Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jan 15

Terumbu Hantu and Terumbu Pempang Kechil
from wild shores of singapore

January walks at Sisters Islands Marine Park
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

Sisters Islands Marine Park home for salvaged corals
from Sisters' Island Marine Park

Adult Spotted Dove feeding juveniles with crop milk
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Slight haziness, but no increase in hotspots in the region

Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: There was slight haziness in parts of Singapore on Wednesday morning (Jan 21), but it was not due to an increase in hotspot activities from neighbouring countries, met services said.

A Meteorological Service Singapore spokesperson said it was due to a "weakening of winds overnight, which led to an accumulation of particulate matter in the atmosphere".

"The low level winds are expected to continue to blow predominantly from the northeast for the next two months," the spokesperson said.

Three-hour PSI readings hit a high of 63 between 9am and 11am on Wednesday, and remained in the Moderate range for the rest of the day,

- CNA/ly

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More hotspots in Indonesia last year

Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: The number of hotspots detected in Sumatra and Kalimantan was higher in 2014 than in 2013, but favourable wind conditions prevented poorer air quality in Singapore, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday (Jan 20).

In a written response to a Parliamentary question from MP Christopher de Souza about Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings and the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore continues to be affected by transboundary haze from the region.

Hotspots in 2014 grew to 28,580 from 18,129 in 2013. “This is why the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act on Sep 25, 2014. The Act is not a silver bullet and we do not underestimate the challenges of implementing it,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

“Nonetheless, the enactment of this legislation has focused domestic and international attention on the haze problem, and placed errant companies on notice that their irresponsible actions will attract prosecution.”

Singapore’s air quality was in the “Good” and “Moderate” range for 353 days in 2014, up from 350 days in 2013. The calculations were made using a new PSI incorporating the PM2.5 readings which the ministry introduced in April last year, he added.

- CNA/ct

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Four organisations collaborate to develop efficient, eco-friendly ships

AsiaOne 21 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE - Four organisations have agreed to collaborate on the development of new ship designs to make them more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

A*STAR's Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), Semcorp Marine Ltd, University of Glasgow and UGS signed a thee-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) today.

The organisations will use computational modelling and visualisation technologies to improve upon the fuel efficiency of maritime transport by designing ships with better hydrodynamics.

Furthermore, the collaborative effort aims to innovate on features to reduce exhaust emissions and discharges.

Said Prof Alfred Huan, Executive Director of A*STAR's IHPC: "IHPC acts as a catalyst that translates research into practical applications.

"By harnessing the power of computational modelling and simulations, we help shipbuilders optimise design to improve efficiency and environmental sustainability of large commercial vessels."

For instance, Sembcorp Marine and IHPC will work on ways to reduce the emission of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and various greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

IHPC will also contribute its well-developed research in martime-related areas, such as hull optimisation and structural integrity.

In order to better utilise such knowledge, University of Glasgow and UGS will be providing academic training and certification to the staff of Sembcorp Marine.

Maritime transport accounts for three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Public must accept that animal feeding poses pest problem: MEWR

Channel NewsAsia 21 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE: Managing the danger posed by irresponsible animal feeding requires a collective effort by Government agencies, animal welfare groups and the public, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said on Tuesday (Jan 20).

Under the Environment Public Health Act, those who do not clear away leftover food after feeding stray animals may be fined up to S$2,000 for littering, Ms Fu said in a written answer to a Parliamentary question from MP Zaqy Mohamad on regulations on animal feeding.

“Food that is left on open ground or improperly disposed of causes the proliferation of rats, cockroaches and other vermin,” she said, adding that containers with stagnant water also allow mosquitoes to breed.

“The health and safety of humans must remain paramount,” she said. “We hope the public will understand and support these measures."

- CNA/ek

More than 10,000 rodent burrows detected in just two months last year
ROBIN CHOO Today Online 23 Jan 15;

SINGAPORE — They could smell a rat several thousand times over in just two months last year, a sign of how rodents in the heartlands can easily turn into a major problem if left unchecked.

Between October and November, the National Environment Agency (NEA) detected more than 10,000 rodent burrows, with 90 per cent of them found in housing estates.

The figure, revealed by the agency yesterday, represents a sharp increase from the 6,400 burrows discovered during the same period in 2013.

On Tuesday, Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Ms Grace Fu, told Parliament that 35,000 rat burrows were detected and treated by the NEA in the first 11 months of last year.

“We are concerned about the increase in the number of burrows detected,” the NEA said, adding that the agency received 4,106 instances of feedback last year, compared with 3,031 in 2013.

The increase in rat problems could be partly due to the availability of multiple food sources, said an NEA spokesperson.

The NEA also noted that a single female rat can produce as many as 2,500 rats — which means that the rodent population can multiply quickly within a short period of time if left uncontrolled.

Last month, reports of rodent infestation next to Bukit Batok MRT Station led to a public outcry.

More than 300 rats were killed by pest controllers after nearly three weeks of extermination operations.

The NEA said yesterday it had conducted surveillance at more than 144,000 food retail establishments last year.

It has also audited 85 out of more than 200 shopping malls so far, which involves, among other things, physical site inspections and advising mall management on what needs to be done to improve overall rodent control measures.

Pest controllers told TODAY they had seen an increase in requests, from residential homes to large commercial buildings, to deal with rodent issues over the past year. Some saw as much as a 30-per-cent rise in calls between last year and the previous year.

In an increasingly urbanised Singapore, rodents have “evolved” in their nesting, harbourage and foraging behaviour, said Ms Audrey Ong from the business development department of ORIGIN Exterminators, a pest control company.

She added that general industry practices of dealing with rats have not kept up with that development.

“Given that rodents are generally adaptable and intelligent creatures … there needs to be a paradigm shift in how we ‘outsmart’ rodents.”

Mr Patrick Chong, managing director of Aardwolf Pestkare, said the increase in food littering in common spaces may have contributed to the rise in the rodent problem. He said due to a lack of manpower, smaller food operators often fail to keep their premises clean and dispose of the rubbish after operating hours.

Pest control agencies suggest that building owners, building management and food operators should take a more proactive approach in dealing with rodents, instead of simply reacting to the problem when it crops up.

Consistent and regular monitoring of premises would be a better long-term solution, they say, as this allows swifter response to any emerging rat problems.

However, Mr Chong noted that budget constraints may make it difficult for companies to adopt such an approach.

“At the end of the day, rat control is about ... how committed the person is in wanting to control the rats,” he said.

Appeal to all: Help get rid of rats and mozzies
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jan 15;

THE ratty problem outside the Bukit Batok MRT station is indicative of a nuisance that plagues many parts of Singapore.

In the first 11 months of last year, more than 35,000 rodent burrows were found across the island and their inhabitants annihilated by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The agency has also put more officers on the ground in recent years to make sure food shops abide by good hygiene practices and do not feed the problem.

The intensified effort to choke off any infestation was disclosed in Parliament yesterday by Ms Grace Fu, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

In recent months, several places in Singapore had suffered rat colonies.

The most notorious one was outside the Bukit Batok MRT station.

Videos posted online show a slope the size of a football field infested with rats.

Ratbusters were called in and they killed more than 300 rodents in a two-week campaign last month.

But killing the horrid creatures will not wipe out the problem unless people practise good housekeeping, including managing their food waste properly, said Ms Fu, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

"The key to rodent control is to eliminate food sources...We need all stakeholders, from food-stall and restaurant operators to companies that are in charge of cleaning, to really step up and ensure we have a hygienic and clean environment," she said.

Dengue is another scourge Ms Fu urged people to help get rid of.

Although the number of breeding sites found has declined, the problem persists.

Between January and November last year, more than 16,000 breeding sites were uncovered, a 19 per cent annual drop.

A new gravitrap surveillance programme that the NEA introduced in dengue clusters and high-risk areas has caught about 32,000 mosquitoes since it was put on trial last year.

"This is the first year we have such statistics, so we will probably use this as a basis for studies going forward," Ms Fu said.

The NEA is also exploring the possibility of reducing the local dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito population through biological means, she said, citing the Wolbachia bacteria-carrying male mosquitoes.

When they mate with female mosquitoes, the latter produce eggs that do not hatch.

Meanwhile, Ms Fu urged all home and premises owners, town councils and managers of public areas to take responsibility for ensuring there is no room for the mosquitoes to breed.

She said: "NEA's officers cannot be everywhere, any time, all the time."

Rats! Warning of diseases as complaints soar
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Jan 15;

Singapore's rat problems have worsened in the past year, with the authorities fielding many more complaints and discovering a sharp rise in the number of rat burrows.

Pest busters are also warning that the apparent explosion in the rat population could lead to diseases spreading and even fires in older buildings if the rodents gnaw on power cables.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) alone received 4,106 complaints about rats last year, about 35 per cent more than the 3,031 complaints in 2013.

Its latest round of inspections of public areas in October and November last year also uncovered about 10,000 rat burrows across the island, up from 6,400 burrows in the same period in 2013.

The Government has said that more than 35,000 burrows were found and the rats killed in the first eleven months of last year.

The NEA said close to 90 per cent of the burrows in its October- November inspection were in housing estates.

Improper storage and disposal of food waste could be one cause of infestations, it said, adding that the number of rats can multiply exponentially in a short time.

For example, a single adult female Norway rat and its offspring can add as many as 2,500 rats to the population in a single year, it said.

"We are concerned about the increase in the number of burrows detected," said a spokesman.

Pest-control firms said they received up to 60 per cent more rat-related inquiries in the past year. PestBusters' technical director Eugene Surendra said: "For a small island like Singapore, the rat burrow figures are very alarming, and do not auger well for our reputation as a clean country."

If the rats come into contact with food, they could pass on diseases like salmonellosis, which can cause diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and even dehydration.

In 2012, a foreign worker's death was linked to leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread from rats to humans.

Star Pest Control's general manager Bernard Chan said rats may gnaw on power cables to sharpen their teeth.

"If the wires are exposed, people may be electrocuted by live wires during maintenance work, the electricity supply may become unstable and household appliances could catch fire," he said, although he has not seen such incidents.

The NEA said the key to getting rid of rats is removing their food sources and hiding places.

Malls, for example, should prevent rats from entering and breeding on their premises by plugging holes and gaps in their walls.

Everyone, from land owners to building managers and food shop operators, should store food and food waste in rat-proof containers, keep their premises clean and carry out routine pest-control checks and treatment, it added.

On its part, the NEA did more than 144,000 inspections on food shops last year. It has audited 85 out of over 200 malls to ensure that their rat-control measures are adequate.

The agency has also been working with town councils on a "rat attack programme" since 2011, which includes trapping the rats and sealing their burrows.

Twelve public areas, including those in Geylang, Joo Chiat and Orchard Road, received special attention because of their high density of eateries and human traffic.

The rodent situation in these enclaves "is largely under control", said the NEA, with the number of burrows found falling from 119 in March last year to 11 in December.

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Malaysia: OPEN LETTER to Prime Minister -- Cost effective way for flood mitigation

New Straits Times 21 Jan 15;


Protecting forests a cost effective way to reduce incidents of serious flooding.

Dear Prime Minister,

We the undersigned, in the aftermath of the devastating floods that has ravaged many states and left in its wake a trail of destruction, write you this open letter to recommend feasible and sustainable solutions towards flood mitigation.

First, we laud the decision by the prime minister to award top priority for flood mitigation projects under the 11th Malaysia Plan. We also understand that it is requisite for the government to be quick in offering prescriptions that would mitigate floods occurrences and thereby placate increasingly worried Malaysians. However, we as a group of concerned natural resource management professionals and conservationists, note with concern the recent pronouncements about building dams as a means to this end. We would like to offer our views on the way forward based on our collective experience.

In general flood mitigation efforts can be in the form of structural and non-structural measures and would usually include the following:

*Avoidance – with proper land use planning, the state governments can control development in flood prone areas such as flood plains and riparian areas. While there is not much we can do about existing development patterns, state governments need to be more disciplined with future development;

*Protect upland forests – forests in the uplands help to moderate the floods as their vegetation help to reduce the speed of water, allow water to seep into the soil better and reduce the volume of water moving downstream;

*Minimise run-off to downstream – the Department of Irrigation and Drainage has clear guidelines (Manual Saliran Mesra Alam or MASMA) on flood retention and measures to enhance permeability and reduce the speed of water running off from a development. However, it is a pity that much of it is not well implemented;

*Improving river drainage – this is usually done by widening and deepening the river and constructing bunds/levees. This established practice for the past 50 years has its drawbacks as it often increases the speed of water which then causes other problems including higher flood peaks. It may solve flooding in one place but could lead to problems in another place. River improvements often damage important habitats for fish and other river life-forms; and

*Building more flood control dams – this is an expensive option and should ideally be the last option.

The building of dams as a flood mitigation measure has negative implications that far outweigh the benefits of building them. These include environmental, societal and economic effects such as:

*The permanent loss of forests and the ecological functions that they provide;

*Significant contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions due to the decay of organic material in the reservoir inundation area. Further greenhouse gas emissions will arise from the construction of the dam itself and all associated infrastructure building activities;

*The loss of wildlife habitats and consequent impediment of natural wildlife movement patterns and biological processes across the landscape;

*The inevitable displacement of local communities, in particular indigenous communities, from their traditional territories as well as loss of their livelihoods; and

*The disruption of the natural river hydrology leading to a reduction in the deposition of nutrients downstream of the dam.

The presence of dams without controlling deforestation in their catchment areas can be counter-productive, as evident in the Ringlet dam in Cameron Highlands, where the reservoir’s holding capacity has been severely compromised by sedimentation from forest clearing upstream. As a result, emergency releases here have led to flash floods, which have claimed lives and property in the immediate areas downstream.

We therefore, urge the government to move away from structural responses as primary solutions for flood mitigation and adopt more holistic non-structural measures. We believe that improving forest and wetlands protection and management will be less costly than building dams and more sustainable in the long run.

It is evident that widespread deforestation in catchment areas is one of the main contributing factors to the increasing severity of floods in recent times. When rivers are clogged up with huge amounts of silt and debris caused by forest clearing, their capacities to channel floodwaters are greatly reduced. This necessitates the removal of such impediments from the rivers and the reforestation of deforested areas and rehabilitation of hill-slopes, both of which are costly ventures.

We outline a number of key measures that the government must undertake immediately as the means towards ensuring holistic, integrated, sustainable and adequately governed measures to effectively address the root causes of ongoing widespread deforestation and thereby reduce the severity of annual monsoonal flooding:

i. Towards better protection and management of forests; to expedite the review of the National Forestry Policy of 1978 with a view to entrench environmentally sustainable principles and actions therein, including a fundamental principle that forest reserves should remain under natural forest cover and not be replaced with tree plantations (such as rubber) and other agricultural crops.

ii. Immediately direct the Attorney General’s Chambers to undertake a consultative legislative review of the National Forestry Act 1984 with a view to prescribe stricter environmental safeguards. We urge the inclusion of a provision that requires mandatory public participation in cases where forest reserves are being excised for whatever purpose.

iii. Provide full budgetary and political support for the implementation of the National Physical Plan and the Central Forest Spine Master Plan (especially at state level), and other equivalent plans in Sabah and Sarawak.

iv. Revive the initiative to develop a National Highlands Policy that was mooted more than a decade ago stemming from the National Highlands Study of 2003 commissioned by the Economic Planning Unit.

v. Action by the National Land Council to pass a resolution that calls for a moratorium on the further expansion of tree plantations within forest reserves.

vi. Ensure that all states implement the four core areas identified under the National Water Resources Policy (NWRP) 2010-2050, which has been approved by Cabinet.

vii. Ensure in the 2015 Budget and beyond, that all enforcement agencies whether directly or indirectly involved in the protection and management of forests and their resources are adequately funded to carry out their functions. Further to this, towards better coordinated and joint efforts in relation to enforcement of the aforesaid, to consider the establishment of a Forest Enforcement Agency (similar to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency).

viii. Identify and consequently roll out within the 11th Malaysian Plan sufficient economic incentives to State Governments in order to reduce their continued dependence on the exploitation of forests and other natural resources for revenue generation.

1. Dylan Jefri Ong, Biodiversity Conservationist and founding Director of Denai Bhumi

2. Gangaram Pursumal, former Head of Institut Perikanan Malaysia

3. Henry Goh, President of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS)

4. Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, Director, Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity Law (CEBLAW), Malaysia.

5. Gopinath Nagaraj, Principal Consultant, FanLi Marine and Consultancy Sdn. Bhd.

6. Haider Kamarudin, Managing Director, Cave Management Group Sdn. Bhd.

7. Harjinder Kler, Chair, Tanjung Aru Action Group 2.0 and founding member of the Green SURF coalition

8. Hymeir Kamarudin, former Chairman of the Malaysian Karst Society and ecotourism operator

9. Justine Jay Vaz, President, Persatuan Rimba Komuniti Kota Damansara

10. Kevin Hiew, former Conservation Director, WWF-Malaysia

11. Lanash Thanda, President of the Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) and founding member of the Green SURF coalition

12. Lee Su Win, former Executive Director of MNS

13. Dr. Lim Boo Liat, recipient of the Merdeka Award

14. Lim Teck Wyn, Director of Resource Stewardship Consultants

15. Dr. Melvin Gumal, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Programme and winner of the Whitley Award for Conservation in Ape Habitats

16. Mano Maniam, former President of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia (EPSM)

17. Nithi Nesadurai, President of EPSM

18. Nizam Mahshar, CEO of the Malay Economic Action Council and environmental activist

19. Preetha Sankar, Advocate & Solicitor, and environmental columnist

20. Dr. Rahimatsah Amat, CEO & founder of the Sabah Environmental Trust, and founding member of the Green SURF coalition

21. Tan Sri Dato' Sri Dr. Salleh Mohd. Nor, former Director General of Forest Research Institute Malaysia and former President of MNS

22. Puan Sri To’ Puan Datuk Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, President of Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia

23. Dato' Dr. Dionysius Sharma, CEO/Executive Director of WWF-Malaysia

24. Surin Suksuwan, MNS Council Member and Member of the World Commission for Protected Areas

25. Yasmin Rasyid, President & Executive Director of EcoKnights and Chairperson of the Malaysian Environmental NGOs (MENGO) group

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Indonesia: Riau told to be prepared for dry season

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 21 Jan 15;

All stakeholders in Riau have been urged to prepare for the approaching dry season as hot spots have been detected in a number of regions in the province.

Based on Terra and Aqua satellite monitoring conducted by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Pekanbaru station, eight hot spots were detected on Tuesday morning in four regencies.

Five of the hot spots were detected in Bengkalis regency and one each in the regencies of Pelalawan, Indragiri Hilir and Indragiri Hulu.

“Hot spots have continued to appear in the last few days in fluctuating numbers. Yet, so far, no haze has been spotted. If it looks dark, it’s because of cloud coverage,” said the station’s head, Sugarin.

He said the emergence of the hot spots was a sign that the dry season was approaching.

“Rain is no longer falling evenly and is becoming rare,” Sugarin said.

The dry season is expected to start in Riau early February and last until July.

Sugarin, therefore, called on all stakeholders to be cautious as the dry season increased the potential for forest and peatland fires.

Responding to the call, acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman scheduled a meeting with all companies working in the forestry and plantation sectors in the province.

“We will continue warning the companies to be careful with regard to land and forest fires,” Andi said.

He added that last year severe haze occurred throughout February to April and that this year serious efforts had to be undertaken to prevent a recurrence.

The Riau provincial administration, he added, would continue coordinating with the Environment and Forestry Ministry as well as National Police headquarters to follow up with audits on companies’ compliance in preparing for the threat of fire.

According to the final evaluation conducted by the Riau Horticulture Agency, five companies previously declared less compliant presently meet the required safety standards.

Separately, Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Dolly Bambang Hermawan said his office had instructed all officers at the regency and city level to reactivate last year’s land and forest fire mitigation measures in anticipation of hot spots reappearing.

“Vulnerable spots have to be guarded continuously. Once found, a fire has to be quickly handled to prevent it from spreading,” Dolly said.

Meanwhile, in response to a land fire on Jan. 13, the Bengkalis regency administration called on companies and people not to clear land by fire.

“We never stop warning that perpetrators could face three years in prison and a minimum fine of
Rp 3 billion as stipulated in Law No. 32/2009 on environmental management and protection,” Bengkalis Police’s spokesperson Johansyah Syafri said.

He said the regency disaster mitigation agency and fire department had also been instructed to increase the monitoring of areas prone to fire.

- See more at:

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New satellite system to track illegal 'pirate fishing'

Chris Arsenault PlanetArk 22 Jul 15;

About 20 percent of the world's fishing catch is taken illegally by poachers, experts estimate, but a new satellite tracking system launched on Wednesday aims to crack down on the industrial-scale theft known as "pirate fishing."

Run by the British technology firm Satellite Applications Catapult and backed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, project 'Eyes on the Seas' will open a "Virtual Watch Room".

Computers will be able to watch satellite feeds of the waters around Easter Island, a Chilean territory in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, and the western Pacific island nation of Palau, which lacks the resources to monitor all the illegal fishing taking place near its waters.

The project is now live and capable of monitoring waters across the world's oceans.

The technology analyses numerous sources of live satellite tracking data, enabling monitors to link to information about a ship's country of registration and ownership history to spot suspicious vessels.

"This system will enable authorities to share information on those vessels operating outside the law, build a comprehensive case against them, track them into port or within reach of enforcement vessels, and take action against them," Joshua Reichert from the Pew Charitable Trusts said in a statement.

"We want to identify bad actors and hold them accountable, making enforcement easier and more cost effective."

Tommy E. Remengesau Jr., Palau's president, said his country had already been able to identify suspicious vessels in its marine zone with the help of the project's supporters.

The "watch room" is a digital platform which can be accessed remotely by governments, rather than a physical space.

The program's backers plan to expand it to other countries over the next three years.

Illegal fishermen, the value of whose catch is estimated at up to $23.5 billion annually, operate with near impunity in some areas where they think themselves safe from tracking, according to Pew Trusts.

In some regions, as much as 40 percent of the total catch is thought to be taken unlawfully.

Consumers and environmental groups have often had no way of knowing whether the fish they are eating comes from illegal operations but the new satellite program can help change that, said Spain's former environment minister, Cristina Narbona.

(Corrects name of initiative and its backers in paragraph 2, adds paragraph 4 on the project's global reach )

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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