Best of our wild blogs: 31 Mar 15

Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Our World Water Day Celebration at Sungei Pandan Mangrove!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

From Mandai to Bukit Panjang
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Crimson Sunbird feeding on nectar of Raffles Dischidia flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Big surprise in the greenhouse: study finds economic costs of climate change hugely underestimated
from news by Morgan Erickson-Davis

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Cleaning up Singapore’s act: Eugene Heng

Is Singapore really a ‘clean’ city? One man (and 400 volunteers) are making sure it is
Yahoo News Singapore undated, possibly late Mar 2015. This article is sponsored by AXA.

Eugene CH Heng has very strong opinions on the state of Singaporean cleanliness.

“Singapore is not clean. Singapore is cleaned,” insists the founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society (WWS).

From government housing estates to commercial areas like Orchard Road, the central business district and tourist spots – practically any area that’s popular — the city gets cleaned up by teams of hired hands that start work at 4am daily.

Eugene was a high-powered banker for 33 years before starting WWS, along with 27 other concerned citizens. The non-government and non-profit special volunteer group advocate a clean and green environment. It brings together like-minded people to monitor, restore and protect the aesthetics of Singapore’s waterways. It specifically keeps an eye on the Marina Reservoir area in the southeastern end and, recently, the Punggol and Serangoon Reservoir in the northeastern part of Singapore. Today, WWS has over 400 volunteers who are supporting its various initiatives.

On top of its green agenda is educating and engaging the public on how seemingly small acts – like leaving an empty plastic bag, or soda cans lying around – can pile up and become a colossal problem with severe consequences if left unchecked.

“We really cannot afford that. That’s not sustainable,” says Eugene.

While cleaners are required for general areas, Eugene stresses that the bulk of the task of keeping the environment tidy should rest on all of us, young and old.

“It’s common sense. It’s not rocket science. Prevention is better than cure,” he continues.

Safeguarding the reservoir

There are 17 reservoirs in Singapore. WWS mainly operates in the Marina Reservoir, Singapore’s 15th, and the first inside the city. Its 10,000-hectare catchment (about one-sixth of Singapore’s total land area) is the biggest of all.

The Marina Reservoir serves as a lifestyle pull. People can enjoy year-round watersports pursuits like kayaking, sailing, waterskiing. It’s also a scenic backdrop for recreational land-based activities including picnics, cultural shows and walking tours.

“The Marina Reservoir is a source of collecting drinking water from the drains and the canals. That’s the part that a lot of citizens don’t understand. They still think that the drains are placed for them to throw things so that they can be discarded and washed away. But it’s not!” says Eugene.

Every day 10 tonnes (10,000 kg) of waste and litter flow into the Marina Reservoir from all the canals. Majority of the litter are discarded plastic bags, plastic bottles and soda cans – stuff that could have been easily thrown in rubbish bins or even recycled. While hired workers do the cleanup job, WWS volunteers supplement the effort by picking up litter scattered all over the area and, more importantly, raising awareness of the problem by educating the public.

The best way to stop pollution is at its source – people.

“Isn’t it better for us to internalize and behave the way we’re supposed to behave? We’re not asking for people to go out of their way to do something special. It’s just good social behavior and awareness,” stresses a frustrated Eugene.

Education is key. Eugene says that Singapore has emphasised so much on earning good money and living well that apathy seems to have eroded people’s sense of social responsibility.

“While it’s good to be successful in life, one also has to understand the need for social grace and kindness. We need to behave and be responsible for the surroundings that we are in, more so our environment. And you can only do that if you’re aware of the challenges ahead. Then you begin to appreciate and not take things for granted,” says Eugene, who has spent his weekends, along with WWS volunteers, rooting for rubbish along Singapore’s waterways for the past 16 years.

WWS has regular initiatives that go beyond supervision and patrol. Eugene has spearheaded many activities– such as International Coastal Clean-Up Day (Marina), Youth Bicycle Patrol, Kayak Clean-Up and the River Monster Programme – that are targeted mainly at primary and secondary school students.

In addition to his on-site work with WWS, Eugene and his team of dedicated volunteers conduct workshops and school talks (an average of one a day) to demonstrate the impact of litter and pollution on the environment, educating students, corporations and even foreign visitors.

"In our talks and workshops, we tell people, ‘You think Singapore is clean? It’s not.’ We hope to shock people, to make them ask why it’s not," he says.

Sense of achievement

Tan YanPing joined WWS five years ago as a student volunteer. After earning a business degree from the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) last year, she chose to work part-time with WWS and teach at a private kindergarten school instead of chasing a high-paying job.

“I don’t want to be stuck in the office and not know what’s going on (in the outside world),” she says.

YanPing, 25, feels that working for WWS gives her a sense of achievement and pride.

“It’s passion for volunteer work that keeps me going (because) if you compare the salary to outside companies, it’s definitely lower,” she says without a tinge of regret.

WWS is a growing NGO, so youngsters like her, she believes, have a chance to change habits and perceptions by working towards a common goal – keep the waterways clean.

Being able to educate the youth, especially children as young as kindergarten age, on the perils of not caring for the environment is important to her.

“We try to show them ways to be more socially responsible for the environment. We share with them water stories (mostly through pictures) about the reservoirs in Singapore and how humans impact our environment and our waterways,” she says. “We also use more games and take them (on short trips) to see for themselves whether Singapore is clean.”

She hopes that by emphasising habit-forming solutions like practicing the three Rs (Reuse, Reduce and Recycle) as well as picking up their own litter, and not being dependent on cleaners will allow them to be more aware of their carbon footprint.

She shares Eugene’s sentiment that cleanliness is not inherent in Singapore. Residents want a clean environment but they’re just not interested or concerned to do their part.

“We always see a lot of litter on the streets (scattered) around dustbins. They can’t be bothered to even throw litter inside the dustbin,” continues YanPing, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in education. “This is a classic example of how inconsiderate people can get.”

Prevention is better than cure

Of late, WWS has been tasked to be the watchdog for the Punggol Reservoir and its surroundings. Punggol was once a rural district dotted with farmhouses, poultry and pig farms. Under the government’s Punggol 21-Plus plan (a.k.a. Punggol New Town), there are plans to develop the area into a residential waterfront housing estate. An estimated 50,000 residents are expected to move in and live there, literally, by the side of the 4.2-km Punggol waterways.

Currently, WWS volunteers are on boat patrol, bike patrol and kayak patrol to monitor the surroundings and pick up rubbish.

“The potential problem we see is the people. The more people you have around there’s always a strong likelihood you’ll sight more litter. Our challenge again is: will they behave and appreciate what they have, or are they just all going to enjoy and leave their litter behind? It’s quite a scary thought,” says Eugene.

Eugene hopes that with WWS’ presence in Punggol, residents will be encouraged to take greater pride in looking after their district, not only their houses but also the surrounding parks, shopping centres and other communal places they all enjoy.

“The government cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone,” he says. “The least you could do is not contribute to litter. It goes back to the philosophy prevention is better than cure. Because at the end of it, everyone benefits.”

By Debbie Reyes-Coloma

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Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

Those who want to be among the first to see the rare dinosaur skeletons at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can now book tickets.

Singapore's first and only dedicated natural history museum will open its doors on April 28, and tickets go on sale in advance from today.

They will not be on sale at the door but only via ticketing agent Sistic.

This is to help with crowd control, as only up to 300 guests are allowed in for each of the six daily sessions at the museum, which is located next to the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Tickets cost up to $20 for adults and $12 for children aged three to 12. For Singaporeans and permanent residents, tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children.

Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new museum.

Prince and Apollo are adults and Twinky is a baby. They were found together and could well be a family.

Prince is the biggest at 4m tall and 27m long, while Twinky is the smallest at 12m long.

The museum acquired them in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The skeletons are more than 80 per cent complete - a rarity as far as dinosaur discoveries go.

In all, visitors will get to see 2,000 specimens, including leopard cats that have undergone taxidermy and a rare 200-year- old tusk of a narwhal, a marine mammal known as the "unicorn of the ocean".

The opening of the 7,500 sq m museum will bring to fruition more than five years of labour by NUS professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng, who led efforts to build such a facility and helped to raise $46 million for it in 2010.

The building fund came largely from the Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million.

Before 2010, there had long been calls for Singapore to have its own stand-alone natural history museum to showcase its rich natural heritage, especially after animal and plant exhibits from the old National Museum made way for art and ethnographic displays.

At the new natural history museum, a 2,000 sq m space open to the public will house a biodiversity gallery and a heritage gallery.

The main biodiversity gallery, where the dinosaur skeletons are located, takes up the first floor. It is arranged thematically and will have sections on marine cycles, mammals and fungi.

While the museum has a strong South-east Asian focus, the prehistoric era when dinosaurs roamed the earth is not neglected, said museum curator Marcus Chua, 31. "The dinosaurs and model of the dodo in the museum are reminders of extinction."

Not all of the museum's exhibits are extinct or dead - there will be live scorpions in the biodiversity gallery's arthropod section and mudskippers in the fish section.

Visitors can observe animals rarely encountered in the wild in a naturalistic setting, said Mr Chua.

Just above the biodiversity hall is the heritage gallery, which showcases the pioneers of Singapore's nature scene, such as ornithologist Guy Charles Madoc - a Briton who illicitly completed An Introduction To Malayan Birds while incarcerated at Changi Prison during World War II.

NUS life sciences undergraduate Randolph Quek, 24, cannot wait to see the dinosaur skeletons.

"As an ecology student, I also want to check out the other specimens," he said.

"Apart from watching documentaries, the museum is a good way to get people aware of the biodiversity we have here."

What visitors need to know

Opening hours
10am to 7pm from Tuesdays to Sundays, and on all public holidays

Standard rates
Adult: $20
Child (three to 12 years old): $12

Local resident rates (Singaporeans and PRs)
Adult: $15
Child (three to 12 years old), student, senior citizen, full-time national serviceman, person with disabilities: $8
NUS staff and students: Free. Admission subject to availability, prior booking must be made on a website which will be set up.

Tickets can be bought up to one month in advance and will be sold only through Sistic at or at authorised counters.
Tickets will not be sold at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
Tickets are sold for 1½ -hour sessions, starting from 10am.

Last admission is at 5.30pm.
Selfie sticks are not allowed in the museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will open its doors on April 28 and tickets go on sale from today via Sistic. Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new facility.

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Former islanders ask to return to Pulau Sudong for a day

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

An aerial view of Pulau Sudong, whose bountiful waters once provided a livelihood for the villagers and fishermen who lived there.

For about 150 former islanders from Pulau Sudong, their dying wish is to return to its sandy shores and breathe in the familiar salty air of the sea once again.

These Singaporeans, who grew up on the island and largely depended on its bountiful waters for their livelihood, left for the mainland when it was turned into a military zone for live-firing exercises in the 1980s.

Last month, the former islanders, many of whom are in their 60s and 70s, signed a petition to indicate their desire to return home for a day.

It was sent to their MP, Mr S. Iswaran, earlier this month. Most of them have lived in the West Coast since the late 1970s, after the Government rehoused them in Housing Board flats there.

On Wednesday, Mr Iswaran said he had done an informal check with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and found that there could be safety concerns. "Nevertheless, I have conveyed the request to Mindef for consideration and reply," he said.

Mindef told The Straits Times that it received the petition the same day, and it is "evaluating the request".

Its spokesman added: "Pulau Sudong is a restricted military training area used for live firing and manoeuvring. (The) public is advised to keep clear of this island for safety concerns."

Former resident Awang Chekek, 63, misses the island way of life. The last time he was in Pulau Sudong was in 1978, he said.

In its heyday, the island was home to hundreds of villagers, according to some researchers. Residents lived in stilted kampung homes that snaked across the shoreline of the 209ha isle.

Mr Awang said it is hard to forget their days as fishermen. He said: "If we had the chance to step on the island again, everyone would be very happy."

Photographers Edwin Koo, 36, Zakaria Zainal, 30, and Juliana Tan, 25, helped the former islanders put the petition together.

The trio are doing a project called Island Nation, which documents life on 12 of Singapore's Southern Islands.

They approached Mindef in January for permission to film a documentary featuring a handful of former islanders for their irememberSG fund project.

Subsequently, they found out through their interactions with islanders such as Mr Awang that many yearn to return to their old home.

The photographers then drew up a list of former island dwellers and organised a reunion for them on West Coast beach last month, where they signed the petition after a day of catching up and reminiscing.

The Island Nation team later sent the petition to Mr Iswaran. In their e-mail to him, the team also attached an endorsement letter from the Singapore Memory Project requesting access to Pulau Sudong.

Mr Koo said: "Most of the islanders are resigned to their fate... but we hope we can help them fulfil their wish, to have Pulau Sudong opened up to them just for a day.

"We are also requesting to document their journey, to complete our history annals."

Speaking in Malay, former islander Rosli Manan, 51, said in an interview with the trio that he hopes Mindef can grant their request. "We hope they will agree... even if it's for just two to three hours... I would get to step on the island again after 38 years."

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Deep-sea robots set to make waves

The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

The stingray glides gently through the water, propelled by flexible wings. But much as it looks like the real thing, this prototype is actually a $1,000 robot developed to collect data on the surroundings, including water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.

Our waters could soon be monitored by such stingrays, and other fleets of robots that roam the sky and sea, to study climate change better or help prevent the deadly algae blooms which have been plaguing local fish farmers.

The idea is to provide constant surveillance of the seas at low cost, using little energy.

The stingrays, for instance, could be equipped with sensors and deployed in large numbers to help detect harmful algae blooms and measure their chemistry. Getting such data would help scientists to better understand the deadly blooms and find ways to mitigate their effects.

"That is better because instead of having information once a month for a couple of hours, you can have a constant data stream over a period of time," says Dr Pablo Valdivia y Alvarado, the lead researcher behind the stingray.

The stingray's ability to move in a wave-like motion also causes less disturbance in the water.

"We hope to understand the environment as it is, so the less disturbance we inflict while measuring the water, the better," he explains.

Data about the oceans is usually gathered by satellites, buoys and research ships, but such methods can be expensive. So countries around the world are experimenting with drones, which can work around the clock - and cheaply - to provide information on marine life.

The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart), which is developing the robots, recently came up with one inspired by the octopus and its jet propulsion swimming technique.

Made from a strong polycarbonate skeleton covered by a thin elastic membrane, the 27cm-long robot fills with water and shoots it out to propel itself.

It can travel at up to 2.7 metres per second (10kmh) with minimum energy and turbulence.

Professor Michael Triantafyllou, a principal investigator at Smart's Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modeling, led the research.

When studying plankton blooms, he notes, it is important that marine robots can move quickly in water.

"The plankton can move swiftly with the currents at sea. That's why we want to invent robots that can move faster so they can follow the algae blooms."

The speed and movement of the stingray and octopus could be incorporated into existing underwater vehicles and kayaks in two years, he believes.

"We know now the laws of physics to go about doing it."

He estimates that it will be five more years before these vehicles can go out into the ocean.

Understanding the science behind algae blooms has become particularly important.

While some of them produce toxins that can kill, others discolour water, foul beaches, or cause drinking water and fish to taste bad.
Yet others clog the gills of fish or smother corals and vegetation.

Such blooms, which are difficult to predict and can explode at any time, have wiped out fish stocks in Singapore several times in recent years. This includes a particularly serious hit last month, which wiped out more than 500 tonnes of fish in farms off Changi and Lim Chu Kang.

Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute has used Smart's robots to collect data on harmful algae blooms, and is working with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore on another study to understand plankton blooms.

The octopus robot is so fast it can also be used to follow dolphins for quick observation, or even inspect thermal vents safely in the mid-ocean ridges, says Prof Triantafyllou.

A research engineer at the environmental centre, Mr Vignesh Subramaniam, says: "Currently, no autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) can achieve this ultra-fast performance except for torpedoes which require a lot of fuel... Future AUVs and other marine vehicles can adopt this mechanism to help them evade threats or track something fast and stealthily underwater without the need for much energy."

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Malaysia wants regional push against wildlife trafficking

The Star 31 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia is setting the groundwork for an Asean push against wildlife trafficking during its tenure as chairman of the regional grouping.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said international collaboration was needed in tackling the trafficking of endangered and protected wildlife, which had become increa­singly linked to other illegal activities affecting security and stability.

“This is not a problem impacting just one country or region. It is a global scourge,” he said after launching the first Asean workshop on combating wildlife trafficking at Tuaran near here yesterday.

The three-day meeting, he said, was the first of its kind under the Asean Regional Forum – Asia’s biggest security gathering – and would provide for sustained political support in tackling wildlife trafficking.

It is also among seven initiatives that Malaysia is co-hosting to address non-traditional security challenges affecting the region, including humanitarian assistance, disaster response as well as combating terrorism and extremism.

“We need to collaborate. One country increasing its assets in tackling this problem is not enough.

“This forum brings experts together. We want them to tell us what needs to be done,” added Anifah.

On Chief Judge of Borneo Tan Sri Richard Malanjum’s suggestion for stiffer penalties against poachers and wildlife traffickers, Anifah said he agreed with it.

“But at the same time, we have to recognise that despite harsh penalties such as the death sentence for drug trafficking, the problem still persists. We need to tackle this comprehensively,” he said.

This was the first such forum, said Anifah, that Malaysia was collaborating with the United States, which was represented by its Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment Catherine Novelli.

Also present was US Ambassador Joseph Yun.

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Indonesia and Malaysia compete over joint office for haze

Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post 31 Mar 15;

Indonesia is in a race with Malaysia for leadership of the upcoming ASEAN secretariat that will coordinate efforts to reduce transboundary air pollution caused by land and forest fires in the region.

“We are competing with Malaysia over this center. We want it to be here instead of in Kuala Lumpur,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the House of Representatives Commission IV on Monday.

During the meeting with the commission, which oversees agriculture, plantations, maritime affairs, fisheries and food, Siti assured lawmakers the Indonesian government was making all the necessary preparations for gaining approval to host the center from all ASEAN countries.

“We have also asked the Foreign Ministry to help in the effort,” she said.

The government’s proposal quickly gained support at the House due to the benefits it would bring to the country’s efforts to battle haze.

The establishment of the ASEAN coordinating center on transboundary haze pollution is required by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that Indonesia ratified in September last year.

As the last signatory, the government proposed to take charge of the joint secretariat that will coordinate information, reports and policies needed to address the problems raised by transboundary haze pollution in the region.

Indonesia adopted the decades-old haze treaty following pressure from neighboring countries over serial forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, which got worse in June last year due to the spread of haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia.

The agreement was originally initiated as a response to an environmental crises in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s that caused estimated losses of US$9 billion due to health care problems, disruption of air travel and other business activities.

Before Indonesia finally ratified the treaty, Singapore, which has experienced the worsening impact of haze on its citizens and businesses, also increased its efforts to curb rampant haze and forest fires by introducing a law that punishes companies responsible for forest fires and spreading haze to the country.

Environment and Forestry Ministry’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said Indonesia would be greatly benefited by hosting the coordinating center.

“We would eventually be able to develop our own center to handle forest fires at home due to the transfer of information, data and expertise inherited by the joint center,” he said.

Arief added that the ASEAN coordinating center would be located at the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s headquarters in West Jakarta.

Upon the establishment of the center, the haze treaty requires signatory countries to jointly finance its operations through fundraising.

Arief added that as host of the center, Indonesia would be required to provide the overhead funds.

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Indonesia: Cracks in Jakarta's sea wall project

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 30 Mar 15;

EACH morning, crab-catcher Cartum, who goes by a single name, warily eyes the scaffolding of a dyke under construction at the edge of Jakarta Bay as he climbs into his boat to head out to sea.

The dyke on the city's northern edge marks the start of a giant sea wall the Jakarta authorities hope will tame rising sea levels and ease annual flooding in the low-lying city of 18 million people.

Not everyone is happy about the sea wall, which is estimated to cost more than 300 trillion rupiah (S$31.6 billion) once completed. It will be Indonesia's most expensive development project, combining roads, bridges and reclamation for residential and business areas.

Fishermen like Mr Cartum, 33, say they will have to go farther out to sea and spend more on diesel once it is completed.

"If they don't go ahead, it's good for me," he said during a recent interview at his home.

Well, he may get some respite.

The fate of the sea wall is now uncertain after Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti stepped in to say the project initiated by the Jakarta municipal government needs her endorsement.

She also wants a guarantee that construction of the dam and reclaimed areas will be completed. Some say the scheme is economically not feasible.

The 34km sea wall and reclamation will cover 5,100ha and, viewed from a plane, would resemble the giant mythical Garuda bird, a central feature of Indonesia's national emblem.

The outer wall and reclamation along it will resemble wings, while reclaimed land in the centre will be the body and tail of the bird.

In total, 17 artificial islets and several lagoons will be created.

Urban planning analyst Yayat Supriatna said since this project is within a coastal area, Ms Susi's ministry must give its consent. "Otherwise, the project would be legally flawed," he said.

The standoff between the national and local governments risks the sea wall ending up like several other major infrastructure projects in which construction has either ground to a halt, such as the monorail in central Jakarta, or shelved after years of discussion, such as the 30km Sunda Strait Bridge to link Java and Sumatra islands.

Observers say the sea wall is different and is seen as an urgent fix for the Indonesian capital, which is becoming more vulnerable to rising seas and flooding every year. The city is also sinking in some areas because of large-scale ground water extraction.

The weight of large numbers of high-rise buildings is pressing down on the soft soil on which the city is built, making it harder for rivers to flow freely to the sea.

"Jakarta is sinking fast. North Jakarta is sinking at a speed of 7.5cm per year, in some locations more than 26cm per year," Mr Ad Sannen, a senior consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch firm providing technical assistance for the project, told The Straits Times.

"Most of North Jakarta is already below sea level. In 25 years' time, the streets will be several metres below sea level."

Jakarta is criss-crossed by 13 rivers. During the monsoon season, some rivers burst their banks, flooding densely populated communities. The sea wall is meant to prevent coastal flooding and aid the drainage of the rivers into a series of artificial lagoons.

Pumps will keep the water in the lagoons at a lower level than the sea outside the wall, allowing the rivers to flow more freely through the city.

Some have voiced concerns the lagoons would become heavily polluted from the dirty, litter-strewn river water.

But Mr Imam Santoso, director of rivers and beaches at the Public Works Ministry, told The Straits Times that the floodwaters would be filtered before entering the lagoons. "Otherwise, it would be a total mess."

Engineers say greater efforts are needed to clean up the rivers before the water reaches the coast.

Mr Sannen said drainage canals and Jakarta Bay are filled with very thick layers of contaminated sludge. "One strategy is to do waste-water treatment, at the same time as dredging work."

And if water quality in the lagoons becomes a problem, then they could be aerated and flushed out with clean water from the sea by opening a series of gates, he added.

The idea of a giant sea wall was first mooted in 1994 by former Jakarta governor Soerjadi Soedirdja, but it has taken two decades for construction to begin because of problems with funding and land-clearance licences.

Seven private real estate giants have been granted building permits by the Jakarta government for the project.

The municipal government will get 5 per cent of every square metre of reclaimed land created by the private developers, and has promised to set aside that amount for building housing for fishermen and other social projects.

"The ministry's main concern is that the welfare of the thousands of fishermen in the area will not be affected and that there must be a plan for these fishermen if they have to be relocated," said Mr Yayat.

Green groups have also expressed concerns.

Mr Mukri Priatna, a national campaign manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, offered an alternative solution: Go back to nature and plant mangroves.

"If they are so insistent on having a concrete wall and posh residential areas, then their objective is money, not building a coastal flood-defence system as they claimed," he told The Straits Times.

The frustrated Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama told reporters: "When a minister and a provincial governor have a disagreement, what should we do? I will propose the President step in and make the decision."

Mr Yayat doubts President Joko Widodo can break the impasse as he, too, has to comply with laws.

At present, only a 70m section of the 5m-high dyke in Pluit sub-district of north Jakarta has been built. If the impasse is not resolved, its scaffolding could join other symbols of failed projects.

For some, the giant sea wall is the answer to easing their annual flood misery.

Ms Tri Asih, 40, a mother with two daughters who lives near the coast, said: "That would guarantee we would not see floods for decades ahead."

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Vietnam: Ca Mau people plant trees to patch sea dykes

Ca Mau residents are planting trees to reinforce sea dykes to deal with climate change.
VietNamNet Bridge 30 Mar 15;

Ca Mau province suffers most from climate change. The locality faces the sea on three sides with a total coastline of 254 kilometers, which is equal to 1/3 of the total coastline of the Mekong River Delta.

The land erosion tends to become more serious in recent years, which has made the coastal protective forests become more narrow.

The land at the mouth of the My Binh rivulet in Phu Tan Commune of Phu Tan District has seriously eroded. The sea waves now can crash onto the foot of the dyke.

Many mangrove trees have been uprooted, lying on the ground, while land has been “swallowed” day by day by sea water.

Local residents said the land area would go away with the “sea-gods” soon.

Landslides occur with most of the estuaries. Tran Anh Le, who lives near the Cai Cam sea mouth, said the danger of landslides is hanging over her head, but she still does not know where to go.

Tran Van Tu in Tan Thuan Commune of Dam Doi District said the situation was also very bad on the east coast.

“Locals have been leaving their homes over the last five years,” he said. “The situation is better in Dong Hai of Bac Lieu province, where dykes have been strengthened.”

A survey conducted recently by the Ca Mau provincial Irrigation Sub-department showed that coastal erosion is serious in four areas with a total length of 40 kilometers.

Ca Mau provincial authorities have been trying to build dykes to prevent sea waves to prevent the landslide.

However, as the dykes are built with locally existing materials, they cannot bring the designed effects. The dykes can deteriorate within several years of establishment.

Nguyen Long Hoai, head of the Ca Mau provincial Irrigation Sub-department, said the province had been trying to settle the problem with a new dyke system.

About 300 meters of underground dykes have been built on a trial basis in U Minh District. The dyke can prevent waves from a long distance, while allowing sea water to bring alluvium into the area beyond the dyke, thus enriching the soil.

He said the trial plan has brought initial satisfactory results. Mam trees, or Avicennia spp, have been restored very rapidly, helping repair the landslide and restore the coastal protective forests.

The provincial authorities are now trying to speed up the construction of dykes on the eastern and western coasts, at the most critical points with a total length of 10 kilometers.

Thien Nhien

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Vietnam rice boom heaping pressure on farmers, environment

Cat Barton AFP Yahoo News 29 Mar 15;

Rice farmer Nguyen Hien Thien is so busy growing his crops that he has never even visited Can Tho, a town only a few miles from his farm in the southern Mekong Delta.

"When I was a child, we grew one crop of rice per year -- now it's three. It's a lot of work," 60-year-old Thien, who has been farming since he was a child, told AFP on the edge of his small paddy field.

Experts say Vietnam's drive to become one of the world's leading rice exporters is pushing farmers in the fertile delta region to the brink, with mounting costs to the environment.

The communist country is already the world's second largest exporter of the staple grain. But intensive rice cultivation, particularly the shift to producing three crops per year, is taking its toll on farmers and the ecosystem.

"Politicians want to be the world's number one or two rice exporter. As a scientist, I want to see more being done to protect farmers and the environment," said Vietnamese rice expert Vo Tong Xuan.

A major famine in 1945 and food shortages in the post-war years led to the government adopting a "rice first" policy.

This now generates far more of the crop than needed to feed Vietnam's 90 million population and has catalysed a thriving export industry.

Rice yields have nearly quadrupled since the 1970s, official figures show, thanks to high-yield strains and the construction of a network of dykes that today allow farmers to grow up to three crops per year.

The amount of land under cultivation in the Mekong Delta has also expanded and quotas are in place to prevent farmers from switching to other crops.

But experts are questioning who really benefits.

According to Xuan, farmers don't reap the rewards of the three crop system -- the rice is low quality and they spend more on pesticides and fertilisers, which become less effective year by year.

- Falling quality -

He argues the delta would be better off if farmers cultivated a more diverse range of crops, from coconuts to prawns, with just the most suitable land used to grow rice.

The country should consider abandoning the third crop and focus on improving quality and branding to sell Vietnamese rice at higher prices, he said.

Currently, the bulk of Vietnam's rice is exported at cut-price costs on government-to-government contracts through large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like the Southern Food Corporation, known as Vinafood 2.

"Over the last five years, the trend is towards lower-quality rice," admitted Le Huu Trang, deputy office manager at the firm.

Some argue that such SOEs have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as they earn lucrative kickbacks from the huge contracts.

But even as salt water intrusion, drought and flooding increase in the delta -- to say nothing of agricultural chemical pollution -- it is also hard to convince farmers to change.

"The prevailing mindset is to grow three crops... we have to explain two crops is better," said Nguyen Tuan Hiep from the Co Do Agriculture company.

Over the last 20 years, Co Do -- which is state-run but a flagship model of how the industry could evolve -- has identified the best rice-growing land in the delta and helped farmers expand their farms.

They now work with 2,500 families on 5,900 hectares (14,600 acres) of land, enough for each family to make a living -- typically the average rice farm in the delta spans less than one hectare.

The firm invests heavily in high-quality seeds and improving irrigation, while also advising farmers on the best chemicals to use.

"Two crops is more sustainable long term -- the soil is not degraded, the environment isn't polluted, and value of the rice increases," Hiep said.

- 'Ground zero' -

Climate change is another factor threatening the delta, according to the World Bank Group's vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte.

"This is really ground zero for some of the most difficult adaptation, planning challenges that any country in the world has," she said.

Ultimately Vietnam has tough choices to make, including whether to help people transition from a rice-based economy to aquaculture (fish or shellfish farming) or other crops, Kyte added.

The environmental costs of maintaining Vietnam's current level of rice production are also rising.

The system of dykes, which blocks flood water, are preventing soil nutrients from flowing freely and over time "soil fertility will fade", said Tran Ngoc Thac, deputy director of Vietnam's Rice Research Institute.

Scientists there are busy trying to breed new strains of rice that require fewer fertilisers and can survive in extreme weather.

"If farmers don't change, if we can't find a suitable new rice strain, pollution will continue and incomes will drop," Thac said, adding these measures were essential to save the delta.

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Despite deforestation, the world is getting greener: scientists

Alisa Tang PlanetArk 31 Mar 15;

The world's vegetation has expanded, adding nearly 4 billion tonnes of carbon to plants above ground in the decade since 2003, thanks to tree-planting in China, forest regrowth in former Soviet states and more lush savannas due to higher rainfall.

Scientists analyzed 20 years of satellite data and found the increase in carbon, despite ongoing large-scale tropical deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, according to research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.

Carbon flows between the world's oceans, air and land. It is present in the atmosphere primarily as carbon dioxide (CO2) - the main climate-changing gas - and stored as carbon in trees.

Through photosynthesis, trees convert carbon dioxide into the food they need to grow, locking the carbon in their wood.

The 4-billion-tonne increase is minuscule compared to the 60 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning and cement production over the same period, said Yi Liu, the study's lead author and a scientist at the University of New South Wales.

"From this research, we can see these plants can help absorb some carbon dioxide, but there's still a lot of carbon dioxide staying in the atmosphere," Liu said by telephone from Sydney.

"If we want to stabilize the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - and avoid the consequent impacts - it still requires us to reduce fossil fuel emissions."

Liu, who specializes in observing the water cycle including rainfall and soil moisture, used a new technique of collecting satellite data on radio frequency radiation naturally emitted by the Earth to calculate the amount of vegetation in a given area.

Before, scientists measured vegetation through satellite images and other techniques, looking at canopy greenness and plant height, he said.

Liu had expected to find increased forests in China, which has had tree-planting projects for two to three decades, as well as on abandoned farmland in former Soviet countries.

But he was surprised to discover the large expansion in vegetation due to higher rainfall on tropical savannas and shrublands in Australia, Africa and South America.

These fragile gains may be easily lost, as weather patterns shift with climate change, he warned.

"Savannas and shrublands are vulnerable to rainfall - one year can be very wet, and more carbon will be fixed in plants, but the next year can be very dry, and then we will lose the carbon fixed in previous years," Liu explained.

Louis Verchot, a research director at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, said Liu's findings were "by and large what we would expect in the warmer and wetter world that results from climate change".

"As ice and permafrost melt, they are being replaced by vegetation, and the tree line is moving north as the Arctic warms," he said by email.

Vegetation growth is also expected to increase due to rising CO2 in the atmosphere, known as the "CO2 fertilization effect".

Verchot said the value of Liu's study was that it put a number on the contribution of vegetation to moderating greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.

"Hopefully this will lead to greater efforts to stop tropical forest loss and to promote sustainable use of ecosystems in ways that preserve enough of the carbon absorption function as we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning," Verchot added.

(Editing by Megan Rowling)

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Climate change could disturb marine life for millennia

AFP Yahoo News 31 Mar 15;

Miami (AFP) - Climate change may lead to disturbances in marine life that will take thousands of years to recover from, not hundreds of years as previously thought, researchers said Monday.

The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is based on a section of fossilized ocean fauna found on the seafloor off the coast of California dating to between 3,400 and 16,100 years ago.

Researchers sliced up the sediment like a cake for a before-and-after glimpse of how creatures were affected by climate change during the last major deglaciation, when polar ice caps melted abruptly and low oxygen zones expanded in the ocean.

Ice melt and ocean dead zones are an increasing concern today, as scientists study the warming planet and trends that are driven by the burning of fossil fuels that send greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Researchers analyzed more than 5,400 invertebrate fossils, such as sea urchins and clams, and found that they "nearly disappeared from the record during those times of low oxygen," according to the study.

Levels of oxygen in the ocean dropped by between 0.5 and 1.5 milliliters per liter over a period of less than 100 years, a relatively minor changes that resulted in "dramatic changes and reorganizations for seafloor communities," the study said.

Climate change in the future could have similar effects, and could take a similar time scale for ocean life to rebound, on the order of thousands, not hundreds of years, the researchers said.

"There's not a recovery we have to look forward to in my lifetime or my grandchildren's lifetime," said lead author Sarah Moffitt, a scientist from the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at the University of California, Davis.

"It's a gritty reality we need to face as scientists and people who care about the natural world and who make decisions about the natural world."

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 15

Walk at the Venus Loop
from The Green Beans

Pellets from Tuas: 7. Black-shouldered Kite hunting mice
from Bird Ecology Study Group

APRIL suspends contractor after environmentalists expose ongoing deforestation
from news by Rhett Butler

Black Eeltail Catfish (Plotosus canius) @ Pasir Ris
from Monday Morgue

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New fire safety rule for solar panels

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Mar 15;

New regulations on fire safety and the installation of solar panels, including those on rooftops, will soon be unveiled.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) confirmed to The Sunday Times it will issue a circular to the industry next month that specifies the new rules.

They include requiring buildings to have at least two exit staircases from the rooftop before solar panels can be installed there, to aid firefighting efforts.

The new rules were first reported by website Eco-Business, and the SCDF said they will take effect six months after the circular is issued and apply only to new solar panel installations and not completed ones.

The SCDF said if there are physical challenges in making a building compliant, building managers can propose other fire safety measures, and it will review them.

Currently, rooftop access of many buildings is via cat ladders, which are usually narrow and cannot accommodate the transport of equipment.

Assistant Commissioner Christopher Tan, director of SCDF's fire safety and shelter department, said existing ladders to rooftops are for maintenance works.

"We don't believe they are robust or strong enough for firefighters carrying equipment, especially if you have a few firefighters climbing up.

"Speed of access is another consideration," he told The Sunday Times.

With solar systems becoming more widespread here and larger in scale, the new fire safety rules are needed, said the SCDF.

Solar energy companies here, however, are decrying one of the upcoming new rules, which they said could cripple the growing use of solar power in Singapore.

While they recognised that safety is paramount, they noted that solar panel fires are rare worldwide. There are also less onerous means of ensuring firefighters' access to rooftops, such as by installing or widening existing ladders, they added.

A main concern cited by the industry is whether buildings can be retrofitted to have the staircases, since building designers would have maximised the use of their designated space.

Even where such retrofitting is possible, the staircases will add 10 per cent to 50 per cent to the cost of solar panel systems, making them too expensive and unattractive compared with just tapping the national grid for electricity, the firms said.

Solar power has been more widely used in Singapore only in recent years, after prices of solar panels fell, making the cost of solar power competitive with that of drawing electricity from the grid.

Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris), said: "These proposed measures would go beyond what is practised in other countries where solar power has been deployed in large quantities."

Seris, the national institute for applied solar research, said it was not involved in drafting the proposed rules. Seris and several of the largest solar energy firms here - including REC, which has a plant in Tuas - said they learnt of the new rules only recently, though some less onerous rules were proposed to some of the firms last July.

The SCDF said it had consulted the Fire Code Review Committee and the SCDF Fire Safety Standing Committee before drawing up the rules, which also include safety standards for solar panels.

The committees include representatives from the Building and Construction Authority, Housing Board, groups such as the Singapore Institute of Architects, Institution of Engineers Singapore, Institution of Fire Engineers Singapore, and universities here.

The solar energy firms called for more consultation with the industry, and a task force comprising the authorities, the firms and more neutral experts such as Seris, which has acted as a mediator between the industry and the SCDF in the past month, to look into best practices globally.

Said Dr Reindl: "The safety of solar panel systems is a crucial pillar in making solar power a reliable and trusted source of energy in Singapore.

"We believe we can summarise the lessons learnt from other countries and apply international best practices to... Singapore, to come up with effective but reasonable measures."

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Indonesian government must protect pig-nosed turtles from extinction

Otniel Tamindael Antara 28 Mar 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As the illegal trade of wildlife continues to flourish, the government needs to work harder to crack down on pet trade to protect the endangered pig-nosed turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) from extinction.

Pig-nosed turtles are in constant danger of both human and environmental threats, as a result of which their population continues to decline. Therefore, the government needs to take measures to prevent smugglers from capturing these animals.

On Wednesday, the Bakauheni seaport police in South Lampung district, Lampung province, foiled an attempt to smuggle 41 pig-nosed turtles.

The protected pitted-shelled turtles were discovered in a truck with police plate BH 8888 GU, which was en route from Jambi province in Sumatra Island to Jakarta, according to Chief of the Bakauheni seaport police Adjunct Commissioner Feria Kurniawan.

"Even though these turtles are not categorized as protected and endangered animals, they cannot be transported without legal documents. Therefore, we seized them," he remarked.

Kurniawan noted that the seized turtles were then handed over to the Bakauheni-based agricultural quarantine office.

According to the police chief, they were able to prevent the attempt to smuggle the undocumented animals due to the routine checks carried out at the Seaport Interdiction.

He added that the sender of the turtles was identified as Aping, a resident of Jambi province, while the person receiving them was identified as Aken, a resident of Jakarta.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, reported on its website in October 2014 that intensive illegal collection of the vulnerable pig-nosed turtles as pets, food, and for traditional medicine has reached an alarming level.

It said that the pig-nosed turtle was protected under a national legislation and listed under appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, which restricts international trade in wild-caught creatures.

A 2011 study of the pig-nosed Turtles in Papua found that the species was suffering a severe decline in population due to overharvesting.

The latest study found that pig-nosed turtle eggs are collected from river banks by villagers, who incubate them in hatcheries before selling the young turtles into the global traditional medicine and pet trades.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 million eggs are collected every year, although it is believed that current figures may be considerably higher and are continuing to rise.

Minimal law enforcement at the source allows such practices to continue unhindered, which leads to the exploitation of these turtles even along remote waterways.

Moreover, international demand for the turtles is also reportedly increasing. Survey respondents spoke of companies drying and grinding the turtles into powder to supply traditional medicine markets in China and Hong Kong and of the growing online marketplace for live pig-nosed Turtles.

More than 30 seizures, amounting to more than 80 thousand individual pig-nosed turtles, took place between 2003 and 2013.

They included a massive single seizure in 2009 of 12,247 pig-nosed turtles in Timika, Papua.

More recently, 8,368 animals were discovered in several suitcases in connected seizures in Papua and Jakarta in January 2014.

"Urgent law enforcement measures are needed in Papua province to target middlemen operating in rural communities," Regional Director of TRAFFIC, Southeast Asia, Chris Shepherd emphasized.

"We also recommend monitoring ports such as Agats, Merauke, Timika, Jayapura and Jakarta, and increasing enforcement at international points of the trade chain in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, mainland China and Hong Kong," he noted.

Furthermore, Mimika Police Chief Adjunct Senior Commissioner Mochammad Sagi confirmed that some 10,908 pig-nosed turtles were released into their habitat in the Wania river, Paumako harbor, Mimika Timur district, Papua province, in that last few years.

"We released them into the Wania river in Paumako harbor," he affirmed, adding that pig-nosed turtles are protected under Law Number 5/1990 on Natural Resources and Ecosystems Conservation.

The Mimika police had foiled an attempt to smuggle out the 10,908 pig-nosed turtles from Timika in 2010, and arrested two people identified by their initials as A and YW.

The police had raided YWs house in the Kamoro SP1 Timika area and seized the pig-nosed turtles after receiving a tip-off from local people.

The turtles had been poached in the Asmat region and were supposed to be transported to Jakarta.

In addition, PT Freeport Indonesia, which engages in tin, gold and silver mining operations in Mimika district, still plays a key role in the preservation of fauna and flora, including releasing the rare pig-nosed turtles.

Spokesman for PT Freeport, Ramdani Sirait said that the mining company continued its efforts towards preserving the rare animals by facilitating their release into their natural habitat in Papua.

He noted that the task was carried out by Freeport in cooperation with the Animal Saving Center Network (JPPS) in Cikananga, Sukabumi, West Java, and the Directorate General of Forestry Protection and Natural Conservation of the Forestry Ministry.

The pig-nosed turtle, also known as the pitted-shelled turtle or the fly river turtle, is a species of turtle native to northern Australia and southern New Guinea.

This species is the only living member of genus Carettochelys, subfamily Carettochelyinae and family Carettochelyidae, although several extinct carettochelyid species have been described from around the world.

The pig-nosed turtle is unlike any other species of freshwater turtles. Their feet are flippers, resembling those of marine turtles, and their nose resembles that of a pig, with nostrils that end in a fleshy snout, hence the common name.

The carapace is typically grey or olive, with a leathery texture, while the plastron is cream-colored.

Males can be distinguished from females by their longer and narrower tails.

Unlike the soft-shelled turtles of the Trionychidae family, pig-nosed turtles retain a domed, bony carapace beneath their leathery skin, rather than a flat plate.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Mar 15

A Photo Guide to the ID of Large Hawk Cuckoo
from Con Foley Photography

A look of the Top 20 birds of 1986 and 2015 By Lim Kim Seng
from Singapore Bird Group

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Best of our wild blogs: 28 Mar 15

Night Walk At Lower Peirce Reservoir Park (27 Mar 2015)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Asian Glossy Starlings eating Alexandra Palm fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Malaysia: Marine creatures most at risk from plastic dumped at sea

RUBEN SARIO The Star 28 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Marine researchers are once again raising the alarm about the dumping of plastic material in the sea following the death of a pilot whale that was found to have ingested 4.25kg of plastic bags.

A post-mortem on the 310kg male pilot whale found that the three compartments of its stomach were filled with 14 pieces of large plastic bags, 11 small plastic bags, 11 plastic sheets and 6m of caution tape, among others.

Also discovered in the confines of its stomach was a yellow detergent bag manufactured in Guangzhou, China, said Universiti Malaysia Sabah Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI) director Assoc Prof Dr Rossita Shapawi.

“After the pilot whale ingested these plastic bags, its stomach was blocked and it could not consume anything else. It starved to death due to the plastic,” she added.

She said it was likely that the pilot whale had mistaken the plastic bags for food.

Latest casualty: Marine researchers getting ready to conduct the post-mortem on the pilot whale assisted by UMS staff.
Latest casualty: Marine researchers getting ready to conduct the post-mortem on the pilot whale assisted by UMS staff.
Giving details to the press about the death of the whale that was estimated to be between two and three years old, she said the pilot whale was the latest casualty of the tonnes of plastic waste in the ocean.

“It is very possible that we will see more marine creatures washed ashore, given the amount of plastic out there,” she said.

She said the pilot whale, initially thought to be a risso dolphin, was discovered by a villager at Likas Bay on March 19 and subsequently taken to the BMRI where it was given round-the-clock care.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the condition of the pilot whale appeared to have improved after it was given antibiotics, painkillers, anti-­parasitic drugs, appetite stimulants, gastric protectants, multivitamins and fluid therapy.

“However, its condition suddenly deteriorated. The pilot whale vomited and died on March 25,” he said.

Sen said wildlife rangers discovered a pantropical spotted dolphin in waters off the northern Kudat district in September last year that died due to plastic ingestion.

He said green turtles were the most common creatures to die in Sabah waters for that same reason.

UMS lecturer for water quality for aqua­culture and marine pollution Dr Abentin Estim said a study last year of several beaches along the state’s west coast found 11,000 pieces of plastic bags per 100m stretch.

“The prevalence of plastic in our sea is a ­serious problem which needs to be tackled,” he said.

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Mar 15

The curse on the waters off Pasir Ris
from Water Quality in Singapore

grey-headed fish eagle squawk & flight @ SBWR - Feb 2015
from sgbeachbum

Plain Plushblue caterpillar and its attendant ant
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Why palm oil expanded, and what keeps it growing
from news

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Clay particles could help fish farmers tackle deadly plankton blooms

Method known as clay spraying may help end plankton blooms, fish deaths
CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 27 Mar 15;

Dumping clay into the water when there is a plankton bloom, like last month, when 600 tonnes of fish died, could be a lifeline for fish farmers in Singapore.

Clay flocculation, also known as clay spraying, involves the spraying of clay particles into the water so that they can bind to the plankton before they clump together and sink to the sea floor.

It is among the solutions the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore will be proposing to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) next month.

Mr Timothy Ng, the association's president, speaking to The Straits Times after a members' meeting on Tuesday, said the group will send a proposal that will also include an appeal for financial help to restart their businesses.

Fish farmers here are still reeling from the deadly plankton bloom last month and early this month, which wiped out almost all their fish stocks overnight.

While coastal farms in Changi were the most badly hit, those in Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin were not spared either.

Mr Ng said he does not know of any farmer here who has tried clay spraying. "We hope we can go on study trips to find out more about it. Currently, what we know is from the Internet," he said. "We don't want to take the risk and restart our business unless there is some confidence that these methods can work."

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's website, clay has been effectively used during "red tides" in South Korea and Japan. Red tides refer to algae blooms that turn the water red.

Experts, however, said more research needs to be done to study the effectiveness of clay in the Singapore context, and the impact it could have on marine life.

The plankton said to be the cause of the recent fish kills here is "much smaller" than the one found in the algae blooms in South Korea, said Professor Gustaaf Hallegraeff from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.

Some plankton blooms contain deadly algae which take up oxygen in the water and suffocate marine life.

"It would be difficult to quantitatively remove these minute cells by clay flocculation," he said. It should be used only as an "emergency procedure" as settling clay could have "adverse impacts" on bottom-dwelling marine life.

Associate Professor Federico Lauro from the Asian School of the Environment at the Nanyang Technological University said: "If they are planning to use natural clays, the problem is that algae is precipitated but not killed. Some of the algae can escape and still be deadly to the fish."

Another solution proposed by the farmers is to tow floating fish farms to areas with better water conditions, such as Pulau Tekong. The use of bags to store fish, and a closed containment system are two other proposed methods.

AVA said yesterday it is working with the fish farmers to recover from recent plankton blooms, and build up resilience against similar incidents in the future.

"This includes putting in place robust contingency plans and conducting contingency exercises." AVA added that it will help the farmers learn from those who have installed resilient systems.

"Farmers can also tap on AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase relevant equipment to enhance their resilience. Beyond these, we are also exploring further assistance for affected farms to restart their operations."

Last Friday, AVA met with about 10 fish farmers to discuss how they can move forward, said Mr Ng. It also shared with them possible improvements to contingency plans, such as having a colour-coded system to warn them of adverse water conditions.

Said Mr Ng: "We have to spend six months to a year growing new fish fry, with no income in between."

How workers clear dead fish

OVER 12 days, workers from NSL OilChem Waste Management went out in boats to clear away dead fish along farms in the Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin area. The firm collected 900 bags or 18 tonnes of dead fish from Feb 25 to March 5. It was among those firms engaged by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) for the clean-up after the mass fish deaths last month and early this month.

Mr Young Ying, 47, a senior manager at the company, who led the clean-up, said his 19-men team, including him, worked an average of six to seven hours each day bagging up dead fish. "When the fish started rotting, it was quite difficult to retrieve them," he said. "The tidal current contributed to the difficulty."

An AVA spokesman said its officers were present to supervise and provide assistance in the clean-up.

"Those who disposed of the dead fish on their own were told to place them in trash bags and place the bags in skid tanks at Lorong Halus jetty," she added.

A National Environment Agency spokesman said it is responsible for cleaning up public areas such as beaches and canals. It collected more than 22,000kg of dead fish from beaches at Pasir Ris, Punggol, Changi and Ubin. The fish were incinerated.


Clay solution to fish farmers' plankton woes?
Carolyn Khew My Paper AsiaOne 27 Mar 15;

Dumping clay into the water could be a lifeline for fish farmers here in the event of a plankton bloom, such as the last episode that killed 600 tonnes of fish.

Clay flocculation, also referred to as clay spraying, involves the spraying of clay particles into the water so that they can bind to the plankton before they aggregate and sink to the seabed.

It is one solution the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore will be proposing to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Timothy Ng, the association's president, told The Straits Times that it will submit the proposal in one to two weeks' time, following a members' meeting on Tuesday. The proposal will also include an appeal for financial help to restart their businesses.

Fish farmers here are still reeling from the deadly plankton blooms late last month and early this month, which wiped out almost all their fish stock overnight.

While coastal farms in Changi were most badly hit, those in Lim Chu Kang and off Pulau Ubin were not spared either.

On clay spraying, Mr Ng said he does not know of any farmer here who has tested it.

"We hope we can go on study trips to find out more about it. Currently, what we know is from the Internet," he said.

"We don't want to take the risk and restart our business unless there is some confidence that these methods can work."

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency's website, clay has been effectively used during red tides in South Korea and Japan. Red tides refer to algal blooms that turn the water red.

Experts, however, warn that more research needs to be done to study its effectiveness in the local context and the impact it could have on marine life.

The plankton said to be the cause of the recent fish deaths here is "much smaller" than the ones found in the algae blooms in South Korea, said Gustaaf Hallegraeff from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.

"It would be difficult to quantitatively remove these minute cells by clay flocculation," he said.

It should be used only as an "emergency procedure", as settling clay could have "adverse impacts" on bottom-dwelling marine life.

Federico Lauro from the Asian School of the Environment at the Nanyang Technological University added: "If they are planning to use natural clays, the problem is that algae are precipitated, but not killed. Some of the algae can escape and still be deadly to the fish."

Another solution proposed by the farmers is to tow floating fish farms to areas with better water conditions, such as off Pulau Tekong. The use of bags to store fish and a closed containment system are two other methods proposed.

AVA said yesterday it is working with the fish farmers to recover and build up resilience against similar incidents in future.
"This includes putting in place robust contingency plans and conducting contingency exercises," said AVA.

It added that it will help the farmers learn from those who have installed resilient systems.

"Farmers can also tap on AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to purchase relevant equipment to enhance their resilience. Beyond these, we are also exploring further assistance for affected farms to restart their operations."

Last Friday, AVA met about 10 fish farmers to discuss how they can move forward, said Mr Ng.

The authority shared with them possible improvements to contingency plans, such as having a colour-coded system to warn them of adverse water conditions.

Stressing the importance of financial help, Mr Ng said: "We have to spend six months to a year growing new fish fry with no income in between."

He added that fish feed usually makes up about 60 per cent of operating costs.

Last year, the Government co-funded a portion of the cost needed to help farmers buy fish fry and new equipment to strengthen their resilience.

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Domestic recycling rate dips to 19 per cent despite 'go green' push

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Mar 15;

Singapore residents are recycling less despite the push to encourage people to go green, including equipping each public housing block with a recycling bin.

The domestic recycling rate fell to 19 per cent last year from 22 per cent in 2010, the National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times. The drop was largely due to a 30 per cent increase in food waste output over the period, NEA said.

Food waste in the domestic sector is not segregated for recycling. But if placed with other recyclables, it would contaminate the lot, which the public waste collector then has to toss out.

Singapore Environment Council (SEC) lead environmental engineer Kavickumar Muruganathan said: "Contamination of recyclables reduces the recyclability and quality of the materials, and this will lead to the reduction in the value of the recyclables."

The overall dip in the domestic recycling rate has caused concern among environmentalists, who say more needs to be done to engage and educate residents.

Since last September, every Housing Board block has a blue recycling bin, in which people put paper, plastics and other recyclables, placed close by. Before the initiative began in 2011, one bin was shared by five blocks. In January last year, the HDB said it will install recycling chutes in all new HDB blocks with throw points on each floor. This came on the heels of an encouraging pilot in Punggol.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of green group Waterways Watch Society, said infrastructure will not solve the problem.
"Education is a slow process - if people are not aware of the benefits of recycling, there is no incentive for them to do so," he said.

The recycling framework must also be robust enough to assure people that their efforts to recycle are not wasted.

Last month's incident, in which waste collection firm Veolia was found to have mixed items meant for recycling with rubbish for incineration, would not help, said Mr Eugene Tay, founder and director of consultancy Green Future Solutions.

All five experts The Straits Times spoke to agreed that to hit a domestic recycling rate of 30 per cent by 2030 - a target set out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - more targeted public outreach needs to done.

Ms Olivia Choong, co-founder of environment group Green Drinks Singapore, said the recycling message could be better put across to the elderly through face-to-face interaction instead of just handing out brochures. For younger people, social media could be a better option.

One successful recycling programme started by the North West Community Development Council has volunteers sharing with residents the importance of reducing and reusing, and how to make use of 11 recycling points across the district.

Green groups, including SEC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said that beyond recycling, it is also important to remind people to consume and waste less.

WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said: "The old adage of reduce, reuse and as a last step, recycle, is key to reducing our impact on the environment."

Mr Heng said Singapore's only landfill will run out of space at an even quicker pace if people do not recycle. The Semakau Landfill is expected to be filled up by 2035 - a decade sooner than the original 2045 projection.

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Malaysia: Plastic bags found in dolphin

RUBEN SARIO The Star 27 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Plastic bags appear to have killed the Risso’s dolphin that was found in a weakened state in shallow waters at Likas Bay here nearly two weeks ago.

The dolphin died on Wednesday while being cared for at the Borneo Marine Research Unit Institute at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

A post-mortem on the marine mammal revealed that its intestinal tract was filled with plastic bags, a researcher said.

UMS officials are scheduled to announce the death of the dolphin and its causes today.

The researcher said it showed that the dolphin might have mistaken plastic bags floating in the sea for jellyfish, which is part of its diet.

This, he added, was the result of the widespread problem of plastic bags being thrown into the sea.

Other marine creatures such as turtles have also been reportedly found dead with plastic bags in their digestive system.

According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, there is an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean with the debris covering an area as large as the United States and India combined.

Marine researchers had initially assumed that the dolphin was suffering from a chronic bacterial, virus or parasitic infection.

The dolphin died despite being treated with a cocktail of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, appetite stimulants and multi-vitamins.

The Risso’s dolphin, which mainly lives in warm, tropical waters, is not considered endangered.

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Thailand issues world’s first elephant ID cards

New Straits Times 26 Mar 15;

PRACHUAP (Khiri Khan): Thailand has issued the world’s first elephant identity cards, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.

The cards were presented to four elephant operators in Muang Hua Hin Municipality in Prachuap Khiri Khan province in the upper south at a ceremony presided by governor Weera Sriwatanatrakul late last month.

The operators are Elephant Village, Hutsadin Elephant Foundation, Hua Hin Safari and Hua Hin Hills Vineyard.

Listed in the ID cards are details such as an elephant’s name and age, photos, bodily marks, place of living, owner’s name, ID and microchip numbers.

The cards were issued in compliance with a new regulation implemented by the Interior Ministry and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to curb illegal ivory trade.

Prachuap Khiri Khan assistant governor Pongpan Wichiansamut said the move is hoped to prevent wild elephants from being kept and raised illegally. - –BERNAMA

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Earth’s Forests Are Broken

John R. Platt Yahoo News 25 Mar 15;

Imagine, if you will, a forest on the edge of a parking lot.

That first line of trees next to the concrete isn’t very healthy, is it? The plants are scraggly, oddly spaced, and choked off by pollution from the cars that come and go all day long. The ground beneath them is dry, partially barren, and strewn with litter and detritus. No birds or other wildlife can be seen.

Now, imagine those unhealthy conditions extrapolated to every other forest on the planet.

Finally, imagine that this is reality. You won’t be that far off from the actual condition of Earth’s forests, which, according to a powerful new study, have become increasingly fragmented from one another in a way that threatens not only what lives in the forests but everything that lives around them.

The study, published this week in the journal Science Advances, brought together two dozen scientists who have been studying habitat fragmentation around the globe. It not only condenses the researchers’ individual observations from experiments conducted over the past 30 years; it also uses advanced satellite data to look at the state of the world’s forest habitats.

The results aren’t good.

“Whenever you’re in a forest anywhere on the face of the Earth, there’s a one in five chance that you’re within a football field’s length of the edge of the forest,” said the study’s lead author, Nick Haddad, a biology professor at North Carolina State University. “And there’s a three out of four chance that you’re within a kilometer of the edge. That’s just a few city blocks. I’m looking out my office window right now, and I can see a kilometer. That’s not that far.”

This fragmentation has a wide range of effects, not just on the forests but also on the entire ecosystem. Animal and plant species first become locked into smaller habitats, and then many of them disappear. Pollination in the area diminishes, affecting flowers and other plants directly outside the forests. The ground near the edges of the forests becomes less able to absorb nutrients, causing further plant loss.

These diminished forests also lose much of their ability to sequester carbon, which slows climate change, Haddad said. Losing even small regional habitats could collectively have a lasting global impact.

Not least, the destruction of forests makes it harder to escape into nature and get away from it all. Haddad said the forests that exist are so fragmented and so close to the noise of civilization that few can truly be called wilderness.

Some of these effects are almost immediate; others take five or 10 years—or much longer—to materialize.

“Fragmented habitats degrade over time,” Haddad said. “It’s a downward trajectory that we can measure over a period of decades.”

The paper calls this “extinction debt”—the delayed loss of species in a habitat following its fragmentation. In their experiments, the researchers found that the number of species within a fragmented habitat drops by 20 percent or more after the first year. After a decade, that increases to more than 50 percent.

It’s not just the big, noticeable, “charismatic” species that suffer. “It’s the entire breadth of plants and animals—the diversity of life—that is affected by habitat fragmentation,” Haddad said.

Although he warned that “we do not know the end to what fragmentation will be,” Haddad said there are possible solutions. Those include establishing connecting corridors to link isolated habitats, conserving more land, and establishing new ways to improve agricultural efficiency so we don’t need to keep cutting down forests to feed Earth’s ever-growing human population.

But as the paper warns, much of the planet’s remaining forest fragments are already smaller than 25 acres. With agricultural land expected to grow another 18 percent by 2050 and the size of the urban population expected to triple by 2030 (according to sources cited by the paper), that doesn’t leave much room for the forests Earth will need for centuries to come.

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Best of our wild blogs: 26 Mar 15

Palm oil waste and other damaging activities at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

How are seagrasses at Pasir Ris after the mass fish deaths?
from wild shores of singapore

Pellets from Tuas: 6. Nesting of Black-shouldered Kites
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Destruction of elephant, tiger, and orangutan habitat doubles
from news

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Indonesia defends deforestation for palm oil on economic grounds

Stella Dawson PlanetArk 26 Mar 15;

Clearing forests for palm oil plantations is a "technical" matter that should not get tied up with trade discussions, an Indonesian minister told a land and poverty conference.

Growing global demand for palm oil is fuelling rapid deforestation in Indonesia, at a faster pace than in Brazil's Amazon region, making Indonesia a major contributor to global warming.

But Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry in the Economic Affairs Ministry, told a World Bank conference on land and poverty held in Washington this week that deforestation was a rich-country concern.

"We know that our primary customers are not concerned about deforestation," he said.

Asian nations, led by India, China and Pakistan, buy 55 percent of Indonesia's palm oil exports, while Europe buys only 8 percent, yet Europe puts much of the pressure on Indonesia not to cut down and burn forests to make way for plantations, he said.

Palm oil is important to Indonesia's development because it reduces poverty by bringing roads, schools and other infrastructure to rural communities and generates five million jobs that benefit 15 million people, Wibowo said.

The pace of forest loss declined rapidly between 2009 and 2013, he said, even before last year's New York Declaration on Forests called for an end to deforestation by 2020.

Hence the issue should be treated as a technical matter not a trade issue, and reserved for discussion in such forums as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) among industry, investors and civil society groups, he said.

"The zero deforestation commitment should not be a trade barrier because deforestation is a governance issue and about effective implementation, not about trade," Wibowo said.

Illegal logging, a primary source of deforestation in Indonesia, is under discussion at the World Trade Organization, which aims to complete some environmental negotiations by July as part of the Doha round of global trade talks.

Indonesia also signed a 2006 memorandum to combat illegal logging as part of its trade agreement with the United States.

(Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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Best of our wild blogs: 25 Mar 15

lone otter @ pasir ris - March 2015
from sgbeachbum

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Malaysia: Chant questions Middlebank reclamation by state government

MELISSA DARLYNE CHOW New Straits Times 24 Mar 15;

GEORGE TOWN: An environmental interest group here questioned the state government's insistence in going ahead with the Middlebank reclamation, with the knowledge that it could destroy the ecosystem of the seagrass bed there.

Speaking in a press conference today on the matter, Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee said the Penang government should explain why it insist on reclaiming the Middlebank area, when there are so many other places to be reclaimed.

"Choose somewhere else that is feasible. The ecosystem on the seagrass bed has to be a priority," he said in a press conference here.

Lee claimed that reclamation in the area would change the whole system and water flow in Penang, affecting fish farmers from the island to Nibong Tebal, and cause siltation.

Lee cited the Forest City project in Johor as an example of how such a seagrass bed should not be touched for development. He said the Johor Department of Environment (DoE) had not allowed the Forest City developer to reclaim areas that have a large amount of seagrass.

The 50.6ha seabed in the Middlebank, located between the first Penang Bridge and the Sungai Pinang river mouth, is the second largest in Peninsular Malaysia after Merambong in Johor.

It was reported that the state government planned to reclaim the area under the proposed RM27 billion Penang Transport Master Plan.

The Penang Development Corporation (PDC) had called for a Request for Proposal (RFP) to reclaim the area, and ended on Feb 23.

When contacted by the New Straits Times, state Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said nothing has been decided yet on the project.

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Malaysia: Forest city to create 250,000 jobs

JASSMINE SHADIQE New Straits Times 25 Mar 15;

THE Forest City project is expected to create some 250,000 job opportunities, besides offering free education to locals via its vocational and technique schools, to equip them with skills upon its completion in 2045.

The ultra-mega Forest City project will create four man-made islands with a gross development value of RM600 billion over a period of 30 years.

It developer and operator Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd is committed to complete the project according to the necessary rules and regulations, including adhering to the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) necessities.

Country Garden Pacificview's executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusuf said Johoreans and Malaysians will benefit from the project as it will contribute to the nation's goal in reaching high-income status.

Forest City is consistent with the government's vision as outlined in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), to increase the population and household income for the state of Johor.

Forest City is expected to generate additional income for the state by way of quit rent, assessment, advertising taxes and entertainment taxes.

The 1,623 hectares (ha) will be constructed by way of reclamation. It will create new land mass to the state government and will directly contribute to state income when it matures.

"We aim to provide world class facilities to attract game players and market makers from around the world.

"It will have a domino effect where the country will benefit from the spill over effect. This will also be a catalyst for local migration, from different parts of Malaysia, ensuing in creation of new job opportunities," he said.

The Forest City project of 1,386.05ha on reclamation land in Tanjung Kupang, Gelang Patah, in Johor will ensure that all compliance and monitoring, in terms of air, noise, water quality and sediment, are robustly implemented and carried out.

Md Othman said their immediate priorities are to minimise the impact on the local communities by ensuring that the surrounding ecology is well preserved.

"We are committed in ensuring the villages in the vicinity are also developed and for the people to benefit from the project's spill over effects," he said during a visit to the site during an exclusive interview with Media Prima Group.

He said after taking into consideration the DEIA and Hydraulic Study, they voluntarily reduced the reclamation works to form new land comprising four islands, which was approximately 1,624ha.

The new model was reduced by 354ha to ensure the sea grass area was preserved for future generations while maintaining the flora and fauna of the surrounding area.

Md Othman said Country Garden Pacificview is a responsible company and had walked the talk.

"We always ensure that our projects are compliant, adopt best practices of governance and we fully represent the needs of the communities, the environment and the state's economic development," he said.

"We walk the extra mile as we strive to provide the best quality in terms of facilities, services and designs while ensuring that the needs of the communities are fulfilled.

"Forest city's green concept will set the trend for tomorrow's model eco-city as we believe that people and the nature can live harmoniously together by maintaining a balance between nature and nurture," Md Othman said.

"To ensure that the project has economical scale and is sustainable, we need a sizeable land bank for the entire development project. If we were to acquire existing land, it may create a long list of social impact towards the local community by way of displacement. Through reclamation, we are creating a new land mass for the state government and the people of Johor by minimising the social impacts. We aim to develop harmoniously with the support of the local community," Md Othman explained.

He guaranteed that the local community will grow together with the Forest City project, and they will ensure that no one was left behind. This was achievable with regular dialogue sessions with the villagers.

"We provided training, workshops, and even contributed in transforming their fishing methods, including assistance to pursue deeper sea fishing. We are looking at the possibility of providing training and assistance in aquaculture, such as fish hatcheries," he said.

Meanwhile, Tanjung Kupang villagers who are mostly fishermen said they are confident that via the Forest City project they and the future generation will enjoy the spill over effects.

Zainuddin Abd Jabar, 54, from Kampung Tiram Duku, Mukim Tanjung Kupang, said initially he had his reservation when the project was first announced as it would definitely have an effect on their catch.

However, Country Garden Pacificview personnel conducted several dialogue sessions with the villagers to understand their concerns better.

"Although most of the villagers are fishermen and small traders, yet Country Garden Pacificview took our concerns seriously and addressed them sincerely," he said.

Fisherman Johari Lasim, 63, said he is proud that an ultra-mega development is taking place in his " backyard" and was sure that his children and their children will benefit from the project.

Md Othman said the Forest City was a challenge proposed by the Sultan of Johor.

"Sultan Ibrahim wanted a balance development in the south of Johor that will benefit his subjects and put Johor on the world's map. Forest City aims to balance the development between south-east, central and south - west of Johor.

"Sultan Ibrahim is a man of vision. He suggested that there should be developments in the south of Johor near the Second Link Highway.

That was a brilliant idea. Sultan Ibrahim's aim is for Johor to be developed equally, as it will contribute not only to the nation, but to Johoreans residing in any part of the state.

"Sultan Ibrahim played a paramount role in convincing foreign investors to develop Johor, turning it into an urban metropolis. Tuanku Sultan reminded us that no Johorean should be left out of the benefits of any development in the state," he said

"His subjects are very close to his heart, thus they are always his priority,' he added.

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