Best of our wild blogs: 14-15 Mar 15

Seawater quality and desalination plants in Singapore
from wild shores of singapore

Internship position open for mammal outreach and research
from The Biodiversity crew @ NUS

Butterfly of the Month - March 2015
from Butterflies of Singapore

Two Outings to Upper Seletar Reservoir (USR) Park
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Night Walk At Venus Drive (13 Mar 2015)
from Beetles@SG BLOG

Oriental Pied Hornbill’s reluctant courtship feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Macro Photography Outings – February 2015
from Bugs & Insects of Singapore

Proposed law could decimate Indonesia's remaining forests
from news by Rhett Butler

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Malaysian fish farmers blame controversial Forest City project for mass deaths

Today Online 15 Mar 15;

KUALA LUMPUR — Silence now hangs over the dozen fish farms in the Tanjung Kupang waters in the Johor Strait, near a massive land-reclamation project for the RM600 billion (S$225 billion) Forest City development, which fishermen and farmers suspect contributed to the mass fish deaths in the area earlier this month.

Once a bustling hive of fishing activity, the area near Kampung Pendas, Gelang Patah, is now quiet, the stillness broken only by the sound of the waves lapping against the wooden stilts of the farms, barking of dogs and fish farm operators packing up their items.

Mr Yusaini Majid, 35, has worked at one of the fish farms for more than three years, but he said the farm’s owner wanted to close it down as he was unable to recoup the losses.

“This will be our last month operating. The boss is upset, he doesn’t want to farm fish any more because they keep dying.

“I don’t know what will happen to the farm, the cost of repairs would go up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit,” Mr Yusaini told The Malaysian Insider, adding that he was unsure what to do once the fish farm closed down.

Mr Yusaini was luckier than other farmers. He had acted quickly and managed to save over half of his stock. But he said the remaining fish were of the cheaper kind, which could only fetch up to RM50 a kg.

This is not the first time the area has been hit by mass fish deaths. In the past, locals have blamed Forest City’s land-reclamation works for the deaths, although the developer, Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV), has denied it.

Previous episodes have also been attributed to plankton blooms, brought about by rapid changes in water temperature, poor water circulation, and higher than usual nutrient levels in the water.

But the deaths in early March were massive, bringing up sea creatures from the depths such as sea horses and moray eel. A BBC report on March 6 said the scene on the beach looked like a “mass grave” and even after the first batch was cleared up, the next high tide brought in a new wave of dead marine life.

Forest City will see four man-made islands built in the waters in Tanjung Kupang between south-west Johor and north-west of Singapore. The mixed-development project will include residential and commercial lots and is expected to take 30 years to complete.

The four reclaimed islands will cover 1,386ha and will lie close to Singapore. In June last year, it was reported that the Republic had voiced its concern over the project to the Malaysian government in two diplomatic notes.

In January this year, the Department of Environment (DOE) approved the project’s detailed environmental impact assessment report (DEIA), despite Tanjung Kupang villagers arguing that it would lead to the loss of their land and livelihood.

During a public dialogue on Sept 21 last year, residents accused CGPV of bulldozing the project through. Fishermen complained of shrinking catches since the reclamation works started.

CGPV is expected to make a profit of nearly RM290 billion over the next 30 years through the project. The company is a 66-34 joint venture between China’s Country Garden Holdings and Esplanade Danga 88, whose main shareholder is the Sultan of Johor.

State company Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor (KPRJ) is also a partner in the project.

Residents near the area said this year’s mass fish deaths had even claimed bigger and more resilient fish, such as groupers and catfish.

“From afar, I could see the dead fish begin to float to the surface. At first I only saw small fish, but when I went deeper in the ocean, I spotted big ones such as groupers, barramundis, also floating up. This went on until late in the night,” said marine coordinator Kamaruzzaman Mohd Yunus, 56.

Mr Kamaruzzaman, who preferred to be called Man Pendas, said unlike last year, when only farmed fish were affected, this year’s wave of deaths had also claimed the wild fish in the sea.

“It could be due to the weather or the land-reclamation works, which have polluted the waters… there is definitely a link there,” he said.

“Things are terrible now, it would take years for everything to recover… but what can we do when faced with development? This tiny area is to be developed into something that is beyond our imagination right now.”

Forest City is not the only threat to marine life in the Johor Strait. The state government is now developing an area spanning 2,217sqkm, including coastal areas, under the South Johor Economic region (SJER), known as the Iskandar Development Region (IDR), and it is expected to be completed at a cost of more than RM47 billion.

Fishermen around Pendas, which is famous for its crabs, told The Malaysian Insider their haul had also reduced considerably.

“At that time, I lost RM1,000 in two weeks as I didn’t catch anything,” said Mr Aziz Sulaiman, 67, who is usually able to earn up to RM2,000 a fortnight from the 20 traps he sets up.

Another fisherman, who only wants to be known as Jai, said he normally catches 50kg of crabs a day, but his haul was reduced to 1kg to 2kg during that period.

“A bucket of crabs is worth only RM15. When the fish died, I was only bringing back one bucket,” he said.

Meanwhile, water taxi driver Azhar Muhammad, 40, said his income had also been affected during the period, as fewer fishermen could use his services to go out to the sea.

“We would inform customers whether the sea’s condition was suitable for fishing. During that time, we told them all the fish had died and advised them to come back in a week or two,” said Mr Azhar, who charges around RM50 for a boat ride.

In January, CGPV claimed that the Forest City project would diversify incomes and improve the quality of life of local communities.

CGPV executive director Md Othman said workshops and training would be provided as well as infrastructure like a new access road and water reticulation systems, and locals would benefit from the investments the project brought into the area.

He also assured that the firm would work closely with all stakeholders and regulatory authorities to ensure that the needs of the communities as well as the environment would be met.

The company that had prepared the DEIA report had, however, apparently raised caution about the dredging and sedimentation caused by the project that would impact on the seabed, according to the New Straits Times, which had obtained a copy of the report.

The paper said despite the mitigation measures to cushion the environmental impact, including the use of a “silt curtain” around the reclamation area, experts noted that more damage could be expected. THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

Mass fish deaths in Johor farms due to reclamation work: Farmers
Straits Times 16 Mar 15;

A dozen fish farms in the waters of Tanjung Kupang in Johor state experienced mass fish deaths earlier this month, which farmers say was caused by massive reclamation work. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

JOHOR - A dozen fish farms in the waters of Tanjung Kupang in Johor state experienced mass fish deaths earlier this month, which farmers say was caused by massive reclamation work.

The fish deaths in the area near Kampung Pendas in Gelang Patah - which is known for its crabs - early last month were massive, bringing up sea creatures such as sea horses and moray eel from the sea, the Malaysian Insider reported yesterday, quoting fish farmers.

This is not the first time the area has been hit by mass fish deaths, but while previous cases were attributed to plankton blooms, caused by changes in water temperature, poor water circulation and more than the usual nutrient levels in the water, farmers whom the Malaysian Insider website spoke to suspect that the massive land-reclamation project for the nearby Forest City development has also contributed to the deaths. The project was worth RM600 billion (S$225 billion), the website said.

The developer for Forest City, Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV), is building four man-made islands in the waters of Tanjung Kupang between south-west Johor and north-west of Singapore.

A mixed-development project, it will include residential and commercial lots and take 30 years to complete.

The Department of Environment approved the project's detailed environmental impact assessment report (DEIA) in January, although the company that had prepared the DEIA report had raised caution about the project's impact on the seabed, the New Straits Times had reported.

According to reports, CGPV is a joint venture between China's Country Garden Holdings and Esplanade Danga 88, whose main shareholder is the Sultan of Johor.

"I lost RM1,000 in two weeks as I didn't catch anything," fish farmer Aziz Sulaiman, 67, who usually earns up to RM2,000 (S$750) a fortnight from the 20 traps he sets up, told the Malaysian Insider.

Mr Yusaini Majid, 35, who has been working on a fish farm for more than three years, said that his employer was going to close it down.

"This will be our last month operating. The boss is upset, he doesn't want to farm fish any more because they keep dying," he told the website.

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Fish farmers restock as water quality appears improved

Samantha Boh and Andrea Ng The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Mar 15;

WITH no new dead fish spotted since last Saturday, fish farmers hit by the recent plankton bloom have started moving their stocks back to open waters.

Over the past two weeks, large numbers of fish - more than 600 tonnes in total - have died, with farms near the East Johor Strait the worst hit. This amounts to more than 10 per cent of annual production, affecting more than 55 out of 117 floating fish farms.

Losses have been estimated at between $15,000 and $300,000 per farm, and could total between $4 million and $5 million. But farmers believe the current wave of deaths could be over. "Even the wild fish are returning to the area," said Mr Malcolm Ong, 51, CEO of The Fish Farmer.

Some affected farmers such as Mr Ong have begun importing new batches of fish fry, or baby fish. He had a batch of 10,000 delivered this week, and has another delivery planned for next week.

Mr Frank Tan, 40, who owns Marine Life Aquaculture, started restocking on Monday, and believes the water quality at his Changi farm has improved. "We don't see any more algae in the sea, but it could be on the seabed or hiding somewhere," he said.

He also moved his surviving fish back to open sea cages after transferring them to inland tanks on Pulau Ketam when the plankton bloom struck.

Mr Wong Jing Kai, 26, of Ah Hua Kelong moved some of his surviving stock back to sea as early as Wednesday last week after noticing improvements in the water quality. However, he does not discount another plankton bloom in the near future: "It is unpredictable; there is no pattern to it."
Experts say the most accurate way to find out if plankton levels are normal is a water quality test.

As a rule of thumb, there should only be a few hundred cells of dinoflagellates per litre, according to Associate Professor Federico Lauro of the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

Dinoflagellate is the type of phytoplankton which caused the mass fish deaths. During a bloom, they multiply to tens of thousands or even millions of cells per litre.

Plankton blooms can be deadly as the plankton suck oxygen from the water, suffocating other marine life. They can be caused by unfavourable environmental factors such as a neap tide, where there is a very small difference between high and low tide levels, dry weather or pollution.

Prof Lauro said it is tempting to regard the lack of new deaths as an indication that the water is now safe, but he cautioned: "Nobody can say for sure without specific monitoring."

Mr Chan Wei Loong, programme chair of Republic Polytechnic's diploma in marine science and aquaculture, said that since the life cycle of a plankton bloom is about a week, chances are that the water has cleared up.

He added that the recent rain should have helped as plankton thrive on warm temperatures and sunlight.

Meanwhile, the National Environment Agency has declared the water quality at Pasir Ris, Changi and Punggol beaches within recreational water guidelines, after its latest round of water sampling.

But some farmers are still cautious. Mr Phillip Lim, 53, former president of the Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative, is coming up with a new farming system to protect his fish from sudden environmental changes. He said: "I am not bothering to restock, I am not going to take the risk."

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Behold, the rise of Singapore’s eco-warriors and foot soldiers

SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE — They are everywhere: From growing their own food, making recycling a daily habit and leading a “waste-free” or “toxic-free” lifestyle, to simply taking their own bags and containers to supermarkets and eateries, more Singaporeans are being swept up by the green movement.

Also, the authorities say they are seeing a growing number of individuals and organisations advocating environmental causes, and nominations for green awards have spiked. Non-profit environmental groups are also witnessing unprecedented turnouts for their events and activities.

In 2012, Ms Kathy Xu, now 32, left her job as a teacher to practise what she had preached to her students about shark conservation. Through her project, The Dorsal Effect, she tries to end shark fishing by working with investors and fishermen in Lombok to promote eco-tourism as an alternative source of livelihood for the latter.

Since last year, Ms Xu has also started advocating for a waste-free lifestyle after realising how detrimental trash is to the ocean. “It wasn’t just about the sharks, but the whole eco-system we live in,” she said.

Ms Ler Lee Cheng, 34, has been trying to live a toxic-free lifestyle since 2009. She founded The DIY Secrets, which sells organic products. On her blog and during her workshops, she advocates the use of natural ingredients in day-to-day living and teaches people how to make household items — such as detergents, soaps and lip balms from these ingredients — and turn kitchen waste into garbage enzymes that can be used to clean homes or fertiliser.

She said her work stemmed from her interest in soap. As she began to learn more about making soap and other body care products with natural ingredients, she also picked up information about how toxins found in perfumes and cosmetics can have adverse health effects on people.

But it is not just about personal health; synthetic chemicals can also be harmful to the environment, she said, noting that chemically-formulated products such as shampoo and detergent would enter drainage systems and pollute waterways.

To do her bit for the environment, Ms Agatha Lee has avoided buying new clothing for the past seven years. Instead, she picks up her sewing needle to repair old garments or refashion them into new items. The 40-year-old also runs a blog, Green Issues by Agy, and conducts workshops to teach people, for example, simple repair work such as how to darn socks, or how to incorporate electronics into their clothes.

The former policymaker with the National Environment Agency (NEA) recalled how she was going through her wardrobe some 8-10 years ago when it hit her that she had way too many clothes, some worn once or twice while others were brand new.

“I was going to throw them away or donate to charity but I realised that I would then be going back to the stores and buying more. I would be in this never-ending cycle of throwing away and buying clothes,” she said.

Adding that people are over-consuming today, she said: “We’ve become a throw-away society. People are throwing away their clothes unnecessarily, even if it’s just torn or if it has been worn just a few times.”

Mr Calvin Soh, 47, and his children started growing fruits and vegetables in their condominium balcony as a hobby to relieve stress, as Mr Soh puts it. Six years on, it has become more than just a little green patch: They have turned their rooftop into a mini-farm.

Mr Soh had left his position as vice-chairman and regional creative director at an advertising firm three years ago to spend more time with his family. He said he wanted his son and daughter — aged 12 and 9, respectively — to become more conscious of their consumption patterns through farming, so he roped them in to help with the gardening chores. His son, Dylan, gave a talk on urban farming two years ago at the inaugural Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) x Singapore Management University conference.


Ms Olivia Choong, co-founder of Green Drinks Singapore, a non-profit organisation promoting collaboration on environmental issues, said she has seen more new faces at the talks conducted by her group. The number of participants range between 50 and 150 for each session, and first-time participants make up more than half of the participants these days, compared with about one-third in the past, she said.

Testifying to Singaporeans’ growing eco-consciousness, the NEA said it is seeing more people and groups coming forward on green issues. Its spokesperson noted that, for example, nominations for its EcoFriend Award — which recognises the efforts and achievements of “environmentally-proactive” Singaporeans — jumped by 33 per cent last year from 2013.

Ms Choong felt those who are new to green causes can sometimes come across as pursuing a fad. “More people are taking it seriously, but you’ll have that group that … is getting to know more about (green causes) and those are the ones that I feel are more likely to do it as a trend, rather than to really change big habits,” she said.

But she noted that some of these individuals eventually learn more about environmental issues and make the conscious effort to change their lifestyles. “Environmental issues are only trendy to people who don’t see the big picture; they don’t see how serious (the issues) are,” she added.

The growing awareness has made it easier for environmental groups to spread their message. But Ms Choong cautioned that green campaigns would not achieve the desired impact — and in some cases, result in undesirable outcomes — when people are not fully aware of the green issues they are supporting.

For instance, while Earth Hour — where lights are turned off for an hour as a symbolic act to conserve the environment — helps raise awareness to environmental issues, there will be individuals who switch off their lights but continue to, say, use air-conditioning, she pointed out. People may also buy energy-saving devices but end up using them two or three times as much as they would normally do, she added.

Nevertheless, Ms Bhavani Prakash, a speaker and trainer in environmental sustainability and mindfulness, hailed the positive trend. “It may mean that people genuinely care about preserving it. It may also mean that people care about their own well-being and the health of their families and children, which could be another key driver,” said Ms Bhavani, who also grows her own food.

Whatever their motivations, people who are pro-active in doing their part for the environment — such as recycling, conserving resources or voicing their opinions — do so out of genuine concerns, she pointed out.


Mr Eugene Tay, director of Green Future Solutions, pointed out that globally, there is greater awareness of environmental issues. Social media has made it easier for people to form communities online and to get people talking about certain issues, he said. As a result, informal groups of individuals coming together for environmental causes have mushroomed.

In contrast, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) used to be the only ones driving the green agenda, although some governments have also increasingly come on board, given the global attention on climate change.

Ms Bhavani noted that, in Singapore, the number of green issues and causes thrust into the public spotlight have grown, in tandem with the rising eco-consciousness. “Previously, the environment movement may have been confined to one or two causes but now, there is a wide spectrum,” she said, citing loud public voices on biodiversity and heritage preservation in the cases of the Rail Corridor and Bukit Brown, for example.

Mr Soh said the younger generation is driving the green movement here. Not only are they more socially aware and cause-driven, they will also be the ones who are “inheriting this environment and its problems”, he noted.

His son, Dylan, said he has been thinking about what would happen to the younger generation should corporations continue with their polluting ways.

“I’m afraid that in a couple of years, there would be pollution everywhere ... Then you can’t go swimming anymore, you can’t eat normal (food) anymore because there will be chemicals (in it),” he said. The Primary Six pupil likened farming with his family as a way of rebuilding a part of the environment that has been destroyed.

The rise of the Internet and social media has provided a highly accessible, wide-reaching platform for individuals to champion green causes. For example, a person can easily start an online petition, Mr Tay noted.

This also means that the authorities here need to adapt to the new landscape, he said. “In the past, (the authorities) would only deal with listed societies … now, (they) also have to deal with other groups which are a bit loose but still represent some views.”

The learning curve has been steep: For example, the way in which the authorities handled the redevelopment of the Bukit Brown cemetery did not go down well with NGOs. In comparison, the Government’s engagement with interest groups has been smoother over the Rail Corridor development and the plans for a Cross Island MRT line which could cut across the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, for example.

Under its partnership strategy, the NEA engages individuals and community groups to promote environmental ownership. Ground-up movements are also encouraged through providing resources and forming collaborations, its spokesperson said.

The agency has dedicated capacity-building programmes, for instance, to train their partners and volunteers so that they are able to initiate programmes and spread messages about the environment. In addition, the NEA also provides resources such as education materials and collaterals to facilitate outreach efforts. Under the Environment Champions programme, more than 1,000 students have been trained to lead environmental programmes in their schools.

The NEA has also been partnering community groups to engage residents on various environment issues, such as public cleanliness, resource conservation and dengue prevention. It added: “The objective is to encourage greater responsibility towards the environment and the adoption of environmentally-friendly practices in our daily lives.”

Still, Ms Ria Tan, who runs the website WildSingapore, stressed that the initiatives and efforts by groups need not always be coordinated by the authorities. “You have a cause that is close to your heart, just do it,” she said.

While it is trendy to go green these days, Mr Soh reiterated that people should pursue green causes with a sufficient understanding of environmental issues. “It’s good to have a trend, then after that work on it, so the trend becomes a way of life,” he said. “(But) when it’s a fad … the crowds (are just) following the bigger crowd, without understanding the real reasons why.”

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Port expansion at Pasir Panjang being accelerated

Karamjit Kaur The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Mar 15;

EXPANSION plans for the Pasir Panjang container port are being accelerated to cater for growth at the port.

Phases 3 and 4 will be fully operational by the end of 2017, two years ahead of the original plan, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said during the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday.

Last year, the port recorded a 4 per cent increase in container throughput to 33.9 million 20ft equivalent container units (TEUs).

And growth is expected to continue in tandem with regional demand, Mr Lui said.

The Pasir Panjang expansion will add new handling capacity of 15 million container units per annum, increasing total capacity by more than 40 per cent to 50 million container units.

Port operator PSA will invest about $3.5 billion in these new facilities, which will enable Singapore to handle more of the largest container ships, which are about 400m long.

"This expansion will provide sufficient capacity while development work on Tuas Port is under way," Mr Lui said.

Apart from infrastructure works, the maritime sector is getting a $65 million boost to attract, develop and retain talent to grow Singapore as a global hub port and international maritime centre.

The money will go into the Maritime Cluster Fund for Manpower Development.

This brings the total amount put into the kitty since 2007 to $115 million.

Another $6 million will be spent over the next five years by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) under an existing scholarship programme to support more students who aspire to become captains and chief engineers.

The schemes will encourage more maritime businesses to improve employees' skills and allow more Singaporeans to take up seafaring careers, Mr Lui said.

Ms Lin Ming Ling, 26, an operations trainee at Oldendorff Carriers Singapore, is one such beneficiary who received 50 per cent funding for a $25,000 four-month programme in the Netherlands in 2012.

"The grant helped to lessen my financial burden and helped me progress in my career," she said.

Apart from financial backing, MPA is working with companies to develop management associate programmes to groom local talent for leadership positions and develop structured career progression pathways, Mr Lui said.

Responding to Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who asked about maritime safety, Mr Lui said the number of incidents has dipped from 1.7 incidents per 100,000 vessel movements in 2010 to 0.5 last year.

This year, the industry will be paying special attention to enhancing safety for small harbour and pleasure craft by installing enhanced transponders.

"The prospects for the maritime sector are bright and the Government will continue to ensure that the industry is future-ready so that Singapore and Singaporeans can take advantage of the many opportunities available," Mr Lui said.

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Parliament passes changes to Land Acquisition Act, State Lands Act

Eileen Poh Channel NewsAsia 13 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: Changes to two Acts were passed in Parliament on Friday (Mar 13) to help the Government better plan for the long-term use of Singapore's underground space.

The Land Acquisition Act was amended, giving the Government flexibility to acquire a specific stratum of space, for instance, a pocket of underground space, instead of the entire column of land, when developing public projects.

And under changes to the State Lands Act, landowners own underground space up to a depth of 30 metres under the Singapore Height Datum (SHD).

Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law, said current laws mark out boundaries of land ownership for surface land, but not so for underground space. The change will not affect how landowners currently use and develop underground space, said Ms Indranee.

Basements of developments in Singapore generally extend to about 15 metres underground.

"To provide a point of comparison, the Orchard ION building has four basement levels, which extend to only about 10 metres below the SHD. The deepest basement in Singapore at Fusionopolis is 15 metres below the SHD, Ms Indranee said".

She also noted: "Underground land can also be developed to build extensive pedestrian connections between transport nodes and high-traffic areas, thereby improving connectivity for commuters and residents alike. These developments will benefit all Singaporeans.

“To enable Singapore to put underground space to more productive use, it is necessary to update the legislative framework to clarify the ownership of underground space."

- CNA/ms

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No Cleaner Day: Constituencies make a clean sweep to tackle litter

Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia Channel NewsAsia 13 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: Some Members of Parliament (MPs) who have started cleanliness initiatives in their constituencies said they have seen results. The initiatives include giving cleaners days off and monthly litter-picking sessions.

The MPs also hope to ride on their town council's plans to have residents clean their own neighbourhood once a year - as part of an anti-littering drive.

The amount of trash in Singapore is mounting and so is its littering problem. Some have said this could ironically be due to a more efficient cleaning service.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, elaborated: "In most housing estates, for example, the town council cleans the place two, three times a day. The more efficiently you clean the place, the more people do not feel the impact of the litter bugs.

“I think many people begin to take it for granted that ‘I can do what I like and somehow, somebody will pick up after me’. Besides littering, it is a wider issue of societal values; it is this lack of consideration for one another, ‘I only think of myself, me, what is convenient for me. I do not care about my impact on other people’."

In recent years, some constituencies have initiated their own activities to tackle the problem. In Nee Soon South, litter picking is a monthly affair and one day a year is set aside as "No Cleaner Day".

Ms Lee Bee Wah, MP for Nee Soon GRC, said: "There is awareness among residents. I am heartened to see that there are residents who organise family litter picking once a month, I see joggers pick up litter as they jog, and I also see residents wanting to catch those litter bugs who leave their litter at the lift lobby or just along the corridor."

A survey by the Environment and Water Resources Ministry has shown that the amount of litter observed or collected has almost doubled from 2006 to 2010, with the cleaning bill for public spaces at a projected S$120 million per year.

So the Government has announced that town councils will set aside one day each year for residents to clean their own neighbourhoods, to tackle this problem.

Last year, Tampines GRC also piloted having no cleaners once a month, for six months, and now plans to make it a permanent affair. It notes that the town council's new initiative could send a strong message.

Said Mr Baey Yam Keng, MP for Tampines GRC: "It takes time because it is a mindset, it is about habits and awareness. So we are continuing our efforts on this so that residents will be reminded that it is everybody's responsibility to keep the estate clean. And if you can do it for one day, you can do it every day.

“Hopefully with it done at a large scale and at a national level, it will send a strong signal and many people will be more aware and put it upon themselves and families to play a part for the community."

Some Singaporeans have welcomed the initiative.

Mr Vasanthan Kanagasundaram said: "Because they are cleaning up the place, they would actually be mindful not to litter in future. If they litter, they would have to clean it up themselves. I think it works better than the corrective work order."

Mr Sebastian Xu commented: "It is like a common activity for everybody to be doing it together. So it is more like a bonding, rather than an anti-littering activity.”

Others questioned if the habits would stick.

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Malaysia: Mangrove forests disappearing

PATRICK LEE The Star 14 Mar 15;

PETALING JAYA: More than 25,000ha – larger than the size of Kuala Lumpur – of mangrove forests were felled in the past 12 years, pushing coastal species towards extinction and exposing people to rising sea levels.

Data from the US-based World Resources Institute (WRI) revealed this vast “disappearance” between 2001 and 2012.

The study noted that some 25,810ha of mangrove tracts – more than three times the global mangrove forest loss rate during the same time – had been cut down in Malaysia.

“Malaysia lost 4.6% of its mangroves from 2001 to 2012, an area larger than the whole Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur,” WRI research assistant Asa Strong told The Star.

The global loss was 1.38% or about 192,000ha from 2001 to 2012.

According to the data, at least 1,000ha of mangroves in Malaysia were felled each year, peaking at 4,052ha in 2009.

Strong also believed that shrimp and fish farming, palm oil development and urbanisation were big factors for mangrove removals.

Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s Dr Edlic Sathiamurthy said the destruction might have been greater than what WRI believed.

Some fish farms and coastal padi fields today, he said, were previously palm oil plantations converted from mangroves decades ago.

“If you look at the west coast from Kedah southwards, there are huge tracts of mangrove converted to agriculture. We can see massive clearing,” he said.

Dr Edlic said mangroves also protected coasts from storm surges and tsunami waves.

Forestry consultant Lim Teck Wyn said mangroves were breeding grounds for many species of sea life.

“Even some animals like the silver leaf monkeys make their home there,” he said.

“If you kill the mangroves, you’ll have big problems,” he warned.

Aquaculture, he added, was not sustainable as farms would become polluted after a few years of intensive farming and later be abandoned.

He, however, added that governments were more likely to lean towards aquaculture as they drew more profits in the short-term.

Malaysia has about 551,333ha of mangrove forest.

In 2013, aquaculture in brackish water areas made some 397,312 tonnnes of produce, with a wholesale value of RM1.8bil that year.

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Malaysia: Pulau Tioman set to attract birdwatchers

JASMIN NABILAH JAAFFAR New Straits Times 13 Mar 15;

ROMPIN: The recent sightings of migratory birds on Pulau Tioman could soon pave the way for the popular island to become the country's latest destination for bird watching activities.

Tourism Malaysia deputy chairman Datuk Seri Maznah Mazlan said the presence of a variety of rare species in the area, could soon draw bird lovers from around the world to the island, popular for diving and snorkeling activities.

She said the state tourism board along with the locals were currently identifying and compiling a checklist on the types of bird species, which will be used as a reference in the future.

"Malaysia has become a bird watching heaven as it is located on the cross-migratory path of certain bird species, especially during the winter season. Since certain species were now spotted on the island, it will surely be a major boost for tourism.

"Malaysia is already home to some 700 species of birds including some rare ones. Currently, Fraser Hill is the favourite among bird lovers especially with their annual bird race event and in the future Pulau Tioman could also host similar events," she said when met on the island recently.

Maznah said since bird lovers, especially foreigners were prepared to spend money to travel and have a closer look on the species, the locals should look into ways to preserve the nature and allow the birds to remain here.

"Bird watching activities offers a promising return for the tourism industry especially for chalet operators and tour guides. Now apart from being a diving heaven, the island can be also developed into a bird watching destination.

"I will wait for a detailed report from the tourism board and villagers before moving on to the next course of action to promote the island for bird watching activities," she said.

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Indonesia: Peatland fires inflict trillions of Rupiah in losses

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post AsiaOne 13 Mar 15;

The organizers of a study have found that peatland fires in three regencies in Jambi in 2014 caused Rp 44.714 trillion (US$3.4 billion) in losses and have offered to supply an agriculture system to prevent further damage.

The Forestry School of the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi recently conducted the Peat Fire Impact Valuation study in West Tanjung Jabung, Tanjung Jabung and Muarojambi, and found that the fires had damaged 628,627 hectares of peatland in the three regencies, causing huge losses equalling 15 times the provincial budget for this year of Rp 3.5 trillion.

“In the study, the method used for calculating the impacts of peatland fires was that stipulated in Environment Ministerial Decree No. 13/2011 regarding compensation due to pollution and/or environmental damage,” IPB Forestry School researcher Basuki Wasis said in Jambi city on Thursday.

Basuki said the calculation of the economic value was relative in nature and could be debatable, but the research used the basis for calculating the viable value, which was accountable.

He added that the ministerial decree contained clear and precise substance, language and rules.

The decree covers the impacts of peatland fires, such as air pollution in the form of carbon emission and absorption and environmental damage caused by a peatland’s failure to retain water, as well as water management, erosion control, soil formation, nutrient recycling, waste decomposition, biodiversity and genetic resources.

The decree also mentions that peatland fires result in incalculable and high environmental restoration costs.

KKI Warsi executive director Diki Kurniawan said the study could be used as material to make stakeholders more aware and prompt them to apply sustainable peatland management.

“We are at the same time making efforts to remind stakeholders to anticipate the considerable loss every time a peatland fire occurs,” said Diki.

He added that peatland and forest fires were regarded regular disasters and so were dealt with as incidental occurrences.

“There should be definite, concrete and sustainable measures so Jambi can prevent losses,” said Diki.

One of the solutions being offered for sustainable peatland management is the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) concept, he said.

“The CSA is a farming system that can minimize the impacts of climate change. It can also boost crop production through adaptation and mitigation efforts by agricultural innovation, which can minimize carbon emissions,” said Diki.

Diki added that the CSA concept was aimed at supporting mitigation and adaptation activities. The concept came to light following the development of the REDD+ and climate change issues.

In its implementation at the macro level, the CSA focuses on land use based on ecological condition, while at the micro level, the CSA emphasizes accuracy in picking crop varieties based on the ecosystem, culture and market, he said.

Diki said the system also took into account aspects that could reduce carbon emissions on peatland, increase carbon absorption and apply eco-friendly management so as to preserve biodiversity and crop variety adjustment that would be able to increase land productivity so as to have positive impacts on food reliance and family income.

Based on 2011 ministry data, Jambi has 676,341 hectares of peatland, or 10 percent of the country’s total peatland.

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Pollinating birds and mammals declining, reveals first global assessment of trends in the status of pollinators

IUCN news release 13 Mar 15;

According to a new study by IUCN and partners, the conservation status of pollinating bird and mammal species is deteriorating, with more species moving towards extinction than away from it.

On average, 2.4 bird and mammal pollinator species per year have moved one IUCN Red List category towards extinction in recent decades, representing a substantial increase in extinction risk across this set of species.

“Our study is the first global assessment of trends in pollinators,” says lead author Eugenie Regan of UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre. “It shows a worrying trend that may be impacting negatively on global pollination services, estimated to be worth more than US$215 billion.”

Nine percent of all currently recognised bird and mammal species are known or inferred to be pollinators. Among mammals, bats are the principal pollinators, responsible for pollinating a large number of economically and ecologically important plants such as agave and cacti. Key pollinating birds include hummingbirds, honeyeaters, sunbirds and white-eyes.

Approximately 90 per cent of flowering plants are pollinated by animals, and humans rely heavily on many of these plant species for food, livestock forage, medicine, materials and other purposes.

“The vast majority of pollination is carried out by invertebrates, such as bees, but unfortunately the lack of available resources for species assessments means that we cannot yet determine the global trend in the status of these pollinator species,” says co-author Michael Hoffmann, Senior Scientist in IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC). “However, these initial results for bird and mammal pollinators do not bode well for trends in insect pollinators.”

Habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture was found to be the main cause of decline for a considerable proportion of species among both mammals and birds. Pollinating mammals, such as the large-bodied fruit bats, are also severely impacted by hunting for bushmeat, while birds are affected by the impacts of invasive alien species.

During the period 1988 to 2012, 18 pollinator bird species qualified for being ‘up-listed’ to a higher threat category. For example, the Regent Honeyeater (Xanthomyza phrygia) was up-listed from Endangered to Critically Endangered due to rapid population decline driven by drought, habitat loss caused by historic clearance for agriculture, and possibly competition with other species. No pollinating bird species qualified for ‘down-listing’ to lower categories of threat.

Between 1996 and 2008, 13 mammal species identified as pollinators were up-listed to a higher threat category and two species qualified for down-listing to a lower category of threat. For example, the Choco Broad-nosed Bat (Platyrrhinus chocoensis) moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to habitat conversion to agriculture for cocoa, while among non-flying mammals the Sunda Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang) moved from Near Threatened to Vulnerable due to harvesting for the pet trade and habitat loss. On the other hand, the Pemba Flying Fox (Pteropus voeltzkowi) moved from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable thanks to community conservation programmes which provide protection at specific roost sites.

To determine the trend in the global status of pollinating birds and mammals, the authors used the Red List Index (RLI) – an established method that shows trends in survival probability over time for sets of species using data from The IUCN Red List. The RLI is based on the proportion of species that move through the IUCN Red List categories over time, either away from or towards extinction.

The approach now needs to be expanded to include taxonomic groups that contribute more significantly than vertebrates to pollination, such as bees and wasps (Hymenoptera) and butterflies (Lepidoptera), according to the authors.

The study, Global Trends in the Status of Bird and Mammal Pollinators, was produced in collaboration by the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sapienza University of Rome, and BirdLife International. It is published online in the journal Conservation Letters.

The paper is freely available here.

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