Best of our wild blogs: 7 Nov 14

shield bugs on fish-tailed palm @ SBWR - Nov 2014
from sgbeachbum

Butterflies Galore! : Bamboo Tree Brown
from Butterflies of Singapore

What do baby mangrove trees look like?
from wild shores of singapore

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Major haze episodes in region ‘likely to be more frequent’

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 7 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — Major haze events in South-east Asia are expected to be increasingly frequent due to ongoing deforestation of peatlands in Indonesia and extreme air pollution episodes are no longer restricted to drought years.

These are the conclusions of recent research led by a scientist from the Centre for International Forestry Research, who yesterday said peatlands and overlapping claims to land ownership in Indonesia were factors behind the haze problem. Peatlands are wetlands consisting of partially decayed vegetation matter that release vast amounts of carbon when drained and burnt.

Dr David Gaveau was among 40 non-governmental and corporate representatives, as well as academics, who took part in the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) think-tank’s Haze Roundtable event.

In the study published in August, Dr Gaveau and his co-authors noted that all major South-east Asia haze events from 1960 to 2006 have occurred during years of unusually low rainfall induced by El Nino or a related phenomenon. Although there were no regional climate anomalies last year, fires in Indonesia still generated air pollution that exceeded the previous 1997-1998 record over Singapore.

Fires in the country last year were short-lived and confined to recently deforested peatlands in Sumatra’s Riau province, but generated a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases and smoke in the span of a week — equal to the emissions of 50 million cars in a year — because of the peat, they found.

The authors studied a three-million hectare area in Riau and found that 52 per cent of the burnt area fell within concessions allocated to companies for plantation development. They called for protection of the remaining peatlands and a halt to further drainage.

Roundtable participants yesterday noted other factors hampering solutions to the haze problem. Communities in Malaysia and Indonesia sometimes had only peatlands to farm on and some local government policies in Indonesia encourage the exploitation and conversion of forests. Awareness should be raised among individual farmers and they should be provided with alternatives for land clearance, participants said.

On the national level, they largely welcomed Indonesia’s Parliament agreeing in September to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

On its part, Singapore could take a leaf from European countries and pledge to import only sustainable palm oil, one suggested.

The SIIA also announced plans to launch a haze-tracking portal combining real-time hot spots, wind direction, and land-use and concession maps in the first quarter of next year.

Noting that the Haze Monitoring System adopted by the Association of South-east Asian Nations last October had stalled over concerns related to the sharing of concession maps, SIIA chairman Simon Tay said: “Until ASEAN governments can move things forward with a joint haze-monitoring system, there is a need to plug an information gap in collaboration with our NGO and corporate partners.”

World Resources Institute’s project manager Fred Stolle said the SIIA’s portal would complement its own Global Forest Watch platform. Research non-governmental organisations, by making data open and transparent, can push governments to do the same, he said.

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Think-tank to launch haze tracking portal next year

Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 6 Nov a4;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is looking to launch a haze tracking portal to plug the information gap, in efforts to clamp down on errant parties causing transboundary haze affecting the region.

The think-tank revealed its plans during a roundtable discussion with about 40 stakeholders from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on Thursday (Nov 6).

The portal aims to complement similar efforts by the World Resource Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which rely on satellite tracking and ground monitoring efforts to boost accountability and transparency within the region. Satellite images, hotspot coordinates and concession maps will be made available for the public to know who is responsible for fires.

SIIA's chairman, Simon Tay, said: "First is to source the map. So that is why we brought some experts and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) who have access or can get access to those maps. The second is to do our best to have a panel that will kind of verify the maps, to knock out the ones that are obviously wrong and then to put them up."

He added: "At this present time, governments have asked for a haze monitoring system, but because Indonesia and Malaysia would not release official maps, the government and ASEAN cannot move. We are then left with a large number of western NGOs that have got some maps and then of course, some companies who release their own maps.

"So in that sense, we do not have an ASEAN base - a fairly neutral player who is neither a company nor a true NGO - to really have a consolidated portal with some effort to verify the information on that portal. So that is where a think-tank like SIIA can try to help."

The portal is expected to be ready by the first quarter of next year.

Illegal burning activities in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan are often cited as the cause for transboundary haze that has affected the region since 1997. In August this year, Singapore passed a law where companies can be fined up to S$2 million should they be found guilty of contributing to the smog.

Companies in the oil palm sector, which has traditionally been associated with the haze, said they have stepped up efforts to ensure compliance with the new law.

"We have recently teamed up with other companies to use technology to step up the monitoring of our perimeters and to basically keep an eye on what is happening on the ground," said Colin Lee, the director of corporate affairs at Cargill Tropical Palm. "Because if anything were to happen, we have the documentary proof in place to show that we are not responsible for any hotspots as well."


Stakeholders, including NGOs, that attended the roundtable discussion were generally supportive of the move, but some raised concerns over its implementation given the difficulty in obtaining concession maps, which are critical to tracking down those responsible for the haze.

There is hope that under the new Indonesian government, work on the "One Map" initiative, which aims to collate forest-licensing and land-use information, will be sped up.

"They have already gathered all the different information from the different ministries and consolidated it into one map," said Fitrian Ardiansyah, executive director of Pelangi. "Unfortunately or fortunately, it has only been 68 per cent verified, so they need to go further in order to have 100 consolidated maps. So now that Indonesia has a new government, it is up to the new government to integrate this map into their own policies."

He added: "In the old days, several ministries would have their different maps so if you want to prosecute a particular company, it is quite difficult. So which map do you want to refer to? But with one single initiative map ... you will be able to use it to be able to do anything, including land use planning and prosecution, if they are found to be guilty of forest and land fires, for example."

- CNA/kk/ek

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Global names join local NGO’s fight to save shark

Global hospitality giants such as Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Hyatt, have signed corporate pledges to go shark’s fin-free.
Today Online 6 Nov q4;

SINGAPORE — A homegrown shark conservation campaign has crossed international waters as it sees more global names coming on board to say “No” to shark finning.

Shark Savers Singapore, a non-governmental organisation, said today (Nov 6) that global hospitality giants — such as Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and Hyatt — had signed corporate pledges to go shark’s fin-free under its “I’m FINished with FINs” (IFWF) campaign.

They join the likes of well-known international figures — such as former Manchester United star David Beckham, China’s ex- basketball superstar Yao Ming, actor Jackie Chan and Britain’s Prince William — as brand ambassadors for the campaign.

Still, it was Singapore’s very own public figures who first took the leap of faith to endorse the campaign, said Shark Savers Singapore regional director Jonn Lu.

He credited local personalities, such as actor-comedian Hossan Leong, former Nominated Members of Parliament Eugene Tan and Nicholas Fang, and Indochine’s Michael Ma as being among the first to “stake their reputation and good name on a campaign that had no history or no legacy”.

Mr Lu added that many other international big names came on board very much later, after the campaign had already established its reputation.

He attributed the campaign’s success to an “easy-to-digest” message.

“A lot of conservation campaigns focus on animal rights and food ethics. But if you are asking someone not to eat shark’s fin because it is cruel, yet you eat a hamburger, then you lose your moral high ground,” Mr Lu said.

“All we did was shift the track of that message and focus on the big picture. You don’t have to love (sharks) per se in order to want to conserve or protect them. You just have to admit that we can’t do very well without them — that our future generations depend on their existence,” he added.

Mr Lu said it is particularly important that the message resonates in Singapore because despite its “clean image”, the country is listed as one of the top 10 illegal wildlife trading hubs worldwide — as stated by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Noting that Singapore handles a high volume of shark’s fin sales, Mr Lu said this is an area that Government could look into.

A 2013 report by wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic, showed that Singapore was one of the world’s top four exporters and the third-largest importer of shark’s fins between 2000 to 2009. Hong Kong was the world’s largest importer, the report said.

The global shark’s fin trade is estimated to be worth as much as US$1.2 billion (S$1.55 billion) a year.

Mr Lu said the IFWF campaign, which was launched in 2012, has since become the world’s largest grassroots-initiated mass media shark conservation campaign.

It is also working on getting 100,000 Singaporeans to pledge against consuming shark’s fin, and has garnered 70,000 and 76,000 pledges in Hong Kong and Malaysia respectively, so far.

Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt hotels and celebrities say "no" to shark fin
Channel NewsAsia 6 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: Diners may find it harder to order shark fin soup at hotels soon as some of the world's largest hospitality groups - Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and Hyatt - declared on Thursday (Nov 6) they would go shark fin-free.

The hotels pledged their commitment to stop serving shark fin at an "I'm FINished with FINs" event. Some companies in Singapore said at the event that they would ban shark fin dishes from all business entertainment and internal banquets as well.

Celebrities such as The Sam Willows, Tay Kewei and Hossan Leong, and corporate representatives were roped in to temporarily dye their hair blue to show their support for the campaign.

The "I'm FINished with FINs" campaign, which also seeks to educate the public about shark conservation, was conceived and launched by Singaporean volunteers in 2012.

- CNA/dl

Major hotels pledge to ban shark's fin soup
Olivia Ho The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE - Some of the world's largest hospitality groups have joined the fight against shark's fin soup.

Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and Hyatt are among major industry players here who joined the I'm FINished with fins campaign at a ceremony yesterday.

The campaign asks 100,000 Singaporeans to pledge not to consume shark's fin dishes and to educate the public about the environmental damage caused by the shark's fin trade.

Hilton Asia Pacific president Martin Rinck said: "The hospitality industry possesses immense potential and responsibility to effect positive change for our society and planet."

Hilton banned shark's fin in the 669 properties it owns and manages globally on April 1. Starwood, which owns hotel brands such as Sheraton and Westin, banned the dish on July in its nearly 1,200 hotels worldwide.

To date, 15 major hotel chains here have announced they are "fin-free" and 24 airlines, including Singapore Airlines, have officially refused to carry the fins on their cargo flights.

A spokesperson for Resorts World Sentosa said shark's fin is not on the menu. He added: "While we have alternatives available, if a customer within our private gaming rooms strongly wants the dish, we will serve it."

Corporations outside the hospitality and F&B industries are finding ways to do their bit as well.

Artiste management firm Fly Entertainment, film distributor Shaw Organisation and teleco SingTel have pledged to banish shark's fin from all business entertainment and internal banqueting.

World Wildlife Fund Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said: "We're witnessing declines in imports and exports of shark's fin and reportedly up to a 50 per cent drop in wholesale prices as more diners in Singapore say no to shark's fin soup."

An estimated 100 million sharks are harvested yearly, with up to 73 million killed just for their fins. Some shark populations have declined by up to 98 per cent in the last 15 years.

I'm FINished with fins is a home-grown campaign launched in 2012, and is active in places including China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Campaign founder Jonn Lu said that while getting restaurants to ban shark's fin is important, he also wants to reduce demand for the dish. "It is far more efficient to work on consumers," he said.

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Malaysia: Camerons’ land clearing to blame

T.N. ALAGESH AND AUDREY DERMAWAN New Straits Times 7 Nov 14;

KUANTAN: TENAGA Nasional Bhd yesterday said it was forced to open the spillway gates of the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam in stages on Wednesday as the water behind its walls rose to nearly critical levels.

However, the blame for the floods, which hit the Ringlet area and have so far seen three people killed and four injured, with two more people missing and feared dead, was placed on excessive land clearing activities and “unplanned development” in Cameron Highlands.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob and Tanah Rata assemblyman Leong Ngah Ngah both hit out at irresponsible parties who had been clearing land indiscriminately, causing the mud floods and landslides, just over a year after the deadly Bertam Valley mudflow killed four people on Oct 23 last year.

“Excessive land-clearing activities and unplanned development on the highlands have resulted in bare (and unstable) soil, causing mud floods during downpours.

“Irresponsible acts by certain quarters on the environment have caused the disaster, and it serves as a lesson to everyone. When we travel there, we can see that massive amounts of land have been cleared. Whether it was done with permission or illegally is another issue, but the main concern is our attitude towards conserving and managing the environment.

“I am not trying to shift the blame but that is the reality that we have to face,” said Adnan.

Leong attributed the disaster to over-development and land clearing, besides the heavy rainfall.

“A lot of development and land clearing have been going on for the past year, causing this disaster. While rainfall is unavoidable, development can be controlled.”

He praised the authorities for carefully handling the release of water from the Sungai Abu Bakar Dam.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister and Cameron Highlands member of parliament Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, meanwhile, called for affected residents to be relocated to safer ground.

“I have spoken to the district officer to look for a suitable piece of land,” he said during a brief visit to Dewan Ringlet, where some of the families were seeking shelter.

In a statement yesterday, TNB said its Emergency Response Plan had to be activated when water levels at the dam rose 2.1m an hour to 1,070m. The warning siren was sounded at 8.15pm to give people time to evacuate and the spillway gates were opened in stages, beginning at 8.40pm.

TNB said if the spillway gates had not been opened, the flooding would have been worse as all four gates would have opened automatically if the water had risen to critical level.

Meanwhile, the search for possible victims of the floods, including an Indonesian man and his female compatriot who were reported missing after their kongsi in Bertam Valley was hit by a landslide, was called off last night because of soil movement. The search will continue today.

The dead were identified as farm workers Md Yousuf Miya, 66, of Nepal, Anipan, 48, of Indonesia and SMK Kampung Raja student R. Tunesh, 13.

Yousuf’s body was found buried near his kongsi in Ulu Merah, Ringlet, at 8.30pm on Wednesday, while Anipan’s body was found under 1m of earth in Bertam Valley at 9.20am yesterday.

Tunesh’s body was found some 5km from where he was reported missing. Additional reporting by Kalavaani Karupiah

Cops: Mudslide not caused by release of dam water
The Star 7 Nov 14;

CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The release of water from the Sultan Abu Bakar dam did not cause Wednesday night’s mudslide in Ringlet, said OCPD Deputy Supt Wan Mohd Zahari Wan Busu.

He said the affected areas were flooded before water from the hydroelectric dam was released.

“The rain was unusually heavy and was worse than during last year’s incident.”

The incident in October last year claimed four lives and created much havoc, with about 80 homes flooded and 100 vehicles damaged. The severity was linked to the manual release of water from one gate, which had to be done before the gates opened automatically.

Cameron Highlands Power Sta­tions general manager Mohammad Zaki Jalaluddin said Tenaga Nasional Bhd had to release water in stages as the dam level was already critical a short time after the downpour started.

He said the siren in Bertam Valley went off at 8.15pm to signal the evacuation and the siren at the dam was sounded at 8.40pm.

“The release (of water) was done after receiving feedback from the Ringlet police station that the evacuation has been completed,” he said.

TNB said water would continue to be released over the next few days depending on the weather and until a safe level was reached.

Reach: Floods and mudslide caused by several factors
Diagram from The Star, 7 Nov 14;

The Star 7 Nov 14;

PETALING JAYA: Greenhouse farming, encroachment on river reserves and land clearing are among the activities that caused the floods and mudslide at several areas in Cameron Highlands, an enviromental group said.

Regional Environmental Aware­ness Cameron Highlands (Reach) president R. Ramakrishnan said the filters used by greenhouse farmers on their crops caused an unnatural flow of water into the river bed.

“They use plastic to cover and protect the crops and the water flowing from it goes into the riverbed.

“When the river cannot accommodate the extra water, there will be flash floods,” Ramakrishnan told The Star.

The Star had previously highlighted in a series of articles the massive land clearing and development in Cameron Highlands.

Ramakrishnan also said there was no longer land available for agricultural purposes as the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry had ruled that such land was only suitable in areas with gradients below 20 degrees.

He estimated that the current erosion rate in the area was about 200 tonnes per hectare per year.

Tanah Rata assemblyman Leong Ngah Ngah cited over development, land clearing and heavy rainfall among the factors for the incident.

He said there have been a lot of development over the past years.

“Unchecked land clearing also cause destruction to water retention areas, causing rivers to swell.

“There are just too many housing and agricultural projects here now,” he added.

Leong said the heavy rainfall on Wednesday evening was something beyond human control, but development of the highlands could be controlled.

He said there should be proper management of the land to achieve a balance between the environment and development.

“The authorities have been very careful when releasing the water from the dam,” he said.

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