Best of our wild blogs: 3 May 15

Bishan otters: A pictorial story
Life's Indulgences

Against all odds
Life's Indulgences

Life History of the Common Caerulean
Butterflies of Singapore

Fruiting of the MacArthur Palm
Bird Ecology Study Group

Sisters' Islands Marine Park happenings: April 2015
Sisters' Islands Marine Park

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Pulau Ubin's life and times being documented

NHB to interview current, former residents and produce documentary
MELODY ZACCHEUS Straits Times AsiaOne 2 May 15;

A project is under way to capture the life and times of residents living on rustic Pulau Ubin.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) will conduct interviews with about 40 current and former Ubin residents before producing a research report and a 20-minute documentary on the island's community heritage.

One possible interviewee is Mr Kat Kau Chye, a 67-year-old boat operator who lives in a wooden house on the 10.2 sq km, boomerang-shaped island.

Born and raised there, Mr Kat told The Straits Times he would never trade the tranquil kampung life for the dense urban living on mainland Singapore.

"In Singapore, you can hear your neighbours through the walls, or be woken up by the sounds of cars late at night," said Mr Kat in Mandarin.

Then there is Ubin's close-knit community, which he has become accustomed to.

"If I cook herbal soup, and my two or three neighbours bring along their own dishes, we have a feast," he said.

It is this largely intangible spirit, among other things, that the NHB wants to document.

The project will seek to chronicle the interviewees' experiences living on the island and their sentiments on the way of life there, as well as capture short biographies of them.

The NHB said this documentation project, which will also include oral history recordings, is one of its contributions to the ongoing Ubin Project led by the Ministry of National Development.

The ministry has been working with the community and other government agencies such as the National Parks Board to gather ideas on how to maintain the island's rustic charm. Its plans include preserving Ubin's nature and biodiversity.

Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and development, said research on the island's community and social heritage can help "develop more sensitive strategies to enhance Pulau Ubin's island heritage".

The project will build on NHB's earlier work on the island, which includes a 2013 documentation of the island's historical sites such as former quarries, temples and shrines; a virtual tour of the island; and a documentary on Ubin's boatmen.

The Singapore Heritage Society's president, Dr Chua Ai Lin, a participant in the ministry's Friends of Ubin Network sessions, said it is important that the interviews do more than collect dust on a shelf.

For instance, she believes residents should be asked to elaborate on and break down the aspects of island life to better understand what exactly constitutes "rustic".

This in turn could help the Ubin way of life to "continue to thrive", she said.

"It could range from their knowledge of agriculture, skills on repairing and living in wooden houses, and the mentality behind leading sustainable, kampung lifestyles," she added.

Ubin resident Kamariah Abdullah, 57, who owns a century-old Malay kampung home which she restored with her family, agreed with Dr Chua.

She hopes the project will be able to capture the challenges of maintaining a traditional house and lifestyle.

Architectural historian Lai Chee Kien believes that the project can help supplement existing data on the island, which has seen its population dwindle over the years.

Although it receives more than 300,000 visitors annually, it is home to just 38 residents now, compared to the 2,000 who lived there from the 1950s to 1970s.

Said Dr Lai: "It is worthwhile to get as best a representation as possible on how islanders think and compare it against the record of the people who have already been interviewed in the past, to give context to the evolution of island life then and now."

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Star attractions at new natural history museum

Once like an unwanted orphan, Singapore's natural history collection now has a permanent home in a new museum.
Tommy Koh for The Straits Times 2 May 15;

On April 18, a new jewel was added to the cultural crown of Singapore.

The jewel is the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). It is a gift from the National University of Singapore (NUS) to the nation. The fact that it has taken place this year is doubly meaningful because Singapore is celebrating its 50th anniversary and NUS is celebrating the 110th anniversary of its founding.

One lesson we should learn from Mr Lee Kuan Yew is to love nature and to aspire to live in harmony with nature. Because of his vision and leadership, we have one of the greenest cities in the world. Singapore is also rich in biological diversity.

In recent years, the hornbill bird, the otter and the wild boar, which have been working abroad, have returned to our shores. In 2010, the United Nations named the City Biodiversity Index, the Singapore Index, in recognition of the leadership role that we have played in mobilising cities to act as custodians of the world's biodiversity.

Singapore lies at the heart of South-east Asia. Our region has the richest biodiversity in the world, both on land and at sea.

The seas of South-east Asia are home to 2,500 species of marine fish and 600 species of hard coral.

On land, we have a rich endowment of plant and animal species.

However, some of our charismatic species, such as the tiger, elephant, rhino, orang utan and sea turtle, are endangered. Some misguided people are eating the pangolin, the scaly ant-eater, to the brink of extinction. We have a duty to protect the biodiversity of our region and to slow down the pace at which it is being lost. The museum can help to disseminate this message to its visitors.

The new museum has a long history. In 1874, the Legislative Council of Singapore decided to establish a library and a museum and named them after Sir Stamford Raffles. In 1878, the Raffles Library and Museum became a legal entity.

A serious attempt to collect natural history specimens began in 1877. In 1887, the Raffles Library and Museum moved into its new home in Stamford Road, where the present National Museum is located.

The collection grew from strength to strength. It was divided into the exhibition collection and the reference collection. The collections survived the war and the Japanese Occupation.

However, in 1972, the Government decided to remove the natural history collections from the National Museum. The exhibition collection was given to the Science Centre. In 1974, the National Museum gave away its most iconic exhibit, a 12.8m-long skeleton of an Indian fin whale, to the National Museum of Malaysia. It is now displayed at the Labuan Maritime Museum.

The reference collection, also known as the Raffles Collection, was given to the zoology department of the then University of Singapore. It was treated like an unwanted orphan and was housed in various temporary premises with no climate control. There was even an attempt to divide it up. It spent seven years at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), before returning to NUS.

The collection was saved by the heroic efforts of a few individuals, notably Mrs Yang Chang Man, Professor Roland Sharma and Professor Lam Toong Jin from NUS and Mr Eric Alfred from the National Museum. President Tony Tan, when he was education minister, opened the Zoological Reference Collection in 1988. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, when he was education minister, opened the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) in 2001.

In 2004, I was the chairman of the National Heritage Board. After visiting RMBR that year, I wrote to the then president of NUS, Professor Shih Choon Fong, and proposed that NUS should build a museum of natural history to display its world-class collections of fauna and flora. Prof Shih and his successor, Prof Tan Chorh Chuan, were interested in the idea but had no money to build such a museum.

It took the combination of Prof Leo Tan and Prof Peter Ng, who raised $56 million, to turn my vision into reality. The remarkable story of Singapore's natural history museum has been told by Dr Kevin Tan, in his book Of Whales And Dinosaurs.

The LKCNHM has inherited the Raffles Collection, which consists of 566,500 lots of plankton, insects, crustaceans, fishes, shells, birds, mammals, amphibians, spiders, worms, reptiles, corals and sea stars. The museum's collection continues to grow because of research activities and now stands at a million specimens. New species are being discovered all the time. Selected specimens are beautifully displayed in the museum.

Leading showpieces

WHAT are the museum's star pieces? Without doubt, the biggest star attraction consists of three original dinosaur fossils. The diplodocid sauropods, which were herbivores, were found together at a quarry in Wyoming in the United States.

Another star piece is a small bird, an Asian brown flycatcher, which belonged to the collection of the great naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace and Charles Darwin had, independently of each other, simultaneously developed the theory of evolution. Unlike Darwin, Wallace spent several years in Singapore.

Also a top attraction is the cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis). Sir Stamford first described this species from Singapore in 1821. It was last sighted in 1995 and is feared to be extinct in Singapore.

The dodo bird has become an icon for extinction. There is a wonderful model at the museum, together with a set of genuine bones on loan from Oxford University. I hope that when visitors see this exhibit, they will pause for a moment to reflect on the unsustainable speed at which we are losing our biodiversity.

The museum will attract many visitors. It will share with its visitors the message to love nature and to conserve nature.

The museum will be used by students and scholars for study and research. It will also become a centre for intellectual exchange and for discourse on natural history. I hope that visitors will be inspired by the museum and its message.

The writer is the chairman of the Advisory Board of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

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Indonesia: Balikpapan protected forest illegally logged

N. Adri, The Jakarta Post 2 May 15;

The East Kalimantan Police have discovered that two locations in the Manggar River Protected Forest (HLSM) in eastern Balikpapan have been illegally logged and cleared.

“Both areas have been cleared up to 40 hectares and 25 hectares,” said the East Kalimantan Police’s environmental crime division investigator Comr. Tohari Kuswitanto on Wednesday.

Tohari added that based on investigations, several parties had been found responsible for felling trees and clearing forest in the restricted area, including the presence of tracks from heavy machinery.

“We are currently gathering evidence and tracing those involved,” said Tohari.

Conversion of a protected forest without a permit violates Law No. 32/2009 on the environment, Law No. 26/2007 on spatial planning, Law No. 18/2013 on forestry and Law No. 5/1990 on conservation.

The Environment Law does not just impose criminal sanctions but also the obligation to restore damaged areas.

“So, the perpetrators can be imprisoned and required to restore the areas they have damaged,” said Tohari.

The protected forest serves as a buffer and water catchment for the Manggar River, which flows from the west to the north of Balikpapan and supplies raw water from its upper reaches to the city-owned Tirta Manggar tap water company (PDAM) that serves 78,000 customers in Balikpapan.

The Manggar River begins from the Manggar Reservoir, located 15 kilometers from the heart of Balikpapan, and empties 25 kilometers into the Makassar Strait.

The river delta is surrounded by residential areas included in the Manggar subdistrict administration in East Balikpapan.

The measures taken by the police have been fully supported by the Balikpapan municipality.

According to municipal secretary Sayid MN Fadli, 55 locations have been found to have been cleared in the western, northern and eastern parts of the city.

As many as 42 of them were not equipped with permits while seven others held permits but had not operated in accordance with the permits.

“We are concerned about the situation and glad the police have intervened because so far they [the perpetrators] have [acted] as if they disregarded our agencies, such as the Environmental Agency [BLH],” said Fadli.

According to Fadli, the perpetrators included companies and individuals, who usually operated by using heavy machinery, such as excavators. The moment Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) personnel or officers from the BLH learned about such activities, they would immediately travel to the location in question, he added.

“We seize the ignition key to the heavy machinery and immediately prohibit them from operating, but the next day the heavy machinery operates again by using spare keys. So, let the police deal with the issue now,” said Fadli.

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Thailand: Phi Phi tour boat oil dumpers charged

Phuket Gazette 2 May 15;

Aerial photos showing oil leaking into the sea went viral on Facebook, and alerted officials. Photo: Thon Thamrongnawasawat

PHUKET: The captain and engineer of a tour boat anchored off Phi Phi Island have been charged with dumping oil into the sea after officials saw Facebook photos that had gone viral.

Krabi Marine Police, the Krabi Marine Office and officers at the national park at Phi Phi yesterday called upon boat captain Karin Onkaew and engineer Kriangdet Polsakdet to start an investigation and to press charges.

“They told us that they were fixing the engine and that oil accidentally leaked out,” Maj Anurak Parinyasathiragul, chief of the Krabi Marine Police told the Phuket Gazette this morning.

Officers checked for an oil slick after charging the pair, but were unable to find any evidence of the oil released into the sea.

However, aerial photos shared on Facebook by Thon Thamrongnawasawat on April 30 clearly showed oil leaking from the boat.

“They [Capt Karin and engineer Kriangdet] have both have been charged for releasing oil into the sea under the Act of Navigation in Thai Waters. The penalty can be up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 60,000 baht or both,” Maj Anurak said.

“They will also have to pay for any damages that the oil made to the environment, and for any cleanup operation that may be required.”

However, the boat, Capt Karin and all crew on board are legal and have all required documentation, Maj Anurak added.

In addition, the two men have also been charged with releasing oil in a national park.

“They have been handed over to Krabi City Police to face charges. The penalty they will face will be up to the court,” Maj Anurak said.
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