Best of our wild blogs: 4 May 15

Registration opens for International Coastal Cleanup Singapore 2015!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Singapore has sea turtles! Dolphins!
wild shores of singapore

Slaty-breasted Rail (Lewinia striata) @ Pasir Ris
Monday Morgue

Read more!

PM Lee to meet Malaysian PM Najib for 6th annual consultation

Mergawati Zulfakar The Star/Asia News Network AsiaOne 4 May 15;

SLIGHTLY more than a year ago, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong boarded a Malaysia Airlines flight to KL International Airport for his annual consultation with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Putrajaya - an act seen by Malaysia as Lee's support to a country still in shock over the MH370 incident.

Lee and Najib have always gotten along well. When Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March, Najib was there to pay his last respects to Hsien Loong's father.

Singapore appreciated this. The close relations between the two leaders have made bilateral issues at hand a little bit easier to handle in recent years.

The two leaders meet again tomorrow for their sixth annual consultations.

One year is a long time and many issues, old and new, have either reported progress or cropped up along the way.

For example, the Forest City project, which involves major land reclamation work and aims to build luxury homes on man-made islands off southern Johor, has reportedly sparked environmental concerns and fears among local fishermen about their livelihood.

Lee has personally written to Najib asking for clarification on the project last year, after two third-person notes from Singapore on the matter were sent to the Foreign Ministry.

Another letter was handed to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Wahid Omar when he was in Singapore for a bilateral meeting.

The Star reported the Department of Environment approved the Forest City project's detailed environmental impact assessment in January.

It is understood the EIA report has been submitted to Singapore but the republic has yet to respond until now.

Another issue that Singapore was unhappy about was the announcement of the RM20 vehicle entry permit via the Causeway and Second Link Expressway from Aug 1.

Officials said that Singapore, in implementing any new move involving Malaysia, would normally inform the Federal Government before hand.

"In the VEP case, they just wanted to know first before any announcement is made. They want us to reciprocate the way they do things involving Malaysia," said an official.

Still high on the agenda of the leaders' meeting would be the High Speed Rail (HSR) project and Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between Johor Baru and Singapore.

The HSR will reportedly cost RM40bil and cut rail travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore from six hours to just 90 minutes.

The 330km rail line is expected to be completed by 2020 and will connect two terminus stations (Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) via five transit stops spread out across Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor.

In their last meeting, the leaders had announced Bandar Malaysia in Sungai Besi as the site for the country's terminal for the HSR.

On the RTS, Wahid had said in April that an announcement would be made during the leaders' meeting, once both parties had agreed to it.

"Talks between Malaysia and Singapore on the RTS link are still ongoing, including feasibility studies by relevant agencies in both countries," Wahid had said.

Wahid said among the aspects involved in the studies include the project's viability and its impact on both countries, congestion level at the Causeway and ridership of the transportation mode.

"We hope both Malaysia and Singapore will complete the studies and be able to present our findings to the respective prime ministers before the meeting.

"The final outcome whether the RTS trains will run above ground (grate) or via undersea tunnel will all depend on the recommendations of the two governments involved as well as costing," he said.

Johor Baru and Woodlands in Singapore are linked by the 1.056km Johor Causeway completed in 1932. Between 80,000 and 100,000 vehicles use it daily.
The 1.9km long Second Link is a dual three-lane carriageway linking Tanjung Kupang to Tuas in Singapore.

What both countries need is to have the most efficient and cost-effective transport system to benefit them both.

It will be also interesting to see if Singapore, at this meeting, would respond to Najib's proposal to build a friendship bridge to replace the Causeway, as a long-term initiative to enhance connectivity.

Lee has not officially responded to Najib's proposal. Malaysia is keen as the congestion at the two links is getting acute especially during the weekends and public holidays.

It will be interesting if Lee will respond to Malaysia's idea at this consultation.

Malaysia awaiting Singapore nod on rail project and friendship bridge

SINGAPORE: Malaysia and Singapore leaders started their sixth retreat yesterday to review current cooperation and explore new initiatives amid the backdrop of the best level of bilateral ties in recent years.

Malaysia’s High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Husni Zai Yaacob said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is expected to announce today the Singapore terminal for the High Speed Rail Project between the republic and Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has already announced Bandar Malaysia in Sungai Besi as the country’s terminal during the leaders’ retreat last year.

The HSR will reportedly cost RM40bil and cut rail travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singa-pore from six hours to just 90 minutes. The 330km rail line is expected to be completed by 2020 with five transit stops spread out across Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor.

This year also marks the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Singapore.

The retreat kicked off with Lee hosting a private dinner for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.

During their four-eyed meeting today, the Malaysian-proposed friendship bridge, which is to replace the Causeway, is expected to be discussed.

Najib has proposed for the bridge last year and so far there has been no official response from Lee.

“I believe the bridge is to be discussed but can’t anticipate the outcome of the meeting because it is still in the initial stage.

“This speed train project involves two countries, a lot of issues need to be discussed, so we can expect more details to be announced at the retreat,” Husni added.

Both leaders will witness the signing of an MoU between the National Security Council and Singapore Civil Defence on Co-Operation in Developing Urban Search and Rescue Capabilities and Supplemental Agreement to the Agreement for the Construction and Operation of a Ferry Terminal and the Operation of a Ferry Service between Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

He said the connectivity between Johor Baru and Woodland will be better as KTM Berhad is increasing the frequency from four to 16 times.

“Each trip can easily accommodate 300 passengers and it is a popular mode of transportation for Malaysians and Singaporeans,” Husni told reporters here.

Najib is also scheduled to meet the representatives of the Malaysian Association in Singapore and attend a dialogue session with top business leaders and others in Singapore.

Before departing, the Prime Minister will deliver a keynote address at the Economic Society of Singapore annual dinner.

Last year, Singapore was Malaysia’s second largest trading partner globally and largest trading partner among Asean. Total trade between the two countries was recorded at RM194.52bil last year.

Read more!

Shedding new light on Singapore's nature areas

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 May 15;

Singapore might be known around the world for its towering skyscrapers and shopping malls, but its nature areas are also fast coming under focus. The Smithsonian Institution - a complex of 19 museums and galleries, a zoo and nine research facilities in the United States - has tied up with Nanyang Technological University to advance tropical ecology research in the region. The Sunday Times looks at how this collaboration will throw light on one of the world's least understood habitats.

Singapore might not have hectares of pristine rainforests, or waters that top a scuba diver's bucket list.

But it does have pockets of nature that are thriving.

Researchers recently discovered two snake species new to Singapore - a blackwater mud snake in the Nee Soon Swamp Forest and a smooth slug snake, which had unfortunately ended up as roadkill at Old Upper Thomson Road.

And even though the waters surrounding the island are murky and heavily sedimented, marine biologists have twice - last year and in 2011 - uncovered a Neptune's Cup sponge, a rare creature thought to have been extinct since 1908.

The recent partnership between the Smithsonian Institution in the United States and Nanyang Technological University here aims to use Singapore as a centre for research into the region's biodiversity and how best to protect the many areas that are under threat from human activities.

The tie-up will also provide the scientific community with a regional perspective in understanding data collected from Asian forests and oceans.

"The Smithsonian has been studying plots of forests in the region for the past 20 years. But until now, all the information has gone back to Washington," said Professor Alexander Zehnder, a member of NTU's board of trustees.

"There was no local or regional centre to analyse it critically... NTU will bring this Asian perspective to the network."

The Smithsonian's interim undersecretary for science, Dr John Kress, pointed out that top-notch scientists here and a strong research infrastructure would ensure that good science could be done.

"Partnering with NTU as a portal into Asia, through Singapore, is ideal for us," he said.

The effort will rope in scientists from both sides to carry out research on tropical forest and marine ecology, biodiversity, climate change, genomics, human-environment interactions and environmental change in Asia.

For instance, scientists could learn more about coral reef resilience by studying how urban reefs in an area with heavy maritime traffic, such as Singapore, compare with pristine reefs in countries such as Indonesia.

The data could be used to determine how to make coral reefs more sustainable, said Associate Professor Charles Martin Rubin, the chair of NTU's new Asian School of the Environment.

The school - a research institute that trains students in areas such as ecology, and earth and environmental life sciences - is the Smithsonian's main partner.

The collaboration will also be supported by the Earth Observatory of Singapore, a research centre run by NTU that studies geological phenomena such as earthquakes, and by the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, an NTU facility that looks at microbes, tiny living particles invisible to the naked eye.

The landmark alliance was brokered by NTU's Prof Zehnder, who is also the chair of its Sustainable Earth Office and a visiting professor at its school of biological sciences.

He told The Sunday Times that the partnership had its beginnings in 2012, when he was visiting the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, in Latin America.

While there, he learnt about the ForestGEO programme - a network of more than 60 tropical and temperate forest plots in 24 countries being studied for function and diversity.

"The network was working very well, but they had some difficulties getting leading personalities in Asia to run their Asia hub," Prof Zehnder said.

At that time, NTU was also in discussions to set up the Asian School of Environment, which includes an ecology department, he added.

"So the idea to work together was born in Panama city - we can profit from the Smithsonian's know-how in ecology, and they can profit from our position in South-east Asia."

While broad in scope, the research projects will relate more to forest and marine ecology - important areas of study for Singapore, said NTU president Bertil Andersson.

The study of green spaces is important so the Republic can avoid becoming a "desert of houses", he said.

Marine ecology research is critical as well, considering Singapore's vibrant maritime industry.

Noted Prof Andersson: "Singapore, with all its shipping, could change the vegetation in the sea dramatically, and this could have an influence on our economy."

Read more!

Sitting just outside marine treasure trove

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 may 15;

Two years ago, the Smithsonian Institution launched MarineGEO - the world's first and only global monitoring network of marine sites, which complements its land-based ForestGEO programme.

There are only four active sites under the programme, all of which are located in the Americas.

But a new partnership with Nanyang Technological University could establish more sites in South-east Asia, said Dr Emmett Duffy, director of the Smithsonian's Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, which MarineGEO falls under.

"South-east Asia is one of the marine biodiversity hot spots of the world... I think that any sort of global marine biodiversity survey has to have an important partnership with (the region)," he said.

The coral triangle, which Singapore sits just outside of, is considered the world's richest treasure trove of marine life.

Details of the marine sites that will be included under MarineGEO have yet to be worked out, but a number of ongoing projects at NTU's Earth Observatory could dovetail nicely with MarineGEO's work.

Associate Professor Nathalie Goodkin from the observatory, for example, looks at how corals, which can live between 400 and 600 years, serve as indicators of climate change.

Corals record climate similarly to how trees do it, with semi-annual growth rings recorded in their calcium carbonate skeleton.

As corals grow, the ring patterns record a year's growth, and these rings contain varying chemicals that indicate the climatic conditions at the time.

"Corals form density rings that vary between summer and winter, allowing us to count back in time from the surface of a living coral," she explained.

"The bands allow us to look closely at specific periods of time to understand what the environment was like at that time."

Prof Goodkin hopes that as the number of locations being studied in the region increases, scientists will be able to use the data to improve regional climate forecasts and models.

She added: "Much of our research requires a biological interpretation and it is my hope that the partnership with the Smithsonian will increase the number of ecologists working in Singapore and the region.
"The more we can learn about the ecology of reef systems, the more we can interpret from the coral skeletons."

Read more!

'Incredible number' of tree species in small area

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 May 15;

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has well over 400 species of trees growing in it, an "incredible number" for an area so small, says Dr Stuart Davies, director of the Smithsonian's forest monitoring programme ForestGEO.

The Forest Global Earth Observatories (ForestGEO) programme is a network of 61 tropical and temperate forest plots in 24 countries, where scientists examine function and diversity.

A 4ha patch of primary rainforest in the 1.64 sq km Bukit Timah forest is one of the sites being studied, along with others in countries such as China, Malaysia and Thailand.

In Singapore, researchers have found that a 1ha plot within Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, possibly the world's most ancient small rainforest reserve, contains more tree species than the whole of North America.

Scientists from the Smithsonian and NTU's National Institute of Education, who have been studying the Bukit Timah plot for the past 23 years, have also found that the trees there are dying faster.

Dr Shawn Lum, a lecturer at the National Institute of Education who has been working with Dr Davies on the Bukit Timah plot, said that in general, the trees in Singapore's forests have a mortality rate about 3 per cent higher than a forest plot in Malaysia, but the trees which do not survive are young specimens.

"Even though the small trees may be dying, they are being replaced by faster-growing smaller trees.

It is interesting that the higher mortality is being offset by higher recruitment," said Dr Lum, who is also president of the Nature Society (Singapore).

The next step is to find out why - a question that researchers will hopefully answer with help from their counterparts in NTU's Asian School of the Environment.

Dr Davies also hopes to tap NTU's expertise at genetic sequencing to study forest ecology. For instance, the seraya tree native to Singapore has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus called ectomycorrhiza, which helps the tree absorb nutrients from the ground.

In return, the tree provides the fungus with food it makes during photosynthesis. But as this fungus does not produce mushrooms often, it is hard to detect its presence - which makes it difficult for researchers to learn more about it.

"With DNA technology, however, we can find this fungus very quickly in the roots or in the soil," said Dr Davies.

Under the new partnership, he is also hoping to study more forest plots, including those in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

By doing so, more data can be collected about the mortality of forests here, and how this affects the animals.

Read more!

Bukit Batok bug a harmless beetle

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 May 15;

The mystery bug that plagued Bukit Batok residents has been identified as a harmless beetle which does not even bite.

But what caused their sudden outbreak last month remains unclear.

Experts from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore have found out that the insect is the Ataenius australasiae.

About the size of a rice grain, the black-winged critters were seen in large numbers at three blocks of flats at Batok Batok West Avenue 8 at night, congregating at the lights in the void decks and common corridors. They then simply dropped dead, leaving huge piles of carcasses to clear.

"The sudden outbreak is still a mystery but now that the species is known, we can trace the possible sources. The immediate trigger is usually environmental," said Dr Hwang Wei Song, museum officer at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Experts identified the beetle after studying its morphology and using DNA sequencing. They then sought the help of entomologist Paul Skelley, who works for the Florida State Collection of Arthropods, to confirm their finding.

Dr Skelley said that these bugs have no "chewing mouth parts" and so cannot bite. But the way their legs hold on to surfaces can cause scratches, which people may think are bites.

"They do not carry any known disease, are not venomous and cannot harm humans," he said. "When numerous, adult beetles are only a nuisance pest."

To prevent future outbreaks, research needs to be done to find out where the beetle grub lives and to "alter the conditions that lead to the great increase in numbers", he added.

"Sometimes, outbreaks are the result of the species recently coming into an area where it has no natural enemies," said Dr Skelley.

Jurong Town Council general manager Ho Thian Poh said that while the town council has combed through open spaces, trees, rooftops and areas surrounding the blocks, it did not detect any breeding grounds.

The beetles were observed to have flown in from across the road towards the open field near the affected blocks.

Corridor and void deck lights facing that open field have since been covered with yellow cellophane paper so as not to attract the insects.

Residents said that they now see far fewer of these insects.

Said 29-year-old Simoh Goh, a financial consultant who lives at Block 170, one of the three affected blocks: "Initially, we were concerned, but we realised they don't bite so they're pretty harmless."

Read more!

Investigator with animal welfare group is on a mission to save tigers

Ling Yuanrong The New Paper AsiaOne 4 May 15;

Miss Noelle Seet is a full-time undercover investigator.

But instead of busting drug or prostitution rings, the job of the 35-year-old is to uncover wrongdoings related to animal welfare.

Miss Seet, who is with animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), went undercover between March and last month to ferret out the alleged sale of tiger body parts at 153 jewellery and antique shops in Singapore.

The body parts were seized after Acres presented their findings to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

Miss Seet, who has been in this line for the past year, admitted that the first few operations she took part in were a little nerve-racking.

For instance, she had to pose as an interested customer and ask the shops about such details as prices. She was unsure if her cover would be blown or if she could gain the trust of the person she had to deal with.

"Although I was the one who was going round to expose people involved in these wrongdoings, I felt like I was the one doing something improper," she told The New Paper on Wednesday.

"After a while, I learnt that I'm on a mission and there's no room for fear," she added.

There are risks, especially when the mission involves exposing crime syndicates who profit from the sale of wildlife, she said. She fears being targeted by these groups in reprisal for undermining their operations.


She would not reveal details, but said there are elaborate safety measures taken to counter such risks.

To ensure their safety, Acres investigators also undergo about two to three weeks of training before going undercover. The training is conducted by psychologists and private investigators.

Investigators have to possess certain qualities, including the ability to keep calm and composed in tense situations, in order to be selected for the job.

They have to be able to manage their emotions well, too, said Miss Seet.

"It is important that as investigators, we don't let our feelings control us. But this can sometimes be a challenge, especially when we are presented with so many acts of cruelty against animals."

Indeed, she is particularly perturbed by the conditions in which animals are smuggled.

Miss Seet said that the investigators at Acres are all passionate about improving animal welfare.

And that was the reason she took up the job in the first place.

Despite her passion for effecting change, Miss Seet has also learnt to manage her expectations and has come to accept that change takes time.

"It is not possible to change everything overnight. But I know I am doing something and it all contributes to the final objective of improving the welfare of animals," she said.
More online ads for tiger parts

While fewer physical shops are selling alleged tiger parts, more online advertisements have been popping up.

The trend was announced by the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) on Wednesday at a press conference.

The animal welfare group found that four out of 153 shops it surveyed as part of a recent undercover operation were offering tiger parts like the animal's teeth and claws.

This was a drastic drop from 2010, when a similar investigation by Acres revealed that 59 out of 134 shops were selling tiger parts. However, Acres found 14 such advertisements on local platforms like Carousell and Gumtree on Tuesday.

Trade in tigers, including their parts and products, is prohibited in Singapore.

Acres submitted its findings from the recent operation to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which investigated the four identified shops.


An AVA spokesman told The New Paper on Wednesday that eight pieces of animal parts allegedly from tigers and seals had been seized from three shops.

The items are undergoing forensic analysis to determine their authenticity.

The animal welfare organisation said it will continue to work with AVA to tackle the growing online trade.

Anyone found possessing, selling, offering, advertising, or displaying any endangered species for sale, regardless of authenticity, is liable for a $50,000 fine, a jail term of up to two years for each animal part, or both.

Members of the public are encouraged to contact Acres through its wildlife crime hotline 9783-7782 if they know of any sales of alleged tiger parts.

Read more!

Over 10,000 fan out to pick up litter across Singapore

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 4 May 15;

More than 10,000 volunteers spread out across Singapore yesterday with one mission: to pick up every piece of litter in sight and clean up the country.

Armed with gloves, trash bags and tongs, they got rid of eyesores like cigarette butts, plastic bags, tissue paper and even cardboard packaging from the ground, grass verges and roadside bushes.

Schools and companies led clean-up efforts by students, staff and family members at public spaces such as parks and beaches to support the islandwide housekeeping.

The volunteers - who also included non-government groups, town councils and government agencies - were part of Operation We Clean Up!, a one-day event organised by the Public Hygiene Council, Keep Singapore Beautiful Movement and Singapore Kindness Movement.

The day-long clean-up was the first of its kind and spanned 133 locations. More than 7,000kg of rubbish was collected.

Among the people who braved light rain in Bukit Panjang yesterday morning were father-and- daughter team Kevin and Kezel Ong.

Kezel, seven, had been dismayed by the cigarette butts and other rubbish in the estate, and was singled out by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday for speaking up about the issue at a residents' committee meeting she attended with her father last year.

"Our playground and void deck can get quite dirty, and it makes our neighbourhood ugly," she told The Straits Times.

The country's cleanliness has been on the decline despite an army of more than 52,000 cleaners.

Earlier this year, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote that Singapore would likely become a "garbage city" were it not for its cleaners, after pictures surfaced online of the mess left behind by people who went to a concert at Gardens by the Bay.

Last year, the National Environment Agency issued about 19,000 tickets for littering, almost double the number in 2013.

To show people how much litter can be generated in a single day, general area cleaning was stopped in nearly 70 precincts last Saturday and the cleaners given a rest day.

Before the start of the clean-up session in Bukit Panjang yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said: "By keeping our neighbourhoods clean, we are sending a signal to everyone that we are proud of our home."

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 cleaners across the 15 People's Action Party town councils were treated to an appreciation lunch yesterday and given a $20 NTUC FairPrice voucher each.

Mr Tan Hock Chye, 54, one of the cleaners, said he appreciated the acknowledgement of their work.

He said: "It's good for encouragement and morale, but it would be even better if more people would learn not to litter everywhere and throw their rubbish away properly."

Read more!

Preservation groups, activists raise concerns about Batam property with captive dolphins

Audrey Tan and Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 May 15;

Wildlife preservation groups and animal activists are dismayed at news that a Batam property developer wants to build homes around a lagoon filled with captive dolphins.

Funtasy Island, which is being marketed in Singapore, promises villas built over the water. Its advertisements show residents living close to leaping dolphins.

The plan is for 64 villas to be built on the circumference of an 8.7ha dolphin lagoon, roughly the size of 13 football fields.

Funtasy Island Development, the Singapore firm set up to market the project for the Indonesian developer, told The Sunday Times that the number of dolphins has not been finalised, but people who went to the project's showroom here last month were told there would be 35.

Funtasy Island director Michael Yong said no wild dolphins would be caught for the lagoon. Instead, it will have dolphins "rescued or saved" from dolphinariums, as well as injured dolphins caught by fishermen.

"Some of the dolphins are already in these facilities," he told The Sunday Times. These are dolphins confiscated by the authorities, as they were "not treated well" at the facilities. Moving them to the Funtasy Island lagoon would be "an upgrade of life for the dolphins", he said.

But experts and wildlife groups are not convinced, and warn of safety and health issues for both humans and animals if the project goes ahead.

A spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore said the portrayal of dolphins as ever-friendly smiling creatures can be misleading. Dolphin attacks on humans are not unheard of, he said.

In 2012, a dolphin at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, bit an eight-year- old girl as she was feeding it.

Captive dolphins have to be protected from a range of risks, said Dr Elizabeth Taylor, head of the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute, which has a lab on St John's Island.

These include plastic bags that are blown into the lagoon, which the dolphins might swallow, or inappropriate food being offered to them.

Noting that the project is coming up off Batam, Ms Femke den Haas, from wildlife protection group Jakarta Animal Aid Network, a non-government organisation against animals in captivity, said: "It shows how little Indonesia cares about its marine mammals, continuously allowing dolphins to be exploited for commercial reasons."

Mr Pramudya Harzani, country coordinator for Indonesia from the Dolphin Project, an international campaign against dolphins in captivity, said there are more than 90 dolphins in the five dolphinariums and six travelling circuses in Indonesia.

"These facilities claim the captive dolphins are used for research, but they are used more for entertainment and tourism," he said. "They are kept in small tanks and in pools with a lot of chlorine, which can cause blindness in the marine mammals."

Mr James Chua, Singapore coordinator for marine conservation group Sea Shepherd Asia, said: "We are deeply concerned about which facilities these dolphins are coming from, whether they are closing down and need to move their dolphins to Funtasy Island, or just making room at their facilities for more dolphins caught from the wild or other sources."

Instead of having a lagoon filled with captive dolphins, he suggested that the Funtasy Island developers consider "responsible, regulated wild dolphin watching tours - a much more viable, ethical, cost-effective and profitable option".

Dr Taylor added: "There are wild dolphins in Batam's waters - bottlenose and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. I think it would be better to help support these groups of wild animals rather than bring in other animals."

Living with dolphins
Toh Yong Chuan And Janice Tai The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 May 15;

An Indonesian developer says Singapore buyers are showing keen interest in a project promising villas built over the sea, with dolphins at the residents' doorsteps.

Batam-based developer PT Batam Island Marina and its Singapore investment partner Seven Seas FID are planning 64 villas, each shaped like a round bamboo hut and built around a lagoon with dolphins which residents can feed and play with.

Priced at $758,000 each, the villas were launched here two weeks ago with a blaze of advertisements showing dolphins leaping out of the water, and the Marina Bay Sands skyline on the horizon. The project is coming up in the midst of six small islands known collectively as Pulau Manis, 3km off Batam.

Each villa has two bedrooms and is about the size of a Housing Board executive flat. The developer has promised shops and restaurants nearby, but has been mum about maintenance costs and whether residents must pay for the dolphins' upkeep.

Half the units went on sale at a swanky showroom in the upmarket One Degree 15 marina on Sentosa two weeks ago. A visit there found the place buzzing at the launch.

A team of about 10 salesmen dressed in suits attended to a steady stream of walk-in prospects, showing them a multimedia presentation, artists' impressions and a scale model of the villas, before discussing the financing plans over snacks, coffee and soft drinks.

According to Funtasy Island Development, a Singapore firm set up in 2010 to market the dolphin villas and other homes on Pulau Manis, there is no shortage of buyers.

Director Michael Yong declined to give exact figures but said the initial sales "exceeded expectations". A Malaysian with Singapore permanent residency, he owns 30 per cent of Funtasy Island Development. The rest is owned by Indonesian businessmen Ade Soehari and Luky Winata.

The project is coming up in an area owned by PT Batam Island Marina. Foreigners cannot own land in Indonesia but can be granted 25-year leases which can be extended in 20-year blocks. The Indonesian company has promised on its website to renew Funtasy Island's leases up to 2112.

There are eight other housing projects being built on Pulau Manis, with a total of 621 units - 159 are built over water and the rest are bungalows and apartments built on land.

Mr Yong's firm is marketing these properties and he said he has sold 90 per cent of the units so far, raking in $250 million since 2011.

"About 70 per cent of buyers were Singaporeans," he added.

None of the projects has been completed. At least one development, a cluster of bungalows that should have been completed last year, has been delayed. The latest project, the dolphin villas, is slated to be ready by the end of 2018.

The six islands have a land area of about 1 sq km, or about 140 football fields. The developer had included the waters around the islands in its calculation when it claimed in its promotional material that the "theme park" will be about two-thirds the size of Sentosa.

Besides the dolphin lagoon, the theme park also promises an aviary, a stingray habitat and boat ride through mangrove swamps. Visitors and residents will have access to the theme parks, the developer said in its brochures and website.

Visitors from Singapore now have to take a 45-minute ferry ride from HarbourFront Centre to Batam's Sekupang Ferry Terminal, clear Indonesian immigration and then hire a local boat for a 15-minute trip to Pulau Manis.

Mr Yong said the 16km journey between Sentosa and the islands will take just 20 minutes when his firm launches a direct ferry service.

A Sunday Times team visited the project site two weeks ago and was told by local fishermen that the islands were uninhabited until construction started a few years ago.

There were at least 50 uncompleted bungalows, part of a project called Corallium Villas that was supposed to have been ready in the middle of last year.

Mr Yong confirmed the delay and said it was caused by a longer than expected time to get an expert to conduct a green building study before construction could begin.

He said the affected buyers were paid $3 million in compensation for the delay. "This will come from future profits, so we still are financially sound," he said.

Retiree Serene Cheong was one of those who bought a $500,000 bungalow there in 2012. She was not too bothered when told that her bungalow, slated for completion next year, was six to nine months behind schedule.

"I am not too concerned because that is expected for waterfront projects where they have to do the piling deep in the water, " said Mrs Cheong, who is married and in her 50s.

The projects off Batam are not subject to any rules which apply to Singapore property projects as they are foreign property developments.

A spokesman for the Council of Estate Agencies said: "Whether consumers buy directly from foreign developers or through an estate agent, they should exercise due diligence before entering into any agreement to buy foreign properties."

Funtasy Island has guaranteed buyers a rental yield of 7 per cent a year for three years. This is typical of projects marketed in Jakarta, said Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of estate agency Century 21.

Aside from evaluating the risks of overseas purchases, he said buyers of the Pulau Manis developments should consider longer-term factors like maintenance costs.

"The houses are built over sea water," he pointed out. "The build quality has to be top-notch and maintenance costs will be higher."

Read more!

Borneo 'a major deforestation front'

PATRICK LEE The Star 4 May 15;

PETALING JAYA: Up to 22 million hectares of forest in Borneo are under threat of being felled by 2030, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned.

The combined area, covering forests in Malaysia and Indonesia, is nearly twice the size of Sarawak or the peninsular.

The WWF’s Saving Forests at Risk report describes it as “a major deforestation front”.

Although much of the deforestation is expected to be in Kalimantan, the report also roughly zoned three areas in Sabah and Sarawak.

According to the report, these areas were in danger of being logged or being converted into oil palm plantations.

“Most new plantations are expected to be in Sarawak,” the report said without specifying which forests were likely to be felled, or how big the areas were expected to be.

It also listed dam-building, deliberate forest fires and mining to be among the causes of Borneo’s future forest losses.

“Fire impacts have been greatest in West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and Sabah,” the report noted.

It said roads carved into forests made it easier for settlers and loggers to enter remote forest areas, adding that Sabah and Sarawak had 364,000km of roads in forests.

The island of Borneo was listed as one of 11 deforestation fronts worldwide, including the Amazon, Congo Basin, Sumatra and the Greater Mekong.

Between 2003 and 2008, a total of 5.8 million hectares of forests - more than twice the size of Perak - were cleared in Borneo while the loss of 20 million hectares of forests were recorded between 1985 and 1997.

The report stated that the Malaysian and Indonesian governments were committed to conserving forests within Borneo’s inland areas.

However, it also implied that environment plans could be made by higher-ranking officials but those at the lower end might not follow through.

For example, it said Indonesia was committed to preserving 45% of its Kalimantan provinces as forests but this was not reflected in district and provincial development plans.

Read more!

Malaysia: Sustainable logging at vast tracts of Sarawak forests

The Star 4 May 15;

PETALING JAYA: Some six million hectares of forests in Sarawak - about half the size of the state - will be logged sustainably.

Sarawak Forestry Department director Sapuan Ahmad said the logging area is under the larger seven million hectare zone, reserved as the state’s forests.

“Of Sarawak’s 12.4 million hectare-size jungles, seven million is for forestry and 5.4 million hectares for agriculture or settlements,

“Six million (hectares) is under sustainable logging and one million will not be logged,” he told The Star.

Sapuan said he was not worried about deforestation in Sarawak, adding that oil palm growing and other matters would be within the 5.4 million-hectare area.

“This means Sarawak will have more than half of its land area remain as forests,” he said when asked to comment on the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) report on global deforestation.

Data from the World Bank showed that as of 2014, 34.1% of Canada’s total land was forest, compared with 61.7% of Malaysia.

Sustainable logging means that an area can be allowed to be logged in such a way that there would always be enought trees for people to cut later.

It is the opposite of clear-cutting, which may see vast areas of forests felled in one go.

The island of Borneo has been listed as one of 11 major deforestation fronts worldwide.

Last year, the Sarawak government launched a major crackdown against illegal logging activities in the state.

It has also increased the penalty for illegal timber exports in April from a RM50,000 fine to RM500,000 fine and also longer jail terms for offenders.

Sarawak had in the past came under fire for large-scale deforestation.

Read more!