Best of our wild blogs: 12 Oct 14

A new marine park for Singapore... and training to be a nature guide there
from Come hold your breath with me

Butterfly of the Month - October 2014
from Butterflies of Singapore

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One man's bid to map haze here through crowdsourcing

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 Oct 14;

The idea is to get many people all over Singapore to buy a sensor kit and place it in their homes so as to map the haze when it hits the country.

This, in theory, could help people decide on their outdoor activities, said software engineer Roland Turner, 44, who started the crowdsourcing project in June.

So far, 17 people - mostly friends of Mr Turner - have bought the portable haze sensor kit. He hopes to get 50 to 60 participants by December.

"My objective for the project is to have enough sensor data to make it possible to understand how haze propagates in Singapore," said Mr Turner, an Australian living in Singapore.

But the kit is still a work in progress, he said.

For one thing, its sensor counts the air particles detected, instead of weighing them, so readings may not entirely reflect haze particles.

Mr Turner also stressed that the project does not aim to replace the haze data from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

When contacted, NEA said it is unclear how the kit's sensor will count only PM2.5 particles - an air pollutant associated with the haze that is less than 2.5 microns in size - and not larger ones.

Moisture interference may also affect the readings, it said.

The kit is likely to pick up only big particles such as dust and bacteria, said Assistant Professor Jason Cohen from the National University of Singapore's civil and environmental engineering department.

Research scientist Erik Velasco, from the Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modeling at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said environmental agencies follow very strict procedures based on international monitoring standards when it comes to tracking air pollution.

"Initiatives like (Mr Turner's) are good because they show society's concern about a problem," he said.

But he cautioned that such projects could lead to misinformation if they are not scientific and well-designed.

Mr Turner's kit contains a dust sensor similar to those used in air purifiers. It detects air particles via infrared light.

The live data collected by the kit is combined with previously recorded readings from the kit and PM2.5 readings from the NEA before it is converted to estimated PM2.5 readings.

These readings are updated every 30 seconds and displayed on a real-time map of Singapore as colour-coded circles indicating the air quality.

Locations that have been mapped so far include Novena and Upper Bukit Timah.

Each kit costs $95 and Mr Turner said the money goes to a technology company that supplies the parts.

Improvements to the kit and its readings are under way, he said.

"Scientists, educators and data visualisation specialists are starting to get involved," he said, adding that he welcomes the participation of environmental scientists.

Despite the kit's shortcomings, participants such as tech firm partner Ciaran Lyons, 37, think the project is a "great first step" towards a low-cost, people-led network of sensors to map the haze.

"As the sensors improve, so too will the network's capabilities," he said.

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Air quality unhealthy in afternoon, 3-hour PSI at 106 at 3pm

Today Online 11 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE – The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading entered into the unhealthy range again this afternoon (Oct 11) due to smoke haze from the surrounding region.

The reading was at 71 at 1am, and rose steadily since then to hit the unhealthy level at 1pm, with a three-hour PSI reading of 101. An hour later, the reading was 106. The reading dropped out of the unhealthy range at 5pm, but remained in the high end of the moderate range.

In an evening update, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the haziness was due to smoke haze from our surrounding region, blown in by the prevailing southerly to south-easterly winds. A total of 317 and 247 hotspots were detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan, respectively. "Widespread smoke haze was visible in parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra," said the NEA.

Slightly hazy conditions are expected to persist tonight.

Tomorrow, the prevailing winds are forecast to blow mainly from the east or southeast. Thundery showers are expected in the afternoon and there may be occasional slight haze. The overall air quality is expected to be in the high end of the Moderate range.

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'Ineffective' car emission scheme being reviewed

Christopher Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 11 Oct 14;

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) is reviewing a scheme that rewards or penalises motorists based on the amount of carbon dioxide their cars emit.

The carbon emissions-based vehicle scheme (CEVS), which was introduced on Jan 1 last year and is slated to run till June 30 next year, has been criticised for being lax, biased and ineffective.

Cars with low carbon emissions receive rebates of between $5,000 and $20,000, which are offset against the vehicle's Additional Registration Fee (ARF). But motorists have complained this lowers the residual cost of the car.

Cars with high carbon emissions pay a registration surcharge of between $5,000 and $20,000.

Motor traders said the main beneficiaries have been sellers of European makes with small-capacity turbocharged direct-injection engines.

Experts have also questioned the effectiveness of CEVS in reducing air pollution.

Asian Clean Fuels Association executive director Clarence Woo said: "You can lower CO2 and yet not lower pollutants such as particulate matter."

Since Singapore plans to adopt the Euro 6 emission standard, which specifies a big reduction in pollutants such as fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, the CEVS could be refined towards meeting this objective, he said.

LTA met motor industry representatives on Tuesday to inform them of the review and gather feedback. The Straits Times understands several industry players have suggested rewards be delinked from ARF.

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Malaysia: Praise for PM’s move to address water issues

The Star 11 Oct 14;

LOCAL non-governmental organisations are happy with the allocation to address water issues.

“The budget hits most of the nails right on the head,” said Dr Zaki Zainudin, associate professor in water quality and modelling at the Inter­national Islamic University Malaysia.

He said as a country poised for developed nation status, a sustainable and dependable water supply was a necessity.

“We can’t afford water rationing fiascoes. I think the Prime Minister realises this,” he said.

However, Dr Zaki said he was disappointed over the lack of direct allocations for environmental and water conservation.

“I hope to see it become a major part of the mooted National Water Blueprint and holistic river basin management plan,” he said.

It was important to have environmental sustainability and cost sa­­vings in the long run, he added.

Malaysia Water Association president Syed Mohamad Alhabshi praised the Prime Minister for allocating RM112mil to reduce non-re­venue water (NRW).

“The allocation is sufficient to start a strong holistic approach to NRW reduction,” he said.

He said the association also hoped that the water blueprint would bring about a sustainable tariff increase mechanism and improve supply reserves.

“With sufficient reserves, water rationing can be avoided and consumers will not have to suffer again,” he said.

However, Environmental Protec­tion Society Malaysia president Nithi Nesadurai believed that the breakdown in federal-state government relationships was a problem that must be resolved first.

“What’s the point of having the blueprint at the federal level and the state is free to do as it wants?” he said.

Nithi said demand for water re­­sour­ces must be managed properly.

“We must learn to achieve with as little as possible, and that’s where innovation and incentives come in,” he said.

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Malaysia: Cross Border Haze To Decline By Mid October

Bernama 11 Oct 14;

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 (Bernama) - Cross border haze is expected to decline with the change of the Monsoon season in the middle of October.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Datuk Seri G. Palanivel said the Northeast Monsoon will bring wet weather and change in the wind direction.

The decline in the air quality in several areas in Penang yesterday was caused by cross border haze from Sumatra, Indonesia.

"This is because Southwest Monsoon winds are blowing to the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia," he said in a statement Saturday.

Palanivel said the Department of Environment director-general had written a note to her Indonesian counterpart about the increased number of hotspots in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

"Malaysia has urged Indonesian authorities to immediately put out forest fires and undertake preventive measures."

He reminded the public to refrain from open burning and prevent others from entering their land to commit open burning.


14 hotspots detected in South Kalimantan
The Star 11 Oct 14;

Kalimantan: Fourteen hotspots were detected in several sub-districts in Balangan District, South Kalimantan, a local official said here Friday.

"Based on the monitoring, the hotspots in Balangan were found in agricultural areas, plantations and many small spots in forest regions," Indonesia's Antara news agency quoted Haryono, the head of Balangan forestry and plantation office, as saying.

Eight provinces across Indonesia: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, North Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and East Kalimantan, were on emergency alert due to forest and plantation fires.

The National Meteorological, Climatology and Geophysics Agency predicted that the dry season in Indonesia will last until January 2015.

To extinguish forest and plantation fires, the National Agency for Disaster Management (BNPB) will conduct cloud seeding operations to create artificial rain, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said recently.

He explained that the BNPB coordinated with the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), which will continue with their artificial rain operations throughout October.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi urged the public to protect themselves from the smoke caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
"The smoke causes pollution and also affects the breathing and vision of the people," Mboi said. -Bernama

Unhealthy API levels recorded in Penang
crystal chiam shiying The Star 11 Oct 14;

Several areas in Penang continue to be enveloped by the Haze. The Star/Lim Beng Tatt

Several areas in Penang continue to be enveloped by the Haze. The Star/Lim Beng Tatt

GEORGE TOWN: Several locations in Penang continued to record unhealthy air pollutant index (API) levels on Saturday.

According to the API readings available on the Department of Environment (DOE) website, Penang was the only state that recorded unhealthy levels.

As of 11am the Seberang Jaya 2 and USM stations recorded readings of 107 and 106 respectively. The Prai station recorded a moderate reading of 92 as of 11am.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

The API is calculated based on five major air pollutants, namely Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Ground Level Ozone (O3), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and particulate matter with a diameter below 10 micrometers (PM10).

The concentrations of these five pollutants are measured in 52 automatic air quality stations throughout Malaysia, mainly located in industrial and urban areas

Penang haze back to moderate levels after rain
chong kah yuan The Star 11 Oct 14;

GEORGE TOWN: Intermittent rain in the later part of Saturday provided temporary respite to the hazy skies.

The showers - at about 1.45pm for an hour and again at about 7.30pm - was enough to wash away the haze which recorded an API reading of 107 in the Seberang Jaya 2 and 106 at USM stations in the morning.

The Prai station recorded a moderate reading of 92 as of 11am.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 to 100 (moderate), 101 to 200 (unhealthy), 201 to 300 (very unhealthy), and 301 and above (hazardous).

At 7pm, the API for Prai, Seberang Jaya 2 and USM was at 76, 89 and 88 respectively.

The Fire and Rescue Department said no flood and accidents was reported.

The weather forecast for the week is for a fair weather on Sunday, isolated rain on Monday and Tuesday followed by isolated thunderstorms until Friday.

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Indonesia: Kalimantan Haze Closes Balikpapan Airport

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 11 Oct 14;

Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. Authorities closed down Balikpapan’s international airport for an hour on Saturday after visibility fell below the legal limit because of air pollution caused by forest fires. It was the first time the airport has been closed because of haze.

Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport airport was closed between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m, disrupting a number of flights in the East Kalimantan provincial capital.

“We had to close down the airport because of the haze, the visibility was less than a kilometer. The minimum visibility for aviation is 1.5 kilometers,” airport spokesman Awaluddin told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday.

Awaluddin said five flights were delayed and six flights were diverted to Hassanudin airport in Makassar.

“This is the first time we had to delay flights and divert planes since the haze first hit Balikpapan,” he said.

Acrid air pollution has encircled Balikpapan for days due to forest fires and hot spots in Bornean forests. Many local residents have taken to wearing face masks to try and minimize the risk of respiratory problems.

The Balikpapan local health agency reported that more than 2000 people have been diagnosed with upper-respiratory tract infections due to the haze. By comparison 1,300 people were recorded with the same diagnosis in September.

Sepinggan airport has since resumed normal operation.

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China air pollution levels hit 20 times safe limit

Visibility dropped dramatically as small pollutant particles reached dangerous levels in northern China’s Hebei province
AFP 10 Oct 14;

Days of heavy smog shrouding swathes of northern China pushed pollution to more than 20 times safe levels on Friday, despite government promises to tackle environmental blight.

Visibility dropped dramatically as measures of small pollutant particles known as PM2.5, which can embed themselves deep in the lungs, reached more than 500 micrograms per cubic metre in parts of Hebei, a province bordering Beijing.

The World Health Organization’s guideline for maximum healthy exposure is 25.

In the capital, buildings were obscured by a thick haze, with PM2.5 levels in the city staying above 300 micrograms per cubic metre since Wednesday afternoon and authorities issuing an “orange” alert.

“It’s very worrying, the main worry is my health,” said a 28-year-old marketing worker surnamed Hu, carrying an anti-smog mask decorated with a pink pig’s nose as she walked in central Beijing.

China has for years been hit by heavy air pollution, caused by enormous use of coal to generate electricity to power a booming economy, and more vehicles on the roads.

But public discontent about the environment has grown, leading the government to declare a “war on pollution” and vow to cut coal use in some areas.

Nonetheless poor air quality has persisted with officials continuing to focus on economic growth, and lax enforcement of environmental regulations remains rife.

In a sign of growing environmental activism, Greenpeace East Asia projected the message “Blue Sky Now!” on to a facade of the Drum Tower, a historic building north of the Forbidden City.

The pollution – which also hit areas hundreds of kilometres from Beijing – comes as the city hosts a high-profile cycling tournament, the Tour of Beijing, and a Brazil-Argentina football friendly.

Global heads of state from the US, Russia and Asia are set to gather in the capital for a key summit next month.

City authorities said Thursday that they would place tighter restrictions on vehicle use during the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in November, while requesting neighbouring areas to shut down polluting facilities.

But most locals were not wearing protection Friday, and several people said they believed Beijing was being hit by natural haze, rather than pollution.

Even so, sitting in a Beijing park 82-year-old Liu Shuying said: “There are too many cars. I don’t wear a mask because I’m not afraid of death.”

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