Best of our wild blogs: 2 Apr 15

Dance of the Painted Jezebel
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Scarlet skimmer feeding
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Parts of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to open to public on weekends

Syahida Othman, Channel NewsAsia 1 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: Parts of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) will be open to the public from this Saturday (Apr 4). This follows the completion of phase one of restoration works, after the Reserve was closed in September last year.

Nature lovers can on weekends enter the Reserve via Hindhede Nature Park. They can only use the Main Road to reach the Summit, which will be open from 7am to 6pm, on weekends only. The last admission to the Reserve is at 5pm.

The trail repair works on the Summit Path will allow visitors to choose steps of two different heights, according to their needs. Members of the public are also advised to keep to the designated route.

However, the reserve remains inaccessible through Dairy Farm Nature Park as trail repair works are ongoing at Dairy Farm Loop.

The public are also advised to take public transport when visiting BTNR as there are limited parking lots on site due to the restoration works in progress. Restrooms will be in operation during opening hours on the weekends.


NParks says slope stabilisation works between Keruing Hut and Simpang Hut, as well as trail repair works at Summit Path, are complete. Visitors will be able to hike up to the Summit via the Main Road and Summit Path on weekends.

These works complete the first phase of two-year long efforts at BTNR to stabilise three slope sections, restore the trails and forest, and upgrade visitor amenities including the Visitor Centre.

Phase two of the BTNR project includes slope stabilisation at two other locations, trail repairs and enhancement of visitor amenities including the Visitor Centre. According to National Parks, these are progressing as scheduled and will take another 18 months to complete.

With limited access to the Reserve, members of the public can experience nature at other locations in the vicinity such as Dairy Farm Nature Park, Pang Sua Park Connectors and Rail Corridor. Free guided walks at alternative locations, including Bukit Batok Nature Park and Singapore quarry are also available. These guided walks take place once a month on a first-come, first-served basis.

More information is available on the National Parks website:

- CNA/eg

Part of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to reopen to public on weekends
Today Online 1 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE — Nature lovers will be able to access the Summit of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), which has been closed for restoration works, through the Main Road on weekends from Saturday (April 4).

The National Parks Board (NParks) said today (April 1) that slope stabilisation works between Keruing Hut and Simpang Hut, as well as trail repair works at the Summit Path, had been completed.

The repaired Summit Path trail now has steps of two different heights, allowing visitors to choose their level of challenge when embarking on the trail.

These works complete the first phase of two-year long efforts at BTNR to stabilise three slope sections, restore the trails and forest, and upgrade visitor amenities.

The Main Road leading to the Summit will be opened to visitors from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays, NParks said. The last entry to the reserve will be at 5pm.

The reserve, which has been closed since September last year, will remain inaccessible to the public on weekdays and public holidays that do not fall on weekends.

Access to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on weekends is only via Hindhede Nature Park. According to NParks, visitors to the reserve should keep to the designated route, and take public transport since there are limited parking lots on site due to ongoing restoration works.

They will be able to make use of the restrooms during the opening hours on weekends.

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Smart Nation an opportunity to ‘shift tone of society’: Vivian Balakrishnan

Kevin Kwang Channel NewsAsia 1 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE: “There is a revolution going on,” said Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation Programme Office (SNPO) Vivian Balakrishnan, and Singapore needs to be ahead of the wave, just as it was 50 years ago when it decided to open its shores and embrace globalisation.

This is the underlying premise of the Smart Nation vision expounded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last November, when he said: “Our vision is for Singapore to be a Smart Nation – A nation where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all.”

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in an interview on Wednesday (Apr 1), Dr Balakrishnan said the “revolution” involves the advent of personal computing, the World Wide Web, high-resolution video, robotics, big data analytics and 3D printing.

“These are not just tools, but platform technologies. That means they are going to transform – the way we live, work, play, socialise, communicate, organise ourselves, educate ourselves and the way our economic activities are going to be pursued. So there is a revolution going on,” he said.


How will the Smart Nation vision become a reality? Dr Balakrishnan said some “essential ingredients” are needed: A world-class infrastructure; a capability layer; and a global ecosystem.

The first ingredient is already in place, what with the Next-generation Nationwide Broadband Network and extensive wireless network available. The Government is also actively making sure access to the Internet, and with it access to services and products, is affordable via market competition and subsidies to those who need it, he said.

As for the capability layer, the minister said “education is a key element”. “So for instance, to have computing as a ‘O’ Level option. To teach all students, starting from primary school, some basics of programming or computational thinking,” he said.
As for working adults, the opportunity to pick up new skills that are relevant to their jobs, or even be equipped with skills for jobs that are not yet created is another aspect that needs to be developed, he noted.

On the ecosystem level, this would involve creating an environment where people with an idea are able to quickly prototype it, test it out then get it on to the market. Additionally, there should be financing made available, and people with market access and networks in place so as to help these start-ups grow and become a regional or international market players, he explained.


However, the Smart Nation vision requires data as a fuel to run, and much of it comes from the individual. When asked how much data one has to give up in order for the vision to be realised, Dr Balakrishnan said data sharing and privacy is not a matter of how much permission a person gives.

Rather, people need to want to participate in this, he said, and when that happens, then data sharing is voluntary and not coerced.

The Government, on its part, will make sure the data used will be anonymised so that personal details are not compromised, yet user patterns can be derived, the minister said.

For example, data of one’s public transport consumption can be tracked without one’s personal identifiers, such as IC number or address, revealed. This way, service providers will know where the peak consumer demands are during specific time periods, and cater their resources accordingly, he explained.

It is also making efforts to make sure data made public are accurate and in real-time. This will enhance credibility and build trust with the citizenry, he explained.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, gave the example of flood data. It used to be that on Twitter, #sgflood was used by the more cynical because of floods that happen. But today, most of the tweets with the hashtag are from his ministry. Specifically, the more than 200 sensors embedded in drains around Singapore would automatically trigger a tweet via PUB to deliver information on water levels and flood probability, he revealed.

On the flipside, people have been taking data privacy “for granted”. Many, particularly the younger generation, tend to share things online or on social media platforms that might not be appropriate, and this might allow those with malicious intent to exploit. It might also affect their job prospects should potential employers chance on a Facebook rant or YouTube video that should not be shared.

“Please be more careful,” the minister stressed.


On the issue of cybersecurity, Dr Balakrishnan admitted that his “biggest nightmare” is the occurrence of a major security breach and the loss of personal, private data.

“That would set our efforts back many, many years because trust and confidence breaks down. Then people will be unwilling to share things that ought to be shared, and then we’re not able to generate new solutions,” he said. “Openness and security are two sides of the same coin.”

This is why the Cyber Security Agency (CSA), headed by Minister for Communications and Industry Yaacob Ibrahim, was announced soon after the Prime Minister announced the Smart Nation Vision, he said. The CSA turned operational today, and will oversee national cybersecurity issues and policies.

He added that a “healthy tension” between SNPO and CSA is “good”, because it means they are looking at situations with different lenses, which would prevent either from being blindsided by potential issues or problems.


Ultimately, realising the Smart Nation vision will also result in the “shift in tone” in Singapore's society – from being reliant on the Government to solve all problems, to one where citizens are able to make use of the information available and come up with solutions for real-life problems.

“It won’t be one where a problem comes along and Government has to solve it and people will just passively follow,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“In the future, when a new opportunity or problem arises, the data will be there and everyone will have access to the data. You have a good idea, and it works, then it can be rapidly prototyped and upscaled – it is truly an exercise in co-creation.

“It’s not a dependent, suspicious, passive and apathetic society. We will have the truly active Singaporean in an active society,” he added.

- CNA/kk

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Malaysia: Anti-poaching task force set up to save marine turtles

The Star 2 Apr 15;

KOTA KINABALU: A special marine turtle anti-poaching task force has been formed in view of the worsening cases of poaching in the state.

“This is among the measures taken to prevent possible extinction of marine turtles,” Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said during a dialogue on marine turtle poaching and smuggling in Malaysia, organised by the department and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia.

A total of 99 cases involving 134,855 poached eggs were recorded from 1999 to 2013.

Last year, 60 turtle carcasses were found in Pulau Tiga and four in east coast Semporna. Another 19 carcasses have been found in Pulau Tiga so far this year.

WWF-Malaysia deputy head of Marine Robecca Jumin said the demand for turtle eggs and meat was on the rise.

Malaysia, as a main migratory route for marine turtles, must have strict enforcement to protect the species, she said.

“We hope the taskforce will be operational soon. Concerned citizens can start working with the task force by providing information that can contribute to better protection of turtles in our waters.”

Representatives from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Customs Department, Sabah Parks, Department of Fisheries Sabah and the Civil Defence Department, among others, took part in the dialogue.

The marine turtle anti-poaching taskforce will involve all agencies present at the dialogue in efforts to save turtles in Sabah through the Malaysian Wildlife Enforcement Network.

The taskforce is also expected to strengthen its collaboration with neighbouring countries through regional initiatives such as the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion, Coral Triangle Initiative and Asean-Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Apart from that, the taskforce is also expected to strengthen conservation efforts in remote monitoring and surveillance, especially in targeted areas, and to work towards zero poaching.

Marine Turtle Anti-Poaching Taskforce Formed as Outcome of Enforcement Dialogue for turtles in Sabah
WWF 25 Mar 15;

25 March 2015, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: An enforcement dialogue on marine turtle poaching and smuggling in Malaysia was co-organised by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and WWF-Malaysia on 24 March. The dialogue participants included representatives from Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), Royal Malaysian Customs, Sabah Parks, Department of Fisheries Sabah (DoFS), Royal Malaysian Army (Taskforce 450), Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), and Department of Civil Defence.

The outcome of this full-day dialogue is the formation of a Marine Turtle Anti-Poaching Taskforce.

“There are a total of 99 reported cases with 134,855 poached eggs between 1999 to 2013. In 2014, 60 turtle carcasses were found in Pulau Tiga and four found in Semporna. This year, 19 more carcasses have been found in Pulau Tiga,”presented Mr Augustine Tuuga, deputy director of SWD, during the dialogue yesterday.

Mr William Baya, director of SWD said, “With recent cases on illegal turtle activities in Sabah, it is important to start taking preventive action to avoid the possibility of extinction of our marine turtles in Sabah. The enforcement dialogue has allowed related agencies to come together to brainstorm and share information on turtle issues respectively. From there, we were able to form a taskforce against marine turtle poaching.”

The marine turtle anti-poaching taskforce recognises the importance of sea turtles in the bio-diversity of Sabah waters and economically as turtles attract international tourists. It will involve all agencies present at the dialogue who has agreed to these calls to actions:
Collaborate and work together to save turtles in Sabah through the Malaysian Wildlife Enforcement Network (MY-WEN).
Strengthen collaborations with neighbouring countries through regional initiatives such as Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME), Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) especially in law enforcement, information sharing and capacity building.
Strengthen approach in remote monitoring and surveillance, especially in targeted areas.
Appoint focal points within each organisations such as Department of Fisheries (DoF), MMEA, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Sabah Parks, Customs, Marine Police, Royal Malaysian Navy, and Malaysian Armed Forces to be assigned for turtle poaching cases.
Aim for zero poaching – culprits caught with proof on turtle poaching will be charged in court.

“The demand for turtle eggs and meat are increasingly rampant now and with Malaysia as a main migratory route for marine turtles, it is important for us to take up the responsibility to create strict enforcement in order to protect the species before it goes to extinction,” Ms Robecca Jumin, deputy head of Marine, WWF-Malaysia says.

“WWF-Malaysia is very pleased with the outcome of the dialogue and look forward towards a closer collaboration with SWD and the taskforce to combat illegal marine turtle activities. We hope that the taskforce will be operationalised soon and concern citizens can start working with and providing information that can contribute to better protection of turtles in our waters. This is the first in a series of dialogues that we hope to happen with neighbouring countries to create a transboundary taskforce. WWF is in full support of this marine turtle anti-poaching taskforce.”

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South Pacific coral hit by warmer waters

Expert says return of El Niño conditions means global die-off increasingly likely, though it may not be as severe as in 1998 and 2010
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 1 Apr 15;

The corals of the South Pacific have been ravaged by bleaching, according to US government scientists.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said a global die-off was increasingly likely with the return of El Niño conditions.

The warmth that caused an unprecedented die-off in the North Pacific in the second half of 2014 shifted southwards in the southern summer. Noaa said reefs off the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Fiji and the Samoas had been hit hard by warm waters in the first months of 2015.

High temperatures are now returning in the north, where reefs off the Marshall Islands and Kiribati are still in recovery.

In March the US National Weather Service announced a new El Niño, the first since 2010. An El Niño involves a warming of a certain patch of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns worldwide. Higher sea temperatures cause coral bleaching.

“The models are looking like El Niño conditions may be around through much of 2015. If so, that will just keep hammering corals in the Pacific,” said Dr Mark Eakin, the coordinator of Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch.

“With the change of seasons we continue to see signs of this developing into a full-fledged global event with warming in the eastern Indian Ocean and starting in the extreme south-western Caribbean.”

Almost all Indian Ocean reefs below the equator are now on alert for bleaching. As the northern summer gets going, the coasts of India, Sri Lanka, Oman, the Maldives and Thailand will also be under threat.

Eakin said the event may not be as bad as previous global die-offs in 1998 and 2010. “At this point I expect 2015 bleaching to not be as severe as 2010 globally. However, it could be worse in some locations, just as we saw record thermal stress in the northernmost Mariana Islands and the north-western Hawaiian islands in 2014.”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had so far avoided the worst impacts of the warming, but the prognosis was that the hot patch could hit the site during 2016. “My big concern for the GBR has always been next year,” Eakin said.

Coral reefs are vulnerable to small but persistent increases in water temperature. A 1C rise that lasts a week or more can be enough to cause long-term breakdown of reef ecosystems. Whether or not reefs bounce back from bleaching depends on the health of the reef, particularly its herbivorous fish populations that clean the corals from algae. Overfishing means reefs are now far less likely to recover after bleaching.

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NOAA study provides detailed projections of coral bleaching

Projections for Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean can help resource managers
NOAA HEADQUARTERS EurekAlert 1 Apr 15;

While research shows that nearly all coral reef locations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico will experience bleaching by mid-century, a new study showing in detail when and where bleaching will occur shows great variety in the timing and location of these harmful effects.

The new research published today in Global Change Biology by NOAA scientists and colleagues provides the first fine-scale projections of coral bleaching, an important planning tool for managers.

"Our new local-scale projections will help resource managers better understand and plan for the effects of coral bleaching," said lead author Ruben van Hooidonk, a coral and climate researcher with the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School and NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

"At some locations, referred to in our study as 'relative refugia,' lower rates of temperature increase and fewer extreme events mean reefs have more time to adapt to climate change," he said. "Managers may decide to use this information to protect these locations as refuges or protected areas. Or they may take other actions to reduce stress caused by human activities."

Coral bleaching, which is primarily caused by warming ocean temperatures, is a major threat to our ocean's health. When water is too warm corals expel the algae living in their tissue, causing the coral to lose its vibrant colors and turn completely white. Bleached corals are under more stress and are more likely to die. Extensive coral bleaching events have increased in frequency and severity over the past two decades due to climate change.

The loss of coral reefs can have economic, social and ecological effects. Coral reefs provide rich habitat for valuable fisheries that people depend on for food. They serve as protective buffers to coastlines by absorbing wave energy from storms, and they boost local economies by attracting tourists who fish, dive and explore these underwater treasures.

The new bleaching projections build upon a previous study that used global climate models from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce projections at a very coarse resolution of about 68 miles or 110 kilometers. By using a regional ocean model and an approach called statistical downscaling, scientists calculated the onset of annual severe bleaching at a much higher resolution - 6 miles or 10 kilometers. The resulting local-scale projections of bleaching conditions will help managers include climate change as a consideration in planning and conservation decisions.

There are regions within many countries where some reefs are projected to experience annual bleaching conditions 15 or more years later than neighboring regions. This applies to reefs in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. Reefs projected to experience bleaching conditions later can be conservation priorities.

Scientists also compared the two approaches they used to produce the high-resolution projections and found that both methods produced similar results. This gives the team confidence that the more cost-effective and less labor-intensive statistical downscaling approach could be applied for all of the world's coral reefs, which the team plans to undertake over the coming year.

Bob Glazer of Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said he welcomed the new research. "Coral bleaching poses a grave threat to coral reefs and these high-resolution projections provide vitally needed spatial information about the degree of threat and will help us make better management decisions."


NOAA's Reef Manager's Guide, which provides information on the causes and consequences of coral bleaching, outlines some of the management strategies and tools that can help reef managers address the coral bleaching threat. Find out more at

This study was funded by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program and supported by NOAA AOML. The article has been published Open Access ensuring everyone interested can review the local-scale projections of bleaching conditions.

The paper, "Downscaled projections of Caribbean coral bleaching that can inform conservation planning," can be read online at:

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Mediterranean Sea 'accumulating zone of plastic debris'

Helen Briggs BBC 2 Apr 15;

Large quantities of plastic debris are building up in the Mediterranean Sea, say scientists.

A survey found around one thousand tonnes of plastic floating on the surface, mainly fragments of bottles, bags and wrappings.

The Mediterranean Sea's biological richness and economic importance means plastic pollution is particularly hazardous, say Spanish researchers.

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, turtles and whales.

Very tiny pieces of plastic have also been found in oysters and mussels grown on the coasts of northern Europe.

"We identify the Mediterranean Sea as a great accumulation zone of plastic debris," said Andres Cozar of the University of Cadiz in Puerto Real, Spain, and colleagues.

"Marine plastic pollution has spread to become a problem of planetary scale after only half a century of widespread use of plastic materials, calling for urgent management strategies to address this problem."

Plastic is accumulating in the Mediterranean Sea at a similar scale to that in oceanic gyres, the rotating ocean currents in the Indian Ocean, North Atlantic, North Pacific, South Atlantic and South Pacific, the study found.

A high abundance of plastic has also been found in other seas, including the Bay of Bengal, South China Sea and Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean.


Commenting on the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, Dr David Morritt of Royal Holloway, University of London, said scientists were particularly concerned about very small pieces of plastic (less than 5mm in length), known as microplastics.

The study found more than 80% of plastic items in the Mediterranean Sea fell into this category.

"These very small plastic fragments lend themselves to being swallowed by marine species, potentially releasing chemicals into the gut from the plastics," Dr Morritt, of the School of Biological Sciences, told BBC News.

"Plastic doesn't degrade in the environment - we need to think much more carefully about how we dispose of it, recycle it, and reduce our use of it."

The Mediterranean Sea represents less than 1% of the global ocean area, but is important in economic and ecological terms.

It contains between 4% and 18% of all marine species, and provides tourism and fishing income for Mediterranean countries.

"Given the biological wealth and concentration of economic activities in the Mediterranean Sea, the effects of plastic pollution on marine and human life could be particularly relevant in this plastic accumulation zone," said Dr Cozar.

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