Best of our wild blogs: 9 May 15

SG50 Intertidal Walks
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Wed 27 May 2015 @ NUS U Town ­ "The Future of Marine Science in Singapore"

In celebration of migratory bird day: Singapore and the East Asian-Australasian migratory flyway
Singapore Bird Group

Night Walk At Pasir Ris Farmway (08 May 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

The Julia Heliconian's Samba Continues...
Butterflies of Singapore

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Oar-some way to explore nature

Gurveen Kaur The Straits TimesS AsiaOne 9 May 15;

Sightings of otters in various parts of Singapore might have sent the public into a tizzy last year but for housewife Jenny Tan, 47, it was spotting a barn owl while kayaking along the Marina Reservoir that had her squealing in delight.

She says: "We caught sight of a barn owl perched in a corner beneath the Benjamin Sheares Bridge as well as a sea turtle and some otters too.

"It was a surprise for me to learn that such wildlife can be found in the middle of the city."

Ms Tan was on a guided kayak tour organised by the People's Association (PA) Water-Venture as part of its annual Discovery Series of guided expeditions on water to explore Singapore's flora and fauna.

This year, the series will take participants through three different waterscapes - reservoirs, open seas and mangrove habitats - with mangroves being the latest addition.

There will be nine tours in total, with routes ranging from 3 to 11km in areas including Jurong Lake, Marina Reservoir and Seletar Island.

Each expedition can have up to 100 participants who are split into smaller groups of 10 to 20 and accompanied by volunteer trainers.

Most of the programmes do not require any kayaking experience, but participants need to be older than 10 or 12 depending on the expedition.

Those between the ages of 10 and 12 need to be accompanied by an adult.

The cost starts from $20 for members of the public and $15 for PA Water-Venture members.

The trips will begin later this month and run till August.

Those interested can sign up on the PA website.

Only the Sea Discovery programmes, which takes participants to Seletar Island and Punggol Beach, require proof of kayaking experience.
Participants need to have a 1-star kayaking certificate or must have attended a previous PA's Discovery Series event, or have gone for a kayaking orientation programme.

Introduced in 2013, the Discovery Series aims to let Singaporeans appreciate the wildlife and vegetation along the country's waterways.

For example, during the mangrove tours, you are likely to spot the common mangrove tree api-api putih (Avicennia alba) and wildlife such as the black-crowned night heron as you kayak through Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris and Khatib Bongsu in Yishun.

The programme began with just the Reservoir Discovery Series. Following its success, Mr Roy Chew, PA WaterVenture's deputy director of the community sports division says other waterscape tours were introduced "to offer participants more opportunities to experience different waterscapes and terrains".

He adds that participation for these water tours has jumped fourfold since 2013 from 99 to 465.

Nature lover Ron Yeo, 40, who will be advising the volunteer trainers, hopes that the expeditions will widen the public's perspective of the diversity of Singapore's natural habitats.

Says the civil servant: "Many are so detached from nature here that they don't realise that there is a great deal of flora and fauna to be found in our own backyard.

"By kayaking through these mangroves and reservoirs, participants can get up close and personal with nature."

Book it


Where: Various parts of the island. Meet at the PA Water-Venture outlets

When: Nine expeditions will run from May 24 to August 23, 10am to 12.30pm

Cost: $20 to $40. $15 to $35 for PA Water-Venture members

Info: Go to to sign up. Search "Discovery Series" under "Activity"

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Nature and tranquility in Pasir Ris

Miranda Yeo and Gilaine Ng The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 May 15;

Those who call Pasir Ris home say it is the relative seclusion and serenity of their coastal town that they cherish above anything else.

Some upgrades, including the addition of more foliage and sheltered spots along two rivers running through the neighbourhood, have been welcomed.

But other plans to build and expand, while supported by businesses which lament quiet times, are unpopular among some who worry that the tranquillity of the park will be disturbed.

A 15 sq km green lung in the east bound by sand and sea, Pasir Ris - which means "white sand" in Malay - has a laid-back feel.

With entertainment spaces Downtown East and Costa Sands Resort, it draws holidaymakers from across Singapore to its leisure and entertainment amenities.

The neighbourhood, made up mainly of HDB blocks, is also home to many parks and water bodies, including beach-facing Pasir Ris Park, Pasir Ris Town Park, and the nature area next to Sungei Tampines river and Lorong Halus Wetland.

As of last year, the latest data available, more than 130,000 people were living there, many of whom had moved into new flats in the housing estate in the 1990s.

Pasir Ris Park, one of Singapore's largest, is popular with families who enjoy barbecues and camping. Apart from the beach, it features a carefully preserved 6ha mangrove forest as well as a bird-watching tower where visitors can spot anything from a native oriental pied hornbill to a heron picking its way through the shallows.

And at Pasir Ris Town Park, a stroll is accompanied by the occasional bird call and a briny smell wafting from the park's seawater fishing pond. From 7am to 9am each day, the park is a venue for older women practising taiji and residents strolling through on their way to the adjacent MRT station.

By the fish pond are two bistro-bars and a halal eatery that are empty in the day, but popular at night.

The pond and its restaurant businesses were opened by a new tenant, D'Best Fishing, in August last year, taking the place of hawker stalls.

Neighbourhood mall White Sands and Pasir Ris Elias Community Club are in the midst of upgrading works.

Changes were also made to the two rivers running alongside Tampines Expressway and Pasir Ris Drive 3, as part of national water agency PUB's latest Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters project.

Sungei Tampines, which runs through Pasir Ris Town Park, was made prettier with more foliage and sheltered benches along its banks.

Sungei Api Api, near Elias Mall, is lined with mangrove trees, which have been kept intact. Wider footpaths and sheltered lookout decks were added, along with short descriptions of flora and fauna that can be found along the river.

Soil and rocks such as porous lava stone were also placed along the two waterways to remove sediment and nutrients from the water naturally.

Ms Grace Tan, 46, walks her dog along Sungei Tampines twice each day. The real-estate division director lives in one of the blocks overlooking the river.

"The new greenery and amenities beautify the place. Now that the river is cleaner, we can actually see otters now and then," she said.

Mr Peter Gossler, 54, an avid cyclist who lives in a flat by Sungei Api Api, said he likes the changes to the riverfront.

"In the process, they had to cut a chunk of trees down but it is much cleaner now and we have sheltered sitting areas by the river," he said.

The businessman cycles by the river every morning and enjoys a 10-minute stroll down to the beach in his free time.

But some have bristled at plans to build a new hawker centre within the park, the latest in a series of objections the vocal residents have had about developments that threaten their prized green space.

In 2012, for instance, residents of Pasir Ris Heights started a petition to save a wooded area in their backyard - earmarked for development into an international school and condominiums.

The densely forested area, about the size of two football fields, was home to several endangered bird species, including the Changeable Hawk Eagle.

After a 10-month tussle with the residents, the Ministry of National Development went ahead with its plans.

Housewife Tricia-Ann Kee, 41, said she likes the new riverfront but is not keen on the planned hawker centre.

"It think it would make more sense to have the hawker centre at the empty area next to the MRT because placing it in the park (would make it) out of place."

Others, however, feel a hawker centre is long overdue.

Engineer Raam Vanka, 60, said he heard news of the hawker centre two years ago and was disappointed that it did not materialise.

"Our population has grown in recent years so, naturally, our amenities need to grow," he said.

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Retired teacher recalls life on St John's Island, for SG Heart Map

Chan Luo Er Channel NewsAsia 8 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Most people think of St John's Island as a former quarantine station for cholera-stricken Chinese immigrants or a holding place for political detainees. For eighty-four-year-old Mrs Lim Siew Yong, it is "paradise". The retired school teacher and her family lived on the island for two years, in 1962 and 1963.

"When I looked out from my window, I could see, faraway I think, there was a bungalow, where they say are the detainees,” said Mrs Lim. “The other side was the quarantined station. We also did not step into that area. All these were prohibited areas but the island was so big. It was the beach that I enjoyed most."

Mrs Lim fell in love with the place after a visit. She then put in a transfer request to the Education Ministry to teach at the only school on the island. It had about 100 students and five teachers.

Other factors also contributed to her decision. She and her husband felt that living in Singapore on a teacher's pay was too expensive and their three-year-old son was at an age where he needed space to run around.

On St John's, they lived at the teachers' quarters. Mr Lim taught at the neighbouring Lazarus Island.

Mrs Lim added that contrary to popular belief, island living was not at all backward: "There was a water boat that came to send water to the island and we had electricity, so everything was modern there. When we had the television in 1962, we were so thrilled. We could see programmes."

Mrs Lim's lasting memory is how peaceful and quiet the island was. "Over there, there was so much freedom, it was very carefree; there were no cars, no buses, we just walked around. It was like a little paradise, you had trees all around you,” she described. “Besides that, the paths were so well-made, they were all cemented paths, and very clean. The place was very clean."

Mrs Lim was also given a dog by a gardener on the island - it was a Samoyed which the gardener said had fallen off a cruise liner and swam ashore.

Mrs Lim made the tough decision to leave the island at the end of 1964 as her son was approaching kindergarten age. Although her years at St John's Island were short, she said it will always be home.

SG Heart Map plans to conduct tours for the public to some of these places, during the Jubilee Weekend from Aug 8-10.

It has been some years since Mrs Lim last visited the island and she said she would be delighted to visit it again. The last time she visited the island was in the 1980s with all her three children.

"We brought them in for a picnic, later on, there were these youth camps so we booked the place and brought all three to stay at the youth camps,” said Mrs Lim. “But the island was quite different, even the teachers' quarters were no longer in use."

- CNA/hs

‘Cikgu Lim’ recalls her stint on St John’s Island
Miranda Yeo The Straits Times AsiaOne 10 May 15;

IT HAS been more than half a century since Mrs Lim Siew Yong spent an idyllic two years living and teaching on St John's Island.

But the 84-year-old retiree still fondly recalls collecting seashells by the beach with her husband and son, taking in the fragrant scent of tembusu trees and being greeted as "cikgu" - Malay for teacher - by villagers there.

Her story is one of 80,000 contributed by Singaporeans to SG Heart Map, a cartographical collection of memories of favourite places. So fond are her recollections that she penned a 26-page account of her time on St John's Island.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu paid a visit to Mrs Lim yesterday at her home in Lorong Chuan.

Ms Fu, co-chair of the SG50 Environment and Infrastructure Committee, said that she was moved by Mrs Lim's story, which documents her time befriending the villagers and teaching in a small primary school.

"The story helps us trace a part of our history that is perhaps not so well known to Singaporeans," she said.

St John's Island was formerly a quarantine centre for cholera patients, a holding place for political detainees and later a site for a drug rehabilitation centre.

Mrs Lim's stories shed light on the island's village life then. She and her husband - both teachers - had moved to teach in the Southern Islands in 1962, attracted by the subsidised rent there for spacious and luxurious teachers' quarters, she said.

Mrs Lim was moved by the warmth of the villagers who helped her family move into their new home.

She also loved the tranquillity of the island.

"There were no cars and buses. It was like a little paradise with trees all around you," she added.

The Lims moved back to mainland Singapore in December 1963, so that their then four-year-old son could get a kindergarten education.

SG Heart Map was launched last November and has been collecting stories via its Web portal, contribution booths and roving vans.

The stories will be used to create a giant composite map of the 50 most iconic places, which will be unveiled in November.

Further details will be released later.

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Student eco-warrior

Amrita Kaur tabla! AsiaOne 8 May 15;

HIS projects tackling environmental issues and nature conservation helped 23-year-old Daniel Ravindran Thangaraju become one of five students to win the Youth Environmental Award recently.

The award is sponsored by the National Youth Achievement Award and HSBC Bank. As his prize, the first-year electrical and electronic engineering student at Singapore Polytechnic will embark on a week-long study trip to the Acadia National Park in Maine, US.

The August research trip will give Mr Ravindran the opportunity to work with researchers from Canada's Churchill Northern Studies Centre, which studies environmental issues in the northern hemisphere.

He said: "We will help to deploy cameras that focus on fruits of marked plants to capture evidence of the birds eating those fruits."

Researchers will then analyse the data gathered by the students to detect changes in life cycle events and interaction between the plants and birds over time.

Mr Ravindran said he believes that "studying electronics can play a major part in tackling environmental problems that society faces".

For instance, at his previous school - the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West, where he completed his higher NITEC in electronics engineering - he used his knowledge of electronics to come up with a battery e-waste bin to safely dispose of batteries.

Most batteries contain cadmium, lead, mercury, copper, zinc, manganese, lithium and potassium, which are hazardous to the environment and to health.

"Unfortunately, one widely-used method in the world is to send them to landfills, but this is not an environmentally-friendly option," Mr Ravindran said. With guidance from his lecturers, he created a circuit to discharge the battery's remaining power.

He emphasised that it is important to do this. Otherwise, that could cause toxic compounds from the battery to leak into the soil and water, polluting lakes and streams, thus making them unfit for marine animals to live in.

Said Mr Ravindran: "The e-waste bin, made of transparent acrylic, contains a tray to collect and connect the used batteries to the circuit to discharge the power in batteries."

The bin will be placed beside recycling bins in ITE College West by the end of this month.

As the ex-chairman of the school's World Wide Fund Eco Campus student committee, Mr Ravindran initiated meetings to identify environmental issues and discuss ideas to tackle them. At one such meeting, he suggested nominating an energy-saving ambassador for each class.

He also organised a photography competition titled Animals In Their Natural Habitat for three ITE Colleges last year to raise awareness of the different animals living around us.

Said ITE College West student development officer Tan Peng Peng: "It is evident through his projects that Daniel always seeks new and innovative ideas to tackle the environmental issues he identifies."

When Mr Ravindran is not busy with his eco-projects, he watches documentaries to expand his knowledge of environmental issues. "I want to constantly remind myself that climate change is happening very quickly. It also motivates me to do what I can to save the environment," he said.

His mother, Sushila, said she has always supported his environmental activities. She said: "I think it's important to not just concentrate on academic grades but also be aware of the surroundings you live in. He has excellently juggled his studies and green commitments and I'm proud of that."

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Malaysia: Developers of coastal and riverine projects must contribute to Johor Fishermen Development Fund

AHMAD FAIRUZ OTHMAN New Straits Times 8 May 15;

PASIR GUDANG: Property developers involved in coastal and riverine projects in Johor have been urged to adhere to a regulation that requires them to pay a 30 Sen contribution for each square foot of reclaimed land as the funds will go into the welfare of the affected fishermen.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the contribution from developers would become part of the Johor Fishermen Development Fund.

The fund is aimed at improving the lot of fishermen by helping them move up the value chain in the fisheries sector. Khaled said property developers must be involved when it comes to maintaining the welfare of fishermen, especially for those who were directly affected by their development projects. "The state government has imposed this collection for the fund.

It is 30 Sen for each square foot and it's not a big amount, so it will not be a burden for the developers," he said after handing out cash aid to fishermen in the Pasir Gudang parliamentary constituency at the Taman Mawar multipurpose hall, here yesterday.

The regulation began earlier this year. Khaled said the state government has provided RM10million advance for the Johor Fishermen Development Fund, and this has allowed it to hand out aid to 1,509 recipients who comprise fishermen, mussel cultivator and fish cage breeders state-wide.

"The state government has agreed to give out a RM1,000 aid to fishermen who are active in the southern region as there are reclamation works being done in the southern region," he said, adding the aid was part of the promises in the 2015 Budget.

On a related matter, Khaled said fishermen needed to undergo transformative process and look into new ways to improve their yield.

"This is why there is a transformation plan especially for fishermen. Cash aid is not enough for this sector as one needs to think of benefits in the long term," he said.

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Protecting Indonesia's forests is a key issue for Paris climate talks

Deforestation of Indonesia’s vast jungles releases enough greenhouse gas to push the country into the top five global emitters. Strengthening its forest protection moratorium should be part of a climate agreement at Paris this year
Nirarta Samadhi and Dr Nigel Sizer
Samadhi is director of WRI Indonesia. Sizer is global director of the WRI's forest programme
The Guardian 8 May 15;

If we are serious about tackling climate change, we need to talk about Indonesia.

While it may not be the country with the highest emissions from energy or industry, what Indonesia does have is forests, and lots of them. Many of the country’s more than 13,000 islands are blanketed by vast green jungles that absorb carbon and store it in trees and soils.

But Indonesia, like many fast-developing countries, is subject to widespread deforestation, releasing carbon pollution back into the atmosphere. Deforestation and land use change drives about 80% of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which according to some estimates makes it the world’s fifth biggest emitter.

This year, Indonesia’s leaders have the opportunity to limit these emissions by protecting some of its vast forests under its national “forest moratorium”.

This policy was put in place in by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as part of Indonesia’s commitment to reduce its emissions by 26% or more by 2020 (compared to “business as usual”). The moratorium called for no new licenses to convert primary forests and peatlands for other uses such as timber, wood pulp, and palm oil. It was extended in 2013, despite significant push-back from industry.

Now, the moratorium is up for renewal again. Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo and the Indonesia’s minister of environment and forests, Siti Nurbaya, have indicated they will likely extend it. This would be a sign of bold leadership sending an important signal about the government’s intentions to protect Indonesia’s natural resources and fight climate change.

In a new analysis of the climate impacts of the moratorium by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Center for Global Development and others found that the policy has reduced Indonesia’s emissions from forest clearing by 1-2.5% over four years. That’s not bad for a country with so much forest land, but it’s not sufficient if Indonesia wants to reach its 26% goal. It’s also nowhere near the amount of reductions needed to keep global temperature rise below 2C compared to pre-industrial levels, which is what’s needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Limiting climate change is in Indonesia’s interest since it is particularly susceptible to the salinization of low-lying rice paddies, rising sea levels along the sprawling coastline, and even increased spread of disease.

So what can the Indonesian government do to strengthen the moratorium?

First, it should increase local awareness and understanding of the moratorium. Experts from WRI and the Puter Foundation, an Indonesian NGO, interviewed officials from eight Indonesian districts about the policy. Only five out of eight districts knew the types of land protected under the moratorium; and only three out of eight knew the specific areas protected by the official moratorium map within their district boundaries. An awareness-raising campaign would not incur any additional political costs, and it would give local governments the opportunity to weigh in on how the policies are designed and implemented.

Second, the Indonesian government should close loopholes in the existing policy. The moratorium has built-in exceptions for “national development projects” including areas for oil and gas extraction, rice and sugarcane farming, palm oil for biofuel, and projects that can claim they contribute to a broad national food and energy security agenda. Rather than granting such exceptions, the government could focus on increasing yields through, for example, selective breeding and better planting techniques.

Third, over the long term, Indonesia also needs a more permanent policy for protecting its most sensitive forests and peatlands. Extending the current protections by two years would more than double the total emissions reductions. But permanent forest protections would dramatically reduce emissions in the long term. While this is challenging politically, there are countries willing to devote substantial funds to Indonesia as an economic alternative to deforestation. For instance, Norway and Indonesia recently renewed their partnership on forest conservation, including $1bn in funding.

Indonesia has already taken a leading role on climate through its ambitious national emissions targets. Extending the moratorium would further demonstrate the strength of the country’s resolve. Reaching a global climate agreement in Paris will take ambition and creativity from all directions. Extending the forest moratorium will show that Indonesia is ready to do its part.

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