species that produce them, can be found in only a few vulnerable places.

"When we lose a single reef or part of a forest due to changes in climate or other causes, we do not know what we have lost," says Newman.

Natural resources with great potential have been squandered before.

Newman tells the story of a researcher who in the late 1980s collected samples of biological material from a certain type of algae growing among mangroves on the coast of a Caribbean island. Tests later showed that the algae contained what seemed to be a promising new antitumor agent. But when the researcher returned, the mangroves had been uprooted, and the area filled in and turned into a golf course.

Why Coral Reefs Matter

The ocean in particular is considered both one of the least explored and potentially most useful sources of new medicines. Called the "medicine cabinets of the 21st century" by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs are the most biodiverse sites in the sea.

But they're also the most vulnerable.

They cover less than 1% of the ocean's floor, and more than a quarter of marine life directly depends on them. But they are in dire shape because of the effects of rising temperatures, pollution, and ocean acidification. Many researchers think it might already be too late to save reefs.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warming and acidification will cause high extinction rates throughout the tropics, where most reefs are located.

And they aren't the only sites at risk.

"We are effectively undoing the beauty and the variety and the richness of the world which has taken tens of millions of years to reach," Elizabeth Kolbert told NPR's Terry Gross while discussing her book "The Sixth Extinction."

There have been five mass extinctions in earth's history, when some tragic event caused the number of species on the planet to plummet. Many people think that climate change, ocean acidification, and habitat destruction have put us on the cusp of a sixth extinction event, causing the "extinction of one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and sixth of all birds," according to Kolbert.

Reefs aren't the only sites with medical potential, but they are among the most vulnerable.

If These Sites Are Lost

The loss of much of the world's biodiversity is only one of the expected effects of climate change. But that one effect could have an even greater impact on humanity than we know.

It can't be said with certainty that climate change will destroy the molecule that would provide the perfect cure for leukemia or breast cancer or the chemical that could universally eliminate HIV.

New compounds with medical potential could theoretically be found anywhere. A molecule that could treat anthrax was recently found in underwater sediment off the coast of California. The source of an amazing new drug for fighting cancer might exist in some rare, never-analyzed species of fungus growing in New York's Central Park.

But so far, many of the most promising sources of new medicine in the world are in the biodiverse hotspots most at risk of being lost. Sites like reefs are beautiful, interesting places. But even if they weren't, they'd be worth preserving for their medical potential alone.

Unfortunately for much of the world, it could already be too late.

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Threat of El Nino eases, says Australian weather agency

Colin Packham PlanetArk 30 Jul 14;

Pacific Ocean temperatures have eased in recent weeks and an El Nino weather event later this year is now indicated by only a slight majority of climate models, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday.

"While the chance of an El Nino in 2014 has clearly eased, warmer-than-average waters persist in parts of the tropical Pacific, and the slight majority of climate models suggest El NiƱo remains likely for spring," the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said in an emailed statement.

While the Australian weather agency said an El Nino cannot be ruled out, it said that if the weather event does occur, it is increasingly unlikely to be a strong event.

El Nino - a warming of sea temperatures in the Pacific - affects wind patterns and can trigger both floods and drought in different parts of the globe, hitting crops and food supply.

(Reporting by Colin Packham)

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