Best of our wild blogs: 23 May 15

31 May - 5 Jun: Traditional Wayang at Pulau Ubin
wild shores of singapore

Punggol's living rocky shores
wild shores of singapore

Butterfly of the Month - May 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Informal Bird Survey at Lorong Halus – 22 May 2015
Singapore Bird Group

Yellow Bittern gaping
Bird Ecology Study Group

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3 inexpensive things to do in Singapore for an overseas holiday experience

Joanne Poh, MoneySmart AsiaOne 21 May 15;

When you only have x vacation days a year, not using them to go on holiday can make life seem, well, not worth living.

What's the point in all those long hours at the office if not for those short-lived periods of respite, when you finally get to enjoy life away from the daily grind?

If you're on a budget, you might be facing the conundrum of how to enjoy the holidays without having to eat into your savings.

Well, here are 3 experiences you can enjoy without leaving the country or spending hundreds of dollars, but that will still give you the sense that you're away from home.

1. Visit an unspoilt island
Every public holiday, planeloads of Singaporeans eagerly flock to neighbouring countries to enjoy a tropical island experience, lounging on beaches, snorkelling and riding bicycles through dusty roads lined with jungle foliage. Well, guess what, Singapore does have its own tropical islands, notwithstanding the fact that the "mainland" has been urbanised.

Here's a list of the most accessible.
- Sisters' Island Marine Park - Snorkel, swim and sunbathe on the beach on the Sisters' Islands. Book an NParks-organised guided walk here and boat transport will be provided free of charge.
- Pulau Ubin - Ride a mountain bike amidst jungles seething with mosquitoes. Bumboat ride from Changi Point Jetty costs $2. Kusu Island - Picnic on the beach or check out the Malay shrines and Chinese temple. $18 for a return ticket; you can throw in St John's Island too.
- St John's Island - Popular with people looking to go camping or stay in a chalet. $18 for a return ticket; you can throw in Kusu Island too.
- Lazarus Island - More undisturbed than St John's, the island can be accessed by walking across a link bridge connecting it to the latter.

2. Explore an unfamiliar neighbourhood
I've never really been a fan of the suburbs. Something about the white picket fences and Stepford wives unnerves me. But seriously, the suburban areas in Singapore aren't that characterless. You just have to check out the likes of Bishan Park and the Telok Blangah hiking trails to realise that there are quite a few attractions in the wilds. Embarrassingly enough, there are quite a few neighbourhoods I've never set foot in, including Tampines, Sengkang and Ang Mo Kio. Oh, the shame.

Instead of paying good money to wander around in another city, map in hand, do that right here with a copy of the street directory (in mobile app form for those of us under 100 years of age).

Here are some suburban spots to check out.
- Punggol Waterway Park - Punggol is about as ulu as it gets (hey I'm a westie), but brave the long ride and you'll be rewarded by a riparian landscape that actually looks quite rustic.
- Buangkok - The last kampongs in Singapore. No need to go all the way to Malaysia. Check them out before they disappear.
- Queenstown - Sick of the Botanic Gardens? Walk around the gardens at HortPark, explore the butterfly garden (not for those who are afraid of insects) or chill out at Vineyard, a chic French bistro.
- Jurong East - If shopping malls are more your thing, you'll go nuts at the malls Westgate, Jcube and JEM. Then hop over to the Science Centre, which recently lowered its admission fees.

3. Go hiking
It's easy to forget that there are tons of hiking trails all over Singapore (even if you will be walking on tarmac), probably because most people here melt and die à la Wicked Witch of the West the moment they step out of air conditioned areas. Then they pay good money to go jungle trekking in Sabah or attempt to climb Mount Everest.

It took me over 20 years of living within walking distance of the Bukit Timah Hill to finally try walking up the darned slope, and I'm sure there are others like me as well. Here are some of the better known hikes and trails.
- As the name suggests, the Macritchie TreeTop Walk will have you walking across a bridge suspended high above the trees
- The Southern Ridges trail takes you to Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and HortPark
- The Rail Corridor will have you plying the path of the former KTM Railway Track.
- The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, still under renovation, is now open to the public on weekends.
- See more at:

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Media to share content on climate change

Shefali Rekhi The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 May 15;

Twenty-five leading media companies sealed an agreement yesterday to form a global Climate Publishers Network to promote awareness of climate change.

Members will work together to enhance coverage of global warming in the run-up to the Nov 30- to-Dec 11 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, called COP21.

Representatives from more than 190 countries will attend the meeting aimed at sealing a global deal to limit carbon emissions from industry, transport and agriculture that scientists say are heating up the planet.

The Straits Times is a founding partner of the network, brought together by The Guardian of Britain, El Pais of Spain and the Global Editors Network, a leading global group of editors.

Major newspapers from around the world have been invited to join the grouping.

China Daily and India Today are the other publications from Asia. Other members include The Sydney Morning Herald from Australia, The Seattle Times from the United States, the Politiken from Denmark and the Al Ahram from Egypt.

The aim of the alliance is to share stories, graphics and other material on climate change with other members without any licence fees, broadening the reach of climate change issues and themes.

"Climate change is going to have a major impact on our lives, and so is of considerable interest to our readers," said ST editor Warren Fernandez.

"This is an important year for the debate on climate change. We want to provide content, in words, pictures, videos and graphics, to help our readers make sense of the debate," he said.

"This partnership, with some of the best newspapers in the world, will help us do that.

"It will also showcase some of our own content by ST correspondents on how global warming is affecting us in Asia to readers around the world."

An alarming increase in temperatures has made climate change one of the leading global concerns for people, governments and businesses.

March this year was the warmest March since record-keeping began in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

And the first quarter of this year has been the warmest first quarter on record during the same period.

Meanwhile, snow and ice continue to disappear.

According to NOAA, the Northern Hemisphere's snow coverage in March was the seventh lowest on record.

Scientists and researchers have warned that failure to curb carbon emissions will have serious consequences - triggering rising sea levels, more extreme storms and droughts - leading to the loss of habitats in parts of the world. Climate change could lead to some species becoming extinct.

The agreement expected in Paris at the end of the year will define the way the world responds to climate change and influence efforts by nations and businesses to curb carbon emissions.

The United Nations says nations must present firm pledges showing how they will cut or curb the growth of greenhouse gas pollution.

The next round of discussions on climate change will take place in Bonn, Germany, early next month.

COP21 stands for the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties.

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Malaysia: NGO calls for transparency in meeting environmental goals

The Star 23 May 15;

PETALING JAYA: Dirty rivers, black smoke and rubbish strewn everywhere. It is always the “same old, same old” every year.

While many plans have been drawn up for the environment and conservation, lack of enforcement has always been the problem.

Malaysian Nature Society national council member Vincent Chow said the only way forward was for the authorities to be transparent.

“Release quarterly reports and tell us truthfully where we stand. Statistics show that we have brought down the emission of greenhouse gases but do we actually see this?” he asked.

Chow said what was seen were lorries and factories spewing black smoke, rivers polluted with waste and rubbish strewn everywhere.

“We need strict enforcement ... the authorities need to stop making policies and go to the ground to see what is actually happening,” he said.

Chow also said that when it came to the environment and conservation, constant updates were a must.

“Make reports public and tell us what has been done, what has failed to be done and what can be done,” he said, adding that awareness programmes were also crucial.

Chow said pollution affected all Malaysians and most of them were more than willing to pull their weight if given full information.

He urged the Government to tell the public which environmental goals in the 10th Malaysia Plan had not been achieved so that these could be worked on.

Preserving the environment is one of the six strategic thrusts under the 11th Malaysia Plan.

Among the goals are delaying climate change, enhancing conservation efforts and reducing greenhouse gases by up to 40% over the next five years from the 2005 levels.

Sabah green groups: We can’t fast-track projects
The Star 23 May 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The 11th Malaysia Plan’s target of cutting greenhouse emissions, tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity is needed to ensure a greener Malaysia, but success will depend largely on the Government’s commitment.

Sabah Environmental Protection Association president Lanash Thanda welcomed the target but noted that many development projects under the 11MP, including power plants, ran contrary to the green efforts.

“We cannot fast-track these projects. The letter of every environmental law must be adhered to because past examples of fast-tracking projects have done irrepa­rable damage to the environment,” she said.

She also hailed the Government’s assurance of doing away with the “grow first, clean up later” development model, which would help the country move towards a resilient, low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive society.

This socially inclusive development model, she added, should be the basis for any development for the proposed Kaiduan water supply dam that had been rejected by the communities affected.

Lanash also said that economic transfor­mation projects should not be pushed through without complying with environmental laws.

Among the other green initiatives under the 11MP are the conservation of at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas, as well as designating 10% of coastal and marine areas as protected.

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Malaysia: Turtle eggs sold in Terengganu are brought in illegally

SIM BAK HENG New Straits Times 22 May 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: About 90 per cent of turtle eggs sold in the state are brought in illegally from neighbouring countries.

The state Fisheries Department said the turtle eggs were believed to have been smuggled in by fishermen who later distributed the eggs to traders in markets.

State Fisheries director Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim said most of the eggs sold in the markets were from the green turtle species and are shaped like ping pong ball.

“Only the sales of eggs from the leatherback turtle species are illegal.

Although the sales of eggs from the green turtle species was not illegal, it is illegal for them to smuggle it into the country.

“We hope to eventually ban the sales of all species of turtle eggs,” he said.

As for the other 10 per cent, he said the eggs were obtained from turtle landing points in the state.

Khalil said of the 46 landing points in the state, 12 were active landing points that were controlled by the department as incubation centres.

“As for the remaining 34 landing points, the locals would collect the eggs and sell them to traders in markets.

“The demand for turtle eggs are high from people outside the state.”

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Indonesia: A call to stop traditional feast on meat of endangered sea turtles

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 23 May 15;

Conservationists have called on traditional communities in the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra, to stop catching and eating sea turtles as the protected animal is on the verge of extinction and those consuming it are at risk of poisoning.

Padang’s Bung Hatta University Turtle Information and Data Center head Harfiandri Damanhuri said the Mentawai community has long had a tradition to hunt for turtle meat for communal and wedding feasts. The tradition is still taking place in a number of coastal villages.

“If the habit is not immediately stopped, the population of turtles in Mentawai and the waters off West Sumatra will further decline. Hard work is needed to stop the habit because it has become a tradition,” said Harfiandri on Friday.

He added that at least two traditional ceremonies take place in different villages, each using between 15 and 20 turtles. After catching the turtles, each family usually turns the turtle shells into house ornaments, while outside of ceremonial needs, they eat turtle meat if they happen to catch one.

“I’ve seen up to 20 turtle shells, measuring between 80 and 120 centimeters, being hung on the walls of an uma, or traditional Mentawai house. Some of the homes hang up to six shells,” he said.

He said two sea turtle species were usually caught in Mentawai: the green turtle and the hawksbill turtle.

At least nine mass incidents of food poisoning from consuming turtle meat have been recorded in Mentawai since 2005, during which 30 people were killed. The latest incident took place in Sao hamlet on Sipora Island on March 24, 2013, which led to 148 people being taken to hospital and four of them dying, including an 11-month-old baby who was poisoned through breast milk.

The highest number of victims was recorded in June 2006 in Sibuddak Oinan hamlet on Siberut Island when 13 people who were preparing for a wedding feast were killed.

“Turtles are long-living marine animals and ocean explorers. They enter polluted waters and eat seaweed that absorbs heavy metals, thus leaving high arsenic levels in their bodies, so when humans consume the meat they could be poisoned,” Harfiandri said.

Despite the tough challenge to change the habit, said Harfiandri, the cases of poisoning have served as an effective campaign to urge the community to stop catching turtles. After the last poisoning case in 2013, the Mentawai Islands regent issued a circular against catching and eating turtle meat.

The number of turtle landings on the shores of Mentawai remains unclear, as only 20 landing spots have been studied. However, Harfiandri assumed that around 2,500 mother turtles land in 100 spots annually, especially on small islands. Usually, each landing of a female turtle is followed by a male turtle, so around 5,000 turtles are assumed to land each year.

The turtle species found on Mentawai are the green, the hawksbill and the olive ridley. Residents reported seeing the leatherback sea turtle in Southwest Siberut last year. All of them are listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between governments.

Gerson Saleleubaja, a resident of Siberut in Mentawau, said turtle hunting was still taking place in the islands.

Consumption of turtle meat is considered a necessity in the coastal villages during traditional ceremonies, such as for building boats, opening farms and building the uma homes, while residents usually replace turtle meat with pork during wedding parties.

“The event in which many turtles are killed is during boat building as the feast involves the whole village on two occasions: that is, when felling the main tree and pulling the boat to the river or sea,” said Gerson.

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Mass Coral Bleaching in the Indian Ocean

Corals Adapting to Climate Change
PRNewswire 22 May 15;

LANDOVER, Md., May 22, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Scientists with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF) witnessed a massive coral bleaching event in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). They were there conducting research on the Chagos Archipelago for the world's largest coral reef survey and high-resolution mapping expedition, the Global Reef Expedition. This is the first reported bleaching in the Indian Ocean this year, which NOAA predicts will be a bad year for coral bleaching around the world.

During a period of warm weather and calm seas, corals became stressed and began to bleach. When the research mission started the corals appeared to be healthy, but within two weeks a dramatic transformation occurred and the corals began to bleach. The bleaching occurred quickly. Andrew Bruckner, Chief Scientist of KSLOF said he "never expected it to happen that fast." The scientists saw some corals turning bright white, while others turned cotton-candy shades of pink and blue in the process of loosing their symbiotic algae.

Long-term monitoring equipment indicates there have been high temperatures on the reefs in the past, for example in 1998. The team saw corals that were several hundred years old, which means that if they had previously bleached they have since recovered. As well as being able to tolerate these temperature fluctuations it appears that the corals are adapting to the rising sea temperature. Before the current bleaching event started the scientists saw healthy coral living in water that was warmer than the water that caused the mass bleaching in 1998.

But there could be even more to the adaptation. The spatial variability of the bleaching led the scientists to believe that a combination of light and temperature stress caused the mass bleaching. Some coral colonies did not bleach at all, scientists think that how they deal with the amount of light they are exposed to is the key to understanding their survival. "The symbiotic algae that live in the tissue are photosynthesizing - just like a plant does on land," Dr. Bruckner said. "If there is too much light, their photo systems break down and they produce these oxygen compounds that cause stress to the coral animal." In fact there is evidence that the corals that survive are now hosting more light tolerant varieties of their symbiotic algae.

The coral reefs of BIOT are extremely valuable and are "some of the healthiest coral reefs on the planet," says Professor Charles Sheppard, Chairman of the Chagos Conservation Trust. "They are one of the world's last, intact reference sites as to what a coral reef should and could look like."

Despite the severity and extent of the bleaching in BIOT, there is hope for a rapid recovery. Dr. Sheppard believes the reefs will recover quickly from bleaching because they haven't suffered from the stresses of overfishing, pollution, or any other significant human impact for the past 40 years. "Chagos is affected by warming episodes, and indeed is doing so right now, but without all the other local impacts, hopes are high that this large and magnificent archipelago will pull through."

About the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation:
The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation is conducting the world's largest coral reef survey and high resolution mapping expedition, the Global Reef Expedition. The Expedition is helping the Foundation realize its mission to provide science-based solutions to protect and restore ocean health. As part of its commitment to Science Without Borders®, Living Oceans Foundation provides data and information to organizations, governments, scientists, and local communities so that they can use knowledge to work toward sustainable ocean protection. For more information visit

More Information on Bleaching in BIOT:

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Climate change blamed for severe drought hitting Vietnam's coffee crops

Exports drop 40% as world’s second-biggest coffee exporter suffers rising temperatures and drought, combined with effects of deforestation, land degradation and depleted water resources caused by decades of growth
Mark Scialla in Ho Chi Minh City The Guardian 22 May 15;

The last time Nguyen Van Viet saw water in his well was almost four months ago. The 44-year-old has farmed coffee in central Vietnam for two decades and says that’s never happened before.

“This is the worst drought I’ve seen in over a decade,” Viet, told the Guardian. “Some people don’t have enough water to drink.”

For Viet and millions of other coffee farmers, this season has been disastrous. A prolonged drought has affected all five provinces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands – a region that produces 60% of the country’s coffee.

“Normally, in March or April, it should start rain, but this year it hasn’t rained until now,” Viet said. “Over the years I’ve realised it’s getting harder to grow coffee mostly because lack of water. The temperatures are getting higher and higher and the rainfall is less.”

Viet says he’s lost almost 4,000 sq meters of coffee crops on his five-acre farm in Dak Lak, a province responsible for 30% of total coffee harvests last year. At least 7,000 acres of coffee plants have died there since March, according to the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. And in neighbouring Lam Dong Province, the drought has stressed another 150,000 acres of coffee.

The result has been a five-year low in coffee exports, 40% down on the same period in 2014. The economic costs have yet to be tallied.

Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of Robusta, a tougher, more bitter bean often used in instant coffee and espresso. The French introduced the plant in the 19th century and in the post-war years it helped pull millions of Vietnamese from poverty. The industry grew rapidly in the 1990s, making Vietnam the world’s second-largest exporter of coffee and supplying around a quarter of the UK’s coffee.

But success came at a cost. Deforestation, monocropping and intensive pesticide use that helped create the boom now leaves coffee farms more vulnerable to climate change.

“Coffee cultivation in Vietnam goes hand-in-hand with deforestation, land degradation and depletion of water resources,” says a 2012 report from the Initiative for Climate and Coffee. “The resilience of coffee monoculture production systems to soil erosion, increasing evapotranspiration, drought periods or devastating extreme weather events is very low.”

Since 1960, the average annual temperature in Vietnam has increased by 0.4C . And the average number of hot days has also increased.

Climate change projections suggest an average temperature rise of 2.3C by 2100, according to the United Nations. The number of hot days in the Central Highlands is expected to increase to 134 in 2050 and 230 in 2100. Even though Robusta is more tolerant of higher temperatures than Arabica, temperature rise could damage plant development.

“If the temperature really goes beyond the flowering threshold, we get flowering abortion and we’re going to have a serious problem,” said Dave D’Haeze, an environmental consultant with the Hanns R Neumann Foundation.

But the main problem in Vietnam now is water. Rainfall in Dak Lak Province is 86% less compared to this time last year. In Lam Dong, reservoirs are one meter lower than last year, according to the provincial Bureau of Water Resource Management.

Expansion of coffee farms in recent years has added stress to an already limited water supply.

“The biggest factor for vulnerability is dependency on water for irrigation,” Kerstin Linne a consultant who has studied Vietnam’s coffee supply chain. “Farmers are using up groundwater and levels are already declining. With increasing temperatures, therefore increasing evapotranspiration and changes in rainfalls pressure on water levels will increase. However, so far many farmers over-irrigate as water is free and they do not know how much water they use.”

Although climate change projections for Vietnam suggest more rain in the wet season, there may be 20% less rainfall in the drier months, according to the UN.

D’Haeze is working with coffee farmers on an experiment to determine the right amount of water to use. Government guidelines suggest 400 to 500 litres of water per plant, per watering, but D’Haeze thinks it could be much less, around 350 litres.

“At the moment we know we are using far too much water,” D’Haeze said. “So if everybody is using the right amount of water at the right time, we might be able to have enough during the dry season.”

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