Best of our wild blogs: 9 Jan 15

“Pick as Much as Possible” Cubic Singapore’s Year Round Coastal Cleanup @ West Coast Beach, 22 Dec 2014 from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Dark Brand Bush Brown mating
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Stall owner on floods-affected vegetable prices: It's the worst hike ever

Choo Mei Fang The New Paper AsiaOne 9 Jan 15;

He has been selling vegetables for more than 30 years, but the recent Malaysian floods have resulted in the worst price hike he has ever experienced.

Mr Oh Ah Seng, 55, who owns a vegetable stall in the market at Block 628, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4, is so worried that he monitors the news daily to see if the flood situation has improved.

He said in Mandarin: "It's common for prices to increase during the monsoon season. But this is the first time it has increased by more than a dollar for one kilogram of vegetables."

Mr Oh used to sell brinjals for $3 per kg. But after the floods, it has gone up to $5 per kg, which translates to slightly lower sales for him.

Last month, Malaysia experienced its worst floods in decades.

The flooding in the north-east of the country killed 21 people, and almost a quarter of a million people had to be evacuated from their homes.


The floods also ruined crops, affecting their supply to Singapore and causing vegetable prices to rise.

The Star newspaper quoted Mr Chong Tek Keong, treasurer of the Federation of Malaysian Vegetables Wholesalers Association, who said the prolonged rainy season has caused a supply drop in Malaysia of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Despite the limited supply, vegetable prices at supermarket chains in Singapore have not gone up.

But the same cannot be said for market stalls.

Besides Mr Oh, Madam Sim Bee Hiang, 57, who co-owns a vegetable stall at the same market, has also increased her prices.

She is selling old cucumbers imported from Malaysia at $3 per kg, up from $2 per kg before the floods.

She said: "We have no choice, if not we will make a loss."

Fruit and vegetable wholesalers have not been spared.

Mr Edmund Lim, general manager of Lim Thiam Chwee Food Supplier, said: "About 50 to 60 per cent of our supplies are imported from Malaysia, so this is a very serious issue for us."

One of the Malaysian farmers he gets his supplies from even sent him a picture of the devastation.

Mr Lim added that the company is doing its best to get supplies from other countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

He said: "Many items ranging from local fruits to leafy and dry vegetables are affected by floods and landslides on our grower's farms."

Prices of Malaysian vegetables such as spring onions have increased by as much as four times, and common vegetables such as local spinach have doubled in price.

He used to be quoted $1.50 per kg for local spinach, but it has now doubled to $3 per kg.

Mr Lim said: "We can only hope that prices will stabilise after three to four weeks, as new crops need time to grow after the weather improves."

Mr Desmond Bernavey Lee, director of FRESHdirect, said 60 per cent of his imports come from Malaysia.

Due to the floods, there has been a shortage of certain fruits and vegetables.

He said: "There is going to be a very low supply of watermelons and honeydew (melon) next week. We can source for alternatives like rock melon from Australia, but it will cost four times more."

But some customers are not too worried about the price increase.

Madam Anna Kudus, 44, a housewife, frequents the wet market at Toa Payoh Lorong 4 about twice a week.

She said: "No point complaining about the prices, since we cannot do anything about it."

Technician Kang Kum Ying, 48, said: "We will just eat whatever is available in the market."

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Three marine, coastal sites to be enhanced for recreation

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 9 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — Enhancements to draw more visitors to three marine and coastal sites — each with its share of biodiversity offerings — are being planned.

In the coming years, Sisters’ Island Marine Park, which is home to rare species of seahorses, clams and sponges, could feature recreational diving spots and improved walkways and shelters. A floating boardwalk could be built off Labrador Nature Reserve, while Changi Beach Park could offer visitors up-close experiences with marine life.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has these plans in mind, but to ensure the enhancements will not come at the expense of biodiversity, feasibility studies will be done at the three sites identified.

Tender documents the statutory board posted on the Government’s procurement portal last Friday said it wants to enhance biodiversity along the Republic’s coastlines and islands, while making the corals and seagrasses — and the living creatures they attract — more accessible to the public.

Labrador Nature Reserve, for instance, is well known for its coastal vegetation and rocky shore, but its coastal and marine habitats are less known to the public, stated the documents. NParks is exploring options to enhance biodiversity of the shallow water reefs abutting the jetty at the nature reserve and to make them more visible to the public, possibly via a floating boardwalk.

At Sisters’ Islands, there are plans to install fixed and floating coral nursery tables off Small Sister’s island, and to incorporate research and conservation elements in landscaping works. Structures could be built in the big lagoon of Big Sister’s island to allow access to intertidal areas, and recreational dive trails could be installed there.

Changi Beach Park, on the other hand, has an extensive and gently sloping sandy intertidal area with diverse seagrass species. But because most of the seagrass and marine animals can only be seen at the lower intertidal areas, NParks envisions growing the biodiversity at the upper intertidal areas closer to shore so visitors can appreciate marine animals without causing unnecessary damage to the lower areas.

NParks did not explain how the three sites were chosen, but wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai told TODAY that the new Round Island Route recreational corridor would pass through Changi Beach Park.

“For Sisters’ Islands, I guess (NParks) wants to see how people can enjoy it more,” he said. “It’s good that they’re calling environmental impact assessments for these areas... hopefully done by the right people, particularly people with lots of experience with marine life here.”

Having nature areas that the public can use is a win-win situation borne out of necessity, said Mr Subaraj. “Some of us would love to have nature areas that are completely left for nature but that’s not really feasible in a country as small as Singapore. I think the best way is to let at least a part of the area be accessible to the public, and have areas that are out-of-bounds as well.”

Dive instructor Sim Q H, 40, said he would be keen to dive off Sisters’ Islands if possible, given Singapore’s relatively vibrant marine life. Pulau Hantu is currently the most popular local diving spot; an additional area would allow recreational divers to practise their skills without having to pay more to head overseas, although the waters here can be murky and the currents strong, added Mr Sim.

Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director (coastal and marine) at NParks’ National Biodiversity Centre said the feasibility studies would begin next month and are expected to wrap up at the end of the year.

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Leave fossil fuels buried to prevent climate change, study urges

New research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands
Damian Carrington The Guardian 7 Jan 15;

Vast amounts of oil in the Middle East, coal in the US, Australia and China and many other fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change, according to the first analysis to identify which existing reserves cannot be burned.

The new work reveals the profound geopolitical and economic implications of tackling global warming for both countries and major companies that are reliant on fossil fuel wealth. It shows trillions of dollars of known and extractable coal, oil and gas, including most Canadian tar sands, all Arctic oil and gas and much potential shale gas, cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise is to be kept under the 2C safety limit agreed by the world’s nations. Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming and the deadline to seal a global climate deal comes in December at a crunch UN summit in Paris.

“We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said Christophe McGlade, at University College London (UCL), and who led the new research published in the journal Nature. The work, using detailed data and well-established economic models, assumed cost effective climate policies would use the cheapest fossil fuels first, with more expensive fuels priced out of a world in which carbon emissions were strictly limited. For example, the model predicts that significant cheap-to-produce conventional oil would be burned but that the carbon limit would be reached before more expensive tar sands oil could be used.

It was already known that there is about three times more fossil fuel in reserves that could be exploited today than is compatible with 2C, and over 10 times more fossil fuel resource that could be exploited in future. But the new study is the first to reveal which fuels from which countries would have to be abandoned. It also shows that technology to capture and bury carbon emissions, touted by some as a way to continue substantial fossil fuel use in power stations, makes surprisingly little difference to the amount of coal, oil and gas deemed unburnable.

Major fossil fuel companies face the risk that significant parts of their reserves will become worthless, with Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Exxaro owning huge coal reserves and Lukoil, Exxon Mobil, BP, Gazprom and Chevron owning massive oil and gas reserves.

If the world’s nations keep their pledge to combat climate change, the analysis finds the prospects are bleakest for coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels. Globally, 82% of today’s reserves must be left underground. In major coal producing nations like the US, Australia and Russia, more than 90% of coal reserves are unused in meeting the 2C pledge. In China and India, both heavy and growing coal users, 66% of reserves are unburnable.

While the prospects for gas are better, the study still found 50% of global reserves must remain unburned. But there are stark regional variations, with the giant gas producers in the Middle East and Russia having to leave huge quantities underground, while the US and Europe can exploit 90% or more of their reserves to replace coal and provide local power to their large cities. Some fracking for shale gas is consistent with the 2C target, according to the study, but is dominated by the existing industry in the US, with China, India, Africa and the Middle East needing to leave 80% of their potential shale gas unburned.

Oil has the lowest proportion of unburnable fuel, with a third left unused. However, the Middle East is still required to leave 260bn barrels of oil in the ground, an amount equivalent to Saudi Arabia’s entire oil reserve. The study’s conclusion on the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands is blunt, finding production must fall to “negligible” levels after 2020 if the 2C scenario is to be fulfilled. The research also finds no climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas is drilled in the Arctic.

The new analysis calls into question the gigantic sums of private and government investment being ploughed into exploration for new fossil fuel reserves, according to UCL’s Professor Paul Ekins, who conducted the research with McGlade. “In 2013, fossil fuel companies spent some $670bn (£443bn) on exploring for new oil and gas resources. One might ask why they are doing this when there is more in the ground than we can afford to burn,” he said.

“The investors in those companies might feel that money is better spent either developing low-carbon energy sources or being returned to investors as dividends,” said Ekins.

“One lesson of this work is unmistakably obvious: when you’re in a hole, stop digging,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of which is campaigning to get investors to dump their fossil fuel stocks. “These numbers show that unconventional and ‘extreme’ fossil fuel – Canada’s tar sands, for instance – simply have to stay in the ground.”

“Given these numbers, it makes literally no sense for the industry to go hunting for more fossil fuel,” McKibben said. “We’ve binged to the edge of our own destruction. The last thing we need now is to find a few more liquor stores to loot.”

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Experts warn governments to plan for climate change migrants

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 9 Jan 15;

Governments need to plan better for rising migration driven by climate change, experts said on Thursday, citing evidence that extreme weather and natural disasters force far more people from their homes than wars.

Projections by leading climate scientists of rising sea levels, heatwaves, floods and droughts linked to global warming are likely to oblige millions of people to move out of harm's way, with some never able to return.

The issue is politically sensitive at a time when economic austerity is straining the generosity of host governments and anti-immigrant sentiment is rising in many countries, especially in Europe.

"Natural disasters displace three to 10 times more people than all conflicts and war in the world combined," said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council which runs the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Geneva.

IDMC data show that 22 million people were displaced by extreme events in 2013, led by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, three times more than the number displaced by conflicts. In many other years, the ratio was much wider.

In the early 1970s, the total number of people displaced was only about 10 million. Extreme events also include earthquakes and tsunamis, unrelated to the weather.

"Many more people in a growing population live more exposed to more extreme weather," Egeland told a conference in Oslo about migration and climate change.

Chaloka Beyani, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, told Reuters that governments should step up planning for migrants.

"For the future we are looking more to planned relocations for people who are prone to frequent hazards," he said.

Sea level rise of 19 cm (8 inches) since 1900, caused by factors including a thaw of glaciers from the Andes to the Alps and of Greenland's ice sheet, aggravates storm surges in many coastal regions, according to the U.N. panel of climate experts.

The panel's scenarios point to a further rise of 26 to 82 cm by the late 21st century. The panel says it is at least 95 percent probable that human activities, led by burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of warming.

"We don't have to wait until an island sinks in maybe 50 years time and an entire population vanishes," Beyani said. "There will have to be a planned movement and relocation."

Climate change also added reasons for people to leave home by disrupting food and water supplies. "Access to resources, constrained by climatic factors, breeds conflict," he said.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Underground and on rooftops, farms set roots in big cities

Shyamantha Asokan PlanetArk 9 Jan 15;

On a cold and rainy Friday afternoon, Steven Dring is tending his baby carrots in a somewhat unusual setting. The green shoots are in a try of volcanic glass crystals under LED lights - and the tray is in a tunnel 33 meters underneath a busy London street.

Dring is the co-founder of Zero Carbon Food, one of a clutch of projects trying to help feed the world's booming cities by farming in local spots - and often unexpected ones.

In India, social businesses are setting up small farms on the rooftops of crowded apartment blocks. China's government has built urban farming "showcases" to encourage city-dwellers to start projects at home.

In the coming decades, cities in rich and poor countries alike are set to swell and cause ever more pollution by transporting food from rural areas. Two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, versus just over half now, according to UN forecasts.

"Thirty million meals are served a day in London. We've got to get all that stuff into the city, along with all the packaging needed to bring it in. So if you can bring any food production into the city, then that's good," said Dring.

Zero Carbon Food started farming in an abandoned World War II bomb shelter in Clapham North, an upper-middle-class neighborhood, in January 2014. The company has been growing salad leaves and root vegetables in a small test plot, using LED lights instead of sunshine and perlite crystals or thin fibre matts instead of soil.

The venture is now setting up its full site, which will fill the steel and concrete tunnels with vertically-stacked trays that have 10,000 square meters of growing space. It will start selling to restaurants and homes in the second quarter of 2015, Dring said, although it will only ever meet a minute fraction of the city's demand.

London's population is set to grow by roughly a fifth by 2030, when the number of residents will hit 10 million, according to the mayor's office. The projected growth rate is far above that of New York and around double the United Kingdom average - but below forecasts for many cities in the developing world.

"A city of course cannot grow all its produce, but it's about combining this with other farming," said Chungui Lu, a plant scientist and expert on urban agriculture at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. "You can't grow wheat in a city, but you can grow a lot of high-value, fresh veg."


In India, where the urban population is forecast to double to more than 800 million people by 2050, the idea of fitting farms into cities that already heave with people might seem impossible. But the lack of space on the ground has spurred an increase in rooftop farming, using the flat tops of apartment blocks.

Fresh and Local, a social business in Mumbai, has run an organic farm on top of a low-income building since 2012. The 2,000-square-foot farm grows items such as pomegranates, chillis and bay leaves for the building's 50 families and 20 small businesses.

Fresh and Local is being hired to help set up two to three new urban farms in the city every six months, said founder Adrienne Thadani.

"There's a lot of misconceptions (such as) that there's no space, which isn't true," said Thadani. "For every building in Bombay, you have that square footage of flat roof."

Gardens of Abundance, a project in Hyderabad, a southern Indian city of 8.7 million people, has likewise set up 10 organic rooftop vegetable gardens since 2012. It has held workshops at 20 apartment blocks over the past year.

Garden plots can produce up to 20 kilograms of food per square meter per year, according to the United Nations. Many urban farming groups do not provide such figures for their production because yields vary with factors such as location and seed quality, they said.

Urban farming remains niche, partly because setting up a mid-sized plot requires time and money. London's high property prices drove Dring to an underground site that will cost £3 million ($4.7 million) to develop, using money partly raised on the equity crowdfunding website Crowdcube.

Thadani, meanwhile, has to get basic materials brought in from as far away as 150 kilometres outside Mumbai.

Governments sometimes step in to help. Some Indian states provide subsidized growing kits. China's government has part-funded a three-storey farm in Beijing, said Lu, who is working on a research project at the site. "Showcases" for indoor farming have been set up in recent years in smaller cities such as Nanjing.

However, when it comes to agriculture, China's spending priority for now remains providing subsidies for poor rural farmers, said Lu. He points to Singapore as an Asian success story for urban farming.


Aside from cutting food miles - the distance it takes food to get from the grower to the plate - urban farming can have other benefits that are harder to measure, such as giving city-dwellers more knowledge about and control over their food.

Indian cities have a high demand for reliable supplies of safe vegetables. Poor infrastructure often causes food to rot enroute from rural areas. A government study in 2014 found banned pesticides in crops, according to local media reports.

"There is a desire for a good quality food. When I started this, the women I worked with would say, 'I want to find a way to not have the 'chemical food'," said Thadani.

In London, Dring's visitors often think his farm is unusually high-tech - but LED lights and trays are common in UK agriculture.

"There's such a huge disconnect between people and where their food comes from," he said. "Some kids in London probably think spaghetti grows on trees."

(Editing by Laurie Goering)

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