Best of our wild blogs: 31 Oct 14

Resorts World Sentosa says Singapore has no wild dolphins: NOT true!
from wild shores of singapore

Registration for Dec public walks at Sisters Island opens tomorrow
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

New volunteer guides at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

Humane Beehive Removal in Singapore
from Diary of a Boy wandering through Our Little Urban Eden

Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) anyone?
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Four fish farms first to be certified under new AVA scheme

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 30 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — Every day, the workers at Rong-Yao Fisheries’ fish farm off Pulau Ubin meticulously track the amount and type of feed dished out to each species of fish reared.

They track the mortality rates, amount of fish harvested and the batches they belong to.

Twice a day, they take readings of water temperature, pH (a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution), and dissolved oxygen levels off the farm’s water-quality monitoring system.

And at the end of each day, they send the information back to the company’s headquarters.

The farm has been keeping data since it began operations four years ago as it makes business sense, helping to track how much it costs to rear and harvest each batch of fish, said Rong-Yao’s business development manager Alawn Koh.

But the data now serves another purpose: To assure retailers such as NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong, as well as consumers, of the quality and safety of the fish.

Rong-Yao is among the pilot batch of four farms under a new Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) certification scheme, called Good Aquaculture Practice for Fish Farming. Announced last week, the scheme aims to raise the profile of local fish farms and set the benchmark for the production of quality fish, the AVA said.

The scheme’s guidelines cover farm structure and maintenance, management, feeding and harvesting practices. They also cover fish health management and safety at work.

Certification costs S$600 for the first time, and yearly renewals cost S$300. An AVA spokesperson said it consulted some farmers and felt the rates to be reasonable.

Certified farms have in place a more systematic approach to fish farming, with farm maintenance schedules, feeding protocols and net maintenance systematically followed and documented.

These protocols will ensure the traceability of the farmed fish from source to retail, and translate into more efficient production, the spokesperson said. The other certified farms belong to Barramundi Asia and Marine Life Aquaculture, and AVA is working with a second batch of farms towards certification.

Rong-Yao produced 100 tonnes of fish last year from one hectare, and is expanding by half a hectare. It rears pompano, red snapper and sea bass, and Mr Koh said expansion would be fuelled by increased demand from Singaporeans for local farmed fish.

“A lot has to do with the confidence we give to retailers. Last time, the perception was that Singapore farmers are not very consistent. So for the past one to two years, we’ve shown to retailers we’re able to perform and supply them consistently,” he said.

New certification scheme to ensure safety and quality of local fish produce
Janice Lim Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has introduced a certification scheme in a bid to ensure the safety and quality of local fish produce.

Four fish farms have been certified under the Good Aquaculture Practice for Fish Farming scheme for adopting good aquaculture practices. This pilot batch comprises farms under Barramundi Asia, Rong-Yao Fisheries, and Marine Life Aquaculture.

Consumers can support these certified fish farms by buying their produce with this logo, which AVA CEO Tan Poh Hong describes as a "mark of quality".

Better feeding management and harvesting techniques are some of the practices Rong-Yao Fisheries has adopted to ensure the survival of its fish, and to raise productivity. Workers are trained to use computers, simplifying the process of keeping farm records on matters such as water quality.

Rong-Yao's business development manager Alawn Koh feels that more can be done to support the industry. "I would say currently our challenge is to raise awareness among local consumers of the quality and safety of local farm produce."

- CNA/xy

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Semakau landfill to get green power grid

Feng Zengkun, David Ee The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Oct 14;

The world's prettiest landfill will soon become greener.

Singapore will start building a power grid at the lush Semakau Landfill next year, to show how renewable energy from the sea, sun and wind can be combined with other technologies to provide a stable source of electricity.
The hybrid micro-grid is the first in the region and is believed to be the largest in the tropics.

It will produce about 1MW of power for a start, which will be used on Semakau. That amount of power is enough for small islands and villages, and can act as an emergency power supply for cities.

In Singapore, it would be enough to power about 250 four-room Housing Board flats.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran announced the project yesterday at the opening of the inaugural Asia Clean Energy Summit, which is part of this year's Singapore International Energy Week.

He said the project could allow Singapore and its partners to provide electricity to island communities and remote villages. The research could also be used to improve cities' power grids.

"All of these are acute needs in Asia... and Singapore aims to play a meaningful role in Asia's clean- energy journey despite our geographical limitations," said Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will invest a total of $8 million in the grid infrastructure, and the project is expected to attract some $20 million in investments from clean-technology companies in the next five years.

NTU will build the grid and develop the technologies with 10 multinational companies, for a start. These include some of the world's biggest renewable-energy players, such as Vestas, the world's largest manufacturer and installer of wind turbines.

The National Environment Agency and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore will also support the project.

The grid will use energy storage systems and algorithms to tackle renewable energy's traditional limitations. Sunlight is needed to produce solar power, for instance, but storage systems can store the power for later use.

Professor Hans Puttgen, senior director at NTU's Energy Research Institute, said that a key research area will be technology that converts power to fuel.

One method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide, and the two gases are converted to methane, which is then fed into a natural gas power grid. This also helps to reduce carbon dioxide's impact on the environment.

EDB executive director of clean technologies Goh Chee Kiong said such power-to-gas technology "is a very exciting frontier for a lot of major companies today", and that the Singapore project could catalyse research here in the field.

Prof Puttgen said that the work will evolve as new technologies and partners come on board.

"It will never be finished, and it has been designed to be that way," he said.

S'pore powers towards energy target with new solar project

Singapore is on track to start projects by the end of next year to produce five to six times more energy from the sun, as the Government chases its target of having solar power meet about 5 per cent of electricity demand by 2020.

These projects will add 80 to 100 more megawatts-peak (MWp) of solar power, revealed Building and Construction Authority chief executive John Keung yesterday.

On top of the current capacity of nearly 20MWp, the nation would be roughly a third of the way towards its goal of 350MWp.

Part of the new boost in tapping the sun's energy comes from the Housing Board.

HDB has closed its tender for a 20MWp solar leasing project, which will see solar panels placed on the rooftops of 500 more HDB blocks, enough to power more than 4,000 four-room flats.

It is a significant jump from the 176 HDB blocks with solar panels as of August.

By 2020, HDB will contribute 220MWp of solar power with panels at 5,500 blocks.

There are also plans to install solar panels in army camps and in schools.

"In Singapore, the solar-power adoption movement is gaining strong momentum, driven by the competitive costs of solar energy and pervasive sustainability practices," said Dr Keung at the Solar Pioneer Awards, which are part of the Singapore International Energy Week that ends on Friday.

Such growth can be seen in this year's award winners. While past winning projects were in the range of 1MWp, this year's honourees had much larger system sizes, he noted.

He added that the solar energy market's centre of gravity has shifted from the West to Asia. "Consequently, we are seeing many global solar companies increasing their focus on Asia, which includes markets in China, Japan, India and South-east Asia," he said.

Meanwhile, a solar research institute based in the National University of Singapore (NUS) will be testing a unique Swiss-made white solar panel unveiled in Singapore yesterday.

A world first made possible by applying a coat of nanomaterials to solar panels while still maintaining a workable efficiency, it is a dramatic departure from the standard blue-black colour intended to maximise sunlight absorption.

Its creators at private Swiss research centre CSEM hope this will pave the way for using more visually appealing solar panels in a variety of colours on entire building facades rather than just on rooftops.

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at NUS will test these panels for at least six months to see if they are suitable for Singapore's climate.

CSEM selected Singapore for the panel's unveiling as it hopes to market it in Asia, said the director of CSEM's Photovoltaics Centre, Professor Christophe Ballif.

"If we are serious about using more renewable energy, we should make buildings net energy producers," he said.

"One day, we should really consider that buildings be covered entirely with photovoltaic panels."

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Dynamic future in power generation

Euston Quah And Christabelle Soh The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Oct 14;

It takes a certain degree of courage to try to envision what Singapore's environmental landscape will be in the far future. By this, we are referring to at least 30 to 50 years' time - and this is sufficiently distant not to be too bothered if the predictions do not pan out.

In the energy sector, three developments will converge to create two shifts in the way energy is obtained here.

The first shift will be in fuel mix. Currently, the bulk of Singapore's fuel comes from natural gas piped in from Malaysia and Indonesia. However, with improvements in technology to harness and store electricity, we expect to see a greater reliance on renewable energy, specifically solar energy. Already, it was announced yesterday that Singapore will be able to produce five to six times more energy from the sun by the end of next year, as the Government chases its target of having solar power meet about 5 per cent of electricity demand by 2020.

Singapore is well-suited for solar energy, given the perennial sunny climate. Prices of solar panels have also fallen dramatically since China's entry as a producer into the solar panel market.

The obstacle that has prevented more widespread adoption of solar energy has not been price, but dependability - the difficulty of storing cheap solar energy produced in the day for use at any time. As electricity storage technology improves, we foresee a shift away from natural gas to a greater use of solar energy.

The other development that will drive the shift in Singapore's fuel mix away from piped-in natural gas is developments in clean technology regarding burning coal and shale gas extraction. Coal and shale gas are very similar in that both are abundant and, therefore, extremely cheap.

However, concerns about their environmental impact have limited their growth. For shale gas, the concern is over the pollution - such as groundwater poisoning - caused in the "fracking" extraction process. For coal, it is over the large amounts of carbon emissions when it is burnt. With technology that mitigates pollution from fracking, and improvements in carbon capture technology, we expect to see a migration towards these cheaper energy sources. Singapore is already exploring importing shale gas from the United States.

The third development is the trend towards a more cooperative world as Singapore's neighbours become prosperous. As the region grows from greater trade and investment links, friendlier ties will enable the full implementation of a smart energy grid with every ASEAN nation plugged in.

This will allow for more stability in electricity supply as energy deficits in one country can be made up for by surpluses of another, and more energy efficiency as more will be produced by the one with the lowest marginal cost. For Singapore, this also means a general shift in energy generation from internal to external sources.

Policy-wise, we expect a broadening of markets where the economic principle of taxing negative externalities (costs to third parties that are unaccounted for) are applied. A number of these taxes are already in place - cigarettes are taxed for the health cost imposed on passive smokers; road usage is taxed (via electronic road pricing) for the congestion caused; and car emissions are taxed for the pollution created.

For some existing markets, the taxes will be expanded to include the whole market. For example, to deal with congestion, every road will be priced. "Smart" gantries will adopt dynamic pricing - the greater the congestion, the higher the price for using it, adjusted instantly.

For other markets, taxes will be increased or introduced to correct for other externalities, such as those related to waste generation and noise creation. Carbon taxes will be introduced.

In the case of climate change, while carbon taxes will help reduce carbon emissions, adaptations will be made to accommodate the reality of an already warmer world.

Existing policies, such as higher building bases to prevent flooding and regulation on coastline development, will be expanded. Buildings will be built further inland in response to higher expected sea levels and land reclamation may be curtailed until it becomes clear that it does not contribute to flooding. Similarly, for waste management, policies will be developed to complement taxes. Closer relations with Singapore's neighbours will
enable it to lease land from Malaysia and Indonesia for landfills for non-toxic waste.

A holistic approach

There will be a fundamental paradigm shift that will influence Singapore's population size, in that policy will be guided by the concept of an optimal population that can maximise the quality of life.

Systems will be established to elicit the public's preference for environmental goods. One part of this would be requiring all proposed public projects to be accompanied by environmental impact analyses (EIA). Perhaps even as early as 10 years from now, the combination of increasingly developed valuation techniques and the shift towards more holistic welfare will promote the use of EIAs.

Singapore's environmental landscape in the far future will be a dynamic changing one that utilises modern technology, pragmatism as cost-benefit analysis and efficiency-based decision-making.

Euston Quah is professor of environmental economics and head of economics at Nanyang Technological University. Christabelle Soh is a former teacher now working with the Ministry of Education.

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Skin-eating Asian fungus imperils world's salamanders

Will Dunham Reuters Yahoo News 31 Oct 14;

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A skin-eating fungus that infiltrated Europe through the global wildlife trade is threatening to inflict massive losses on the continent's native salamanders including extinction of whole species and could do the same in North America, scientists say.

An international research team said on Thursday the fungus, first detected in Europe last year, has killed salamanders in the Netherlands and Belgium and is expected soon to reach other European nations. They said it is closely related to another fungus that already has wiped out some amphibian species.

The scientists have found no sign of the fungus in North American amphibians but worry that it is only a matter of time before it surfaces via a pet trade that has funneled millions of Chinese fire belly newts to the United States.

The researchers tracked the origins and geographical presence of the fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, by examining about 5,400 samples accounting for about 150 varieties of amphibians in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa.

They also exposed 35 amphibian species to the fungus to learn which were vulnerable. The study, published in the journal Science, found it can kill numerous kinds of salamanders and newts, a subgroup of the salamander family, but not other amphibians including frogs, toads and snake-like caecilians.

The fungus was discovered by scientists probing a die-off of fire salamanders in the Netherlands. It invades a salamander's skin, an organ vital to its respiratory system, causing ulcers.

"There is little we can do to stop further spread on mainland Europe other than preventing people from moving infected salamanders between countries," said Matthew Fisher, a professor of fungal disease epidemiology at Imperial College London who was one of the researchers.

"If (the fungus) arrives in the USA then millions, if not billions, of salamanders are likely to die and species extinctions may occur."

The findings illustrate the threat posed to native creatures by pathogens spread through the international wildlife trade. Asian salamanders and newts are sold worldwide in huge numbers.

"The uncontrolled trade of animals should be regulated worldwide, and traded animals should be tested for the presence of pathogens that can affect wildlife with special emphasis to prevent introduction of (the fungus) to islands and regions where it is currently absent," said An Martel, a veterinarian at Ghent University in Belgium who led the study.

The fungus appears to have originated in Southeast Asia 30 million years ago, reaching Europe recently through the trade in Asian newts.

Using museum specimens, the scientists determined the fungus was present in amphibians from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan as early as the 19th century without causing disease. That indicates creatures in the region have developed resistance but those from other regions may be highly vulnerable.

University of Maryland ecologist Karen Lips, another of the researchers, underscored the danger in North America, saying, "The impact on our native salamander diversity might be very high because the U.S. is the world's greatest biodiversity 'hot spot' for salamanders. We have more species and families here than anywhere else in the world."

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Plans for giant Antarctic marine reserve falter for fourth time

Countries unlikely to reach consensus on plan to protect vast swath of ocean off Antarctica as CCAMLR meeting draws to a close
Associated Press 30 Oct 14;

A plan to protect a vast swath of ocean off Antarctica by creating the world’s largest marine reserve appeared headed for failure for the fourth time.

The countries that make decisions about Antarctic fishing finish a 10-day meeting on Friday in Hobart, Australia.

Most favor a US-New Zealand proposal to ban most fishing in a sanctuary sprawling across 1.34m sq km (517,000 square miles) in the Ross Sea.

But all countries must agree, which they have failed to do at three previous meetings.

US delegation leader Evan Bloom said Thursday a consensus once again appeared unlikely.

“It’s very disappointing from the US perspective,” he said.

He said a “small number of countries” opposed the proposal, but he declined to name them as the closed-door negotiations were continuing.

Russia was a key holdout in the past among the 24 nations and the European Union that comprise the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Political tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine have likely only added a further hurdle this time.

Russia is one of several nations that have fishing interests in Antarctica’s waters. The Ross Sea is home to the Antarctic toothfish, a lucrative species that is often marketed in North America as Chilean sea bass.

Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Southern Ocean protection project for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said it might be time to consider new approaches, such as consumers, or nations, refusing to buy fish that has been caught inside the proposed reserve boundaries.

“It’s crushing that for the fourth time in three years this hasn’t gotten through,” she said.

The US-New Zealand proposal had been a decade in the making and has received strong support from US secretary of state John Kerry. The proposal would ban fishing from most of the reserve while allowing for limited scientific catches in some areas.

A second proposal by Australia, France and the European Union to create four smaller reserves off the coast of the East Antarctica also appeared headed for failure.

Mark Epstein, the executive director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition environmental advocacy group, said that while geopolitical issues were likely a factor this time, it was too soon to give up on the consensus approach.

“Our profound hope is that all the members will come back to the original reasons and meaning for creating the convention,” he said.

The convention was established in 1982 with the express objective of conserving Antarctic marine life.

The Russian delegation could not be immediately contacted for comment on Thursday.

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