Best of our wild blogs: 17 Feb 15

Love Gone Wild at Pulau Ubin!
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Common Snipe’s tongue and bill
from Bird Ecology Study Group

from Saving MacRitchie

2015 Guide to Singapore Government Funding and Incentives for the Environment
from Green Future Solutions

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Land reclaiming for Forest City project starts after CNY

BEN TAN New Straits Times 16 Feb 15;

JOHOR BARU: The developers of the controversial Forest City project will start reclaiming land after the Chinese New Year holidays following the greenlight given last month by the Department of Environment (DoE).

Country Garden PacificView Sdn Bhd (CGPV), the master developer for the project, will commence work on the mega-project with a particular emphasis on conserving the surrounding areas environment.

CGPV executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the developers will start by maintaining the Merambong seagrass bed which will be located in between the four linked islands of Forest City.

"We will allocate about RM3.5 million to maintain and conserve the seagrass bed as part of the project," he said at a luncheon held at Country Garden Danga Bay here today.

In addition to that, Othman added that the developers will also be replanting mangrove trees along the coastal area as part of its environmental commitment of the area.

"These are all part of our initiative to maintain and nature the surrounding environment together with the detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) report that has been approved by the DoE.

It is learnt that CGPV had embarked on such an initiative to minimise or mitigate environmental impacts through integrated and workable solutions.

Othman said all compliance monitoring, in terms of air, noise, water quality and sediment, will be seriously implemented and carried out.

"This is one of our immediate priorities to minimise the impact and ensure that the surrounding ecology are well preserved," he said.

Forest City is a cluster of four reclaimed islands, the biggest measuring 1,005ha, while the smallest is 58ha.

Forest City's Scaled Down Development To Lower GDV By 20-30 Pct
Bernama 16 Feb 15;

JOHOR BAHARU, Feb 16 (Bernama) -- The development of Forest City project, the size of which has been scaled down twice, is likely to see a reduction of between 20 per cent and 30 per cent in gross development value (GDV) from the initial estimate of RM600 billion.

Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd Executive Director Datuk Md Othman Yusuf said the project has now been scaled down to 1,386 hectares from the originally plan to develop 1,978 hectares.

He said the project, which would take about 10-20 years to fully complete, was already scaled down once from its original size to 1,624 hectares.

"Once we have done with the calculation, we will announce the new cost. We are anticipating some reduction from the original cost," he told reporters during a media luncheon here today.

The new estimates would be based on the latest gross floor area, he added.

Md Othman said following the green light from the Department of Environment and with the approval of the project's detailed environmental impact assessment on Jan 9, the company would resume reclamation work for the first phase after the Chinese New Year holidays.

Since June last year, the company ceased reclamation work for the first phase.

When asked on the status of the Merambong sea grass bed, located within the project, he said the company was currently working with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to preserve the area.

"We have already allocated RM3.5 million for initial steps to preserve the area," he added.

The project is a joint-venture project between the state government's subsidiary company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor and China's real estate developer Country Garden Holdings Ltd.

Forest City entails the reclamation and development of a large area over three decades in the Straits of Johor, which involves the creation of four man-made islands located in the waters of Tanjung Kupang between southwest Johor and northwest Singapore.


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The clock is ticking for S'pore's kampung houses

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Feb 15;

The rustic appearance of Singapore's last kampung could soon be nothing more than a memory.

One of Kampung Lorong Buangkok's residents is in the midst of renovating an old unit by tearing down its wooden roof and walls and replacing them with metal and brick, respectively.

When works are completed next month, it will be the fourth such modified kampung house out of a total of 26 homes there.

This has been a cause for concern for some heritage enthusiasts, with many voicing their worry on Facebook group "On a little street in Singapore" that it could result in the loss of the area's character.

The Singapore Heritage Society's (SHS) honorary secretary Yeo Kang Shua said it highlights the issue of "the lack of heritage protection" for local vernacular architecture.

He pointed out that most of Singapore's kampung architecture no longer exists.

For instance, late sculptor Ng Eng Teng's kampung-style house in Joo Chiat was demolished about two years ago.

Apart from Kampung Lorong Buangkok, the only other community with kampung houses is Pulau Ubin, where 70 such structures still stand.

Kampung Lorong Buangkok, near Gerald Drive off Yio Chu Kang Road, was purchased by a traditional Chinese medicine seller in 1956. It was passed down to his children.

The landlord today is his daughter Sng Mui Hong, 64. Ms Sng leases out parcels of the space for between $6.50 and $30 a month.
The kampung, which is on private land, is not a conserved site.

The 1.22ha area it sits on, which is about the size of three football fields, is slated under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's 1998 Masterplan to be replaced by housing, schools and other facilities supported by a road network.

The timeline for these developments has yet to be firmed up.

Mr Seah Y.K., 57, who will be spending $30,000 to renovate the kampung house, told The Sunday Times that the roof was termite-infested and that he had no choice but to replace it.

It had been unoccupied for the last 10 years and left to rot, said the long-time kampung resident who had bought the home from another resident for $30,000 late last year.

He said: "We want to preserve the look of the kampung as far as possible... We're keeping as much as we can intact. We won't have air-conditioning and we will build an outdoor toilet."

Fellow residents at the kampung said they understand his dilemma as wood is both difficult to obtain and expensive to maintain.

They said the kampung has also evolved since the 1960s when most of the homes were made from the attap palm. By the 1970s, they had been replaced with wood and also had some cement features.

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim said it is difficult and unfair to impose guidelines on the kampung dwellers especially if it costs "an arm and leg to upkeep".

He believes that residents should be allowed progression within reasonable boundaries.

Dr Yeo from the SHS suggested that the authorities consider some form of financial assistance towards restoration of Singapore's entire stock of built heritage, whose owners are in need of financial aid.

Meanwhile, Mr Kwek Li Yong, the founder of civic group My Queenstown, believes the authorities should work towards conserving at least one or two traditional kampung houses.

"This will ensure that future generations of Singaporeans will know how kampung life used to be."

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Indonesia: Transfer of subsidy to biofuel accelerates deforestation, says Walhi

The Jakarta Post 16 Feb 15;

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) is warning that the government’s policy to shift subsidies from fossil fuels to palm oil-based biofuel will only accelerate deforestation in this country.

“Shifting subsidies to land-based biofuel will worsen deforestation that has occurred at an alarming rate as it would increase the expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesian forests,” Walhi forest and plantation national campaigner, Zenzi Suhadi, said as quoted by Antara in Jakarta on Monday.

He said it was suspected that the inclusion of biofuel made from crude palm oil as a subsidy beneficiary was the result of lobbies conducted by palm oil plantation businesspeople to the government after the European Union’s (EU) parliament rejected the use of land-based fuel for transportation in the European countries.

Zenzi further said it was also suspected that the shifting of the fuel subsidy was for the benefit of business groups that were currently promoting bioethanol monoculture plantations that had threatened around 1 million hectares of forests in Kalimantan, Maluku, Papua, Sulawesi and Sumatra.

“The current plan to shift the fuel subsidy should provide momentum the government can use to take strategic measures to tackle environmental problems by promoting abundant alternative, renewable energy sources in Indonesia, namely wind and solar,” said Zenzi.

If the plan to shift the fuel subsidy was undertaken because of its heavy impact to the budgets of people in the low income brackets, the government should have been able to use the subsidy allocations to finance environment conservation activities directly conducted by people, micro economic activities that could increase the production capacity of rural communities, or recovering damaged environments caused by fossil fuel emissions.

Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sudirman Said previously stated that in 2015 the fossil fuel subsidy would be shifted to the development of more productive sectors, such as biodiesel and bioethanol.

In the draft 2015 Revised State Budget (RAPBN-P) bill, the ministry proposed an increased subsidy for biodiesel from the current Rp 1,500 (12 US cents) per liter to Rp 5,000 and from Rp 2,000 per liter to Rp 3,000 for bioethanol.

With such increases, the amount of the biofuel subsidy increased by Rp 14.31 trillion from Rp 3.09 trillion in the APBN 2015 to Rp 17.40 trillion in the RAPBN-P 2014. (ebf)(++++)

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Indonesia: Coal mining slump a blessing in disguise

Mohammad Faisal Jakarta Post 16 Feb 15;

The growth of the coal-mining industry, which has diminished in the last two years, is expected to slump even further this year following weakening demand for coal in the world market. This has been worsened by the more recent tumbling price of oil as the world’s main source of energy, which has discouraged the conversion of energy use from oil to coal.

The diminishing growth of the coal-mining sector has contributed to a decline in government revenue over the last two years. Since coal has become Indonesia’s major export commodity, the weakening of coal exports has resulted in a declining trade performance of Indonesia’s non-oil and gas sector, and in turn, contributed to an overall trade deficit in the past three years.

However, the diminishing shine of the coal industry has its bright side. This is because the increasing amount of coal-mining activity in the past decade has not only resulted in serious environmental degradation, but also enhanced the proliferation of corrupt and clientelistic practices in the regions.

The previous rapid growth in coal demand not only benefited large coal-mining firms, but also increased the escalation and dispersion of small-scale coal mining activities, particularly after the decentralization of the coal sector in 2009. Law No.4/2009 on mineral and coal mining grants the province and district governments new authorities for issuing coal mining licenses for Indonesian companies, cooperatives or individuals, which covers an area of less than 50,000 hectares.

Since then, the magnitude of small-scale coal mining activities has increased tremendously. The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry records that 9,662 permits were issued for small-scale coal mining by regencies as of 2011. Of these permits, only 3,778 were supported with the necessary documents without any outstanding legal issues.

Local governments have benefited from these mining operations through accepting large royalty payments from miners. In some coal-rich regencies, the revenues generated from coal royalties can be worth several times more than the contributions made by land and building taxes. The high profitability of small-scale coal mining has encouraged many regencies to allow these mining operations to operate without considering their detrimental impacts on the environment and the surrounding communities.

Many of these small open-pit coal mines are near residential areas, polluting rice fields and fish ponds and triggering landslides and floods.

Besides being an important source of local government revenue, coal has also become a source of funds for certain political groups close to local governments. Those who can obtain small-scale mining licenses in the regions are usually those who have some special or familial relationship with local government leaders, or are in some way connected to certain powerful local councilors.

Due to the high-cost politics associated with the direct elections of local government leaders since 2005, the money generated from small-scale coal mining activities has become an important source of political funding for government and political leaders participating in elections. An incumbent from a ruling political party can generate funds for a political campaign by developing a coal-mining business or issuing coal-mining licenses.

Apart from its high profitability, local politicians’ attraction to coal mining businesses is also due to the quick returns on investment compared to other booming commodities, such as palm oil. The quick returns generated by coal mining is very important for local politicians, who need to mobilize assets in anticipation of the local elections conducted every five years.

This high-cost politics and the local government’s lack of accountability have also provided a favorable environment for business actors and brokers to take advantage of the situation. Businessmen in the coal industry have often provided financial backing for the candidates for local government and legislative leaders who they think have a high chance of winning in the local elections, known as pilkada.

In exchange for financial backing, businessmen expect to gain rewards in the form of projects or certain policies in favor of their coal-mining business from the candidates they support, should they win the election.

Although the 2009 mining regulation has given greater opportunity for locals to obtain a mining permit, many have been reluctant to apply for a permit due to complications and bureaucratic red-tape in the processing of mining licenses. As a result, many locals choose to engage in illegal mining activities, frequently also supported by business actors, who serve as the financial backers and collectors of the coal extracted by local people.

These illegal activities have resulted in the extraction of millions of tons of coal per annum during its peak period.

Considering the serious problems resulting from the escalation and dispersion of coal-mining operations in the regions, the industry’s current downturn is a blessing in disguise. Weakening of coal demand has forced many coal-mining firms, particularly the illegal ones and the small- and medium-sized ones, to cease their operations.

This substantial reduction of coal-mining has reduced the frantic pace of exploitation and slowed environmental degradation in the last few years, which usually involves corrupt and clientelistic cooperation between businesses, government and political actors.

Nevertheless, if the government shows little concern for accountability and does not strengthen monitoring mechanisms overseeing the implementation of coal-sector decentralization, corrupt and clientelistic practices that have triggered rapid and careless coal exploitation will likely re-flourish once the demand for the commodity recovers. And undoubtedly, this condition is not only applicable to coal mining, but also to any other lucrative industry in Indonesia.

The writer is the research director at the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia, Jakarta

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Great Barrier Reef: late-season cyclone may ease coral bleaching threat

Peter Hannam The Sydney Morning Herald 16 Feb 15;

The threat of major coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef looks to be receding with the onset of stormier weather including the formation of the first tropical cyclone of the season likely to cross the coast.

Sea temperatures are warmer than average from about Townsville all the way down the coast to the NSW-Victorian border, creating one of the components for coral stress.

Unusually calm conditions over much of the Great Barrier Reef have also contributed to setting up possible bleaching events as clearer water lets more sunlight reach the sea floor. During bleaching events, corals expel the algae that provide as much as 90 per cent of the energy they need to grow and reproduce, killing some of them.

"Heat makes light toxic," Andrew Baird, a coral reef ecologist at James Cook University, said. "Under normal temperatures, organisms have mechanisms to deal with [more light], but you heat them, and then the light can have an impact."

Coral researchers have been watching the prospects for a tropical cyclone forming in the region that may stir up cooler water as well as making it more turbid.

"Cyclones are very good for bleaching," Professor Baird said. "They do suck the temperature out of the water."

The Bureau of Meteorology on Monday issued a cyclone watch for a low-pressure system in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The storm, to be named Cyclone Lam, is likely to be slow-moving and may head south or cross the York Peninsula in coming days.

Australia is yet to have a cyclone cross the mainland coast so far this season.

While cyclones may help reduce the threat of coral bleaching, the storms can wreak other damage with the swells from flood events dumping freshwater and silt on the reefs.

Roger Beeden, acting director for tourism and stewardship at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said abnormal warming in the central and southern parts of the reef had led to some "paling", an early stage of bleaching.

"The coral is a little bit stressed but it's not got to the point where it's lost all of the algae that provides most of its nutrition," Dr Beeden said.

While sea temperatures have been warm, they have not reached the levels seen during major bleaching events, such as in 1988 and 2002, he said.

Warm waters off NSW

Professor Baird said the most anomalously warm water conditions have been further south, potentially placing at risk eco-systems off the NSW coast, such as the Solitary Islands near Coffs Harbour.

Temperatures off NSW have been 2-3 degrees above normal, with readings of 26.3 degrees recorded near Sydney, according to Manly Hydraulics Laboratory.

The source of the abnormal warmth has been a large eddy forming in the East Australian Current that has moved warm waters further south than usual.

"It's almost perfectly timed to give some of the warmest temperatures, said Gary Brassington, a principal research scientist with the Bureau of Meteorology.

The eddy, though, is likely to cool and move away from the coast in coming days as northerly and north-westerly winds set in.

"It's passed its peak," Dr Brassington said.

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Climate change hampering world food production, say scientists

Jean-Louis Santini AFP Yahoo News 17 Feb 15;

San José (United States) (AFP) - The acceleration in climate change and its impact on agricultural production means that profound societal changes will be needed in coming decades to feed the world's growing population, researchers at an annual science conference said.

According to scientists, food production will have to be doubled over the next 35 years to feed a global population of nine billion people in 2050, compared with seven billion today.

Feeding the world "is going to take some changes in terms of minimizing climate disruption," said Jerry Hatfield, director at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

Rainfall volatility, increased drought and rising temperatures affect crop yields, which means action must be taken, he said during a talk Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"If you look at production from 2000 to 2050, we basically have to produce the same amount of food as we produced in the last 500 years" he said.

But globally, land usage levels and productivity will continue to degrade the soil, he added.

"If you look at the future projection for the Midwest, we have high confidence that temperatures will increase by quite a bit," Kenneth Kunkel, a climatologist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said of the country's central grain-producing region.

Kunkel studied the impact of global warming on corn in the American Midwest where the biggest threat to food security is drought.

The area is likely to see worse drought in the 21st century than anything it witnessed in the last millennium, which poses a threat to the region's inhabitants, scientists said Thursday, on the first day of the conference in San Jose, California.

Climate change is happening so fast that humans will soon face an unprecedented situation, Kunkel said.

But James Gerber, an agricultural expert at the University of Minnesota, said that reducing consumption waste and decreasing consumption of red meat could help.

Reducing the size of herds decreases their environmental impact, which includes substantial methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.

Gerber said scientists had identified "trends that are a little bit concerning" such as a global decrease in the grain reserves that provide society with an important safety net.

He also expressed concern that the majority of grain production is concentrated in areas vulnerable to global warming.

And he didn't rule out greater use of GMOs as part of the solution.

Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, said the problem calls for a "real social and cultural change over the entire planet."

"If we had a thousand years to solve it, I would be very relaxed, but we may have 10 or 20 years," he said.

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