Best of our wild blogs: 10 Mar 15

Update on mass fish death at Lim Chu Kang
from wild shores of singapore

Pellets from Tuas: 4. Analysis of 14 pellets
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Mass fish deaths: Email warning against eating locally farmed fish a hoax, says AVA

Today Online 9 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — An email warning people not to eat locally farmed fish and claiming that the recent mass fish deaths were caused by ciguatoxins — a group of marine biotoxins — is a hoax, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on its Facebook page today (March 9).

Stressing that locally farmed fish are safe for consumption, the AVA said: “Our laboratory tests on fish samples collected from affected fish farms show that no marine biotoxins were detected. Dead fish are also disposed of and not allowed for sale.”

Pointing out that ciguatoxins do not kill fish, the AVA also said that the algae that produces ciguatoxins has not been detected in water samples from Singapore’s fish farming areas. “Ciguatoxins are commonly associated with coral reef fish from tropical and subtropical water waters in the Pacific and Indian oceans as well as Caribbean Sea,” said the AVA.

The email, which was also circulating through SMS, claimed that plankton toxicity was killing the fishes, and gave “tips” on avoiding all shellfish and local fish, saying that the toxins would make consumers ill.

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Tanks to keep fish alive during plankton bloom now in trial phase

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 9 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: Some local fish farms recently lost large stocks of fish as a result of a surge in plankton. Hence, five fish farms have been given grants by the Government to test out new tanks that will keep more fish alive during a plankton bloom.

The tanks are prototypes of what is known as a closed containment aquaculture system. It is basically a controlled environment that blocks out bacteria and plankton.

Sea water is pumped into a container, while a bag filters the sediment. The water is then left to sit for two weeks, to let natural sunlight kill plankton and bacteria. The water will then be transferred to another container, where the fish are kept. So far, the survival rates have been high.

Another feature is a water monitoring sensor that will sound an alert when there are unusual salt, oxygen or nitrate levels in the water.

The prototype was built in November last year, and costs between S$7,000 and S$10,000. The next step is to build a bigger system that can also filter water faster. That will take six months, and cost S$364,000.

Said Mr Malcolm Ong, CEO of The Fish Farmer, one of the five that have been given grants: "We are trying to use technology to reduce the cost of operation and reduce the cost of energy, so that this system will not add extra cost to the fish, and therefore we expect our fish to remain affordable."

During a plankton boom, larger fish can be moved from the open-sea cages into tanks. But small fish reside in these tanks on a daily basis. Such tanks help farms slash the death rate of small fish from 50 per cent, to just 10 per cent.

Said Mr Ong: "We believe that fish grown naturally tastes better, as the flesh will be better. If we put everything in a closed containment system, then the fish’s flesh will not be so good. And that is why we still have the open-sea cage.

"However at the fry stage, where the mortality is very high, we will put it in the closed containment system, so that we can increase the survival rate before we transfer them into the open-sea cage."

The Fish Farmer said it can get up to S$250,000 from the authorities to develop the system, and it will work with the authorities to help other farms build theirs.

The Fish Farmer produces about 800 tonnes of fish per year. About five per cent of its fish were killed during the recent plankton bloom.

- CNA/dl

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Algae scourge hits fishing ponds

Chin Yong Chang The New Paper AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

FISHY: Mr Sanjay M. K., who fishes at a Pasir Ris Park fishing pond about once a month, said the fish behaved abnormally when he fished there last week. The fish swam close to the edge of the pond and sometimes toppled sideways while swimming.

The algae bloom that killed thousands of fish off Singapore's east coast has spread inland.

It has affected fish farms and fishing ponds at Pasir Ris and Changi that use seawater.

The fishing pond at Pasir Ris Town Park, managed by D'Best Recreation, has seen large numbers of its fish go belly-up.

Mr Daryn Ho, 18, who is waiting to enter national service, was with his friends at the fishing pond on March 1 at 11pm.

The four friends paid $172 for fishing rods and some bait for overnight use, but were not told that there was something wrong with the water.

He said: "When we went to the pond itself, there was an overpowering stench of rotting fish and we could see a pile of about 10 dead fish floating in front where we were fishing.

"I was shocked that they did not tell us about it when we paid."

Mr Ho usually brings home about five fish on his weekly fishing trips, but he caught none on his seven-hour overnight fishing session that day.

Two other anglers, Mr Sashi M. K., a business owner, and his brother, Mr Sanjay M. K., a safety officer, go to this Pasir Ris pond about once a month.

Mr Sashi said: "We were told by cleaning staff that they had cleared 300kg of dead fish over the previous weekend."

The place is usually packed with anglers, but when The New Paper went there last Wednesday at 1pm, there were only about 10 people fishing.

The brothers, who are both 30, said they were not aware of what had happened and were only told that the "bite rate was not good" when they approached the counter staff.


It was only when they got to the pond that they realised that something was wrong.

Mr Sanjay said: "The fish were behaving abnormally. They were swimming very close to the edge of the pond and sometimes they toppled sideways when swimming to the surface."

The two men usually catch about four fish each on their monthly fishing trip, but they only caught one fish in total that day.

When asked, a D'Best Recreation spokesman said it was aware of its problematic pond water and its dying fish.

It closed the main water inlet to stop affected seawater coming into the pond and added more aerators and water pumps to increase the supply of oxygen for the fish.

Although affected by the algae bloom, D'Best Recreation said it is operating as usual and it claimed that the water is suitable for fishing.

An Aquarium Iwarna spokesman said it noticed a problem with the seawater on Saturday when it noticed the fish floating in the tanks.

However, the fish farm was not as heavily affected because they used preventative measures such as treating raw seawater with ozone or chlorine, and filtering it before use.

It said that even though costs are higher, it guaranteed that the water is safe after the treatment.

Dr Hans Eikees, 43, head of Environmental Technology and Chemistry at DHI, said the algae bloom that caused the fish deaths at inland ponds is the same one that caused fish deaths at sea.

The algae are harmful only to fishes, not humans, and eating fish that have been affected by the algae bloom has no known negative effects on us.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it is helping fish farmers affected by the fish deaths to recover and restart their operations and enhance their resilience against environmental threats.

Why the fish died

Two main causes for the recent fish deaths in seawater are algae clogging up their gills and suffocating them, and increased ammonia in the water that irritates fish gills, says an environmental expert.

The high level of ammonia in the water comes from the decomposing algae and other organic matter.

The ammonia causes swelling and irritation of the fish gills, and the algae clogs the gills, killing the fish, said Dr Hans Eikaas, 43.
Dr Eikaas is the head of Environmental Technology and Chemistry at DHI, a not-for-profit group offering environmental consultancy and water-modelling services.

For freshwater fish, ammonia is more harmful as it also changes the acidity of the water to be alkaline, making it hazardous for the fish.

He said that algae blooms are a natural phenomenon and can occur in clean, unpolluted waters, but it happens more often in nutrient- rich environments.

There are hundreds of species of algae that bloom, collectively called Harmful Algae Blooms, but he believes the species of seawater algae causing the recent fish deaths is Karlodinium.

It has no known detrimental effects on human health.

When asked why fish deaths have spread inland, he said it was likely they had common causes as the fish deaths at sea.

A prolonged dry period followed by short intense rainfall stirs up sediments that are loaded with nutrients, causing algae and bacteria to thrive.

He feels that fish farms should leverage on technology like chlorophyll and acidity sensors to get a heads up on rising algae levels.

Ideally, farms should isolate the fish from the surrounding water with canvas bags or tanks, or use UV filtration to minimise algae and bacteria numbers.

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MBA graduate, 26, skips high-paying office job to help run fish farm

Godwin Ng The New Paper AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

He is 26, has a master's degree in business administration and could have easily found a high-paying office job.

But not wanting to be confined by the walls of an office, Mr Bryan Ang took the plunge into what some consider a sunset industry - running a kelong (fish farm).

Mr Ang, the creative and marketing manager of Ah Hua Kelong, told The New Paper: "I wanted to promote local produce and make Singapore more self-sustainable, so I thought, 'Why not? Let's give it a shot.'"

Ah Hua Kelong made headlines last week when it appealed for funds on crowdfunding website Indiegogo after 80 per cent of its fish were killed by a plankton bloom that hit the East Johor Straits waters.

Last Saturday, Mr Ang and Mr Wong Jing Kai, also 26, the kelong's business development manager, suddenly found themselves in deep trouble when 100 tonnes of fish at their kelong turned belly-up.

It was a day they would never forget.

Mr Ang said: "When I arrived at the kelong, all I saw was a sea of white.

"The dead fish were floating on the surface, I couldn't see the water at all."

Mr Wong called it one of the worst moments of his life.

"Imagine something you dedicated your life to went down the drain overnight, that's how I felt," he said.

But despite this being the second time in a year that Ah Hua Kelong's stock has been wiped out by a plankton bloom, Mr Ang has no plans to throw in the towel.

Mr Ang, who also runs a boat charter business, knows the sea is where he belongs.

He said: "I like to be out on the water, it makes me feel calm."

He was acquainted with the owner of Ah Hua Kelong, Mr Teh Tik Hua, five years ago through his business and saw the kelong's potential for growth.

Mr Ang said: "Instead of waiting for people to come to the kelong, I wanted to bring the kelong to people."

In 2013, he shared his intention with Mr Wong during their reservist training and the two friends decided to take the plunge in December that year.

Since joining the kelong, they have set up a Facebook page and launched a website for home deliveries.

Mr Teh, 60, credits the pair for modernising his operations.

He said: "When they approached me, I was surprised that two young and well-educated guys wanted to work for my kelong.

"But they've helped me to attract younger customers that I was missing out on."

He added that he is most impressed by how they always place the customer first.

"Once, they drove all the way from Jurong back to our kelong because they realised the delivery was 1kg short and didn't want to disappoint the customer.

"That's how responsible they are. The future of the kelong is safe in their hands."

But although business has taken off since they joined the kelong, it was not all smooth sailing.

Mr Wong, who gave up his digital marketing consultant job, said: "It was 10 times harder than my previous job.

"I had to be really hands-on and clean the nets, transport fish feed and even scrape barnacles."

Mr Wong also admitted to taking a pay cut, although he declined to reveal how much.

Apart from getting his hands dirty, he also had to sacrifice personal time.


When TNP sat with him in his delivery van, Mr Wong's phone rang incessantly, with buyers inquiring about their orders, barely giving our reporter a chance to interject.

He said: "At our busiest, I had to make more than 20 deliveries a day."

He is not spared even on public holidays.

On Thursday, when TNP visited the 0.5ha Ah Hua Kelong, a five-minute boat ride from Lorong Halus Jetty in Pasir Ris, the waters were especially still.

"If you had come last week, you could have seen see the fishes splashing around in the water," Mr Wong told TNP.

"It's very quiet now."

But things are already looking up for the kelong, with more than $12,000 raised on its crowdfunding page as of Friday.

Mr Ang, who came up with the idea to crowdfund, said: "I am very touched. It's not about how much people give, it's about the gesture."

Although it will take at least a year for Ah Hua Kelong to operate at full capacity again, Mr Ang has already laid out plans for the kelong's future.

"We intend to widen our customer base and maximise the use of each fish.

"We will also bring in more variety of fishes from overseas."

Such plans will help Mr Ang keep the business afloat.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority stopped issuing kelong licences in the 1960s as it was deemed not viable and sustainable.

In the last 35 years, the number of kelongs has dwindled from a peak of 45 to just 14.

Mr Tam Kock Soon, 46, who runs Chia Soon Kelong, located off Pulau Tekong, told TNP: "It's getting harder and harder, compared to my grandfather.

"In the past, we could rely on selling fish to get by. Now, we have to tap on tourists, too."

Mr Ang and Mr Wong, however, are more optimistic.

Mr Ang said: "Every job is difficult. When we face a crisis like the plankton bloom, we just have to deal with it."

Mass fish deaths: The Straits Times speaks to five farms

The plankton bloom that hit fish farms along the Johor Strait has caused millions of dollars in losses, and plenty of heartache. But while some farmers have decided to simply take it on the chin, others are fighting back. The Straits Times speaks to five farms.

Fish deaths: Fish farmers mentally prepared for more losses, and resigned to fate

Mr Ong Kim Pit's fish farm in Lim Chu Kang was hit on Friday by mass fish deaths, which had first affected farms in the east of the island. He has lost more than 60,000 baby and adult mullet fish, with losses estimated at $10,000. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

BY CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 9 Mar 15;

It has been a tough weekend for 65-year-old fish farmer Ong Kim Pit.

On Friday, his Lim Chu Kang fish farm was hit by mass fish deaths, which had first affected farms in the east of the island.

He lost more than 60,000 baby and adult mullet fish, with losses estimated at $10,000.

But he appears to be resigned to his fate.

He said he is aware there are closed rearing systems that can help to isolate fish from the harmful effects of plankton blooms.

But the farmer, who has been in the business for about 20 years, said he is not going to stop using net cages, in which fish are reared in the sea.

When asked why, he said rearing fish in containers is "not so simple" because of the heavy costs involved.

There are also limits on how much fish one can raise in a container, he added.

Besides, the father of three sons, aged 27 to 34, plans to retire in a few years' time. And he does not want his kids to take over his business as it is a hard life.

"You have to be in the sun and rain a lot and, frankly, I think young people are scared of that," said Mr Ong.

He said he buys his mullet and milkfish fingerlings from Indonesia and feeds them bread and instant noodles for about 11/2 years before he sells them.

He said a similar plankton bloom could see him suffer more loses.

"If I can clear my stock quickly, I'll do it," he added.

"The only other thing I can do is to prepare myself mentally. Once the bloom comes, the fish will be gone."

Read more!

Yishun residents fed up with feathered pests

Andrea Seet The New Paper AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

NUISANCE: Every evening, hundreds of birds circle Yishun Ring Road Blocks 107 to 109. The birds often leave droppings on parapets.

For the last eight years, Yishun resident Amy Low, 55, has not had a good night's sleep.

The hundreds of birds that roost in the trees outside her sixth-storey flat chirp noisily, even at 3am.

Residents there have lived with the noise for about 10 years. They also often find their freshly-washed clothes soiled by bird droppings, have to pick up feathers from their flats and even have to avoid walking past open-air carparks.

You would have to be a bit of a nature lover to be happy living at Blocks 107 to 109, Yishun Ring Road.

There are many trees facing these blocks and they are home to hundreds of barn swallows.

Residents have complained about the noise and bird droppings to the Nee Soon Town Council, but the town council told The New Paper it was not an easy problem to solve.

The town council has been battling the birds for years, but no solution has been found because the birds have proven to be very resilient.
TNP visited the area both in the morning and in the evening two weeks ago.

The birds fly off at about 7am daily and return at about 7pm. While it can be a majestic sight, seeing them fly in formation, the noise they make is anything but soothing for some residents.

Madam Low, a housewife, said in Mandarin: "My sleep is often disturbed by the chirping. It's really annoying. Every time a car goes by at night, the birds would make noise."

Yishun Ring Road has been home to hundreds of these migratory birds for more than 10 years.


Madam Ng Soo, 63, a housewife who lives on the seventh storey of Block 108, said in Mandarin: "I'm most worried about the bird droppings. It's really quite disgusting. My clothes are hanging right in front of the tree, so I never feel clean."

A large tree grows right up to Madam Soo's kitchen windows, so close that she claims she is almost able to touch the leaves before they are pruned.

She said: "I can always see a lot of white stuff on the leaves and branches. I'm worried the wind may blow all the germs into my home, so I often close the windows, even when I'm cooking. It gets very hot."

Madam Soo has lived in her ­­three-room flat for more than 30 years.

Because the birds leave droppings on the parapet, she washes her parapet at least three times a week.

Ms Clara Tan, 33, a housewife who lives on the fourth storey of Block 101, said: "I think it (the bird droppings) are very unhygienic, especially for my kids."

Ms Tan said that she regularly finds birds droppings on her laundry that she hangs outside.

"Not only is it tiring and time-consuming to re-wash my clothes, my utilities bill also increases." she said.

However, there are residents who appreciate being able to live so close to nature.

Said Mr Han Koh Juan, who lives on the eighth storey of Block 107: "I don't think it's a very big issue. Why can't we learn to live in harmony with them?"

The 76-year-old has been living in his four-room flat for more than 30 years.

"We humans were the ones who took away their homes first - it's our fault," he added.

Mr Han also said that living with the birds does have its benefits.

"When it's about to rain, the birds start making noise, so we know it's time to bring in our clothes hanging outside," he said.

Mr Suhaimi, 57, a retiree who lives on the seventh storey of Block 107, agreed.

He said: "The birds are like my alarm clock. Every evening at about 7pm, they'll start chirping and I know it's time for my Muslim prayers.

"I think the best solution is for us to learn to live with the birds and appreciate them."

Not easy repelling birds: Town Council

The Nee Soon Town Council has been trying various methods to handle the bird situation, but without much success.

A town council spokesman said there have been ongoing trials with repellents, but the birds adapt and return to roost. Pruning has not been effective either.

They found that temporarily displaced birds tend to move to a different area, sometimes even closer to residential buildings.

They will roost there temporarily before returning to the original tree.

The spokesman added: "Given our tropical climate, the trees grow back fairly quickly and in the long run, (pruning) is not a cost- effective and sustainable solution."

About 20 years ago, the town council tried to disperse the birds using a hot gel applied on the tree branches, which would cause the birds to feel a hot sensation when they perch.

Although it was effective in the first week, the birds returned a week later.

It was later found that the birds had laid twigs and leaves on top of these branches before stepping on them.

In 2007, the town council used 25 to 30 repellent-filled canisters per tree to repel the birds.

Again, it was effective for only one week.

Ms Julienne Kee, a staff biologist at bird-control specialist company Mastermark, said: "Birds in general are pretty smart. They adapt very well, especially urban pest birds like mynahs and sparrows."

Ms Gloria Ngoi, the business development manger at Mastermark, said: "If bird spikes are placed in such a way where the birds have room to land, they will add twigs around the spikes to eventually make it their nest."


An Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore spokesman said that birds may be attracted to roost, forage or nest at a particular location for a variety of reasons such as easy availability and abundance of food and shelter.

The town council will continue to explore different options.

Its spokesman said: "We continue to trial different solutions with the various agencies.

"We are also looking to engage with animal-welfare groups to identify feasible, cost-effective solutions."

Orchard's bird issue: Irritating but shoppers don't complain

Orchard Road is another place where hundreds of birds, mostly Javan mynahs, reside.

The birds return to their trees in the evenings, creating a din. Dried bird droppings are visible on the pavements along Orchard Road every morning.

Mr Chew Chang Sern , 67, who works at Mandarin Orchard Singapore, said: "The pavements are cleaned daily, so the bird droppings don't cause many problems."

However, Ms Huda Kosai, who works in a store at 313@Somerset, finds the birds irritating.

She said: "They will disrupt shoppers... One bird even pooped on me."

Mr Steven Goh, executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association, said: "Although there has been regular cleaning, the bird population here is really huge, so it's difficult.

"But there have been no complaints from shoppers, so business-wise, there isn't much impact."

Life span: Eight to 20 years
Size: 24-25 cm
Diet: Food scraps, insects, and fruits
Reproductive cycle: Two to five eggs
Colour of eggs: Blue and unmarked

Life span: Up to six years
Size: 41-44cm
Diet: Food scraps and debris. They also eat small mammals, lizards, frogs, fish, crabs, insects, nectar and fruits
Reproductive cycle: Three to five eggs
Colour of eggs: Blue or pale green, with brown or grey speckles, spots and streaks

Life span: Three to five years
Size: 15-19cm
Diet: Generally prefer large, single insects rather than swarms of smaller prey
Reproductive cycle: Four to five eggs
Colour of eggs: White speckled and dark

More complaints of pigeon problems in recent years
AVA gets more complaints, mostly about hygiene, diseases and feeding
SAMANTHA BOH Straits Times 10 May 15;

Pigeons have been ruffling the feathers of more and more people in recent years.

Last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) received 2,490 complaints about them - mostly about hygiene, environmental issues resulting from their droppings, and concerns over diseases and people feeding them.

There were 2,080 complaints in 2013 and 1,420 in 2012.

The increase has largely been attributed to AVA's First Responder Protocol implemented in 2012, which includes a 24-hour hotline for reports of animal-related issues.

The Straits Times Forum has also received letters about pigeons pecking on food scraps at coffee shops and hawker centres.

Junior college student Ng J-Cyn said Ghim Moh market is a particular hot spot. Pigeons fly within "inches of diners to peck at crumbs or food waste on the floor", said the 16-year-old, who is concerned about them spreading diseases. She added: "They also contribute to a very negative dining experience."

Fellow Forum contributor, Ms Lee Kay Yan, 41, believes the pigeon population will explode unless people stop feeding them.

She said: "Three to five pigeons don't cause a nuisance but a flock of them do."

The feeding of pigeons has been banned since 1973 and those caught flouting the rules are fined up to $500. Last year, 60 people were caught doing it, up from just 10 in 2011.

One of the diseases pigeons can spread is psittacosis, a bacterial infection of the lungs with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The bacteria become airborne when the bird droppings dry up and can be inhaled by humans.

Dr Christina Low, medical director of SMG Medical, said thehealth risk to most people is low, although infants, the elderly and individuals who have low immunity "are more vulnerable".

She advised people to wash their hands thoroughly before meals and reduce pigeon attacks by clearing unfinished food and dirty crockery.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) requires all food shop operators to clean tables promptly and cover rubbish bins. Those who fail to clean tables, for example, can be fined $300 and given four demerit points.

As for Ghim Moh market, the NEA said it has asked the table- cleaning contractor to step up the clearing of tables and crockery.

The agency added that it has so far received only one complaint about pigeons at the market.

Nationwide, it received 35 pigeon-related complaints last year and 36 the year before.

The AVA said it responds to pigeon-related feedback by working with the relevant parties, such as town councils and the NEA.

While poison bait is traditionally used for heavily infested areas that need fast elimination of the birds, a spokesman for pest firm Pest Solute said the use of netting at roof gaps, spikes or a type of sticky gel on window ledges to prevent the birds from nesting is more commonly used.

Food areas are a little trickier and need a combination of these measures, according to Ms Gloria Ngoi, business development manager at bird control firm Mastermark.

These methods, however, are not sustainable if people continue to feed the birds, said Forum writer Ms Lee.

"Preventive measures are better, through good design of buildings to prevent roosting and entry by birds."

Read more!

Plan to map DNA of endangered pangolins in Singapore

The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

A project to sequence the DNA of pangolins here is being planned by scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, together with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

There are an estimated 50 Sunda pangolins in the wild here, and seven more in WRS' Night Safari as of last December but no one knows if the animals are genetically similar.

If they are, they would be vulnerable to the same diseases and changes in climate, thus increasing the species' risk of extinction.

After the animals' genomes are sequenced, WRS could pair up the more genetically dissimilar pangolins for breeding, so that the animals will have more genetic diversity.

Since 2011, three Sunda pangolins have been born at WRS - quite a feat given that the animals are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, mainly because their diet consists solely of ants and termites.

Pangolins are listed as critically endangered in the Singapore Red Data Book 2008, which lists threatened wildlife here.

They are found mainly in the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves but have also been seen in Bukit Batok's forested areas and on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

Rapid urbanisation has led to the massive loss of their forest habitat, and the slow-moving animals are often injured or killed by vehicles when they stray onto roads.

Injured pangolins and those that wander into residential areas are sometimes taken to WRS.

It microchips them to track them, takes blood samples, nurses them back to health and releases them into the wild.

Dr Stephan Schuster, a research director and professor of environmental genomics at NTU, said the DNA sequencing would be done using blood samples.

He said the work could help researchers to see if any of the animals came from other countries, such as Malaysia, and aid the authorities in tracking the illegal pangolin trade.

Globally, around 100,000 pangolins a year are taken from the wild - mostly in Asia and Africa - for the Chinese market, where it is prized as a delicacy.

NTU students and The Pangolin Story, a local group that focuses on pangolin conservation, are organising a public talk on the animals tonight, from 4.45pm to 7.30pm, at NTU's Lecture Theatre 12 in Block NS2.

NTU is also raising funds for the pangolin genome sequencing project.

To find out more, e-mail

Read more!

Environment champion walks the talk

Ignatius Low The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

THE year was 2003 and Ms Bhavani Prakash had just relocated from Dubai to Singapore with her husband and two children.

To many, she was the arche-typal young Indian expat.

Good grades in high school, check. Finance degree, check.

MBA from a British university. Managerial experience in a multinational firm, check.

The next logical step for her - or so she thought - was a career in banking.

After all, Singapore is a global financial centre and it looked like she was going to be here for a while.

She took her time to look around as her kids were still very young, taking up freelance work and penning course material for universities, among other things.

Then in 2008, Ms Prakash attended a seminar that asked its participants to visualise what they would regret not doing in this lifetime.
It was then that she finally realised that a career in banking didn't figure at all.

"It's like a kettle boiling. It boils and boils; then there is this point where the temperature switches, and water turns into steam," she says.

"I was 38 when I had that big wake-up call.

So I always say if young people don't know what their passion is - not to worry because I knew definitely only at the age of 38."

Inspired by her work as a volunteer tour guide at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' rainforests section, Ms Prakash decided she wanted to use her skills for the environmental lobby here in Singapore and the region.

"I used to end the Botanic Gardens walk urging visitors to 'walk the talk' and take some personal action towards the environment," she says.

So, fresh from her seminar epiphany, she set up Eco Walk the Talk, a public advocacy website that aims to raise awareness about environmental issues.

Today, Eco Walk the Talk - which was a finalist in the Singapore Environment Council's Asian Environmental Journalism Awards in 2012 - is just one of the 45-year-old's many projects. In 2011, she founded Green Collar Asia, a second sustainability portal, this time targeted at businesses.

Ms Prakash is also a TEDx motivational speaker, a green jobs recruiter and a professional trainer for a range of skills from leadership to mindfulness.

She maintains a Facebook page teaching people how to grow their own vegetables at home and has published an e-book called 50 Ways To Make Your Home Eco-Friendly.

Her latest project has been to develop, with the help of the National Environment Agency, a "sustainability toolkit" which is full of practical tips on how companies can better engage their employees in areas like corporate social responsibility (CSR) and also cultivate better work-life harmony.

Last year, she was named the Sony-Indian Women's Association Woman of the Year.

Googling "Ms Prakash" and getting pages of hits, it's apparent how much the blossoming of social media, blogs and portals has allowed individuals like her to amplify their voices and make their views heard in the new Singapore.

But Ms Prakash also credits the unique way that this country operates.

"Things have fallen into place so quickly because it is Singapore," she says.

"It's so easy to connect with people.

There are so many thought leaders flying into Singapore all the time and you meet such a cross current of ideas.

"Hierarchy is also not an issue here, unlike in a larger country like India or perhaps China," she adds.

"If you want to meet a CEO, the head of an NGO, even a minister... they are always present at events, and it's easy to just walk up and talk to them."

This is why Singaporeans should speak up more if they feel passionately about something, says the permanent resident here.

"If you see somebody throwing rubbish on the ground, stand up for it," she urges.

"Say this is my country too and I'd like to see it neat! If you don't find enough local produce in the supermarket, speak to the manager.

If you want plastics legislation to be passed, talk to your minister or MP.

Making your voice heard is an important step to be taken by all Singaporeans, however busy they are."

But does the average Singaporean even care about the environment, I ask her.

Singapore is changing, for sure, but public discourse in green issues still seems to be dominated by young middle-class adults.

"You'd be surprised, I have spoken to taxi drivers who are very knowledgeable about climate change," she replies.

"I've been to community gardens in HDB blocks and talked to aged women looking after the garden, passionate about urban gardening.

A recent survey showed that more than 60 per cent of Singaporeans care about the environment.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve had to be temporarily closed because it was almost 'too loved'!"

But action has generally lagged awareness, I note, and ask her why she thinks that is.

"Singaporeans have a lot on their plate," she says, after a thoughtful pause.

"They worry about making ends meet, the kids' competitive education environment, their jobs, looking after aged parents... these are real issues.

Sometimes, even if you care, these issues become overwhelming and they are becoming increasingly overwhelming.

"There is no excuse for people not to recycle because they are too busy - I'm not saying that.

But there is something deeper going on and we need to structurally support people."

Still, people need to take action themselves to make their lives better.

"Singapore is a very consumerist society but the irony is that whenever you slow down to do some of these green things, like having a little urban garden, you find you stop chasing some of those things that make you busy," Ms Prakash advises.

"And slowing down can come from simple activities like connecting with nature, whether it's in your garden or community spaces, talking to neighbours, or just going to a park and re-connecting with yourself.

I would love for schoolchildren at least up to the age of 14 to have a real childhood where they can just play, enjoy and study, without an overdose of tuition and structured activities."

Ms Prakash would know.

Some of the most formative years of her childhood were spent in Zambia, where her father worked for a utilities company.

She would go with her parents to big hydroelectric plants which were often situated next to lakes and nearby nature parks.

"We would drive out to watch the giraffes, leopards and elephants and we had our own food garden where we grew corn and other greens," she recalls.

"I spent a lot of time outdoors playing with friends and just observing things around me."

That slow pace of life, she says, inculcated in her not just a healthy sense of curiosity, but also a resilience for life.

"Because you can always access that slowness at any point in time," she says.

"If I am very pressured and have a lot of work to do now, I can take a moment to return to it."

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7,000 make tracks for Green Corridor Run

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

Held in conjunction with Singapore's World Water Day celebrations, the event, which is in its third year, drew participants from 69 countries, including Kenya and Iceland.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, the guest of honour, told runners at the start line: "This run you are about to go on is truly unique.

You are not going to get another one (like it) in Singapore, or even this region."

For the first time, booklets containing information on the former rail corridor were also handed out to participants.

The booklet, which was put together by the Nature Society (Singapore) and Singapore Heritage Society, contains, among other things, a map of the Green Rail Corridor and descriptions of the heritage locations along the stretch.

In 2010, nature and heritage groups asked the Government to conserve what they termed the Green Corridor.

The 26km strip of former railway land, which was returned to Singapore in 2011, slices through Singapore from Woodlands in the north to Tanjong Pagar in the south.

It was previously used by Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM railway.

Some participants in yesterday's run also carried jerry cans of water along the 10.5km stretch from the Tanjong Pagar railway station in Keppel Road to Bukit Timah railway station, where the race ended.

It was to experience what it was like for people in developing countries who have to travel long distances to fetch water.

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Malaysia: 19 Green turtles found dead on Pulau Tiga

FATMA WATI MUNIR New Straits Times 9 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Mystery surrounds the discovery of 19 dead turtles on an island within the proposed Tun Mustapha Marine Park in Kudat.

Acting on public information, officers from the State Wildlife department together with rangers from Sabah Parks, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Marine police recovered the carcasses on Pulau Tiga on March 5.

Post mortem will be carried out by the State wildlife department here to determine how the endangered Green turtles ended up dead on the island which is located about three hours by speed boat from Kudat town.

West Coast wildlife Officer, Roland Nuin said the discovery indicate that there could be a huge market for parts from the turtle species.

“I highly suspect that they are meant to be smuggled out alive to foreign countries but failed because of the heavy presence of MMEA and Marine police vessels patrolling the sea,” he added.

Roland said the case looked similar to discovery of 50 turtle carcasses last year on the same island which is believed to be used as a transit point for smugglers because of its proximity to the border.

The area where the turtle carcasses were found is within the proposed park which measures almost one million hectares.

Animals left to die on small Sabah isle
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 10 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Nineteen green turtles whose carcasses were found on a desolate island in northern Sabah are believed to have died cruelly.

Wildlife investigators believed that poachers had caught the turtles and turned them on their back on the uninhabited Pulau Tiga while waiting for buyers.

However, the buyers never came, leaving the turtles to suffer a slow, painful death.

Unlike baby or small turtles, large turtles that have been turned on their back cannot get back on their feet. They can survive for about 10 days to two weeks before they die.

According to a source, the people who were supposed to pick up the turtles did not make it.

A live turtle can fetch more than US$2,000 (RM7,200) and its meat is sold for about US$300 (RM1,080) in markets in China and Vietnam.

He believed the turtles might have died about a week before they were discovered on March 5 by a team of Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Parks rangers together with Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency personnel.

The carcasses had been brought to Kota Kinabalu for post mortem.

The Wildlife Department’s West Coast officer Roland Nuin said foreign fishermen might have tried to smuggle the turtles out alive but aborted the plan due to the presence of enforcement personnel.

Nuin said Pulau Tiga was a strategic location for smugglers as it was the closest Malaysian island to the Philippines.

Pulau Tiga is located at Kudat’s northern side of the Balambangan-Banggi channel and is about two hours by speedboat from Karakit, the main town on Banggi island.

Niun said the case was very similar to last year’s discovery of 50 rotting turtles that was highlighted by a Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer who was carrying out studies in the area.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya described the deaths as a tragedy and vowed to work with other agencies to bring to book those responsible for the crime.

He said the area was under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone and was also part of the proposed one-million-hectare Tun Mustapha Park marine conservation area.

Those with any information on the case can call the Wildlife Department’s 24-hour hotline at 012-801 9289.

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Malaysia: Farms threaten Cameron Highlands' water quality

Tashny Sukumaran The Star/Asia News Network AsiaOne 10 Mar 15;

PETALING JAYA - Mushrooming farms around the Terla River are threatening the water quality of the Terla River, a major source of water for Cameron Highlands.

An activist claims that the number of legal and illegal farms operating around the Terla River watershed has more than tripled since 2008.

"These farms ... are a major threat to the quality of the water in the form of both total suspended solids as well as total coliform (including faecal) bacteria due to human activity and fertilisers derived from manure like chicken dung," said Malaysian Nature Society's (MNS) immediate past president Dr Maketab Mohamed.

He added that at last count there were 90 farms around the Terla River watershed, which supplies potable water to 80 per cent of Cameron Highlands.

"The farms are accessible through the road leading to the Terla River water treatment plant," he said, adding that there were only 20 farms - both legal and illegal - when the area was surveyed in 2008.

"Who is giving them permission to set up farms there, and if they are illegal, why is nobody taking action? Clearly, the authorities lack the will to do so," he said.

"Last year, they cracked down on illegal immigrants. But when it comes to the safety of our water, they are not doing anything," said Maketab, who added that cattle rearing along the banks of Terla River also leach nutrients like nitrate and phosphate into the river.

The water supply situation in Cameron Highlands is already in a state of crisis, according to a source in Putrajaya.

Speaking to The Star on condition of anonymity, she said authorities had to act quickly as even treated water in Brinchang is tainted with faecal coliform, other than with pesticide residues.

In a study last year by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, treated water in Brinchang was found to be contaminated with pesticides, most of them banned in the country.

A joint water quality study in 2008 by MNS and the Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands, an NGO from the highlands, found traces of faecal coliform in some tap water samples.

Maketab, a professor of water quality and water quality modelling at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, added that the 2008 study found the total coliform count of raw water there "too numerous to count".

Bacterial levels in water are measured by colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml, and back then, some treated water samples had up to 250 CFUs per 100ml of total coliform, when it should be zero, as prescribed by Malaysian drinking water standards.

In a statement, Natural Resource and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel promised to work with other government agencies and universities to address the issue.

He said it would do its best to "overcome this threat to health and environment".

"The issue of pesticide residue in rivers and drinking water is a grave concern. It may be necessary for Malaysia to seek organic means of controlling pests in the vegetable, fruit and flower industry.

"The long-term benefits of such a move will control and eventually bring an end to the potentially hazardous effects of dangerous chemicals," he said.

He also called for consumer education, so that farmers would better understand the far-reaching consequences of using such chemicals, and their cumulative effects on the environment.

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'Brunei Bay can be safe haven for sea turtles'

Ak Md Khairuddin Pg Harun The Brunei Times/Asia News Network AsiaOne 9 Mar 15;

Brunei has the potential to develop its own sea turtle sanctuary at Brunei Bay as part of its ecotourism industry, said a biologist from University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT).

In a recent interview with The Brunei Times, Dr Juanita Joseph said that the Brunei Bay, which spans an area of 250,000 acres, is a mega seaweed farm site for sea turtles and other marine life.

Dr Juanita said it could potentially lure tourists and marine enthusiasts from other countries, and that the Sultanate could emulate the Labuan Marine Park in malaysia by introducing tour package deals to watch sea turtles nesting and hatching there.

The biologist was speaking during a recent sea turtles biology and conservation workshop organised by the Wildlife Division.

Asked how the country can turn Brunei Bay into an ecotourism destination, Dr Juanita said that it has to be a "controlled tourism".

She urged Brunei to conduct scientific studies by getting expert advice from other countries.

"If Brunei wants to do ecotourism, it needs to get advice from the experts. If not controlled, it could damage the surrounding environment," she said.

"For example, during the start of the leatherback turtle ecotourism in Terengganu, they don't know that turtles are sensitive to lights. What happened next was that it disrupted the ecosystem of the sea turtles in the island.

"Brunei is new to marine… I urge Brunei to set rules and regulations, such as no flash photography during a turtle watching programme," she added.

Dr Juanita said that at Sabah's Turtle Islands, the government has turned one of the islands into a tourist attraction where tourists are charged to watch the turtles in the area. "In order to not disrupt the habitat, the numbers of tourists are limited to less than 60 people. They are charged around $2,000 per night as they are guaranteed to watch the nesting of the turtles," she said.

For the industry to thrive in Brunei, she said that that the country could encourage the locals to become tour operators.

Dr Juanita shared her recent experience in a boat ride to Tanjong Pelumpong at Brunei Bay, where she witnessed a group of Irrawadi Dolphins. "Tourists would pay a lot of money to watch these dophins," she added.

Tourists could also dive in the Brunei Bay to experience the marine life and environment during low tides, said the biologists.

Dr Juanita said that sea turtles are an indicator of a healthy ocean. "Green turtles eat sea grass and hawksbill turtles eat coral reefs. They become the fertiliser of the ocean bed to ensure fishes are able to lay eggs and as food for other predators.

"If there are a lot of sea turtles, it means the ecosystem is healthy. If there are less sea turtle, the food habitat is poor which lead to the declining number of seafood products," she said.

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