Storm over reef damage incident at Pulau Hantu

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Dec 14;

Nature lovers have cried foul over an incident involving a boat that appeared to have struck a barely submerged coral reef last month off Pulau Hantu, one of Singapore's Southern Islands.

On Nov 9, project officer Toh Chay Hoon, 37, spotted a dive boat called MV Nautica resting on the reefs at Terumbu Hantu, off Pulau Hantu.

The photos Ms Toh took show a yacht beached on what looked like a hard surface, with the vessel's brown bottom exposed.

When contacted, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it is investigating the case. Its spokesman told The Straits Times that vessel owners can be fined up to $5,000 if they are found to have contravened regulations by navigating in a reckless or negligent manner, or in any way dangerous or likely to cause human injury or damage to property.

The company that owns the boat has since apologised and said the vessel has not been used since for diving trips in the area. Mr Ricky Koh, managing director of MV Nautica Diving, the boat's owner, said the incident was caused by a storm. He said the combination of currents and winds had dislodged the anchor and pushed the vessel aground.

This was despite the care taken by the captain to anchor the boat "a safe distance from the reef", he said.

"Due to the falling tide, the captain made the decision not to attempt any more movement and to wait for the next high tide to move the boat out."

Mr Koh added that this option was considered the best, as it would not cause additional damage to the boat and the reef.

Environmentalist Ria Tan wrote about the incident on the local wildlife website she runs. She also highlighted five other instances where large holes and gouges have been spotted in other reefs around Singapore since 2010.

These were believed to have been caused by boats striking reefs, she said.

Dr Intan Suci Nurhati, a coral researcher from the Singapore- MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said cases of boats striking reefs can be identified by the physical damage.

"Such damage is different from coral bleaching, where the corals turn white but their skeletons are still intact on the reefs," she said. Boat grounding incidents have a profound effect on the marine ecosystem, said experts.

National University of Singapore marine biologist Zeehan Jaafar said: "When a boat hits the reef, its bottom scrapes a portion of the reef off the seabed."

Organisms that are immobile or not able to move away quickly enough, such as corals, anemones, snails and small crustaceans, will perish.

Damage to the affected area can be long-lasting, she added. "Organisms like corals grow only a few centimetres a year, and it will take many years before the area is colonised by other organisms and return to the way it was prior to collision."

Mr Koh said his firm regretted the incident. "We were deeply hurt by this incident and by the potential damage it would have caused to the precious Pulau Hantu coral reef... We offer our sincerest apologies to any individual or community offended and impacted by this incident."

Related links
Nature lovers cry foul over reef damage incident The Star 13 Dec 14

Dive boat squashes reef off Pulau Hantu on wild shores of singapore blog

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Singapore musician Inch Chua looks to rustic Pulau Ubin for musical inspiration

Nurul Azliah Singapore Showbiz Yahoo News 12 Dec 14;

“I’m a big patriot,” says singer-songwriter Inch Chua. How patriotic? The 25-year-old loves Singapore so much that she plans to stay in Pulau Ubin for two months as inspiration for her next songwriting project.

“I love my country. I hear a lot of musicians saying that they don’t feel inspired to make music in this country and I can understand that due to the compactness of living here. I get that feeling in New York City as well. But you don’t have to go somewhere far away that’s majestic and exotic to get inspired. We have places here, like Pulau Ubin,” she said.

Chua spoke fondly of the island, which currently has less than 40 kampong residents left, and hopes to stay at an Ubin resident’s home while she works on her new music. “It’s about time I can find somewhere locally that I can write,” she said.

The pint-sized musician spoke to Yahoo Singapore during a pit stop on the Bandwagon bus over the weekend, as the bus returned from the Urbanscapes festival at Genting Highlands.

Formerly the lead vocalist of local band Allura, Chua’s music has made waves internationally. She was the first Singaporean solo act to be invited to perform at the South by South West (SXSW) festival in the U.S. in 2010.

Since going solo, she has performed at numerous gigs in Singapore, including the annual local music festival, Baybeats. She has also released two albums – “Wallflower” (2010) and “Bumfuzzle”(2013), and a book titled “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”.

While Chua, whose real name is Chua Yun Juan, is based in the U.S. for now, her heart will always be with her birth country.

Moving to the US

The cheery acoustic guitarist moved to Los Angeles three years ago and relocated to New York City in early 2014. She shuttles to and from Singapore at least three times a year, but will be returning more frequently in 2015 as she is involved in several SG50 activities to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary.
As much as she would love to be based in Singapore, Chua feels the need to reach out to more people who will relate to her songs, and visit new places so her talent can grow.

“The moment you are comfortable, it’s easy to just plateau. And I’m all about being uncomfortable all the time so that I know I can push myself.”

“Singapore is great but it is a small country and if you play a show in Jurong and you play a show in Bedok, the same people are going to come. So the amount of people you can hit in terms of trying to spread your music is relatively limited. Support is one level but it’s more of population as well. I think, when you’re doing English music like I do, the next thing you want to do is reach out to other areas where you feel you can grow and I thought being based overseas would be a completely different challenge in learning where I can be in the music industry in a global level.”

While in Los Angeles, Chua was able to perform for audiences at popular venues in the city such as The Viper Room, Hotel Café, the Echoplex and the Satellite. Actor Johnny Depp and the Rolling Stones’ vocalist Mick Jagger have been known to pop into The Viper Room.

“And what I learned so far is that the grass is never greener on the other side, it’s just different,” concluded Chua.

Grappling with challenges

As a performing artiste, two kinds of insecurities are never far away - the comparison trap and financial stability.

“I’m sure every artist I know suffers from some kind of insecurity. A great amount insecurity especially when you peg your self-worth to the work that you do and the results that come with it,” she said.

Chua makes sure she performs enough number of shows to cover her financial needs.

“As long as I can cover myself, it’s good. I would tour for the rest of my life earning my money in a brick-by-brick manner rather than trying to be a superstar. It brings so much more gratification to me,” she said.

“There’s a quote from Jack Conte from a band called Pomplamoose, that said, ‘now is the age of the middle class/blue collared musician’. Balancing your cheques or trying to market yourself, that’s important. But the music always comes first.

“A successful musician is someone who doesn’t lie to themselves or anyone.”

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As sea levels rise, airport to expand on higher ground

Tham Yuen-c The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Dec 14;

THE upcoming expansion of Changi Airport will take place on higher ground to guard against rising sea levels, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The reclaimed land on which it will stand will be built up to provide a buffer that will withstand more than the projected 18-inch (46cm) rise in sea levels in the next 100 years, he told Singapore reporters.

Mr Lee cited the move when elaborating on what Singapore will do to mitigate the threat of climate change, a key point of his address earlier in the day at the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit.

As a low-lying island state, Singapore takes climate change seriously and will do its part to ease its impact, he told leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations and South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the summit in Busan.

Mr Lee urged all sides to work together to tackle this threat as well as diseases, natural disasters and terrorism. These "non-traditional security issues" required a global response, he said.

Hence, for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris next year, when 196 nations will meet to sign an agreement, Mr Lee wants ASEAN and South Korea to join hands in advancing negotiations at the meeting.

"(Such cooperation) will help to ensure a stable and peaceful region that continues to prosper for the benefit of our people," he said.

Sea levels are rising as global warming causes polar ice caps to melt, and scientists have warned that large swathes of coastal areas could be swallowed up by the end of the century.

This poses an immediate threat to coastal populations in ASEAN countries, said Mr Lee.

Singapore has taken action, he told the reporters, saying standards for reclamation and new buildings have been raised to ensure land surfaces are higher.

The minimum level for newly reclaimed land has gone up since 2011 to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level. Before that, it was 1.25m.

Does this mean Singapore will be raised by 1m? "If the sea levels rise by 1m, which is more than what people presently expect, I think over 100 years, there are quite a lot of things we can do," said Mr Lee after the summit.

He also said the ongoing review of the free trade agreement between Singapore and South Korea had not made a lot of progress.

"There are vested interests involved and I hope the Koreans will come together and decide what's in their national interest," he added.

Next year, which marks 40 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and South Korea, President Tony Tan Keng Yam will make a state visit to the country.

"I think it's good that we work towards having substantive content to that visit, and not just a ceremonial occasion," Mr Lee said.

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She's the 'Green Lady': Bhavani Prakash

Suresh Nair tabla! AsiaOne 12 Dec 14;

Chennai-born Bhavani Prakash, 44, a mother of two teenage daughters - Ananya, 19, and Lavanya, 13 - is known as a "Green Lady", as a speaker, trainer and writer, giving talks and conducting workshops on green-sustainability and various environmental issues.

"My environmental awakening happened in Singapore, so I'm really grateful to the conditions that enabled it to happen. Singapore has some precious wild spaces such as remnants of primary rainforests, old cemeteries like Bukit Brown, secondary forests like MacRitchie Reservoir, old railway tracks like the Green Corridor, to name just a few," she tells tabla!.

She says that after she moved here in 2003 with her family, she discovered the Botanic Gardens rainforest section and soon found herself volunteering as a guide.

"I'd take visitors through the rainforest area, talk about the different species of trees and plants and the ecology of the rainforest, and also sensitise people to the fragility of the ecosystem. I'd always end the walk by saying, 'So we've walked the walk, but we now need to walk the talk' and then I'd go on to give suggestions on what we need to do as individuals to protect the rainforests of the world. I guess when I eventually set up my website, the name clicked pretty easily," she exclaims on how her website came to be called Eco Walk the Talk.

Her website offers green living tips and features people who inspire with their environmental thoughts and action. It is also a platform to feature important environmental causes and campaigns in the region.

"There is a core group of environmental crusaders which has been growing over the years, and I feel like I'm an integral part of that community. Funnily enough, though I'm from India which is a large agrarian country, it is in Singapore that I became a farmer - an urban farmer, growing my own veggies and herbs using organic methods. I also run a Facebook page called Grow Your Own Food in Singapore."

Ms Bhavani holds a Master's in Financial Economics from University of London and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Kolkata. She confesses that setting up Eco Walk the Talk in 2008 helped her in integrating into Singapore.

"As an environmental advocate, what is good for the entire planet is good for Singapore. What is good for the environment is good for every human being, including Singaporeans. This broad, holistic message has been critical for my personal and professional success," she says.

"In addition, as a mindfulness trainer, compassion is an important attitude that I encourage people to train in and this is important for a diverse society like Singapore to integrate various groups of people."

Notably, Ms Bhavani won the SONY-IWA (Indian Women's Association) Woman of the Year award in March this year. It was in recognition of being a "woman of significance" contributing to community well-being. And she significantly believes friendship groups, often defined by nationality, where they tend to stick together (what social psychologists call the "similarity-attraction effect") should not be viewed as a "social handicap".

"I think it's really important to be part of different groups as well as one's own ethnic group. An all-Indian group is only one of the many, many groups that I network with. I enjoy being in that group especially to reconnect with some traditions, and to deepen my roots," she adds.

"However, it becomes a problem if we mingle only with the people of our own nationality, especially in a place like Singapore, where we have the unique opportunity to interact with people of such diverse backgrounds.

"After 11 years in Singapore, I can definitely say I have so many more Singaporean friends and those of other nationalities than from India," says Ms Bhavani who is a permanent resident.

"I've lived all over the world, from the Middle East to Europe to North America and now in Singapore. Right from the very first taxi ride from the airport when we first landed in 2003, I felt at home. I have never really felt an outsider, and sought out many friends within the green community in particular, who incidentally come from varied backgrounds even among Singaporeans, as well as varied nationalities," she adds.

She says that compared to many countries of the world "most Singaporeans are very welcoming of foreigners, from my experience".

Her advice for those looking to make Singapore their home: "My key message would be for Indians, especially expat Indians, is to seek out a variety of enriching relationships with other communities in Singapore. One good way is to volunteer in various environmental and social organisations which give one ample opportunity to interact with local Singaporeans across age groups and economic profiles, as well as other nationalities. This is sure to be a life-enriching experience."

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Mature trees get new lease of life by the Bay

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Dec 14;

THE next time you visit Gardens by the Bay, take a closer look at some of the trees there.

The leisure destination has quietly added to the already rich variety there by transplanting some 2,000 mature trees from other parts of the island. Otherwise, they could have been lost to infrastructure and development works.

Among them are more than 10 Frangipani trees saved in 2008 from the former Bidadari Cemetery, which has been slated for development as a new housing estate.

The 80-year-old, 5m-tall trees are now flourishing at the Colonial Garden and Malay Garden.

Last month, Gardens by the Bay took in two 12m-tall, 20-year-old Angsana trees from Serangoon Road. They have been replanted near the food centre, Satay by the Bay.

The Gardens' deputy director for plant introduction and health, Mr Anton van der Schans, said the rehoming not only gives the trees a new lease of life, but also helps the Gardens to mature and flourish as well.

"The salvaged trees help to give Gardens by the Bay, which is just over two years old, the look of being more established. We have managed to impart a patina of age to our landscape in short order," he said.

He noted that having a greater diversity of flora there provides more habitats for the growing variety of birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

Some of the trees are providing other services. For instance, the Cannonball trees from Upper Cross Street are being used to tell the story of fruit and flowers at the World of Plants section.

Gardens by the Bay works with government agencies to save trees in Singapore, but it has also reached out farther afield.

Its oldest transplants are several olive trees that date back more than a thousand years, brought here from a site in Spain that was slated for development.

The trees are now at the Flower Dome, one of the two conservatories at the Gardens.

Environmentalists here lauded this initiative by the Gardens, but said more should have been done to keep the trees where they were.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum said: "The trees literally have roots and belong to their communities. It would be a shame if the Gardens' work became a convenient excuse for developers not to try harder to keep the trees where they were."

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First look at the Municipal Services Office app

Channel NewsAsia 12 Dec 14;

SINGAPORE: With the Municipal Services Office (MSO) app expected to be launched early next year - if you see a problem, you can snap a picture, geo-tag it and report the issue to a relevant Government agency. But you will not need to know which agency to route your feedback to, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, who oversees the MSO.

In a Facebook post on Friday (Dec 12) Ms Fu said the app will have categories on the nature of issues, such as pests, trees and greenery, and foot paths. The system will automatically route your feedback to the right agency, she added.

Ms Fu, who is also Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Foreign Affairs, said this backend work involved "extensive discussions and harmonisation of work practices" amongst the participating agencies.

These agencies have previously been identified as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, national water agency PUB, the National Parks Board, Housing and Development Board, the Land Transport Authority, the Singapore Police Force, People's Association and the National Environment Agency.

"The staff from the agencies have been most proactive and positive in the change process and we, in MSO are grateful for their cooperation," she wrote.

She added that the app is currently being tested with public officers, grassroots leaders and volunteers. Another 200 grassroots leaders and volunteers will be invited to extend the use of the app across a larger geographical area, so as to better test its geo-tagging function.

The MSO also plans to include other agencies and types of services on top of the ones currently covered, and additional categories and features in subsequent versions of the app will be based on users' needs, said Ms Fu.

- CNA/ly

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Solar Rises in Malaysia During Trade Wars Over Panels

KEITH BRADSHER New York Times 13 Dec 14;

KULIM, Malaysia — Tucked away in this former tin-mining town, past the small farms of banana trees and oil palms, is one of the solar industry’s best-kept secrets.

The six factories here with cavernous rooms up to one-third of a mile long constitute the production backbone of First Solar. Working alongside minivan-size robots adapted from car assembly plants and other industries, 3,700 employees produce five-sixths of the American company’s solar panels. Workers in Ohio make the rest.

The list of manufacturers is long. Panasonic of Japan has a solar panel factory a mile down the road. SunEdison makes wafers 60 miles away in Chemor. Hanwha Q Cells and SunPower have giant factories even farther south, while Solexel, a Silicon Valley start-up, is preparing to build an $810 million solar panel factory in stages.

Malaysia, a Southeast Asian nation with just 30 million people, is the biggest winner in the trade wars that have embroiled the solar sector. As Chinese companies have been hit with American tariffs and European quotas, Malaysia has increasingly attracted multinationals with its relatively low labor costs, lucrative tax breaks, warm relations with the West and abundance of English-speaking engineering talent.

Malaysia is now the world’s third-largest producer of solar equipment, trailing China by a wide margin but catching up rapidly with the European Union. And Malaysia’s role in the global solar trade is only likely to increase in the coming months if the American government broadens tariffs on panels made in China next Tuesday as expected.

“We liked Malaysia because it was a cross between just a straight low-cost play and a high-engineering play — it was sort of in the middle, where it was lower-cost but good engineering,” said Tom Werner, the chief executive of the California-based SunPower, which manufactures half its solar panels in Malacca, Malaysia.

The solar manufacturing boom in Malaysia has been almost invisible, a rarity in an industry known for heavily promoting even the smallest factory opening or new solar panel farm as progress toward cleaner energy.

Manufacturers don’t want to draw attention to moving production offshore. The factories here are almost entirely owned by American, European, South Korean and Japanese companies that much prefer to talk about operations in their home countries.

Hanwha Q Cells, for example, produces 1,100 megawatts a year worth of panels in Malaysia and just 200 megawatts in its home market in Germany. But the company highlights that the engineering work is still done at its headquarters in Thalheim, Germany.

Production in Malaysia “gives us the flexibility to reliably address very different and dynamic international market needs with high-quality products ‘Engineered in Germany,’ ” said Jochen Endle, a company spokesman.

It is a common theme. The technology comes from overseas, but the employees and most of the materials are Malaysian.

Except for two expatriates in the finance department, all of First Solar’s 3,700 employees on three shifts are local hires. A few materials are imported from the United States, like certain electrical cables. But most others are now bought from Malaysian suppliers, like cord plates.

“Localization of materials is part of our strategy of continuous cost reduction,” said AR. Jeyaganesh, First Solar’s plant manager, walking across an immaculate floor at one of the 24 production lines here, each an exact replica of the company’s four lines in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Multinationals are also hustling to introduce their latest inventions just as quickly here as in their home markets, to maintain standardized production techniques and quality. “When the decision is made” to add more robots or make other production changes, Mr. Jeyaganesh said, “it happens almost simultaneously in Perrysburg and here.”

Malaysia’s surge in the solar industry has irritated some of the original backers of American trade action against China. Critics say the goal was to create jobs in the United States, not Southeast Asia.

“In solar, a key technology to achieve our energy efficiency goals, the administration needs to implement a more aggressive and comprehensive trade strategy,” said Michael R. Wessel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advisory group created by Congress. “If not, we’ll simply trade our historical dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign energy technologies and products.”

Trade wars have helped some American companies. SolarWorld, a big manufacturer that has led trade litigation against China, recently said that it was expanding capacity by 150 megawatts and adding 200 jobs at its main solar panel factory in Hillsboro, Ore. It partly pointed to the trade actions that had slowed the flood of Chinese imports.

But production in Malaysia, already triple the United States’ output, is rising faster. The latest project underway in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, is an 800-megawatt solar module factory for Hanwha Q Cells. First Solar is putting the finishing touches on a 100-megawatt factory here to supply the Japanese market.

Malaysia is a beneficiary of the complex interaction of global trade rules, economic competitiveness and environmental policies in the solar industry. Tariffs have had the most immediate effect.

Solar prices started plummeting during the global financial crisis in 2009, as Chinese factories swiftly increased production, buoyed by large loans from state-owned banks at preferential interest rates, and free or nearly free land from local governments. Chinese manufacturers were also dumping panels, or selling them for less than it cost to make and ship them.

A flood of cheap Chinese exports caused two dozen solar manufacturers in the United States and Europe to go bankrupt or close factories. The United States responded in 2012 by imposing stiff anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties totaling about 30 percent on panels from China. The European Union set import quotas and minimum prices for Chinese panels last year.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department is widely expected to broaden its steep duties on solar panels from China. Pending litigation would impose duties on panels made partly in China and partly in Taiwan, closing a loophole that allowed some Chinese companies to bypass the original duties.

The plunge in prices through 2013, which leveled off as Chinese giants like Suntech Power and LDK Solar began going bankrupt from underpricing their panels, put a heavy emphasis on cost competitiveness. China’s rapidly rising wages, together with mounting geopolitical tensions, prompted multinationals to look elsewhere as well.

That gave an edge to Malaysia, with its fairly low pay for skilled engineers and machinery operators.

Malaysian wages were much higher than those in China for years, but the disparity has now disappeared or even reversed. According to Malaysian government statistics, median nationwide monthly pay last year was $765 for factory technicians and $400 for machinery operators and assembly-line workers. That is similar to or lower than pay scales these days in coastal provinces of China with large export industries.

Malaysia also has some of Asia’s lowest costs for electricity, even after raising prices for industrial users 14.9 percent last January. Prices are so low partly because the country is a large producer of natural gas, exporting what it cannot burn at home.

One of Malaysia’s biggest attractions is the 10-year exemption from corporate taxes for large domestic and foreign investors. While some American states offer breaks, comparable holidays from federal taxes are not available.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative expressed concern this year about Malaysia’s tax breaks in a review of trade policies. The White House agency has asked Malaysia to provide details of how they work so other countries can assess whether the tax breaks violate a World Trade Organization ban on export subsidies.

Malaysia denies breaking any trade rules. “All of the incentives, all the things that we do, are W.T.O.-compliant,” said Senator Idris Jala, Malaysia’s minister for economic development and efficiency.

The tax break cinched the deal for First Solar to set up most of its production here, said Maja Wessels, an executive vice president at the company.

“That’s easy, the 10-year tax holiday,” she said. “When you look at solar manufacturing, and our manufacturing in particular, low labor costs contribute, but those taxes are critical.”

Diane Cardwell contributed reporting from New York.

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Malaysia: ‘Enforce environmental laws’

RAZAK AHMAD The Star 13 Dec 14;

PETALING JAYA: Many culprits flouting environmental laws have yet to be brought to court due to a shortage of trained enforcement agency officers.

Federal Court judge Datuk Azhar Mohamed said there was no shortage of environmental laws enacted to create a balance between development and conserving the environment.

“Even though various environmental laws have been introduced, the problem here as I see it is in the enforcement of these laws.

“The enforcement agencies do not have sufficient trained officers and tools, and many cases are not brought before the court,” Azhar said in his presentation at the United Nations (UN) Dialogue on Environment Rights in Malaysia.

The event was jointly organised by the UN Country Team in Malaysia, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, the Bar Council and the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights.

The Environmental Quality Act 1974 is Malaysia’s principal environmental legislation along with 33 other laws, rules, regulations and orders.

Having a wide range of laws was, however, still ineffective without proper, effective education and enforcement, said Azhar.

The judicial process, he explained, was also crucial to ensure the legal effectiveness of the environmental law.

“A judiciary well informed of the rapidly expanding environmental law plays a critical role in the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws.”

Azhar noted that there were past instances where the courts were criticised for failing to give a deterrent punishment to polluters.

He said a speech by Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria on Jan 14, 2012, marked a significant shift of the judicial paradigm on environmental laws and sustainability.

Arifin, in his 2012 speech when opening the Legal Year and Conference of Judges, announced the setting up of a specialised Environmental Court, which became operational on Sept 3 that year.

It was reported that 373 of a total number of 474 pending cases had been disposed of by the court from September 2012 to December last year.

A continuing judicial training programme was also put in place with the setting up of a judicial training academy for judges in 2012.

The academy, Azhar said, had formulated training programmes to ensure that judges acquired and developed the skills and knowledge to perform their role to the highest professional standards.

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Blue Is the New Green for Maritime Indonesia

Indonesia’s rainforests may take the spotlight, but its marine and coastal vegetation are also significant contributors to global oxygen supply and absorption of carbon dioxide

Jessica Darmawan, Rob Daniel, Moray McLeish & Charles Vincent Jakarta Globe 11 Dec 14;

What is the connection between every breath you take, your breakfast, and your shampoo? Here’s a clue: It supports millions of jobs, millions of homes, and millions of people who are dependent on it every day. If you guessed “oceans,” congratulations! Wherever you may be while reading this article — whether you live in the mountains, cities, farmlands or along the coast — you impact and are impacted by the sea.

The ocean is vital to the air we breathe, with phytoplankton producing half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing almost a third of global carbon dioxide emissions. The ocean stores heat and carbon — essential in regulating the climate and mitigating climate change. The ocean is a part of our meals every day, with ocean ingredients like algae used in many food products and 30 percent of the world’s fisheries used to feed farmed chicken and fish.

The ocean is a part of our daily routine, where you’ll find ocean-derived compounds flowing out of shampoos, vitamins and medicines.

Oceans are equally important in shaping global weather cycles, absorbing most of the sun’s radiation and helping to distribute heat around the globe. As ocean waters are heated, they evaporate and increase the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain clouds, which are then carried long distances on the wind.

The vastness of the oceans allows the huge build-up of heat and moisture that we call the monsoon. Without this phenomenon, the inner reaches of large continental masses such as India and China would not be able to support the huge populations they currently do.

The ocean’s value is often taken for granted and its importance forgotten. The health of the world’s oceans is on the decline. Activities involving unconstrained fishing, carbon dioxide emissions generated from burning of fossil fuels, run-off pollution from unsustainable agricultural practices, coastline ecosystem degradation and pollution from industries such as oil and gas extraction affect oceans as much as oceans affect us.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide, which the oceans absorb, lead to chemical reactions that turn seawater more acidic, depleting the oceans of carbonate ions that corals, algae and marine vegetation need to thrive.

Increased greenhouse gas emissions have also led to the warming of oceans. One of the most vulnerable ecosystems to temperature change is coral, as even a slight temperature rise can cause coral bleaching, which slows coral growth and can lead to large-scale reef die-off. This in turn deprives reef-dwelling species of a home.

Coral bleaching is especially prevalent in Indonesia, where one of the most destructive and swift coral bleaching events ever recorded occurred on the northern tip of Sumatra. Not only does this devastate one of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, it also increases the vulnerability of marine communities dependent on these reefs for their livelihoods.

Adding to this vulnerability is the over-exploitation of fish stocks and unsustainable fishing practices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 70 percent of the global fish population is fully used, overused or in crisis.

Indonesia, where 30 percent of the world’s illegal fishing occurs, contributes to this global statistic, and unsustainable fishing practices such as bombing and cyanide poisoning are among common fishing practices here. This further accelerates the depletion of fish stocks, threatening the sustainability of fish populations and global food security.

As the world’s largest archipelagic nation, and one that separates the Pacific and Indian oceans, Indonesia is unique. Indonesia’s seas are the mixing zone of these two oceans. The shifts in sea surface temperatures that occur here are closely linked to the El Niño phenomenon and for generating global-scale weather patterns.

This porous barrier between the Pacific and Indian oceans means that marine species that are native to each ocean can coexist here. The Wallace Line, which is an imaginary boundary that runs between Australasia and Southeast Asia, marks the observed difference in flora and fauna on either side of the line. The line runs through Indonesia between Kalimantan and Sulawesi and through the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok. Along this line is a mix of the Asian and Australian species and numerous endemic hybrids. This means that Indonesia is home to 75 percent of all known marine life, Indonesia’s reefs are home to more than 500 species of corals, 10,000-plus species of plants and invertebrates, and more than 3,000 species of fish.

Just as oceans are essential to life, Indonesia’s marine and coastal environments are integral to the livelihoods and prosperity of its population and those far beyond its shores. Known as one of the “lungs of the world,” its rainforests may take the spotlight, but its marine and coastal vegetation are also significant contributors to global oxygen supply and absorption of carbon dioxide. Along Indonesia’s coastline, the second-longest in the world at 54,716 kilometers, are the world’s largest mangrove forests with an area of 3.2 million hectares, and according to a United Nations Environment Program report ,the world’s largest seagrass meadows.

The same report cites these coastal vegetated habitats as highly effective carbon sinks, where much like the peat swamps on land, they absorb and store carbon for an indefinite period, with mangroves having the carbon sink capacity of six times and seagrass meadows double that of pristine Amazonian forests. Yet the world’s coastal habitats are declining faster than its rainforests, with 71 percent of Indonesia’s mangrove forests damaged by unsustainable urban, agricultural and aquaculture development.

The diversity of Indonesia’s marine resources serves as a crucial source of livelihoods for millions of Indonesians. Jakarta and other major cities like Surabaya, Medan, Semarang and Makassar are among the three-quarters of the nation’s cities located in coastal areas. Born as small ports, these cities have grown into communities for 65 percent of Indonesia’s population who live within 50 kilometers of the coastline.

Fisheries, aquaculture, sea transport, energy and mineral resources, marine tourism and other maritime industries and services contributed about 30 percent to the country’s GDP in 2011, and employed more than 20 million people. Millions of visitors travel to Indonesia’s beaches and diving spots annually, generating jobs and developing coastal and marine tourism into one of the fastest-growing economic sectors.

Indonesia’s marine resources also provide important nutrients that local and global citizens depend on. Fish and other seafood products create healthy and delicious meals served at dining tables around the world, and Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of tuna and seaweed. Even if fish is not a part of your menu, hundreds of common foods such as cheese, peanut butter and fruit drinks contain seaweed.

Brown seaweeds are used to make water-based products thicker and more stable over extreme differences in temperatures, pH and time, which are essential in making shampoos, soaps, toothpastes and creams. It is also used for medical purposes, from treating colds to making bandages to making calcium supplements.

This goes to show the overwhelming involvement of oceans in your daily life, from breathing to eating to health and the climate.

Indonesia’s new government may be the start a new era for Indonesia’s marine and coastal environments, with the leadership emphasizing the sea’s increasingly central role in the country’s prosperity and future. The new government has released a maritime doctrine that will define policies for the next five years and envisions transforming the nation into a global maritime fulcrum.

The doctrine’s five main pillars focus on: (1) Rebuilding Indonesia’s maritime culture; (2) Maintaining and managing marine resources; (3) Prioritizing the development of maritime infrastructure and connectivity; (4) Practicing maritime diplomacy; and (5) Developing maritime defense and security.

Through enhancing the economy and improving local livelihoods, eliminating conflicts at sea, and integrating connectivity throughout Indonesia’s archipelago, these five pillars will in turn impact regional economy, security and connectivity as well.

While significant challenges lay ahead in implementing this maritime vision, it is a step in the right direction. Too long has the value of Indonesia’s oceans been in the shadows and too long have its oceans suffered from unsustainable practices. Indonesia’s marine and coastal environments are immensely valuable and the damage impacts people locally and globally.

It is time to reignite the nation’s naval motto, “Jalesveva Jayamahe,” meaning “In the seas we will triumph.” No doubt a motto originally focused on triumph over our enemies, but it can also be read to mean that if the oceans are healthy we will be prosperous; and if we are all healthy and prosperous we will have few enemies.

Jessica Darmawan is a consultant; Rob Daniel and Moray McLeish are technical advisers in sustainability and climate change practice; and Charles Vincent is a technical adviser consulting leader at PwC Consulting Indonesia.

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Major oil spill in Sundarbans world's largest mangrove forest threatens area's rare wildlife

JACK SIMPSON The Independent 12 Dec 14;

Authorities in Bangladesh are assessing the level of damage to the world’s largest mangrove forest, following a major oil spill in the Sundarbans conservation area in the south of the country.

There are fears that the area’s wildlife could be under threat after an oil tanker carrying 350,000 litres of oil sunk just outside of the Unesco World Heritage site on Tuesday.

The ship was salvaged by a rescue vessel on Thursday, nearly 30 hours after it first got into trouble.

Within that time, thousands of gallons of oil had escaped two of the damaged containers on the ship, polluting two of the main rivers that run through the Sundarbans, as well as a number of interlinked canals that cover the area.

In total, it is believed that the new slick has already covered 80km and is predicted to spread further.

Environmental agencies in Bangladesh are still in the dark as to the impact this has had on the wildlife in the area and have not yet come up with a plan on how to deal with the spill.

Tapan Kumer Dey, Chief Conservator of Forest Wildlife, said that wildlife agencies had noticed restricted movement throughout the Sundurban’s crocodile population and unusual behaviour had been observed in the extremely rare Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the mangroves.

Amir Hosain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans, claimed that unprecedented nature of the accident that they were unsure how exactly they would go about tackling it.

He said: “We're worried about its long-term impact because it happened in a fragile and sensitive mangrove ecosystem.“

So desperate has the situation become for the local fishermen that many have taken to the water with sponges and sacks in a desperate attempt to clear the water of the oil.

Spread over 10,000 square kilometres, the Sundarbans is a sanctuary for a number of rare animals including fish and bird species, as well as being the home to hundreds of Bengal tigers.

Many fear the oil spill could have an irreversible impact on the area’s fragile ecosystem.

Additional Reporting AP

Sunderbans: World's largest Bengal tiger population threatened by oil spill
Ludovica Iaccino By Ludovica Iaccino International Business Times 12 Dec 14;

An oil spill in Bengal's unique Sundarbans mangrove forest is threatening the world's greatest population of tigers.

A tanker carrying more than 350,000 litres of oil sank in the Shela river after colliding with another vessel.

The incident occurred near the UNESCO's World Heritage Site Sundarbans forest - of which 60% is in Bangladesh and the rest in India - home to the world's largest tiger reserve.

More than 400 Bengal tigers - declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010 - are believed to live in the area.

Only 3,000 tigers are left in the wild, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.The remaining global population is under severe pressure from poaching and loss of natural habitat.

"The oil tanker, Southern Star 7, has been salvaged. A rescue vessel pulled it out from the river and towed it to a nearby shoal," Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans, was quoted by AP as saying.

"This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans and we don't know how to tackle this."

He added that the world's largest mangrove forest, which is in the Suburban region, is also at risk.

"The oil spill has already blackened the shoreline (and is) threatening trees, plankton, vast populations of small fishes and dolphins."

Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said:"I visited the sunken trawler this morning. Only few hundred litres of oil remain inside, so almost all the oil has spilled into the Sundarbans."

He added that oil dispersants were "not appropriate for the mangrove ecosystem" and urged local villagers to help collect the oil from nets that have been placed in the river to contain its spread.

Rare Irrawaddy and Ganges dolphins are also threatened by the spill.

Tapan Kumar Dey, a senior wildlife conservation official, said that though wildlife species are at a high risk due to the oil spill, no deaths of any animals had been reported so far.

"We have spotted dolphins coming out of the water for air and going down again in some places ... crocodiles' movement in the affected areas has been less after the disaster and we are trying to determine actually what happened to them," Dey said.

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