Best of our wild blogs 11 Sep 14

Job Opportunity: Museum Officer
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Anti-Social Hydroids And Fish That Fake It
from Hantu Blog

Singapore Straits Pelagic Surveys – New Seabirds Discovered
from Singapore Bird Group

Plantain Squirrel eating various fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Elephants pay the price for palm in Malaysian Borneo, impact may reach far beyond reported kills
from news by Morgan Erickson-Davis

Malaysian palm oil chief misleads on deforestation
from news by Rhett Butler

Read more!

Two manta rays at Resorts World Sentosa's marine park die

Audrey Tan Straits Times 9 Sep 14;

Two newly-acquired manta rays at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) have died, adding to the list of casualties at the Marine Life Park.

Since 2010, RWS has lost four of its 27 wild-caught bottlenose dolphins.

A Marine Life Park spokesman yesterday said the giant rays died while in quarantine, "despite the best efforts and round-the-clock care provided by the husbandry and veterinary teams".

She declined to give further details, but a source told The Straits Times that both creatures died earlier this year.

Marine animals are quarantined before being exhibited to ensure they are disease- and parasite-free, and to give them time to get acclimatised to the temperature and other water conditions.

News of the latest deaths comes after RWS' announcement last week that it is starting a conservation project for manta rays.

Only a handful of aquariums worldwide have these ocean giants because of their size - certain species can grow up to 7m in width and weigh more than two tonnes. They face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

The aquarium's three existing manta rays, which first went on show in 2012, are doing well, said the spokesman.

Animal welfare activists have for years spoken out against keeping large, wide-ranging animals such as dolphins and manta rays at the marine park, particularly those caught in the wild, because they do not fare well in captivity.

Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said the group is "saddened by the loss".

"We are not against the park, if they keep species that are not as wide-ranging as dolphins and manta rays," he said, adding that reef fish, because of their small home range, may do better in captivity.

A ray of hope for endangered mantas
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 6 Sep 14;

They are gentle giants of the sea, gliding silently on wings that can span 7m, but little is known about manta rays except that they face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

To learn more about their migratory patterns and how to protect them, researchers are tagging 30 with microchips that will track their movements for up to a year.

The project by United States-based environmental group Conservation International and Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) SEA Aquarium is the first under a five-year partnership inked in January. The tie-up will focus on conservation, public education and supporting regional projects.

The 30 mantas will be tagged in Indonesian waters, namely in Bali, Raja Ampat, Berau and Komodo, where they gather in large numbers.

These locations comprise four manta tourism sites in Indonesia, where people "pay top dollar" to swim or snorkel with them, said Conservation International's senior adviser, Dr Mark Erdmann.

The manta-ray tagging project is believed to be one of South-east Asia's largest. Each tag costs about US$6,000 (S$7,500) and can track data such as depth and temperature of the water and real-time location of the mantas using Global Positioning System technology. Manta rays are not known to be found in Singapore's waters, although they may occasionally swim past.

National University of Singapore marine biologist Chou Loke Ming said it would be useful to find out more: "In order to protect a species, we need to know more of their behaviour and movement so that we can find effective ways of conserving it."

RWS added that the data could be used by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries to develop conservation and tourism management policies.

Information collected from the project will also be displayed at the aquarium, one of the few in the world to keep the animals in captivity. This month, visitors can also find out more about them at a manta-ray exhibition there. Aside from viewing the three reef manta rays in the aquarium's Open Ocean Habitat section, they can take part in activities such as talks and manta feeding shows.

Although the creatures are seldom kept in aquariums due to their large size, Dr Erdmann said it "was not a welfare issue" as the rays under RWS' care are healthy. "We believe that a public aquarium plays a tremendous role in increasing awareness of ocean issues," he said.

Five facts about manta rays

There are two species of manta ray: the reef manta ray and the oceanic manta ray.

The oceanic manta ray is the larger of the two, with a width span of up to 7m. The reef manta ray's width span is about 5.5m. Both are listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which means they are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Manta rays reproduce very slowly - they reach sexual maturity only between eight and 12 years of age and deliver only one pup every three to four years.

Manta rays are being hunted for their gill rakers, which are used in Chinese medicine. Practitioners believe consuming the cartilage supporting the gills will boost the immune system and help reduce toxins and fever.

Manta rays have a skeleton made up of cartilage, just like the shark. This is why both manta rays and sharks are classified under the same class of fish.

Manta rays are sometimes known as the "sea devil" because of their horn-shaped fins. They are filter feeders that feed only on plankton. They do not have any stinging barbs and are harmless to humans.

Professor Chou Loke Ming (NUS marine biologist) and Dr Mark Erdmann (senior adviser of Conservation International), IUCN

Read more!

NParks to send rangers for self-defence courses

Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) is getting its rangers or enforcement officers to go for self-defence courses, in the wake of rising assault cases by members of public. The authority has put out a tender on the Government's procurement portal, GeBIZ, for vendors to run self-defence courses for rangers.

There were eight cases of assault recorded so far this year, up from two for the whole of last year, and seven from 2012. The Commissioner of Parks and Recreation at NParks, Dr Leong Chee Chiew, said in some cases, the officers had to be hospitalised.

"For instance, one of our officers was assaulted when she approached a group of six who littered at East Coast Park and declined to provide their particulars when requested. She sustained multiple injuries and had to be hospitalised," he said in a statement.

He described the move to get rangers to learn the art of self-defence as a "pre-emptive step", even though NParks has not seen an increasing trend in the number of cases in which its officers have encountered confrontational and abusive situations.

He said the authority wants to ensure NParks officers can protect themselves should they encounter verbal or physical abuse as they enforce rules against illegal fishing and littering in Singapore's parks, nature areas and park connectors.

Dr Leong added that NParks enforcement officers are already provided basic knowledge of self-defence, but the tender will give them a "more structured training programme". As a precaution, officers also have to carry out duties in pairs and carry cameras for documentation purposes.

- CNA/ly

NParks officers to undergo training in self-defence skills
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 14 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — With its enforcement officers encountering verbal and physical abuse while on patrol — one had to be hospitalised after being attacked by litterbugs several years ago — the National Parks Board (NParks) is looking to beef up self-defence training for its enforcement unit.

Besides being taught to de-escalate situations, NParks enforcement officers will be trained to restrain and subdue violent individuals “quickly and effortlessly”, defend themselves when wrestled or tackled, and use unarmed defence tactics against armed assailants.

They will also be taught to use pressure points to control an aggressive person and apprehend such individuals using teamwork, “all while maintaining a professional bearing and presence”, said a tender document posted on GeBIZ, the government procurement website, last week.

Up to 24 officers may undergo the basic training on self-defence tactics, said the tender, which closes on Monday. The structured training programme is an enhancement to the basic knowledge of self-defence provided to all its enforcement officers, said NParks’ Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Leong Chee Chiew, who called the training a “pre-emptive step” to ensure staff members are able to protect themselves.

“All our enforcement officers are provided with the basic knowledge of self-defence. We are enhancing this by providing the enforcement team with a more structured training programme. This training programme also covers how our officers should respond to confrontational situations,” Dr Leong said.

NParks enforcement officers frequently patrol Singapore’s parks, nature areas and park connectors at different times of the day, including at night. They ensure these spots are safe for users and would be on the lookout for activities, such as illegal fishing or littering.

As a precaution, the officers conduct patrols in pairs and carry cameras for documentation.

Dr Leong said there has not been an increasing trend of confrontation and abuse encountered by its officers.

Seven cases were recorded in 2012, two cases were recorded last year and there have been eight cases so far this year. But in 2008, a female officer suffered multiple injuries and was hospitalised after being assaulted by a group of six litterbugs in East Coast Park who refused to provide their particulars when asked. The offenders were eventually charged in court.

Dr Leong did not reveal the size of NParks’ enforcement team, but said its staff in parks and nature reserves also take on enforcement duties when necessary.

“We value the well-being of all our officers and would like to ensure that they are equipped with the necessary skills to be able to carry out their duties safely,” he said. NEO CHAI CHIN

Read more!

HDB announces new 'smart town' framework

Channel NewsAsia 11 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: A "Smart HDB Town Framework", which maps out how the Housing and Development Board (HDB) aims to introduce the "smart" element in HDB towns and estates, was announced on Thursday (Sep 11).

In a press release, HDB CEO Dr Cheong Koon Hean said that HDB's "next exciting step" is to embark on the development of the Smart HDB Town.

"We want to leverage on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to make HDB towns and estates more liveable, efficient, sustainable and safe for our residents,” said Dr Cheong.

In the framework, HDB said it will focus on four aspects – smart planning, smart environment, smart estate and smart living.


HDB said it aims to use computer simulation and data analytics to help with the planning and designing of towns, and to "derive optimal and cost-effective solutions to achieve sustainability goals".

The technologies used include a Complex Systems Modelling Tool that HDB said can help assess the effectiveness of initiatives, such as solar energy. This information will be used to study the trade-offs when introducing new sustainable features in towns, and will be used to guide decision making.

Another tool is Smart Car Parks, which features a parking demand monitoring system that can adjust the number of lots for visitors during non-peak hours.


HDB said this will involve linking estates with a network of sensors that will capture information on environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, to improve the living environment for residents.

One example HDB listed is the use of "Smart Fans", which will automatically switch on when certain temperatures and levels of humidity are reached.


HDB said it will collect and analyse data to optimise maintenance cycles and pre-empt problems, such as by monitoring lift usage to detect potential problems, to improve estate services.

Technologies to be tested include "Smart Lightning with Sensors", to study human traffic for optimised provision of lighting, and "Smart Pneumatic Waste Conveyance System", which will monitor waste disposal patterns to improve the design of waste bins and frequency of waste collection, said HDB.


Finally, for smart living, HDB said it will provide digital infrastructure in flats so that residents can have intelligent homes to "enhance energy savings" and "enable them to access services like healthcare in the comfort of their homes".

HDB said commercial companies will be able to develop applications, such as a "Smart Elderly Alert System" for families to monitor their elderly relatives, and a "Home Energy Management System" for residents to monitor and potentially reduce their energy usage.


Some of the technologies will be tested in Punggol Northshore, which was announced on Tuesday, before extending them to other estates, said HDB.

These include:

Smart car park
Smart fan
Smart lighting
Smart pneumatic waste conveyance system
Smart enabled homes to facilitate solutions like an Elderly Alert System and a Home Energy Management System.

Members of the public can find out more about the new "Smart" initiatives at the HDB Hub, or at

- CNA/av

HDB launches framework to equip estates with smarter technologies
Tan Shi Wei Today Online 11 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE – The Housing Development Board (HDB) has launched a Smart HDB Town Framework today (Sept 11) to leverage on technologies that will make HDB Towns and estates more efficient and sustainable for residents.

The framework will focus on four key areas: Smart planning, smart environment, smart estates and smart living.

Through smart planning, HDB will make use of computer simulation and data analytics to improve the planning and design processes of its towns, precincts and buildings. They will also derive optimal cost-effective solutions to achieve its goals for sustainability.

HDB will also look into linking estates with a network of sensors that will capture real-time information like temperature and humidity, to create a smart environment. Innovative solutions can then be implemented to create a more pleasant living space for residents.

The aim of achieving a smart estate will be conducted by collecting data through the use of smart technologies that will help optimize maintenance cycles and pre-empt problems in doling out estate services. For example, enhanced understanding on the usage patterns of lifts and lights can be obtained through the use of sensors. Any change in pattern could signify potential problems that can be promptly resolved.

Furthermore, HDB will provide digital infrastructures in flats to pave the way for intelligent homes. Residents will be able to tap on smart home applications like energy saving management systems to monitor their energy consumption patterns, and possibly reduce their energy usage.

Punggol Northshore will be one of the first few public housing districts to test-bed these smart technologies. This will include an intelligent parking demand monitoring system that will automatically increase the number of available lots during non-peak hours for visitors and decrease them when residents return home in the evening.

An elderly alert system will also be trailed in the district, as sensors placed in the flat to monitor the movements of the elderly will alert caregivers when it detects irregular movements.

HDB’s chief executive officer, Dr Cheong Koon Hean said, “HDB has, in the past few years, introduced many fresh ideas into our plans and designs. Our next exciting step is to embark on the development of the Smart HDB Town. We want to leverage on Information and Communication Technology to make HDB towns and estates more liveable, efficient, sustainable and safe for our residents.”

Read more!

Banks play key role in environmental protection: WWF

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 10 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) believes that banks can play an important role in the global push towards environmental protection. It said that financial institutions and investors hold the key to ensuring that fund flows are redirected to more sustainable causes.

Singapore experienced its worst haze crisis in history at roughly this time last year. The haze is caused by farmers in Indonesia, who use slash-and-burn methods to clear their land for the next planting season. To deter farmers from using slash-and-burn methods to clear land, the Indonesian government has resorted to naming and shaming the palm oil companies which are responsible.

However, WWF believes that more can be done and said that part of the solution may lie in the banks that finance those companies. Ms Jeanne Stampe, the Asia Finance and Commodities Specialist at WWF International, said: "There is increasing demand for traceability and for sustainability standards on the part of the customers who are buying from the palm oil companies.

"So if you are a bank lending to a palm oil company, you would want to see that palm oil company has certain sustainability standards in order to improve its market access, which affects the topline, and also to avoid any fines which would then hit the profits."


On the back of a report launched on environmental, social and governance issues for banks, WWF held a workshop in Singapore for lenders on Tuesday (Sep 9), which said that change must come from within the various industries.

Mr Mark Devadason, global head of sustainability at Standard Chartered Bank, said: "Quite often, industry has a negative connotation. Some industries raise eyebrows - whether it is palm oil or forestry. But business needs to go on, and I think the best way to support and drive positive change is from within. If we just walk away, businesses do not necessarily change."

Mr Ben Ridley, head of sustainability affairs for Asia Pacific at Credit Suisse, said: "We have global policies around sustainability. We also have sustainability policies for certain industries - for mining, for oil and gas, for forestry, agribusiness. What we are doing through those policies is that we are looking at a number of touch points with our clients, in terms of their commitment, their capacity, the systems and the procedures that they have in place to manage these issues."


In the last five years, there has been greater pressure on companies that do not operate in a sustainable manner and greater scrutiny on the lending practices of banks.

Ms Monica Hira, the Sustainability and Climate Change Leader at PwC Singapore, said: "We have had situations where large banks recently, over the past one year, have been in the public eye - not necessarily for the right reasons but for their financing of projects around the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, there is talk about lending to companies that are involved in the destruction of the rainforests."

But it is not just about bad publicity - there are business considerations as well. Banks could get hit hard on their loan books, for example, if they extend too much credit to coal mining firms at a time when there is pressure on them to cut down on carbon emissions.

According to PwC's climate change analysts, global economies need to cut their energy-related carbon emissions for every dollar of GDP by 6.2 per cent every year from now to 2100 - that is more than five times the current rate. The reduction target is an estimate based on a global warming limit of two degrees. Two degrees of warming is the limit scientists agree is needed to ensuring the serious risks of runaway climate change impacts are avoided.

- CNA/ac

Read more!

Malaysia: Green is the word for Sabah

The Star 11 Sep 14;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is “going green” on a large scale with long-term strategies to achieve sustainable and cost-effective measures to meet the state’s power demands.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman said the state government hoped to attract more investors in the renewable energy sector and be a notable destination for biomass, mini hydro, geothermal, micro-algae, tidal and other investments.

He said the move to seek renewable energy was more cost efficient in the long-run as compared to generating electricity from fossil fuels.

Musa said it was a big challenge to promote renewable energy for the state with the need for more precise research as well as investments from the private sector to develop the green energy sector.

“We are committed to promoting renewable energy and will provide the necessary long-term, transparent and stable policy guidelines and regulatory systems with the right condition for investment, such as sufficient infrastructure, incentives as well as technical and financial assistance for the private sector,” he said.

“The private sector should play its part, as there are an abundance of natural resources in the state that can be turned into renewable energy.

“This is the right time to come in and seriously look into opportunities available in the renewable energy sector,” he added when launching the Sustainable Green Energy for a Greener Sabah programme by the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) with German foundation Konrad-Adenauer- Stiftung.

“The state government has already made a firm decision that coal should not be in the mix, and we stand firm on this,” he said, adding that renewable energy was in great demand around the world and would edge out natural gas as the second biggest source of electricity after coal by 2016.

Musa said the need to switch to renewal energy sources was necessary as the current generation capacity in Sabah was ageing, expensive and becoming increasingly unreliable.

“Unplanned outages have led to costly service interruptions throughout Sabah, especially in the east coast, which is dependent on diesel plants at the moment.

“In some remote areas, electricity grid extensions are often not economical,” he said, adding that the Federal Government had allocated RM1.8bil in grants to put in place transmission links across the state.

Read more!

Amazon rainforest destruction in Brazil rises again

BBC News 10 Sep 14;

The rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has increased for a second year running.

Brazilian government figures show deforestation was up by 29% in the 12 months up to the end of July 2013.

Satellite data showed that almost 6,000 sq km (2,315 sq miles) of forest were cleared during that period.

The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where most of Brazil's agricultural expansion is taking place.

More than 1,000 sq km (390 sq miles) have been cleared in each state.

Last year, the Brazilian authorities said there had been a 28% rise in deforestation.

That reversed several years of decline.

The worst year since the Brazilian government began tracking deforestation was 2004, when almost 30,000 sq km (11,580 sq miles) of forest were lost.

Besides agricultural expansion, the rebound in deforestation is due to illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric dams.

Read more!

Ozone layer showing 'signs of recovery', UN says

Roger Harrabin BBC 10 Sep 14;

The ozone layer that shields the earth from cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is showing early signs of thickening after years of depletion, a UN study says.

The ozone hole that appears annually over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year.

The report says it will take a decade before the hole starts to shrink.

Scientists say the recovery is entirely due to political determination to phase out the man-made CFC gases destroying ozone.

The study was published by researchers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

"International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story... This should encourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of tackling climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

Dr Ken Jucks from the US space agency Nasa told BBC News that humans "have started to do the right thing in order to convert the atmosphere back towards what it was before the industrial revolution started".

Scientists cannot be absolutely certain yet that the hole will heal itself. Prof David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said that test results from his organisation would throw extra light on the WMO's

"We have to be a bit cautious, but this does look on the face of it like some very good news," he told BBC News. "Our own data from the Antarctic will take a few weeks to process but we hope to confirm the findings. If it's accurate, it underlines the potential power of international agreement."
CO2 still problematic

The good news on ozone comes in the wake of bad news on the gases fuelling climate change. The WMO said this week that atmospheric greenhouse gases had reached a record high.

Tackling a gas like carbon dioxide (CO2) which is central to so many facets of human life is of a completely different order to reducing a few chemicals for which substitutes can be found.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol that banned or phased out ozone-eating depleting chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once widely used in refrigerators and spray cans, would prevent two million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030, according to UNEP.

It would also help prevent damage to wildlife, agriculture, peoples' eyes and immune systems, the agency added.

The WMO say ozone should recover towards its 1980 level by mid-century, or slightly later for Antarctica, where it gets dangerously thin every year between mid-August and November or December.

It says progress could be improved by as much as 11 years if existing stocks of ozone-depleting substances - many of them stored up in old fridges and fire-extinguishers - were destroyed.

Fragile ozone layer shows first sign of recovery : U.N
Tom Miles PlanetArk 11 Sep 14;

Experts said it was largely down to global action - a 1987 ban on man-made gases that damage the fragile high-altitude screen. The agreement would help prevent millions of cases of skin cancer and other conditions, they added.

The ozone hole that appears over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year, though it will be about a decade before it starts shrinking, said the report co-produced by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. Environment Programme.

"International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story ... This should encourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of tackling climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

Past studies have suggested the ozone layer has stopped getting worse.

"Now for the first time in this report we say that we see indications of a small increase in total ozone. That means recovery of the ozone layer in terms of total ozone has just started," said WMO senior scientific officer Geir Braathen.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol that banned or phased out ozone depleting chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) once widely used in refrigerators and spray cans, would prevent 2 million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030 according to UNEP.

The agreement would also help avert damage to wildlife, agriculture, human eyes and immune systems, the agency added.


The ozone layer was expected to recover toward its 1980 level by mid-century, or slightly later for Antarctica, where it gets dangerously thin every year between mid-August and November or December.

"The development you saw during the 1990s that the ozone hole got bigger from year to year - that development has stopped, so it has leveled off," said Braathen.

"We think in about 2025 or thereabouts we'll be able to say with certainty that the ozone hole is getting smaller," he added.

Progress could be sped up by as much as 11 years if existing stocks of ozone-depleting substances - many of them stored up in old fridges and fire-extinguishers - were destroyed.

The largest ozone hole on record was about 30 million square km in 2006. The hole now covers about 20 million square km - big enough for the moon to pass through - but may not have peaked this season.

The size of the hole varies from year to year, partly due to temperature in the upper atmosphere.

The reduction of ozone-damaging chemicals would also help the environment, the report said, as many of the substances were also greenhouses gases blamed for global warming.

But the rising levels of other greenhouses gases in the atmosphere had "the potential to undermine these gains," said the report.

One of the ozone-depleting substances that was supposed to have been phased out - carbon tetrachloride, a solvent - was still being released into the atmosphere suggesting, the report said, illicit production and usage over the past decade.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Read more!