Best of our wild blogs: 27 Feb 15

Dead fish update: Pasir Ris, Seletar Dam, Sembawang
from wild shores of singapore

BiodiverCITY: Why hello, I didn’t see you!
from BES Drongos

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Such quantities of sand

Asia’s mania for “reclaiming” land from the sea spawns mounting problems
The Economist 28 Feb 15;

EVEN on a quiet Sunday morning, a steady stream of lorries trundles along the broad, pristine and otherwise deserted streets of Punggol Timur, an island of reclaimed land in the north-east of Singapore. They empty their loads into neat rows of white, yellow and grey mounds where the country stockpiles a vital raw material: sand. Building industries around the world depend on sand. But Singapore’s need is especially acute, as it builds not just upward but outward, adding territory by filling in the sea—with sand. And in Asia it is far from alone. The whole region has a passion for land reclamation that has long delighted property developers. But it has worried environmentalists. And it brings cross-border political and legal complications.

For Singapore, territorial expansion has been an essential part of economic growth. Since independence in 1965 the country has expanded by 22%, from 58,000 hectares (224.5 square miles) to 71,000 hectares. The government expects to need another 5,600 hectares by 2030. The sand stockpiles are to safeguard supplies. Singapore long ago ran out of its own and became, according to a report published last year by the United Nations Environment Programme, by far the largest importer of sand worldwide and, per person, the world’s biggest user. But, one by one, regional suppliers have imposed export bans: Malaysia in 1997, Indonesia ten years later, Cambodia in 2009 and then Vietnam. Myanmar also faces pressure to call a halt. Exporting countries are alarmed at the environmental consequences of massive dredging. And nationalists resent the sale of even a grain of territory.

The area of land Singapore has taken from the sea is dwarfed by reclamation elsewhere—in Japan and China, for example. Since the 19th century, Japan has reclaimed 25,000 hectares in Tokyo Bay alone. For a planned new city near Shanghai, Nanhui, more than 13,000 hectares have been reclaimed. In Hong Kong, as Victoria harbour has been filled, the island has moved closer to mainland China geographically if not politically.

Singapore is unusual both in being so small that such a large proportion of its territory is man-made, and in being so close to its maritime neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia. Not only has it faced criticism from environmental groups because of the impact its sand purchases have had in the exporting countries, in 2003 it also faced a legal challenge under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from Malaysia over land-reclamation projects at either end of the Johor Strait that separates the two countries. Malaysia alleged the work was impinging on its sovereignty, harming the environment and threatening the livelihoods of some of its fishermen.

After arbitration, the dispute was settled amicably enough. But now roles are reversed: Singapore is concerned about two big Malaysian reclamation projects in the Johor Strait. One, Forest City, would reclaim land to create four linked islands in the strait. It sounds like a fantasy—virtually an entire new city of gleaming skyscrapers and verdant lawns. But since its shareholders are a big Chinese concern and the Sultan of Johor, the head of the royal family in the Malaysian state of Johor, it is taken seriously. After Singaporean protests, reclamation work stopped last year. But in January it was reported that the project had been approved by the Malaysian government, albeit scaled down considerably. Singapore’s government says it is still waiting to hear this officially.

International law is likely to be invoked again over island-expansion elsewhere in Asia. Japan argues that its remote southern outcrop of Okinotorishima is an island, which, under UNCLOS, would entitle it to “territorial waters” within a 12-nautical-mile (22km) radius, and a 200-mile “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ). China argues it is not an island at all but a rock, incapable of sustaining human habitation, and so, under UNCLOS, commands only territorial waters, not an EEZ. The argument is complicated by Japan’s efforts to make the island grow by using star sand, the shells of a tiny single-celled organism found near coral reefs in Japan’s south. Scientists have learned how to grow this artificially, and the government hopes thereby to strengthen Okinotorishima’s claim to island status. Even if they managed this scientific feat, it might not pass legal muster with UNCLOS. Rocks and islands must be “naturally formed”. So can rocks be transformed into islands through man-made sand?

The law is explicit that ground that is submerged at high tide—known as “low-tide elevations”—commands neither territorial waters nor EEZs, and cannot be built up into “rocks”. This is an important issue in the complex overlapping territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China is reclaiming land in contested areas. In a submission to an UNCLOS tribunal, the Philippines has asked that three features China is developing be categorised as “low-tide elevations” and three as “rocks”.

You are a rock, I am an island
China may hope that by filling in the sea around rocks of all sorts it can upgrade their legal status. After all, once the work is done, it would be hard to prove where the original feature began and ended. More likely, however, China simply sees merit in the old saw that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Building on these features offers practical benefits for Chinese coastguards, fishermen and the navy and air force—and it bolsters China’s territorial claim with an enhanced physical presence.

China is vague about what its claim is. Is it based on land features and the waters that accrue to them under UNCLOS? Or does it, following historic maps that show a “nine-dash line” round the edge of the sea (see map), also assert sovereignty over the water itself? In this sea of vagueness, China’s reclamation work offers practical and symbolic benefits. It also points to a rarely cited reason why the South China Sea matters. Oil experts now often cast doubt on the sea’s purported wealth of hydrocarbons. It does, however, contain substantial quantities of sand.

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Work on Tuas mega port starting soon

Christopher Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Feb 15;

Work will start in the middle of this year on Singapore's Tuas mega port, with the first reclamation project of the area awarded to South Korean conglomerate Daelim Industrial.

Daelim will also undertake dredging and wharf construction in the first phase of a facility that could eventually handle 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo annually - nearly double the amount Singapore handled last year.

The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore awarded the project to Daelim - South Korea's fourth largest builder - for about $875 million.

Daelim partnered Dredging International to bid for the project. Yonhap news agency reported that the Belgian firm will be paid close to $1.6 billion for its share of the works.

The MPA told The Straits Times that works will include building an 8.6km quay wall, reclaiming about 300ha of land from the sea, and dredging the navigational channels to deepen the harbour so it can accommodate larger vessels.

The project is expected to be completed by 2021.

Singapore plans to move all its port activities to Tuas South by 2027, freeing up prime land in Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang for future residential and mixed-use developments.

Even as works are under way to build Tuas Port, capacity is expanding at Pasir Panjang to cope with rising demand.

At a media lunch yesterday, MPA chairman Lucien Wong said: "We can also look forward to the commissioning of Pasir Panjang Terminals 3 and 4 by the middle of this year."

The authority said the contract commences this Saturday, but dredging works will begin only in the middle of the year, after plans have been approved.

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Malaysia: It’s not as hot as last year - weatherman

The Star 27 Feb 15;

PETALING JAYA: Although Malay­sians are feeling it, this year’s hot spell is still not as bad as 2014, nor will it achieve the record high of 40.1°C seen in 1998.

Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (weather and climate) deputy director-general Alui Bahari said Malaysians could expect temperatures of 36°C to 38°C from March until the first week of April.

“The north-east monsoon period will last until early April. Then, we will have more rain, particularly over the west coast states,” said Alui.

The hot weather is also leading Malaysians to take various measures to cool off.

Loo Wen Khai, a manager at Herbs N Food Sdn Bhd, a chain store that sells Chinese traditional medicine, said that purchases of herbs meant to cool the body had increased by 20% recently.

“Many of our customers have been complaining that the heat is making them feel lethargic,” he said

Chang Pei Uiu, a dietician at Eu Yan Sang, said the number of customers had been the same, but warned that herbal teas should only be taken when significant symptoms are noticed.

1Utama advertising and promotions general manager Patrick So said the mall was expecting an influx of people, whether to shop, dine, or just to chill out, in the coming months due to the hot weather.

“During this period, we will lower the temperature of our air conditioning to accommodate the large number of patrons,” he said.

I-Bhd information manager Tang Soke Cheng said that i-City had also experienced an increase in visitors by about 10%.

“Many visitors are attracted to the SnoWalk area as it is an ideal place to chill in hot weather,” she said.

Tropical heat wave on the way
New Straits Times 26 Feb 15;

Some areas in the country are now experiencing hot and dry weather, a phenomenon of the final phase of the monsoon, known as the Equinox phenomenon. The situation is expected to occur until the end of March.

Malaysian Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail said the current weather situation has yet to reach the 'heat wave' stage and is categorised as normal.

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Malaysia: Erratic weather could be the new norm

The Star 27 Feb 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been experiencing erratic weather patterns of late, some of which have never been witnessed before.

As a country located close to the Equator, Malaysia is accustomed to the consistency of a tropical climate, with temperatures generally averaging 27°C and a humidity level of between 70% and 90%.

However, over the past year, it has experienced scorching heat reaching 41°C, an unusual amount of rainfall during the monsoon season that resulted in severe flooding in several states, a typical cold like the one Kelantan experienced recently, as well as increasing occurrences of mini tornadoes.

Numerous studies have been conducted to determine the impact of climate change throughout the world.

However, it is still difficult to ascertain the reasons for Malaysia’s highly erratic weather patterns.

A UKM research revealed that Malaysia has been growing warmer over the past 40 years and predicted that the level of rainfall would also increase.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that the earth’s surface temperature has increased from 1.1 to 6.4 °C, with a significant rise in the 1990s.

A warmer globe has also contributed to melting at the polar caps, especially in the Arctic zone. This in turn has had a domino effect on global weather patterns, including in Malaysia.

Monsoon cycles are expected to change in the future, with the El Nino phenomenon causing more droughts, flooding and heat waves.

However, Universiti Malaya’s National Antarctic Research Centre director Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah believed that there was nothing peculiar about the weather changes experienced by Malaysia.

Dr Azizan, who is a meteorologist, said it was the nature of the weather to constantly change and not remain static.

He also believed that the massive flooding in Kelantan was not a phenomenon but an annual occurrence.

“It was unprecedented because the storm and heavy rain came simultaneously with the king tide. It is not surprising for a flood to occur after for four or five days of rain exceeding 1,000mm.

“The question though is, why was the rainwater unable to flow into the sea?” he asked.

It has long been acknowledged that industrialisation, fossil fuel combustion and rampant deforestation have heavily contributed to greenhouse gas emissions and, ultimately, global climate change.

Although climate change affects the entire world, those who live in tropical regions are more likely to be susceptible to the greenhouse effect.

“Tropical countries like Malaysia are like entryways for greenhouse gases to enter the atmosphere. The thinning ozone layer and ozone holes will expose humans to harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays that can cause skin cancer,” said UKM’s Tropical Climate Change System Research Centre director Dr Mohd Shahrul Mohd Nadzir. — Bernama

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Malaysia: Urgent action needed to prevent the loss of Sambar in Peninsular Malaysia

Conservationists are calling for the Sambar to become a Totally Protected species in Peninsular Malaysia
TRAFFIC 26 Feb 15;

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 26th February 2015—An alliance of conservation organizations in Malaysia is calling upon the government to uplist the Sambar to a Totally Protected species in Peninsular Malaysia, following a study carried out by leading conservationists into the species’s status.

Sambar, the largest deer species in South-East Asia, is severely threatened due to constant poaching pressure, and loss of critical habitat due to development and deforestation. According to the study the “the process of extinction will be exacerbated for this species in Peninsular Malaysia.”

“Relentless poaching of Sambar has knock on effects for other species too, they are an integral part of the ecosystem,” said TRAFFIC’s Dr Chris R Shepherd, one of the study’s authors.

“Sambar are the most important prey species for the highly threatened Malayan Tiger—saving Sambar is critical to saving Tigers.”

The study’s other authors were Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) general manager Dr Kae Kawanishi, WWF-Malaysia’s Tiger Conservation Programme lead research scientist Dr Mark Rayan and Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme Director Dr Melvin Gumal.

Together they analysed images captured by infrared camera traps during 23 studies carried out between 1997 and 2008. Sambar were rarely detected outside protected areas, which accounted for a mere 16% of the total available habitat for the deer in the Peninsula. Of 414 Sambar photos, 346 came from protected areas. No Sambar were recorded in 15 forest reserves studied.

“Every effort should be taken to ensure the Sambar is not lost,” said Shepherd.

“More effective actions to curb poaching and shut down the illegal meat trade in Peninsular Malaysia are absolutely crucial to this and other species’ survival.”

Based upon the findings, the experts also called for the Sambar to be uplisted to “Endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

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Indonesia: Bengkulu's conservation agency captures Sumatran tiger

Antara 26 Feb 15;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - The Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) of Bengkulu has captured the Sumatran tiger (Phantera tigris sumatrae) that had earlier attacked a local farmer.

The attack had taken place in Talang Beringin village in North Seluma sub-district, Seluma district, Bengkulu province.

"The officers managed to catch the tiger using traps placed around the local plantation area," Head of Area II of the Bengkulu BKSDA, Darwis Saragih, said here Thursday.

To curb the tiger-locals issue, the authority will transport the wild animal to Bengkulu district.

It took three days for the officers to track and catch the tiger.

It was reported earlier that 53-year-old Lisman, a local farmer, was attacked by a tiger at a rubber plantation located near Kumayan hamlet on Sunday (February 22).

The plantation where the attack took place is located at the border of Taman Buru Semindang Bukit Kabu, which is the natural habitat of Sumatran tigers.

Dozens of families of Kumayan hamlet fled their homes to Talang Beringin village in Seluma district of Bengkulu in fear of the wandering Sumatran tiger in their neighborhood.(*)

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Trade in Shark Fins Takes a Plunge

An analysis of trade statistics suggests that efforts to educate shark-fin soup consumers is working
David Shiffman Scientific American 26 Feb 15;

In 2013, the environmental group WildAid reported that demand for shark-fin soup in China had dropped by 50 to 70 percent, offering some hope for the estimated 25% of species of sharks and their relatives, that are threatened with extinction. Many experts thought those numbers sounded too good to be true.

A new analysis of worldwide customs and trade data published in the journal Biological Conservation confirms that shark-fin trade has dropped by approximately 25 percent over the last decade “Although we can’t say that we fully understand the scale or the cause of the shark fin trade decline in China, it seems safe to conclude that demand for fins is waning, and that sounds like good news for sharks,” says global shark fin trade expert Shelley Clarke, a co-author on this study.

This new analysis has been welcomed by other global shark conservation experts, including Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “Once again, Dr. Clarke has provided us with objective, expert analyses that are vital for evaluating the progress in shark conservation and guiding our next steps,” Fordham said. “The paper provides an important reminder that effectively safeguarding sharks is a complex and long-term endeavor, requiring perseverance and regular re-evaluation of priorities.”

Many possible explanations have been proposed for the decline in shark fin demand. Clarke believes that conservation advocacy and public education efforts have contributed. Since the global recession of 2009 the Chinese government has waged a campaign against shark fin and other conspicuous consumption products. “Also, some researchers and Beijing have suggested that there is a declining preference for shark fin because it is considered unhealthy or passé, or that the product is not real,” Clarke says. “People believe that the real fins must be in short supply because of the publicized decline of shark populations.”

This study shows that one major threat to sharks is declining, but Clarke warns that many other threats remain. “Most conservation campaigns target shark fins rather than meat, and shark meat consumption is growing at a fast pace.” She says. “There is really no such thing as a ‘shark fin fishery,” sharks are caught for a variety of reasons including for their meat, or inadvertently when trying to catch other species.”

Although the total volume of shark fin traded is declining, more than 70 countries now participate in the trade, with more joining every year. Based on analysis of African countries,” Clarke says, “the supply network for shark fin is expanding to include more and more countries over time. This may be because source supplies are become scarcer, or because management is curtailing supplies in some countries, or it could simply be that logistics for shipping to Hong Kong are improving.” This complicates both monitoring and enforcement efforts, as different countries have different customs import and export codes, and many countries in the developing world don’t have enforcement infrastructure.

This study compared the global trade in shark fins to trade in sea cucumbers, and found that the news isn’t universally good for conspicuous consumption products based on threatened sea life.. Around 70 cucumber species are traded internationally to be used in traditional luxury cuisines, and many are endangered. Although sea cucumber overexploitation doesn’t get the same attention as shark finning, these invertebrates are the second most valuable seafood export in the Pacific after tuna, according to lead author Hampus Eriksson of the scientific advisory and conservation organization WorldFish,. “While a range of factors may have contributed to a decline in traded and consumed shark fins, the same factors do not appear to have constrained the trade with sea cucumbers,” Eriksson says. Significant progress has been made, but marine conservation advocates still have plenty to do.

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Cooler Pacific has slowed global warming, briefly: study

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 27 Feb 15;

Cooler Pacific has slowed global warming, briefly: study Photo: Lucy Nicholson
A man and a girl paddle in the Pacific Ocean at sunset in Santa Monica, California February 5, 2015.
Photo: Lucy Nicholson

A natural cooling of the Pacific Ocean has contributed to slow global warming in the past decade but the pause is unlikely to last much longer, U.S. scientists said on Thursday.

The slowdown in the rate of rising temperatures, from faster gains in the 1980s and 1990s, has puzzled scientists because heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from factories, power plants and cars have hit record highs.

Understanding the slowdown is vital to project future warming and to agree curbs on emissions, linked by scientists to heatwaves, floods and rising seas. Almost 200 nations are due to agree a U.N. deal to slow climate change in Paris in December.

Examining temperatures of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans back to 1850, which have natural swings in winds and currents that can last decades, the scientists said a cooler phase in the Pacific in recent years helped explain the warming hiatus.

Combined trends from the two oceans were seen to "produce a slowdown or 'false pause' in warming in the past decade", the three scientists wrote in the journal Science.

"It appears to be the Pacific that is the main driver" of the two oceans in masking warming, Michael Mann, a co-author and professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, told Reuters. "The Atlantic is a minor player right now."The study said the warming pause was unlikely to last. "Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse" and add to man-made warming "in the coming decades", it said.

Even though the pace of rising temperatures has slowed, last year was the warmest since records began in the 19th century, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization.

In 2013, the U.N. panel of climate scientists said the pause in warming was due to factors including natural swings such as shifts in ocean heat, sun-dimming volcanic eruptions and a decline in solar output in an 11-year cycle.

"The slowdown in warming is probably a combination of several different factors," Mann said.

The U.N. panel says it is at least 95 percent probable that most warming since 1950 is man-made. But opinion polls show many voters suspect natural variations are to blame, making it hard to agree on solutions.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

Global warming slowdown probably due to natural cycles, study finds
Manmade warming in past decade has likely been offset by cooling from natural cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic - but effect will reverse in coming decades
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 26 Feb 15;

Manmade global warming over the past decade has probably been partly offset by the cooling effect of natural variability in the Earth’s climate system, a team of climate researchers have concluded.

The finding could help explain the slowdown in temperature rises this century that climate sceptics have seized on as evidence climate change has stopped, even though 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have happened since 2000.

The authors of the new paper describe the slowdown, sometimes called a global warming hiatus or pause, as a “false pause”. They warn that the natural cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic that they found are currently having an overall cooling effect on temperatures will reverse in the coming decades – at which point warming will accelerate again.

“It [the new paper] has important implications for understanding the slowdown,” said Byron A Steinman, the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

“I think probably the biggest thing that people should understand is there is randomness in the climate system. The recent slowdown in no way invalidates the idea that continued burning of fossil fuels will increase Earth’s surface temperature and pose a substantial burdens on human society,” Steinman told the Guardian.

The research looked at two long-term climate phenomenon that play a key role in global temperatures, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. The authors worked to strip out ‘external forces’ on those oscillations, such as volcanoes and the burning of fossil fuels, to work out how much they varied naturally, or internally.

Such natural variability is likely to have had a substantial influence over the span of several decades on temperatures in the northern hemisphere, they concluded, of up to 0.15C in a warming or cooling effect – and in recent years it has been a cooling one.

“We find that internal multidecadal variability in northern hemisphere temperatures, rather than having contributed to recent warming, likely offset anthropogenic warming over the past decade,” the authors write.

Michael E Mann, one of the co-authors, blogged that: “Our conclusion that natural cooling in the Pacific is a principal contributor to the recent slowdown in large-scale warming is consistent with some other recent studies, including a study I commented on previously showing that stronger-than-normal winds in the tropical Pacific during the past decade have lead to increased upwelling of cold deep water in the eastern equatorial Pacific”.

Steinman said the new work was a substantial step forward and employed state-of-the-art climate models that previous studies on the subject had not used.

But the paper warned that the natural cycles are likely to reverse in coming years, adding to manmade warming in the coming decades. “When that trend reverses, that will then add to warming, so warming will accelerate,” said Steinman. He added that it was difficult to say exactly when in the next few decades that would happen.

Mann wrote on the RealClimate blog that such an acceleration “is perhaps the most worrying implication of our study, for it implies that the ‘false pause’ may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change”.

Ben Booth, a scientist at the Met Office who was not involved in the study, said that the new work provided a more nuanced picture of the role natural cycles play in the climate. “What this result shows is that on a decadal time scale, the variability in the oceans can have an important role to play in dampening warming,” he told the Guardian.

“The results support the conclusion that cool Pacific temperatures have played a key role in modulating atmospheric temperature increases in the past 10 years, only partially offset by modest warming in the Atlantic,” he wrote in a commentary also published in Science.

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Online database captures Singapore's rich biodiversity

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Feb 15;

A new online database has been launched compiling research on how Singapore's flora and fauna interact with each other.

Called Animals and Plants of Singapore, it is managed by Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and went live on the museum's website this month.

Users can click on an animal and find links to information on the plants or animals it feeds on - though work on the site is ongoing and not all species have links in place yet.

The database provides a name and a photograph of each species.

For further information, users must click on the links to external sources, such as pages created by the National University of Singapore's life sciences classes, or the museum's Singapore Biodiversity Records - an online collection of "flora and fauna in Singapore, including sightings of uncommon or rare species".

Professor Rudolf Meier, deputy head of the museum, said the goal is to understand how different species interact to sustain Singapore's green spaces.

"Animals and Plants of Singapore will track these interdependencies by linking species pages of prey and predators, or plants and pollinators," he said.

"If we had a dedicated person or team doing the research, it would be as time-consuming as writing an academic paper for each species.

But by tapping already-published research and observations, the site can be updated more frequently."

Prof Meier hopes the site will make it easier for people to appreciate Singapore's diverse ecosystem and give them a reliable source of information.

Data is cross-referenced with the museum's stable of experts before being uploaded, and the site lists the names of the experts who identified the species.

The database now records more than 1,000 species of plants and animals, but Prof Meier hopes to more than double this figure by the end of the year. He estimates that there could be between 50,000 and 100,000 multicellular plant and animal species here.

Studies are under way to establish this, such as Singapore's first comprehensive marine biodiversity survey, led by the National Parks Board (NParks). It began five years ago and is expected to be completed by May this year.

Dr Lena Chan, director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Biodiversity databases are very important as they are historical records of plants and animals. These databases can be set up only if long-term monitoring surveys are carried out."

She said the museum's new database will complement NParks' records, including its online Biodiversity and Environment Database System, which was started in 2011 and records 5,000 species of flora and 750 species of fauna.

"Together, we can generate greater awareness and appreciation of the rich biodiversity that we have," she said.

Animals and Plants of Singapore, designed for desktop browsing, is at

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Feb 15

Singapore Bird Report-January 2015
from Singapore Bird Group

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Dry spell set to continue till end-February: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: The dry spell in Singapore looks set to continue till the end of the month, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In the first half of February, all areas of Singapore received below-average rainfall.

NEA said the trend will carry on, with the dry phase of the Northeast Monsoon forecast to prevail over the region.

While rainfall for this month is expected to be below average, it is not forecast to be as bad as last February - Singapore's driest month in 145 years, when just 0.2 millimetres of rain was recorded.

The average rainfall for February is 159.9 millimetres.

- CNA/xq

Dry conditions expected to last till early March
SIAU MING EN Today Online 25 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE – With occasional rainy days punctuating the dry weather over the past few weeks, conditions this year have not been as parched as last year’s, when the Republic experienced its longest ever dry spell.

But dry and occasionally windy conditions are expected to extend into early March, with Singapore and the region currently in the dry phase of the North-east Monsoon season.

“Although drier weather has been experienced in recent weeks, we are not in a dry spell as there have been occasional rain days,” said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) spokesperson in response to queries from TODAY.

This year, Singapore experienced 42 days of dry weather, with daily rainfall of less than 1mm over many parts of the island. The longest period of dry weather lasted 12 consecutive days and took place just before the Chinese New Year break, from Feb 7 to 18. A dry spell is defined as having less than 1mm of rainfall registered daily over at least 15 consecutive days.

As of yesterday (Feb 24), the monthly total rainfall was 19.0mm, higher than the 0.2mm of rainfall recorded during the dry spell that hit Singapore in February last year, the MSS spokesperson said. The long-term average monthly rainfall for February is 159.9mm.

All areas of the island also recorded below average rainfall in the first half of this month, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on their website. Rainfall for the month is expected to be below average and for the rest of February.

National water agency PUB said they have been able to maintain healthy water levels in the reservoirs despite the dry weather. PUB has also adjusted the production of NEWater and desalination water accordingly, in order to meet demand, added its spokesperson.

The agency also noted an increase in water usage of about 10 to 20 million gallons a day around two weeks before Chinese New Year due to spring cleaning – a typical trend every year. Water usage returned to normal after the festivities, they added. The agency is monitoring the situation closely and urged members of the public to do their part to save water.

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What lurks beneath Bedok Reservoir

Jean Iau My Paper AsiaOne 26 Feb 15;

It was his first time out on a new kayak in Bedok Reservoir - and it ended with him in severe pain and bleeding profusely.

Kian Wai Seetoh, 19, fell into the water after his kayak capsized near a pontoon several metres from shore.

As the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) student tried to climb onto the pontoon, he felt pain and realised something was biting the toes on his right foot.

The incident happened in September, as Mr Seetoh and his schoolmates were gearing up for the Polytechnic-Insitute of Technical Education competition.

Since then, there have been more cases of leg injuries, prompting national water agency PUB to suspend water activities from Dec 17 to Jan 16.

Recalling the incident, Mr Seetoh, a biotechnology student, told The New Paper (TNP) on Tuesday that soon after he fell into the water, he felt what seemed like the scales of a fish brushing against his leg. He then felt a fish biting his toes.

"The pain wasn't sharp. It was like the feeling you get when you get a...bruise, so I didn't expect it to bleed so much.

"When I got bitten, I pulled my leg out of the water. Then I saw the cut and the blood. It was gushing out. The whole pontoon was covered in blood," he said.

When he got out of the water and onto the pontoon, he was shocked to see gaping cuts around the toes on his right foot and blood spewing.

He then called for help. A teammate rowed out on a boat and took Mr Seetoh back to shore.

Soon after, his father arrived to drive him to Singapore General Hospital, where he received 13 stitches for his wounds.

It took three weeks before he could walk normally again.

Mr Seetoh was not the only victim of the mysterious attacks in Bedok Reservoir. Two of his teammates also sustained cuts after their boats capsized.

Since then, the TP canoe team has changed its training schedule, from six times a week to once a week. The school has also ruled that a teacher or coach must be present for them to train in the water.

Asked if he was now afraid to step into a kayak, Mr Seetoh said: "Not really, because once you get your balance right, the chances of you capsizing are very low.

"I started training again after four weeks."

In response to queries by TNP, a spokesman for PUB said: "Following the incidents, PUB had advised schools and water sports operators to remind their participants to exercise care when in the water, and to wear covered footwear and avoid submerging their feet in the water where possible.

"This is because some fish or turtles may bite when disturbed or when protecting their young. There has not been any incident since Dec 14 and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

During the suspension of water activities at Bedok Reservoir, several fish - including a tarpon, African walking catfish, armoured sucker catfish and peacock bass - were caught.

An expert told The New Paper that none of these fish is indigenous to Singapore, and they had probably been released into the reservoir illegally.

Tan Heok Hui, a lecturer at the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "Introduction into urban reservoirs is usually via release by humans, either intentional or accidental.

Nature conservationist and advocate Ben Lee said: "For religious purposes, some people believe that releasing fish into water is a good deed, as the fish will be saved from human captivity.

"I have witnessed a group of more than 10 people, each with a bucket of hundreds of fish, wanting to release them into one of our reservoirs."

The introduction of new species could affect the ecology of the reservoir, he said.

"The catfish can be a menace to humans because it has poisonous spikes that can pierce and cause puncture cuts on the feet," Mr Lee added.

After viewing photographs of the wounds of Mr Ong and Mr Seetoh, Dr Tan said: "The small scrapes could also be from rough rock edges or small teeth plates that some catfish have.

"(As for) the larger gashes, (they) may indicate a wider cutting or biting edge, but the size is exaggerated by the human pull-away response. This could be caused by either fish or terrapins."

Those who illegally release animals or fish into reservoirs can be fined $50 for the first offence and $200 for the second. Subsequent offences will be prosecuted and offenders can be fined up to $3,000.

Kayaker gets 13 stitches after being bitten in Bedok Reservoir
Jean IauThe New Paper AsiaOne 27 Feb 15;

It was his first time out on a new kayak in Bedok Reservoir and it ended with him in severe pain and bleeding profusely.

Mr Kian Wai Seetoh, 19, fell in the water after his kayak capsized near a pontoon several metres away from the shore.

As the Temasek Polytechnic (TP) student tried to climb onto the pontoon, he felt pain and realised something was biting the toes of his right foot.

The incident happened last September as Mr Seetoh and his poly mates were gearing up for the POL-ITE competition.

Since then, there have been more cases of leg injuries, prompting national water agency PUB to suspend water activities for a month recently.

Recalling the incident, Mr Seetoh, a biotechnology student, told The New Paper yesterday that soon after he fell into the water, he felt what seemed like the scales of a fish brushing against his leg.
He then felt a fish biting his toes.

"The pain wasn't sharp. It was like the feeling you get when you get a blue-black bruise so I didn't expect it to bleed so much.

"When I got bitten, I pulled my leg out of the water. Then I saw the cut and the blood. It was gushing out. The whole pontoon was covered in blood," he said.

When he got out of the water and onto the pontoon, he was shocked to see gaping cuts around his toes on his right foot and blood spilling out.

He then tried to call for help.

His teammate, Ms Janice Ng, 19, said: "I saw him waving his hands trying to call for help. The pontoon was covered with blood. He was in shock."

Another teammate rowed out on a boat and took Mr Seetoh back to shore.

Taken to hospital

Soon after, his father arrived to drive him to Singapore General Hospital, where he was given 13 stitches for his wounds.

It took three weeks before he could walk normally again.

Mr Seetoh was not the only victim of the mysterious attacks in Bedok Reservoir.

Two of his teammates also sustained cuts after their vessels capsized.

One of them, Mr Nicholas Ong, 19, suspects that he was bitten by a turtle, judging from his wounds. "His cut looks like ones you get when you've been pinched really hard. (He) went under the same pontoon I did," said Mr Seetoh.

Since then, the TP canoe team has changed its training schedule, cutting down from six times a week to once a week.

The school has also ruled that either a teacher or coach must be present for them to train in the water.

Asked if he was now afraid to step into a kayak again, Mr Seetoh said: "Not really because once you get your balance right, the chances of you capsizing are very low.

"I started training again after four weeks."

In response to queries by TNP, a spokesman for national water agency PUB said: "Following the incidents, PUB had advised schools and the water sports operators to remind their participants to exercise care when in the water and to wear covered footwear and avoid submerging their feet in the water, where possible.

"This is because some fish or turtle may bite when disturbed or when protecting their young.

"There has not been any incident since Dec 14 and we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

Possible culprits: catfish, terrapins, or rocks

The PUB suspended kayaking, dragon-boating and canoeing in Bedok Reservoir from Dec 17 to Jan 16 after complaints of injuries that could have been caused by bites from freshwater turtles or fish such as the toman.

A PUB spokesman told The Straits Times it had advised water-activity operators to tell participants to exercise caution and to put on proper footwear.

The public is also reminded not to release animals into reservoirs, she added.

During the suspension, several fishes, including a tarpon, African walking catfish, armoured sucker catfish and peacock bass, were caught, said the PUB.

An expert told The New Paper that none of these fishes are indigenous to Singapore and they had probably been released into the reservoir illegally.

Dr Tan Heok Hui, a lecturer at the department of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "All these are non- native species that have been introduced into Singapore's waters.
Introduction into urban reservoirs is usually via release by humans, either intentional or accidental."

Releasing fish

Nature conservationist and advocate Ben Lee said: "For religious purposes, some people believe that releasing fish into water is a good deed since the fish will be saved from human captivity.

"I have witnessed a group of more than 10 people, each with a bucket of hundreds of fish, wanting to release them into one of our reservoirs."

The introduction of new species could affect the ecology of the reservoir, he added.

"If you put more alien species into the reservoirs, it will result in increased competition and affect biodiversity. There will be a lack of food and space for our local species, so it's not good for the overall ecosystem," said Mr Lee.

"The catfish can be a menace to humans because it has poisonous spikes that can pierce and cause puncture cuts on the feet," he added.

After viewing photographs of the wounds of Temasek Polytechnic students Nicholas Ong and Kian Wai Seetoh, Dr Tan said: "The small scrapes could also be from rough rock edges or small teeth plates that some catfish have.

"(As for) the larger gashes, (they) may indicate a wider cutting or biting edge, but the size is exaggerated by the human pull-away response. This could be caused by either fish or terrapins."

Those who illegally release animals or fish into reservoirs can be fined $50 for the first offence and $200 for the second. Subsequent offences will be prosecuted and offenders can fined up to $3,000.
Fish caught by PUB in Bedok Redervoir

SIZE: Can grow to 120-250cm
ORIGIN: One species native to Atlantic Ocean and the other to the Indo-Pacific Oceans
DIET: Insects, fish, crabs and grass shrimp. Adults are carnivorous
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay millions of eggs a year

SIZE: Can grow up to 61cm
ORIGIN: Tropical north-eastern South America
DIET: Algae, aquatic plants and small crustaceans
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females lay 300 eggs on average

SIZE: Can grow up to 1m and weigh 15kg
ORIGIN: Fresh waters of South-east Asia
DIET: Fish, amphibians and crustaceans, but they sometimes have an appetite for birds and small mammals
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay up to 15,000 eggs at once and can mate five times in a year

SIZE: Up to 74cm
ORIGIN: Native to Amazon River and South America
DIET: Fish
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females can lay 9,000 to 15,000 eggs

SIZE: Up to 60cm
ORIGIN: South-east Asia
DIET: Omnivorous; smaller fish, molluscs, aquatic weeds
REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE: Females lay 5,000 eggs on average

Read more!

Malaysia: Sabah issues red tide warning over harmful algal bloom

The Star 26 Feb 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah has issued a red tide warning after detecting the deadly algal bloom in waters off the state’s west coast.

Sabah Fisheries Department director Datuk Rayner Stuel Galid said the phenomenon, common during dry spells, was detected in Tg Badak, Trayong and Karambunai in the city here, and Tuaran.

Algal bloom is a natural phenomenon where algae form large colonies, sometimes bringing harmful effects to marine life, besides lending a tint (not always red) to the sea. This depends on the species and density of the bloom.

“With the dry spell, we expect it to spread,” Galid said yesterday.

He said based on samples obtained, the species responsible had been identified as the plankton Cochlodinium polykrioides, an organism capable of inflicting serious damage to aquatic life, including fish farms.

“At the moment, there is a high level of plankton that could suffocate fish,” he pointed out.

Galid urged fish farm operators in areas affected by red tide to move their fish to tanks.

“Consumption of seafood affected by this plankton will not pose any health risk. However, we have yet to detect planktons that cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning,” he said.

He added if that happened, a general alert would be issued to the public as human fatalities could occur, “especially when one consumes seafood such as shellfish”.

The toxins are not soluble in water and remain stable despite the heat and acids, rendering ordinary cooking methods ineffective in eliminating them.

If PSP is detected, the public would be asked to refrain from consuming shellfish or bivalves, including oysters, mussels, cockles and any type of clam-like seafood.

The Sabah Fisheries Department and Sabah Health Department conduct year-long monitoring to detect PSP toxins in bivalves.

Red tide problem in Sabah to persist till June, says fisheries dept
The Rakyat Post 26 Feb 15;

The red tide phenomenon made a comeback this month, affecting the Tuaran waters and is expected to persist until June this year.

According to Sabah Fisheries Department director Rayner Stuel Galid the toxin levels were expected to peak around March.

He advised the people to avoid any type of shellfish or bivalves, including cockles, oysters and mussels.

He said the Department issued a warning related to the red tide phenomenon about two weeks ago, adding it had collected samples to analyse the poison levels in shellfish in the affected area.

“To date, we have not received any reports of casualties,” he told The Rakyat Post.”

He said the red tide was caused by chemicals excreted by poisonous plankton, which at present, would suffocate fishes in affected areas.

He added after analysing salt water samples, the department detected a species of plankton known as Cochlodinnium polykrikoides, which made it safe for now, to eat fish caught from affected areas.

“But the public are beginning to be very cautious and are more aware of the situation and the red tide’s implications.

“The department will continue to monitor and analyse samples until the phenomenon comes to an end. The situation will be back to normal when there is constant rain.”

He said the last red tide phenomenon was reported two years ago, detected in four districts from Papar up to Kota Belud.

At least four casualties were recorded then, he revealed.

Galid added the red tide toxin in shellfish was analysed using the mouse bioassay method.

He said levels higher than 400 Mouse units (MU) were considered dangerous for humans.

In past years, he said red tide occurrences in Sabah had revealed bivalves to contain toxin levels as high as 11,000 MU.

He added only the Fisheries Department could detect toxin presence in shellfish, as the poison was not visible, nor did it have any smell or taste.

Galid said the toxin in these shellfish could not be removed through washing or cooking.

Early symptoms of shellfish poisoning due to red tide include tingling of the lips and tongue, which may begin within minutes of eating poisonous shellfish or may take an hour or two to develop.

Depending upon the amount of toxin a person has ingested, these symptoms may progress to a sensation of “pricking of pins and needles” of the skin and then loss of control of arms and legs, followed by difficulty in breathing.

Those who experience these symptoms are advised to get medical treatment immediately at the nearest hospital or clinic, because delayed treatment may result in death.

Read more!

Fears over plastic-eating coral in Australia's Barrier Reef

AFP Yahoo News 24 Feb 15;

Sydney (AFP) - Corals in the Great Barrier Reef are eating small plastic debris in the ocean, Australian researchers said on Tuesday, raising fears about the impact the indigestible fragments have on their health and other marine life.

The scientists found that when they placed corals from the reef into plastic-contaminated water, the marine life "ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton", the study published in the journal Marine Biology said.

"If microplastic pollution increases on the Great Barrier Reef, corals could be negatively affected as their tiny stomach cavities become full of indigestible plastic," Mia Hoogenboom of Queensland state's James Cook University said.

Microplastic is defined as particles smaller than half a centimetre (a fifth of an inch).

The scientists found the plastic "deep inside the coral polyp wrapped in digestive tissue" and expressed concerns the substance could then hurt the creature's ability to digest normal food.

They also sampled waters near inshore coral reefs in the World Heritage-listed site and found microplastics including polystyrene and polyethylene in small amounts, study co-author Kathryn Berry said.

The health of the reef, along the Queensland coast, is already under close scrutiny from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Climate change, poor water quality from land-based run-offs, coastal developments and fishing all threaten the biodiverse site.

As much as 88 percent of the open ocean's surface contains plastic debris, findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found.

The small pieces -- from mass-produced plastics such as toys, bags, food containers and utensils -- make their way into the sea through storm water run-off, raising concerns about the effect on marine life and the food chain.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimated in 2012 that around 13,000 pieces of microplastic litter were found in every square kilometre of sea, with the North Pacific most badly affected.

Despite the prevalence of microplastics, scientists say it is not well-known what effects they have on the world's marine life.

Read more!

World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions

Report by UK waste experts warns that growing global middle class could see £388bn worth of food wasted every year by 2030
Rebecca Smithers The Guardian 26 Feb 15;

Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority in order to save as much as £194bn annually by 2030, according to a report.

Cutting food waste leads to greater efficiency, more productivity and higher economic growth, it said, but achieving such an aspiration would involve consumers cutting their own food and drink waste by as much as half.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, with food wasted by consumers globally valued at more than £259bn per year.

But that cost could soar to £388bn as the global middle class expands over the course of the next fifteen years, according to new figures from the UK government’s waste advisory body Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Their new report, ’Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste’, also identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted at various stages in the supply chain - in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption.

It highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. Approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.

In the UK, the most recent data from Wrap showed that households threw away seven million tonnes of food waste in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley Stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, the report said. It found waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, 3.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year.

Wrap estimates that emissions from food waste could cut by at least 0.2bn tonnes CO2e and possibly as much as 1 billion tonnes CO2e per year - more than the annual emissions of Germany.

Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP said: “Food waste is a global issue and tackling it is a priority. This report emphasises the benefits that can be obtained for businesses, consumers and the environment. The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings.”

Consumers had a vital role to play, he added: “In the UK, where we are based, the majority of food waste occurs in the home.”

Helen Mountford, global programme director for the New Climate Economy, a programme of the commission, said: “Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day.

“Reducing food waste is also a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wakeup call to policymakers around the world.”

Read more!

US sea level north of New York City 'jumped by 128mm'

Helen Briggs BBC 24 Feb 15;

Sea levels along the northeast coast of the US rose by record levels during 2009-2010, a study has found.

Sea levels north of New York City rose by 128mm in two years, according to a report in the journal, Nature Communications.

Coastal areas will need to prepare for short term and extreme sea level events, say US scientists.

Climate models suggest extreme sea level rises will become more common this century.

"The extreme sea level rise event during 2009-10 along the northeast coast of North America is unprecedented during the past century," Prof Jianjun Yin of the University of Arizona told BBC News.

"Statistical analysis indicates that it is a 1-in-850 year event."

Tidal records
Scientists at the University of Arizona and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in New Jersey studied records of tidal levels along the east coast of the US and Canada.

They divided the coastline into three areas: north of New York City, New York City to Cape Hatteras on the coast of North Carolina, and south of Cape Hatteras.

They identified what they call an extreme sea-level rise during 2009-10, when the coastal sea level north of New York City jumped by 128mm.

"When coastal storms occur, extreme sea levels can lead to elevated storm surge," said Prof Jianjun Yin.

"In addition to long-term and gradual sea level rise, coastal communities will need to prepare for short and extreme sea level rise events."

Commenting on the study, Prof Rowan Sutton, climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, said climate models suggest an increase in such events.

"This study identifies a record breaking high sea level event that occurred along part of the US east coast in 2009-10.

"There is strong evidence that the likelihood of such events has been increased by climate change, and that we should expect more such events in the future.

"This example illustrates how individual extreme events are influenced by multiple factors - in this case the global rise of sea levels, regional changes in ocean circulation, and wind patterns."

Dr Dan Hodson, also from the University of Reading, said the analysis underlined the importance of understanding the connections between surges in sea levels and ocean currents.

"Sea level change is a complex phenomenon, especially on the regional scale, where changes to the global ocean circulation can play a major role," he said.

"The east coast of North America is quite close to an area of active, fast ocean currents, and so is quite sensitive to changing ocean circulation."

He said the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a major current in the Atlantic Ocean, had implications for Europe and Africa as well as the US.

Research at the University of Reading has shown how it could make British summers wetter and may influence rainfall patterns in parts of Africa.

Read more!

Greenhouse Effect Is Witnessed…and Getting Worse

Becky Oskin Yahoo News 26 Feb 15;

The climate-changing greenhouse effect exists and has been directly measured in the United States, a new study reports.

The results confirm what scientists had already proved through models and laboratory experiments: Pumping carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere is warming the Earth's surface.

"We're actually measuring the fact that rising carbon dioxide concentrations are leading to the greenhouse effect," said lead study author Dan Feldman, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. "This is clear observational evidence that when we add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, it will push the system to a warmer place."

Since the late 1950s, scientists have documented rising levels of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" in Earth's atmosphere. Laboratory tests and physics experiments indicated that these gases absorb some of the infrared radiation that Earth emits into space, thereby raising the planet's temperature. This is called the greenhouse effect because it is similar to how a glass greenhouse traps heat, warming the air inside. Put simply, more energy is flowing into the greenhouse than is getting out, a concept that scientists call radiative forcing. [Infographic: Earth's Atmosphere Top to Bottom]

The research team measured radiative forcing on the Earth's surface due to carbon dioxide at two long-running atmospheric research sites owned by the Department of Energy. One is in Oklahoma and the other is near Barrow, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle.

Powerful spectrometers calibrated by the United States Office of Weights and Measures tracked the infrared radiation coming down to the surface, Feldman said. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb the Earth's infrared energy and then scatter it in all directions, some back downward toward the surface. The instruments can detect the "fingerprint" of carbon dioxide's infrared signal because the molecule emits and absorbs infrared energy at distinctive wavelengths.

Between 2000 and 2010, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide rose at both research sites by 22 parts per million. (The parts per million number refers to the volume of carbon dioxide molecules in every million air molecules.) At the same time, the amount of downward-directed infrared energy from carbon dioxide increased. This meant the surface radiative forcing, or energy imbalance, also increased at both sites, the researchers report today (Feb. 25) in the journal Nature.

In translation: More gas in the atmosphere meant more infrared energy was reflected back at the Earth instead of escaping into space.

"This is another direct piece of evidence that supports that the increase in carbon dioxide is indeed contributing to global warming," said Dave Turner, an atmospheric physicist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma, who was not involved in the study. "It's a roadmap as to how we can do exactly the same thing for other trace gases."

The scientists ruled out or removed possible warming effects from clouds, weather, water vapor or problems with instrument calibration.

The added radiative forcing was 0.2 watts per square meter per decade, which is about 10 percent of the total increase due to all human activities, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change .

"I would hope that even people who raise their eyebrows at this whole field can see there is a really robust observation underlying this," Feldman told Live Science.

The research team is now investigating the contributions to global warming from other greenhouse gases, such as methane.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 25 Feb 15

What is killing fishes at Pasir Ris?
from wild shores of singapore

Celebrate World Water Day @ Pandan with a Mangrove Cleanup!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Grasshoppers mating
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Santander Bank cuts off APRIL due to deforestation
from by Rhett A. Butler

Read more!

Behind the scenes at new natural history museum

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Feb 15;

A RARE golden babirusa specimen stood encased in glass in a dusty little corner of the National University of Singapore (NUS) for decades.

The pig artefact, collected in 1913 in Indonesia, will soon be watching over something bigger and better when it takes its place at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, located next to the University Cultural Centre at NUS.

Before the move, however, it had to undergo at least two weeks of preparation. First, it had to be placed in a waterproof box to protect it from condensation. Then the prized wild pig was frozen at -21 deg C to kill mites or insects, before being progressively thawed to about 15 deg C.

All this, just to prepare one specimen for its new home at Singapore's first and only natural history museum, slated to open its doors in April.

The museum will be a treasure trove of the region's rich natural heritage, housing animal specimens and fossils from the vaults of the former Raffles Museum, which dates back to 1849.

More than 500,000 lots of specimens were moved - from quirky creatures like an eight-legged piglet to locally extinct species like the three- striped ground squirrel.

And even though not all will go on display - more than 90 per cent will be kept as part of the research collection for academics, students and scientists - they all had to be packed and prepped for the massive move, which involved the museum's seven curators, a team of about 10 professional art movers and about five student assistants and museum specialists.

Dr Tan Heok Hui, one of the curators, said the collection could be broadly divided into two categories - dry and wet.

The dry category will be housed on the museum's fourth floor, and consists of plants, birds, mammals, fish and coral specimens, among others.

Like the golden babirusa, specimens in this category had to undergo extensive preparation work.

Moving the wet collection, which included specimens kept in a liquid medium of about 75 per cent ethanol (a flammable liquid), involved getting permits from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The wet category will be housed on levels two and three of the new museum, which has purpose-built rooms.

The curators are confident that the move will be completed by June, although specimens for public viewing will be ready by its official opening.

The research collection, however, will be opened only in phases for scientific use, said Dr Tan.

He added: "I once visited a bookshop in Vietnam and found that the books were arranged by size - I couldn't find anything.

"It is the same for the research collection. If nothing is in its place, information cannot be extracted and is as good as lost."

Moving a prized pig

THE rare golden babirusa needed intensive care before it could be moved to its new home at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The prized wild pig had to undergo at least two weeks of preparation. It had to be placed in a waterproof box to protect it from condensation.

Then it was frozen at -21 deg C to kill mites or insects, before being progressively thawed to about 15 deg C.

Read more!

Lending a hand to make Singapore clean

Linette Heng The New Paper AsiaOne 25 Feb 15;

Teacher Tan Ken Jin has the tendency to pick up any litter he sees.

The 37-year-old does it without fuss - he picks up the trash with his bare hands before washing them at the nearest basin.

It all started in 2012 when he was training for a marathon and was frustrated by the litter he saw along his route.

Mr Tan decided to act and began the Singapore Glove Project, a community initiative where people would walk or jog with gloves on and pick up litter along their path at the same time.

"I was moved by all the trash around me to start something larger than myself, as I knew I could not do it alone," he said.

"The aim of the movement is to encourage Singaporeans to stay active by exploring the many corners of our beautiful country, while at the same time helping to beautify it."

Mr Tan said onlookers often get confused when they see members of the Singapore Glove Project at work and assume they are doing a Corrective Work Order.

Civic duty

"We just explain that we are performing a civic duty and encourage them to join us or not litter," he added.

But Mr Tan thinks their biggest challenge is to get naysayers to feel they need to be part of the solution.

"There is sadly a group of people who still point fingers at foreigners, be they tourists or workers, saying that they are the problem.

"While I do not doubt that some foreigners contribute to the problem, there are many foreigners who help out with the Singapore Glove Project as well. On the flip side, we have also seen locals littering and we do our best to educate them."

Mr Tan, who is the head of department of student development at Bartley Secondary School, hopes to inspire his students to do the same.

Recalling how a friend praised him for being "brave" when he politely told a litterbug to pick up his cigarette butt, Mr Tan wishes that more people would do the same.

"Going up to a fellow countryman to help keep Singapore clean shouldn't be seen as bravery. It should be seen as something natural and I wish all of us would have the motivation to remind one another to keep our country clean," he said.

I wish all of us would have the motivation to remind one another to keep our country clean.
- Mr Tan Ken Jin.

Read more!

Malaysian caught for illegal import of hedgehogs, gecko

Channel NewsAsia 25 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE: A Malaysian man has been fined S$1,500 after he was caught illegally importing animals across the Causeway, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) announced in a joint media release on Wednesday (Feb 25).

On Feb 6, the 26-year-old Malaysian was a passenger in a Singapore-registered taxi when it was stopped by ICA officers at the Woodlands Checkpoint for routine checks.

During the inspection, officers uncovered two four-toed hedgehogs and one leopard gecko in the passenger’s belongings. The hedgehogs were found hidden inside a shoe box while the gecko was placed in a small plastic container that was kept in the passenger’s white zip pouch.

The AVA was alerted, with the Malaysian passenger and the animals handed over to AVA for investigations.

AVA later issued the offender a fine under the Animals and Birds Act and the Wild Animals and Birds Act for the illegal import of animals. The animals were sent to the Singapore Zoo.

Travellers are reminded not to bring live animals, birds and insects into Singapore without a proper permit. The importation of any animals or live birds without an AVA permit is an offence and offenders can be charged in court and fined a maximum of S$10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to a year.

- CNA/ac

Man caught smuggling 2 hedgehogs and a gecko through Woodlands Checkpoint
AsiaOne 25 Feb 15;

SINGAPORE - Two four-toed hedgehogs and a leopard gecko were uncovered from a man's belongings during a routine check at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Feb 6 at about 8.45pm, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) and Immigrations Customs Authority (ICA) in a joint statement released today.

A 26-year-old Malaysian man was aboard a Singapore-registered taxi during the inspection conducted by ICA officers.

The hedgehogs were found hidden inside a shoe box and the gecko was placed in a small plastic container that was kept in the passenger's white zip pouch.

ICA subsequently handed the passenger and the seized exhibits over to AVA for investigations.

The passenger was fined $1,500 for importing animals illegally and the taxi driver was released after it was found that he was not implicated in the case.

The animals were later sent to the Singapore Zoo.

AVA added that animals like geckos and hedgehogs are not suitable pets as some may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans and can be a public safety risk if mishandled or if they escape.

These non-native animals may also pose a threat to local biodiversity if released into the environment.

Importing any animals or live birds without an AVA permit is an offence, and anyone found guilty of smuggling animals faces a maximum fine of $10,000 and/or a jail term of up to one year.

For more information on bringing animals into Singapore from overseas travels, visit AVA's website at

Read more!

Malaysia: Hot weather to ease by March end - Met dept

New Straits Times 24 Feb 15;

PUTRAJAYA: The hot and dry spell in many areas is in the final phase of the monsoon season which is expected to abate by the end of March, said Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail.

“It is now the tail end of the northeast monsoon which causes many areas to receive less rain over an extended period, leading to the hot and dry weather,” she said when attending the 2015 message by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, here today.

Che Gayah said the current weather condition had not reached the ‘hot wave’ level and was still categorised as normal with 30 per cent rainfall based on the long term average.

Asked if the temperature of the hot and dry weather was different from last year, she said there was not see much difference with the temperature varying over three degrees Celcius.

The temperature in Malaysia is currently between 33 and 35 degrees Celcius.

Che Gayah said the inter-monsoon season would start in April until mid-May, when states in the peninsula would experience wet weather with thunderstorm in the afternoon and evening.

She said heavy rain and thunderstorm were common before the southwest monsoon begins from June to September which is the dry and haze season.

Che Gayah said under its standard operating procedure (SOP), the department would only carry out cloud seeding when haze reached the level hazardous to human health.

“The department is always prepared to conduct cloud seeding with private flight companies to overcome the problem. At times, dam operators will also carry out cloud seeding to raise the level of water. If they seek our help, we will be prepared to assist,” she said. -- BERNAMA

Read more!

Malaysia: New logging road a cause for concern

PATRICK LEE The Star 25 Feb 15;

KLUANG: A logging road is allegedly being opened in the gazetted Kluang catchment area, raising fears that future logging there will taint local water supply.

Believed to be several kilometres long and reaching deep into the jungles near here, the newly-opened road appears to be in the east end of the gazetted catchment area.

The catchment area is to serve as a water resource for the Kahang Dam.

A source who alerted The Star to the matter said that the road appeared there between December 2014 and January this year.

“The issue here is that it falls (within the water catchment area), and will have an effect on a crucial future water resource for the Kluang district,” the source told The Star.

In a visit there in late January, The Star noticed an excavator and a bulldozer parked on the way to the newly opened road, 30km north-east of Kluang.

The only possible way to get to the new road is via an existing logging road, which the source said was in use decades prior.

While there were no signs of large-scale tree-felling by the road, a few trees alongside had been marked with tags. Some were also marked with spraypaint.

Global Positioning System (GPS) devices showed the road apparently skirting the Gua Harimau hill, which lay within the catchment area.

According to a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment report on the Kahang Dam, the catchment area was gazetted as such by the Johor state government on Oct 9, 2008.

The Kahang Dam is expected to provide some 100 million extra litres of water a day, meeting Kluang’s water demand up to 2035. It is expected to be ready after September 2016.

Current water supply for the Kluang district is roughly 132 million litres a day.

The DEIA states that the area also falls within the Kluang Forest Reserve.

“Since the forest is gazetted as a water catchment area, the forest will be free from logging activty,” the report said.

A statement by Johor Forestry Department director Mohd Ridza Awang said that the planned logging was going to take place in the nearby Kluang Forest Reserve.

He said that the logging licence would cover some 23.36ha, and was valid from Dec 15, 2014, to March 14 this year.

“This office will conduct periodical monitoring on the area,” he said.

Johor Forestry deputy director Mohd Rahim Rani clarified that the road and the to-be-logged area was out of the catchment zone.

“It is outside of the catchment area, and the area (to be logged) is under production forest,” he said.

Production forest is a term where a jungle area can be gazetted for logging purposes.

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Malaysia: Saving Langkawi’s mangroves

MELIZARANI T. SELVA The Star 25 Feb 15;

HAVING lost 50% of its original rainforest to coastal development in recent years, Langkawi Island’s Unesco Geopark status could change following the United Nations agency’s scheduled review this year.

Gathering support from Institute of Foresters Malaysia (IRIM), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), villagers of Kuala Melaka, Kuala Teriang and the media, Berjaya Langkawi Resort launched the Mangrove 4 Life (M4L) campaign, as part of Berjaya Hotels & Resorts (BHR)’s corporate social responsibility initiative Live & Care.

Berjaya Langkawi Resort general manager Chris Niuh said the three-day mangrove conservation campaign was close to their hearts, as it had a direct impact on the surrounding community of the 20-year-old resort.

“Villagers of Kampung Kuala Melaka in Kuala Teriang area suffered the worst damage following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as there was no engineered coastal protection or sufficient mangroves to act as natural coastal defence.

“The first steps in our M4L campaign is focused on replanting mangrove trees in this area, for these communities to recover and achieve greater sustainability in restoring the surrounding mangrove ecosystem, which is essential for coastal protection during strong waves.

With the help of villagers from Kampung Kuala Melaka, the recent campaign saw participants putting on bright yellow boots and planting 424 rhizophora mucronata species mangrove saplings along the shoreline of Kampung Kuala Melaka.

Malaysian Nature Society head of communications Andrew J. Sebastian, who guided the enthusiastic team of novice tree planters, gave a briefing on the importance of mangroves to the island’s rainforest ecosystem.

“Mangrove habitats and ecosystems store and cycle nutrients, filter pollutants, protect shorelines from erosion and storms, and play a vital role in modulating climate as they are a major carbon sink and oxygen source.

“For effective mangrove replanting, we used the rhizophora mucronata species, due to its fast-growing nature and ability to flower within its first year of planting.”

Led by Malaysian Nature Society personnel, 1.82m PVC tubes were first encased in the sand to form a wave breaker stretch to protect the M4L mangrove planting site to reduce the impact of the waves on the saplings and ensure a higher chance of survival and growth.

Sebastian said he had high hopes for the new project in restoring balance to Kuala Teriang’s natural ecosystem for years to come.

Serving as a local platform to educate and strengthen mangrove conservation efforts, the project’s passion was also shared with 48 pupils aged 10 to 12 from SK Kuala Teriang.

Conducted by Dr Evelyn Lim, the Malaysian Nature Society Ecotourism and Conservation honorary secretary and co-facilitated by the media, the Mangrove Awareness Workshop for schoolchildren was a fun-filled event.

The children enjoyed interactive games and tree-planting sessions that explained the characteristics of different mangrove species and the threats they faced from deforestation. “It was truly fulfilling teaching the children how to carefully plant the mangrove saplings to ensure its survival.

“Teaching them what I had learnt earlier from members of the Malaysian Nature Society helped me remember points on mangrove conservation and interesting facts on the trees we were planting.

“It was definitely a memorable and enriching experience,” said Bernard Cheah, who was with the media.

From the session, an additional 98 mangrove saplings were planted by the children at Berjaya Langkawi Resort’s mangrove site.

Thinking ahead in promoting eco-tourism, Niuh said the island resort, which covered an area of 28.3ha, would eventually introduce more eco-friendly holiday packages such as a three-day-two-night stay at their Rainforest Chalet with mangrove-planting activities.

“Maintaining the resort is a constant challenge as we are between two live ecosystems, the sea and the rainforest.

“Unlike our city hotels, our resort here is more focused on being as natural as possible in terms of our architecture and daily practices.

“Eventually, we will introduce holiday packages that enable our guests to not only enjoy the flora and fauna around the area but also incorporate activities to help them understand and appreciate the ecosystem better,” said Niuh.

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Indonesia: Haze begins to hit North Sumatra

Apriadi Gunawan and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 25 Feb 15;

Haze from land and forest fires in a number of regions in North Sumatra blanketed areas around the Kualanamu International Airport in Deli Serdang regency on Tuesday.

However, the haze, which was present until 8:30 a.m., did not disrupt flights as visibility remained normal.

Airport spokesman Prasetyo Dewandono said the airport had been covered by haze for the past two days. He added that the haze, which was only seen in the morning, had yet to disrupt flights.

“Despite the presence of haze at the airport, visibility remains normal ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 meters. All flights have been smooth,” Prasetyo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The weather forecast analyst at the Medan branch of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dodi Syahputera, said the haze covering Kualanamu airport for the past two days was attributed to the rise in the number of hot spots in North Sumatra. He added that the haze over Kualanamu airport originated from hot spots in nearby Serdang Bedagai regency.

“We detected a hot spot in Serdang Bedagai that resulted from a land fire. The smoke was carried by wind to the northeast in the direction of Kualanamu airport,” said Dodi on Tuesday.

He added that based on satellite observations, the number of hot spots in North Sumatra over the past two days was rising; nine were detected on Monday and 11 on Tuesday.

Three of them were found in Mandailing Natal, two in Asahan, one in Serdang Bedagai, one in Labuhan Batu and four in Langkat regency.

Dodi said the growing number of hot spots was due to widespread land clearing activities in various regions. He said that no hot spot was detected in Langkat on Monday, but four appeared on Tuesday.

“This proves that land clearing activities by burning in the regions has increased since [farmers] are taking advantage of the dry weather,” said Dodi.

He added that the temperature in Medan and several other regions in the province had reached between 33 and 340C, hot enough to easily encourage local people to clear land by burning.

In Riau, the Riau Police have arrested nine suspects for alleged arson to clear land.

Police have also separately seized evidence used to set fire to plots of land in six different regencies.

Police arrested a suspect in Bengkalis, two in Indragiri Hulu, one in Indragiri Hilir, three in Siak, one in Pelalawan and another one in Rokan Hilir.

“The suspects were arrested based on public information from separate places. All of them are still undergoing intensive questioning to disclose whether of not the fires were masterminded,” said Riau Police detective chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Kaswandi Irwan on Tuesday.

Kaswandi added that he supported the central government’s decision to raise the land and forest fire warning status in Riau to emergency status.

“It was the right move in order to prevent land and forest fires from getting worse. Last year, the land and forest fires were quite severe, especially between February and April, the peak of the dry season,” he added.

On Tuesday morning, the BMKG Pekanbaru station recorded 18 hot spots in Riau, specifically nine in Bengkalis, four in Meranti Islands and five in Siak. As many as 15 of them have been confirmed as fires, with a likelihood of over 70 percent. Three of them were found in Meranti Islands, four in Siak and eight in Bengkalis.

Earlier this month, the Riau provincial administration kick-started the Haze Disaster Command Station at Roesmin Nurjadin Airport in Pekanbaru as the number of hot spots and forest and land fires increased and is predicted to keep rising until next month.

Haze from forest and land fires in Sumatra has been an annual problem for almost two decades. In the past few years, haze has begun to move toward Singapore and Malaysia, causing tension between the Indonesian government and its neighbors.

Haze blankets Bagansiapi-api, Riau
Antara 24 Feb 15;

Residents across the street in the siege of heavy smoke in the morning in the city Bagansiapiapi, Rokan Hilir, Riau, Tuesday (February 24, 2015). (ANTARA/Aswaddy Hamid)
Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Haze from forest and plantation fires blanketed Bagansiapi-api City in Rokan Hilir District, Riau Province, on Tuesday.

"Visibility rate decreases drastically to 500 meters, particularly in the mornings," Aswadi Hamid, a local resident, said Tuesday.

There were no hotspots in Bagansiapi-api; the haze came from neighboring Dumai City and the Bengkalis border areas where forest and plantation fires occurred.

Meanwhile, the government has declared a state of emergency to prevent and handle forest fires in Riau Province, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The measure is to anticipate forest and field fires in 2015," Chief of the Public Relations and Information Center of BNPB Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated on Sunday (Feb. 22).

According to Sutopo, Riau Province bears the brunt of forest fires every year. Based on the hotspot data for the 2006-2014 period, forest fires occurred twice every year in Riau, from February to April and June to October.

The disaster continues unabated every year, despite the government identifying the reasons and purpose of starting forest fires and establishing regulations to prevent them.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has sought BNPBs assistance to take emergency steps to curb any possibility of the spread of hotspots and fires in Bengkalis District, Riau Province.

"One of the initial efforts is to carry out cloud seeding operations in the near future," Sutopo affirmed.

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Best of our wild blogs: 24 Feb 15

The Wild Side of Singapore (SG50) Trailer
from Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Monitor Defence
from Go Wild Now!

The Florescent Green Snake
from Nature's Amore

Pellets from Tuas: 2. Bone fragments in the pellets
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Babbler’s Banquet
from Saving MacRitchie

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Urban farmers

Tay Suan Chiang and Rachel Loi The Business Times AsiaOne 23 Feb 15;

BT Weekend talks to homegrown tillers who are sowing the seeds of the future of farming in land-scarce Singapore.
Edible Garden City

Most people would baulk at the idea of giving up a well-paying job to toil under the sun as a farmer, but not Thomas Lim.

The Singaporean was working in Hong Kong in the finance industry for five years, before joining Edible Garden City as an urban farmer in 2012. The company champions the "Grow Your Own Food" movement in land-scarce and import-dependent Singapore.

"The pay was good, and the job had glamour and prestige, but I didn't fully enjoy it," says Mr Lim, 31, who started thinking about what else to do with his life. "Back then, I had no interest in farming or gardening at all."

During his time in the finance industry, he had the opportunity to travel for work and leisure to developing countries in Asia, such as Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia. Mr Lim saw first-hand how life in the rural areas was so different from city life and he began thinking about social, health and environmental issues.

"I thought about farming and food, and how people who were farming were living healthier and happier," he says.

Upon his return to Singapore, he decided to do something related to food, and joined Edible Garden City.

As an urban farmer, he does foodscaping for clients - using food plants to landscape a space. "The result is a garden that is beautiful, and also effective," he says. Some of the food plants that he grows are herbs, vegetables, medicinal plants and fruit trees.

A food garden can be grown anywhere, on roof tops, on the balcony and on the ground. Mr Lim will advise on maintaining the garden, touching on issues such as soil, water, sunlight and dealing with pests.

He's currently working on a rooftop garden for Spectra Secondary School, as well as a rooftop garden at Wheelock Place for the Tippling Club. Being a farmer is a lot of physical work, sometimes it involves "carrying tonnes of soil up the stairs" and often under the sun. Mr Lim's tanned skin and well-defined biceps are testament to that. "I'd rather use my strength and body to do something useful, than to just lift weights," he quips.

Mr Lim's job requires him to clear the land, sow seeds, add compost to the soil, harvesting and prune the crops, and "also letting nature do its job", he says, adding that he still relies on traditional tools, such as the changkol.

On rainy days, he works indoors, replying to e-mail and working on proposals. "I see farming as a lifestyle. It is a hobby and an exercise rolled into one - and at the same time, it produces food," he says.

Apart from foodscaping, Mr Lim is also an urban beekeeper. "It is part of my interest in growing food," he says. He has beehive boxes in the corner of his grandmother's garden, and one in Kranji. He says that beehive boxes are common in cities such as London and New York, but are still very rare in Singapore. He reads up online about beekeeping, but says that he has been stung before.

The honey that is produced is shared with friends. "It tastes different from store-bought ones. The honey that I get has a more distinct floral scent," he says. Mr Lim doesn't think that more Singaporeans will become farmers like he has, but he hopes that more people would be interested in growing vegetables, "even through a community garden".

His family found it hard to believe when he told them he wanted to be a farmer. "My grandma asked me: 'Why do you want to hold a changkol, when you can hold a pen instead?'"

Mr Lim admits that he doesn't earn as much as he used to, and now spends less on dining out. "But I don't see these as sacrifices. I'm happier with less."

Ruling the roost at family farm: Lian Wah Hang Farm

It is a funny yet heartwarming sight: a grown man running after a two-day old quail chick and then catching the bird in his hand, and putting it back in the cage.

"This little one was trying to run away," says William Ho, 49, owner of Lian Wah Hang Farm, one of two quail farms in Singapore. His father, Ho Seng Choon, began farming in 1954, and now the farm is run by his son. Mr Ho recalls when he was a child, his mother would bar him from going to the farm, because he was the youngest in the family. Back then, Lian Wah Hang was a chicken farm.

"By the time I was in secondary school, I was allowed to take the bus on my own, and my first bus ride was to the farm," he says. "I found it to be the most wonderful place, where I could climb trees, catch spiders and crickets, and also watched my father and brothers working in the farm."

His father soon got him helping out at the farm. "I was made to clear chicken poop, which was a terrible chore to do as it was so smelly," he says. He later learnt that it was an important task, as from analysing poop, he would be able to check on the health of the birds.

And when his father later asked him to take over the farm, Mr Ho agreed - giving up his dream of working for the Singapore Air Force as an engineer. He learnt animal husbandry from a farm supervisor and was later made farm manager, where apart from managing the farm, he also took on the role of educating children about farming. "The farm was open to visitors, which gave us exposure and revenue," he says. ""It was our way of showing kids where chickens came from."

Later when the farm had to move from Choa Chu Kang to Lim Chu Kang, Mr Ho decided to go into quail farming instead. "Rearing chickens was not a competitive business," he says. Unlike chickens which take 21 days to incubate, quails needed only 16 days for incubation, and 42 days to mature. Once mature, they can lay eggs. For city folk who may not know, a bird lays only one egg a day.

Mr Ho has 150,000 quails on his 2.7-hectare farm, and he collects about 30,000 to 40,000 eggs a day. "Quail is a white meat and more tender than chicken," he says. "Contrary to what people think, quails eggs are actually low in cholesterol." The eggs are sold to egg wholesalers before they are sold at supermarkets.
As quail eggs are a popular ingredient for steamboat, the eggs are flying off the shelves during this period. But during low seasons, extra eggs (S$1.40 for 15) are sold at Farmart Centre, a retail space for local produce in the Sungei Tengah area. Mr Ho also sells his quails, at S$1.80 each there, mostly to housewives. His produce are sold under the "Uncle William" label.

He rears quails but also eats them. "As a farmer, I don't associate produce with pets." Apart from running the farm, Mr Ho also conducts tours for school kids at Farmart Centre, teaching them about quails and frogs. Time is running out for the farm in its present location, as its lease will not be renewed. Lian Wah Hang Farm and its neighbours will have to make way for army training grounds. The quail farm has about 21/2 years lease left.

Mr Ho reckons he will need at least S$5 million to invest in a new farm. He is open to investors coming in. "But in the worst case, I may pull out of quail farming, or go into vegetable farming, which requires lesser capital."

He doesn't see farming as a sunset industry, but rather, "it will be the next big industry".

He adds, "I want to be there when it happens, so I'm holding onto what I can."

Home to 15,000 American bullfrogs: Jurong Frog Farm

She's no fairy-tale princess but Chelsea Wan has kissed many frogs and has no intention to stop. Ms Wan, a "frog-o-logist", as stated on her business card, works at Jurong Frog Farm, which is owned by her family.

The sprightly 31-year-old has been working on the farm for the past nine years. She has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom are not keen to work on the farm. But even in the early days, her father would give her a part-time job, to help run farm tours.

"Perhaps, because I'm independent and have always been left on my own, which is why I don't mind taking over the farm," she says. "Plus, I don't want my parents' efforts in building the farm to go to waste." She adds that she has never been scared of frogs or their sliminess.

Jurong Frog Farm was started in 1981, by her father Wan Boon Thiaw, who foresaw the potential of farming American bullfrogs. The farm, the only one of its kind in Singapore, has about 15,000 frogs.

There are workers on the farm involved with the farming of the frogs, but Ms Wan will also chip in to help. She has never dissected a frog, but plays a part in helping to debone the frogs and to sort out the meats.

Having lived on the farm since she was 14, the vast space of the farm appeals to her. "Two days after moving into our apartment, I told my husband I couldn't live in it anymore," she says. "It is just so tiny."

There are rows and rows of tanks on the 1.1 hectare farm. A few of the tanks are filled with tadpoles, while some others have froglets in them, and the remaining house the grown frogs, staring at anyone who walks by.

When she is not helping with the processing of the frog meat, Ms Wan takes charge of the branding for the company. The farm is open to the public only on weekends, where customers arrive to buy frozen frog meat and frogs' legs. Jurong Frog Farm also sells its produce to restaurants and supermarkets. But acknowledging that the farm is not centrally located, three months ago, Ms Wan started The Royal Frog Shop Online, so that customers can buy the produce without having to trek across the island. She has also refreshed the company logo into a cuter one of a frog peeping out of the water.

Conducting tours remains a part of Ms Wan's role. But unlike before when it was a simple one around the farm, now "it is more interactive", says Ms Wan, who graduated from the National University of Singapore.

For example, Ms Wan teaches primary school kids who join the tour the fine art of telling the difference between toads and frogs. There are also hands-on tours with live displays and demonstrations. For example, visitors will be able to hand-feed the frogs, learn how to differentiate between a male and female frog and see how frogs camouflage themselves in their natural environment.

Nothing gets her going more than receiving positive feedback from visitors who join the tours. "It is also great when the kids keep coming back to the farm for more," she says. Like some other farms in the area, the lease for Jurong Frog Farm will not be renewed. The farm will have to move in the next 21/2 years. "All we know for now is that we have to move. We don't know how big the new plot of land will be," says Ms Wan.

Naturally, she hopes to carry on running the farm. "But this will depend on how much capital is needed to rebuild the farm," she says.

Villas amid edible gardens: D'Kranji Farm Resort

How long does it take for a corn plant to be ready for harvesting? Ryan Ong, 22, director of D'Kranji Farm Resort, an agri-tainment farm would know. "It takes 65 days," he says, adding that a stalk of plant will have two ears of corn. There are about 9,000 stalks of corn on the farm resort, and Mr Ong himself participates in the harvesting. After harvesting, he helps chop the corn plants down. All this is done by hand, and Mr Ong can chop about 300 stalks in an hour. "The corn can be fed to animals. But we also sell it to restaurants within the resort," he says.

While most young people his age may be more comfortable working in an office in town, Mr Ong's office is out in ulu Lim Chu Kang area, amid five hectares of land.

At 16, he worked part-time at the farm resort, helping to plan events to draw the crowds in. After graduation, where he studied business management, Mr Ong returned to the company last year. D'Kranji Farm Resort is managed by HLH Group, of which Mr Ong's father, Johnny, is the executive deputy chairman.

As director, Mr Ong's role now is to ensure that operations run smoothly. At times, he is required to get his hands dirty, when he has to work out in the fields, sometimes ploughing the land. He is happy both out in the sun, and in the office. "I'm a hands-on person. I like to step into the mud, even in my office wear," he says. Walking past a greenhouse, Mr Ong proudly says that he installed pipes by hand, so that the plants can be automatically watered instead of relying on workers to do it.

The resort farm, at 10 Neo Tiew Lane 2, has Singapore's first and only drive-through check-in villas. There are 35 such villas. The company owns the villas, and also some fruit and vegetable plots. Produce that's grown include corn, ladies fingers, papaya, longan, guava, starfruit and rambutans, which are sold to the public.

There are other facilities in the resort, such as restaurants, a spa, beer garden, a swiftlet museum and a pond for prawn-fishing. These are all run by tenants.

Mr Ong works seven days a week. Half a work-day is spent in the office, while the other half is spent outdoors doing harvesting or planting.

Since he took over, he has increased villa sales by 150 per cent. In 2013, another 15 rooms were added, boosting the total to 35. The villas were refurbished, and sheltered walkways were added in. Occupancy rate is at 75 per cent.

With its off-the-track location, being at the resort affords visitors the feeling that they are no longer in Singapore. But unless you have a car, getting to the location can be a problem. "A lack of public transport is our biggest challenge," says Mr Ong. To entice more people to come to the area, the resort recently held a weekend farm fair which attracted about 2,000 visitors.

While the other farms in the Lim Chu Kang area have been told they'll need to move, the lease for the land on which the resort sits on only expires in 2027. "It is too far ahead to think about plans for the future," says Mr Ong.

Mr Ong's friends think that it is cool that he is a modern farmer. "They all want to come to work here as well, but they cannot do that yet, as they still have to go for National Service," he says.

Heeding the call of the sea: Tim's Farm
By Rachel Loi

TIMOTHY Hromatka begins his mornings just like any other parent: he wakes up early, washes up, and drops his two kids off at school. The rest of his day however, is a bit different - it involves driving to Lorong Halus, hopping onto his boat, and heading out to his kelong fish farm near Pulau Ubin.

"Back in Minnesota, people have cabins out on the lakes. Here, how do you get out of the city? You fly to another country, or for me, I go to my kelong," says Mr Hromatka, who came to Singapore in 1997, and is now a permanent resident.

He recalls how the sea "called out" to him five years ago, when he was working from home one day in his sea-facing HDB flat in Pasir Ris. "I thought. 'Wow, isn't that romantic?'" All those guys out there have such a high quality of life, I'd much rather be sitting out there," he says.

With that, he decided to apply for a licence with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, largely motivated by his roots in rearing sheep on a farm when he was growing up in Minnesota. He then spent the next six months out at sea, building his fish farm with little knowledge beyond a degree in biology and a master's in environmental management.

Now, Tim's Farm specialises in breeding organic-certified red snapper and sea bass (barramundi), and churns out about 30 tonnes of fish in a year. For retail, the barramundi are sold at S$15 per kg for whole fish and S$20 for two packs of two fillets, while his snapper will be sold at about S$20 per kg once they are mature.

His fish are fed a special fish feed made up of 50 per cent organic vegetable protein such as soyabean meal, rice and wheat flour, and 50 per cent sustainable ground-up fish meal - a recipe he made himself at a supplier in Thailand.

The fish feed is just part of his organic certification, says Mr Hromatka. The other parts include regular water tests, stocking the fish in low densities (he puts about 2,000 fish in about 100 cubic metres of water) so they aren't stressed, and not using chemicals such as antibiotics. "There's an analogy - at a conventional farm they spray, at an organic farm, we pray," Mr Hromatka says, laughing.

Of course, not everything is left to prayer, or the hand of Mother Nature. Instead, he has what he calls a "dirty net policy", and illustrates this by pulling up one of his fish nets and running his hand across a thick carpet of green algae. "One of the things about going organic is that I create a natural ecosystem by keeping the nets dirty and letting algae grow. Plus, I cultivate mussels in the net and around the whole farm - they help filter water and balance the carbon exchange," he explains.

Pointing to the water at two small moving shadows, Mr Hromatka adds that every net also has 120 "workers" that don't require levies or CPF contributions - lobsters, which he introduced to balance the ecosystem by eating barnacles and mussels.

"They aren't an automated net-washing machine or anything fancy like that, but it's just kind of going backwards and working with nature," says Mr Hromatka, who admits the industry is tough because it is capital-intensive. Still, he doesn't intend to change jobs anywhere in the near future.

"People come out here not to make a fortune - you go to the city for that. People come out here because of a lifestyle choice. The rule of thumb is if you last two years here, you're in it for life. Me, I've been here for five. You do the math," he says with a chuckle.

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