Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 15

Dead sea turtle found at Tuas
from wild shores of singapore

Coastal works will affect seagrassy Marina East
from wild shores of singapore

Pretty as a Parasol
from Saving MacRitchie

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The science behind the fish deaths

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 17 Mar 15;

Up to 600 tonnes of fish from 55 farms here have been lost because of an algal bloom in recent weeks. A plankton bloom last year cost 53 farms about 500 tonnes of fish.

Senior Minister of State (National Development) Maliki Osman told Parliament last week that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will help farmers develop contingency plans to reduce losses in future episodes. The AVA will not impose a minimum production requirement on affected farms this year, he added.

Dr Maliki, who was speaking during the annual session to scrutinise his ministry’s budget, also pointed out the need to better understand the science behind the phenomenon, adding that the AVA is working with various agencies — the National Environment Agency, National Parks Board, water agency PUB and the National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute — to study the relationship between plankton blooms and fish deaths.

This is a timely announcement.

Episodes of plankton bloom have occurred in Singapore since 2009, but there is still a dearth of science — at least in the public domain — on this natural occurrence, leading to unanswered questions.

For instance, were the causes of fish deaths in the West Johor Strait off Lim Chu Kang (which occurred two weekends ago) and the East Johor Strait off Pasir Ris (which occurred three weekends ago) different? How have the plankton bloom episodes over the years, and species involved, differed? Is a more sophisticated system of water monitoring needed?

Contributing factors suggested by the public, such as the damming of Punggol Waterway and lack of water flow due to the Causeway, also deserve answers.


The AVA has said preliminary findings point to the Karlodinium veneficum species of algae behind the East Johor Strait bloom. But some nuances in the narrative that farmers who suffered the heaviest losses did not take precautionary measures early enough need fleshing out.

The authority sent an alert to farmers on Feb 16 and 17 informing them of elevated plankton levels and advised them to deploy canvas bags, harvest their fish early to cut losses and transfer stock to unaffected areas.

Farmers said the early warning was good. Many had canvas bags ready to be deployed on their farms, as well as emergency plans such as towing their farms away from the affected areas. But the devil is in the timing and execution of measures.

“It’s quite easy to plan, but difficult to do it ... You can put fish in canvas bags for a few days, but you’d have to know a few days beforehand (to do so) and you can’t have so much fish,” one farmer said.

Signs displayed in this episode were also different from last year’s, fish farmers told TODAY. Low dissolved oxygen levels were blamed in last year’s bloom, but it was not a factor this time, going by their own tests, they said. Some professed not to know very much about harmful algal blooms.

Marine expert Lim Po Teen of the University of Malaya said different responses are needed for different algae species. Physical barriers such as canvas bags are futile if they are not set up before the bloom hits, he said.

Some algae species irritate fish gills, causing the gills to be covered with mucus and the fish gasp for air near the water surface and suffocate. For these species, filtration of water and aeration tend to be helpful, said Associate Professor Lim.

But other algae species (most dinoflagellates) produce some form of neurotoxins that directly kill fish and aeration will not help in these situations, he said. “It is crucial to know what we are dealing with. If we cannot confirm what is the cause of fish kills, then we are not ready to manage it.”

Experts also said that while aquaculture in areas with regular harmful algal blooms can be precarious, the negative impact can be mitigated with improved monitoring and predictive capabilities.

The AVA said it routinely surveys water temperature, pH, salinity and dissolved oxygen around farming areas, encourages farmers to notify it of unusual fish or water conditions, and provides early alerts. But it did not say if the routine readings are shared with farmers.

Singapore could look at the monitoring programmes used by the aquaculture industries in New Zealand (done by private research agencies with costs covered by the farmers) and Japan (done by fishery cooperatives and the local government), suggested Assoc Prof Lim.

Some mitigation options suggested in scientific literature include remote sensing to detect chlorophyll-a (a specific form of chlorophyll used in oxygenic photosynthesis) and other algal pigments in the water, said Dr Angela Capper of James Cook University’s College of Marine and Environmental Sciences.

“Molecular approaches are a progressive tool playing a key role in the identification of harmful algal bloom species. Satellite and predictive modelling based on a range of … parameters including climatic conditions and sea-surface temperatures also assist with the implementation of mitigation strategies,” she said.


Perhaps, what the authorities have done with air quality data can be replicated for water quality. Pollutant Standards Index readings are publicly available online and air-quality reporting was improved last year. With better and readily available data, farmers with an appetite for more information, and researchers and marine enthusiasts — who have been tirelessly doing shore walks to monitor dead fish — would benefit.

Timely consumer alerts would also inform the public and prevent rumour-mongering during plankton blooms.

The AVA has informed the public that fish samples from affected farms do not contain marine biotoxins and that fish harvested from local farms are safe to eat, but the public should also know causes of the fish deaths, the plankton species identified, whether it is safe to play in waters near affected areas and what developments to expect.

The closed-containment aquaculture systems being developed will be part of the solution, although a farmer said it may be too costly to use for the entire duration of the fish’s life and that the flesh of fish farmed in open waters is better.

The food-fish farming industry, while relatively small, deserves an appropriate injection of research and capital if the commitment is to keep it afloat.

The public ought to be better informed about the food they eat and challenges facing those who supply that food.

On-the-ground efforts of marine enthusiasts ought to be complemented by academic research and findings that are openly shared.

Clearly, we need more science in the public domain to make progress on fish-kill episodes so that when the next plankton or algal bloom occurs in Singapore waters, fish farmers will be better equipped to cope.


Neo Chai Chin is a correspondent with TODAY.

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Bukit Batok hillside cleared to drive out rodents and stray dogs

MATTHIAS TAY Today Online 17 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — A broad swathe of trees and vegetation has been cleared from the forested hill next to Bukit Batok MRT station in an attempt to remove rat burrows, as well as rid stray dogs of possible hiding places.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB), which manages the state land, confirmed this today (March 16) in response to media queries over the denuded hillside, which made headlines last December for a rat infestation that saw the hill crawling with rodents.

At the time, the HDB and other government agencies as well as the Jurong Town Council had said the feeding of stray dogs in the area needed to be stopped in order for the rodents to be eradicated. The food scraps left behind by people “indiscriminately feeding” dogs had attracted rodents, they said, an observation that drew the ire of animal welfare groups, which felt it cast the actions of responsible stray feeders in an unfavourable light.

The infestation was declared over by pest-controller Star Pest Control in January, after the company, among other things, set traps to catch the rats and installed surveillance cameras on a few occasions to monitor for rat activity. More than 230 rats were caught.

Contacted today, Star Pest Control the vegetation was cleared by the HDB after the firm had withdrawn operations from the site.

In a statement, the HDB said the “bare” portion of the land is temporary, and “re-turfing” efforts are being carried out. The clearance would allow the HDB to better maintain the land, the agency said.

Shopkeepers whose shops are located near the once-infested plot of land said that rats can still be seen scurrying across their entrances from time to time. One shop assistant at a mobile phone store, who would only be identified as Mr Tan, said the situation now was not “significantly different” from before.

However, cleaner Rosli Sumbri, 55, who cleans a stretch of road along the hill on alternate days, said the situation has improved tremendously. He used to see hordes of rats running rampant in the empty land. “Now, there is [are] no more rats,” he said.

Mdm Ng Lee Teng, an administrative assistant who lives in a HDB flat opposite the hill, said she used to chance upon rats when she passed the area on her way home from work. “With the vegetation cleared, I don’t see them any more,” said Mdm Ng, 51.

Barren land at Bukit Batok not due to rat extermination: Pest controllers
Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: A significant amount of vegetation that once grew on the hill beside Bukit Batok MRT station has been cleared, about three months after it made headlines for being infested with hundred of rats.

However, the barren land is not the result of an operation to weed out rats, said pest controllers.

"I believe (authorities) are doing their so-called routine maintenance, but this time round they're doing a bit more. Actually, it comes after our exercise. They didn't want to do this earlier so as not to jeopardise the whole rodent removal exercise," said Mr Bernard Chan, general manager at Star Pest Control.

The hill had been declared "rat-free" in early January.

When contacted, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) said it was carrying out clearance to "better maintain the land". HDB said that the "bare" portion of the land is temporary as re-turfing is being carried out.

Star Pest Control said it has not discovered any new signs of rats in the area. It said the rodents could return if people do not dispose of food properly, or feed strays, providing a supply of food for the rats.

- CNA/rg

Bukit Batok's rat horror days are over
NEA says no more complaints; HDB cleared away vegetation
CAROLYN KHEW Straits Times 20 Mar 15;

After more than 300 hours of monitoring for rat movement, 20 infrared cameras deployed to track them at night and the clearing of vegetation, the Bukit Batok rat problem seems to have been solved - at least for now.

Over 230 rats were killed in a hilly area near the Bukit Batok MRT station in Bukit Batok Central, and residents say the days of rat horror are over.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said there has not been any feedback on rats at the vacant plot of land - about the size of a football field - since it was declared rat-free in January.

The Housing Board (HDB) started clearing the vegetation on the hill after the completion of rodent eradication. It did not reveal the cost of eradicating the rats.

"We are clearing the undergrowth in the forested area, as well as a few trees which are in danger of falling, so as to better maintain the land," said an HDB spokesman. "Keeping the land well-kept will minimise the recurrence of rodent infestation and facilitate the removal of hiding ground for stray dogs."

During the operation, pest controllers found about 10kg of food left for stray dogs in the area, which was said to have contributed to the rat woes.

The HDB is currently re-turfing parts of the hill. "Newly-planted vegetation will need time to grow," said the spokesman.

The Straits Times understands that the undergrowth was cleared manually. The re-turfing of grass will be completed in a few weeks. Surveillance cameras have been put near the fencing on the hill to monitor those who feed stray dogs indiscriminately.

The rat problem first came to light last December after Bukit Batok resident Ryan Keith Smith took videos and pictures of the rodents and posted them online.

Pest controllers spent the first part of the extermination process attacking the rats' nests and burrows. It involved about 30 pest controllers, who scoured the area and used infrared cameras and binoculars to track rodent activity.

Star Pest Control general manager Bernard Chan, who led the exercise, told The Straits Times the clearing of thick vegetation will make it easier to spot rats if they are still around.

Pest controllers are still monitoring the area once or twice a week for rodent activity, he added. They look out for tell-tale signs such as rat droppings, food waste and rodent nests.

"We have not detected any (rat) movement at the moment, which is a healthy sign," he said. "It's unlikely that they will return unless there's food available."

An NEA spokesman said it has stepped up inspections of the 13 NEA-licensed food shops near the area and found no infestation there.

"All the food shops have engaged licensed pest-control contractors and have also increased the frequency of the pest-control measures," the spokesman said.

"NEA has also reminded all the food handlers and food shop operators to practise proper refuse management and to properly store their food and raw ingredients at all times." These measures would help ensure no food is lying around to lure the rats back.

Residents have noted an overall improvement. They have also noticed fewer stray dogs now.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it received several dogs from the area from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. They have been rehomed, said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong. It is not aware if the other stray dogs have moved elsewhere.

With the rats gone from the hill, residents are hoping it can become a place for all to enjoy. Said Madam Vimala Devi, 51, who is self-employed: "It would be good if something can be built, such as a jogging track."

Additional reporting by Andrea Ng


Over 230
Number of rats killed in the hilly area next to Bukit Batok MRT station

Number of pest controllers involved

3 weeks
How long the extermination operation took

15 hours
Average length of work a day

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Temperatures could hit 35 deg Celsius in coming weeks: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 15;

SINGAPORE: Expect searing heat in the second half of March, with the daily maximum temperature in the range of 33 to 35 degrees Celsius, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in its weather outlook posted on its website.

NEA said short thundery showers are expected in the afternoons on four to six days. The Northeast Monsoon is forecast to transition to the Inter-Monsoon season in the last week of March, NEA added. Winds are expected to weaken and be light.

Rainfall for the month in the first half of March has been below average. In late January, NEA had said dry season hit Singapore earlier than usual.

- CNA/rg

Hot spell expected for next two weeks
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Mar 15;

WHEN you are out during the next two weeks, take along an umbrella for shade.

The National Environment Agency's (NEA) latest weather forecast has predicted a scorching maximum daily temperature of up to 35 deg C.

This is much higher than the long-term average maximum daily temperature of 31.6 deg C for March, as measured at the Changi climate station, which is used as Singapore's reference station.

The NEA said yesterday: "In the second half of March, generally fair and warm weather conditions can be experienced on some days, with maximum daily temperature in the range of 33 to 35 deg C."

It will also be less windy, with the prevailing north-easterly winds expected to weaken to become light and variable in direction.

The NEA said short thundery showers are expected, mainly in the afternoon, on four to six days, although the rainfall for this month is expected to be below the long-term average of 185mm.

Most areas of Singapore had received below-average rainfall in the first half of this month.

Ms Julie Tham, 34, who works in a bank, said she would take a water bottle with her if she goes out during the weekend.

"If the weather is going to be very hot, I don't want to risk being dehydrated."

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Malaysia: Maiden Call by VLCC at Pengerang Deepwater Terminal

Tank Terminals 16 Mar 15;

March 16, 2015 [Dialog Group Berhad] - Dialog Group Berhad is pleased to announce that Pengerang Deepwater Terminal, with a draft of up to 24 metres, located at Pengerang, southeastern tip of Johor, Peninsular Malaysia has today received its very first Very Large Crude Carrier – the Liberian-registered “MT Mesdar”.

The 333-metre long vessel weighing in 315,802 metric tonnes arrived from the Middle East to discharge its crude oil cargo at Phase 1 of the deepwater terminal.

“MT Mesdar” is the first VLCC to call at Pengerang and, the first to berth at Malaysian jetty, since the recent commissioning of the crude oil tanks in early March 2015. To date, more than 100 vessels have used the terminal which offers petroleum and crude storage facilities for trading purposes.

Phase 1 terminal of the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal which is owned by Pengerang Independent Terminals Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between DIALOG (46%), Royal Vopak (44%) and State Secretary, Johor (Incorporated) (“SSI, Johor”) (10%), had commenced operations in Q2 2014. Phase 1 has a storage capacity of approximately 1.3 million cubic metres together with six deepwater berths at a cost of RM2.0 billion with the capability to handle the storage, blending and distribution of crude oil, petroleum, chemical and petrochemical feedstock, products and by-products.

The Pengerang Deepwater Terminal, an Entry Point Project under the Economic Transformation Programme ("ETP"), is a deepwater terminal development on 500 acres of reclaimed sea-bed land with proposed storage capacity of 5 million cubic metres.

Strategically located at one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes with close proximity to the regional trading hub in Singapore, the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal project is built with deepwater jetty facilities, 24 metres deep, enabling it to handle VLCCs. The entire development may take another 10-15 years to be fully complete and will create huge impact to local communities through creation of many economic activities as it will also complement the RAPID project that was announced last year.

Upon completion, the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal will be able to handle the bulk breaking and bulk-building activities for crude oil, petroleum products and Liquefied Natural Gas (“LNG”). The Pengerang Deepwater Terminal has the potential to become a regional oil and gas hub owing to its strategic location close to one of the busiest international shipping lanes and close proximity to Singapore.

DIALOG is currently investing in the Pengerang Terminal Phase 2 Project at Pengerang Deepwater Terminal which involves the construction of the storage capacity of approximately 2.1 million cubic metres and a deepwater jetty with twelve berths at an approximate total project cost of RM6.3 billion.

DIALOG is also currently investing in the Pengerang LNG Project for the development of LNG regasification facilities comprising of a regasification unit and two (2) units of 200,000 cubic metres LNG storage tanks with an initial send out capacity of 3.5 million tonnes per annum (“MTPA”) (equivalent to approximately 490 million standard cubic feet per day (“MMscfd”) of natural gas at a total estimated project cost of approximately RM2.7 billion.

Phase 1 terminal together with the investments in Pengerang Terminal Phase 2 Project and Pengerang LNG Project at Pengerang Deepwater Terminal will synergise with DIALOG’s investments in tankage facilities in Kertih, Terengganu in eastern Peninsular Malaysia and Tanjung Langsat, Johor, in southern Peninsular Malaysia.

The development of Pengerang Deepwater Terminal is part of DIALOG’s business strategy to own terminals and tankage facilities which will result in an increase in its sources of sustainable and recurring income.

Dialog: Cheap crude driving up demand for storage facility
The Star 17 Mar 15;

KOTA TINGGI: Dialog Group Bhd, the lead joint-venture partner in a huge land-based crude oil storage facility in Pengerang, Johor, said that cheap crude oil prices on the international market are driving up demand for storage facility.

“We are seeing a surge in demand for storage since the price of crude oil started to decline late last year,” Dialog executive chairman Tan Sri Dr Ngau Boon Keat said.

Ngau was speaking to reporters after a ceremony to welcome the 333m-long vessel MT Mesdar, the first very large crude carrier (VLCC) to dock at the Pengerang jetty.

Ngau, who is also the chairman of Pengerang Independent Terminal Sdn Bhd (PITSB), said its terminals had received 128 vessels since April last year and expected 200 vessels by the year-end.

The Pengerang project is a deepwater terminal development on 500 acres of reclaimed seabed land.

Phase 1 of the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal project, a joint venture between Dialog (46%), Royal Vopak (44%) and State Secretary, Johor Inc (10%), commenced operations in the second quarter of 2014.

The first phase, costing RM2bil, has a storage capacity of about 1.3 million cu m together with six deepwater berths with the capability to handle the storage, blending and distribution of crude oil, petroleum, chemical and petrochemical feedstock, products and by-products.

“With Asia being a growing demand area for crude and crude travelling longer distances, we are glad to see our crude storage facility and VLCC berth at Pengerang are of value to our customers,” Vopak Asia division president Patrick van der Voort said in a statement yesterday.

As South-East Asia’s first independent land-based storage facility for crude, Pengerang Independent Terminal – with a depth of 24m – is equipped with deepwater facilities, capable of handling VLCCs.

The entire development will take another 10 to 15 years to be fully completed.

Dialog is currently investing in the second phase of the project, which involves the construction of storage capacity of about 2.1 million cu m and a deepwater jetty with 12 berths at an approximate total project cost of RM6.3bil.

Dialog is also currently investing in the Pengerang LNG project for the development of LNG regasification facilities comprising a regasification unit and two units of 200,000 cu m LNG storage tanks with an initial send-out capacity of 3.5 million tonnes per year (equivalent to about 490 million standard cu ft per day of natural gas) at a total estimated project cost of about RM2.7bil.

Supertanker docks at Johor terminal
Reme Ahmad The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Mar 15;

THE first supertanker to dock in Malaysia tied up at Johor's Pengerang Independent Terminals jetty yesterday - marking a big step in the country's efforts to grow its oil tanking business.

The 333-metre long MT Mesdar unloaded its one million barrels of Middle East crude cargo at a time when global oil trading is in a flux after steep price falls that have sent demand soaring for storage facilities for petroleum products.

"Oil prices have fallen sharply from US$100 so many people are looking for oil storage, to wait for higher prices," Tan Sri Ngau Boon Keat, executive chairman of oil and gas services firm Dialog Group, told The Straits Times.

Dialog is a shareholder in the Johor terminal.

The 1.9km-long jetty at the Pengerang terminal has a water depth of 24 metres - essential if a supertanker is to dock.

Previously, such ships could only unload in Malaysia by using the less efficient method of berthing at a single buoy located about 8km offshore while the oil was piped underwater to be stored on land.

Another key advantage for Pengerang, which is to the east of Changi airport, is that it is "right at the doorstep of the busiest shipping channel in the world", said Mr Ngau.

He was referring to the route taken by vessels from the Middle East, many laden with oil and gas, as they sail past Singapore and Pengerang towards fuel-hungry East Asian countries.

Other ships sail in the opposite direction with goods for India, the Middle East and Africa.

The Pengerang Oil Terminal also hopes to bank on the oil trading boom in Singapore by building up cheaper tank facilities next door.

"This is complementary to Singapore. When Singapore grows and the oil market keeps expanding, it can expand to this side," said Mr Ngau.

The completed RM2 billion (S$752 million) first phase of the terminal can store up to 1.3 million cubic metres of crude and petroleum products.

About three quarters of the capacity has been leased out.

The second phase, costing RM12 billion, will be ready from 2018 and can offer an additional 2.1 million cubic metres of storage as well as storage for petrochemicals and liquefied natural gas.

In comparison, Singapore can store about 11 million cubic metres of oil, petroleum products and petrochemicals in its tank farms. Singapore also has four berths for supertankers.

Dialog is a partner in the Pengerang project with Dutch firm Royal Vopak, the world's largest independent oil storage company, and a Johor state investment agency.

Pengerang's ambition to be a major oil hub for Malaysia has also been boosted by state energy giant Petronas, which is clearing 2,428 hectares to build a 300,000 barrel-a-day integrated refinery and petrochemical development called Rapid.

The refinery is expected to cost US$16 million (S$22 million) and start operations by around 2019.

"You can't go wrong with a location like this. We call this development 'Rotterdam of the East'," Mr Ngau said, referring to Europe's oil hub.

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Malaysia: Bukit Gambier set ablaze by irresponsible hill farmers

PREDEEP NAMBIAR New Straits Times 15 Mar 15;

GEORGE TOWN: There destruction on Bukit Gambier here appears to carry on unabated, with a staggering 4ha (10acres) of its hill slope set ablaze by irresponsible hill farmers earlier today.

At about 12.20noon, some 60 firemen charged up the hill range opposite the Universiti Sains Malaysia Bukit Gambier gate to put out billowing smoke from the hill, which is part of the Penang Hill range.

Billowing smoke from five spots on the hill were visible from the Penang Bridge and in many parts of the island.

Firemen took six hours to put out the fires, which they blame was caused by forest clearing activities by hill farmers.

Jalan Perak Fire and Rescue Department senior officer II Shahrolnizam Murad said firemen had initially thought it was caused by peat fires.

“Based on what we saw, this could be most likely started by hill farmers.

“We spotted two unoccupied huts in the vicinity. They are probably clearing the land for farming,” he said when contacted.

This incident comes at an untimely as large piece of the hill was cleared by developers last week, as part of a planned housing project.

Last Thursday, environment-interest group Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) spotted a large parcel of land being cleared at Bukit Gambier adjacent to Gambier Heights, fearing a repeat of another 2013 Bukit Relau (Bukit Botak) episode.

Pictures taken by SAM showed a temporary hill trek was opened at the hill range and a few tipper trucks and tractors were seen entering the path.

SAM has since urged the state government to investigate thoroughly and check if there was environmental impact assessments sent to the local authorities before given the all clear.

On Saturday, Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow warned errant developers to follow the law or risk having their projects put 'on hold'.

“Don’t jump the gun. Get the proper approval; wait for the approval to come then start work lah (sic).

“But this keeps happening you know. We do not welcome this kind of developer here,” he said.

Chow added submission of planning approvals was not akin to having permission to start work.

“There are various stages in obtaining planning permission. It (planning permission) does not give you the right to start work.

“Only the Commencement of Work certificate is the right document that allows you to start work. The others (approvals) do not allow you to start work,” he said.

Chow added that state government can put a hold on their plans if they wanted to.

“We can hold on to their plans, take them to court. As of now, I have not received any reports on the matter, so I will check and get back to you,” he said.

Over the past few years, rampant hill-clearing in Penang by landowners and developers have irked environment groups and nature loving Penangites.

In 2013, a football-field sized portion (0.8ha) of Bukit Relau facing the Penang Bridge was cleared. After a public outcry over the hilltop being cleared without the council's approval, the developers were fined. The hill has since earned the moniker Bukit Botak. Until today, the hill appears to be ‘bald’ despite works to replant trees at the area were underway.

Last June, Bukit Kukus, on the same range as Bukit Relau, was cleared. A land about the size of a football field was cleared close to the densely populated Taman Paya Terubong Jaya housing estate.

The area being cleared was 1,200 ft. above sea level, causing many to ask how anyone could have approved a development project at the site. The local authorities have since issued a stop-work order.

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Indonesia: Country Garden to launch Jakarta project this year

Lynette Khoo The Business Times AsiaOne 17 Mar 15;

Speculation was rife about how Country Garden's vast Forest City project on a man-made island in the Johor Straits near Tanjung Pelepas will proceed after the Malaysian government gave the go-ahead for the Chinese developer to build - but with conditions attached.

But while Country Garden will not be launching the Forest City project anytime soon, it is accelerating its pace elsewhere, said Liu Zhenyu, Country Garden's group deputy general manager of marketing centre and general manager of overseas strategy. The Hong Kong-listed developer is gunning for its first residential project in Indonesia this year. It is exploring some land sites in Jakarta where "the market is flourishing, unlike Singapore".

"We are already bidding for a site and given the shorter time-to-market there, we could launch a residential project this year," said Mr Liu in Mandarin. The site it is eyeing can yield some 1,000 units targeting the local population.

Country Garden is also interested to acquire a site in Surabaya, in East Java, as well as in Thailand, where it has set up a representative office to scour for opportunities.

It was reported in the Malaysian media in January that Country Garden's application to the Department of Environment to reclaim land for the Forest City project had been approved - but only for 405 hectares first instead of the original 1,600 ha. But Mr Liu told the Singapore media last Thursday that the group is still working out its plans for Forest City and can only release the details in the second half of the year. Neither would he confirm if part of the plan involves setting up a new CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine) complex with direct connection to the Second Link to Singapore.

"There is no announced figure on the actual land size yet," he said. "It will all depend on the environmental requirements. I hope the market will be patient to wait for the official announcement rather than speculate."

But Mr Liu stressed that the key point is not the delay of the Forest City project but rather the group's fulfilment of strict requirements laid down by the government before launching the project.

CGPV, the master developer of Forest City, is a 60-40 joint venture between Country Garden Holdings and Esplanade Danga 88, an associate company of the Johor state investment arm, Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor.

The mixed-development project, to be built on reclaimed land near the Second Link off Tuas in Singapore, has drawn some flak from both sides of the border for its potential environmental impact.

On its website, however, CGPV said it is "studying the requirements of setting up the new CIQ" and disclosed that the Department of Environment on Jan 9 approved its Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) for the Forest City project of 1,386.05 ha. The original land title area, which is currently under development, measures 1,978 ha.

Country Garden caught the market by surprise when it launched 9,000 condo units at its Danga Bay project in one go in 2013 - a scale not seen there before. It sold over 6,000 units as at end-2014 and a further 400 units so far this year at an average price of RM800 (S$300) per square foot. Mr Liu noted that there will be a minor upward price adjustment and hopes to sell another 1,000 units this year.

"If you expect Johor to enjoy strong infrastructural enhancements, greater connectivity with Singapore and having its Iskandar special economic zone more deeply entrenched, it will enjoy growth multiplication," Mr Liu said. "If there is growth multiplication, there is no problem for Johor to absorb the upcoming supply of homes."

He felt that while the mega-scale of its projects is uncommon in this part of the world, the market will come to understand over time that "the company is one that has thrived on large scale and efficiency".

Some 20-30 per cent of its buyers for Country Garden Danga Bay are Singaporeans, another 20-30 per cent are Chinese nationals, with the rest being Malaysians and Indonesians. Noting that sales have slowed, Mr Liu said the group is planning to start chartering daily coach trips between its Singapore sales gallery at Cecil Street and Danga Bay in two months' time.

The group will continue to participate actively in land tenders in Johor, he added. It is also exploring Kuala Lumpur after launching a project in Selangor called Diamond City, a 100-acre township of semi-detached houses and terraces styled in contemporary Spanish design. Some 90 per cent of the sales at Diamond City were sold to locals in phase one when it released 415 units. It will soon launch phase two with around 100 units.

Country Garden is the third-largest developer in China by floor area sold, according to Bloomberg. It is controlled by China's richest woman, Yang Huiyan, 33, after her father Yang Guoqiang transferred 70 per cent of his holdings in Country Garden to her in 2007 just before taking his firm public in Hong Kong.

Last year, Country Garden achieved a 20.1 per cent rise in net profit to 10.2 billion yuan (S$2.27 billion) on the back of a 34.8 per cent jump in revenue to 84.6 billion yuan. It contracted property sales of 128.8 billion yuan, a 21.5 per cent jump from a year ago.

- See more at:

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Vietnam: Forests disappear, seas depleted -- MONRE report

VietNamNet Bridge 16 Mar 15;

Vietnam’s economic development has heavily relied on natural resources, adversely affecting biodiversity due to unsustainable exploitation, according to a report from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE).

Disappearing species

Vietnam ranks 16th in the world in terms of biodiversity. It is one of 10 of the world's most diversified biodiversity centers with many different types of ecosystems and genetic sources. However, diversity is in danger because of unsustainable and poorly managed exploitation, an increase in population and rapid urbanization.

In 2007, Vietnam had 880 plant and animal species listed in the Red Book as endangered species. To date, 10 animal species have been recognized as extinct in the wild. Vietnam’s Java rhino, one of the two populations of rhinos left in the world, has been considered extinct since 2010.

Meanwhile, other rare and precious species are in danger due to illegal hunting and changes of habitat. Cement plants, which destroy lime stone mountains to get materials, have pushed Trachypithecus delacouri and Rhinopithecus out of their natural habitat.

The number of tigers, which live in natural sanctuaries, in Vietnam has fallen to 30. In the past, there were thousands of tigers in the country.

The underwater ecosystems have also suffered from human exploitation. Vietnam once took pride in its coral reefs in Co To, Quang Ninh province.

However, the reefs there have died since 2007. The coral reef area nationwide has decreased by 10 percent to 14,000 hectares, of which only 3 percent is still developing.

Hydropower plants

According to MONRE, more than 100,000 hectares of dipterocarp, an endemic ecosystem which exists in the Central Highlands, have been devastated to clear land for rubber plantations.

Meanwhile, mangrove forests have dropped from 400,000 hectares in 1943 to 130,000 hectares. People needing land for shrimp hatchery and aquaculture have cut down the trees.

The total forest area and forest coverage in the country has begun to increase, but the majority of the forests are planted ones, while the areas of forests rich in biodiversity have been decreasing rapidly and primitive forests have nearly disappeared.

Hydropower plants have been described as “evil geniuses” that threaten the country’s biodiversity. More than 800 hydropower plants have been and will be built as planned.

The actual number of hydropower plants could be even higher because many plants have been built though they are not listed in the national hydropower development program. The thirst for energy has been damaging ecosystems.


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UN report: Agriculture bears brunt of natural disasters

Mark Kinver BBC News 17 Mar 15;

Farmers in developing nations bear the "major brunt" of natural disasters yet only receive a small percentage of post-disaster aid, says a UN report.

The Food and Agriculture Organization assessment said the sector experienced almost a quarter of the cost of damage caused by natural disasters.

However, despite being vital for food security and livelihoods, it received less than 5% of post-disaster aid.

The study was published at the UN World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Delegates from the FAO also announced the launch of a facility that will focus on bringing together technical expertise and financial resources with the aim of building greater resilience within the agriculture sector to natural extreme weather events.

"Agriculture and all it encompasses is not only critical for our food supply, it also remains a main source of livelihoods across the planet," said FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva.

"While it is a sector at risk, agriculture also can be the foundation upon which we can build societies that are more resilient and better equipped to deal with disasters."

He added that building resilience among the global farming community was one of the FAO's top priorities.

'Information gap'

The FAO assessment said between 2003 and 2013, natural disasters and hazards in developing nations affected more than 1.9 billion people and the cost of the damage was estimated to be in excess of US $494bn.

However, the exact impact on the agricultural sector was unreported and "therefore unknown".

It observed: "There is a critical information gap in terms of the quantitative economic impact of disasters on agriculture and on the livelihoods and food security of the populations affected.

"FAO has undertaken a study to fill this information gap and to quantify - where possible - the impact of natural hazards on the agriculture sector in developing countries over the past decade."

Researchers based their assessment on 78 "post-disaster needs assessments" from 46 nations between 2003 and 2013.

The team's preliminary findings include:

=When droughts occur, the agriculture sector absorbs up to "84% of all economic impacts"
=Within the sector, 42% of assessed losses were to crops (flooding was responsible for 60% of the damage; storms were responsible for 23%)
=Livestock was the second worst-affected activity, accounting for 36% of the damage total
=Asia was the most affected region, with estimated losses in the region of US $28bn
=Africa was a close second, with losses of US $26bn

Mr Graziano de Silva said that he hoped the launch of the FAO's facility would help curb future losses.

"With this new effort, we are aiming to limit people's exposure to risk, avoid or reduce impacts where possible, and enhance preparedness to respond quickly when disasters occur," he explained.

Studies have suggested that for every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, two to four dollars are returned in terms of avoided or diminished impacts, he added.

The findings of the assessment and details of the FAO's new agriculture resilience facility were presented at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, currently being held in Sendai, Japan.

Speaking at the conference, Baldwin Lonsdale, president of Vanuatu, told delegates that the damage on the Pacific island nation caused by category five Cyclone Pam was "unprecedented".

"This is a major calamity for our country," he said. "Every year, we lose 6% of our GDP to disasters."

He described the disaster as a "major setback for the country's development".

"It will have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity, including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.

"The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels, in addition to five active volcanoes and earthquakes."

The conference is due to close on Wednesday with the expected adoption of an agreement on ways to reduce mortality and economic losses from disasters.

Agriculture bears major brunt of disaster impacts, new report says
FAO launches facility aimed at channeling technical expertise, financial resources towards resilience building
FAO 17 Mar 15;

17 March 2015, Sendai, Japan - Nearly a quarter of damages wrought by natural disasters on the developing world are borne by the agricultural sector according to initial results from a new FAO study released here today at the UN World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Organization also announced the launch of a special facility aimed at helping countries better equip their food production sectors to reduce risk exposure, limit impacts, and be better prepared to cope with disasters.

Twenty-two percent of all damages inflicted by natural hazards such as drought, floods storms or tsunamis are registered within the agriculture sector, FAO's analysis of 78 post-disaster needs assessments in 48 developing countries spanning the 2003-2013 period shows.

These damages and losses are often incurred by poor rural and semi-rural communities without insurance and lacking the financial resources needed to regain lost livelihoods. Yet only 4.5 percent of post-disaster humanitarian aid in the 2003-2013 period targeted agriculture.

FAO's 22 percent figure represents only damages reported via post-disaster risk assessments, so while indicative of scale, the actual impact is likely even higher. To arrive at a closer estimate of the true financial cost of disasters to developing world agriculture FAO compared decreases in yields during and after disasters with yield trends in 67 countries affected by (at least one) medium- to larger-scale events between 2003 and 2013.

The final tally: $70 billion in damages to crops and livestock over that 10 year period.

Asia was the most affected region, with estimated losses adding up to $28 billion, followed by Africa at $26 billion.

"Agriculture and all that it encompasses is not only critical for our food supply, it also remains a main source of livelihoods across the planet. While it is a sector at risk, agriculture also can be the foundation upon which we build societies that are more resilient and better equipped to deal with disasters," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

"This is why building resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises is one of FAO's top priorities," he added.

New facility for disaster risk reduction in agriculture

To help countries better prepare for and respond to disasters affecting agriculture, FAO today launched a new facility aimed at channeling technical support to where it is most needed. The facility will work to mainstream disaster risk reduction in agriculture at all levels through diverse activities.

"With this new effort, we are aiming to limit peoples' exposure to risks, avoid or reduce impacts where possible, and enhance preparedness to respond quickly when disasters occur," said Graziano da Silva.

Studies have shown that for every one dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, as much as four dollars are returned in terms of avoided or diminished impacts, he noted.

The work of the new facility will be guided by FAO's Framework Programme on Disaster Risk Reduction for Food and Nutrition Security.

Agriculture remains a key sector

Worldwide, the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture. These small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities generate more than half of global agricultural production and are particularly at risk from disasters that destroy or damage harvests, equipment, supplies, livestock, seeds, crops and stored food.

Beyond the obvious consequences on peoples' food security, the economies and development trajectories of entire regions and nations can be altered when disasters hit agriculture. The sector accounts for as much as 30 percent of national GDP in countries like Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, the Niger, among others.

There are also spill-over losses in agriculture-dependent subsectors, and significant consequences for trade flows. Countries surveyed experienced an increase in agriculture imports to the tune of $18.9 billion and a decrease in agriculture exports of $14.9 billion following natural disasters, between 2003 and 2013.

Key facts

From FAO's analysis of damages reported via needs assessments

Based only on reported damages in 78 post-disaster risk assessments, total damages of $140 billion reported (2003-2013) for all economic sectors - $30 billion of this were to agriculture (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries).
When droughts occur, agriculture absorbs up to 84 percent of all economic impacts.
Within the agricultural sector, 42 percent of assessed losses were to crops ($13 billion) - with floods the main culprit responsible for 60 percent of crop damages followed by storms (23 percent of crop damages).
Livestock is the second most affected subsector after crops, accounting for 36 percent of all damage and losses, for a total of $11 billion during the 2003-2013 period.
Out of the 78 disasters assessed, 45 involved impacts to the fisheries subsector ($1.7 billion, or 6 percent all damages born by the agricultural sector). The lion's share - 70 percent - was caused by tsunamis, typically infrequent events. Storms such as hurricanes and typhoons account for roughly 16 percent of the economic impact on fisheries, followed by floods (10 percent).
The forestry sector incurred $737 million in damages and losses, representing 2.4 percent of the total for the agricultural sector.
From FAO's expanded analysis

FAO compared decreases in yields during and after disasters with yield trends in 67 different countries affected by at least one medium- to larger-scale event between 2003 and 2013.
Based on this expanded analysis, losses and damages to crops and livestock over that period are estimated to total $70 billion. Data gaps mean the total is likely higher still.
82% of production losses were caused by drought (44 percent) and floods (39 percent).
Asia was the most affected region, with estimated losses adding up to $28 billion, followed by Africa at $26 billion.
In Africa, between 2003 and 2013 there were 61 drought years in Sub-Saharan Africa affecting 27 countries and 150 million people. FAO estimates that 77 percent of all agricultural production losses suffered worldwide due to drought occurred in those 27 Sub-Saharan countries, with losses adding up to $23.5 billion.

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