Best of our wild blogs: 3 Apr 15

Under the Sea! Holiday Workshop
from News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Striped Tit-babbler or Pin-striped Tit-babbler?
from Singapore Bird Group

Sharing about our shores at the EDGE Programme
from wild shores of singapore

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Conserving Singapore's corals: Saving the reefs surrounding Pulau Hantu

Audrey TanThe Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Apr 15;

To save Singapore's corals, 14 undergraduates last month went up to 12m underwater to monitor and photograph the reefs surrounding Pulau Hantu.

They did so as part of a marine conservation project called Reef Alert, partially funded by the National Youth Council. Data collected will be sent to the National Parks Board.

1. Survey area is decided based on factors such as currents, layout of the reef, time and available manpower.

A grid-like structure called a quadrat is made using plastic pipes and rope.

Measuring 1m by 1m, each quadrat has 16 squares of equal size which the divers use to frame their photographs.

The second layer of the quadrat supports an underwater camera to ensure that photographs of the squares are taken from the same distance.

2. The first group of divers marks out the survey area using tape measures.

A clothes peg is placed at 1m intervals along the line.

For the first dive, the group aims to cover a reef area of about 40sq m, or 40 quadrats.

3. In groups of three, the students photograph the rich marine life using the quadrat.

It takes each team about 45 minutes to monitor 10 quadrats.

Data analysis is done on land.

Students will screen the photos, and identify and quantify the types of marine life - such as the types of coral and algae - found in each image.

What are corals?

They are made up of colonies of tiny organisms called polyps.

Under environmental stress, such as a change in temperature, corals will expel algae.

Loss of algae causes coral bleaching, depriving them of a food source.

Besides corals, Singapore has other underwater gems
- The Clown Fish, which is often found among sea anemones, lives in Singapore's southern waters.
- A Lion Fish, with red and white stripes and regal fins, was spotted in the intertidal area regal of Pulau Hantu.
- The Feather Star, which resembles a flower with petals like birds' feathers, is not a plant but an animal, and can grow up to 20cm in diameter. It can be found on the reefs at the Southern Islands, or on the sea floor.

PDF of image on the Straits Times also here:

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Shell boosts ethylene production by 20 pct from Singapore plant

Reuters 2 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE, April 2 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has finished upgrading its Singapore ethylene cracker complex at its integrated refining-chemicals site, boosting production of ethylene by 20 percent, the company said on Thursday.

The cracker on Bukom Island, which also houses Shell's 500,000 barrels-per-day refinery, originally had a capacity of 800,000 tonnes per year (tpy) of ethylene.

The additional supply of products will support the expansion of intermediate plants on the nearby Jurong Island, including Shell's mono-ethylene glycol plant and third-party facilities, the company said in a statement.

The cracker uses a range of feedstock, including naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to produce ethylene, a building block for plastics. (Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; Editing by Prateek Chatterjee)

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NEA calls tender for dengue battle plan

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE'S plan to use a special type of mosquito to combat the dengue virus here is about to take another step forward.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has put up a tender to ask for proposals to study the possible side effects of using male Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to fight the virus.

This method to reduce dengue infections uses male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which makes them sterile.

These male mosquitoes, which do not bite, are released so they mate with the female dengue-spreaders.

These female mosquitoes will then produce eggs that do not hatch.

Over time, this can help to reduce the population of Aedes mosquitoes in Singapore, and hopefully reduce the rate of dengue infections.

The NEA noted in its tender documents that such Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are a promising tool for dengue control in Singapore.

However, "careful assessment of the safety and effectiveness of the technology in Singapore's environment is essential prior to its use", the NEA said.

The contractor who wins the tender will review projects in other countries that have used the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes, and consult experts, to determine all possible unintended consequences of using the mosquitoes.

These include ecological, economic and public health consequences, as well as those that are "positive, negative, direct, indirect, secondary, cumulative, temporary and permanent, reversible and irreversible, and in the short, medium and long term".

The contractor will also come up with ways to monitor and mitigate any undesirable consequences, where possible.

Experts told The Straits Times that trials in Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam using the mosquitoes have not resulted in any negative side effects.

Professor Duane Gubler, an epidemiologist at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School's Programme on Emerging Infectious Diseases, who is also chair of the NEA's Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, noted: "The NEA is covering all of its bases with the tender.

"It wants to make sure it has all of the information available, and that is the right thing to do."

Dengue is endemic in Singapore and the region.

There were 2,159 dengue cases and one death here in the first 12 weeks of this year, compared to 17,600 cases and five deaths last year.

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Malaysia: Oil slick in Sungai Johor, 500,000 left high and dry

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 3 Apr 15;

JOHOR BARU: A huge oil slick in Sungai Johor has caused a major water disruption, affecting almost 500,000 residents in three southern districts.

The spill forced the closure of the Semangar and Sungai Johor water treatment plants yesterday.

It was detected by sensors placed at the intakes of the plants, which has the capacity to supply 636 million litres of treated water per day.

The plants serve residents in Johor Baru, Kulaijaya and Nusajaya.

The previous oil spill in the area occurred several years ago but only necessitated the closing of the treatment plants for several hours.

Johor Rural and Regional Develop­ment Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said a multi-agency task force set up to handle the problem had put up water booms to prevent the slick from reaching intakes of the treatment plants.

“Luckily, we discovered the slick before it could enter the treatment plants. For safety reasons, we have shut down the plants until we can clear the oil spill in the river,” he said.

Hasni added that the spill was believed to be diesel-based and could have come from tyre burning, which produces oil as a by-product, in Felda Taib Andak in Kulai, some 15km from the intakes.

Asked when water supply would be restored, he said the next 24 hours would be critical for the clean-up effort.

Involved in the effort are Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ), the state water regulatory authority Bakaj, the Department of Environment, Health Department and the Land Office.

It is learnt that SAJ has mobilised at least 11 tankers to supply water to “critical places”, especially hospitals, in case the treatment plants take time to start operating again.

Hasni urged residents in the three districts to store water or contact the SAJ Info Centre hotline at 1800 88 7474, SMS 019-772 7474 or e-mail for assistance.

Oil spill forces closure of two water treatment plants in Johor
SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 2 Apr 15;

JOHOR BARU: A major oil spill along Sungai Johor has forced the operations of two water treatment plants to be shut down since 8am today.

Following the temporary closure of the Semanggar and Sungai Johor treatment plants, some 1.25 million people from 250,000 households in Johor Baru, Nusajaya and part of Kulaijaya are expected to experience water disruption from 8am, at least for the next 24 hours.

Efforts by the Department of Environment, SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd and the Johor Health Department have focused on, among others, installing silt curtain-like structures to prevent the spread of the oil spill further down the river.

Initial investigation showed that the oil spill originated from a used tyre processing factory near Felda Taib Andak in Kulai.

State Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad said the fuel used to burn used tyres had apparently spilled into the river and contaminated the waterway stretching for about 15 kilometres.

"We have taken all precautionary measures to prevent the oil spill from flowing further down the river or it will force us to shut down the operations of even more water treatment plants and the effect will be disastrous," he told the New Straits Times.

It is learnt that there are five water treatment plants located along Sungai Johor. The other three, which are located further down the river, are the Sungai Sayong, Linggiu, and Bandar Tenggara treatment plants.

Water treated at the Linggiu treatment plant is supplied to Singapore.

Oil spill in Sg Johor causes major water disruption
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 2 Apr 15;

JOHOR BARU: A huge oil spill along Sungai Johor has caused a major water supply disruption, affecting almost 500,000 residents in three major districts in the south of the state.

The oil spill, which was detected at 8am, Thursday has forced the closure of two major water treatment – the Semangar water treatment plant and Sungai Johor water treatment plants.

Both the plants supply water to residents in Johor Baru, Kulaijaya and Nusajaya.

Johor Rural and Regional development committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohammad, who described the situation as the worst pollution this year, said that immediate steps were being taken to address the problem.

He urged residents to store water or contact the SAJ Info Centre hotline at 1800-88-7474 or SMS 019-772 7474 or email

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Malaysia: Sick sun bear in viral video found

SHARON LING The Star 2 Apr 15;

KUCHING: The sick sun bear, which came to the attention of the public when a video clip of its sighting went viral earlier this year, has been found and handed over to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).

The creature had previously eluded attempts at rescue but was finally captured by plantation workers under the guidance of SFC in Meradong district on Thursday.

The bear was surrendered to SFC's Swift Wildlife Action Team (SWAT) in Sibu and is expected to arrive at Matang Wildlife Centre here later on Thursday.

"The sun bear will be checked by a vet on arrival and arrangements have been made to nurse it back to health at the centre," SFC said.

The animal had been spotted in January by Indonesian plantation workers, who were shocked by its strange and hairless appearance.

Sun bears are the smallest of the world’s eight bear species and are found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra and Borneo.

They classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List and are at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

In Sarawak, the sun bear is protected under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

Sick sun bear under quarantine at Matang Wildlife Centre
YU JI The Star 4 Apr 15;

KUCHING: The sick sun bear found near an oil palm estate in rural Sarawak has arrived at the Matang Wildlife Centre and is under quarantine.

"It is very weak, so we are letting the bear rest,” said Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) deputy general manager Oswald Braken Tisen.

”It is under quarantine. The only test we have done is on its faeces. Results showed parasites. We've adjusted medication and food accordingly," he told The Star on Friday afternoon.

Braken said even a blood test might be too much for the animal right now. In a week or so, more examinations would be done.

The bear would need to be placed under general anaesthesia for a full check up.

"By the way, the bear is a she. She is very underweight at the moment - only about 20kg. A healthy sun bear should be 30kg to 40kg.

"We are also not sure of her age. Healthy ones can live up to 40 years in the wild," Braken added.

The animal lower would not reveal the findings of the investigations so far.

All possibilities remained open, he said, explaining the bear could have accidentally eaten poison or eaten a poisoned animal.

"Sun bears are known to eat smaller animals like rats. We know oil palm estates have rat problems, and might have used rat poison. It is entirely possible the bear got sick after eating a poisoned rat," he said.

Braken added that the Matang Wildlife Centre, which is about 30km from Kuching, would become the permanent home of the sun bear once it recovers.

"Unfortunately for bears, once they have experienced being caged, you can't put them back into the wild.

"For this one, we are estimating it might need to be with us for a couple of months, at least until its fur grows back, by then, it would have gotten used to being kept by humans," he said.

Currently, there are 11 healthy sun bears at the wildlife centre.

The sick sun bear had been spotted in January by Indonesian plantation workers, who were shocked by its strange and hairless appearance.

Photos and videos of it quickly became viral online, with many commenting on the animal's Gollum like appearance.

Sun bears are the smallest of the world’s eight bear species and are found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra and Borneo.

They are classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List and are at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival

In Sarawak, the sun bear is protected under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998.

Braken said the sun bear's population in Sarawak was unknown, but the species was not likely to be endangered due to its ability to adapt, living from coastal to mountainous areas.

On another note, the SFC official said members of the public are welcomed to submit name suggestions for the sick bear.

"If the public are interested, they can suggest names. They can do so via Facebook.

"We have never given names to bears in the past. They haven't been as well known as orang utans," Braken said.

SFC's Facebook page is at or email

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Southeast Asia faces increasingly intense climate events: analysts

JOSEPH D'URSO Reuters 2 Apr 15;

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Densely populated Asian islands and countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and the Philippines and those in Southeast Asia particularly are likely to face more intense climate events in future, analysts said on Thursday.

Islands are especially vulnerable when they have large populations and with much of their land exposed to storm surges and sea-level rises, according to research published by risk analysis group Verisk Maplecroft.

Researchers found that Taiwan, hit last year by Typhoon Matmo, was most at risk and stressed the need for all sectors to understand the extent of exposure to extreme events and long-term climate change in countries deemed most vulnerable.

"The potential impacts of climate change on physical structures, industrial processes, supply chains, and critical infrastructure are potentially devastating," researchers said in the report.

A study by the same firm last month found eight of the 10 cities most at risk from such events are in the Philippines which had "poor institutional and societal capacity to manage, respond and recover from natural hazard events".

Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,300 people in 2013 in the Philippines which is battered by more than 20 typhoons a year.

Nearly 20,000 people were killed by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan's main Honshu island in 2011.

"While uncertain, climate change projections suggest that the typhoons may be less frequent in the region, but become more intense," the group's new report said. The weather events known as El Nino and La Nina exacerbate this, the study said.

El Nino, the warming of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures which can cause drought in some parts of the world and flooding in others, and La Nina, an irregular event caused by cooling water temperatures, both threaten Southeast Asia, it said.

Droughts in the "extreme risk" Philippines, as well as in Indonesia, are "strongly related" to El Nino, the report said, blaming La Nina for flooding in the Philippines as well as in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The study tried to quantify the risk of a country being hit by extreme climate events such as droughts, wildfires, storms and floods, as well as the dangers posed by changing temperatures and sea levels.

China is "high risk" due to increased industrial, domestic and agricultural competition for water, and some northern parts of the country have already experienced reductions in rainfall, the study said.

Elsewhere in Asia, Bangladesh also ranked high on the list of places at risk. Cyclone Sidr in 2007 killed around 3,500 people in Bangladesh, while Cyclone Aila in 2009 killed more than 300 in Bangladesh and around 150 in India.

(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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