Best of our wild blogs: 28 Sep 14

Chek Jawa Mangrove Boardwalk closed 29 Sep 2014 to 31 Jan 2015
from wild shores of singapore

18 Oct (Sat): Pulau Ubin Symposium by URA
from wild shores of singapore

Programmes for Corporate Groups
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Butterfly of the Month - September 2014: The Dwarf Crow (Euploea tulliolus ledereri)
from Butterflies of Singapore

A Rare Encounter @ USR
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

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Raffles Marina: A tranquil spot despite the occasional storm

Aw Cheng Wei The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 Sep 14;

ITS website lists a few ways to get there - by bus from Boon Lay interchange; by car via exit 26B - the last exit - on Ayer Rajah Expressway; or by sea - via Buffalo Rock, Raffles Lighthouse or Alert Shoal Buoy.

The journey is part of the fun when it comes to visiting Raffles Marina, Singapore's first private dock for small boats and pleasure craft such as yachts.

Despite its name, it is not near Marina Bay or Raffles Place, but at 10 Tuas West Drive at the south-western tip of Singapore instead. While the "by sea" route is part of Raffles Marina's allure, three people who used this route for a "non-leisure" purpose last month ended up being jailed. They had sailed there on a catamaran from Langkawi island in Malaysia, skipping immigration checks before coming ashore. The trio were jailed 10 to 16 weeks for, among other offences, entering Singapore illegally. Their intentions for illegal entry were related to a dramatic child custody tussle.

The case put the spotlight on the lax security at the marina. But chances are Raffles Marina will not keel over from this latest setback. After all, the marina - which occupies 3ha of land and 4ha of sea - has kept itself afloat for more than 20 years despite a tempestuous birth and the occasional storm. The gleaming marbled lobby and well-manicured lawns of its clubhouse belie its tough start.

Long-time marina member Vivian Tan, 58, said: "Before the club was opened, the estimated cost was lower than the actual. Ten years later, there was talk that the bank might shut the club down. But (members) were not worried. We had faith in the management."

In 1991, during the construction of the club, the belated discovery of a poor seabed and soil conditions led to costs doubling to about $100 million as more expensive methods of dredging and piling works became necessary.

Its initial opening phase was delayed by about six months, and Raffles Marina opened officially only in 1994.

The amount was paid off mainly through membership fees and shareholders' capital. But that did not spell the end of the marina's financial problems.

In 2003, news broke that the club, with the Republic's first multideck boathouse, was insolvent. Auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers said the club did not have the means to pay off its debt of nearly $45 million.

It was saved only after its sole creditor then, DBS Bank, threw it a lifeline by restructuring its loan.

Things took another dive in 2005 when it was weighed down by more than $27 million in unsecured loans from 1,701 pioneer members. The club resolved this by offering members part-ownership to reduce its debt.

These days, the club is facing competition from newer marinas such as One 15 Marina on Sentosa and Marina at Keppel Bay. But despite the competition, its marina is still doing well and filled with sailing boats and yachts.

On weekday afternoons, however, the marina is quiet. While on a visit this month, The Straits Times observed only a handful of hobby fishermen on its decks. There is also ample parking space for those looking to spend a peaceful day gazing at the sea or indulging in a meal at the cafe which is open to the public.

"We are busiest during weekends and lunch on weekdays," a waitress told The Straits Times. "Members usually come here on weekends. Members of the public mostly come on weekdays."

Relatively few non-members make the journey there, but the leisure spot in Tuas has drawn those eager for a whiff of the romance of the sea.

Some even see it as a unique place to exchange lifelong vows.

Said 27-year-old purchasing officer Joy Hoo, who held her wedding at the marina earlier this month: "They have a boat march-in and that is different from your usual hotel one." A boat march-in involves guests waiting on the deck for the couple who will arrive by boat.

Mr Collin Lim, president of the sailing club at Singapore Management University, said the marina, which faces the Strait of Johor, has become "a second home" for his school's sailors who train there every weekend during the school term. The 23-year-old finance major said: "There's a very different feeling here. Some doors are not locked, so we would go exploring."

Former and current members said they go to the club about once a month, if at all. Many signed up when the club opened because "it was something new".

For those who have stayed on as members, it is the isolated location that is the main draw.

A current member, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ang, said the place is now full of "familiar faces".

The 53-year-old lawyer said the club has become somewhat like home to him.

And while the tranquil nature of the area is likely to be disturbed when the new Tuas West MRT extension opens in 2016, members are confident that the club will weather this change too.

Mr Ang said: "Whatever the changes may be, I'm sure Raffles Marina will do okay."

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Malaysia: Industrial and farming waste tainting Johor rivers

The Star 28 Sep 14;

PONTIAN: Industrial and agricultural wastes are the main polluters of three main rivers supplying water to thousands of households in the state.

The three rivers are Sungai Sembrong, Sungai Muar and Sungai Kota Tinggi.

With the amendments that had been made to the Water ­ Enactment 1921 (Amendment 2014), the Johor government along with its water regulatory bodies would now be able to help stop the pollution of the state’s rivers, according to Johor Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Commit­tee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad (pic).

“For water coming from either rivers or underground, the state government – through the Johor Water Regulatory Authority – will be able to conduct proper checks to ensure the quality is safe,” he added.

Hasni said this after officiating the Syarikat Air Johor Holdings (SAJ) workers association annual general meeting held here yesterday.

Hasni also said that there had been a 60% increase in SAJ’s operational costs because the company had to use chemicals to treat water coming from polluted sources.

He added that the treated water was safe as SAJ followed the international standard for public usage.

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Malaysia: Progress threatening Kota Kinabalu’s charm?

New Straits Times 28 Sep 14;

KOTA Kinabalu is running out of space as progress is squeezing the city of its few remaining land plots.

Rapid development and a population boom has prompted the search for new areas and fresh ideas on ways to optimise land use.

In 2010, the population stood at 460,000, but every day, the number will increase as those from nearby districts make their way to work or study in the state capital.

In 2000, the population in Kota Kinabalu was 360,000. Tourist arrivals, too, have risen three-fold from 1.1 million in 2002, to nearly 3.4 million last year.

Prime areas, within and at the edge of the central business district, look poised to experience major development but it all hinges on political will and infrastructure planning.

Six locations — the old port, Tanjung Aru, Sembulan, railway station, Tanjung Lipat and Pulau Gaya — are all earmarked for major development.

Then there is the idea of shifting the recently upgraded international airport for land space and to allow for vertical growth of building beyond 30 storeys in the city centre. This is presently hindered by its proximity to the taxiway.

The airport, which houses two terminals, is the second busiest in the country with more than 120 international and 400 domestic flights weekly.

Last year, the airport handled 6.9 million passengers, double the number recorded 10 years earlier.

Sea reclamation, too, is no longer an option as the government has taken a stand not to expand.

Signal Hill at the back of the city centre is standing in the way of expansion eastwards because a big portion of the land is privately owned and there are also environmental concerns of hillside developments affecting structural integrity.

Another option would be to look for innovative ways to expand through redevelopment of brownfield sites — old commercial or residential areas — on the fringes of the city centre and turn them into attractive self-sustaining properties.

All these are key topics considered in development plans proposed in and out of the state capital.

It won’t be long before the central business district turns into a jam-packed hub — a situation that could affect its growth and attraction.

Kota Kinabalu city planner Alijus Sipil

There are no longer any big plots for major development though except for six locations where proposals have been made for housing, tourism, commercial and infrastructure components.

Big plans have been laid out at the old port by state-owned company Suria Capital, Tanjung Aru Eco Development, which is another government initiative, the railway station by public company, SP Setia, and the Sabah International Convention Centre in Tanjung Lipat by Yayasan Sabah.

Plans have been mooted to turn Sembulan into a traditional village that can be turned into an attraction and Pulau Gaya where about a third of the 1,465ha island is available for development (the rest comes under Tunku Abdul Rahman Park).

There is also the Greater Kota Kinabalu Plan in future to make the state capital a metropolitan, including nearby suburban areas like Menggatal, Inanam, Telipok or districts, such as Penampang, Putatan, Tuaran and Papar, within a 50km radius.

All these leave the city with the six locations and possibly, some brownfield sites at nearby extensions, such as Likas, Kolombong, Kepayan, Luyang and Petagas, to absorb expansion plans for at least a decade from now.

To do this, however, there is need for major improvement in the public transport system, infrastructure, such as road networks and drainage, among others.

Civil engineer Shahelmey Yahya

Despite space limitations, the growth of Kota Kinabalu could be supplemented by the northern, southern and eastern corridors outside of the central business district.

Central Kota Kinabalu has always been a unique and attractive coastal city with the Crocker Range in the background. It should remain that way.

Accessibility, however, is a key issue to make it a liveable city by means of sufficient public transport, roads, cleanliness, security and efficiency of its local authorities.

Two areas with space readily available are Sembulan and Pulau Gaya, but the challenges that lie ahead are unique in each location.

The main hindrance to developing Pulau Gaya will be the squatter colonies but it’s not impossible to resolve. It does need stronger will, such as relocation and political negotiation, among others.

On the island, most of the land that faces the city centre comes with individual titles and to develop it, once the squatter issue is resolved, would be just a matter of economical feasibility.

The challenge would be to connect the island with the mainland, sufficient water and power supply and even the environmental impact because of its rich marine life, reefs and beaches.

On the need to shift Kota Kinabalu International Airport, I think a long-term plan needs to be put in place, especially with Sabah projected to grow with more activities in the oil and gas industry.

Senior research fellow of Institute of Development Studies Sabah, Anthony Kiob

Suggestions to relocate Kota Kinabalu International Airport should not be entertained.

If indeed there is a need to expand its operations, a new one should be considered.

The focus should be on maximising land utilisation.

It also means the need for a better transportation system, relocation of certain sites monopolised by immigrants, a review of strategic zoning plans such as locations for hospitals, schools, residential areas or parking areas.

Designated jetties for passenger boats, recreational fishing boats and commercial fishing boats would also help.

The government should consider relocating water villages inland and this might attract investors for redevelopment of the affected sites. The profit generated should cover the relocation cost.

With a better transportation system, the central business district would not lose its charm. Better access, with improved infrastructure and ring roads, would keep the city centre vibrant.

The challenge now is to introduce creative parking bays, a light-rail transportation system, scheduled trams probably or even bus transfers outside the city area.
President of the Federation of Chinese Associations Sabah, Datuk TC Goh

The city has evolved and expanded, but many issues have accumulated at the same time. These need to be addressed by the state or even at federal level before we move on because, otherwise, it would be one chaotic city.

Our sewage and drainage systems need a lot of upgrade. This can be seen from what flows out of Kota Kinabalu at the Sembulan river.

Another pressing issue is public transportation. The bus service needs to be improved as soon as possible.

Because our public transportation service is not up to par, many have resorted to driving or riding their own vehicles to the city centre. This creates another headache — lack of parking space.

It’s about time innovative ideas are introduced to provide motorists with ample parking.

These are areas that need major upgrades because, otherwise, the city will lose its flavour.

It’s high time plans were made for some sort of light railway system, especially in the central business district area. Our fire fighting capabilities, too, need to be enhanced in terms of equipment. One of the reasons why Kota Kinabalu does not have many high-rise buildings is the lack of fire fighting equipment.

We can do away with the present airport, shift it to a new place, but first, we need to improve the basics and resolve the looming issues. Without the basics in place, what’s the use of relocating the airport?

Property developer Datuk Susan Wong

Kota Kinabalu is blessed with a beautiful coastline and scenic background.

It also comes with a killer sunset from the sea horizon and centralised location with it being the administrative hub for Sabah.

All these add value and people, who live or work here, would normally agree it is not a hectic place like other cities.

These are qualities that makes it a popular tourist destination because its attractions like the islands are just minutes away, or the parks and other districts nearby are reachable within an hour or two.

To expand, we definitely have to be more creative but the areas of major development would have to be extended to areas outside of the central business district.

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Malaysia: Eco-viaducts are built to facilitate movements of wildlife, but do they work?

tan cheng li The Star 22 Sep 14;

Eco-viaducts are built to facilitate movements of wildlife, but do they work as such? With that question in mind, biologist Dr Gopalasamy Reuben Clements embarked on a research with the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

Between 2011 and 2013, he monitored animal movements through camera traps at 10 viaducts each at the Aring-Tasik Kenyir road in Terengganu and at the Gerik-Kupang road which traverses the Bintang Hijau Range in Perak and Kedah. (Only three of the viaducts were specifically built for animal crossings; the rest are normal viaducts which can also function as such because of the passageway underneath.)

Gopalasamy found the animal crossings being used by almost half the mammal species recorded in nearby forests.

“However, this does not mean that the viaducts are effective crossing structures because some species were recorded just once under the viaduct during our entire study. Also, the same number of species may be crossing the road without the viaduct,” says the associate professor at Kenyir Research Institute in Universiti Malaysia Terengganu.

For a viaduct to be considered effective in mitigating the impact of a road on a particular species, the number of detections in the forest would be similar to those under the viaduct. Based on camera trap data on six mammal species (three herbivores, a carnivore and two omnivores), Gopalasamy found the viaducts to be effective crossing structures for only two herbivore species.

“There are several reasons for this. The road itself may have had an effect on the frequency of crossing. So inappropriate viaduct design or location is not always to blame. For a viaduct to be considered as ‘working’, the use of trails by animals leading to it would be higher than those leading to a normal road. However, we did not find any differences in trail use in one of the viaduct areas.”

One tiger was photographed in forests on either side of the road, but not at the wildlife crossing – which meant it did not cross under the viaduct. The time it takes certain species to adapt to a crossing structure or natural fluctuations in wildlife populations can also cause low crossing rates.

“We do not know enough about the animals’ movement patterns to conclude if they have used the viaducts, nor were we able to know whether large numbers of animals have used the viaducts because we cannot identify individuals of species that do not have distinguishable markings.

“Ultimately, we have a long way to go to really know whether viaducts in general are working or effective. This sort of research requires much more funds and time,” says Gopalasamy, who is co-founder of research group Rimba.

His study did not monitor road kills at roads with and without wildlife crossings (which is one way to determine if the eco-viaducts work) because that would entail him driving up and down the highway every day.

Gopalasamy further cautions that we cannot just build viaducts and let them be; they must be managed through regular maintenance and monitoring. His cameras under viaducts have photographed hunters and people camping overnight.

“If there is no management plan to regulate this activity, particularly though regular patrols, then the viaducts will never fulfil their potential as wildlife crossing structures.”

As to whether we should continue building eco-viaducts what with their high costs and uncertain effectiveness, he says that would depend on many factors.

“If there is heavy traffic preventing wildlife from crossing, and if forests on either side of the road are still large and contiguous enough to support healthy populations of animals, I’d say, go for it. Most importantly, there needs to be a wildlife assessment first to decide on the cost-effectiveness of building the viaducts.”

In his research, Gopalasamy has found that roads are not ideal in many parts of Malaysia because of landscapes with high environmental values.

“The environmental costs of road expansion are massive. Not only do roads fragment important animal habitats, they contribute to forest conversion, illegal hunting and wildlife trade,” he says. As demand for new roads and connectivity remains incessant, he suggests that road planners and scientists work together to determine where it is best to site new roads and minimise any ecological damage.

Though wildlife crossing structures have proven to lessen the adverse impact of roads, the extent of their effectiveness remains unclear. Therefore, the first choice would always be to not build a road through wildlife habitat. Wildlife crossings are but one tool, and cannot be the ultimate panacea to foil the ill-effects of roads on wildlife. More importantly, eco-viaducts should not be employed just to appease conservationists and justify roads that inch into the wilderness.

Bridging a forest: Animal crossings that reduce the perils of roads
tan cheng li The Star 22 Sep 14;

When wilderness is sliced apart by a road coursing through it, eco-friendly engineering is needed.

For people, roads connect. They create linkages and bring people places, even to remote corners of the world. For wildlife, on the other hand, roads do just the opposite. They create barriers which cut animals off from a larger landscape. They keep animals away from food and potential mates, and are also deadly to cross. Despite all these threats to wildlife, roads that cut into wild habitats continue to be built, in the name of development and to shorten travel time.

One such road is the Simpang Pulai-Gua Musang-Kuala Berang Highway, or what is also known as the Second East-West Link which crosses the breadth of Peninsular Malaysia. When proposed in the early 2000s, it raised concerns as it would slice through species-rich forests and break them into fragments possibly too small to sustain healthy populations of animals, as well as impede wildlife movement.

To resolve this, the Public Works Department changed the design of one section of the road – between Aring in south-east Kelantan and Pasir Pulau in Tasik Kenyir, Terengganu – to include wildlife crossings. So, instead of the usual approach of putting the road on an embankment or retaining walls when it traverses valleys, the road was raised above-ground on columns – what is known as viaducts. These bridges allow a passageway beneath for wildlife to safely cross between forests flanking the road. And so, the country’s first designed wildlife crossing was created.

In Peninsular Malaysia, this wildlife-friendly engineering is also seen at the Kuala Lipis-Merapoh road in Pahang. A third one being planned is along the Gerik-Jeli Highway (East-West Highway) in Perak, at the wildlife corridor between Temenggor Forest Reserve and Royal Belum State Park. Wildlife crossings can also take the shape of underpasses, overpasses or bridges, tunnels and culverts but locally, viaducts appear to be the favoured design.

Safe passage

The Aring-Tasik Kenyir road infringes the Sungai Deka forest corridor in Terengganu, a tract of greenery crucial for connecting two wild areas – Tembat Forest Reserve and the country’s premier park, Taman Negara.

“Without the viaducts, wildlife will not be able to move between both forests. The viaducts also prevent animals from venturing into roads where they risk being run over by vehicles,” says Yusoff Shariff, director of Terengganu Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan).

Although there are several viaducts along the road, three were specifically designed with wildlife crossings in mind. They measure 245m, 140m and 245m in distances and were constructed between 2007 and 2008 at a cost of RM30mil.

Yusoff says the locations of the viaducts were chosen after surveys had determined existing animal movement routes. These crossings generally follow elephant routes as smaller animals follow the path of the pachyderm.

“Elephants break off branches as they feed along their route. This encourages the growth of new shoots which in turn attracts herbivores such as deer. Predators after these preys, such as tigers, will then follow suit.”

Camera traps set up by Perhilitan and wildlife researchers have captured images of wildlife using the crossings – 16 species in total, including the elephant, tapir, sun bear, barking deer, sambar deer, serow, gaur, wild boar, porcupine, leopard cat, civet and panther.

When first completed, not many animals used the crossing as the land had been disturbed and lacked foliage, says Ahmad Kamsul Alias, assistant director of Terengganu Pehilitan.

He says to lure animals to the crossing and away from the road, “habitat enrichment” was done, by planting grasses and plants which the animals feed on. Artificial salt licks were also made under the bridges for the same effect.

Electric fence, installed on either side of the road for 11km, also helps direct animals towards the crossing and deter them from encroaching onto the road.

“This works as once, when the electric fence malfunctioned, we observed more road kills,” says Yusoff. He says while road kills no longer happen in the vicinity of the viaducts, they still occur at other sections of the highway. To counter this, he says signs warning motorists about the presence of wild animals have been put up. All these additional measures to ensure that the eco-viaducts are effective (electric fencing and habitat enrichment) incurred an additional cost of RM3.5mil.

There are always fears that the viaducts will make wildlife easy targets by poachers. To ward off this threat, Yusoff says Perhilitan enforcement team conducts regular patrols.

Road for animals

The country’s second eco-viaduct is in Sungai Yu near Merapoh in Pahang, and was completed earlier this year. Sungai Yu is an important forest corridor that bridges two areas crucial for tiger conservation – the Main Range and Taman Negara.

These forests have long been separated by the Kuala Lipis-Merapoh trunk road (Federal Route 8). Under plans to upgrade this road into a four-lane highway, eco-viaducts were included so that a passageway for animals is maintained between Sungai Yu Forest Reserve (on the Main Range) and Tanum Forest Reserve (adjacent to Taman Negara).

The linkage gives wildllife a wider home range. Without this connection, Taman Negara will be cut off from the rest of the forested landscape in the west, and risk ending up as a “habitat island” (a nature site surrounded by development).

The Sungai Yu wildlife crossing consists of a main viaduct almost 1km in length and two shorter ones of 300m and 80m. It has been reported to cost RM89.4mil (infrastructure plus land costs).

But building wildlife crossings alone cannot lessen the impact of siting roads in forested areas. The adjacent wild lands must be preserved, too, with controls over their usage, says tiger biologist Dr Mark Rayan.

“If the surrounding forest is not maintained, then the viaduct no longer serves its purpose and becomes redundant.” He says forests around viaducts at the Gerik-Kupang road in Perak and Kedah (which give animals a passageway underneath because of their elevated structure), has been converted into oil palm and rubber plantations.

Fortunately at the Sungai Deka eco-viaducts in Terengganu, 15,000ha of forest within the vicinity has been made a wildlife sanctuary. At Belum-Temenggor, land flanking both sides of the East-West Highway, previously earmarked for development and agriculture, has been gazetted as the Amanjaya Forest Reserve.

For the Sungai Yu eco-viaducts in Pahang, the Town and Country Planning Department has proposed that remaining stateland forest there be gazetted as protected forests so as to buffer the wildlife corridor.

As further safeguards, it called for a stop on expansion of human settlements, and for oil palm and rubber plantations there to apply green practices.

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