Best of our wild blogs: 31 Mar 15

Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Our World Water Day Celebration at Sungei Pandan Mangrove!
from News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

From Mandai to Bukit Panjang
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Crimson Sunbird feeding on nectar of Raffles Dischidia flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Big surprise in the greenhouse: study finds economic costs of climate change hugely underestimated
from news by Morgan Erickson-Davis

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Cleaning up Singapore’s act: Eugene Heng

Is Singapore really a ‘clean’ city? One man (and 400 volunteers) are making sure it is
Yahoo News Singapore undated, possibly late Mar 2015. This article is sponsored by AXA.

Eugene CH Heng has very strong opinions on the state of Singaporean cleanliness.

“Singapore is not clean. Singapore is cleaned,” insists the founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society (WWS).

From government housing estates to commercial areas like Orchard Road, the central business district and tourist spots – practically any area that’s popular — the city gets cleaned up by teams of hired hands that start work at 4am daily.

Eugene was a high-powered banker for 33 years before starting WWS, along with 27 other concerned citizens. The non-government and non-profit special volunteer group advocate a clean and green environment. It brings together like-minded people to monitor, restore and protect the aesthetics of Singapore’s waterways. It specifically keeps an eye on the Marina Reservoir area in the southeastern end and, recently, the Punggol and Serangoon Reservoir in the northeastern part of Singapore. Today, WWS has over 400 volunteers who are supporting its various initiatives.

On top of its green agenda is educating and engaging the public on how seemingly small acts – like leaving an empty plastic bag, or soda cans lying around – can pile up and become a colossal problem with severe consequences if left unchecked.

“We really cannot afford that. That’s not sustainable,” says Eugene.

While cleaners are required for general areas, Eugene stresses that the bulk of the task of keeping the environment tidy should rest on all of us, young and old.

“It’s common sense. It’s not rocket science. Prevention is better than cure,” he continues.

Safeguarding the reservoir

There are 17 reservoirs in Singapore. WWS mainly operates in the Marina Reservoir, Singapore’s 15th, and the first inside the city. Its 10,000-hectare catchment (about one-sixth of Singapore’s total land area) is the biggest of all.

The Marina Reservoir serves as a lifestyle pull. People can enjoy year-round watersports pursuits like kayaking, sailing, waterskiing. It’s also a scenic backdrop for recreational land-based activities including picnics, cultural shows and walking tours.

“The Marina Reservoir is a source of collecting drinking water from the drains and the canals. That’s the part that a lot of citizens don’t understand. They still think that the drains are placed for them to throw things so that they can be discarded and washed away. But it’s not!” says Eugene.

Every day 10 tonnes (10,000 kg) of waste and litter flow into the Marina Reservoir from all the canals. Majority of the litter are discarded plastic bags, plastic bottles and soda cans – stuff that could have been easily thrown in rubbish bins or even recycled. While hired workers do the cleanup job, WWS volunteers supplement the effort by picking up litter scattered all over the area and, more importantly, raising awareness of the problem by educating the public.

The best way to stop pollution is at its source – people.

“Isn’t it better for us to internalize and behave the way we’re supposed to behave? We’re not asking for people to go out of their way to do something special. It’s just good social behavior and awareness,” stresses a frustrated Eugene.

Education is key. Eugene says that Singapore has emphasised so much on earning good money and living well that apathy seems to have eroded people’s sense of social responsibility.

“While it’s good to be successful in life, one also has to understand the need for social grace and kindness. We need to behave and be responsible for the surroundings that we are in, more so our environment. And you can only do that if you’re aware of the challenges ahead. Then you begin to appreciate and not take things for granted,” says Eugene, who has spent his weekends, along with WWS volunteers, rooting for rubbish along Singapore’s waterways for the past 16 years.

WWS has regular initiatives that go beyond supervision and patrol. Eugene has spearheaded many activities– such as International Coastal Clean-Up Day (Marina), Youth Bicycle Patrol, Kayak Clean-Up and the River Monster Programme – that are targeted mainly at primary and secondary school students.

In addition to his on-site work with WWS, Eugene and his team of dedicated volunteers conduct workshops and school talks (an average of one a day) to demonstrate the impact of litter and pollution on the environment, educating students, corporations and even foreign visitors.

"In our talks and workshops, we tell people, ‘You think Singapore is clean? It’s not.’ We hope to shock people, to make them ask why it’s not," he says.

Sense of achievement

Tan YanPing joined WWS five years ago as a student volunteer. After earning a business degree from the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) last year, she chose to work part-time with WWS and teach at a private kindergarten school instead of chasing a high-paying job.

“I don’t want to be stuck in the office and not know what’s going on (in the outside world),” she says.

YanPing, 25, feels that working for WWS gives her a sense of achievement and pride.

“It’s passion for volunteer work that keeps me going (because) if you compare the salary to outside companies, it’s definitely lower,” she says without a tinge of regret.

WWS is a growing NGO, so youngsters like her, she believes, have a chance to change habits and perceptions by working towards a common goal – keep the waterways clean.

Being able to educate the youth, especially children as young as kindergarten age, on the perils of not caring for the environment is important to her.

“We try to show them ways to be more socially responsible for the environment. We share with them water stories (mostly through pictures) about the reservoirs in Singapore and how humans impact our environment and our waterways,” she says. “We also use more games and take them (on short trips) to see for themselves whether Singapore is clean.”

She hopes that by emphasising habit-forming solutions like practicing the three Rs (Reuse, Reduce and Recycle) as well as picking up their own litter, and not being dependent on cleaners will allow them to be more aware of their carbon footprint.

She shares Eugene’s sentiment that cleanliness is not inherent in Singapore. Residents want a clean environment but they’re just not interested or concerned to do their part.

“We always see a lot of litter on the streets (scattered) around dustbins. They can’t be bothered to even throw litter inside the dustbin,” continues YanPing, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in education. “This is a classic example of how inconsiderate people can get.”

Prevention is better than cure

Of late, WWS has been tasked to be the watchdog for the Punggol Reservoir and its surroundings. Punggol was once a rural district dotted with farmhouses, poultry and pig farms. Under the government’s Punggol 21-Plus plan (a.k.a. Punggol New Town), there are plans to develop the area into a residential waterfront housing estate. An estimated 50,000 residents are expected to move in and live there, literally, by the side of the 4.2-km Punggol waterways.

Currently, WWS volunteers are on boat patrol, bike patrol and kayak patrol to monitor the surroundings and pick up rubbish.

“The potential problem we see is the people. The more people you have around there’s always a strong likelihood you’ll sight more litter. Our challenge again is: will they behave and appreciate what they have, or are they just all going to enjoy and leave their litter behind? It’s quite a scary thought,” says Eugene.

Eugene hopes that with WWS’ presence in Punggol, residents will be encouraged to take greater pride in looking after their district, not only their houses but also the surrounding parks, shopping centres and other communal places they all enjoy.

“The government cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone,” he says. “The least you could do is not contribute to litter. It goes back to the philosophy prevention is better than cure. Because at the end of it, everyone benefits.”

By Debbie Reyes-Coloma

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Tickets to see rare dinosaur skeletons go on sale

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

Those who want to be among the first to see the rare dinosaur skeletons at the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum can now book tickets.

Singapore's first and only dedicated natural history museum will open its doors on April 28, and tickets go on sale in advance from today.

They will not be on sale at the door but only via ticketing agent Sistic.

This is to help with crowd control, as only up to 300 guests are allowed in for each of the six daily sessions at the museum, which is located next to the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Tickets cost up to $20 for adults and $12 for children aged three to 12. For Singaporeans and permanent residents, tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children.

Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new museum.

Prince and Apollo are adults and Twinky is a baby. They were found together and could well be a family.

Prince is the biggest at 4m tall and 27m long, while Twinky is the smallest at 12m long.

The museum acquired them in 2011 from Dinosauria International, a Wyoming-based fossil company that found the remains between 2007 and 2010 in Ten Sleep, a town in the American state.

The skeletons are more than 80 per cent complete - a rarity as far as dinosaur discoveries go.

In all, visitors will get to see 2,000 specimens, including leopard cats that have undergone taxidermy and a rare 200-year- old tusk of a narwhal, a marine mammal known as the "unicorn of the ocean".

The opening of the 7,500 sq m museum will bring to fruition more than five years of labour by NUS professors Leo Tan and Peter Ng, who led efforts to build such a facility and helped to raise $46 million for it in 2010.

The building fund came largely from the Lee Foundation, which gave $25 million.

Before 2010, there had long been calls for Singapore to have its own stand-alone natural history museum to showcase its rich natural heritage, especially after animal and plant exhibits from the old National Museum made way for art and ethnographic displays.

At the new natural history museum, a 2,000 sq m space open to the public will house a biodiversity gallery and a heritage gallery.

The main biodiversity gallery, where the dinosaur skeletons are located, takes up the first floor. It is arranged thematically and will have sections on marine cycles, mammals and fungi.

While the museum has a strong South-east Asian focus, the prehistoric era when dinosaurs roamed the earth is not neglected, said museum curator Marcus Chua, 31. "The dinosaurs and model of the dodo in the museum are reminders of extinction."

Not all of the museum's exhibits are extinct or dead - there will be live scorpions in the biodiversity gallery's arthropod section and mudskippers in the fish section.

Visitors can observe animals rarely encountered in the wild in a naturalistic setting, said Mr Chua.

Just above the biodiversity hall is the heritage gallery, which showcases the pioneers of Singapore's nature scene, such as ornithologist Guy Charles Madoc - a Briton who illicitly completed An Introduction To Malayan Birds while incarcerated at Changi Prison during World War II.

NUS life sciences undergraduate Randolph Quek, 24, cannot wait to see the dinosaur skeletons.

"As an ecology student, I also want to check out the other specimens," he said.

"Apart from watching documentaries, the museum is a good way to get people aware of the biodiversity we have here."

What visitors need to know

Opening hours
10am to 7pm from Tuesdays to Sundays, and on all public holidays

Standard rates
Adult: $20
Child (three to 12 years old): $12

Local resident rates (Singaporeans and PRs)
Adult: $15
Child (three to 12 years old), student, senior citizen, full-time national serviceman, person with disabilities: $8
NUS staff and students: Free. Admission subject to availability, prior booking must be made on a website which will be set up.

Tickets can be bought up to one month in advance and will be sold only through Sistic at or at authorised counters.
Tickets will not be sold at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
Tickets are sold for 1½ -hour sessions, starting from 10am.

Last admission is at 5.30pm.
Selfie sticks are not allowed in the museum.

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum will open its doors on April 28 and tickets go on sale from today via Sistic. Visitors will be able to see Prince, Apollo and Twinky, the trio of 150 million-year-old diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons that are the stars of the new facility.

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Former islanders ask to return to Pulau Sudong for a day

Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

An aerial view of Pulau Sudong, whose bountiful waters once provided a livelihood for the villagers and fishermen who lived there.

For about 150 former islanders from Pulau Sudong, their dying wish is to return to its sandy shores and breathe in the familiar salty air of the sea once again.

These Singaporeans, who grew up on the island and largely depended on its bountiful waters for their livelihood, left for the mainland when it was turned into a military zone for live-firing exercises in the 1980s.

Last month, the former islanders, many of whom are in their 60s and 70s, signed a petition to indicate their desire to return home for a day.

It was sent to their MP, Mr S. Iswaran, earlier this month. Most of them have lived in the West Coast since the late 1970s, after the Government rehoused them in Housing Board flats there.

On Wednesday, Mr Iswaran said he had done an informal check with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) and found that there could be safety concerns. "Nevertheless, I have conveyed the request to Mindef for consideration and reply," he said.

Mindef told The Straits Times that it received the petition the same day, and it is "evaluating the request".

Its spokesman added: "Pulau Sudong is a restricted military training area used for live firing and manoeuvring. (The) public is advised to keep clear of this island for safety concerns."

Former resident Awang Chekek, 63, misses the island way of life. The last time he was in Pulau Sudong was in 1978, he said.

In its heyday, the island was home to hundreds of villagers, according to some researchers. Residents lived in stilted kampung homes that snaked across the shoreline of the 209ha isle.

Mr Awang said it is hard to forget their days as fishermen. He said: "If we had the chance to step on the island again, everyone would be very happy."

Photographers Edwin Koo, 36, Zakaria Zainal, 30, and Juliana Tan, 25, helped the former islanders put the petition together.

The trio are doing a project called Island Nation, which documents life on 12 of Singapore's Southern Islands.

They approached Mindef in January for permission to film a documentary featuring a handful of former islanders for their irememberSG fund project.

Subsequently, they found out through their interactions with islanders such as Mr Awang that many yearn to return to their old home.

The photographers then drew up a list of former island dwellers and organised a reunion for them on West Coast beach last month, where they signed the petition after a day of catching up and reminiscing.

The Island Nation team later sent the petition to Mr Iswaran. In their e-mail to him, the team also attached an endorsement letter from the Singapore Memory Project requesting access to Pulau Sudong.

Mr Koo said: "Most of the islanders are resigned to their fate... but we hope we can help them fulfil their wish, to have Pulau Sudong opened up to them just for a day.

"We are also requesting to document their journey, to complete our history annals."

Speaking in Malay, former islander Rosli Manan, 51, said in an interview with the trio that he hopes Mindef can grant their request. "We hope they will agree... even if it's for just two to three hours... I would get to step on the island again after 38 years."

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Deep-sea robots set to make waves

The Straits Times AsiaOne 31 Mar 15;

The stingray glides gently through the water, propelled by flexible wings. But much as it looks like the real thing, this prototype is actually a $1,000 robot developed to collect data on the surroundings, including water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen.

Our waters could soon be monitored by such stingrays, and other fleets of robots that roam the sky and sea, to study climate change better or help prevent the deadly algae blooms which have been plaguing local fish farmers.

The idea is to provide constant surveillance of the seas at low cost, using little energy.

The stingrays, for instance, could be equipped with sensors and deployed in large numbers to help detect harmful algae blooms and measure their chemistry. Getting such data would help scientists to better understand the deadly blooms and find ways to mitigate their effects.

"That is better because instead of having information once a month for a couple of hours, you can have a constant data stream over a period of time," says Dr Pablo Valdivia y Alvarado, the lead researcher behind the stingray.

The stingray's ability to move in a wave-like motion also causes less disturbance in the water.

"We hope to understand the environment as it is, so the less disturbance we inflict while measuring the water, the better," he explains.

Data about the oceans is usually gathered by satellites, buoys and research ships, but such methods can be expensive. So countries around the world are experimenting with drones, which can work around the clock - and cheaply - to provide information on marine life.

The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart), which is developing the robots, recently came up with one inspired by the octopus and its jet propulsion swimming technique.

Made from a strong polycarbonate skeleton covered by a thin elastic membrane, the 27cm-long robot fills with water and shoots it out to propel itself.

It can travel at up to 2.7 metres per second (10kmh) with minimum energy and turbulence.

Professor Michael Triantafyllou, a principal investigator at Smart's Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modeling, led the research.

When studying plankton blooms, he notes, it is important that marine robots can move quickly in water.

"The plankton can move swiftly with the currents at sea. That's why we want to invent robots that can move faster so they can follow the algae blooms."

The speed and movement of the stingray and octopus could be incorporated into existing underwater vehicles and kayaks in two years, he believes.

"We know now the laws of physics to go about doing it."

He estimates that it will be five more years before these vehicles can go out into the ocean.

Understanding the science behind algae blooms has become particularly important.

While some of them produce toxins that can kill, others discolour water, foul beaches, or cause drinking water and fish to taste bad.
Yet others clog the gills of fish or smother corals and vegetation.

Such blooms, which are difficult to predict and can explode at any time, have wiped out fish stocks in Singapore several times in recent years. This includes a particularly serious hit last month, which wiped out more than 500 tonnes of fish in farms off Changi and Lim Chu Kang.

Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute has used Smart's robots to collect data on harmful algae blooms, and is working with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore on another study to understand plankton blooms.

The octopus robot is so fast it can also be used to follow dolphins for quick observation, or even inspect thermal vents safely in the mid-ocean ridges, says Prof Triantafyllou.

A research engineer at the environmental centre, Mr Vignesh Subramaniam, says: "Currently, no autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) can achieve this ultra-fast performance except for torpedoes which require a lot of fuel... Future AUVs and other marine vehicles can adopt this mechanism to help them evade threats or track something fast and stealthily underwater without the need for much energy."

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Malaysia wants regional push against wildlife trafficking

The Star 31 Mar 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia is setting the groundwork for an Asean push against wildlife trafficking during its tenure as chairman of the regional grouping.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said international collaboration was needed in tackling the trafficking of endangered and protected wildlife, which had become increa­singly linked to other illegal activities affecting security and stability.

“This is not a problem impacting just one country or region. It is a global scourge,” he said after launching the first Asean workshop on combating wildlife trafficking at Tuaran near here yesterday.

The three-day meeting, he said, was the first of its kind under the Asean Regional Forum – Asia’s biggest security gathering – and would provide for sustained political support in tackling wildlife trafficking.

It is also among seven initiatives that Malaysia is co-hosting to address non-traditional security challenges affecting the region, including humanitarian assistance, disaster response as well as combating terrorism and extremism.

“We need to collaborate. One country increasing its assets in tackling this problem is not enough.

“This forum brings experts together. We want them to tell us what needs to be done,” added Anifah.

On Chief Judge of Borneo Tan Sri Richard Malanjum’s suggestion for stiffer penalties against poachers and wildlife traffickers, Anifah said he agreed with it.

“But at the same time, we have to recognise that despite harsh penalties such as the death sentence for drug trafficking, the problem still persists. We need to tackle this comprehensively,” he said.

This was the first such forum, said Anifah, that Malaysia was collaborating with the United States, which was represented by its Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment Catherine Novelli.

Also present was US Ambassador Joseph Yun.

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Indonesia and Malaysia compete over joint office for haze

Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post 31 Mar 15;

Indonesia is in a race with Malaysia for leadership of the upcoming ASEAN secretariat that will coordinate efforts to reduce transboundary air pollution caused by land and forest fires in the region.

“We are competing with Malaysia over this center. We want it to be here instead of in Kuala Lumpur,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told the House of Representatives Commission IV on Monday.

During the meeting with the commission, which oversees agriculture, plantations, maritime affairs, fisheries and food, Siti assured lawmakers the Indonesian government was making all the necessary preparations for gaining approval to host the center from all ASEAN countries.

“We have also asked the Foreign Ministry to help in the effort,” she said.

The government’s proposal quickly gained support at the House due to the benefits it would bring to the country’s efforts to battle haze.

The establishment of the ASEAN coordinating center on transboundary haze pollution is required by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that Indonesia ratified in September last year.

As the last signatory, the government proposed to take charge of the joint secretariat that will coordinate information, reports and policies needed to address the problems raised by transboundary haze pollution in the region.

Indonesia adopted the decades-old haze treaty following pressure from neighboring countries over serial forest fires on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, which got worse in June last year due to the spread of haze caused by land clearing in Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia.

The agreement was originally initiated as a response to an environmental crises in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s that caused estimated losses of US$9 billion due to health care problems, disruption of air travel and other business activities.

Before Indonesia finally ratified the treaty, Singapore, which has experienced the worsening impact of haze on its citizens and businesses, also increased its efforts to curb rampant haze and forest fires by introducing a law that punishes companies responsible for forest fires and spreading haze to the country.

Environment and Forestry Ministry’s deputy for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, said Indonesia would be greatly benefited by hosting the coordinating center.

“We would eventually be able to develop our own center to handle forest fires at home due to the transfer of information, data and expertise inherited by the joint center,” he said.

Arief added that the ASEAN coordinating center would be located at the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s headquarters in West Jakarta.

Upon the establishment of the center, the haze treaty requires signatory countries to jointly finance its operations through fundraising.

Arief added that as host of the center, Indonesia would be required to provide the overhead funds.

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Indonesia: Cracks in Jakarta's sea wall project

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 30 Mar 15;

EACH morning, crab-catcher Cartum, who goes by a single name, warily eyes the scaffolding of a dyke under construction at the edge of Jakarta Bay as he climbs into his boat to head out to sea.

The dyke on the city's northern edge marks the start of a giant sea wall the Jakarta authorities hope will tame rising sea levels and ease annual flooding in the low-lying city of 18 million people.

Not everyone is happy about the sea wall, which is estimated to cost more than 300 trillion rupiah (S$31.6 billion) once completed. It will be Indonesia's most expensive development project, combining roads, bridges and reclamation for residential and business areas.

Fishermen like Mr Cartum, 33, say they will have to go farther out to sea and spend more on diesel once it is completed.

"If they don't go ahead, it's good for me," he said during a recent interview at his home.

Well, he may get some respite.

The fate of the sea wall is now uncertain after Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister Susi Pudjiastuti stepped in to say the project initiated by the Jakarta municipal government needs her endorsement.

She also wants a guarantee that construction of the dam and reclaimed areas will be completed. Some say the scheme is economically not feasible.

The 34km sea wall and reclamation will cover 5,100ha and, viewed from a plane, would resemble the giant mythical Garuda bird, a central feature of Indonesia's national emblem.

The outer wall and reclamation along it will resemble wings, while reclaimed land in the centre will be the body and tail of the bird.

In total, 17 artificial islets and several lagoons will be created.

Urban planning analyst Yayat Supriatna said since this project is within a coastal area, Ms Susi's ministry must give its consent. "Otherwise, the project would be legally flawed," he said.

The standoff between the national and local governments risks the sea wall ending up like several other major infrastructure projects in which construction has either ground to a halt, such as the monorail in central Jakarta, or shelved after years of discussion, such as the 30km Sunda Strait Bridge to link Java and Sumatra islands.

Observers say the sea wall is different and is seen as an urgent fix for the Indonesian capital, which is becoming more vulnerable to rising seas and flooding every year. The city is also sinking in some areas because of large-scale ground water extraction.

The weight of large numbers of high-rise buildings is pressing down on the soft soil on which the city is built, making it harder for rivers to flow freely to the sea.

"Jakarta is sinking fast. North Jakarta is sinking at a speed of 7.5cm per year, in some locations more than 26cm per year," Mr Ad Sannen, a senior consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch firm providing technical assistance for the project, told The Straits Times.

"Most of North Jakarta is already below sea level. In 25 years' time, the streets will be several metres below sea level."

Jakarta is criss-crossed by 13 rivers. During the monsoon season, some rivers burst their banks, flooding densely populated communities. The sea wall is meant to prevent coastal flooding and aid the drainage of the rivers into a series of artificial lagoons.

Pumps will keep the water in the lagoons at a lower level than the sea outside the wall, allowing the rivers to flow more freely through the city.

Some have voiced concerns the lagoons would become heavily polluted from the dirty, litter-strewn river water.

But Mr Imam Santoso, director of rivers and beaches at the Public Works Ministry, told The Straits Times that the floodwaters would be filtered before entering the lagoons. "Otherwise, it would be a total mess."

Engineers say greater efforts are needed to clean up the rivers before the water reaches the coast.

Mr Sannen said drainage canals and Jakarta Bay are filled with very thick layers of contaminated sludge. "One strategy is to do waste-water treatment, at the same time as dredging work."

And if water quality in the lagoons becomes a problem, then they could be aerated and flushed out with clean water from the sea by opening a series of gates, he added.

The idea of a giant sea wall was first mooted in 1994 by former Jakarta governor Soerjadi Soedirdja, but it has taken two decades for construction to begin because of problems with funding and land-clearance licences.

Seven private real estate giants have been granted building permits by the Jakarta government for the project.

The municipal government will get 5 per cent of every square metre of reclaimed land created by the private developers, and has promised to set aside that amount for building housing for fishermen and other social projects.

"The ministry's main concern is that the welfare of the thousands of fishermen in the area will not be affected and that there must be a plan for these fishermen if they have to be relocated," said Mr Yayat.

Green groups have also expressed concerns.

Mr Mukri Priatna, a national campaign manager at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, offered an alternative solution: Go back to nature and plant mangroves.

"If they are so insistent on having a concrete wall and posh residential areas, then their objective is money, not building a coastal flood-defence system as they claimed," he told The Straits Times.

The frustrated Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama told reporters: "When a minister and a provincial governor have a disagreement, what should we do? I will propose the President step in and make the decision."

Mr Yayat doubts President Joko Widodo can break the impasse as he, too, has to comply with laws.

At present, only a 70m section of the 5m-high dyke in Pluit sub-district of north Jakarta has been built. If the impasse is not resolved, its scaffolding could join other symbols of failed projects.

For some, the giant sea wall is the answer to easing their annual flood misery.

Ms Tri Asih, 40, a mother with two daughters who lives near the coast, said: "That would guarantee we would not see floods for decades ahead."

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Vietnam: Ca Mau people plant trees to patch sea dykes

Ca Mau residents are planting trees to reinforce sea dykes to deal with climate change.
VietNamNet Bridge 30 Mar 15;

Ca Mau province suffers most from climate change. The locality faces the sea on three sides with a total coastline of 254 kilometers, which is equal to 1/3 of the total coastline of the Mekong River Delta.

The land erosion tends to become more serious in recent years, which has made the coastal protective forests become more narrow.

The land at the mouth of the My Binh rivulet in Phu Tan Commune of Phu Tan District has seriously eroded. The sea waves now can crash onto the foot of the dyke.

Many mangrove trees have been uprooted, lying on the ground, while land has been “swallowed” day by day by sea water.

Local residents said the land area would go away with the “sea-gods” soon.

Landslides occur with most of the estuaries. Tran Anh Le, who lives near the Cai Cam sea mouth, said the danger of landslides is hanging over her head, but she still does not know where to go.

Tran Van Tu in Tan Thuan Commune of Dam Doi District said the situation was also very bad on the east coast.

“Locals have been leaving their homes over the last five years,” he said. “The situation is better in Dong Hai of Bac Lieu province, where dykes have been strengthened.”

A survey conducted recently by the Ca Mau provincial Irrigation Sub-department showed that coastal erosion is serious in four areas with a total length of 40 kilometers.

Ca Mau provincial authorities have been trying to build dykes to prevent sea waves to prevent the landslide.

However, as the dykes are built with locally existing materials, they cannot bring the designed effects. The dykes can deteriorate within several years of establishment.

Nguyen Long Hoai, head of the Ca Mau provincial Irrigation Sub-department, said the province had been trying to settle the problem with a new dyke system.

About 300 meters of underground dykes have been built on a trial basis in U Minh District. The dyke can prevent waves from a long distance, while allowing sea water to bring alluvium into the area beyond the dyke, thus enriching the soil.

He said the trial plan has brought initial satisfactory results. Mam trees, or Avicennia spp, have been restored very rapidly, helping repair the landslide and restore the coastal protective forests.

The provincial authorities are now trying to speed up the construction of dykes on the eastern and western coasts, at the most critical points with a total length of 10 kilometers.

Thien Nhien

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Vietnam rice boom heaping pressure on farmers, environment

Cat Barton AFP Yahoo News 29 Mar 15;

Rice farmer Nguyen Hien Thien is so busy growing his crops that he has never even visited Can Tho, a town only a few miles from his farm in the southern Mekong Delta.

"When I was a child, we grew one crop of rice per year -- now it's three. It's a lot of work," 60-year-old Thien, who has been farming since he was a child, told AFP on the edge of his small paddy field.

Experts say Vietnam's drive to become one of the world's leading rice exporters is pushing farmers in the fertile delta region to the brink, with mounting costs to the environment.

The communist country is already the world's second largest exporter of the staple grain. But intensive rice cultivation, particularly the shift to producing three crops per year, is taking its toll on farmers and the ecosystem.

"Politicians want to be the world's number one or two rice exporter. As a scientist, I want to see more being done to protect farmers and the environment," said Vietnamese rice expert Vo Tong Xuan.

A major famine in 1945 and food shortages in the post-war years led to the government adopting a "rice first" policy.

This now generates far more of the crop than needed to feed Vietnam's 90 million population and has catalysed a thriving export industry.

Rice yields have nearly quadrupled since the 1970s, official figures show, thanks to high-yield strains and the construction of a network of dykes that today allow farmers to grow up to three crops per year.

The amount of land under cultivation in the Mekong Delta has also expanded and quotas are in place to prevent farmers from switching to other crops.

But experts are questioning who really benefits.

According to Xuan, farmers don't reap the rewards of the three crop system -- the rice is low quality and they spend more on pesticides and fertilisers, which become less effective year by year.

- Falling quality -

He argues the delta would be better off if farmers cultivated a more diverse range of crops, from coconuts to prawns, with just the most suitable land used to grow rice.

The country should consider abandoning the third crop and focus on improving quality and branding to sell Vietnamese rice at higher prices, he said.

Currently, the bulk of Vietnam's rice is exported at cut-price costs on government-to-government contracts through large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like the Southern Food Corporation, known as Vinafood 2.

"Over the last five years, the trend is towards lower-quality rice," admitted Le Huu Trang, deputy office manager at the firm.

Some argue that such SOEs have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as they earn lucrative kickbacks from the huge contracts.

But even as salt water intrusion, drought and flooding increase in the delta -- to say nothing of agricultural chemical pollution -- it is also hard to convince farmers to change.

"The prevailing mindset is to grow three crops... we have to explain two crops is better," said Nguyen Tuan Hiep from the Co Do Agriculture company.

Over the last 20 years, Co Do -- which is state-run but a flagship model of how the industry could evolve -- has identified the best rice-growing land in the delta and helped farmers expand their farms.

They now work with 2,500 families on 5,900 hectares (14,600 acres) of land, enough for each family to make a living -- typically the average rice farm in the delta spans less than one hectare.

The firm invests heavily in high-quality seeds and improving irrigation, while also advising farmers on the best chemicals to use.

"Two crops is more sustainable long term -- the soil is not degraded, the environment isn't polluted, and value of the rice increases," Hiep said.

- 'Ground zero' -

Climate change is another factor threatening the delta, according to the World Bank Group's vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte.

"This is really ground zero for some of the most difficult adaptation, planning challenges that any country in the world has," she said.

Ultimately Vietnam has tough choices to make, including whether to help people transition from a rice-based economy to aquaculture (fish or shellfish farming) or other crops, Kyte added.

The environmental costs of maintaining Vietnam's current level of rice production are also rising.

The system of dykes, which blocks flood water, are preventing soil nutrients from flowing freely and over time "soil fertility will fade", said Tran Ngoc Thac, deputy director of Vietnam's Rice Research Institute.

Scientists there are busy trying to breed new strains of rice that require fewer fertilisers and can survive in extreme weather.

"If farmers don't change, if we can't find a suitable new rice strain, pollution will continue and incomes will drop," Thac said, adding these measures were essential to save the delta.

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Despite deforestation, the world is getting greener: scientists

Alisa Tang PlanetArk 31 Mar 15;

The world's vegetation has expanded, adding nearly 4 billion tonnes of carbon to plants above ground in the decade since 2003, thanks to tree-planting in China, forest regrowth in former Soviet states and more lush savannas due to higher rainfall.

Scientists analyzed 20 years of satellite data and found the increase in carbon, despite ongoing large-scale tropical deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, according to research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change.

Carbon flows between the world's oceans, air and land. It is present in the atmosphere primarily as carbon dioxide (CO2) - the main climate-changing gas - and stored as carbon in trees.

Through photosynthesis, trees convert carbon dioxide into the food they need to grow, locking the carbon in their wood.

The 4-billion-tonne increase is minuscule compared to the 60 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning and cement production over the same period, said Yi Liu, the study's lead author and a scientist at the University of New South Wales.

"From this research, we can see these plants can help absorb some carbon dioxide, but there's still a lot of carbon dioxide staying in the atmosphere," Liu said by telephone from Sydney.

"If we want to stabilize the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - and avoid the consequent impacts - it still requires us to reduce fossil fuel emissions."

Liu, who specializes in observing the water cycle including rainfall and soil moisture, used a new technique of collecting satellite data on radio frequency radiation naturally emitted by the Earth to calculate the amount of vegetation in a given area.

Before, scientists measured vegetation through satellite images and other techniques, looking at canopy greenness and plant height, he said.

Liu had expected to find increased forests in China, which has had tree-planting projects for two to three decades, as well as on abandoned farmland in former Soviet countries.

But he was surprised to discover the large expansion in vegetation due to higher rainfall on tropical savannas and shrublands in Australia, Africa and South America.

These fragile gains may be easily lost, as weather patterns shift with climate change, he warned.

"Savannas and shrublands are vulnerable to rainfall - one year can be very wet, and more carbon will be fixed in plants, but the next year can be very dry, and then we will lose the carbon fixed in previous years," Liu explained.

Louis Verchot, a research director at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, said Liu's findings were "by and large what we would expect in the warmer and wetter world that results from climate change".

"As ice and permafrost melt, they are being replaced by vegetation, and the tree line is moving north as the Arctic warms," he said by email.

Vegetation growth is also expected to increase due to rising CO2 in the atmosphere, known as the "CO2 fertilization effect".

Verchot said the value of Liu's study was that it put a number on the contribution of vegetation to moderating greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.

"Hopefully this will lead to greater efforts to stop tropical forest loss and to promote sustainable use of ecosystems in ways that preserve enough of the carbon absorption function as we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning," Verchot added.

(Editing by Megan Rowling)

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Climate change could disturb marine life for millennia

AFP Yahoo News 31 Mar 15;

Miami (AFP) - Climate change may lead to disturbances in marine life that will take thousands of years to recover from, not hundreds of years as previously thought, researchers said Monday.

The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is based on a section of fossilized ocean fauna found on the seafloor off the coast of California dating to between 3,400 and 16,100 years ago.

Researchers sliced up the sediment like a cake for a before-and-after glimpse of how creatures were affected by climate change during the last major deglaciation, when polar ice caps melted abruptly and low oxygen zones expanded in the ocean.

Ice melt and ocean dead zones are an increasing concern today, as scientists study the warming planet and trends that are driven by the burning of fossil fuels that send greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Researchers analyzed more than 5,400 invertebrate fossils, such as sea urchins and clams, and found that they "nearly disappeared from the record during those times of low oxygen," according to the study.

Levels of oxygen in the ocean dropped by between 0.5 and 1.5 milliliters per liter over a period of less than 100 years, a relatively minor changes that resulted in "dramatic changes and reorganizations for seafloor communities," the study said.

Climate change in the future could have similar effects, and could take a similar time scale for ocean life to rebound, on the order of thousands, not hundreds of years, the researchers said.

"There's not a recovery we have to look forward to in my lifetime or my grandchildren's lifetime," said lead author Sarah Moffitt, a scientist from the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute at the University of California, Davis.

"It's a gritty reality we need to face as scientists and people who care about the natural world and who make decisions about the natural world."

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