Best of our wild blogs: 31 Aug 15

5 Sep (Sat): Talk on "Secret Shores of Singapore" by Ria Tan
wild shores of singapore

Special snails at Pulau Hantu
wild shores of singapore

Seringat-Kias (29082015)
Psychedelic Nature

So much to see at Chek Jawa Wetlands!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) @ Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Monday Morgue

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Man found dead in Pasir Ris Park canal

A 29-year-old man was found dead in Sungei Api Api canal in a suspected case of drowning.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: The body of a 29-year-old man was found in a canal at Pasir Ris Park on Sunday (Aug 30) in a suspected drowning incident, said the police.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a report of a case of drowning at about 3.20pm at Sungei Api Api, located along Car Park D.

Rescuers conducted a surface search, while two divers combed waters in the canal, SCDF said. Rescuers also sent an amphibious vehicle to search the open waters. The man was later found motionless in Sungei Api Api, said police. SCDF added that he was found at about 5.50pm and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said they are investigating the unnatural death.

- CNA/xq

Body of man recovered from waters near Pasir Ris Park
Today Online 30 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — The body of a man was recovered from a river at Pasir Ris Park today (Aug 30), after he reportedly drowned while in the waters near the park.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a call reporting a case of drowning at about 3.20pm at Sungei Api Api along Car Park D of the park. SCDF personnel arrived on the scene within seven minutes, and rescuers conducted a surface search, while two divers combed waters in the canal.

Rescuers also deployed an amphibious vehicle to search the open water near the shoreline. The body of the man was found in Sungei Api Api — a river that leads out to the sea — at 5.50pm.

As the search progressed — the whole operation took about two and a half hours — it drew a crowd of curious onlookers. Individuals believed to know the missing man were seen looking distraught, and angered by bystanders taking photos.

The man, 29, was pronounced dead at the scene. The police said it is investigating the unnatural death. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

Man drowns in canal near Pasir Ris Park
Zhaki Abdullah Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Sep 15;

Chef, 29, on a fishing trip, was reportedly in the water trying to untangle a fishing line

A 29-year-old man drowned yesterday afternoon at Sungei Api Api canal near Pasir Ris Park.

Relatives later identified the victim as Mr Syed Shafiq Syed Peer, 29, a chef. He was believed to have gone into the river to untangle a fishing line that had gotten caught.

Mr Mohammad Lutfi Ghazali, 29, a mover, said the victim seemed to be sure of himself as he climbed down into the water at around 3pm.

But later on, he appeared to be having problems. "He was showing signs of struggle but he didn't shout," said Mr Mohammad Lutfi, who had been at the park for a picnic with his wife.

It was high tide and there was a strong river current, which prevented bystanders from trying to rescue the victim, he said.

Nearby kayakers who had tried to save him were also turned away by the strong current.

Ms Joanna Tan, 29, a headhunter for the oil and gas industry, said she did not realise at first that the victim was drowning, as he did not shout or appear to be signalling for help. She said the victim's sister and maid, who were on the bridge, also did not seem to notice initially that he was in trouble. "He was right in front of them," said Ms Tan.

Eyewitnesses The Straits Times spoke to said they were not sure how deep the water was when Mr Syed Shafiq went into the canal.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and police were informed of the incident at 3.17pm.

The SCDF arrived at the scene at around 3.30pm and deployed amphibious vehicles and Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team divers to try to save the victim.

But his body was later recovered by the divers at 5.50pm and taken to a part of nearby Pasir Ris beach where a blue tent was set up.

By this time, a crowd of more than 100 people had gathered, with some taking photos and videos.

The victim's relatives, who had arrived at the scene, became upset with the bystanders who were taking videos, shouting at them to respect the dead and delete the videos.

Relatives said Mr Syed Shafiq had gone fishing in the park with his father, older sister and maid, who all lived together in Bedok North. His mother and eldest sister are both deceased. The youngest in his family, Mr Syed Shafiq did not go fishing very often, but was a good swimmer, relatives added.

Police, who have classified the case as an unnatural death, are investigating.

- See more at:

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Malaysia: Further drop at two Johor dams


JOHOR BARU: Two dams in Johor have dropped further below their critical levels as the hot spell continues in the southern peninsula.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamil said the levels at the Sungai Lebam dam in Pengerang and the Sungai Layang dam in Pasir Gudang went down again in the past few days.

Water level at the Sungai Lebam dam was at 9.52m yesterday, which was a 0.02m drop from the previous day, and 3.18m below its critical mark of 12.7m. It supplies to 75,000 consumers.

He said the level at the Sungai Layang dam, which supplies water to some 580,000 consumers in Pasir Gudang, Masai and some parts here, dropped further from its critical mark of 23.5m.

The dam recorded 19.05m yesterday, a 0.01m decrease from Saturday.

“Scheduled water supply in affected areas continues, which means consumers affected by the Sungai Layang dam will have water supply for 24 hours before taps go dry for the next 48 hours,” he said.

Consumers using water supplied from Sungai Lebam get regular water supply for 24 hours and are advised to store water before supply ceases for the next 24 hours.

Rationing by SAJ Holdings started on Aug 16 and is scheduled to last until Sept 15.

“But we will review from time to time whether to resume regular supply or to extend the scheduled supply,” Jamaluddin said, adding that it depended on the weather.

However, a solution may be in sight for the over half a million users.

SAJ Holdings and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) had been recommended to replenish Sungai Layang dam by pumping water from the nearby Sungai Johor, which was just about 10km away.

DID Water Resources Management and Hydrology director Datuk Hanapi Mohamad Noor said the plan needed to be executed fast.

He pointed out that Sungai Johor had ample water and the plan was more feasible than cloud seeding.

The measure had been used successfully during the Malacca water crisis in the early 1990s. Water from Sungai Grisik, Muar, was pumped 70km to replenish the Durian Tunggal dam.

“Based on the Malacca experience, we estimate that it will take five months to fill up the Sungai Layang dam using pumps,” he said.

Hanapi said DID was not recommending cloud seeding as the measure depended on clouds and the right wind direction.

“There is no guarantee the rain will fall at the dam water catchment area,” he added.

For details and updates, visit or call SAJ Info Centre at 1-800-88-7474, SMS 019-772 7474 or e-mail

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Malaysia: ‘Selling wildlife is killing Miri’s image with tourists’

The Star 31 Aug 15;

MIRI: Poaching and selling of wildlife can jeopardise the image of the city as a tourist haven, warned Sarawak Assistant Minister for Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin.

He said this following reports that wildlife was found being sold illegally at various native markets here.

“Expatriates and foreign tourists are especially sensitive to issues on wildlife protection and cruelty towards animals,” he said.

Lee was informed a few days ago that an expatriate family had come across native traders at Tamu Muhibbah, a market in the city centre, selling live tortoises kept in inhumane conditions.

He then alerted the Sarawak Forestry Department, which ordered the enforcement unit in Miri to investigate.

“The Sarawak Forestry officers carried out a probe at the native market and found dozens of live tortoises being sold,” said Lee.

“The tortoises were hidden in con­tainers underneath some tables. None of the traders wanted to admit that they were the ones selling the tortoises.”

Lee said the animals were seized and the enforcement officers issued a warning to the traders.

“I hope that the enforcement will continue regularly. There must be strict monitoring to stop such illegal trading of wildlife.

“Expatriates and foreign tourists are very sensitive to such cruel acts and the image of Miri as a tourist spot can be jeopardised,” he said.

The Star had in the past heard public complaints of wildlife – even baby monkeys – being sold secretly by native traders.

Miri has numerous native markets, including Tamu Muhibbah and at the Emart commercial centre beside the highway to the Sarawak-Brunei border.

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Best of our wild blogs: 29-30 Aug 15

Nature & Art dialogue – Cantik lah, Singapore! – Sept 19 to 27

Living Lagoon of Seringat-Kias
wild shores of singapore

NParks Butterfly Count 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (28 Aug 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Study of a Large-tailed Nightjar Carcass
Bird Ecology Study Group

Macro Photography Outings – July 2015
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

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Rain helps lessen impact of haze from Sumatra fires

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE - Rain in the past few days helped to ease hazy conditions in Singapore, with the air quality in the moderate range as of 7pm yesterday.

Despite the haze that blanketed South Sumatra's provincial capital of Palembang on Wednesday, the rain has helped maintain air quality here, said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

"The winds have been blowing from the south-south-east direction. If the winds switch a little bit to the west and the fires continue in Sumatra, we could expect a more intense smoke-haze.

"Fortunately, we have experienced some rain that has helped to maintain the air quality at moderate levels," he said.

As at 7pm yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the moderate range, hovering between 64 and 70. Under such conditions, normal activities can be carried out.

Two hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday, said NEA, with smoke plumes and haze visible in the southern half of the Indonesian island.

For today, the weather agency expects thundery showers in the late morning and early afternoon. But occasional slight haze from Sumatra might be on the cards this afternoon, if the winds shift briefly to blow from the south, it added. Overall, air quality for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the moderate range.

Dr Velasco said the frequent rain last week had lessened the impact of the fires in Indonesia.

"Two weeks ago, a massive number of hot spots were detected in Kalimantan, but the PSI rose only to moderate levels."

Noting that weather forecasts for Riau, Indonesia, showed "weak possibilities of rain", he said: "We should cross our fingers for rain in the whole region - in Singapore and Malaysia, to attenuate the smoke-haze impact, and in Indonesia, to stop the fires."

The severe smoke-haze that Singapore experienced in 2013 was triggered by two months of dry weather in the region.

The PSI had then reached hazardous levels.

But associate professor Richard Webster from Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences warned that if the levels of fires and wind conditions are similar to 2013, PSI readings could be just as bad for short periods.

"Because this year is an El Nino year, some have predicted that the haze could be particularly bad due to warmer temperatures, although this appears not to have occurred so far," he said.

When is the haze dangerous (and other important haze facts)
The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Aug 15;

Singapore may not have autumn, winter, summer or spring but people now joke that we have our own four seasons; hot, wet, flood and haze.

While the flood is localised to certain parts of the island, there's no escaping the haze for any of us when it hits.

The haze situation in Singapore is caused by winds bringing in smoke from the forest fires in Sumatra, usually during the period of May to October.

Authorities in the South-East Asia region are working with their Indonesian counterparts to combat this haze problem, but for the time being, it looks like the haze will remain an annual event for the foreseeable future.

We've grown so used to the haze that it's quickly become the butt of jokes.

However, the air we end up breathing may contain particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dirt and other pollutants that affect our health.

Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, who runs his own practice, The Cliniq, cautions, "The main potential danger of the haze is respiratory illness although it can also affect the eyes and skin. Asthmatics are definitely at a higher risk but I have also been seeing many children and babies who are down with breathing problems. These are the susceptible groups, along with the elderly."

When Is The Haze Considered Unhealthy?

The National Environment Agency (NEA) measures air pollution levels through a system called the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). A PSI value in the range of 0 to 50 is considered 'Good' while a PSI value in the range of 101 to 200 is considered 'Unhealthy'. Anything above 300 is considered 'Hazardous'.

When the air quality reaches 'Unhealthy' levels, it is more likely to trigger mild aggravation of respiratory illness symptoms among those suffering from chronic lung or heart ailments. For others, it may affect you by triggering coughs, eye irritation and sneezing. The NEA has summarised the air quality categories as based on PSI and how they affect your general health.

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Singapore 'most at risk of facing high water stress'

Reuters AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

WASHINGTON - The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades against the backdrop of climate change and a rapidly growing population.

Thirty-three countries, including Singapore, have been singled out as those likely to face extremely high water stress in 2040 in a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think-tank in Washington.

Singapore was ranked first among the countries at the highest risk of high water stress in 2040, alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Territories, according to the report, which evaluated 167 nations.

The ranking was based on an index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2020 to 2040. Singapore was ranked as one of the highest risk countries in each decade.

"The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources," said Ms Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses innovative methods to manage water resources.

Singapore relies heavily on imports from neighbouring Malaysia, but has well-founded plans for enhancing future supply and self-sufficiency. Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas and the recently built US$226 million (S$317 million) Marine Barrage is among the highlights of the nation's water management plan.

In the WRI rankings, the Middle East was identified as the least water-secure region in the world, with limited surface water and high demand. It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces "exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future", the WRI report said.

One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away," Ms Otto said.

Singapore has a system in place for water recycling as part of its Newater programme.

Some Middle Eastern countries already rely on desalination, a technique to remove salt from sea and groundwater. These and other highly water-stressed nations may also need to move away from producing their own food because agriculture gobbles water, Ms Otto noted.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by next year.

Large economies such as the US, China and India face risks of their own, with water stress projected to remain roughly constant through 2040. However, parts of the countries - such as the south-western US and China's Ningxia province - could see water stress increase by 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

The report also highlighted water resources as a potential source of conflict, citing Syria as an example.

"With regional violence and political turmoil commanding global attention, water may seem tangential. However, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country's 2011 civil war.

"Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria's general destabilisation," the report said.

"The problem extends to other countries. Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel," it added.

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Rise in air pollutants during Hungry Ghost period: Study

The National Environment Agency advises devotees to clean up after making their offerings and use containers and burning pits.
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

You are not imagining it - air quality in Singapore gets worse during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, and local scientists have found that the concentration of certain pollutants goes up by as much as 60 per cent during the festival.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) scientists have discovered that concentrations of small pollutant particles known as PM2.5 increase during the festival, which runs from Aug 14 to Sept 12 this year. The particles include metallic elements such as lead and tin, and have been linked to health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

An analysis of air and rainwater samples between 2009 and last year showed that concentrations of individual PM2.5 elements rose by 18 to 60 per cent during festival months, compared with yearly mean concentrations.

In particular, nine metals considered hazardous air pollutants - chromium, manganese, nickel, cobalt, arsenic, cadmium, tin, antimony and lead - all showed average increases of 18 to 50 per cent during the festival. These are not considered hazardous for short-term exposure, although researchers noted that these were measured at the NTU sampling site, away from the sites of burning.

"People who are situated very close to the fires will inevitably breathe in higher amounts, although data is not available from these higher-risk sites," said NTU associate professor Richard Webster, who led the study.

If it's of some comfort, some town councils have been testing burners that produce less smoke and ash and the Taoist Federation has called for sensible burning of offerings like joss sticks and paper, which are burnt as a mark of respect to ancestors.

Despite the elevated elemental concentrations during the festival, these are still "significantly" less than the levels during high haze periods, when the Pollutant Standards Index readings cross into the unhealthy range (PSI>100).

All the elements detected in joss paper and incense, which include the nine hazardous substances, were among the PM2.5 elements that showed greater concentration levels during the festival months. The study appeared in last month's Environmental Science: Processes And Impacts journal.

Mr Tan Thiam Lye, the chairman of the Taoist Federation, said it held a meeting last month to get devotees to burn offerings responsibly. "We told them to moderate the amount of paper burnt - it is not a case of 'the more the merrier', it's sincerity that counts."

The National Environment Agency also advises devotees to clean up after they make their offerings and use containers and burning pits provided by town councils.

Some town councils, such as Nee Soon Town Council, are also trying out stainless steel burners that produce half the smoke and just 3 per cent of the ash, compared with the traditional red metal burners.

The NTU research hopes to shed light on the pollution caused by joss paper and incense - items known to generate large quantities of particulates, said senior research fellow Bahareh Khezri, one of the authors of the paper.

The next step is to collect data on organic compounds released during burning, which could be more toxic, said Dr Khezri."Burning joss paper and incense has been part of religious customs for thousands of years, but taking measures such as burning the items in a closed furnace, or using eco-friendly materials to produce the offerings, could help control air and water pollution. This could also reduce detrimental health effects."

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Vertical farming invention wins global award

Design acclaim for 9m-tall system which beats more than 1,000 entries from 72 countries
Jessica Lim Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

A home-grown vertical farming device has bagged a prestigious international design award. It can grow 10 times as many vegetables as traditional farming methods over the same area.

The invention by local firm Sky Urban Solutions - a 9m-tall system with tiers of planting troughs which rotate around an aluminium frame - clinched the biennial INDEX: Award in Denmark on Thursday night.

Winners in the categories - Body, Home, Work, Play & Learning, and Community - each won €100,000 (S$158,000) and were selected based on a wide range of criteria for coming up with solutions to some of the world's major challenges.

Sky Urban Solutions' innovation was among 1,123 nominations from 72 countries.

Contenders for the award, organised by Danish non-profit organisation INDEX: Design to Improve Life, included a cooling cap that protects chemotherapy patients from hair loss, flying drone ambulances, man-made leaves that generate oxygen, and a revolutionary suit that protects Ebola workers.

This is the first time that a Singaporean design has won the award.

The water-pulley system uses rainwater collected in underground reservoirs to rotate the troughs so that the plants get a uniform amount of sunlight. The same rainwater is used to irrigate the crops.

The first system was developed in 2010 with the help of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Sky Urban Solutions has come a long way since then. Its farm in Lim Chu Kang now houses 1,000 vertical farming towers and produces 800kg of greens - including Chinese cabbage, nai bai and xiao bai cai - daily. Its vegetables, sold under the brand Sky Greens, are more expensive than other versions.

However, they are thought to be fresher. It takes up to four hours for the daily harvest to hit the shelves. Imported vegetables take three days to three weeks.

Sky Greens vegetables are available at selected FairPrice supermarkets. A 200g packet of Sky Greens xiao bai cai costs $1.25, while a 250g bag of Pasar brand xiao bai cai from a traditional farm in Singapore costs 80 cents.

The prize money, said founder Jack Ng, 52, will be used for research and development, and also go towards farm expansion.

The father of two added that the firm is exploring the production of organic produce and aims to increase the yield of its Lim Chu Kang farm to at least five tonnes daily in two years' time.

The vertical farming structures are gaining popularity overseas, and "this award means more people will know about us and our system. It helps build credibility, especially when meeting with overseas partners", said Mr Ng, who had Secondary 4 education and started his own engineering company at age 21. His focus was on building homes.

Asked what prompted him to develop the system, he said: "When I planned for retirement, I wanted to become a farmer. But I saw how farmers led such a tough life here, so I thought I should improve the farming process."

When contacted, AVA said: "Given Singapore's limited land resources with its various competing needs, it is important for the Republic to intensify agriculture land use, and to raise the productivity and capability of our farms."

It encouraged more farmers to leverage on technology to improve productivity.

Last year, Singapore produced about 10,900 tonnes of leafy vegetables, representing about 12 per cent of total consumption.

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Indonesia: Haze plagues Sumatra, fires destroy forests in Central Java

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 15;

Haze that has been covering most parts of West Sumatra and Jambi is worsening, while fires are continuing to burn forested areas in the mountains of Central Java.

In Padang, West Sumatra, haze has reduced visibility at Minangkabau International Airport to between 2,000 and 3,000 meters.

“Previously, the lowest visibility caused by haze was 5000 meters,” the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Padang office spokesman, Budi Samiaji, said on Friday, adding that the haze was now the worst it had been in weeks.

The haze, Budi said, was almost certainly a result of forest and land fires in southern Sumatra, where many hot spots have been found.

In Jambi, fires have burned 9,149 hectares of peat land in East Tanjungjabung and Muarojambi regencies so far this year, causing losses of Rp 716 billion (US$51 million), according to the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi.

The community’s manager, Rudi Syaf, expressed regret that no solution had been found to the annual fires and resultant haze.

In Riau, the provincial disaster mitigation agency (BPBD) has urged the provincial administrations of Jambi and South Sumatra to be proactive in dealing with forest and land fires in their respective regions.

“Although the fires occur in those two provinces, the impacts are also felt in neighboring provinces, including Riau,” Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said on Friday.

Haze has been blamed for deteriorating air quality in Riau, with local authorities in Siak and Pelalawan regencies forced to send students home over health concerns.

Edwar suggested that both provincial administrations declare an emergency status for forest and land fires to encourage the central government to assist in solving the problem.

Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has decided to extend the emergency status for haze and fires in the province beyond the original Aug. 31 cut-off point, citing forecasts that the El Nino weather phenomenon will last until October.

“Based on the results of the evaluation meeting, the emergency status will be extended from Sept. 1 to Sept. 31, 2015,” the governor said.

In Karanganyar, Central Java, a fire in Mt. Lawu forest had yet to be fully extinguished as of Friday, with efforts hampered by tricky access to the location.

“The field is indeed difficult. Volunteers have to walk for three to four hours from Cetho Temple to reach the location,” said district military command (Kodim) commander 0727/Karanganyar Lt. Col. Inf. Mathen Pasunda.

Separately, the head of the Karanganyar BPBD, Nugroho, said that ditches would be dug to contain the fire, explaining that the ditches would be filled with water from pipelines normally used to channel clean water to houses.

Volunteers calling themselves the Children of Mount Lawu (AGL) and local police and military personnel have meanwhile established joint posts to help douse the fires.

The main post was erected near Cetho Temple in Jenawi district, while three supporting posts were established around the climbing posts in Cemara Kandang and Cetho Temple.

Besides Mt. Lawu, forested areas on the slopes of Mt. Sindoro in Wonosobo regency, also in Central Java, were similarly ravaged by fire on Friday.

Rizal Harahap in Pekanbaru and Ganug Nugroho Adi in Karanganyar also contributed to this story.

Indonesia: Haze covers Minangkabau airport, visibility 2,000 meters 28 Aug 15;

The forest and land fires in and around West Sumatra have filled the province’s air with haze causing visibility to decline to only 2,000 to 3,000 meters and affecting the activity of Minangkabau airport in the provincial capital of Padang.

The ideal visibility for airports to operate with is 10,000 meters.

“Reports from a number of regencies suggest that the haze has become thicker,” said Budi Samiadji from the Padang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) as quoted by on Friday.

He expressed hope that visibility in the area would soon get back to normal as the potential for rain in the province is high in the coming days.

Albert, a staff member at the BMKG’s Global Atmosphere Watch (IGAW) in Bukit Kototabang, said that the air quality was declining, not only due to the fires in West Sumatra but also those in Jambi and South Sumatra.

“We anticipate a possible further drop in air quality, but there is chance of rain in West Sumatra. Hopefully, the rain might clear the haze,” he added. (bbn)

Islands in focus: Riau students get days off due to thick haze
The Jakarta Post 28 Aug 15;

The Siak regional administration in Riau has instructed students in the regency not to attend schools from Thursday to Saturday due to the declining quality of air in the region that has been brought about by thick haze from land and forest fires in province.

Siak Education Agency head Kadri Yafis said the policy had been taken to minimize the health impact of the haze on students.

“All schools, from pre-school to senior high school, will be closed temporarily for three days, but teachers must still be at school as usual,” he said on Thursday.

Kadri said the local administration might also extend the policy should the air quality in the region remain at unhealthy levels by Aug. 31.

“Hopefully, the haze will quickly disappear. If not, we will decide further,” he said.

Kadri also urged students not to go outdoors during the forced leave.“Don’t go outdoors and inhale haze that could be hazardous to health,” he said.

Parents, meanwhile, welcomed the policy although some of them complained that they had not been properly informed about the policy by school management.

“There’s no official announcement [about the policy] and no one knows that today is an off day. This morning every parent sent their children to school but the children were asked to return home by teachers,” said Salman, a local resident and father of one.

- See more at:

Schools sends home students as haze reaches dangerous level
Rizal Harahap, 27 Aug 15;

Schools in Siak regency, Riau province, have sent home students as haze reached levels dangerous to human health. The schools are scheduled to remain closed until Saturday.

“All schools from early age to senior high are temporary closed. The teachers are expected to remain at school,” said head of Siak Education Agency Kadri Yafis on Thursday, adding that school is expected to start again on Monday. “Hopefully, the haze will disappear. But if it does not, we will make a decision later.”

He advised parents to keep their children indoors due to the hazardous haze. Some parents welcomed the decision although it was made only on Thursday after many children were already in school.

“We have reached the schools, but the teachers sent the students home. They received a circular from the education agency about the temporary closures,” said Salman, one of the parents of an elementary school student in Biak.

Meanwhile, the Rokan Hulu Disaster Management head Aceng Herdiana said that 16 districts in the regency were also badly affected by the haze and smoke on Thursday, affecting flights to and from Tuanku Tambusai Pasirpangaraian airport in the regency. “A Wings Air’s plane was forced to delay its departure for 90 minutes due to low visibility,” Aceng said.

Meanwhile, head of Pekanbaru’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that the haze that is covering several regencies in Riau province came from forest fires in other provinces in Sumatra.

According to Terra and Aqua satellite, there are 178 hotspots across Sumatra, five of which are in Riau. South Sumatra with 80 hotspots is the worst province, followed by Jambi with 69 hotspots, Bangka Belitung with 10 hotspots, Lampung with six hotspots, West Sumatra and Bengkulu both with three and Aceh with two.

Meanwhile, Riau acting Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has planned to prolong the haze emergency status in his province that has been in effect since April and was to expire on Aug. 31. “The forest fires in Riau have declined significantly, but haze is still covering Riau due to smoke from other provinces. The emergency status may be prolonged until Sept. 30,” he added. (bbn)

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Taronga Zoo tracks endangered sea turtles after they ingest plastic

Nicky Phillips Sydney Morning Herald 28 Aug 15;

Libby Hall never buys balloons. She also avoids groceries that are smothered in plastic wrap.

As the manager of Taronga Zoo's Wildlife Hospital, she has seen the devastating impact plastic has on marine animals, especially the nearly dead sea turtles people bring to the hospital.

"They're usually totally debilitated when they arrive. They've washed up on the beach or are found floating in the water," said Ms Hall.

"We had a turtle come in recently that had four different colours of balloons in its stomach. It had a whole party going on in there," she said.

Every variety of sea turtle is is now classified as endangered, and yet scientists have much to learn about these global travellers.

For the past 18 months, Ms Hall and the zoo's vet, Kimberly Vinette Herrin, have used satellite trackers to follow the movements of teenage sea turtles, following their ocean jaunts during a part of their life cycle that remains a mystery. So far they've released six turtles.

"We know they leave nesting beaches as little turtles and we know they come back when they're adults, but we have very little data about where they move in between," Ms Hall said.

The trackers are glued to the turtle's shell and connect to satellites when the animals surfaces. The data has revealed fascinating insights into the locations and distances sea turtles travel.

They discovered Green turtles like to stay close to the coast, feasting on sea grass beds between Wollongong and Port Stephens.

One Green turtle, nicknamed Nora the Explorer, meandered along the east coast, swimming nearly 1000 kilometres in 147 days.

But the critically endangered Hawkesbill appear to be more adventurous. One turtle, named Kurnell, left the coast line to chase warmer waters. Over 100 days he swam more than 3000 kilometres in a big loop around the Pacific Ocean, often swimming against the current.

Ms Hall said many people assume sea turtles just ride the world's oceans as passive hitchhikers on strong currents, but tracking has found this isn't the case.

"They're actively feeding in the upwelling and not just floating around in the currents," she said.

"That film Finding Nemo has a lot of answer for," she jokes.

The tracking project is funded by Woolworths, which donates funds from selling reusable shopping bags.

"It's not just plastic bags, it's balloons and plastic wrapping that cause all sorts of problems," said Ms Hall.

Abandoned fishing line and hooks are also a major threat to sea turtles.

The six tracked turtles have each been lovingly rehabilitated by the hospital staff after receiving life-threatening injuries caused by marine debris.

Turtles often mistake bright coloured plastic for jellyfish or sponges. The plastic then blocks their gut and they starve to death.

"It's so awful," she said.

Read more!

Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 15

Summering Oriental Honey Buzzards in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

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Prof Wong Poh Poh on climate change and Singapore's coastal vulnerability

Nurturing a love for nature
Prof Wong Poh Poh says that to properly guard against climate change, Singapore needs to share more of its information on coastal vulnerability with its citizens.
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Aug 15;

A new SG50 book to be launched tomorrow, Singapore's Scientific Pioneers, honours 25 of the Republic's science trailblazers. Here are some of its highlights.

Who: Dr Wong Poh Poh, retired associate professor of geography, National University of Singapore.

Notable achievement: Co-ordinating lead author on the global team that worked on the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

Professor Wong Poh Poh emerges from around a corner in the garden of his Hougang home holding a potted plant - Avicennia marina - a robust, common species that, belying its name, thrives even inland.

Prof Wong admires the versatility of the grey mangrove, as it is more commonly known.

It provides animals with food, humans with burning fuel, and coastlines with shelter from high-energy waves.

"(If) you want some mangroves in your garden, you just come and collect them," the 70-year-old retired professor says.

"The day I'm no longer around, these seedlings will be my standing testimony that mangroves can grow in my garden."

Like the grey mangrove, he has thrived across a range of roles. He is most noted for being a coordinating lead author of the seminal work by the IPCC, the international body of scientists that reviews and reports on the latest climate change data for policymakers.

In 2007, IPCC and former US vice-president Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize for disseminating knowledge on man-made climate change.

For Prof Wong, it was the highlight of a four-decade career studying coasts - specifically, how human activities like tourism reshape the coastline, and how the coastline in turn influences human activities.

Coastal geomorphology is a field that chose Prof Wong.

As a student at the then University of Singapore, he did so well in geography and so enjoyed the subject that the department, short of Singaporean lecturers, sent him to McGill University in Canada for a PhD.

But what would he study?

'Beach bum' turning the tide on climate change

"Singapore has no big rivers, no forests, no deserts, no glaciers, and no mountains," Prof Wong says with a laugh. "The only thing left was beaches."

But by the 1970s, when he returned, most of Singapore's natural beaches had vanished beneath reclamation, so Prof Wong looked to other field sites, for example, studying how monsoons affected beaches on Malaysia's east coast.

Shortly afterwards, he was inspired to apply his hard science skills to coastal tourism. The Association of American Geographers had just published a path-breaking paper on the geography of tourism.

"Tourism used to be at the fringe of serious studies. Nobody studied it except in business school."

His interest was in the interplay between resorts and coasts - how the geomorphology of a coast affects the layout, nature and management of a resort; and how resort development affects the coast.

As one of the first geographers to carve out a niche in coastal tourism, Prof Wong surveyed resorts around Asia, including those on rocky shores that had hauled sand in to create artificial beaches; resorts which had installed their own corals; and those with man-made freshwater and marine swimming pools.

In 1992, he wrote a research article on the impact of the sea-level rise on coasts.

In 1997, the Singapore Government asked him to review IPCC's Regional Impacts of Climate Change special report. He was invited to be a lead author for IPCC's third assessment report in 2001, and for the fourth report in 2007 - which ultimately won the Nobel - he was a coordinating lead author.

He reprised his role as a coordinating lead author for the fifth report published last year.

Singapore became a fascinating case study in coastal development. From 1965 till today, its land area has grown by 25 per cent - from 580 sq km to 720 sq km. The country has only a few remaining natural coasts, such as on Pulau Ubin and a rocky shore at Labrador Park.

What is more important is to make sure the reclamation does not have adverse impacts, he believes.

For example, he says, sediment moves through Singapore waters roughly from east to west; a large reclamation project in Changi, such as for the airport terminals, blocks the natural movement of sediment and results in erosion at East Coast.

To properly guard against climate change, Singapore needs to share more of its coastal-vulnerability information with citizens. "In other countries, they share information openly," he says.

"Coastal-vulnerability studies are paid for by the taxpayer and should not be restricted to press releases or announcements in Parliament."

Such information would be useful to insurance firms, developers and, most importantly, ordinary people who live near the sea.

Singapore needs to prepare for climate change, and not just by raising land reclamation levels and building seawalls. It will have to decide what space should be given over to coastal ecosystems as sea levels rise and they retreat further inland.

It also needs laws to govern so-called "managed retreat", he adds. "There's a lot of interest from lawyers. If you have a piece of land which is under water in 10 or 20 years, what are your property rights - are they on land or in the sea? Who will compensate you?"

Prof Wong, of course, knows a thing or two about nature's ferocity. In 1969, as a graduate student, he spent a few months at a field site called Santa Rosa Island, a sandy island with dunes off the Florida coast. When Hurricane Camille hurtled through the US state at more than 200kmh, he and his colleagues hunkered down in a local hotel.

"You could see pebbles being blown horizontally," he says. "In the hotel, we had to tape down the glass doors with sticky tape to make sure that they wouldn't shatter into small pieces if they broke."

Unfortunately, he points out, most young Singaporeans do not share his familiarity with nature.

His three sons are lucky enough to have grown up in a house with a large garden with hibiscus plants, a chiku tree and many banana trees, but most young people are not and, in the process, an intrinsic geographic identity has seeped away.

To resuscitate our island consciousness and nature awareness, he has many suggestions. These include maintaining Pulau Ubin's rural environment, introducing compulsory gardening and gardens in schools, and extending gardening schemes in housing precincts.

For his part, he recently introduced mangrove planting to local schools. He also initiated a project to set up mangrove restoration sites in South-east Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

These sites would serve as fish nurseries and storm surge buffers, and help stem coastal erosion. They would also become a source of livelihood for villagers, who could manufacture mangrove-planting modules and benefit from eco-tourism.

The self-described "professional beach bum" has made a career out of going to the beach. Now, it is time to give back: "The more satisfying thing is contributing something back to the coastal community."

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Consequences of land tax on PUB's Johor Waterworks could be 'quite serious': K Shanmugam

"In a normal legal case, if you don’t pay tax, somebody goes and tries to take over the property," says Singapore's Foreign Minister, reiterating that the PUB is not required to pay the tax under the 1962 water agreement.
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: The consequences of a demand that Singapore’s PUB pay a land assessment tax imposed by Johor’s Kota Tinggi District Council could be “quite serious”, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Aug 27).

The tax is being levied on the PUB-owned Johor River Waterworks, which draws and treats water from the Johor River. But Singapore’s stand is that under the 1962 Water Agreement, the PUB is not required to pay the land assessment tax.

“They have created a special (tax) category for PUB, and they’ve issued us further notice saying we are late in payment,” said Mr Shanmugam, speaking at a forum organised by the Singapore Press Club.

“You can work out what the consequences are. In a normal legal case, if you don’t pay tax, somebody goes and … tries to take over the property. We’ll have to see whether they want to treat this as a normal case of non-payment. And then we’ll have to say what our response will be. It’s quite serious.”

Mr Shanmugam had first touched on the issue in Parliament on Aug 18. In late-2014, the Kota Tinggi District Council sought to double the rate of land assessment tax for the PUB’s waterworks, and the revised rate was more than double that of the next highest rate in the entire district. The assessed property value was also increased.

Said Mr Shanmugam on Thursday: “Of course, we objected. I spoke with the Malaysian Foreign Minister twice, PM spoke with PM Najib. The water agreement doesn’t allow for these sorts of treatments. If I keep quiet about doubling it, tomorrow they might quadruple it.”

He also referred to recent “powerful rhetoric” from an opposition Johor assemblyman over the fact that Singapore continued to draw raw water from Johor while water rationing was going on in Johor. The state has been severely affected by dry weather.

If such rhetoric takes hold, said Mr Shanmugam: “Then you will expect the Barisan Nasional government to have to react to it. How will they react? We don’t know.”

But Singapore's position is that both countries have to comply with the 1962 water agreement, which was guaranteed by the Malaysian Federal Government in the Separation Agreement of 1965.

The 1962 agreement gave Singapore the right to draw water from the Johor River up to a maximum of 250 million gallons per day, and in return, Johor was entitled to a daily supply of treated water from Singapore up to 2 per cent of the raw water it supplied.

Nevertheless, since Aug 14, the PUB has been supplying additional potable water to Johor - up to a total of 22 million gallons per day. This was in response to a request for assistance from Johor’s water regulatory body, Singapore’s national water body had said earlier.


Turning to more fundamental changes in Malaysian society, Mr Shanmugam said the growing trend of Islamisation had “gone past the tipping point now”. And his could “percolate up eventually into policy”.

“Politicians use the Islamic call to try and win votes and project themselves as more Malay and more Muslim than the next person,” he said. “An honest politician, an upright politician, will find it very difficult to talk about a united, cohesive Malaysia that is more integrated. The political dynamics is such that he will have to play to the Malay ground. And that is the only way that many people will see as a possibility of offsetting the decline in support for UMNO.”

In the case of the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), when it held its central committee elections in June, the professional-class faction was practically “wiped out” by the cleric faction - which had used the soundbite “Islamic law means more Islamic”, he observed.

He cited other examples such as Kelantan state, which has banned female hairstylists from cutting men’s hair; and Selangor and Penang, where non-Muslim women in knee-length skirts have been barred from entering government buildings.

In one poll conducted in January, respondents were asked what was the most important trait a Malaysian Prime Minister should have. The top response: Islamic credentials, over other criteria such as economic and management skills. “Even more significant is that 71 per cent of all Malays in Peninsula Malaysia support Islamic law. It’s only a question of time before the politics follow popular opinion,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He added: “(The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew) foresaw these things, which is why he kept talking about such issues. And, each time he talked about those issues, every generation which was not his generation tended to be dismissive. ‘Here goes old man again trying to scare us.’”


“Now, what is the impact of all of this on us? For a start, we are a completely investment-dependent economy. If you are sitting in Houston and deciding whether to put a five-billion-dollar investment to tiny Singapore, 700 square kilometres, you are going to look at the northern neighbour, 105,000 square kilometres, and 30 million population. That is going to factor into your economic calculus,” said Mr Shanmugam.

And in a more direct way, Malaysia’s current economic woes would have an impact on Singapore.

“Three ringgit to the Singapore dollar - Singaporeans see this as a good thing when they go shopping, on holidays. But in reality, when your neighbour’s economy is in such a state and your neighbour is your second-largest trading partner, and you are your neighbour’s second-largest trading partner, you have billions of investments both ways. It doesn’t benefit us,” he said.

Malaysia’s medium to long-term challenge will be how to bring its economy to the next level and get out of the “middle-income trap”, by moving up the value chain from extractive industries, said the Minister.

- CNA/yv

Republic won't pay tax on its Johor waterworks
Singapore is not obliged to pay tax on PUB's Johor waterworks under the 1962 Water Agreement, which is valid till 2061 and is guaranteed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.
Charissa Yong, Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Aug 15;

Singapore will not pay the raised land assessment tax on its Johor waterworks as a matter of principle, said Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam yesterday.

The authorities of Kota Tinggi district had sought late last year to double the tax on the Johor River Waterworks, which is owned by national water agency PUB.

The revised rate was more than double that of the next highest rate in the entire Kota Tinggi district, and this new rate was applied to a tax category created solely for the PUB.

At a dialogue yesterday, Mr Shanmugam explained why he chose to lay out Singapore's stance on the issue in Parliament last week, a decision he had thought hard about.

"The water agreement doesn't allow for these sorts of treatments. If I keep quiet about doubling it, tomorrow they might quadruple it," he told media professionals at the event organised by the Singapore Press Club.

In Parliament, he had said PUB is not obliged to pay the tax under the 1962 Water Agreement, which governs the PUB's operations in Johor.The agreement gives Singapore the right to draw water from Johor River up to 250 million gallons daily, or 1.14 million cubic m a day, with Johor entitled to a daily supply of treated water in return.

Underscoring the gravity of the issue, Mr Shanmugam said: "They've issued us further notice saying we are late in payment. If one is bloody-minded about it, I suppose they can seek to levy execution on our waterworks, and then things will get really interesting."

He said: "In a normal legal case, if you don't pay tax, somebody goes and attaches and tries to take over the property. We'll have to see whether they want to treat this as a normal case of non-payment and then we'll have to say what our response will be."

The agreement is valid till 2061 and is guaranteed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1965 Separation Agreement.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted how vulnerable newly independent Singapore had been, with nearly all its water coming from Johor back then.

Mr Lee said at the National Day Rally: "Every now and again, when an issue arose with Malaysia, some crazy politicians would threaten to turn off the tap, to get us in line."

In fact, said Mr Shanmugam, Malaysian opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat's deputy chairman in Johor, Mr Jimmy Puah, had criticised the water agreement just last week.

Mr Puah had said Singapore continues to draw 250 million gallons of raw water a day from Johor despite water rationing in the state, Mr Shanmugam said.

"The implication of his statement is obvious... It's powerful rhetoric. They don't care whether we suffer," he added.

The PUB said in a statement last week that it has been supplying an extra five to six million gallons of potable water a day to Johor during its dry spell, since Aug 14.

But should Mr Puah's rhetoric and criticism of the Malaysian government take hold, Mr Shanmugam said, "then you will expect the Barisan Nasional government to have to react to it". "How will they react? We don't know."

He reiterated Singapore's position that both countries have to comply with the treaty, but added: "Treaties are only useful to the extent that you can make them work."

- See more at:

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Spotted doves, sugar gliders found hidden in car at Tuas Checkpoint

The 20-year-old Singaporean driver and his 44-year-old passenger are under investigation, while the animals have been seized.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Two Singaporean men are under investigation for the illegal import of animals after live spotted doves and sugar gliders were found hidden in their car, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Thursday (Aug 27).

The animals were discovered in a Singapore-registered car during inspection at Tuas Checkpoint on Tuesday evening. ICA officers found two bird cages, each containing a spotted dove, hidden between the rear bumper and car boot. They also uncovered a black pouch containing three sugar gliders behind the glove compartment.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is investigating the 20-year-old driver and his 44-year-old passenger. AVA also seized the animals.

Offenders found guilty of importing live animals without an AVA permit face a fine of up to S$10,000 and/or up to one year in jail.

- CNA/xq

Spotted doves, sugar gliders seized at Tuas Checkpoint
Today Online 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — Two live spotted doves and three live sugar gliders were found hidden in a car on Tuesday (Aug 25) at Tuas Checkpoint.

The 20-year-old Singaporean man driving the Singapore-registered car and his companion, a 44-year-old Singaporean man, are now under investigation by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) for the illegal import of animals. The animals were also seized by the AVA.

The animals were found when the car was referred for further checks upon arrival at Tuas Checkpoint at about 10.40pm. Two spotted doves were each found in a bird cage hidden in the gap between the rear bumper and the car boot, while the three suger gliders were found hidden behind the glove compartment, said the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in a news release today.

It is an offence to import any animals or live birds without an AVA permit. Offenders can be charged in court and fined up to S$10,000 and/or jailed up to one year.

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Cobra and python spotted 'fighting' on NTU campus

Witnesses saw the python constricting itself around the head of the cobra around noon on Thursday (Aug 27). The python was taken away by pest control, but the cobra was only caught hours later.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Two snakes, believed to be a reticulated python and a king cobra, were seen "fighting" each other on the street near Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Research Techno Plaza (RTP) at noon on Thursday (Aug 27).

PhD student Abhishek Ambede shared pictures of the incident and told Channel NewsAsia the snakes were wrestling on the road beside a forested area. "Some of us working at RTP can see the site from our office. When we spotted the incident, I went down and noticed that the python had constricted around the cobra's head.

The tussle, witnessed by a large crowd, lasted for about 30 minutes before the snakes separated. "The cobra escaped to the bushes, leaving the python moving slowly on its own along the road."

Mr Abhishek said he and other bystanders alerted NTU's pest control, as well as the Animal Concerns Research and Society (ACRES). Pest control officers removed the python, but were unable to locate the cobra.

After 4pm, the cobra reappeared briefly. "It was about that time that ACRES appeared but by the time they arrived, the snake had disappeared again into one of the drainage holes," Mr Abhishek said.

"ACRES told us they could not catch the snake if they could not see it. All we know is that there is no immediate danger. The only worry is that if it reappears on the road, there is a chance it might get run over," he added.

Mr Satish Digen, a technical officer at NTU, said pest control officers put sulfur powder down the drains in an attempt to draw it out. The reptile eventually emerged from its hiding place at about 10pm on Thursday and was taken away in a bag by the pest control team.

The NTU Graduate Student Council earlier urged those on campus to be on alert for the cobra. "Please be careful when you take the sidewalk near to bushes. Night researchers and night runners, please be extra vigilant," it said in a post on Facebook.

- CNA/hs

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Indonesia: Palembang shrouded in worst haze so far this year

Haze so thick it obscures views of towers, with visibility dwindling to just 300m
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and David Fogarty Straits Times 28 Aug 15;

Haze that blanketed the South Sumatra provincial capital of Palembang during yesterday morning's rush hour was so thick it obscured the tops of tall cellphone towers and there is no relief in sight, weather forecasters said.

Emanating from forest and land fires in Jambi, as well as South Sumatra, the smothering shroud expanded north to neighbouring Riau, just one province removed from Singapore.

In Palembang, visibility dwindled to about 300m as residents endured a second straight day of the worst bout of haze so far this year, and the acrid smell of burnt peat hung heavily in the air.

On the Musi river, which flows through the city of 1.5 million people, the haze made navigation difficult. The Ampera Bridge, a major city landmark built during Sukarno's rule and opened in 1964, could barely be seen.

"The haze this morning was the worst so far this year," said speedboat driver Iwan, 35. "The haze is really making navigating much tougher," he added.

Hotel worker Yassir Abdullah, 25, said he was worried about coughing and respiratory problems, and feared the haze was going to get worse.

Indeed, there is little chance of rain in southern Sumatra in the coming months, according to Jambi's meteorology, climatology and geophysics office. "We cannot rely on nature to help douse the fire. Human efforts are needed," Mr Okta Irawan, a weather forecaster there, told The Straits Times.

With visibility dropping to as low as 500m in the mornings yesterday and Wednesday, flights to airports in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces were delayed.

South Sumatra provincial administration has started distributing 15,000 masks to its residents, after the number of hot spots rose to 125 on Wednesday (the latest available data), up from 44 the previous day.

The Jakarta Post reported that schools in Siak regency, Riau province, had sent home students because the haze had reached dangerous levels. Schools there will remain closed until tomorrow.

Prevailing winds were also carrying the haze to Singapore and parts of Malaysia.

Yesterday, the Singapore National Environment Agency's website showed a slight improvement in the haze situation. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the moderate range as of 5pm yesterday, and is expected to remain at about the same level today.

Manjung in Perak had the unhealthiest air in Malaysia. Its Air Pollutant Index (API) spiked to 103 in the morning, according to The Star.

The API reading in Port Klang in Selangor reached 102.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Malaysia had written to Indonesia asking Jakarta to put out open burning fires as quickly as possible.

•With additional reporting by Linette Lai in Singapore

Indonesia: Haze disrupts Palembang airport, stops Garuda from landing 27 Aug 15;

A thick haze filling the air of South Sumatra provincial capital Palembang and its surrounding areas has disrupted flights to and from the city’s Sutan Mahmud Baharuddin II Airport.

The public relations manager of state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, Achmad Syarir, said on Thursday that two planes had been unable to land at the airport due to limited visibility.

“We have not closed the airport yet, but there have been planes that could not land,” Achmad said as quoted by According to Achmad, a Garuda Indonesia flight arriving from Jakarta returned to Jakarta, while Garuda’s Bandung-Palembang route was redirected to Jakarta.

Meanwhile, airport authorities were not allowing any planes to take off from the airport.

Achmad said that he could not make any predictions regarding when the airport’s activity would back to normal. “It depends on conditions in the air. “The regulator will issue a statement on whether the airport will be closed or not,” he added.

Forest fires burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan have become an annual disaster, disrupting flights and causing health problems, particularly for local people. In previous years, the haze from the forest fires has also affected Singapore and Malaysia.

The government has not found a way to stop the wild fires. (bbn)

Indonesia: Thousands suffer respiratory infections as fires spread widely
Jon Afrizal and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 27 Aug 15;

Thousands of people in Jambi have been suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) caused by worsening haze from widespread land and forest fires in the province.

“ISPA cases are found in all of the regencies and cities across Jambi. The cases are mostly found in Jambi city, where from June to July this year the number of ISPA cases reached 3,910, followed by East Tanjungjabung regency with 2,390 cases and Muarojambi regency with 1,690 cases,” said the Jambi Health Office’s Disease Control and Environmental Health Affairs head Kaswendi on Wednesday.

He added that those most susceptible to the disease are children, especially toddlers.

In regards to the matter, Jambi City Health Office head Ida Yuliati said her office had provided 200 masks to each community health clinic (Puskesmas) in the city as part of an effort to prevent an increase in the number of patients.

“We also provided 1,000 masks to the Education Office to be distributed to schools because children are exposed to cough and cold,” said Ida.

Separately, the West Sumatra Forestry Office is making strenuous efforts to prevent land and forest fires from escalating during the long drought.

Early this week, two land and forest fires reportedly broke out in Tanah Datar and Lima Puluh Kota regencies and razed dozens of hectares of forest.

The biggest fire took place in Pangian village, Lintau Buo district, Tanah Datar as about 30 hectares of production forest and rubber plantation were destroyed in two days. The fire started on Monday, but was extinguished on Wednesday.

“This is the third fire this year. The two earlier fires took place in other places and razed areas of less than five hectares,” said the head of the Tanah Datar Agriculture, Forestry and Plantation Office, Refriasel.

Two fires took place in Limapuluh Kota, one in Sarilamak village and the other in Taram village, both in Harau district. The fires, which were extinguished on Tuesday, destroyed more than five hectares of agricultural land and shrubs.

In Banyumas regency, Central Java, a fire destroyed a forest on Mount Slamet, at an elevation of around 2,900 meters, on Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was still flaring at a height of around 8 meters and had scorched around 50 hectares of forest.

That fire was the second on Mount Slamet in the past week. Earlier, a forested area in Tegal regency part of the mountain was also razed, simultaneously with a forest fire on Mount Merbabu. The first fire on Mount Slamet was put out after three days. The fire gutted a total area of 15 hectares.

“Based on our observations since Tuesday evening, around 25 fires razed the forest in Banyumas. So far, seven of the fires have been doused,” said East Banyumas Integrated Forest Management (KPH) unit spokesman Taufik Didiet.

He added his office, the Indonesian Military (TNI), police, the local Perhutani state forestry enterprise, Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and Search and Rescue coordinated to extinguish the fire.

The joint firefighting team claimed they faced difficulty in putting out the fire as its location was far up the slopes near the mountain peak.

“The firefighters had to walk for around eight hours from the Kalipagu post in Ketenger village, Baturraden district, which is the last village bordering directly with the forest,” said Taufik.

As from on Mt. Slamet, fires are currently burning areas on Mount Lawu and are reportedly approaching residential areas in Jenawi and Ngargoyoso districts, Karanganyar regency, Central Java.

“Teams of volunteers [who will help douse the fires] have not yet reached the locations since it’s very dangerous,” Karanganyar BPBD head Nugroho admitted.

The fires have also threatened a historic Cetho Temple complex built during the Majapahit Kingdom in the 15th century on the slope of the mountain, as well as Mount Lawu National Park.

— Ganug Nugroho Adi from Surakarta and Agus Maryono from Banyumas also contributed to the story

Schools sends home students as haze reaches dangerous level
Rizal Harahap, 27 Aug 15;

Schools in Siak regency, Riau province, have sent home students as haze reached levels dangerous to human health. The schools are scheduled to remain closed until Saturday.

“All schools from early age to senior high are temporary closed. The teachers are expected to remain at school,” said head of Siak Education Agency Kadri Yafis on Thursday, adding that school is expected to start again on Monday. “Hopefully, the haze will disappear. But if it does not, we will make a decision later.”

He advised parents to keep their children indoors due to the hazardous haze. Some parents welcomed the decision although it was made only on Thursday after many children were already in school.

“We have reached the schools, but the teachers sent the students home. They received a circular from the education agency about the temporary closures,” said Salman, one of the parents of an elementary school student in Biak.

Meanwhile, the Rokan Hulu Disaster Management head Aceng Herdiana said that 16 districts in the regency were also badly affected by the haze and smoke on Thursday, affecting flights to and from Tuanku Tambusai Pasirpangaraian airport in the regency. “A Wings Air’s plane was forced to delay its departure for 90 minutes due to low visibility,” Aceng said.

Meanwhile, head of Pekanbaru’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that the haze that is covering several regencies in Riau province came from forest fires in other provinces in Sumatra.

According to Terra and Aqua satellite, there are 178 hotspots across Sumatra, five of which are in Riau. South Sumatra with 80 hotspots is the worst province, followed by Jambi with 69 hotspots, Bangka Belitung with 10 hotspots, Lampung with six hotspots, West Sumatra and Bengkulu both with three and Aceh with two.

Meanwhile, Riau acting Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has planned to prolong the haze emergency status in his province that has been in effect since April and was to expire on Aug. 31. “The forest fires in Riau have declined significantly, but haze is still covering Riau due to smoke from other provinces. The emergency status may be prolonged until Sept. 30,” he added. (bbn)

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Slight haze expected on Friday despite rain forecast: NEA

The air quality on Friday (Aug 28) is expected to be in the Moderate range, with showers forecast in the afternoon, says the National Environment Agency.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: “Occasional slightly hazy conditions” may be expected on Friday (Aug 28) afternoon, with air quality forecast to be in the Moderate range, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In an advisory, NEA added that showers are forecast in Singapore on Friday afternoon, and that prevailing winds are expected to continue blowing from the southeast.

NEA noted that there was an improvement in the haze situation on Thursday, attributing it to “a slight shift in the direction of the prevailing winds". The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) at 6pm on Friday was 71, and the 24-hour PSI was 60-71, which is in the Moderate range. The three-hour PSI was 99 at 7pm on Tuesday, and the 24-hour PSI at the same time was 80-89.

Just 13 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Thursday, down from 29 on Wednesday. However, NEA attributed the low hotspot count to "cloud cover". Smoke haze was also observed in the southern parts of Sumatra, said NEA.

“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities,” said NEA.

- CNA/xq/dl

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Malaysia: Air quality over Malaysia improves

The Star 27 Aug 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality over Malaysia as of 11 am today has improved.

The Environment Department in its website stated that the air pollutant index (API) reading was moderate for Langkawi (77), Alor Setar and Nilai (74), Sungai Petani (73), Seri Manjung, Perak (70), Larkin Lama (63), and Muar (61).

Moderate API readings were also recorded for Pasir Gudang (59), Bakar Arang (74), SMK Tanjung Chat, Kota Baru (52), Bandaraya Malacca (64), Bukit Ramba (65), Port Dickson (69), Seremban (62), and Balok Baru, Kuantan (55).

It was moderate as well for Jerantut, Jalan Tasek, Ipoh, Kampung Air Putih, Taiping and Kangar, where the API readings were 68 respectively, and Perai (66), Seberang Jaya 2 (73), USM P (72), Keningau, Sabah (54), Kuching Sarawak (69), Samarahan (75), Sarikei (55), and Sri Aman (71).

Other 'moderate' areas were Kuala Selangor (72), Port Klang (86), Petaling Jaya (68), Shah Alam (76), Kuala Terengganu (60), Paka (60), Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur (69), Cheras (62) and Putrajaya (69).

Meanwhile, areas that recorded a 'good' API reading were Kota Tinggi, Johor (39), Tanah Merah, Kelantan (41), Tanjung Malim, Perak (43), Sandakan, Sabah (32), Tawau (40), Bintulu, Sarawak (47), Miri (47), Kapit (37), Limbang (36), Sibu (49) and Labuan (46).

An API reading of between 0-50 is good; 51-100, moderate; 101-200, unhealthy; 201-300, very unhealthy; and more than 301, hazardous.

The public can obtain updates from the department's website at - Bernama

Avoid physical outdoor activities to avoid respiratory illnesses due to haze
Straits Times 27 Aug 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: People living in areas affected by the haze are advised to stay indoors, avoid outdoor physical activities and use face mask.

Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the precaution was to avoid respiratory illnesses due to the haze.
“Ensure air quality inside the house and buildings is clean by reducing sources of smoke emission like smoking, using inner air circulation in cars when driving and drink a lot of water,” he said in a statement, today.

Dr Noor Hisham also advised everyone to wash their hands with soap and clean water after any form of activities outside and if affordable, use air conditioning when at home.

He said the Health Ministry through the State Health Departments was monitoring haze related illnesses like respiratory problems, shortness of breath, asthma, eye infection at health clinics.

As of 5pm today, the air quality in Muar and Melaka showed a marked improvement but many areas remained at the moderate level. – BERNAMA

Negri Sembilan record improvement in API readings
TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 27 Aug 15;

SEREMBAN: The air quality showed a slight improvement at three monitoring stations in Negri Sembilan compared to Wednesday.

At 2pm today, the air pollutant index (API) readings in Seremban are recorded at 61, Nilai (75) and Port Dickson (66).

At 3pm yesterday, the API is Seremban was at 78, Nilai (79) and Port Dickson (72).

The air pollution level is categorised as — good (zero to 50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101 to 200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301 and more).

It is believed that the perennial haze returned to Malaysia due to open burning fires in Indonesia. As of Tuesday, the satellites have detected 152 hot spots in Sumatra and 74 in Kalimantan.

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Malaysia: More turtles landing in Terengganu to lay eggs

The Star 28 Aug 15;

KEMAMAN: Efforts to boost the turtle population are bearing fruit after 120 new female turtles were recorded landing on the beaches of Terengganu to lay eggs.

State Fisheries Department director Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim said about 400 to 600 female turtles had landed during the egg-laying season from March to July each year since 2001.

“Our efforts to conserve turtles by hatching their eggs and releasing them into the sea since 15 years ago are succeeding. The turtles have matured and are landing to lay eggs,” he said here yesterday.

Abdul Khalil said an increase in the adult female turtle population showed the effectiveness of the turtle conservation programme by the department with non-governmental organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund.

He said the department would intensify conservation efforts by hatching eggs and releasing hatchlings into the sea daily to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

“We collected 366,941 eggs from 2,342 green turtle nests from January to July this year. All the eggs were incubated and between 200,000 to 300,000 hatchlings were released yearly,” he said. — Bernama

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Extreme Arctic sea ice melt forces thousands of walruses ashore in Alaska

Survival of walruses threatened as they wash ashore on a remote barrier island just before Obama is due to visit region to draw attention to climate change
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 27 Aug 15;

The extreme loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is forcing thousands of walruses to crowd ashore on a remote barrier island off Alaska, and threatening their survival.

Barack Obama will be the first US president to visit the Alaskan Arctic on 31 August on a three-day tour to draw attention to the drastic consequences of climate change for the Arctic, such as warming winters and the rapid retreat of sea ice.

The first reported sighting of animals forced to come ashore in the Chukchi Sea was by a photographer on 23 August, and confirmed by villagers in the remote hamlet of Point Lay late on Thursday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Such landings, forced by the absence of sea ice on which to rest and feed, put the animals at risk of stampede in the limited space of the barrier island.

The animals are easily spooked by aircraft or onlookers, government scientists warned. Trampling deaths are one of the biggest natural risks.

Sea ice cover in the winter months fell to a new low this year because of climate change and abnormal weather patterns.

Some scientists believe the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer months by the 2030s – with profound effects for local indigenous communities that rely on the ice, as well as wildlife that depend on extreme conditions.

Since 2000, the forced migration of walruses and their young to barrier islands such as Point Lay – known as a “haul out” – has become an increasingly regular occurrence, according to US government scientists.

“Many walruses seem to prefer the barrier islands just north of the native village of Point Lay to haul out,” Jim MacCracken, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the fish and wildlife service, said.

Last year, as many as 40,000 animals, mainly females and their young, were forced ashore. It was the biggest known haul-out of its kind in the US Arctic, according to government scientists. The Federal Aviation Authority re-routed flights and bush pilots were told to keep their distance to avoid a stampede.

Agency scientists said about 60 young walruses were killed because of crowding and stampedes.

“Walruses often flee haulouts in response to the sight, sound, or odor of humans or machines. Walruses are particularly sensitive to changes in engine noise and are more likely to stampede off beaches when planes turn or fly low overhead,” Andrea Medeiros, a spokeswoman for the fish and wildlife service, said in an email.

The villagers have been dreading the prospect of a repeat record haul-out – and earlier this month appealed to outsiders to keep away from the area.

“We do not believe that these sorts of visits are in the best interest of the walruses and they do not align with the haul out protection role we have developed and measures we set in place to prevent disturbances,” Leo Ferreira III, the Point Lay tribal president said in a statement distributed by US government agencies.

Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, said he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay, on the evening of 23 August.

Braasch has spent about a decade photographing evidence of climate change in Alaska, and had been tracking the movement of tagged walruses through the US Geological Survey mapping projects.

“What they looked like by eye was three brown smudges along the beach. They were not visible as individual animals,” he said. But he said the blown-up images revealed large numbers of animals. “Certainly they were in the low thousands at that point.”

Fish and Wildlife Service officials accused Braasch of violating flight safeguards and putting the animals at risk – a charge he rejected. “Several of our biologists looked at the images and noted that it appeared that many animals were on shore and appeared to be agitated and fleeing the area,” Medeiros said. “Harassing walrus is against the law. Operating an aircraft in a manner which results in harassing or disturbing walruses is prohibited by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Braasch said the pilot did not overfly the barrier island, and intentionally flew several hundred feet beyond the Fish and Wildlife flight guidelines to avoid the risk of stampede. He said he took his photograph from more than a mile away. “We were not even close to the limits they set.”

He confirmed the government agency had been in contact about flight concerns.

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Best of our wild blogs: 27 Aug 15

GE 2015: Casting a Vote for Environmental Progress
Green Drinks Singapore

Wild fun for kids during the September school holidays!
wild shores of singapore

September School Holiday Activities at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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Malaysia: Sabah Wildlife Dept denies elephant abuse during translocation process

KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 26 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) wants to straighten things out following false allegations towards its rescue team of elephant abuse during translocation operation.

SWD referring to a Facebook posting circulating since a few days ago, admitted that while elephant translocation is a dangerous activity as each of the mammal react differently, there was no way its staff would harm or intended to abuse the wild animal.

The posting shared at the social media showed photographs of an elephant in chains and being poked by one of the Department's officer.

SWD director William Baya in a statement here explained the posting referred to a wild elephant being translocated from a human-elephant conflict area in Kampung Bauto, Telupid back in February last year, to a protected forest reserve some 200 kilometres away.

"In this particular case my team was up against a rogue bull elephant that was exceptionally dangerous and was a huge threat to the lives of the rescue personnel as well as the villagers.

"Hence the added precaution and care was taken by my staff. In normal cases when the wild elephants are more cooperative, the translocation process is done more smoother and with less risk," said William.

The Department's assistant director and Wildlife Rescue Unit manager Dr Sen Nathan explained elephant translocation involves tracking of the elephant, followed by darting tranquillizers, restraining, transportation and release to a safe site.

"As seen in the photo stills of the video the ‘poking’ happened during transfer of the elephant into the translocation crate... Different elephant will react differently towards this process and if the elephant is cooperative, they will let to move on their own while the chains are pulled.

"This process has to be done with care as if the elephant walks toward the wrong way, it might end up outside the crate and easily push the crate down and fall onto other personnel at the site.

"To sum up, poking using the blunt end metal pole is to divert the attention of the animal and so they walk in the right direction and not to hurt the animal, which is never our intention. Let me also assure your that this elephant was not hurt in anyway.

"This explanation I hope allays any fear of animal abuse by the Department," he added.

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Malaysia: Put out your fires fast, Wan Junaidi tells Indonesia

The Star 27 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia wants Indonesia to put out its open burning fires quickly before the haze here worsens.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (pix) said Malaysia had written to Indonesia on the matter.

Indonesia has been urged to “take immediate action” and to “boost its fire-fighting efforts in the affected areas”, he said.

Malaysia’s concerns were made known to Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry in a letter dated Monday.

As of Tuesday, satellites detected 152 hot spots in Sumatra and 74 in Kalimantan, he said.

Wan Junaidi said he would be meeting his counterpart in Jakarta soon to discuss the haze problem.

The meeting will also look at speeding up the signing of a transboundary haze prevention agreement between the two countries, he said.

Wan Junaidi said he would be chairing a national haze conference with various agencies here on Sept 28 to discuss emergency haze measures.

Some measures that had been taken, he said, included anti-open-burning patrols in February and a ban on open burning in some states since March last year.

From Jan 1 to Aug 23, a total of 3,117 open burning cases were detected nationwide, with 1,118 of these in farming areas, Wan Junaidi said.

Compound fines were issued in 199 cases while verbal warnings were given in 15 and written ­notices in 39 cases.

Legal action was being considered in 17 cases, Wan Junaidi added.

He said 194 Department of Environ­ment officers had been given the power to arrest anyone suspected of open burning or other environmental crimes.

Anyone found guilty of open burning can be fined up to RM500,000 or be jailed up to five years, or both.

Compound fines can run as high as RM2,000 for a single offence.

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Malaysia: Hazy till middle of next month

PATRICK LEE The Star 27 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: The haze is expected to go on until mid-September with the peninsula’s west coast suffering the most from Indonesia’s open burning.

Meteorological Department spokesman Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said the situation would likely continue until the southwest monsoon season ends.

Coastal states from Kedah down to Johor could be the hardest hit, he said.

He said Sarawak may see its haze situation improve over the next few days as the winds were set to change direction.

At the moment, winds from Indonesia were carrying the smoke from Kalimantan and Sumatra to Malaysia and Singapore.

Open burning at plantations and forest areas is common in Indonesia as it was the fastest and easiest method of clearing land.

Hisham said there could be more rain here next month when the winds change during the inter-monsoon period, which would help clear the haze.

But he warned that the Indonesian weather could also get drier, resulting in increased hot spots and more smoke being blown here unless the fires were put out before then.

The global El Nino weather phenomenon was also expected to increase the chances of hot and dry weather in Indonesia, Hisham added.

According to the Air Pollutant Index (API), Seri Manjung in Perak had the unhealthiest air in the country yesterday.

The API level there spiked to 103 at 11am before declining to 100 at 3pm.

Port Klang in Selangor had its highest API reading of 102 at 3am.

In George Town, Penang, CHRISTOPHER TAN reported that the air quality there continued to climb towards unhealthy levels ­yesterday.

The API reading in Seberang Jaya 2 went from 87 at 6am to 91 at 10am while in Gelugor, it was 89 at 6am and 97 at 10am.

In Prai, it was 78 at 6am and 81 at 10am.

By 1pm, the readings increased to 93 in Seberang Jaya 2, 98 in Gelugor and 83 in Prai.

The Sabah Meteorological Department director Abdul Malek Tussin said that the haze in the state was not as bad as that in the peninsula.

An API reading of between 0 and 50 is good, 51 to 100 is moderate, 101 to 200 is unhealthy, 201 to 300 is very unhealthy, while 301 and above is hazardous.

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Indonesia: Govt mulls over harsher sanctions for perpetrators of forest fires

The Jakarta Post 25 Aug 15;

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is considering levying harsher administrative punishments to increase the deterrent effect on companies that cause forest fires.

“Administrative sanctions, such as revoking and freezing concession permits, are the possible alternatives that we are now considering. It is hard [to implement new policy because of legal and practical challenges], but we have to be able to stop [the forest fires from starting],” Minister Siti Nurbaya said Monday at the ministry’s office.

The ministry said there was no strong legal basis to revoke or freeze permits and the consequences of revoking a permit brought practical challenges so the policy should be made carefully.

“So for example, we revoke a permit of 10,000 hectares of land: Who’s going to watch it after that? The area will be open to access and be prone to illegal use by many parties. We have limited manpower to watch over the area,” the ministry’s spokesperson Eka W. Soegiri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

The ministry’s director general for law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani, said it is hoped that the administrative sanctions would deter those who make fires in the forests, alongside the legal sanctions that had been applied so far.

Recently, the Rokan Hilir District Court in Riau sentenced the assistant of a plantation head with PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa (JJP), Kosman Vitoni Imanuel Siboro, to two years in prison, as well as a fine of Rp 1 billion (US$71,942) or three more months internment, for burning 120 hectares of land to open a palm oil plantation in June 2013.

Siboro was convicted of violating Article 98 and 116 of Law No. 32/2009 on environment protection and management. Article 98 stipulates the punishment for individuals who intentionally damage the environment, while Article 116 stipulates that in the case of any crimes done for, by or in the name of a corporation, the plaintiff can sue the corporation and/or its leaders.

The ministry has also filed criminal lawsuit against PT Jatim Jaya Perkasa over the same case with the Rokan Hilir Court.

Separately, a civil lawsuit has also been filed with the North Jakarta District Court against the company, demanding Rp 119.88 billion in fines for damaging the environment and Rp 371.12 billion for the recovery of the area. Both trials are now in process.

In a bigger case, it filed civil lawsuits with the Palembang Court District in South Sumatra against PT Bumi Mekar Hijau for allegedly causing fires in 20,000 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra.

It demanded fines of Rp 2.6 trillion for damaging the environment and Rp 5.2 trillion for its recovery.

“This case gets most of our attention. If we win this, we can save the state Rp 7 trillion,” Rasio said.

PT Bumi Mekar Hijau is a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper. It has concessions of 250,370 hectares of land in Ogan Komering Ilir. Based on data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), most of the hot spots in the province are on the company’s concessions.

Besides bringing cases to court, the current Environment and Forestry Ministry has also made a breakthrough in law enforcement.

“After cases of land and forest fires, we set an investigation line [similar to police line, but issued from the ministry] on the land so nobody could use the land before the case closed. Before, the government did not do this so the land could still be used although the case was not settled yet,” Rasio told the Post.

The ministry has been actively suing plantation companies for forest fires since 2013. The cheapness of the practice of slashing and burning to open forest areas has made it difficult for the companies to stop the practice.

Haze continues to emerge from the regions even now. (rbk)

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