Best of our wild blogs: 26 Sep 14

Sofa not good: Fish farms and trash on Pulau Ubin
from wild shores of singapore

Why do birds roost in some trees but not others?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

One more day...
from Cicada Tree Eco-Place

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Bangladesh: Committee identifies eight rivers to export sand

Asif Showkat Kallol Dhaka Tribune 25 Sep 14;

According to sources, several sand and soil exporters had already submitted their proposals to the Commerce Ministry for permission to export sand to Singapore and Maldives

Seven recommendations put forward by the committee on the sand export policy were finalised at a meeting on Tuesday.

The meeting was held at the Commerce Ministry with Additional Secretary Shawkat Hossain Warsa in the chair.

The committee recommends that the government should lift sand from eight rivers – Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Teesta, Dhaleshwari, Brahmaputra, Gomti and Fazilpur and Ghashia canal and export it, official sources said.

It also recommends that the Commerce Ministry fix the price of sand and sand exporters should take permission from the ministry.

An official said the committee would submit its recommendations to Commerce Secretary Hedayetullah Al Mamoon who returned home from abroad yesterday. If necessary, the policy proposal would go to the cabinet committee on economic affairs for approval, he said.

According to the recommendations, Water Development Board and Seaport Authority would choose sand for export as the two government agencies were lifting sand regularly.

Local sand exporters could earn $1 billion from export of 10 million tonnes of sand. Ministries and divisions concerned would look into if it puts any negative impact on the environment for export of sand from the country’s different sandbar areas.

Sand exporters would collect sand from capital dredging areas on their own management, according to the recommendations.

Commerce Secretary Hedayetullah Al Mamoon formed an eight-member committee in an inter-ministerial meeting on July 22. The committee was supposed to submit a report in a month.

According to sources, several sand and soil exporters had already submitted their proposals to the Commerce Ministry for permission to export sand to Singapore and Maldives.

The Network and Infrastructure Company had already applied to the Commerce Ministry, seeking approval for exporting over 1.5m tonnes of sand to Singapore. The proposal, however, still remains pending.

Earlier, the government of Maldives showed interest to import sand from Bangladesh during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to that country in the middle of her last tenure.

The move could not yield any further progress due to bureaucratic complexities.

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Singapore’s population growth slowest in 10 years

Imelda Saad Channel NewsAsia 25 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic’s population grew 1.3 per cent between June 2013 and June 2014 - its slowest rate of growth in the last 10 years, according to figures released by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) on Thursday (Sep 25).

In actual figures, Singapore’s total population was 5.47 million as of June, up from 5.4 million a year ago, the NPTD said in its annual Population in Brief report.

The citizen population grew 0.9 per cent to 3.34 million, similar to last year’s growth rate, while the Permanent Resident (PR) population stood at 527,700, down from 531,200 the year before.

The Government plans to continue taking in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens each year to keep the citizen population from shrinking, the NPTD report said. To keep the PR population stable, it will grant about 30,000 PRs each year.

Making up the population numbers is an issue of quality as well as quantity, noted Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, who heads the Social Lab at the Institute of Policy Studies. "I think we have to be concerned that the people we bring in have the qualities and skills needed by the kind of jobs that we have," he said.

"In some sectors it is not just about whether they will bring competition among Singaporeans but also do we have enough people in the first place? Even when we add in Singaporeans, do we even have enough people to service those kind of jobs and industries?"

Measures taken by the Government to mitigate the inflow of foreign manpower saw the growth for the non-resident population slowing to 2.9 per cent, down from 4 per cent the previous year. As of June, there were 1.6 million non-residents in Singapore, up from 1.55 million a year ago.

Foreign employment growth, mainly driven by the construction sector, continues to slow down - it is 3 per cent, compared to nearly 6 per cent the previous year and a peak of 8 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

"We don't expect the Government to relax the foreign workforce policy, especially for the non-construction sector. This is with the view to force the businesses to restructure their production process to raise their productivity," said Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap, Co-Director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

This is in line with the latest policy to ensure Singaporeans and PRs are benefiting from Placed-and-Train programme, he said. "If this scheme is successful then it can help to mitigate the restrictive foreign workforce policy. Singaporeans and PRs are being encouraged to work in sectors with higher productivity, through on-the-job training or internships while they are in polytechnic or even university."


Singaporeans are living longer, with the number of citizens aged 65 years old and above rising from 11.7 per cent last year to 12.4 per cent in 2014.

The report also found that there are fewer working citizens to support the growing number of elderly. There are currently 5.2 working citizens for each elderly person, down from 7.6 in 2004.

Fewer Singaporeans got married, with the number of marriages involving at least one citizen decreasing from 23,192 in 2012 to 21,842 in 2013. The median age at first marriage has remained stable for both genders, with men getting married at the median age of 30.1 and women at 27.8.

Fewer babies were born, with the resident total fertility rate dipping from 1.29 in 2012 to 1.19 last year. The decline was seen across all ethnic groups, with Chinese experiencing the largest decline, the report said.

- CNA/cy/xy

Population hits 5.47m but growth slowest in a decade
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 26 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — Singapore society continued to age in the past year, as the Republic’s total population grew at its slowest in a decade, rising 1.3 per cent to reach 5.47 million in June.

The proportion of citizens aged 65 and above inched up to 12.4 per cent this year, up from 11.7 per cent last year. Citizens’ median age increased to 40.4 years, up from 40 last year.

The statistics were released yesterday by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) in its the annual Population in Brief report.

It also showed that the number of citizens rose by 0.9 per cent in the past year to 3.34 million, through births and immigration. There were 20,572 individuals granted citizenship last year, and 31,017 citizen births. The number of permanent residents held steady at 0.53 million.

The number of non-residents — largely comprised of foreigners working here and their families, as well as students — rose by 2.9 per cent, slower than the 4 per cent the previous year.

The NPTD said foreign employment growth — driven mainly by the construction sector — was 3 per cent, “a more sustainable pace” compared with the 5.9 per cent the previous year. Two-thirds of the increase in foreign labour in the past year, or about 22,000 out of about 33,000, was from construction, statistics showed.

Businesses will face a tight labour market going forward as the economy restructures, but Singapore will remain business-friendly and the Government will help businesses to grow and succeed here, said the NPTD. The slowdown in total population growth was the result of moderation in foreign employment growth, which the Government has taken concrete steps to achieve, it added.

Asked if Singapore’s economic growth projections -- 3 to 5 per cent annually until 2020 -- were sustainable in the face of slowing inflow of non-residents and a rapidly ageing citizen population, economist Shandre Thangavelu said the impact of an ageing population was felt even with a rapid increase in the foreign population. “In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that ageing will lead to slower or falling productivity growth as older workers have inherent acquired skills that will allow them to adapt and adopt to economic situations much better,” said Associate Professor Shandre, Regional Director of Southeast Asia at the University of Adelaide’s Institute of International Trade, who is based in Singapore. Slower diffusion of technology is possible, but the workforce is getting more educated. Singapore is reaching a stage of growth that requires effective use of all available resources including older workers, to maintain competitiveness and sustainable growth, he said.

Whether economic growth projections can be sustained depends a lot on achieving higher productivity, said DBS economist Irvin Seah. But instead of measuring productivity by output per worker, Singapore could use real median income instead. “In a small country where the economy is largely driven by external demand, (using a) GDP-per-worker measurement is totally off,” he said. “If you believe a person should be paid based on his productivity, his work rate, then wages is a measurement of his productivity.”

Immigration helps to balance the shrinking and ageing of the citizen population, said the NPTD. Four in 10 of new permanent residents last year were aged 21 to 30, while just over four in 10 new citizens last year were aged 20 and below. The number of overseas Singaporeans, meanwhile, increased to 212,200 this year, up from 207,000 last year.

On the population trends, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: “There are obvious benefits to having smaller population growth, but there are costs as well. We cannot always have our cake and eat it, sadly.”

Singapore population growth hits 10-year low: government
AFP AsiaOne 25 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE - Singapore's population grew at its slowest pace in a decade in the 12 months to June as the government tightened the inflow of foreign workers, official figures showed Thursday.

The statistics department said the city-state had a total population of 5.47 million people as of the end of June, up 1.3 per cent from the year before.

"This was the slowest growth in the last decade, driven by slower growth in non-resident population," it said.

The number of citizens stood at 3.34 million, up a slight 0.9 per cent from the year before, while those with permanent residency fell 0.7 per cent to 527,700, the department said in its latest population trends report.

According to the statistics, over 29 per cent of Singapore's population comprises "non-residents" - those working, studying or living in the country but not granted permanent residency.

Including permanent residents, the statistics show that foreigners account for nearly 40 per cent of Singapore's total population.

Complaints from citizens about overcrowding, foreign workers competing with locals for jobs and resentment over the bad habits of foreigners has made immigration a hot-button issue on the affluent but space-constricted island.

With the complaints becoming more strident especially on social media, the government has taken steps to slow down foreign hiring and the granting of permanent residency status.

The discontent spilled into the 2011 general elections when the ruling party garnered its lowest-ever vote count after more than 50 years in power, and analysts say it remains a key issue for the next election, which must be held before January 2017.

Singapore's fertility rate also fell to 1.19 babies per woman in 2013 from 1.29 in 2012, well below the 2.1 babies needed to naturally replenish the native-born population, the report said.

In January, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged young Singaporean couples to get off to a "galloping start" in the Lunar Year of the Horse by having more babies to boost the flagging birth rate.

Population grows to 5.47m, at slowest pace in 10 years
Kelly Tay The Business Times AsiaOne 26 Sep 14;

[SINGAPORE] The Republic's population growth has slid to its lowest in a decade, fertility rates have fallen further, and ageing continues at a rapid pace.

While these may have negative repercussions on the economy, some economists say the situation may not be as dire as generally predicted, since more older citizens are opting to work past retirement age.

Latest government figures released by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) on Thursday show that the total population grew at its slowest pace in 10 years, expanding just 1.3 per cent to 5.47 million as of June this year.

The easing in total population growth was driven by slower expansion in the non-resident population, which now stands at 1.6 million - an increase of 2.9 per cent compared to 4 per cent a year ago. This was, in turn, a result of the government's tight restrictions on foreign labour inflows, which saw foreign employment growth slow to 3 per cent versus 5.9 per cent the previous year.

By granting 20,000 new citizens and 30,000 new permanent residents (PRs) annually in the past few years, the government has kept immigration numbers stable. This is even as the citizen population continues to age, and as Singaporeans have fewer than enough babies to replace themselves. With increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, there are more citizens in the older age groups today. The proportion of citizens aged 65 years and above rose to 12.4 per cent in 2014 from 11.7 per cent a year ago, while the median age of Singaporeans increased to 40.4 years from 40 years previously. This means the old-age support ratio - which is the number of citizens in the working age band of 20 to 64 needed to support one older citizen - is shrinking rapidly.

It fell from 11.4 in 1980 to 8.4 in 2000, before sinking further to 5.2 in 2014. At the same time, the resident total fertility rate (TFR) fell to 1.19 in 2013 from 1.29 in 2012, which was a "dragon year" on the Chinese zodiac. While NPTD said that the dip from 2012 to 2013 was gentler compared to previous post-dragon years, the overall TFR of 1.19 is far below the replacement level of 2.1.

Taken on their own, the latest population statistics paint a rather grey picture of Singapore's future. A shrivelling old-age support ratio would mean greater pressure on the working population and more stress on fiscal policy - worrying trends which population experts have long flagged.

But some economists told The Business Times that not all is doom and gloom.

Said UOB economist Francis Tan: "The support ratio worsening is just one side of things. Other factors are also at play here: the government is incentivising older workers to stay employed; people are questioning whether their retirement savings are enough so they're continuing to work; the government's foreign worker quotas are forcing companies to provide higher wages and that has enticed more elderly people at the margins to join the job market.

"Taken together, these conditions should make us less worried about this scary 5.2 old-age support ratio. I'm not saying the downward trend is not a concern, but I think we can't look at population numbers purely on their own - we need to look at labour market trends too." Indeed, according to figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the total labour force participation rate of residents aged 65-69 have increased dramatically from a decade ago. While this stood at 19.5 per cent in 2003, it climbed to 27.5 per cent five years later in 2008, before spiking up to 40.2 per cent in 2013.

And amid the tight labour market, MOM said in January this year that the labour force participation rate rose to a new high in 2013, driven by women and older residents.

Noted OCBC economist Selena Ling: "If the retirement age changes to 67, that will skew the ratio for sure as more elderly (persons) rejoin the workforce.

Then the reality may not be as bad as what the (population) numbers suggest."

Still, Mr Tan, Ms Ling, and other economists are concerned about the nation's lacklustre fertility rate and swiftly ageing population.

Said DBS economist Irvin Seah: "This demographic shift is perhaps the biggest challenge facing Singapore...

The situation isn't easy to reverse, and it will take more than conventional economic policy to resolve.

Mindsets will have to change."

Read more!

Green ideas to make Singapore a 'smart city'

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Sep 14;

Tapping solar power, converting waste to energy and bringing amenities closer to homes.

These were some ideas on how to make Singapore a "smart city", thrown up at a symposium on sustainability, environment and energy research at the National University of Singapore (NUS) yesterday.

The topic of efficient and vibrant cities took centre stage at the annual forum, which was held for the third time. It was organised by the NUS Energy Office to look at issues in environmental sustainability and showcase NUS' research.

Urbanisation actually brings about greater challenges for energy efficiency, experts at the one-day forum noted.

Energy use is twice the rate of change of urbanisation, said Professor Matheos Santamouris, an expert in energy physics at the University of Athens who is now a visiting professor at NUS.

Citing studies, he pointed out that a 1 per cent rise in per capita gross national product leads to an almost equal increase in energy consumption.

However, energy use goes up by about 2 per cent when the urban population increases by 1 per cent, added Prof Santamouris, who also spoke about the Smart Cities Programme in the European Union.

Dr Lai Choo Malone-Lee, director of the Centre for Sustainable Asian Studies at NUS, said that to ensure that resources are used effectively as in smart cities, cities can look into better land use integration.

The upcoming developments in the Jurong Lake area will make for a good case study on mixed-used development - where land space can be used optimally for multiple purposes.

"If done well, it can create more compact, multi-use developments, more optimal infrastructure sharing, and reduce the load on transport," she said.

Other measures that Singapore could look into include greater harnessing of waste to energy, she said.

In a smart city, technologies are used to make services and networks more efficient.

Transforming Singapore into a smart city was a topic discussed during the World Cities Summit in June.

Ministers and senior officials from economies such as Singapore and Hong Kong said then that more smart-city technologies could be used to run cities better and improve the lives of residents.
- See more at:

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Part of Orchard Road to go car-free once a month

Kelly Ng and Elgin Chong Today Online 26 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — After two years, plans to make a part of Orchard Road pedestrian-only are finally coming to fruition.

Starting next month, a 660m stretch of the road — running from ION Orchard to Ngee Ann City — will turn into a pedestrian-only street on the first Saturday of every month from 6pm to 11pm.

This six-month pilot of Pedestrian Night on Orchard Road, led by the Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, will create a space for community activities. Kicking off the line-up is Tennis Pops Up @ Orchard Road on Oct 4, held in conjunction with the upcoming Women’s Tennis Association Finals, where the public will get to try their hand at playing tennis on the streets and watch demonstrations by pro players.

Said ORBA chairman May Sng: “Pedestrianising Orchard Road adds another dimension to our iconic precinct. Orchard Road will no longer just be a shopping belt, but a vibrant lifestyle destination with an array of exciting activities for all to enjoy.”

In November, yoga enthusiasts can look forward to a mass yoga event with a renowned instructor, while a Christmas-themed carnival will take to the roads in December.

Orchard Road is no stranger to going car-free. Back in 1989, the thoroughfare from Paterson Road to Grange Road was closed to traffic once a month. This stopped after several months when fewer events were held and public interest subsided.

The idea was revived in 2012 as part of ORBA’s proposal to enhance public spaces on the shopping belt. Tourism and architecture experts then lauded major cities such as London, Tokyo and Beijing, where main shopping streets are permanently pedestrian-only, but also advised organisers to study road usage patterns before undertaking the project.

The ORBA said “intensive discussions” with businesses and government agencies started six months ago, and they identified the five-hour window on Saturday evenings as the least disruptive.

However, some retailers were concerned that diverting traffic would cause business to suffer. “(They) are concerned that visitors (who drive) might be put off visiting Orchard Road because they think the precinct is inaccessible,” said ORBA executive director Steven Goh.

Mr Allan Chia, head of the Marketing Programme at SIM University’s School of Business, said the initiative would be a draw for shoppers and tourists, but managing the fallout from the event would be critical.

“For example, how will the congestion be dealt with in terms of pedestrian and vehicular traffic and also car parking? Other issues include security and safety, and maintaining cleanliness of the area,” he said.

Mr Goh said they have communicated to retailers that car parks of the malls along this stretch will remain fully accessible despite making it pedestrian-only, while those taking the buses can alight before or after the pedestrian-only zone.

Based on the Land Transport Authority’s traffic monitoring data, the stretch sees about 2,000 vehicles hourly during this time period. Signage has been put up around the precinct to advise motorists of road closures and route diversions. Announcements will also be made through social media before each Pedestrian Night.

Retailers TODAY spoke to were not confident that the initiative will boost business. Mr Jimmy Tan, who owns a souvenir shop at Lucky Plaza, said visitors to the street events are unlikely to come by his shop. “No one comes to Lucky Plaza these days. And if the road is blocked, drivers will have to drive one round to the car park at the back. Who will do that?” said Mr Tan, whose shop has been around for 18 years.

Mr Raj, who helps out at Dollars & Scent Duty Free Perfume store at Lucky Plaza said: “There’s both good and bad. Good because it might bring more people to our shop. Bad because if they cannot drive here, people say ‘I might go other places, why come here?’.”

Others like Ms Carol Liu, store supervisor of The Wright Gift at ION Orchard, felt it was too early to tell if business would be affected. “It depends on the type of activities (Pedestrian Night) offers. If they can draw a crowd to Orchard Road, it might bring more people to our shop,” she said.

Mr Goh agreed that “creative programming” is key to making the pilot successful. “We are, therefore, very excited to see the different suggestions or proposals from the community,” he said.

Individuals and community groups can email with their ideas and feedback.

Stretch of Orchard Rd to be closed on 'pedestrian nights'
Jermyn Chow The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Sep 14;

A SECTION of Orchard Road will go car-free and become a walker's paradise once a month, as part of efforts to breathe new life into the iconic shopping belt.

The 660m stretch from shopping centres Ion Orchard to Ngee Ann City, or between the Scotts Road/Paterson Road junction and Bideford Road, will be closed to all vehicles on the first Saturday of every month from next month, billed as Pedestrian Night.

Shoppers can then roam the street without worrying about honking drivers, who will be shut off from the stretch between 6pm and 11pm.

The Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), which is behind the six-month trial, hopes the move will revitalise Singapore's premier shopping street, which is facing stiff competition from new shopping haunts in Marina Bay as well as suburban malls.

With vehicles out of the way, Orba chairman May Sng said more people can spill onto the road and experience a different side of Orchard Road.

"(They can) enjoy other activities in this vibrant lifestyle destination and have fun," she said.

The street will also be turned into a hive of activity.

For the inaugural Pedestrian Night on Oct 4, for instance, revellers can play street tennis and watch music performances. Other events such as a mass yoga session and a Christmas carnival have also been planned till the end of the year.

On Pedestrian Nights, buses that ply the affected thoroughfare will skip two stops and be diverted to Grange Road and Orchard Link instead.

Sections of Orchard Road have been closed annually for big events like the Christmas celebrations on Dec 25 and the Fashion Steps Out fashion show in April.

In other major shopping cities, including London and Tokyo, the shutting of sections of road happens routinely on certain weekends.

In Beijing, the Wangfujing shopping street is permanently closed to traffic.

Orba, which represents more than 70 members including multi- label retailer Club 21 and mall operator CapitaMalls Asia, has previously mooted the idea of making Orchard Road a no-car zone, as recently as 2012.

Mrs Sng said stakeholders have been worried that shoppers who drive to town will be put off by traffic disruptions.

"But (now) we want to test this regular slot and communicate to drivers... that they should not avoid Orchard Road," she said.

Even though a previous attempt to close Orchard Road once a month in 1989 lasted only a few years, organisers are more optimistic that it may work this time round. After all, road closures at Haji Lane, Club Street and Circular Road on weekends have been a hit with regulars there.

Ms Melissa Ow, assistant chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board's Experience Development Group, said: "It's about creating new social spaces for people.

Pedestrianisation has become something commonplace... There is greater familiarity and confidence that this is something which will take off."

The new Pedestrian Night might prove to be a draw for shoppers such as Mr Lawrence Lim, 38. The business development manager, who lives in Serangoon North, said: "I can usually get most of my shopping done in the neighbourhood malls, but if there are fun events in town, I wouldn't mind making a trip down to check them out."

Shoppers, retailers look forward to street events
Lester Hio The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Sep 14;

Shoppers and retailers are looking forward to the upcoming Pedestrian Night at Orchard Road, which they say will make the area more vibrant.

Many are excited by the range of street events that will be organised for the designated night, which will happen on the first Saturday of every month, from 6pm to 11pm, starting next month.

Said Mr Tan Lubin, 27, a church worker: "If the event is something I'm interested in, like basketball or football, then I'll definitely head down."

A range of activities have been planned for the monthly event, including street tennis, music performances, a mass yoga session and Christmas carnival, which will take place on the stretch of Orchard Road from Ion Orchard to Ngee Ann City that will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Other shoppers such as Ms Maria Tan like the idea for a different reason.

"It'll be fun to be able to walk along a road that's normally full of cars," said the 47-year-old housewife.

Retailers, in particular those operating food and beverage outlets, are expecting more business on Pedestrian Night.

Miss Monica Morales, 30, manager of Calamansi, a fruit juice store at Paragon shopping centre, said she expects customers to drop by the shop after trying out the physical activities such as tennis and yoga.

Mr Chieng Puay Chui, 66, who sells ice-cream from his cart outside Ngee Ann City, said that the Saturday crowd is already quite big.

"I will see how big the crowd is on the first month. Hopefully, I will have to bring more ice-cream to sell next month," he said in Mandarin.

Others, however, are adopting a wait-and-see approach. Said Mr Steven Teng, 61, owner of Allkind Cameras Electronics at Lucky Plaza: "It's hard to say if it will bring people back, since they will go to the bigger, more popular shopping centres anyway."

The road closure could mean inconvenience for some residents in the area, especially those who live in Nutmeg Road behind Lucky Plaza.

Housewife Helen Gwee, 62, who lives in Jalan Jintan off Nutmeg Road, said the monthly event may pose a "slight inconvenience" as she will have to drive along a longer route via Mount Elizabeth road.

Still, a Pedestrian Night can only be good for Singapore as a tourist destination, said Mr Jeremiah Wong, marketing communications manager for Chan Brothers Travel.

"Street parties in other countries are prevalent, and there are always fun things to do. Opening Orchard Road up like this will help promote Singapore as a more dynamic and fun destination," he said.

Read more!

Method to clean wastewater wins teen Google Science Fair award

Khairul Amri Mohd Sidik Today Online 26 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — Knowing that the presence of large quantities of toxic heavy metals in wastewater poses a health risk to people and harms aquatic life, 18-year-old Shannon Tan sought to come up with a solution to purify wastewater from heavy industries.

His research led him to propose a novel way to remove heavy metal ions, such as copper and nickel, from industrial wastewater by using a treated material from crustacean shells called chitosan. By first exposing chitosan beads to ultraviolet radiation, then dropping the beads into the water, a stable compound would form with the harmful metal ions in it, thus extracting the impurities from the water.

His research and the innovative proposal won him the Local Award at this year’s Google Science Fair competition, beating six other regional finalists from Singapore.

The Google Science Fair is an annual global online competition open to students between the ages of 13 and 18. It introduced the Local Award this year to recognise projects that address locally relevant issues.

“Shannon’s idea to remove toxic heavy metals from water by using UV rays and infrared light, combats a challenge not only (his) region is facing, but also a challenge globally,” Ms Clare Conway, spokeswoman for the Google Science Fair, told TODAY.

This year’s competition saw thousands of entries from more than 90 countries, with 90 finalists emerging from the Asia-Pacific region.

Irish teenage trio Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, all 16, emerged as grand champions after they discovered a naturally-occurring bacteria in soil that could be used to speed up the germination process of certain crops, such as barley and oats, by 50 per cent, potentially helping to fulfil the rising demand for food worldwide.

“We’re looking for students to turn their passion into something that could change the world and projects that tackle some of today’s greatest challenges,” said Ms Conway.

She added that the Google Science Fair team had seen many remarkable ideas over the years from around the world, on “everything from anti-flu medicine ... to more efficient ways of farming”.

Among the regional finalists, other projects from Singapore included a proposal to prevent mosquito breeding by using a type of detergent that reduces surface tension on water, thereby discouraging the mosquitoes from laying eggs on it. Another was to recover waste heat from power plants to turn it into a viable electricity source.

Shannon, a final-year Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) International Baccalaureate Diploma student, said he first worked on this project as part of a school assignment. “I was just wondering if you could actually address this water (issue) in Singapore.”

“After I completed the (project), (I thought) why not submit it to the Google Science Fair for the fun of it? It was on my own accord. I tried my luck.”

He believes his project can provide “a commercially viable alternative for toxic waste removal in industrial water”, which can then be used for non-potable purposes.

“I have an interest in medicine and I like to help people. I would like to help the community and try to make the world a better place. With this project, I think I have done my bit,” he said.

Read more!

Tapping on technology to save water

PUB awards 28 for ‘exemplary’ performance in water efficiency
Robin Choo Today Online 25 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — At Asia Square Tower 1, which opened in November 2011, using water efficiently is not left to chance.

All 83 toilets in the building are fitted with water meters — the first building in Singapore with this feature — including major water usage areas. A leak detection system provides early warning of possible water leakage. Data collected by these systems are sent to the building’s Integrated Building Management System which is monitored 24 hours daily. Problems raised by the system are investigated by technicians immediately.

The building is among the eight recipients of the Gold certification under PUB’s Water Efficient Building (WEB) certification, in recognition of their “exemplary performance” in water efficiency. Along with 20 Silver recipients, they received their certificates from Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Foreign Affairs today (Sept 25).

Asia Square Tower 1 also recycles approximately 5,000 litres of condensate water produced from the air-conditioning system, which is used for irrigation, car park washing and the flushing of toilets. The various measures means that 90 million litres of water — which can fill about 20 Olympic-size pools — can be saved annually.

Sustainability Manager of Asia Square Tower 1 Philip Chan said: “I think (what is) more important is not the tangible savings, but the intangible savings… so that Singapore will be self-sufficient in water (consumption).”

Introduced in 2004, the WEB certification was launched with just Basic Certification to encourage businesses, industries, schools and buildings from the non-domestic sector to incorporate water efficient measures in the premises and day-today operations.

Gold and Silver tiers were added last year to recognise the efforts of water users who implement water efficiency management systems and are the top 10 and 25 per cent performers in water efficiency in their respective industries.

Another Gold certification recipient, Singapore Epson Industrial (Plating Division), reported a 55 per cent water recycling rate, and S$600,000 to S$700,000, which amounts to about 8 per cent, savings on factory expenses annually. In 2011, the firm developed an innovative Membrane Chemical Recycling System that “substantially” improved water recycling rate, up from 30 per cent in 2010. The company deals in electroplating production, which requires huge amount of water.

Singapore Epson Senior General Manager Fang Shunong said: “We plan to expand our waste water treatment facility and target a 70 to 80 per cent water recycling rate over the next two to three years.”

Four new sectors were included in this year’s certification – pharmaceuticals, tertiary institutions, data centres and hospitals, an indication that more non-domestic water users are implementing water efficiency measures.

Firm buoyed by award for water efficiency
Samantha Boh The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Sep 14;

IT TOOK Singapore Epson Industrial years of research and $400,000 to create its very own water recycling system.

The effort, which included repeated trials and failures, turned out to be money and time well spent. Since its inception in 2011, the firm's new recycling system has nearly doubled its rate of waste water recycling at its plating division to 55 per cent. This amounts to 8,000 cubic metres of water - equivalent to three Olympic-sized swimming pools - and around $650,000 in savings each year.

For its exemplary performance in water efficiency, the company's plating division was yesterday awarded the Gold Water Efficient Building Certification by national water agency PUB.

Among the seven other recipients of the award were Asia Square Tower 1, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Riverside Secondary School. A further 20 organisations were awarded the silver certification at the presentation ceremony.

This year, four new sectors - pharmaceuticals, tertiary institutions, data centres and hospitals - were included.

Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, who presented the awards, said that water management should be seen as a responsibility and not a chore. "I would like to urge all sectors to see water management not as a task, not as a chore and not as a backroom function, but as an opportunity, as a competitive advantage and as a responsible action."

The certification, introduced in 2004, measures organisations based on a water efficiency index. The Gold Certification is awarded to the top 10 per cent of water savers in each sector, and silver to the top 25 per cent. Both certifications are valid for three years. There is also a basic certification, which has been given to over 2,600 organisations.

Dr Fang Shunong, senior general manager at Singapore Epson, said he is glad the company's efforts have been recognised, and it is determined to do more. "The aim is to be recycling 70 per cent of our waste water in two to three years," he said. To raise awareness of water recycling and reuse, PUB has added a half-day course on the topic to its water efficiency manager course, which is jointly organised with Singapore Polytechnic for building management staff.
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Malaysia: ‘Ecotourism set to benefit Orang Asli’

M. HAMZAH JAMALUDIN New Straits Times 26 Sep 14;

PEKAN: ABOUT 2,000 Orang Asli in Runchang are set to benefit from the state government’s plan to turn the South-East Pahang Peat Swamp Forest (SEPPSF) into a leading ecotourism destination where they would be able to venture into various activities that could supplement their income.

Apart from working as nature guides and boatmen, the Orang Asli from the Jakun community could supplement their income by selling handicrafts and food to visitors.

At present, most of the 400 Orang Asli families rely on forest produce and earn about RM500 monthly.

Tourism Pahang general manager Ishak Mokhtar said the agency would ensure that the Orang Asli would enjoy the benefits as the eco-tourism initiative was a community-based project.

“We will help train them with help from other agencies, including the East Coast Economic Region Development Council. Among others, they could become excellent nature guides and boatmen as they have the knowledge of the peat swamp forest and its rich flora and fauna,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

“The relevant agencies could also provide handicraft-making courses for them as many tourists would be interested in such products as souvenirs when visiting SEPPSF.”

It was reported that some of the Orang Asli were using illegal fishing methods, hunting protected animals and harvesting ornamental and medicinal plants in SEPPSF to supplement their meagre income.

However, many were able to improve their living standards when the government implemented a resettlement scheme in the village and introduced various economic activities.

On Aug 4, 2009, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched the Agropolitan project in the village where 72 Orang Asli were involved in the rearing of the Dorper sheep.

Najib, who is Pekan member of parliament, was quoted as saying that the project would help increase the income of the Orang Asli participants to RM5,000 a month in the next few years.

Ishak said Tourism Pahang had sent a team, comprising tourism officers and tour agents, to find the best way to promote SEPPSF without jeopardising the natural habitat or various flora and fauna.

About 200,000ha of peat swamp forests are available in Pahang, with 160,000ha within the SEPPSF complex.

Studies by various parties show that SEPPSF could be mainland Asia’s largest and least disturbed peat swamp forest that remains as a single nearly contiguous complex.

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Malaysia: Continued development of forest may cause extinction and conflict, warn experts

patrick lee The Star 25 Sep 14;

KUALA ROMPIN: Environmentalists are warning that continued logging and development of Lesong may lead to a substantial decline in animals and plants already on the list of threatened species.

Some years ago, tigers and elephants roamed freely in the area just above the wildlife-rich Endau-Rompin National Park, home to much of Malaysia’s flora and fauna.

With the logging, the animals have been forced further into unlogged areas, getting squeezed into ever smaller habitats.

There are now only about 300 tigers in peninsular Malaysia – in Belum-Temenggor, Taman Negara and the Endau-Rompin Complex, which includes Lesong. Any decline in numbers would lead to a real threat of extinction.

Environmental consultant Dylan Jefri Ong said the large-scale uniform logging – also known as clearcutting – that was going on now would have a destructive effect on the forest ecosystem.

“Some of these would be loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats, leading to displaced animal populations, as well as the loss of rare or endangered plant life,” he said.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, 686 plants and 225 animals in Malaysia are at risk of extinction.

The main cause of this decline is loss of habitats and poaching, according to the organisation.

Ong said the warning was clear: “Stop the logging or these endangered species will lose their habitats.”

He said the logging was exposing more and more of the forest areas to what is known as the “edge effect”.

That is when the edges of the forest where logging has laid the land bare get exposed to wind and sunlight, which forces animals like tigers away, shrinking their habitat.

Elephants, however, were attracted to such areas, said elephant expert Associate Prof Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of Nottingham University Malaysia.

He said they were drawn to the fresh shoots in these areas.

“If these areas were to become plantations later, such as if timber latex clones were planted there, it could result in human-wildlife conflicts,” he said.

Timber latex clones are rubber trees that provide both latex and rubber wood for furniture.

The Star team saw elephant tracks and dung along some of the logging roads and Prof Campos-Arceiz said there was a danger that the logging sites scattered across the Lesong landscape would grow in size, affecting the elephant habitats.

He was also worried that the logging roads would also make it easier for poachers to get into the forest.

“Once you have something like this, it will start growing. It’s a big mistake,” he said.

Forest researcher Lim Teck Wyn was sceptical about the Pahang Forestry Department’s claim that the loggers were only clearing degraded parts of the forest.

“They have not provided evidence that it is a degraded forest. A heavily degraded area means there would be very few logs to salvage,” he said.

Pertubuhan Perlindungan Kha­zanah Alam (Association for the Protection of Natural Heritage of Malaysia or Peka) president Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil said there was no telling what might happen to Lesong’s ecosystem in the long run.

She said although the state government had the right to do whatever it pleased with its forests, such actions were “morally wrong”.

Dept: Poor timber quality the reason for forest clearing
The Star 25 Sep 14;

Here today, gone tomorrow: Trucks carrying logs from the Lesong permanent forest reserve.

Here today, gone tomorrow: Trucks carrying logs from the Lesong permanent forest reserve.

KUALA ROMPIN: At least a third of Lesong’s forests have been deemed as poor in timber quality – the reason the Pahang government says it is allowing it to be logged before being replanted.

Pahang Forestry Department director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman said these poor quality forest areas would be converted to timber plantation sites.

“Part of the Lesong forest reserve is considered poor based on its standing volume composition (referring to how much wood in the trees can actually be sold).

“Hence, a decision was made by the Pahang state government to convert part of Lesong that is poor in standing volume composition into commercial timber plantations,” he told The Star via e-mail.

Some 3,000ha of forest, he said, had been earmarked for forest plantation development and licensed for logging as at the end of July this year.

This area comes under a much larger 16,896ha area designated by Pahang as industrial timber plantation since 2012 and is termed a “degraded” forest.

A second 16,958ha area has been marked as production forest, where it would be managed according to “sustainable forest management principles”.

The remaining 32% of Lesong would be protected. Lesong’s total area is 52,464ha.

“The whole 16,896ha of Lesong that have been designated for forest plantation can all be classified as degraded or poor forest,” Mohd Paiz said.

He added that once these approved plantation sites were logged, they would be replanted with commercial timber trees and rubber trees, among others.

They would also meet the demand of domestic timber processing industries, he said.

He said the area chosen to be developed as a forest plantation was considered easily accessible and its terrain was suitable for conversion to oil palm and other agricultural activities.

When asked about concerns that wildlife habitats would be at risk due to the logging, Mohd Paiz said the placement of the sites did not form a single whole block and that natural forests in the area would still be retained.

Jungle the size of Cyberjaya logged
patrick lee The Star 25 Sep 14;

KUALA ROMPIN: A jungle area the size of Cyberjaya is being logged in the middle of one of Pahang’s most important forests to make way for possible rubber plantations.

Earmarked by the Pahang government, some 3,000ha of the Lesong permanent reserve forest is currently being cleared, with an untold number of logs being taken out of the jungle every day.

The Pahang Forestry Department defends the move as legal, saying it has been approved by the state’s executive council and only affects areas known as “degraded forest”.

Environmentalists, however, are up in arms, saying that although the state has the legal right to do so, the move could have devastating effects on Malaysian wildlife.

In two separate visits to Lesong in mid-July, The Star observed a flurry of logging in more than a dozen sites in the forest.

Entire hills had been cleared from top to bottom, with tracks crisscrossing them to make it easier for vehicles to reach the summits.

The first such site in the eastern part of the reserve was clearly seen just one or two kilometres from an oil palm plantation, with felled trees and smashed foliage mere metres from a state-erected sign forbidding logging. Trucks were seen at some of these sites carrying logs from centres out of the jungle.

Signs stating that the logging had been permitted were also displayed at many of these sites.

Several logging camps, complete with heavy machinery and foreign workers, were connected to each other by roads wide enough for the trucks.

Though no wildlife was spotted in the area, there were elephant tracks and dung on some of these roads.

Loggers there observed The Star with suspicion and a few warned us not to take photos, but they did not interfere.

Many of the large logs gathered within the jungle – some collected in the hundreds – were then carried out in the trucks to a site east of the forest reserve, less than 10km away.

In one such area, well over a few hundred logs were left waiting to be transported.

A few rivers were also rendered stagnant, their flow blocked by debris – presumably dumped there by loggers.

As we travelled through the jungle, we observed portions of the forest that appeared to have been logged years before, overgrown with bush no more than a few metres high.

An orang asli who only wanted to be known as Juba said loggers had been frequenting the forest for many years but the activity had heightened since the beginning of the year.

He added that the loggers had been working nearly every day since then.

According to the National Tiger Action Plan, Lesong comes under the Endau-Rompin Complex, one of the three tiger priority areas in the country.

It is not known how much the concessionaries could gain from the logs removed from the forest.

The Pahang State Forestry Department said the expected harvestable volume was about 50 to 116 cubic metres per hectare.

Forest researcher Lim Teck Wyn told The Star that logged timber was generally worth RM1,000 per cubic metre.

Even at a conservative estimate, the amount of logged timber from the 3,000ha could be worth RM150mil.

Council: Developed markets won’t accept uncertified timber
The Star 26 Sep 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: Once Lesong’s fo­­rests are turned into forest plantation areas, timber logged there cannot be exported to developed markets.

Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) chief executive Yong Teng Koon revealed that timber from these places could, however, be sold to local mills and countries that allow the importation of uncertified timber.

“Timber that originates from fo­­rest areas converted into forest plantation is regarded as coming from controversial sources and, therefore, cannot be certified,” Yong told The Star.

He said timber approved under the Malay­sian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) could be exported to developed markets such as Britain and the United States.

Non-certified timber, he said, could only be sent to countries that were not bound by these policies, such as Thailand.

Yong added that as far as the Lesong fo­rest reserve was concerned, the portion covering 16,896ha that had been earmarked for the establishment of forest plantation, was outside the scope of certification of na­­­­tural forest under the MTCS, create­d to develop and operate a voluntary national timber certification scheme and said to be the first of its kind in Asia.

Its role is to make sure that our forests are logged sustainably and meet the market demand for certified timber.

Yong added that a permanent reserve fo­­rest, such as Lesong, should not be degazetted into a forest plantation establishment, preferring for its land status to stay as forest cover.

He said he was worried that such an area might be converted to other land use.

An MTCC official said timber latex clones (or rubberwood) were re­­commended as one of eight timber species under the Malaysian Timber Industry Board’s Forest Plantation Development Programme.

“According to this programme, the Federal Government plans to open some 375,000ha of fast-growing timber tree plantations in Ma­­laysia over a 15-year period,” the official said.

The other seven species are acacia, jati, sentang, khaya, kelempayan (or laran), batai and binuang.

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Vietnam: Erosion hits thousands all over Mekong Delta

VietNamNet Bridge 25 Sep 14;

Land erosion is becoming severe in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, affecting the lives of thousands of people.

Land erosion at a preventive forest in Go Cong Dong District, Tien Giang Province. Erosion of earthen sea dykes and land along coasts in coastal provinces such as Tra Vinh, Kieng Giang, and Ca Mau has also been increasing, affecting the lives of thousands of people.

In An Giang, one of the most flooded provinces in the area and the hardest hit by erosion, several cases of erosion have occurred recently.

For instance, the erosion of a river bank in Tan Chau Town's Long Chau Ward caused 8,000sq.m of soil along a 100m stretch to fall into the Tien River on Monday.

In Long Xuyen Town's My Hoa Hung Commune, 250sq.m of land plunged into the Hau River last Tuesday, causing 17 fishing cages to sink.

An Giang has around 50 erosion hot spots with a total length of 150km along the Tien and the Hau - two tributaries of the Mekong - and other rivers.

Some 6,000 households in An Giang now live in vulnerable areas and await relocation to safer areas.

The province has taken many measures to prevent erosion, including building erosion-proof sites and raising awareness of erosion sites.

Do Vu Hung, deputy director of the An Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said his department encouraged people living in erosion-prone areas to move to safe areas.

This year's flooding caused by the rising level of the Mekong is expected to peak in the first 10 days of October and the waters will rise to an estimated third warning level, according to the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting.

This means that though the flooding has been moderate this year, the erosion has been unusually severe.

Illegal sand mining and construction of houses and other structures along rivers are the major causes of the erosion, experts said.

In Dong Thap Province neighbouring An Giang, 25 cases of erosion have been reported in Hong Ngu, Thanh Binh, and Chau Thanh districts and Cao Lanh City so far this year, causing a loss of 26,106sq.m of soil and affecting nearly 2,000 households who need to be relocated.

Thirty four communes

Erosion has occurred along a total length of 39km in 34 communes, wards, and towns in Dong Thap, threatening 4,000 families.

Erosion of earthen sea dykes and land along coasts in coastal provinces like Tra Vinh, Kieng Giang, and Ca Mau has also been increasing.

Le Thanh Trieu, chairman of the U Minh District People's Committee in Ca Mau, said the Khanh Hoi estuary eroded 50 meters of land every year, threatening the safety of 500 families living along it.

Khanh Hoi Commune authorities have had to use wooden stakes and sandbags to check the erosion.

They have also urged provincial authorities to build embankments to prevent the erosion at an estimated cost of more than VND100 billion (US$4.76 million).

In Tra Vinh Province, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has approved construction of concrete dykes since 2008 at a cost of more than VND530 billion ($25.2 million).

But to build a comprehensive dyke system to protect residents, Tra Vinh needs at least VND1.5 trillion ($71.4 million), according to its People's Committee.

Cao Van Nam, head of the Kien Giang Irrigation Sub-department, said the destruction of coastal protective forests is the major reason for the erosion of sea dykes.

"Erosion will worsen if there is no measure to recover and develop coastal protection forests outside dykes," he warned. Kien Giang has been trying to replant protective forests in erosion-prone areas, but achieved limited results due to reasons like unsuitable cultivation models and the adverse impacts of aquatic farming and fishing.

MARD has called on research institutes to evaluate the phenomenon of coastal erosion and find solutions to prevent it, create silt deposits in coastal areas, and plant trees to check the sea.

Provincial committees should give priority to preventing erosion in vulnerable coastal areas, it said.


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Obama creates vast Pacific Ocean marine reserve

BBC News 26 Sep 14;

Palmyra atoll The protected area is home to corals, seabirds and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world

US President Barack Obama has signed a memorandum to expand a vast marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will become the largest network of oceanic protected areas in the world.

The memorandum bans commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other extraction of underwater resources in the area.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move although some critics say President Obama could have done more.

"This really is a matter of stewardship. It's also a matter of generational responsibility," said US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We have a responsibility to make sure... the future has the same ocean to serve it. Not to be abused, but to preserve and utilise."

The Pacific Remote Islands Area consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

The waters that surround these islands are home to corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.
Area 'pristine'

President George W Bush set up the marine preserve in 2009 but until now it only encompassed an area 50 nautical miles (92km) from the islands' shores.

Now the protected area is being expanded to 200 nautical miles from the unique atolls. It will cover 490,000 sq miles (1.2m sq km) - an area roughly three times the size of California.

Mr Obama first signalled his intention to expand the monument in June and asked for comments on the final boundaries from fishermen, lawmakers and scientists.

Environmental groups greeted the announcement and said they hoped it would spur other nations to take similar steps.

"The president acted expeditiously, while the area is still largely pristine and undisturbed," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

However, some critics say the expansion falls short of what Mr Obama could have done had he used the full extent of his powers.

The islands affected are divided into five regions and the expansion only involves three of them.

If Mr Obama had expanded the preserve in all five regions he could have protected more than 780,000 sq miles, some environmentalists say.

Barack Obama to create world's largest ocean reserve in the Pacific
Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which bans commercial fishing, to be expanded to six times its current size
Suzanne Goldenberg 25 Sep 14;

Barack Obama will use his presidential powers on Thursday to create the world’s largest marine reserve in the Pacific, banning fishing and other commercial activities across vast swaths of pristine sea populated by whales, dolphins and sea turtles and dotted with coral atolls.

Thursday’s proclamation will expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument reserve, created by George Bush, to about six times its current size.

It will ban commercial fishing and deep sea mining in about 490,000 square miles around remote tropical atolls and islands in the south-central Pacific Ocean, a White House fact sheet said.

Other vast swathes of the Pacific will also come under protection on Thursday, with the tiny island state of Kiribati due to announce that it will ban commercial fishing in one of the last great tuna grounds left in the world.

Kiribati’s no-take zone, around the Phoenix Islands protected area, will cover about 158,000 sq m, about the size of California. It comes into effect in January 2015.

Campaigners said the Pacific Remote Islands reserve – because of its sheer scale – would cement Obama’s conservation legacy.

However, they noted that Obama had dramatically scaled back the reserve following opposition from the commercial tuna industry.

The Marine Conservation Institute had been pressing Obama to expand the marine park to the fullest extent possible, around all seven islands and atolls, which would have pushed the limits of the no-take areas to about 782,000 sq m instead of the 490,000 being announced on Thursday.

But after protests from Hawaii-based tuna fleets, Obama opted to leave the seas around four of those islands – Howland and Baker islands, Palmyra atoll and Kingman Reef – open to fishing.

The existing boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are outlined in light blue. The other Monuments, outlined in purple and green, are not being changed. Photograph: Noaa

It was the 12th time Obama has bypassed Congress and used the antiquities act for environmental protection.

“This is a great moment,” said Greg Stone, chief scientist for Conservation International. “This is some of the last real tropical ocean wilderness left on the planet, so it’s good put some of these kind of reef systems aside. On top of that there are the protections for the opean ocean and I’m assuming for the sea floor from mining,” he said.

The White House said it created the marine park in response to changing ocean chemistry caused by climate change.

“Expanding the monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification,” it said.

It said the expanded monument would broaden protection for wide-ranging marine species such as whales, sea turtles and manta ray, as well as the millions of birds that nest on the atolls.

“We have very few places left in the ocean that are still near pristine and it is very important to protect them,” said Enrique Sala, explorer-in-residence for National Geographic.

Thursday’s proclamation nearly doubles the expanse of ocean off limits to fishing and deep sea mining, he said.

Obama has adopted ocean protection as one of the signature issues of his second term – with assistance from the secretary of state, John Kerry, who is a veteran supporter of environmental causes.

The proposal for a marine preserve was first floated last July at a state department ocean summit.

Catherine Novelli, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said the administration was working with Kiribati and other small island states to expand protections across the Pacific.

“These marine protected areas are very important for the ocean. The reason why we are going to get more countries to do them is because the whole biosphere, including the fish, need to be able to regenerate,” she said. “If everyone is just fishing, fishing, fishing, there is no space for that to occur.”

The state department is launching an initiative with other governments and charitable foundations on Thursday that will look at ways of enforcing no-take rules in marine preserves, and cracking down on pirate fishing fleets.

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