Best of our wild blogs: 23 Oct 14

Picnic At Upper Pierce Reservoir (22 Oct 2014)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Albino plantain squirrel
from Bird Ecology Study Group

21/2014 – Segar Nature Trail (18 October 2014)
from Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Insights on the Circular Economy in Singapore
from Green Future Solutions

Demand for rhino horn drops 38 percent in Vietnam after advertising campaigns
from news by Jeremy Hance

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10 ideas to make Singapore more bike-friendly and walkable

Channel NewsAsia 22 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: In order to make Singapore a more friendly place for walking and biking, urban design and planning need to be focused on people, rather than automobiles which was prevalent in the past century, a new study revealed.

This fundamental change in how urban cities are designed is required in order to create a walkable, bikeable space, according to the study by Urban Land Institute and Centre for Liveable Cities, which was released on Wednesday (Oct 22).

The Creating Healthy Places through Active Mobility report offered 10 ideas to make cities more walkable, bikeable and people-friendly:

• Make walking and cycling convenient and efficient, integrating them into public transit systems

• Provide dedicated space for all forms of transportation

• Ensure high visibility at junctions to improve safety

• Maintain continuity of movement

• Keep motorised traffic slow in high pedestrian areas

• Make street-level crossings a priority

• Ensure consistency in design standards throughout the city

• Make walking and cycling paths comfortable and attractive (for example, shady trees help shield people from heat, sun and rain)

• Mix up the land uses adjacent to the routes; mixed-use developments are conducive to walking and cycling as an easy way to get from one place to another

• Close the loop with end-of-trip amenities such as shower facilities, lockers and bicycle parking

The study is the result of research that began in November 2013. The process involved engaging the community through two workshops in which participants from the private sector, Government and civic groups discussed perceptions, issues and ideas on active mobility in Singapore and sought to identify potential improvements. It also involved a cycling tour of Ang Mo Kio led by renowned Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl.

“The release of the ‘Active Mobility’ research study is the result of bringing together a diverse group of people to discuss land development issues within high-density cities,” said former ULI Singapore Chairman and AECOM Southeast Asia Vice President Scott Dunn, who worked with CLC representatives to prepare the report.

“Our hope is that the report will be used as a reference point for decision-makers in other tropical cities as well as other cities facing similar challenges,” he added.

- CNA/kk

Cycling should be viable transport option in Singapore: Khaw
Eileen Poh Channel NewsAsia 22 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan says cycling should be a viable transport option in Singapore for short trips to places like the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station. For this to happen, such trips should be made safe and pleasant.

In a blog post titled "4 Wheels Good, 2 Wheels and 2 Feet Even Better" on Wednesday (22 Oct), Mr Khaw noted that Singapore is "quite walkable", with good pavements along most roads, pedestrian priority at traffic junctions and sheltered walkways.

"But we are not perfect. In fact, some cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have raised active mobility to a higher level. Walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life. In these cities, they make up more than half of the modes of transport," he wrote.

"Bench-marked against them, we are way behind."

Cycling, he said, merely makes up one to two per cent of transport modes here. "We must now go beyond cycling for recreation," he added.

Mr Khaw highlighted initiatives such as the National Cycling Plan, which envisions a cycling network of 700km by 2030.

Next year, 100km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok would have been developed. Eventually, all 26 public housing towns will have similar networks to connect homes to neighbourhood centres and MRT stations.

At the same time, the government is exploring bike sharing schemes, as well as increasing safety education programmes, such as the Safe Cycling Programme for Youth for secondary school students.

Mr Khaw's remarks came as the Centre for Liveable Cities and US-based Urban Land Institute on Wednesday launched a publication detailing recommendations to make Singapore more walkable and bicycle-friendly.

The strategies include integrating walking and cycling into public transport systems, installing amenities such as shower facilities, lockers and bicycle parking lots, and planting more trees to shield pedestrians and cyclists from the heat.

- CNA/by/xq

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Malaysia: Johor Forestry officers queried

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 23 Oct 14;

KOTA TINGGI: THE Johor Forestry Department is being probed over extensive illegal logging traced near a dam which is under construction.

After months of surveillance at the Seluyut Forest Reserve here, 26 Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission enforcers zoomed in on Tuesday, raiding a kongsi shared by about 20 foreigners who were involved in the activity.

The workers, who were here illegally, were handed over to the Immigration Department.

A man, in his 50s, who had been supervising the illegal immigrants, tried to bribe the officers with RM3,000 in cash on condition that the foreigners be freed. He, too, was arrested.

The MACC is now investigating several state Forestry officers for possible involvement in the illegal felling of trees which had put the forest reserve under threat of destruction.

MACC senior assistant commissioner Ruslan Che Ahmad, who led the operation, told the New Straits Times that MACC was tipped off by the public who claimed that the activity had been carried out extensively since several months ago.

“There were piles and piles of timbers found at the forest together with the presence of heavy machinery and vehicles.

“We want to know who had authorised the felling of forest trees in this protected zone.”

Initial investigations showed that a company was given a licence to clear the 39.94ha forest reserve to make way for the construction of the dam.

However, the company was believed to have defied the licensing conditions by starting the logging activity even before the approved date on Oct 15.

“We want to know whether the Johor Forestry Department is aware of what is taking place in the forest reserve and why no action has been taken so far.” said Ruslan.

Meanwhile, sources close to the MACC said at least eight enforcement officers, including Forestry rangers, were held in Sarawak to assist in their investigations into similar activities reported in several districts in the state.

It is understood that MACC may be making more arrests nationwide to put a stop to illegal logging activities.

Man caught in illegal logging claims trial to bribing police
New Straits Times 22 Oct 14;

KUCHING: A managing director of a plantation company claimed trial at the Special Court for Corruption here today for attempting to bribe a police officer who had caught him for committing illegal logging.

Ling Sing Ching, 50, was charged with corruptly offering RM2,000 to ASP Mohd Mazlan Mohd Ariff as an inducement for the latter not to take action against him.

The offence was allegedly committed at a restaurant at Lorong Lapangan Terbang here at 4.45pm on Sept 4 this year.

Judge Nixon Kennedy Kumbong allowed Ling bail of RM10,000 in one surety and set Nov 24 to 26 to hear the case.

Prosecuting officer from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Ikhwan Mohd Ibrahim prosecuted, while Ling was represented by lawyer Francis Wee.

In the same court, a 52-year-old police sergeant pleaded not guilty to a charge of accepting a RM1,500 bribe from a traffic offender.

Zainudin Samad, who is attached to the traffic branch of the Kota Samarahan district police, was accused of corruptly accepting the money from one Rano Paiman, whom had earlier being booked for careless driving. Kumbong ordered Zainudin to be released on bail of RM10,000 in one surety and set Nov 17 for hearing. Ikhwan also prosecuted in the case, while Zainudin was represented by counsel Abd Rahman Mohd Hazmi. - BERNAMA

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Will coal exports kill the Great Barrier Reef?

Jon Donnison BBC News 22 Oct 14;

"An icon under pressure." That was how Australia's Great Barrier Reef was described recently by the body that manages it.

Stretching along the Queensland coast, the reef is an underwater wonderland home to thousands of different fish and coral species. But it is facing multiple threats.

Swathes of coral have been killed by the crown-of-thorns, a starfish which has flourished partly because of fertilisers seeping into the sea from farm run-off.

Extreme weather has also damaged the reef, while increased carbon in the atmosphere has made the water too acidic, leading to coral bleaching.

Reef that was once blooming is now grey, crumbling and barren.

"It's never been worse," says David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology in Sydney. "There's been a slow but steady degradation of the reef. Around half the coral has been destroyed in the last few decades."

But environmentalists say there's another major threat: coal.

Queensland is Australia's biggest coal-producing state. Up and down the coast there are huge coal ports fed by kilometres-long trains that lumber in from the big mines inland.

The scale of the mining operation in Queensland is striking - and growing.

Great Barrier Reef
Stretches about 2,500 km (1,553 miles) along the eastern Queensland coast, covering an area the size of Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands combined.
Made up of a network of 3,000 individual reef systems, islands, islets and sandbars
Home to more than 1,500 different species of fish, 400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusc and hundreds of bird species.
Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the only living thing on earth visible from space.
A Unesco World Heritage site - Unesco is also considering listing it as endangered.
In July, the government approved a project that will lead to the creation of Australia's biggest coal mine in the Galilee Basin region of central Queensland.

The Carmichael Mine, owned by the Indian conglomerate Adani, will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney harbour.

When the A$16bn (£9.9bn; $16bn) project is developed, the plan is to export 60 million tonnes of coal each year to India, for 60 years.

The coal industry here believes India, with its massive and fast-growing population, is the new China.

"While the rest of the world demands our coal, we will supply it," says Michael Roche, chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council.

"If we don't, one of the other hundred countries around the world that produce coal will supply the coal."

Australia already exports around a million tonnes of coal every single day. A good proportion of it is shipped out through the Great Barrier Reef.

Looking out from the hilltop above the Hay Point Coal terminal near Mackay you can see more than a dozen huge coal ships queuing to pick up their cargo.

To accommodate those ships many of the coal ports are having to be expanded. Shipping channels are being dredged to make way for bigger boats.

The most controversial project is at Abbot Point, just north of the town of Bowen.

Earlier this year the government approved a plan to dredge the port, dumping thousands of tonnes of sediment at sea.

Environmentalists have been outraged, saying the sediment will further damage the reef.

"At dredging sites, we found more than twice as much coral disease than at our control sites," says Joe Pollock.

He is from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, which carried out the first study on the impact of dredging activity on the reef.

"Corals require both light and food to survive and unfortunately, dredging impacts corals on two fronts: increased turbidity (cloudiness in the water) means less light for photosynthesis, while increased levels of sediment falling onto the coral can interfere with their ability to feed."

Following pressure, the Queensland state government has now put forward a proposal to dump the dredged sediment from the Abbot Point project on land rather than at sea, although no final decision has yet been made.

The mining industry says the dangers are being overplayed, arguing far greater quantities of sediment are washed into the ocean naturally from Queensland's river system.

"Don't believe what some of the NGOs are saying," says Michael Roche of the Queensland Resources Council.

"The NGOs are putting out stories about the reef. They're not trying to save the reef. They're trying to stop the coal industry. It's a good emotional campaign to use in their campaign against hydrocarbons."

At the moment, it does not seem to be a campaign those NGOs are winning. The current government is a great champion of coal.

"Let's have no demonisation of coal," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said earlier this month as he opened the Caval Ridge coalmine in central Queensland.

"Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia and right around the world."

It is words such as this that have made Mr Abbott a hate figure for environmentalists.

David Hannan, one of the world's leading underwater cameramen, has been filming the reef for decades. He is also involved with a group campaigning to protect it, having witnessed the way it has changed.

"It's suicidal when you've got reef systems on the edge anyway, to be putting any more pressures on them. It's that simple."

People like Mr Hannan accuse the government of short-term thinking. What will happen when the coal runs out?

But coal has been hugely beneficial to Australia's economy. In Queensland alone, the industry invests around A$40bn a year and provides tens of thousands of jobs. If money talks, then coal will win.

The coal industry is clearly not the only factor having a negative impact on the reef.

But Unesco, the United Nations scientific, cultural and educational body, has already said the impact of coal export expansion could contribute to the Great Barrier Reef being classified as "endangered" on its list of World Heritage Sites.

"The science is clear," says Prof David Booth. "But the lack of uptake of science by the government here makes scientists feel impotent."

It's hard to imagine that a coal port could ever be beautiful. Yet looking out from Hay Point before dawn, the terminal's lights twinkle against the blackness of the sea.

But as the sun rises, the picture changes. Mountains of coal sit next to the azure waters that are home to the reef.

The next few decades could determine whether the two can continue to exist side by side.

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