Best of our wild blogs: 30 May 15

Life History of the Philippine Swift
Butterflies of Singapore

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A Singapore legacy comes full circle

The gripping tale of South-east Asia's first natural history museum and its new lease of life.
Peter Ng Kee Lin for The Straits Times 30 May 15;

OUROBOROS is the name of a mythological Greek snake - a snake that consumes its own tail. It is one of the oldest mystical concepts known to man, first observed in Egypt 1,600 years before Christ. A powerful symbol of the cyclical nature of time. About coming full circle, and then starting again.

Such are the strange and interesting life and times of Singapore's museum of natural history.

From roots that trace back to 1823, when Stamford Raffles himself mooted the idea of a Singapore Institution for natural history; then 1849, when two coins donated by the Temenggong of Johor were acquired by the colonial government and the idea of a museum was seeded; to the establishment of a legal body, the Raffles Museum, in 1878.

This entity is South-east Asia's first natural history museum. But the world is an unpredictable place - many dramatic events occurred. Between 1942 and 1945, Singapore experienced a war of unprecedented cruelty and violence when the Japanese occupied the territory. Through fortune, the museum survived.

Then in 1965, Singapore was suddenly no longer part of the Federation of Malaysia but an independent country. And in these traumatic times, as a young nation grappled for survival, the Raffles Museum became the National Museum of Singapore.

And the powers to be were confronted with a decision. Two "needs" collided - the need for economic survival and the need for heritage. Both causes were important - just that one was more immediate.

Decisions have consequences. In the ensuing tragedy, there was no place in the "new" museum for the century-old collection of animals. Specimens which once awed a mesmerised public and were the legacies of hundreds of research scientists from around the world were deemed expendable.

Out of sheer necessity and providence, the homeless treasures found an unlikely temporary residence in the then University of Singapore.

It was left to the stubborn and seemingly illogical persistence of a few good men and women left in the museum and nascent university to hold the fort.

Backdropped against the fading light of the Raffles Museum, this generation of scientists ensured the collection survived. Not by design but through fortitude. Failure was never an option. And failure would have been terrible.

A 'pariah' collection

AT THAT juncture in time, giving the country's heritage and treasure away to another land was an option. Even throwing it away in the rubbish heap was an option. The collection did not survive unscathed. In those times of tribulation, we gave Malaysia the whale skeleton that had adorned the original Raffles Museum building since 1907. And in the process, we gave away the memories of three generations of Singaporeans. This is one hair shirt we will have to wear for generations to come.

Nothing ever stays the same. As the world changed, and a young Singapore grew stronger, wealthier and confident, it also became more sentient. Desperation was replaced by a new appreciation of our past.

The "pariah" Raffles collection became the Zoological Reference Collection of the Department of Zoology in the university in 1972. It had no permanent home and only a skeleton crew. It was a nomad, homeless, even when the University of Singapore fused with Nanyang University to form the National University of Singapore.

Only in 1988, after 16 years of wandering, was a purpose-built abode created in the new university campus of Kent Ridge. Opened by the nation's Education Minister at that time, Dr Tony Tan, this landmark event was witnessed by arguably the most famous director the museum ever had, the late Michael Tweedie. He was with the museum for 24 years between 1932 and 1956, and discovered hundreds of new species of reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

Past and present met to witness what was then widely believed to be the ultimate salvation of the Raffles collection. Not exactly the old museum in its heyday, but at least it had a permanent home - or so we thought then!

In 1998, the powers at the university decided that the collection should become a research facility. It morphed into the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in the Faculty of Science. And a new Education Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean, heralded its revival in 2001.

Acts of madness

IN THOSE halcyon times, some "nationalists" questioned why the university should retain the name of "Raffles" for the facility. Was this name but a vestige of a colonial memory that was best excised in the name of national pride? The heart says yes but the head says no. The Raffles name is not merely to honour an Englishman who founded modern Singapore. The name is a link to the museum's history. It is its bloodline. Good or bad, right or wrong - it is part of the museum's bloodline.

The bloodline echoes its own wants. It surpasses human intent. It brings out visionaries and heroes. It compels "acts of madness" - it encourages "impossible dreams". But "madness" and "impossible" are relative terms.

I like the definitions of these two powerful words by acclaimed US journalist Ambrose Bierce, author of the classic lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary: madness - one who is affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; and impossible - something "lacking in patience and money". Like Singapore - "mad" to be a separate island-state and "impossible" for it to survive. Really?

The bloodline ensured that the Raffles Museum was revived as the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Resurrected with the unwavering support of former president S R Nathan, and the financial might and philanthropic largesse of the Lee Foundation. As well as an army of donors and fellow believers.

A "ground-up" exercise that fulfilled the "impossible dream", to the tune of $56 million - enough to build a new museum of substantial substance, and add three dinosaurs to boot. In the words of our second prime minister Goh Chok Tong, NUS has, to all intents and purposes, built a "People's Museum". Or as the museum's own staff quip - it is a "museum of the impossible".

It has taken NUS a long time to achieve the "impossible dream" - 45 years since it left Stamford Road in the then National Museum, and over 10 years since it was tasked by Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh to try nevertheless.

NUS apologises to Singapore for this tardiness in delivery. The difficult, NUS will normally do immediately. The impossible, that takes a little longer. But it has now been done.

As much as money is the lifeblood of a project - however noble - the building of a true natural history museum is not just about concrete and hardware. It needs one element money cannot buy. Heart. People with heart. And the staff of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, some who have been with the institution under one name or another for over 40 years, stepped up to the plate when it mattered.

The money enabled. The people ensured. The passion, energy and work ethos of the old museum staff - over and far above what is expected of normal employees - helped make the "impossible dream" a reality. Dreamers and doers. Heroes and heroines. They believed in the cause - even when it caused them no end of grief. As the French artist Renoir once remarked, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains". And that beauty is a state-of-the-art natural history museum for Singapore that opened in time for its 50th birthday.

Natural history lives on

THE new museum is more than just a guardian of our memories. The nostalgia I see in the older generation of Singaporeans when they glimpse "old friends" in the gallery is palpable. It is an emotional roller coaster for them. The museum is a time capsule for the old. It is a wellspring of memories for the young.

It is also a symbol - a symbol of our need to appreciate fellow life forms we share the earth with. To catalogue, to document our fellow denizens. To know so we can understand, so we can protect. It is a tool of science, an engine for education, and a means to empower the next generation, so they do not repeat the environmental sins of their forefathers.

The museum is a symbol of our humanity and our responsibility as good planetary guardians. To give young people "impossible dreams" so our very real nightmares do not recur.

The year 2015 is Singapore's 50th year of independence, the nation's golden jubilee. It is also NUS' 110th year of founding. Today, the Education Minister of 1988 is the seventh President of Singapore. Today, our Education Minister of 2001 is the nation's Deputy Prime Minister.

Today, we mourn our whale, even as we cheer our three dinosaurs. Today, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research is the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Today, the original vision of Stamford Raffles for a "Singapore Institution" is revived - as a museum for Singapore and South-east Asia's biodiversity.

Ouroboros is about the cyclical nature of time and endurance.

There is a belief that the origins of the famous mathematical symbol for infinity - the famous "lazy eight" or lemniscate - was derived from an Ouroboros overlapping in the middle. It makes sense. After all, the Ouroboros also represents an entity that persists from the beginning with such force and quality, it cannot be extinguished. That entity is Singapore's original and first natural history museum.

The writer, a systematic biologist who is an expert on crabs, is head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore.

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Nature Area in Singapore Botanic Gardens extended

National Parks Board says 14 hectares of the Learning Forest has been designated a Nature Area, which will enhance the forest habitat in the Gardens.
Channel NewsAsia 30 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Another 14 hectares has been designated as a Nature Area at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, announced the National Parks Board (NParks) on Saturday (May 30).

The 14 hectares of the Learning Forest comprises a 10-hectare fragment of secondary forest adjacent to the Gardens. The new area brings the entire Nature Area within the Gardens to 20 hectares, NParks added.

"The additional 14 hectares will enhance the forest habitat in the Gardens as it forms a contiguous swathe of forest through the heart of the Gardens. This will create more opportunities for the pollination and seed dispersal of native forest trees.

"It will help in the re-generation of the Rain Forest, strengthen ex situ conservation of plants native to the region and create additional habitats for native wildlife," the agency said.

The new Nature Area is situated within the Buffer Zone of the proposed World Heritage Site boundary. This area will be managed for conservation and education, activities that are complementary to the proposed World Heritage Site.

Measures to conserve and enhance the Rain Forest and its surroundings fall under the Biodiversity Conservation Plan, and include planting native tree saplings, maintenance of leaf litter to improve moisture levels and regular monitoring activities.

Grassroots leaders from the Holland-Bukit Timah area, along with Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, worked with residents and community gardeners to plant 100 forest trees within the new Nature Area on Saturday.

Among other things, these trees create additional habitats for native wildlife. Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said: "These trees will grow up with us, will grow up with our grandchildren, and will be the pride and joy of our green legacy.

"And as these saplings that we have just planted grow and mature, they will support a habitat to support the rich biodiversity that we want to keep, and enhance in the Singapore Botanic Gardens."

There are currently 24 Nature Areas in Singapore, including the four Nature Reserves and 20 other areas which are retained for as long as development is not needed.

The last Nature Areas were designated in 2013 were Beting Bronok and Pulau Unum in Pulau Tekong, as well as Jalan Gemala located near the Kranji Reservoir. Many of the other Nature Areas are situated within parks, such as Bukit Batok Nature Park and Admiralty Park, the agency said.

- CNA/kk

New Nature Area designated at the Singapore Botanic Gardens
AsiaOne 30 May 15;

SINGAPORE - An additional 14 hectares of forest area have been designated as a Nature Area in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced in a statement on Saturday.

The 14 hectares comprise a 10-hectare fragment of secondary forest adjacent to the Botanic Gardens in the Tyersall area, which is known as the Learning Forest, as well as surrounding forest areas.

A green space is designated as a Nature Area if it is one with ecological significance, and there are currently 24 such Nature Areas in Singapore, including Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve and the Pulau Ubin Nature Area.

Including the existing 6 hectare Rain Forest, this brings the entire Nature Area within the Botanic Gardens to 20 hectares.

NParks said that the additional 14 hectares will enhance the forst habitat in the Gardens as it forms a contiguous swathe of forest through the heart of the Gardens.

"It will help in the regeneration of the Rain Forest, strengthen ex situ conservation of plants native to the region and create additional habitats for native wildlife."

Many of the species found in the new Nature Area are also native and part of Singapore's natural heritage, and are an important reference for ongoing research work.

The new Nature Area is situated within the Buffer Zone that was demarcated in the Site Management Plan submitted by the Gardens to UNESCO for its nomination as a World Heritage Site.

The expansion of the Nature Area is also part of the Gardens' Biodiversity Conservation Plan, which outlines measures to conserve and enhance the Rain Forest and its surroundings.

Botanic Gardens nature area to expand
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 May 15;

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is about to get greener, even as it awaits the results of its Unesco World Heritage Site bid.

The National Parks Board (NParks) yesterday announced that a nature area within the Gardens will be more than tripled in size to 20ha, about the size of 30 football fields.

Nature areas are green spaces with ecological significance and will be preserved as long as development is not needed. There are 24 such areas across Singapore, including the nature reserves.

The Gardens' existing 6ha nature area is one of Singapore's few remaining patches of primary rainforest and has been preserved since 1859. The expansion includes a 10ha fragment of secondary forest next to the Gardens known as the Learning Forest, and surrounding forest areas.

NParks said the ecology in these areas complements the primary rainforest. More trees, including exceptionally tall and rare ones, will be planted in them, and an existing freshwater swamp will be restored and enhanced as part of the nature area expansion.

"The additional 14ha will enhance the forest habitat in the Gardens as it forms a contiguous swathe of forest through the heart of the Gardens," NParks said.

It added that this will create more opportunities for pollination and seed dispersal of native forest trees, help the rainforest regenerate, aid in the conservation of plants native to the region and create additional habitats for native wildlife such as the Red-legged Crake bird.

The new nature area could also take some pressure off the rainforest, by spreading visitors more evenly across the larger space. The expansion is in line with the Gardens' site management plan for its Unesco bid.

The new trees to be planted include the Tualang and Kempas species, which have some of the tallest trees in South-east Asia.

These forest giants can grow up to 60m or even taller. Many rare species like the Damar Hitam Gajar and the Giam will also be planted to safeguard them from extinction here, and for research.

The freshwater swamp, which will be completed next year, will have boardwalks and viewing decks to bring visitors closer to the flora and fauna.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee launched the new nature area yesterday at the Gardens.

He helped to plant 100 trees, together with MPs for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Ms Sim Ann, Minister of State for Education, and Communications and Information, and Mr Christopher De Souza, as well as about 130 residents and community gardeners.

Mr Lee said: "The rainforest has been largely untouched for hundreds of years... and holds some rare and unique species that can only be found here and nowhere else.

"All these upcoming developments will truly enhance our Botanic Gardens."

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Upper Peirce Reservoir Park: Tranquil haven of nature and wildlife

Look Woon Wei The Straits Time AsiaOne 30 May 15;

Stepping into Upper Peirce Reservoir Park feels very much like entering a secret garden.

Even just getting to it is like a journey into the unknown.

The park is a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk from Old Upper Thomson Road, and the rewards are great once you get there: Lush greenery, a glistening body of water and a gentle breeze. It is a treat for the mind, body and soul.

Aside from the chirping of birds and rustling of leaves, the park is serene.

At one end is the Singapore International Country Club, with its manicured golf course.

Even the nearby Lower Peirce Reservoir Park sees far more activity. Taiji and yoga groups meet there at 5.30am every day.

It is this very isolation that draws local residents and other visitors to the lesser known of the two Peirce Reservoir parks.

"It is a very serene environment, away from pollution. It is also not very crowded," said Ms Veronica Ong, 56, a real estate agent who lives nearby.

Retiree David Tan, 64, added: "The morning air is very fresh. Going there makes me feel more alive."

When The Straits Times visited on Wednesday and yesterday, there were fewer than five people there each day.

The park's isolation could be because the distinction between Upper and Lower Peirce Reservoir did not exist initially.

Originally known as the Kallang River Reservoir, it was renamed Peirce Reservoir in 1922 after Robert Peirce, the Municipal Engineer of Singapore from 1901 to 1916.

It was only in the late 1960s that increasing demand for water led the then Public Utilities Board (PUB) to examine the feasibility of increasing Peirce Reservoir's capacity.

A higher dam was built upstream of the existing dam in 1970, leading to the implementation of the Upper Peirce Scheme in 1971.

Officially opened by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Feb 27, 1977, the Upper Peirce Reservoir has a storage capacity of up to 27.8 million cubic m of water.

It is the largest impounding reservoir in Singapore and the second-largest reservoir after Marina Reservoir in terms of storage capacity.

It also acts as a storage area for the excess water that Marina Reservoir is unable to store.

The reservoir, together with those at MacRitchie, Lower Peirce and Upper Seletar, form the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The huge body of water and surrounding foliage provides an optimum environment for wildlife to thrive.

Just last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared a picture that he took of a rare black-headed collar snake on his Facebook page after a visit to the park.

Monkeys and wild dogs are also a common sight and wild boars have also been spotted.

Prominent signs put up by the National Parks Board (NParks) caution visitors against feeding the animals or approaching them.

However, residents nearby have complained of unwelcome visitors in their houses.

One, who wished to be known only as Mrs Koh, 44, said: "We moved here in February and have had two incidents of monkeys entering our home.

"One of them took a box of noodles and opened it, and we had to clean up the mess."

Fellow resident Ms Ong said: "Although we haven't had any incidents this year, when we first moved in, we had no way to stop them from coming.

"Sometimes, we would wake up and find them sitting on the ledge."

On the whole, residents there love being surrounded by nature.

Engineer Moses Ng, 53, said: "My family moved here precisely because we want to feel close to nature. We love the fresh air that blows in.

"I like it here a lot. You don't have to go overseas to catch a beautiful sunset when there is one right on your doorstep."

For Mrs Koh, the surrounding greenery is a treat.

"These days, instead of monkeys, we often wake up to birds chirping while resting on our plants," she said.

"It is quite amazing. I have never seen so many different types of birds, and of so many different colours, before.

" I am very happy to be able to live here."

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Explore heritage? Just tap the app

Ong Kai Xuan The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 May 15;

Singapore's heritage has gone digital with a new mobile application that gives users information about heritage landmarks here on the go.

The Culture Explorer app was developed by Samsung Electronics Singapore in collaboration with the National Heritage Board and National Parks Board, and will make use of augmented reality technology to allow users to experience heritage sites here virtually.

Users just need to point the camera phone at features on landmarks and information about the feature will appear. Among the things the app can do is to show a timeline with old pictures of the landmark. Users will also be able to superimpose their own photos on the old pictures, as if they were there when the picture was taken.

Currently, the app has information about the National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall. The Arts House and Raffles Hotel will be part of the app by July.

Samsung also aims to play a part in the education of communities about Singapore's heritage through its school outreach programme.

It will provide worksheets and prizes to students in school programmes, and will even train teachers to guide the students as well as loan Android devices.

This will all be free. A pilot run was conducted in Gan Eng Seng Primary School and another will be conducted in Yangzheng Primary School in July.

"Technology is the perfect medium to link the past with the present, to connect communities and generate greater appreciation of Singapore's culture and heritage," said Ms Esther Low, acting head of corporate marketing at Samsung Electronics Singapore.

But the application has some kinks to iron out. "The information is good, but the application is not very user-friendly or intuitive," said Ms Clarice Ch'ng, 18, a project assistant who tried the app. Culture Explorer is available on Android for free.

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China agrees to phase out its ivory industry to combat elephant poaching

Conservationists hail China’s first ever commitment to phase out legal, domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products as a victory in the fight to save Africa’s elephants
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 29 May 15;

China has committed to phasing out the domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products for the first time. Conservation groups said the announcement was “the single greatest measure” in the fight to save the last African elephants from poaching.

At an event in Beijing where foreign diplomats witnessed 662kg of confiscated ivory being symbolically destroyed, Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said: “We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

This is the first time China has committed to phase out its legal, domestic ivory industry. Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF’s China division applauded the Chinese government’s strengthening resolve to reduce demand in the world’s biggest market for trafficked ivory.

“This decision will have a profound impact on wild elephant conservation and ivory trafficking” he said.

Peter Knights, the executive director of anti-trafficking group WildAid, said the announcement was significant but he would be waiting to see whether the pledge was delivered. China did not set a timescale for the phase-out.

“In our recent survey, 95% of Chinese supported a total ban on ivory sales. This would be the next logical step for China, as well as the greatest single measure to reduce poaching in Africa,” said Knights.

Cutting consumer demand in China is seen as essential to stopping the loss of Africa’s last elephants to poaching, but progress has been slow. Since a ban on the international ivory trade in 1989, it is estimated China has seized more than 40 tonnes of ivory.

The stockpile is released to licensed carving factories and then sold legally in markets across the country. But conservation groups say this supports demand for black market tusks from freshly killed elephants.

This week, it was announced that Mozambique had lost half its population of 20,000 elephants in just five years. In Africa more than 22,000 elephants are killed for their tusks each year.

Zhou Fei, head of wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic’s China branch, said: “The decision to phase out China’s ivory market as well as today’s destruction of the seized ivory are powerful indications of the government’s commitment to support international action against elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.”

John Scanlon, secretary-general of Cites, the body that regulates all international trade in listed species, said in a message read at the event that he was “most encouraged” by developments in China. But that “the poaching of African elephants and the illegal trade in their ivory continues to be driven by transnational organised criminals and, in some cases, rebel militia at an industrial scale and it is one of the most destructive forms of wildlife crime”.

The phase-out of domestic ivory was part of a 10-point plan announced by Zhao. It also included stricter policing of the illegal wildlife trade both on and offline, renewed efforts to deflate demand through public campaigns and a commitments to international cooperation.

The announcement comes less than two months before bilateral trade talks between the US and China - the world’s two largest markets for illegal ivory. There is an ongoing dialogue between China and the US on combatting the illegal ivory trade. Conservation groups are hopeful talks will eventually produce a coordinated international response to the crisis.

On Thursday customs police in Hangzhou unveiled 270kg of ivory artworks and 9kg of rhino horn captured by an anti-smuggling operation that has been running in the city since June 2014.

The crush follows a larger one in January 2014, when the government destroyed 6.1 tonnes of elephant tusks. The government of Hong Kong has also committed to burning 28 tonnes of its ivory stockpile in monthly burns of one tonne each – the first tonne was destroyed a year ago.

In January, ahead of a visit to a Chinese elephant sanctuary by Prince William, China banned the import of carved ivory for 12 months.

The symbolic destruction of ivory has been practiced in many countries for more than 25 years. In recognition of the global trade ban on ivory in 1989 Kenya burned a 12 tonne pile of seized tusks. In April, the UAE crushed 10 tonnes of contraband. Some critics believe the actions do more harm than good as they create an impression of scarcity, driving the price higher.

Zhou said the destruction of ivory stockpiles was only useful if it was backed by concrete measures to combat the smuggling networks and reduce demand among the Chinese public.

“Ivory destructions should not be an end in themselves - any such events should be followed by actions to ensure countries continue to comply with their international commitments under Cites to shut down the illegal ivory trade,” he said.

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Great Barrier Reef spared 'in danger' listing - for now

BBC News 29 May 15;

The Great Barrier Reef should not go on a World Heritage danger list, according to a United Nations draft report.

However, it says Australia must carry out commitments to protect the reef, including restoring water quality and restricting new port developments.

The final decision on its status will be made at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Germany next month.

Conservationists have warned that the outlook for the reef is "poor".

A report published in 2014 concluded that the condition "is expected to further deteriorate in the future". Climate change, extreme weather, and pollution from industry were listed a key concerns.

However, in 2015 Australia submitted a plan to the UN heritage body, Unesco, outlining how it would address these threats.

This included a proposed objective of reducing pollution by 80% before 2025, as well as reversing a decision to allow dredged material to be dumped near the reef.

Precious place

The Unesco draft report says that Australia must implement this 35-year action plan, and Unesco will continue to check on its progress.

The matter - along with the future of other World Heritage sites - will be debated at a Unesco meeting taking place in Bonn from 28 June to 8 July.

* The Great Barrier Reef includes 3,000 coral reefs and 600 islands
* It is the world's largest marine park, covering 348,000 sq km
* It contains 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 kinds of mollusc
* It receives about two million tourists each year.
* The region contributes A$6bn ($4.6bn; £3bn) a year to the Australian economy

The Great Barrier Reef was given World Heritage status in 1981.

It is a vast collection of thousands of smaller coral reefs spans, stretching from the northern tip of Queensland to the state's southern city of Bundaberg.

The UN says this is the "most biodiverse" of its World Heritage sites, and that is of "enormous scientific and intrinsic importance".

Setting targets

Greenpeace issued a statement saying the draft report was "not a reprieve - it is a big, red flag from Unesco". The group's reef campaigner Shani Tager highlighted the fact that the Australian government had been asked to prepare a report within 18 months.

"Unesco now joins a long line of scientists, banks, organisations and individuals who are deeply worried about the reef's health," Ms Tager said.

Prof Callum Roberts, a marine conservation biologist at the University of York in the UK, said he thought Unesco had made the right decision, based on "major progress" that has recently been made in the Australian authorities' approach to the reef.

But he noted that the announcement was more of a postponement than a final judgement.

"They're setting targets and they're obviously going to watch this very closely," Prof Roberts told BBC News.

"I think Unesco is right to put on hold its decision, in view of this long-term sustainability plan. But it's also very right to set some target dates for Australia to produce evidence that it's actually sticking to the plan - that it's investing enough money to make that plan happen."

Prof Roberts also pointed to efforts by the Queensland state government.

"The situation a couple of years ago was that the Queensland government was fast-tracking major industrial developments along the Great Barrier Reef coast - particularly a number of very large port developments which would service coal exports.

"That has all been scaled back significantly. [The government] has also responded to the major impact of nutrient runoff from agricultural lands.

"The outlook for the reef is a lot better today than it was two years ago."

Should the Great Barrier Reef be listed as 'in danger' by Unesco?
The draft decision against listing the natural wonder as ‘in danger’ is good news for Australia but is it the best outcome for the reef’s conservation?
Karl Mathiesen and James Parsons The Guardian 29 May 15;

The draft decision not to place the Great Barrier Reef on Unesco’s ‘in danger’ list is a coup for Australia.

The government has lobbied intensely to avoid the ignominy of a ‘world heritage in danger’ listing that would undermine tourism at a site that attracts two million visitors each year. Having its ability to protect the natural wonder questioned by the UN would have been a further stain on the environmental credibility of a country now viewed in some quarters as a global vandal.

It is likely that Unesco’s world heritage committee will adopt the draft – submitted by Unesco adviser, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – when it meets in Bonn in June. The reprieve for Australia comes with strict conditions about the implementation of measures to protect the reef system.

But experts have told the Guardian that even though the reef was not officially listed as in danger the threat to its survival remains severe and the measures Unesco required of Australia would be inadequate to save it.

In recent years the Unesco committee has notified Australia of its alarm at the continuing impacts on the reef of climate change, water pollution, dredging for port facilities (including the massive expansion at Abbot Point coal port) and fishing. In response to their concerns the Australian government submitted its Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (LTSP) in March.

On Friday the IUCN issued a cautious approval of the plan, noting its “effective implementation ... supported by clear oversight and accountability, research, monitoring and adequate and sustained financing, is essential to respond to the current and potential threats to the property”.

The plan rules out the dumping of dredging spoil – which will be dragged from the seabed to create channels for coal transport ships – within the reef’s marine park.

But Dr Nick Graham, a reef expert at James Cook University, said there was evidence that dredging alone would damage the reef by stirring up sediment which would settle widely on the reef, causing disease. As the impacts of the planned expansion of the Abbot Point coal port begin to manifest on the coral, he said Unesco may again consider listing the reef as in danger.

“Dredging at that sort of scale is not compatible with a healthy reef and it’s not just the dredging, it’s the increased numbers of ships that are going to be moving through the Great Barrier Reef as a result,” Graham said.

The primary long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and coral reefs worldwide, is climate change. A major coral bleaching event, associated with increased ocean temperatures, has been underway since the middle of last year and is predicted to continue into next year. In the face of these existential threats to the ecosystem, it is essential that Australia does everything it can to reduce local pressures, including sediment from dredging, said Graham.

Mark Eakin, coordinator of the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) Coral Reef Watch programme, said conservation measures in the Australian plan were a step forward. But any plan that enshrined and expedited the extraction and burning of coal would only fuel the greatest threat to the reef.

“The Abbot Point expansion with a major increase in coal exports is antithetical to the need to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere,” he said.

Hundreds of miles inland from where the reef fringes the Queensland coastline, 27bn tonnes of coal lies beneath the ground in the Galilee Basin. Australia’s right-wing government has pushed hard to open the region up to vast new mines. The expansion of Abbot Point to become the world’s biggest coal port is a key part of leveraging the mineral wealth and revitalising Australia’s flagging mining boom.

“I think that the pressure that the original proposal to list it at risk has brought on the Australian government has resulted in some very important changes. The one thing that’s unfortunate that it hasn’t done is to influence their current major push to extract and export as much coal as possible,” said Eakin.

Despite the shortcomings of the plan, campaigners and experts expressed relief that the Unesco committee had not formally listed the site as ‘in danger’. Graham said he didn’t think such a move would have helped the conservation of the reef. Campaigners were similarly cautious about calling for a listing.

“We never called for an ‘in danger’ listing as we want it protected and if it had been on the danger list it might have led to complacency,” said Felicity Wishart, reef campaign director for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said: “Unesco has made the right decision. The future world heritage status of the reef should rightly be determined based on the actual condition of its precious corals and marine life – as assessed by scientists.”

Greenpeace campaigner Shani Tager said, however, that the organisation had hoped the reef would be listed as in danger because it would send an even stronger message to the government.

Experts and campaigners agreed that the key detail of the Unesco draft decision was the acknowledgement of serious ongoing decline to the reef system and the strict continued monitoring demanded by the committee.

Tager said: “I think we’re seeing that Unesco is very concerned about the future of the reef. The Long Term Sustainability Plan is not enough as we don’t think you can have a safe expansion of coal ports in particular. Unesco has recognised the difficulties of the reef and the continued monitoring of it is good news.”

Threats to the reef

Run-off from agricultural fertilisers and manure have raised nutrient levels in the southern two-thirds of the marine park to dangerous concentrations that disrupt the ecosystem’s ability to take up nutrients. The Australian government’s plan aims for an 80% reduction in run-off pollution by 2025. Experts have said the lag between improved practices and environmental benefits is likely to mean that the nutrient cycle will continue to be affected for some decades.

Climate Change
Warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions is heating up the seas around Australia. 15 of the 20 warmest years on record have been recorded in the past 20 years. In the summer of 2012/13 the hottest sea surface temperatures for the Australian region were recorded. By 2100, average sea temperatures off north-eastern Australia could be 2.5% warmer than at present. Corals subjected to sharp increases in temperature are at risk of bleaching and death.

Coal and shipping
The reef’s region is already highly industrialised. Between 2011 and 2013 ports within or adjacent to the region accounted for 76% of the total through output for all Queensland ports – most of this traffic was related to the coal industry. High concentrations of coal dust have been detected in the park.

Between 2001 and 2013, 28m cubic metres of dredge material were dumped in the Great Barrier Reef world heritage site. The expansion of the Abbot Point port will require large-scale dredging that will now be dumped onshore.

Fishing has been well controlled by the Park Authority, with an outstanding 30% of the site protected by a no-take zone. However the IUCN noted continuing concern over some residual impacts. These include the accidental capture through entanglement of turtles, dolphins and dugongs in commercial fishing nets.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 29 May 15

Salvaging a Dead Sea Turtle at Changi Beach
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

‘Conserving our Corals' T-Shirt Design Competition
wild shores of singapore

Highlights of Love MacRitchie Walks by Toddycats, Season 4

Von Schrenck’s Bittern’s Breakfast: Dog-faced Water Snake
Bird Ecology Study Group

Notes on the Identification, Status and Distribution of Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

NTUC FairPrice takes the lead to measure and reduce food waste
Zero Waste Singapore

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NTUC FairPrice launches initiatives to cut food wastage

The supermarket chain plans to repackage items nearing expiry date and sell them at marked down prices, among other measures.
Nuranisha Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia 29 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice on Thursday (May 28) introduced initiatives to discourage food wastage.

Last year, the total amount of food waste at FairPrice was 2,200 tonnes.

One of the initiatives is repackaging items nearing their expiry date and selling them at marked down prices at its hypermarkets. Another is developing an index, to measure food waste at its various stores.

Under The Great Taste Less Waste Selection initiative, fruits and vegetables that are not aesthetically appealing would be cut into smaller pieces and repackaged to make them more attractive to consumers. They would then be sold at lower prices at all FairPrice Xtra stores.

NTUC FairPrice said it hopes that consumers would be receptive to the initiative.

“You do not even see (the flaws) because it is so well packaged. It is very colourful. One thing is that it appeals, I would buy it,” remarked shopper Mr Gerald Tay.

NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng said: “Consumers would know that there is really nothing wrong with it. At the same time, you get better prices, they taste just as good and you are helping reducing food waste, which is something that we are concerned with and we can play a major role in reducing it.”

- CNA/xq

NTUC Fairprice champions food waste reduction in new initiative
LOUISA TANG Today Online 28 May 15;

SINGAPORE — In an industry first, the largest supermarket chain in Singapore has started an index tracking its food waste reduction efforts.

NTUC FairPrice’s index measures the annual total food waste it produces against the total retail space of all its stores.

Last year, FairPrice’s food waste came up to 11.9kg per sq m, which is the equivalent of 88 garbage trucks’ worth, or 2,200 tonnes.

At a launch of its food waste reduction framework today (May 28), FairPrice (Singapore) chief executive officer Seah Kian Peng said the chain aims to use the index as a benchmark to further reduce the food waste it generates in subsequent years, although no target has been set.

“Just as we want to drive productivity up, we want to drive the index down ... as far as possible,” he said.

Food waste makes up 10 per cent of Singapore’s total waste. Only 13 per cent of food waste was recycled last year, statistics from the National Environment Agency show, although the authorities are trying to push up the recycling rate, including announcing a pilot recently on placing food waste recycling machines at two of Singapore’s largest hawker centres.

As part of its food waste reduction framework, FairPrice has also started a campaign to raise public awareness of food waste.

Called “Great Taste Less Waste Selection”, fruits and vegetables at all seven FairPrice Xtra stores which are left unsold due to blemishes and bruises will be cut into smaller pieces and repackaged, then sold at discounted prices of up to 20 per cent. For example, a package of fruits that cost S$2.50 will cost S$2 under the selection.

Said Mr Seah: “We found that many customers tend to choose only fruits and vegetables that look perfect, resulting in wholesome foods going to waste. We are looking to raise awareness that wholesome products with imperfections, such as slight scratches and blemishes, are still perfectly safe for consumption.”

During a one-week pilot of the campaign, about 70 per cent of repackaged vegetables and 90 per cent of the fruits were sold.

FairPrice is looking at extending the campaign to other outlets in the future, as well partnering with external companies to process food waste into compost.

Responding to the campaign, retiree Gerald Tay, 66, said: “It’s well-packaged, presentable, very colourful and appealing. The combination is very good. You don’t have to buy many kinds (of fruits or vegetables) too. When you buy one packet, you can have the full complement.”

FairPrice began a long-term partnership with Food from the Heart last month, where 55 FairPrice stores donate unsold but still wholesome canned food products to the community. So far, they have donated about S$20,000 worth of canned food.

NTUC FairPrice launches initiative to discourage food wastage at stores
SAMANTHA BOH Straits Times 28 May 15;

SINGAPORE - Consumers can now buy packages of sliced fruit and vegetables at marked down prices, as part of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice Great Taste Less Waste Selection initiative.

The initiative is aimed at reducing instances where such produce are discarded because they do not look good or are near expiry.

Before this, marked down prices only applied to seafood and chilled meats after they have been displayed for a day.

This initiative will start off at its seven hypermarkets before eventually being rolled out to its other supermarkets.

It was piloted over the last week with encouraging results. Ninety per cent of repackaged fruit and 70 per cent of repackaged vegetables were sold.

"I believe we are on the right track and I believe also with all these public education going out consumers will realised that there is nothing wrong (with these blemished products)," said Mr Seah Kian Peng, chief executive of NTUC FairPrice.

FairPrice also launched the industry's first Food Waste Index on Thursday, which will be used to measure the total food waste produced at its stores across the island.

The new index is part of its Food Waste Framework, which was announced in October 2014. It was introduced to combat food waste through 3Ps - public education, processes, and partnerships.

It is meant to help FairPrice track its progress on its various food waste reduction initiatives under its Food Waste Framework.

Mr Seah said the index will provide a more structured and sustainable approach to tackling the food waste problem. Beyond this FairPrice will explore the possibility of processing food waste into compost.

According to National Environment Agency statistics, 788,600 tonnes of food waste was generated in 2014, which accounted for 10 per cent of total waste.

In 2014, FairPrice produced 2,200 tonnes of food waste, which is equivalent to 88 garbage trucks. This made up about 0.3 per cent of total food waste generate here.

FairPrice has also started a partnership programme with voluntary welfare group Food from the Heart in April, where it will donate unsold but still wholesome canned food products to the community.

Currently 55 FairPrice stores donate to the Food from the Heart and the aim is to get all 126 stores to do so by July.

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PUB to delve deep into 10 Singapore reservoirs

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 May 15;

Singapore will be looking at what lies beneath its reservoirs to find out how to better maintain them.

National water agency PUB plans to conduct a soil study of 10 reservoirs around the island to better understand how water moves between the reservoirs, and the groundwater system immediately beneath them.

In tender documents outlining the first-of- its-kind project, the agency said the work would help improve the management, maintenance and long-term planning of Singapore's reservoirs.

Experts told The Straits Times that the agency would be able to estimate, for example, how quickly and how much water seeps from the reservoirs into the groundwater system.

In response to queries, PUB said it carries out routine samplings of sediments at the reservoir bed surfaces every three to five years.

"This is the first time we are conducting the soil studies at depths below the bed surfaces, to have a more comprehensive mapping of the physical and chemical characteristics of the soil sediments," a spokesman said.

The project is expected to start in August and be completed within six months.

According to the tender documents, the agency wants a total of 21 boreholes dug at the reservoirs.

These are the Kranji, Pandan, Sarimbun, Lower Seletar, Punggol, Serangoon, Marina, Poyan, Tengah and Jurong Lake reservoirs.

The samples will be taken from the reservoir beds, at 0.9m, 1.9m, 2.9m below the bed, and, if possible, at every 3m, up to a depth of about 30m.

Laboratory tests will be run on the soil samples to find out their moisture content, the size of the particles in the soil, and other characteristics.

Assistant Professor Ku Taeseo, from the National University of Singapore's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: "In terms of the natural water cycle, groundwater is a kind of long-term reservoir.

"Basic soil characterisations are important to understand seepage issues, such as the flow pattern, speed and amount."

He added that PUB might also want to check the water's movement by extensive monitoring of the groundwater.


This is the first time we are conducting the soil studies at depths below the bed surfaces, to have a more comprehensive mapping of the physical and chemical characteristics of the soil sediments.

- A PUB spokesman, on the soil study project

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More cameras to nab high-rise litterbugs

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 May 15;

THROW litter like tissue paper and cigarette butts out of your flat's window and you may be nabbed on camera.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has been ramping up its use of electronic eyes to catch high-rise litterbugs.

Now, it wants to continue the practice and hire a contractor to deploy high-definition cameras paired with video analytics to catch offenders in the act.

According to tender documents seen by The Straits Times, the cameras will be deployed temporarily to monitor housing units with suspected litterbugs.

The NEA estimated that there will be an average of 70 to 110 deployments each month, and about 1,080 a year, for the next two years.

Last year, the agency received 2,500 cases of feedback about high-rise littering, up from 1,600 in 2013.

It took action against offenders 206 times last year, compared with 458 times in 2013.

The NEA has already been using surveillance cameras in areas where complaints about high-rise littering persist. Last year, cameras were deployed at 600 locations, compared with about 500 places in 2013.

In January, a smoker who repeatedly chucked his cigarette butts out of his flat window was fined a record $19,800 and sentenced to five hours of corrective work, after he was nabbed with the help of surveillance cameras.

The new camera deployments will be at public housing estates and other locations, and the NEA said they should be able to help it identify perpetrators both during the day and in low-light conditions.

If this cannot be achieved, the system should at least be able to tell the agency which unit in an HDB block the high-rise litter came from, it said.

The tamper-proof cameras will be able to be mounted on rooftops, along common corridors of residential buildings, and at staircase landings, multi-storey carparks and other locations.

They will be able to record even the littering of small items like cigarette butts and tissue paper, and video analytic software will trigger an alert when such litter is captured by the cameras.

The NEA said the video clips might be submitted to court as prosecution evidence. Video or images that do not show any littering will be destroyed after three months.

Public Hygiene Council chairman Liak Teng Lit said the rise in feedback showed that people are becoming more vocal about such littering. He said: "In some of the cases, people have been putting up with the littering for months.

"This technology will help the NEA do its job, especially against the serial litterbugs, more efficiently."

Some high-rise littering cases

January 2015: A 38-year-old smoker who threw 34 cigarette butts out of his flat window in Sengkang over four days was fined a record $19,800 and sentenced to five hours of corrective work.

June 2013: A 28-year-old woman was fined $400 for throwing a bag of rubbish out of a window at her home in MacPherson.

In the same month, another woman, aged 20, was fined $800 for tossing a cigarette butt from her home in Hougang.

April 2013: A 60-year-old man living in Toa Payoh was fined $800 for chucking a cigarette butt out of his window.

January 2013: A woman who threw a bag of rubbish from her Punggol flat was fined $950.

August 2012: A 29-year-old man was fined $1,000 for throwing a cigarette butt from the window of a sixth-storey flat in Bukit Batok.

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Singer-songwriter Inch Chua draws inspiration from quiet kampung life on Pulau Ubin

Straits Times 28 May 15;

Since March, singer-songwriter Inch Chua has been staying mostly on Pulau Ubin by herself.

A typical day for her starts from between five and seven in the morning, when the sound of roosters crowing wakes her. She goes for a morning jog and then heads down to the coffee shop near the island's jetty to have breakfast as well as use the Wi-Fi connection there to do administrative work on her laptop for an hour or so.

For the rest of the day, she hikes around the island, takes mid-day naps and works on her music.


She pumps water from a well daily and, once a month, has to empty the toilet's sceptic tank.

Such has been her inspiration for the 20 new songs she has written so far while living on the island.

She says: "I always find it particularly funny that my peers will always say, 'Oh no, if you want to find inspiration, you must go overseas, somewhere far away.' I think that's a lie, there's got to be a place. And Pulau Ubin came to mind because it's so out there."

Chua, also known by the stylised moniker iNCH, plans to stay at a three-bedroom kampung house on Pulau Ubin until the middle of next month.

There is solar power available in the house, but because the wattage is so low, she uses electronic gadgets sparingly and turns on her mobile phone only occasionally.

For meals, she cooks or buys food from the island's coffee shop or hops on a boat and heads to the hawker centres at Changi Village.

"That's the interesting thing about living on the island, you get conscious of how much food and water you consume, so I realise I do things like conserve a lot of water when I shower," says the 26-year-old.

She will also be performing at Barber Shop by Timbre on June 27 as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts' public engagement initiative, The O.P.E.N.

Some of the new songs she has written will be in an EP she plans to release in September; the rest will go to a full-length album expected to be completed next year.

In a joint project with The Artists Village, National Art Council and Lee Foundation, she has also conducted workshops in which participants get to spend time with her on the island and see how the rural environment affects the music she makes.

Adapting to a new environment for the sake of her music is nothing new to Chua, whose discography includes an EP, The Bedroom, in 2009; as well as two full-length albums, Wallflower (2010) and Bumfuzzle (2013).

In the past few years, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York, gigging and doing music work. She has plans to return to the United States, possibly to Chicago.

But for now, she is enjoying the simple life. The kampung is next to a cemetery, but Chua is not in the least spooked. In fact, she relishes the quietness of the area and even goes for night walks there.

"The solitude really affects me in a good way. I do find that because of the pace of life here, putting myself in an environment like that has altered my thinking. It calms me down, which is something I have been wanting because I am a nomadic person and it's good to practise the art of stillness for a while."

Singer-songwriter Inch Chua conquers the world inch by inch
HON JING YI Today Online 1 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — To say Inch Chua leads an interesting life would be quite the understatement.

She is only 26 years old, but the bold-as-brass Singaporean singer-songwriter has lived a life that is fuller, more closely examined and more action-packed than most of her peers.

In the past few years alone, she has published a collection of her writings, paintings and drawings, released well-received and highly adventurous EPs such as Wallflower and Bumfuzzle, driven all by her lonesome across the United States in 11 days and, to her mother’s chagrin, gone on a solo expedition up Mount Everest last December.

And her adventures, Chua says, have been crucial in shaping her perspectives, work and even goals.

“I would say I am less ambitious (now) than I was before,” said Chua, as she spoke of what she hoped to achieve in the music industry. “The shift happened during my trip to Nepal, when I was climbing Mount Everest. While you are climbing up, it’s really tiring, and you get less and less oxygen. When you finally get to the glaciers, you think they look amazing. But more than anything else, it all felt very dead because nothing lives at that altitude. There was something very silent about the place, like you were on an alien planet. The texture of the mountain was very dark and rough — but it also had a personality. If I were to describe Everest as a human being, the first words that pop into my mind would be ‘unforgiving’ and ‘bitter’. That was the energy I felt.”

She continued: “You kind of realise that it needs to be that way because it’s the tallest mountain in the entire world. But the best part of the trip wasn’t climbing up — it was climbing down. Not because you get to go home, but because when you are walking down, life introduces itself to you again. The shrubs, trees and animals come out again. (And then you realise,) being at the top is overrated. When you look at it from the outside, it seems amazing and grandiose. But when you are actually doing it, you need a certain kind of personality and calibre — and it’s something that doesn’t sit well with me.”


For Chua, the goal is not to be at the top — it is about finding out where the “sweet spot” is. And right now, it’s currently at sea level. More specifically, Pulau Ubin.

Since March, Chua, who was previously based in New York and Los Angeles, has also been living on the offshore island to write and record her brand new Ubin-inspired EP, which will be released in September.

And while most of us pampered souls would bemoan the loss of modern luxuries such as air-conditioning, hot water and proper sanitation facilities, Chua seems quite taken with her new home.

“Oh, it’s awesome, I love it! I love my life in Pulau Ubin so much more than urban life,” Chua revealed. “There is more stillness and calmness. And I do love the solitude more than anything else.”

That said, she admitted that living on Pulau Ubin is no walk in the park. Chua lives in an old kampung house, which not only has no electricity or running water, but also occasionally admits the odd (and

very unwelcome) visitor or two.

“The first day I got there, I was like, all right, I am ready for insect genocide. I was just murdering everything I saw non-stop, from cockroaches to mosquitos,” said Chua, whose legs bear visible scars of insect bites. “There are also snakes and scorpions that wander into my house. Step one is to calm down. Step two is to calm down again. And step three is to gently direct it out of the door.”

She continued: “The truth is, if you get bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion, you probably deserved it. That is how I feel. Because they are naturally not antagonistic. They bite only when they feel threatened. As long as you make sure you let it know you are in its territory, they back off.”

Chua was also once chased by a pack of stray dogs, which had been startled by her presence.

“That was a sensation I had never felt before — fear. It’s a sensation you don’t normally feel unless you have seven dogs chasing you,” she quipped.

However, in the face of all these obstacles, Chua has fallen in love with her life on the little island. Although she conceded that she misses her 17-year-old dog, which lives with her parents while she is away.

“I genuinely went into (this Pulau Ubin project) wanting the experience to be a total immersion,” she said, adding that she wished she did not have to return to the mainland at all. “What I enjoyed most about it was that it was Pulau Ubin. It’s something very close to our identity as Singaporeans. And, at the same time, it feels so detached from us — it feels so rural, undeveloped and so different. It’s great to be able to find a place where you can practise the art of stillness and just immerse yourself in something new.”

But for Chua, the biggest adventure of all is not one that takes you across countries or up mountains, but one you take into your own heart and mind.

“I really believe in taking trips on your own because if you travel with someone, it’s about you and that someone, more so than the experience,” she said. “When you actually do it on your own, it’s the process that goes through your brain. Where does your brain go normally when there is no one else? There is so much more time to deeply think about life.”

Catch Inch Chua at the House Of Riot concert on Saturday, June 6, at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Tickets at S$50 from SISTIC. Chua will also perform at the Singapore International Festival of Arts’ The O.P.E.N on June 27 at 9.30pm at Barber Shop by TIMBRE. Admission is free with O.P.E.N. Pass. Limited single entry tickets also available at the door.

Read more!

Singapore-registered fishing vessel detained by Malaysian authorities

The vessel is alleged to have been fishing illegally in Malaysian waters.
Channel NewsAsia 29 May 15;

SINGAPORE: A Singapore-registered fishing vessel and its four crew members have been detained in Malaysia for alleged illegal fishing in its waters.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Thursday (May 28) confirmed the incident.

“We are aware that an AVA-licensed fishing vessel, SMF1195, has been detained by the Malaysian authorities,” an AVA spokesperson said, in response to queries from Channel 8 News.

“Singapore understands that the fishing vessel was in Singapore waters when it was first approached by the Malaysian authorities. Singapore has registered our concerns with Malaysia over this incident and is in contact with the Malaysian authorities.”

The vessel's owner, Lian Yak Fish Merchant, said the boat was about four nautical miles off Pedra Branca at 6am on Tuesday, when it was approached by a Malaysian patrol boat. The fishing vessel was later detained at Kota Tinggi in Johor.

Lian Yak Fish Merchant also said the three Malaysian officials had boarded the fishing vessel and told them to head towards Sedili in Kota Tinggi. “We arrived the next day, and the crew members were detained without bail,” the company said.

Lian Yak Fish Merchant added that the vessel was probably not in Malaysian waters, as it had been fishing in the area for more than 40 years, and even though it had misunderstandings previously, they were resolved.

“Our vessels are equipped with global positioning systems so their locations are clearly indicated. The crew wouldn’t enter Malaysian waters. They also recorded their position at that time, and they are very clear of where they are,” the company's business development manager explained.

The four crew members are foreigners between the ages of 36 and 62, and they are slated to appear in court next Tuesday, the firm added.

- CNA/fs

Singapore-registered vessel detained in Malaysia, AVA confirms
CHITRA KUMAR Straits Times 29 May 15;

SINGAPORE - The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it is aware that an AVA-licensed fishing vessel, SMF1195, was detained by the Malaysian authorities.

"Singapore understands that the fishing vessel was in Singapore waters when it was first approached by the Malaysian authorities. Singapore has registered our concerns with Malaysia over this incident and is in contact with the Malaysian authorities," a AVA spokesman said.

The vessel and its four crew members were detained in Malaysia for alleged illegal fishing in its water, reports said.

The boat was about four nautical miles off Pedra Branca on Tuesday morning when it was approached by the Malaysian authorities. The fishing vessel was later detained at Kota Tinggi in Johor, according to reports.

Singapore claims M’sian held fishing vessel was in its waters
New Straits Times 29 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Singapore has registered “our concerns” with Malaysia over the latter’s detention of a Singapore-registered fishing vessel that the republic claims was in its waters when first approached by the Malaysian authorities.

Channel NewsAsia (CNA) television quoted the Singapore Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) as having confirmed the incident on Thursday and saying that Singapore was in contact with the Malaysian authorities.

CNA quoted an AVA spokesman as saying that the AVA-licensed fishing vessel, SMF1195, and its four crew were detained for alleged poaching in Malaysian waters.

The report quoted AVA as saying that “Singapore understands that the fishing vessel was in Singapore waters when it was first approached by the Malaysian authorities.

“Singapore has registered our concerns with Malaysia over this incident and is in contact with the Malaysian authorities.

” The vessel’s owner, Lian Yak Fish Merchant, reportedly said the boat was about four nautical miles off Pedra Branca at 6 am on Tuesday when it was approached by a Malaysian patrol boat. The vessel was later detained at Kota Tinggi in Johor.

Lian Yak Fish Merchant also said that three Malaysian officials had boarded the vessel and told the crew to head towards Sedili in Kota Tinggi.

“We arrived the next day, and the crew members were detained without bail,” the company was quoted as saying.

Lian Yak Fish Merchant said the vessel was probably not in Malaysian waters, as it had been fishing in the area for more than 40 years, and even though it had misunderstandings previously, they were resolved.

The four crew are foreigners between the ages of 36 and 62, and they are slated to appear in court next Tuesday, the firm said. – BERNAMA

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Survey finds medicines from bear parts widely available in Malaysia

TRAFFIC 29 May 15;

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 29th May 2015—A new TRAFFIC study has found that the illegal trade in bear bile and gall bladder for traditional medicine is open and widespread across Malaysia and is potentially a serious threat to wild bears.

In a survey of 365 traditional medicine shops across Malaysia, 175 (48 percent ) claimed to be selling bear gall bladders and medicinal products containing bear bile, according to the study Hard to Bear: An assessment of trade in bear bile and gall bladder in Malaysia.

Every State in Malaysia had bear products for sale, especially Peninsular Malaysia, where bear bile pills were the most common item sold, with the States of Kelantan and Johor topping the list.

Nearly 60 percent of 298 bear gall bladders observed for sale were claimed to be from wild Sun Bears killed locally through either opportunistic or deliberate poaching.

Whole bear gall bladders were more frequently observed in Sabah and Sarawak—almost all vendors here claimed that gall bladders observed for sale were sourced locally, as have some Peninsular Malaysia traders.

“The fact that so many traders revealed that gall bladders were sourced locally for trade, points to a potentially significant impact on wild bear populations throughout Malaysia,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

Staff in more than half of the shops surveyed admitted to knowing that trade in bear parts and products was illegal under the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and carries stiff penalties. The vast majority of shops selling bear products claimed to have ongoing supplies of at least some of the items; there are no known captive bear breeding facilities in Malaysia.

“Domestic and international trade is prohibited, yet parts and products continue to be locally sourced or imported from elsewhere. With health being the foremost motivation for continued illegal trade, this study has paved the way for platform for engagement with key players from the health sector to influence change”.

TRAFFIC is engaging with the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia and the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau of the Ministry of Health to drive home the urgent need to end the illegal trade in bear products.

At a joint press conference today, the Federation today issued a call to its 43 member associations to stop using parts or products of protected wildlife in their practice and retail outlets.

It also said the continued use of endangered wildlife parts such as bear bile and gall bladder, showed a lack of respect for local and international laws and was not necessary in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine as herbal alternatives were available.

In its dialogue with TRAFFIC, Malaysia’s National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB) of the Ministry of Health, that registers all medicines for sale in the country, has assured that the use of ingredients from wildlife parts or derivatives in the formulation of a registered product would be made to comply with wildlife laws.

Since the meeting, the NPCB has also taken action to ensure there are no registered products containing bear bile for sale in Malaysia as it is prohibited under these Acts.

“While the Wildlife Department and the Ministry of Health are to be congratulated for their continued enforcement efforts arising from this study, it is clear there is a long way to go to stamp out the illegal trade in bear parts and products within Malaysia,” said Dr Shepherd.

More frequent checks and prosecution of traders selling bear products and those who supply them was the only way to send a strong deterrent message to illegal traders, poachers and consumers, he added.

“Assistance from within the traditional Chinese medicine community is also essential to end this trade, and TRAFFIC is delighted to have the support and co-operation of the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia,” said Dr Shepherd.

Hundreds of traditional medicine shops selling products made from endangered bears
PATRICK LEE The Star 29 May 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Roughly half of over 300 Malaysian traditional medicine shops surveyed in 2012 were found selling illegal items made from endangered bears.

Wildlife monitoring group Traffic found that some 175 of 365 shops surveyed here were selling medicine made from bear gall bladder or bile.

"The rate was highest in Peninsular Malaysia, where 51% of the shops surveyed were found to sell bear products (or 148 shops)," the report named "Hard to Bear" said.

Products sold in these shops were found in many forms including whole bear gall bladders, bear bile pills, bile extract and many more.

Some of these are likely to have been sourced from Asiatic black bears found across East Asia and sun bears found in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia.

Bear gall bladders reportedly sourced from ‘domestic’ bears within Malaysia, found at an unknown traditional medicine shop. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

Prices, Traffic found, ranged from RM0.40 a pill to RM3,360 for a whole gall bladder weighing 38g.

While many of these items appear to have been imported, some gall bladders were supposedly sourced from Malaysia.

"Nearly 60% of all bear gall bladders observed for retail were claimed to have been sourced from local bears," the report said.

Some shop owners admitted to Traffic that main sources of bear bladders included native Orang Asli and aborigines from Sabah and Sarawak.

Poachers, the group said, may have also been involved in the killing of bears here, though TRAFFIC said it did not have numbers of how many were hunted.

It is not known how many bears are being killed every year for their body parts, though the number may be anywhere from the hundreds to thousands.

Xiongdan (bear bile) pills up for sale at an unknown traditional medicine shop in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The report added that more than 13,000 bears were likely held in bear farms across China, Laos, Myanmar, South Korea and Vietnam.

According to Malaysian law, the sun bear is a "totally protected" species in the Peninsular and Sabah. It enjoys a lesser "protected" status in Sarawak.

Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which makes trade of the Asiatic black bear and sun bear illegal.

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Indonesia: Dynamite fishing, trawl-nets ravaging Tomini Bay

Syamsul Huda M.Suhari, The Jakarta Post 28 May 15;

The Gulf of Tomini, which will play host to two international maritime events later this year, continues to suffer from environmental destruction due to illegal fishing and the absence of law enforcement.

Tomini, which is bounded by three provinces in Sulawesi Island, has suffered mightily from dynamite fishing and trawl-net fishing. Environmental activists have reported that in Pohuwato regency in Gorontalo, fishermen still employed the destructive method to ensure larger catches.

According to Nilmawati of Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, while fishermen in Lemito and Popayato said dynamite fishing net them at least 700 kilograms of fish per day and trawl-netting 200 kilograms of fish per trip, fish populations were steadily declining.

“Bombings destroy corals, which function as reproduction sites for fish,” Nilmawati said Wednesday.

Fishermen who used more environmentally friendly tools like fishing rods or spears, meanwhile, catch less than 70 kilograms of fish each day.

According to DFW research, satellite imaging revealed a massive reduction in the coral coverage in waters off Lemito, one of the best and most important coral reefs in the world.

In 1990, coral coverage was recorded over 883,620 hectares off Lemito. In 2014, the reef had been reduced by 134 hectares.

Nilmawati said the situation would deteriorate further if nothing was done. “Coral growth is very slow. We are only seeing around a centimeter of growth each year,” she said.

The two international maritime events, the Sail Tomini and the Boalemo Festival, are expected to boost protection efforts by local administrations and raise awareness among fishermen, specifically by providing a solution for dynamite fishing.

The Gulf of Tomini is known as a center of marine diversity, home to 819 species of reef fish. Based on 2007 data, 4 million people make a living from the gulf.

Ansar Akuba, an environmental activist in Tomini, said that the economic drivers of dynamic fishing were exacerbated by the lack of monitoring by law enforcers.

The annual Sail Indonesia event in Tomini, scheduled to be held in Central Sulawesi on Sept. 18-20, aims to accelerate economic growth and developing marine tourism in Indonesia.

The central government expects Sail Tomini 2015 to benefit the regions in many ways, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

According to government data, domestic and international tourists to the province rose by 10.53 percent during the fourth quarter of the year compared to the same quarter last year. The sail is expected to help increase the number of travelers to the province by the in the third quarter of 2015.

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Philippines: UNDP, DENR undertake new P352-million biodiversity project

BusinessMirror 28 May 15;

IN the lead-up to the World Environment Day on June 5 and to mark the Month of the Oceans this May, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) has launched a new partnership to help strengthen the protection, conservation and management of marine key biodiversity areas in the Philippines.

The Marine Key Biodiversity Areas (MKBA) Project, with a P352-million ($8-million) funding from the Global Environment Facility, will be implemented in five sites, namely, the Verde Island Passage, Lanuza Bay, Davao Gulf, Southern Palawan and Tanon Strait.

The Philippines ranks third in terms of marine biodiversity in the world, and hosts a total of 464 reef-building coral species, or nearly half of all known coral species. The Philippine waters are estimated to harbor an estimated 10,000 species, or approximately one-fifth of all known species. The country’s marine waters are also widely regarded by marine biologists as the epicenter of marine biodiversity—having 123 key marine biodiversity areas.

“We all know, however, that these are at significant risk threatened by over exploitation and unsustainable practices,” UNDP Philippines Country Director Titon Mitra said at the launch. “The argument for conservation is not just about preserving natural beauty and diversity—the country’s biodiverse species also have significant income generating potential.”

“If biodiversity management becomes effective, it produces revenue, which, in turn, provides the financing for biodiversity management and then provides further impetus for enabling policies and practices for marine biodiversity. It can also provide for sustainable livelihoods for the coastal poor—encouraging them to conserve biodiversity,” Mitra added.

“Moreover, if the condition of the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems are improved and enhanced, their contribution to resilience building of coastal communities to the effects of anthropogenic and natural pressures like climate change is better and their ability to provide ecological goods is increased.”

The five-year MKBA Project will assist in accelerating establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Marine Protected Area Networks (MPANs) to include more key marine biodiversity areas. The project will also help improve management effectiveness and financial sustainability of MPAs and MPANs and establish an enabling policy framework for marine biodiversity conservation.

The launch, held at the Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center in Ortigas, Pasig City, was also attended by DENR-BMB Executive Director Vincent Hilomen and DENR – BMB Director Theresa Mundita Lim. Also present were project partners, including National Fisheries Research and Development Institute of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Conservation International-Philippines, World Wildlife Fund-Philippines, RARE Philippines, Haribon Foundation, FishBase Information and Research Group Inc., University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, and the local government units in the involved sites.

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Best of our wild blogs: 27-28 May 15

Zero Waste Singapore – A Call to Action
Zero Waste Singapore

The celebration returns to Pulau Ubin
The Long and Winding Road

Band-bellied Crake – Singapore’s Very Public Rarity
Singapore Bird Group

Asian Glossy Starling caught a snail
Bird Ecology Study Group

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SPCA to roll out stray cat sterilisation programme

SYAFFANA SAZALI Today Online 26 May 15;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to further reduce the stray cat population in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will from next Monday (June 1) offer free sterilisation and microchipping of stray cats living in HDB estates.

The programme will replace the SPCA’s existing sterilisation voucher scheme, which offers free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups

Under the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, first formally launched in 2011 by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), caregivers will have to register with the SPCA clinic to book an appointment for sterilisation and microchipping, or do so at a participating veterinary clinic, said the SPCA in a press release today. The costs will be funded by the SPCA and AVA equally.

Cats living outside of HDB neighbourhoods, such as those in industrial and private housing estates, or farms and outer fringe areas, can be sterilised for S$25 each.

On replacing the current voucher scheme, which started in 1991, Ms Corinne Fong, Executive Director of the SPCA, told TODAY that the organisation decided to streamline its sterilisation operations, instead of running two programmes. The SPCA has distributed more than 33,000 free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups under the existing scheme, totalling S$1.2 million borne by the SPCA.

Ms Fong said the new programme would be more efficient because the SPCA would have direct communication with stray feeders, while the current scheme does not provide the SPCA with the feeders’ identity or information such as their contact numbers.

“The SPCA believes inworking closely with the relevant caregivers/feeders of the community cats, helping the caregivers/feeders to be more accountable and take greater ownership of the respective cats in their care,” she said. “By ‘tagging’ each community cat sterilised under the (new programme) to its respective caregiver/feeder, that cat can be better traced to the latter as and when there are issues to do with it, for example, when it has been reported in need of seeking treatment for its injury, we can alert the caregiver. In many cases, when cats are not microchipped and thus not tagged to a caregiver/feeder, we aren’t able to locate the person.”

The SPCA also said it would train its volunteers and mediators to work with community feeders to encourage sterilisation, responsible feeding and public education.

The organisation will continue to assist stray dog feeders with controlling and managing the stray dog numbers. Individual feeders and rescuers can arrange to sterilise and microchip the dogs at the SPCA clinic at a subsidised rate of S$25 each, said the SPCA.

SPCA joining scheme to sterilise stray cats
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 May 15;

A national sterilisation programme to reduce the stray cat population in Singapore will have a new partner from next week - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), it said yesterday.

With SPCA coming on board from Monday, caregivers of stray cats in HDB estates will have anotheroption if they choose to get their animal charges sterilised.

The sterilisation initiative was rolled out nationwide by the Cat Welfare Society and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in May last year.

Under it, volunteers can take strays from HDB estates to selected veterinary clinics to get them sterilised and micro-chipped for free. The cost is borne equally between AVA and either the SPCA or Cat Welfare Society.

It typically costs between $30 and $60 to neuter a cat, and another $20 to microchip it.

The SPCA said the programme will make caregivers more accountable for the animals in their care, since each cat sterilised under the scheme will be given a microchip number tagged to its caregiver.

This will make it easier for SPCA to look for the caregiver under certain situations, such as if the cat has been injured and requires treatment, said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong.

She added that the programme will offer the animal welfare group the opportunity to work more closely with community cat feeders in their efforts to trap, neuter and release the animals.

Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau said the group sterilised 4,749 cats last year, although less than 20 per cent of the sterilisations were undertaken as part of the programme.

She said: "The number of stray cats in HDB estates has more or less stabilised."

SPCA to implement stray cat sterilisation programme on June 1
AsiaOne 26 May 15;

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) announced on Tuesday that it will implement the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme on June 1.

The programme, a new collaboration between SPCA and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), aims to further reduce the number of stray cats in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates.

It was first launched by the AVA and the Cat Welfare Society last year.

Under the stray cat sterilisation programme, a community cat can be sterilised and microchipped for free at a participating veterinary clinic. Community cat caregivers will have to register with the SPCA clinic to book appointments beforehand.

The costs of sterilisation and microchipping will be funded by the AVA and SPCA equally.

SPCA added that community cats living in places such as industrial and private housing estates, or farms and outer fringe areas, can be sterilised for a nominal sum of $25 each.

The SPCA will also train its volunteers and mediators to work with community feeders in the areas of encouraging sterilisation, responsible feeding and public education.

The stray cat sterilisation programme will replace SPCA's existing sterilisation voucher scheme which came into effect in 1991.
Under the scheme, the SPCA has distributed over 33,000 free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups, which amounted to a total of $1.2 million borne by the SPCA.

For more information on the stray cat sterilisation programme, visit

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Clearing of Tanglin Halt ‘hangout’ upsets activists

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 26 May 15;

SINGAPORE — The recent clearance of items from State land near Tanglin Halt by the authorities has upset some community activists, who have been trying to revive its use for farming and as a hangout spot.

The plot of land, about the size of a basketball court, is near to the vacated Block 76 and a disused carpark along Commonwealth Drive.

Ten to 20 years ago, the spot — marked by a bamboo grove — became a hangout for drivers of trucks and lorries as the carpark allowed for heavy-vehicle parking, according to residents and Mr Kwek Li Yong, president of civic group My Community. A Taoist shrine was later set up, complete with statues of deities and floor tiles, but the unauthorised shrine was relocated in 2011 by the Singapore Land Authority, together with the then-Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, to the Taoist Federation in accordance with rituals, an SLA spokesperson said. The removal was necessary to prevent further unauthorised use of State land, the spokesperson added.

Last month, the SLA put up a notice alerting users of the land of unlawful trespass via the placing of chairs, tables, plants and other items there, and requested the removal of items by April 23. Some items were then removed but it is unclear who did it. An informal community group, which has set up a Facebook page called Tree Shrine Sessions at Tanglin Halt, then organised sessions to clear litter from the area and has been encouraging the nearby community to return to the space, said the group’s spokesman Joseph Nair, who lives at Stirling Road.

On Saturday (May 23), they found that the remaining items in the area, as well as the crown of the bamboo grove, had been removed by the authorities. “We were shocked at the brutality when they cut the tree. It was a small beautiful space, the small community that enjoyed the area shouldn’t need to abandon it just because SLA said so,” said Mr Nair.

When contacted, the SLA said it had put up advisories in the area since April 9 informing parties to remove the items by April 23. “As we did not receive any call or feedback then, we proceeded to clear the items on 22 May 2015 as there were potential mosquito breeding concerns from the rubbish and the discarded containers,” said the spokesperson.

Its latest notice put up last Thursday informs parties to remove cultivation in the area by June 4. “Cultivation of land should be done in designated areas in order not to cause disamenity to others,” the spokesperson said.

The SLA also said it received a request from one of the community activists, Ms Lucy Davis, on Saturday for the space to be regenerated as an informal hangout. It will be working with the area’s grassroots advisor, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, to look into Ms Davis’ feedback and “explore a suitable arrangement for the community to continue using the site”.

A Commonwealth Drive resident who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan, 72, told TODAY he has previously tried to grow sugarcane, papaya and banana on the land but found the plants chopped away a few months ago. Mr Tan, who passes the site frequently for walks along the Rail Corridor, would also take fruits to the area to feed squirrels. Asked about the removal of items and the crown of the bamboo grove, he felt it was a pity but acknowledged that the land belonged to the State. “We have no demands, we are just retirees and are not very sure about the rules,” he said.

The group, which has about five active members, want to help Mr Tan and his friend to seek permission for a community farm in the area. They were also planning to submit a proposal for the site, in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s recent call for creative ideas for forgotten public spaces. The group hopes for the bamboo grove to be allowed to regenerate, Mr Nair said.

Ms Davis said the Taoist shrine has come up often in interviews with shopkeepers in the community carried out by her students at the Nanyang Technological University, where she is an assistant professor. Such shrines are unique to the syncretic culture of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, she said.

She added that the active users of the bamboo grove have kept the place clean and tidy, and the litter come from people who use the adjacent pathway to get to their workplaces and those who picnic there on weekends.

However, My Community’s Mr Kwek, whose group has extensively documented the heritage of Queenstown, felt the site “may not be representative of the Tanglin Halt community”. Users of the site would burn incense or firewood and did not have a good relationship with residents, he said. “Nonetheless, community spaces are constantly altered or removed in fast-developing neighbourhoods like Tanglin Halt. The authorities should consider providing alternative space in other parts of the estate for these (heavy-vehicle) drivers and elderly residents to gather,” he said.

The area around the site will soon see further changes, with Blocks 74 to 80 to be torn down under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme. New homes will be built and demolition works are expected to start later this year, said the Housing and Development Board.

Tanglin Halt makeshift garden set to be cleared
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 May 15;

Residents said the overhang of a large bamboo tree that they often rest under, near Block 76, Commonwealth Drive, some sugarcane plants, as well as banana, papaya and mango trees that they cultivated, some in the 1990s, were severely pruned back last Friday by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

State Lands Encroachment advisories were placed across the site on April 9 and May 21, stating that it is "an offence to unlawfully trespass" on state land by depositing items including refuse there.

An SLA spokesman said an April 23 deadline for residents to remove their personal items, such as furniture, from the site came and went, so the authority proceeded last Friday to clear the items, which it said posed as potential mosquito breeding sites.

A second deadline, looming on June 4, requires them to remove personally cultivated plants from the site.

Retired car repairman Tan Nam Siong, 72, one of about five "regulars" who are there nearly every day, said he was sad to lose the hangout.

"We come here to get out of the house and have some fresh air. It is our idea of happy hour," he said in Mandarin.

Residents said the space started out as an informal rest stop for drivers of heavy-duty vehicles who parked at the open-space carpark next to the block. It also drew taxi drivers on a break.

Over time, a tree shrine housing several deities sprang up.

That block and six others around it have gradually been vacated since 2013 under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.
Tanglin Halt as a whole will eventually be redeveloped under the scheme.

A group of five artists, including photographer Joseph Nair, 29, and visual artist Lucy Davis, 45, came together after the first notice was posted last month, in the hope of preventing the site's destruction.

They started a Facebook community page, Tree Shrine Sessions at Tanglin Halt, and made plans to clean up the site and propose it as an attraction and rest stop along the Rail Corridor, which runs close to it.

Ms Davis, who is a Tanglin Halt resident, said: "The garden is part of the area's heritage, culture and character and we were hoping to develop it into an inter-generational shared space, where the young can interact with the old."

The group has arranged to meet Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, on June 4.

The SLA spokesman said the authority had received Ms Davis' request for the space to be "regenerated" into an informal hangout and will work with Dr Chia "to look into her feedback and to explore a suitable arrangement for the community to continue using the site".

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