Best of our wild blogs: 9 Sep 14

APPEAL: Saving our Dugong Models for all Children in Singapore
from Flying Fish Friends

27 Sept, Saturday: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs and A truly fruitful experience at Pasir Ris Mangroves

Terumbu Pempang Tengah check up
from wild shores of singapore

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Better to develop new wildlife attraction in Mandai

AsiaOne 9 Sep 14

WHILE I applaud the vision in moving Jurong Bird Park to the Mandai cluster of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) institutions ("New plans for Mandai will be 'sensitive to area' "; last Saturday), I am concerned about the fundamental premise of this planning strategy.

When I became chief executive of WRS in 2000, I started looking into ways to increase the bird park's annual local attendance, which made up only 20 per cent of its one million visitors.

From straw polls of friends, I established that the last time most people visited the park was when they were in Primary 6.

One fundamental issue with a bird park is that it holds fairly limited appeal to repeat visitors from Singapore. The tourism appeal, especially to the Asian market, which likes more bang for the buck (650 species of birds and highest man-made waterfall), is much greater. In contrast, a zoo has greater local appeal because of its greater variety of animals.

Thus, although a major overhaul of the bird park is timely, I do not think this will greatly increase its overall appeal, visitor figures and profitability.

From my experience as a zoo designer, an overhaul of the Jurong site would cost about $50 million, while moving it to Mandai would cost about $200 million.

So the question is: Why move?

It is logical to create a cluster of wildlife attractions, and develop some eco-friendly resorts to allow tourists to take in all the attractions over two to three days. This clustering also streamlines the WRS management operations and will probably result in some savings on manpower and infrastructure.

The alternative is to leave the bird park in Jurong, upgrade it with $50 million and develop a new wildlife attraction on the available Mandai land.

As far as I am aware, the River Safari cost $150 million, of which WRS had to borrow $50 million on a commercial, repayable loan. If this is the Government's funding policy, I would put my money into a new wildlife attraction in Mandai.

There are many new concepts that can be developed.

One is a project our company has been conceptually developing, which we call the Unzoo. This simulates a walk into a national park, where animal encounters are orchestrated along the way. By design, it is a totally back-to-nature experience and thus discourages architectural- and engineering-inspired infrastructural development.

I would hate to see Supertrees, a la Gardens by the Bay, in Mandai. My basic concern is: Is Singapore - and are Singaporeans - running out of creative ideas?

Bernard Harrison
Principal Partner, Creativity & Design
Bernard Harrison and Friends

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Last remaining fruit growers in Singapore

Chai Hung Yin The New Paper AsiaOne 9 Sep 14;

Row upon row of greenhouses are visible from the road.

But with a nondescript sign as the only indicator, one could easily miss the entrance to this Lim Chu Kang farm.

After you have entered the farm, a narrow pathway leads to the farmhouse. A lush web of crawling greenery greets you, with green apple-like fruit hanging from the roof.

Say hello to the local version of passionfruit.

Following the narrow pathway leads you down a meandering dirt track, which takes you to a green oasis of vegetables neatly planted inside curved greenhouse structures.

A flowering wax apple tree, with plastic bags tied to its twigs, provide much needed relief from the blistering sun. (The bags provide the fruit relief from pecking birds.)

Next to it, a longan tree grows its fruit in profusion.

And in a thicket beside that, a custard apple gently sways in the breeze.

Here in organic farm Fire Flies Health Farm, we meet Mr Chai Nian Kun, 34, and his parents, one of Singapore's last remaining fruit growers.

The last of Singapore's full-scale fruit farms, Abiu Fruit Farm at Lorong Serambi in Lim Chu Kang, closed about seven years ago after its land lease expired.

It left only a handful of farmers - like Mr Chai - who now grow fruit as an addition to their vegetable crops.

Mr Chai says the reason not many farms here plant fruit is a matter of survival.

He says: "A mango tree takes about five years to fruit. In those five years, we still need to pay rent."

Realising how precious land is in his parents' 3ha farm, Mr Chai fully uses every inch of soil.

His fruit harvest includes papayas, bananas, longan, wax apple, custard apple, pulasan and passionfruit.

He tells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin: "Whenever there is a small space where we can't plant vegetables, we plant fruit."

Every month, the farm can produce 200kg of fruit - mostly papayas and bananas. This pales in comparison with his vegetable production, which weighs in at a hefty 9,000kg a month.

But he is happy with the extra income.

He says: "We usually don't eat the fruit that we harvest. It is our livelihood. We don't plant for fun. We consume only the leftovers."

His family also takes great pains to grow everything organically.

Mr Chai's father, Mr Chai Kien Chin, 64, painstakingly researches new methods and puts them into practice.

The younger Mr Chai says: "The fruits that are available almost all year round are papayas and bananas.

"We let them grow naturally, but if it rains every day, we can't get much harvest. These fruits need a lot of sun to ripen."

They even have a tiny hill of home-made compost on site, which they use as fertiliser.

The elder Mr Chai also makes his own organic liquid fertiliser from leftover beans, expired rice and over-ripe fruit and vegetables, which he ferments in barrels.

Their regular customers include an organic vegetarian restaurant and organic-centric shops.

"Whenever we have fruit harvest, we will ask them if they want any," says Mr Chai.

For health benefits, the Chais have diligently abstained from going chemical. That means no use of pesticides, fungicide, growth-inducing agent, chemical fertiliser or even animal waste.

But in this oasis of green, there is a dark cloud looming.

Mr Chai is not sure how long they can hold out for.

There are about two years left on their land lease and until then, Mr Chai is happy to continue his organic venture.

He has not firmed up his plans, but the elder Mr Chai has a clearer game plan. He says: "If Singapore can't include us, I will bring my knowledge and expertise overseas."
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Vietnam: Rising sea levels threaten central region's coastline

VietNamNet Bridge 8 Sep 14;

Rising sea levels over the last decade caused the disappearance of many beautiful beaches and protected forests in the central province of Quang Nam and are now encroaching on coastal residential areas in Nui Thanh district and Hoi An City.

By 2020, provincial experts say, flooding in these low-lying coastal areas will submerge over Hoi An will be hit hardest, with flooding predicted in more than 26 per cent of the city, followed by Dien Ban District with 26 per cent, Duy Xuyen District with 16 per cent and Nui Thanh District with 15 per cent.

In Nui Thanh's Tam Hai island commune, seawater has encroached by 50m in the last five years. Local authorities plan to relocate approximately 200 households from the most severely affected village, Thuan An. Many villagers have already moved to the mainland, fearing the impact of more frequent natural disasters, said Nguyen Tan Hung, a commune official in charge of agriculture.

Since 2km of protective dykes were built along the coast in Tam Hai commune in 2012, landslides had decreased, Hung said. However, a 30m section of the embankment was damaged in a storm in 2013 and the commune needed to expand the dyke system by 2.4 km in Thuan An and Binh Trung villages, where sea levels had been erosing by nearly 10m each year.

Rising sea levels and erosion were also affecting Cua Dai beach in Hoi An, home to many high-end resorts. The sea was now only 40m away from roads; tides had eroded the coast to such an extent that some beaches had been swept away completely.

Rising sea levels and erosion had hurt business at Sunrise Resort, affecting more than 200m of beach in the last eight years and forcing the resort to spend US$1 million to build embankments, said resort director Ngo Van Hoang. However, the embankments could not withstand the high waves.

Several resorts invited experts from the Netherlands to survey the area and propose solutions, but the construction of a complex dyke system was beyond their means.

In 2010 the province approved a VND299 billion ($14.2 million) project to build dykes along Hoi An's coast. However, only 714m of dykes have been built.


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California blue whales, once nearly extinct, back at historical levels

Dan Whitcomb PlanetArk 8 Sep 14;

California blue whales, the largest animals on Earth once driven to near extinction by whaling, have made a remarkable comeback to near historic, 19th-century levels, according to a University of Washington study released on Friday.

The recovery makes California blue whales - which study authors say now number about 2,200, or 97 percent of historical levels - the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from whaling.

"The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures," said Cole Monnahan, a University of Washington doctoral student and lead author of the study.

Despite the comeback, the whales - which as adults can reach nearly 100 feet (30 meters) in length and weigh 190 tons (172 tonnes), twice as much as the largest known dinosaur - are still being struck by ships off the California coast at numbers above allowable U.S. limits, according to the study's authors

Conservation groups say at least 11 blue whales are struck each year along the U.S. West Coast, nearly four times the "potential biological removal" level of 3.1 permitted under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"Even accepting our results that the current level of ship strikes is not going to cause overall population declines, there is still going to be ongoing concern that we don't want these whales killed by ships," University of Washington assistant professor of aquatic and fishery sciences Tim Branch said.

According to the University of Washington paper and a separate paper published earlier this year, some 3,400 blue whales were caught between 1905 and 1971, a number determined in part by examining once-secret Russian whaling archives.

The study's authors say that the population of California blue whales is now growing more slowly, partly due to ship strikes and also because numbers are reaching the habitat limit.

"Our findings aren't meant to deprive California blue whales of protections that they need going forward," Monnahan said.

"California blue whales are recovering because we took actions to stop catches and start monitoring. If we hadn't, the population might have been pushed to near extinction - an unfortunate fate suffered by other blue whale populations," he said. "It's a conservation success story."

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Australia: New plan avoids mud dumping in Barrier Reef Park

Associated Press Yahoo News 8 Sep 14;

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The government of Australia's Queensland state approved a plan Monday that will prevent 3 million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of seabed mud from being dumped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The state-owned North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp., or NQBP, already has federal approval to dump dredged sediment in the marine park in order to expand the Abbot Point coal port near the town of Bowen, a decision that environmentalists say will endanger one of the world's most fragile ecosystems.

But Queensland Premier Campbell Newman announced Monday that his Cabinet ministers had approved a new disposal plan that would have the material reused on land.

"(It) will create a win-win situation. It will protect the unique values of the Great Barrier Reef and allow for the staged development of the important port of Abbot Point," Newman said in a statement.

The state government has asked federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who approved the Abbot Point expansion in 2013, to fast-track approval for the new plan.

The government hopes the new disposal plan will ensure the Abbot Point expansion can begin on schedule.

NQBP will carry out the dredging on behalf of proponents Adani and GVK Hancock. Adani wants the work to begin in June 2015.

Last week, NQBP said it was looking at alternative disposal options due to a legal challenge by an environmental group against dumping the material at sea.

Queensland's port authority said proponents feared the court case could hold up the expansion of the port by up to two years.

Outraged conservationists say the already fragile reef would be gravely threatened by the dredging, which was to occur over a 184-hectare (455-acre) area. Apart from the risk that the sediment would smother coral and sea grass, the increased shipping traffic would boost the risk of accidents, such as oil spills and collisions with delicate coral beds, environment groups argue.

In a 2012 report, the U.N.'s cultural agency, UNESCO — which includes the marine park among its World Heritage sites — expressed concern about development along the reef, including ports. It warned that the marine park was at risk of being included on a list of World Heritage sites that are in danger.

A decision to add the Great Barrier Reef to that list has been held off for a year, after UNESCO said in June that Australia had made progress in protecting it.

UNESCO's World Heritage Center has asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the site by February 2015.

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Cities prepare for warm climate without saying so

JOHN FLESHER Associated Press Yahoo News 8 Sep 14;

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (AP) — With climate change still a political minefield across the nation despite the strong scientific consensus that it's happening, some community leaders have hit upon a way of preparing for the potentially severe local consequences without triggering explosions of partisan warfare: Just change the subject.

Big cities and small towns are shoring up dams and dikes, using roof gardens to absorb rainwater or upgrading sewage treatment plans to prevent overflows. Others are planting urban forests, providing more shady relief from extreme heat. Extension agents are helping farmers deal with an onslaught of newly arrived crop pests.

But in many places, especially strongholds of conservative politics, they're planning for the volatile weather linked to rising temperatures by speaking of "sustainability" or "resilience," while avoiding no-win arguments with skeptics over whether the planet is warming or that human activity is responsible.

The pattern illustrates a growing disconnect between the debate still raging in politics and the reality on the ground. In many city planning departments, it has become like Voldemort, the arch-villain of the Harry Potter stories: It's the issue that cannot be named.

"The messaging needs to be more on being prepared and knowing we're tending to have more extreme events," said Graham Brannin, planning director in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Sen. James Inhofe — a global warming denier and author of a book labeling it "The Greatest Hoax" — once served as mayor. "The reasoning behind it doesn't matter; let's just get ready."

To be sure, flood control projects and other so-called resiliency measures were taking place long before anyone spoke of planetary warming. But the climate threat has added urgency and spurred creative new proposals, including ones to help people escape searing temperatures or to protect coastlines from surging tides, like artificial reefs. It's also generated new sources of government funding.

In Tulsa, the city has been buying out homeowners and limiting development near the Arkansas River to help prevent flooding from severe storms. Although two lakes provide ample drinking water, Brannin is beginning to push for conservation with future droughts in mind. A nonprofit, Tulsa Partners Inc., is advocating "green infrastructure" such as permeable pavement to soak up storm runoff.

They emphasize disaster preparedness, saying little or nothing about climate change.

Leaders in Grand Haven, a town of 10,600 in predominantly Republican western Michigan, will meet this fall with design consultants to explore such possibilities as "cooling stations" for low-income people during future heat waves, or development restrictions to prevent storm erosion of the Lake Michigan waterfront.

City Manager Pat McGinnis isn't calling it a climate change initiative.

"I wouldn't use those words,'" McGinnis said he told the consultants. "Those are a potential flash point."

Grand Haven's mayor, Geri McCaleb, is among the skeptics who consider warming merely part of nature's historical cycle. Yet she's on board with ideas for dealing with storms.

"History will bear out who has the right answers" about climate change, McCaleb said.

Joe Vandermeulin, whose organization runs the Grand Haven program and others, is accustomed to walking the language tightrope.

"The term 'global warming' seems to be thoroughly misunderstood, so we don't use it much," Vandermeulin said, even though a primary goal is helping communities prepare for ... global warming.

During a climate conference this summer that drew about 175 community leaders, government officials and scientists, mostly from the Great Lakes area, organizers even distributed a pamphlet with tips for discussing the subject — or sidestepping it. For example, avoid hyperbolic "climageddon" warnings about impending catastrophe, it advises.

"It's really unfortunate that the political climate has poisoned the way we have to talk about these things," said Don Scavia, a University of Michigan environmental scientist and an organizer of the Ann Arbor session.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, Peter Nierengarten, the city's "sustainability and resilience director," encounters a range of opinion about his efforts to make houses more energy and water efficient. A conspiracy theorist website headlined "The 'Sustainable' Vampire Attacks!" accuses him of colluding with a supposed United Nations-inspired plot to revoke individual rights.

But Nierengarten and allies successfully lobbied the GOP-led state legislature to allow communities to issue tax-exempt bonds for efficiency projects.

"It was all about the economic health of businesses across the state and being more competitive," he said. "Not global warming."

The subject is especially touchy in coastal areas, where developers worry that projections of rising sea levels will boost insurance costs and scare off real estate buyers. In rural Hyde County, N.C., planning director Kris Noble just talks about flooding, which people understand.

"We can argue about climate change all day long, is it happening or is it not, but either way, we've always flooded and we're always going to flood," she said.

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