Best of our wild blogs: 12 May 15

First SG 50 Intertidal Walk to Pulau Hantu
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

His final-year project looks at impact of new MRT line
Love our MacRitchie Forest

The One and Only True Bug (Not Really)
Saving MacRitchie

Variegated Green Skimmer ovipositing
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Exhibit by NTU student shows fragility of MacRitchie

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 12 May 15;

A slice of Singapore's wilderness has been recreated at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), complete with the sights, sounds and smells that come with a forest.

Visitors to the Developing MacRitchie interactive media exhibition will hear the chirping of birds, smell the forest and even walk on boardwalks similar to those found at the MacRitchie Nature Trail, a gateway to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

But they will also learn that all these could be at stake, when the new Cross Island MRT Line connecting Changi to Jurong is built by 2030.

Developed by NTU School of Art, Design and Media student Chu Hao Pei, 25, the exhibit - part of the ADM Show 2015 and his final-year project - draws attention to the threat faced by the nature reserve.

Said the interactive media major: "I hope people will rethink the idea that development is defined by new creations... I am not against the Cross Island Line, but I hope that it can be diverted."

The line was first announced by the Government in early 2013 and preliminary alignment plans show that it may cut through primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

Mr Chu's stand echoes that of the Nature Society (Singapore), which had suggested in a position paper to the authorities in July 2013 that the line be built along Lornie Road - a route that goes around Singapore's largest nature reserve instead of through it.

The exhibit took Mr Chu about a year to prepare. For 10 months, he went to the reserve about two times a week to take notes, videos and photographs of the flora and fauna.

Then he edited the footage, did research on the 150-year-old portion of the reserve that will be affected, and compiled them for the exhibit.

Included in the exhibit are three video monologues. Told from the perspectives of the primary rainforest, the plants, and the animals, they emphasise the impact of the construction on the inhabitants of the reserve.

The videos also provide the historical context of the nature reserve, such as how parts of it were used for gambier and pepper plantations in the early 19th century.

Environmentalists have cautioned that the land clearing needed for soil investigation works could affect the forest, home to birds such as the critically endangered white-rumped shama.

An environmental impact assessment to determine the effect of the development on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is now under way and will be completed next year.

The study's results, input from green groups, and factors such as connectivity, travel times, costs and the compatibility of land use will help the authorities in deciding the final alignment of the rail line.

Ms Chloe Tan, project manager of nature group Love Our MacRitchie Forest, said that video clips from Mr Chu's exhibit could be shared on social media to help spread awareness. The group conducts outreach activities, such as monthly walks to the reserve, to raise the area's profile.

She added: "It is our hope that the efforts of various individuals and organisations to raise awareness about the issue will urge the Government to reconsider the (proposed) alignment of the MRT line."

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Results of electric vehicle car-sharing proposals will be revealed end-2015: MTI

Channel NewsAsia 11 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The results of the Request for Information (RFI) inviting proposals for the trial of an electric vehicle (EV) car-sharing programme will be revealed by the end of 2015, said the Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck in Parliament on Monday (May 11).

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Economic Development Board (EDB) had issued the RFI in December last year, and the period for submissions has ended, Mr Teo said, in reply to a question by NCMP Yee Jen Jong. The proposals are currently being evaluated by LTA and EDB, added Mr Teo.

As to why Phase 2 will span 10 years, when Phase 1 spanned between 2011 and 2013, the Minister of State said this is because operators under the second phase will have to incur significant upfront cost of investments in the vehicles and the network of charging infrastructure.

"EV Phase 2 will explore fleet-based, shared car operations with the potential to reap economies of scale through higher daily mileage and potentially lower running costs," Mr Teo said. "The 10-year period will allow adequate time for the companies to recover their investment."

He added that those who wish to purchase EVs can benefit from the recently enhanced Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), under which low carbon emission vehicles stand to enjoy rebates of up to S$30,000 off the Additional Registration Fee (ARF).

- CNA/kk

Govt not adopting diesel hybrid buses on large scale for now: Lui
Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia 11 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The Government has decided not to adopt diesel hybrid buses on a large scale for now, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew. This is in view of the significantly higher cost and its unproven reliability in the local climate, he said.

Mr Lui said this in a written parliamentary response on Monday (May 11), to a question raised by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong, who had asked for the results of the two diesel hybrid bus trials conducted by public transport operators from 2010 to 2012.

The trials had indicated an improvement in fuel efficiency by about 25 per cent, while the results were less conclusive for emissions. Mr Lui added that fuel savings were also insufficient to offset the 140 per cent higher cost compared to normal buses.

ComfortDelGro Engineering estimated the trials to cost S$1.7 million. The firm had partnered the Land Transport Authority (LTA) for the trials. LTA's share came up to about S$660,000.

SBS Transit's diesel hybrid bus trial began in March this year at the manufacturer's initiative, with no government funding. The trial is intended to test the performance of the manufacturer's diesel hybrid buses in Singapore's climate.

Mr Lui said the authorities will continue to monitor prices and find opportunities to test different models of such buses.

- CNA/hs

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Indonesia: Palm sustainability group puts expansion ban on Golden Agri unit

MICHAEL TAYLOR Reuters 11 May 15;

May 11 A palm oil industry body has ordered a unit of one of the world's major producers to stop buying or developing new plantations in Indonesia, in a dispute seen as a test case on expansion by agribusiness firms versus local land rights.

The subsidiary of Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources Ltd was ordered to stop buying or developing new plantation land by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) after it was found to have breached rules on land acquisition.

Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) is the parent of Indonesian palm company PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) , which has plantations spread over 473,000 hectares mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Rights groups accuse a separate subsidiary of taking land from local people without free and informed consent - breaching sustainability guidelines which require residents to approve land deals.

The showdown is just one of an estimated 4,000 land-related conflicts between palm oil producers and local communities recorded by Indonesia's government in the world's biggest palm oil producing nation.

The RSPO is a body of consumers, green groups and plantation firms that aims to promote the use of sustainable palm oil products and is used by many European palm oil buyers as the international sustainability benchmark.

In a letter dated May 6, the RSPO's complaints panel said Golden Agri-Resouces hadn't adhered to RSPO rules on conservation assessments and consultation and consent of local people before converting land for planting in West Kalimantan.

Golden Agri-Resources had until May 20 to respond to the panel's preliminary decision, Stefano Savi, spokesman at the RSPO said on Monday.

Conservation groups welcomed the decision.

"We are greatly encouraged that the RSPO is upholding its standard. We need to eliminate all land-grabbing from the RSPO-endorsed supply chain," Marcus Colchester, Senior Policy Advisor of the Forest Peoples Programme said in a statement.

The RSPO has the power to withdraw membership, which could potentially lead to lower purchases by Western consumers concerned at sustainability in the industry, although Savi said he was confident a settlement could be reached.

Golden Agri-Resources, which is due to report its first-quarter results on Tuesday, said it had voluntarily put on hold land preparation for all new plantings since early November.

"GAR reiterates that we remain committed to acting responsibly and working with stakeholders to address the outstanding issues raised."

Golden Agri-Resources has been working with the Indonesian government and green groups to set new environmental standards, following a 2010 deforestation campaign by Greenpeace attacking its Indonesian-listed unit SMART.

(Additional reporting by Rujun Shen in Singapore; reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Indonesia: Time to See the Forest for the Oil Palm Trees in Riau Row

Dessy Sagita Jakarta Globe 11 May 15;

Riau province in Sumatra has more than seven million hectares of forest but less than two million hectares remain intact, thanks largely to oil palm plantations. (Antara Photo/F.B. Anggoro)

Tembilahan, Riau. It was almost 10 a.m. when a group of men rowed their kayaks along the lush and narrow swamp to a peat land forest located an hour away from their village in Pungkat, Indragiri Hilir, Riau.

The men have heard an oil palm plantation would be built in the forest despite their outcry.

The resistance had, just a few months ago, triggered a clash in which 21 villagers ended up behind bars charged with damaging the oil palm company’s property.

The site the men were headed to was a canal newly built by the company to dry out the peat land. The canal had polluted the main source of drinking water in the area.

Upon arriving, the men were unpleasantly surprised to see the new canal.

Trees, including the rare gonystylus bancanus, known locally as Ramin, have been cut and felled. Ramin trees are now so rare the government has issued a ban on cutting them down.

The forest near the canal has disappeared. Dead trees and logs are lying around on the vacant peat land.

“Oh my God!” Rasidi, one of the villagers exclaimed in English in utter shock. “It’s all gone, our springs, our livelihood has been destroyed.”

The villagers got off their kayaks to inspect the newly bulldozed peat land. Two excavators were parked but no operator was in sight.

“They knew we were coming, maybe they are hiding nearby right now, they will be back doing their jobs when the night comes,” another villager said.

The villagers have been voicing their opposition to the palm plantation operation over fears of forest destruction.

Growing frustrated, the villagers even wrote a letter to President Joko Widodo, asking him to take an action to stop the palm oil companies from destroying the environment.

Land dispute

Pungkat village, reached from Riau’s capital of Pekanbaru after a seven hour drive and two hours on a speedboat, has been entangled in a dispute with Setia Agrindo Lestari, or SAL, a palm plantation company and subsidiary of First Resources, which has been listed on the Singapore stock exchange since 2007.

The conflict began when villagers were made aware of SAL’s plan to open a palm plantation stretching over 17,000 hectares of peat land in several villages in the Gaung subdistrict where Pungkat is located.

Locals argued that the land was inside the moratorium area where no production activity is permitted. The community was concerned the palm oil plantation would destroy their livelihood. More than 80 percent of villagers make their living making wooden boats — and the forest is the source of raw material.

Asmar, a boat maker, said the villagers have been making boats since 1940 but there had never been a problem with the ecosystem until the company has started the land clearing.

Villagers began their protest by sending their complaint to the local government and legislators, to no avail.

The locals complained that not only had the SAL operation has made it difficult for them to find the wood needed to make the boats, it also polluted the river, forcing the community to rely on rain water to drink.

The district head of Indragiri Hilir, H.M.Wardan, issued three letters ordering the temporary suspension of SAL operations until the dispute about the permit and legality could be settled. His warnings were ignored and SAL continued the project.

Tensions escalated as angry villagers took matters into their own hands in June of last year. Dozens of Pungkat villagers torched heavy equipment and excavators used by SAL to bulldoze the land.

Villagers claimed they were provoked as the company had refused to comply with the government’s instruction.

One early morning in August, 240 police mobile brigade officers stormed into the village and raided dozens of homes. Those involved in the arson were lined up in a field and 40 men were arrested.

“We deeply regretted the arrest, not only because it was done only a week after Idul Fitri but also the procedures were flawed,” Riko Kurniawan, the executive director of Riau chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

Riko said the police did not bring any warrants for the arrests.

“They [the police] read an SMS text and those whose names were in the text were arrested,” Riko said.

After the arrest, the whole village was closed for 10 days. Schools and mosques were closed because the villagers were too scared to go out in case the police returned to arrest more people.

The police released 19 men after days of questioning but 21 men were declared guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison, including Rasidi, who was recently released on probation.

Rasidi said he was lucky to be treated well while in prison. Some other villagers claimed the police abused them during the investigation.

Asmar, who was detained for four days before he was released said the villagers resorted to arson because they were desperate after their numerous protests remained unheard.

“Why didn’t those officials pay any attention? What made us even more furious is that there was no talk about it, suddenly the company invaded our village,” Asmar said.

“Our forest has been robbed, our environment has been polluted,” he said.

Asmar said some people have sold the land and made a deal with the company on behalf of the villagers. He refused to name the person but other villagers indicated the perpetrator was the village head.

Riko said the whole operation of SAL in the area was problematic. The concession permit for the company was issued by former Indragiri Hilir district head, Indra Mukhlis Adnan a month before his tenure ended in 2013. Indra issued 27 land concession permits despite the forest moratorium still in effect.

“Even though the permit was issued by the former district head, the current district head could put the brakes on it if he wants to,” Riko said.

To ease tensions after the attack, the district head issued another instruction for SAL to halt its operation on October. The order was once again ignored as SAL is still operating to clear the land.

The village, assisted by Walhi and several other environmental groups such as the Riau Forest Rescue Working Network (Jikalahari) reported the case to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Riko said SAL did not have the right of cultivation, or HGU, the final permit required of commercial oil palm planters and only has the location permit.

SAL has not obtained the necessary permit from the Environment and Forestry Ministry to begin work on the land, said Riko.

The land belonging to SAL overlaps with land owned by companies Mutiara Sabuk Khatulistiwa and Bina Keluarga.

Walhi has expressed its intention to bring the dispute between Pungkat village and SAL to the next Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) summit.

“RSPO has expressed its commitment to fight against forest fire and First Resources is a RSPO member,” Riko said.

SAL spokesman Thomas did not respond to the Jakarta Globe’s repeated attempts to contact him for comment.

However, during the trial held for Pungkat villagers, Thomas was summoned to testify and told the court that SAL never received any letter from the district head ordering the company to stop its operation. He claimed that SAL only received the instruction after the arson incident.

His statement was promptly refuted by the villagers’ lawyer who showed the judges the evidence that the instruction letters had come before the attack.

The dispute issues in Riau has attracted much attention as the province has the largest peat land in Sumatra. More than 50 percent of Sumatra’s peat land area is found in Riau.

In the past few years, the province has been the target of massive criticism for frequent forest fires which send a severe haze over several neighboring countries and causes respiratory problems in Riau.

The province has more than seven million hectares of forest but less than two million hectares remain intact.

Forest and peat land use moratorium

Riko said the rampant violation of the land concession permit has proven that the forest use moratorium, first imposed by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2011, must be extended.

The moratorium was first imposed until 2013 and was extended for another two years until May 12 this year.

“Forest destruction in this country is unimaginable, the forest management is so messy and moratorium gives nature a time to breathe,” Riko said.

The forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya, last week announced the moratorium would likely be extended for another two years in the near future.

Riko said the government must implement a stricter regulation by announcing the moratorium extension with a presidential regulation (Perpres) instead of presidential instruction (Inspres).

“If the country wants to make a regulation, it has to be accompanied by a strict sanction when a violation happens, we have a concern that if the moratorium is announced with just an Inpres, it will be the same as before,” Riko said.

Siti however has said that the legal basis of the new moratorium would still be an Inpres, not a Perpres.

Riko said the government should not limit the forest use moratorium to a period of a few years.

Many activists have said that the short forest use moratorium could not save the environment if the government continued issuing forest use permits for major corporations which would be valid for decades. Some companies even managed to obtain a permit that is valid for 100 years.

“Moratoriums should not be limited to a yearly period, it must be regulated based on the specific intention because every place has a different problem,” Riko said.

Jikalahari activist Muslim Rashid said the moratorium use should also be strengthened by providing more access to the public for active involvement in the forest protection schemes.

“Social forestry and traditional forest schemes can be a basis for the public’s right to be actively involved and it will strengthen the moratorium itself,” he said.

It can be done

Allowing the locals to implement their local wisdoms to protect forests has proven successful for Rimbang Baling wildlife reserve, located some 90 kilometers from the capital of Pekanbaru.

The sanctuary stretches 136,000 hectares between Kampar and Kuantan districts and is home to several rare species including the endangered Sumatran tiger and 170 species of rare birds.

Unlike many forest in Riau which have been damaged by palm plantations, Rimbang Baling is relatively untouched.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) noted that more than 80 percent of the forest area in Rimbang Baling remains in a good condition even with some possibility of illegal logging.

In Muara Bio village, located within the wildlife reserve, the cultural leaders (ninik mamak) play a very important role to preserve the environment. According to local custom, villagers are not allowed to cut or fell trees within the protected forest area.

Although no sanction has been imposed, no violations has been found because the community pay the utmost respect to the leaders.

Not far from Muara Bio, in Tanjung Belit village, the locals have embraced the forest protection spirit and stipulated it into a village regulation.

“Catching fish using a bomb is prohibited and those who violate it will be fined Rp 10 million [$759], the regulation applies to both locals and visitors,” said Guntur, the Tanjung Belit village head.

The village is currently drafting another regulation to protect the forest by declaring a forbidden forest area in which all forest clearing is banned.

“We will make the traditional forest into a forbidden forest so people who wish to have an ecotourism activity should look for another place to visit,” Guntur said.

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Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

IPCC climate modelling proves right as scientists find a glitch in satellite led to inaccurate records in 1990s suggesting rate of sea level rise was slowing
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 11 May 15;

Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research.

Records from tide gauges and satellites have shown sea level rise slowing slightly over the past 20 years. But as the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland shed ever more water into the ocean, climate models show it should be doing the opposite.

“The thing that was really puzzling us was that the last decade of sea level rise was marginally slower, ever so subtly slower, than the decade before it,” said Dr Christopher Watson from the University of Tasmania who led the new study.

Watson’s team found that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. The error gave the illusion of the rate of sea level rise decreasing by 0.058 mm/year 2 between 1993 and 2014 , when in reality it accelerated by between 0.041 and 0.058 mm/year 2 . This brings the records into line with the modelling of the UN’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We see acceleration, and what I find striking about that is the fact that it’s consistent with the projections of sea level rise published by the IPCC,” said Watson. “Sea level rise is getting faster. We know it’s been getting faster over the last two decades than its been over the 20th century and its getting faster again.”

Professor Jonathan Gregory from the University of Reading and a lead author of the IPCC’s most recent climate report said the study was “interesting and useful” and shored up the predictions of the models.

“The better agreement of the altimeter record after the correction ... is a reason for greater confidence in the projections,” he said.

Sea level rise is measured using tide gauges on shorelines around the world and, since 1993, altimetric satellites. But both sets of data are imperfect.

The land the tide gauges sit on is constantly shifting. For example, said Watson, measurements in Alaska are thrown out by the continent rebounding upwards after being covered in a heavy ice sheet during the last ice age. While in Perth, Australia, the continental plate is subsiding.

The satellites orbit 746 miles above the Earth at 4 miles per second, firing beams of radar at the sea’s surface and recording the time it takes to bounce back. Watson said their accuracy was “staggering”. But the level of precision required to measure the slight but significant changes in sea level driven by climate change is very high. During the 1990s the satellite instrumentation degraded, losing some of its accuracy.

Watson’s team were able to compare the two data sets and identify where each was going wrong. The results revise downwards the average rate of sea level rise since the 1990s. The IPCC’s landmark report in 2013 found the sea had risen on average by 3.2 mm per year since 1993. Waston’s study found the rate was slightly slower, between 2.6 and 2.9 mm per year.

“I have no doubt there are members of the community who may wish to reevaluate [the predictions for sea level rise]. But as a scientist I come back to the data,” said Watson, preempting claims that the study was a scaling down of the threat of climate change to coastal communities.

“A single number implies that that rate is constant over time. And I think what is emerging here is that that’s not the case. That rate of change is actually increasing. For everyone that lives around the coastal margin, that’s a really concerning fact.”

In 2013, Gregory’s report to the IPCC predicted that sea level could rise between 28cm and 98cm by 2100 depending on how much carbon human industry emits this century.

“There is no reason to change the projections,” said Gregory.

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