Best of our wild blogs: 2 Jun 15

Strange Encounters
Saving MacRitchie

Common Flangetail female feeding
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Use of forest trail: It's bikers against nature lovers

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 2 Jun 15;

Cycling enthusiasts have started a petition for a trail in a nature reserve to be reopened for mountain biking, but nature lovers oppose the move.

The trail in question is the Butterfly trail in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which was closed by the National Parks Board (NParks) in March, as parts of it fall within the construction site of the upcoming Chestnut Nature Park.

Mountain bikers have lamented the loss of this trail, famous for its terrain of interlocking tree roots and views of Upper Peirce Reservoir.

Yesterday, the Mountain Bike Association Singapore started a petition to the Government to reopen the site. Its president, Mr Calvin Chin, said that the 1,000-strong association hopes to get 5,000 signatures and will write to the authorities "within the next couple of weeks".

But environmentalists hope the trail stays closed to all human activities, including mountain biking, hiking and running, as these have damaged the century-old nature area off Chestnut Avenue.

On a site visit with NParks and the Nature Society (Singapore), or NSS, last Friday, The Straits Times saw that the roots of trees along the man-made trail were exposed, and the nutrient-rich leaf litter and topsoil layers were eroded.

"These issues result in the destruction of seedlings, as well as the loss of mature vegetation immediately adjacent to the trails," said Mr Tony O'Dempsey, chairman of the NSS' plant group, in a forum letter to The Straits Times on May 21.

But Mr Chin said bikers who use the trail are environmentally conscious. "We tell our members not to litter, and we do not veer off the tracks," he said, adding that a member paid about $500 last year for restoration works on the trail.

Cyclists can now go mountain biking at only four other areas - Bukit Timah, Mandai, Kent Ridge and Pulau Ubin.

Until recently, mountain biking was not allowed at the Butterfly trail, with riders risking fines from NParks. In 2012, the mountain bike association lobbied for the trail to be opened for recreational use and sent the parks board a study on the use of the Butterfly trail for mountain biking. NParks decided to allow cyclists to use the 3.2km trail until the building of new biking trails at the new Chestnut Nature Park began early this year.

Asked to comment on the report sent by the association, NParks told The Straits Times that the paper might have touched briefly on the environmental impact on the forest trails, but it cannot be considered an environmental impact assessment. Such an assessment is considered more rigorous.

It noted that the paper "did not make a comprehensive assessment of the current biodiversity found there nor a thorough assessment of the impact on the area should mountain biking be allowed to continue".

Studies done by NParks and NSS between 2013 and this year found a number of rare and endangered flora and fauna in the Butterfly trail site, including the Malayan porcupine and Hopea and Shorea trees. This was contrary to the association's study, which found no endangered species there.

Said NParks: "We are considering the possibility of closing the trail permanently. However, no decision has been taken yet and we will make another assessment of the area in 2016 before deciding."

The Straits Times understands that the mountain bike association and the NSS are meeting to exchange views tomorrow.

Said Mr O'Dempsey: "We are not picking on the mountain biking community. Our opposition to the use of the Butterfly trail is consistent with our overall policy on the conservation of native habitats in the nature reserve - areas for the conservation of native flora and fauna. This applies to mountain bikers, hikers, runners and, especially, ourselves."

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HDB introduces new waste collection system in Yuhua

The installation of a pneumatic waste conveyance system in Yuhua is the Housing and Development Board’s largest set-up so far.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 1 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: Yuhua residents can expect less odour and fewer pests in their vicinity, as the first phase of a new waste collection system is rolled out.

Previously, workers had to collect and transport waste from refuse chutes to the bin centre. With the installation of a pneumatic waste conveyance system in Yuhua, this automated system will be the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) largest set-up so far.

When residents throw rubbish down their chutes, it goes to a refuse chamber on the ground floor. A sensor will be triggered when the container in the refuse chamber is full. The waste is then transported by air, through underground pipes. It travels at speeds of between 50 and 80 kilometres per hour, to a centralised bin, where the rubbish is stored in sealed containers.

When they are full, trucks will transport them to incineration plants. As for the exhaust air, it is passed through dust and odour filters. The clean air is then discharged into the atmosphere. With the process being automated, overall manpower needs are expected to be reduced by 70 per cent.

Residents in six blocks of flats - Blocks 221A, 222, 223,226,227 and 228 - in Jurong East Street 2 have been using the system since early May. The system will be rolled out to 32 other blocks by the third quarter of this year.

To encourage more to recycle, residents will also be able to put items for recycling at 24 points throughout the estate, called outdoor disposal inlets. These items will be passed through the underground pipes to a separate container in the bin.

HDB's deputy director in technology research, Tan Chek Sim, said: "PWCS (pneumatic waste conveyance system) in Yuhua helps to collect and manage the household waste more effectively and efficiently. It also gives the residents a cleaner and greener environment.

“As Yuhua is a lived-in environment, HDB took great care to minimise the inconvenience to the residents. We also actively engage the residents on the progress of the works. We are glad that the residents have given us their support for our efforts."

Residents Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they have noticed the changes. Jocelyn Ng, 60, who has been living in Jurong East for about 30 years, said: "It looks better because workers are not going round collecting rubbish from the rubbish chutes. There is less smell." She added that it was also cleaner and more hygienic.

Another Jurong East resident, 62-year-old Lim Ah Choo, said: "We realised it is a lot cleaner. In the past, when we met at the void deck, we found it rather smelly. We hope people will come around and explain to us on how to use the system. It will be embarrassing if we use it wrongly."

HDB staff will be visiting residents to explain the dos and don'ts of using the system. For example, bulky items such as bamboo poles and pillows should not be thrown into the chutes because they will choke the system.

If a blockage occurs, one of the ways to clear it is to increase the speed of the exhaust fan. This will create a greater suction force to move the rubbish causing the blockage. Otherwise, staff will have to get to the blockage through manholes to manually remove the item.

These efforts are part of HDB's Greenprint scheme in Yuhua which aims to create more sustainable homes. Yuhua is the first HDB estate to be part of this scheme.

It is expected to cost S$23 million based on preliminary estimates. The final cost will only be known after its completion later this year, with the pneumatic waste collection system taking up more than 50 per cent of the costs due to its large scale and the extensive underground network of pipes that need to be installed.

HDB is test-bedding the system at Yuhua to determine its feasibility for existing buildings. It is also assessing residents' receptiveness, as major retrofitting works are required to install the system in existing estates.

The system will be implemented in the upcoming housing estates of Tampines North, Bidadari and Punggol Northshore.

Automated system makes garbage disposal cleaner
Today Online 2 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE — Under 60 seconds — that is how long it takes for rubbish across the neighbourhood of Yuhua to reach a Centralised Bin Centre, sucked through underground pipes that are half a metre in diameter.

In fact, once residents throw waste down the rubbish chute, it will not be seen again until it reaches Tuas for processing and incineration.

This has been a way of life since early last month for residents of six of the 38 blocks with the largest pneumatic waste conveyance system in Singapore, in the first phase of retrofitting the estate with the automated system.

The new system is being constructed as part of the Housing and Development Board’s Greenprint project, which aims to make mature estates green and sustainable.

Yuhua is the first estate to be part of the scheme, and more than half of the estimated cost of S$23 million will be used for the pneumatic waste conveyance system.

The system sucks disposed waste from refuse chambers at blocks at speeds of 50kmh to 80kmh through underground pipes.

This does away with the need for waste collectors to go block to block and collect waste, cutting down manpower needs by 70 per cent. It also a cleaner alternative to waste collection, as it is completely enclosed, reducing spillage, risk of pests and unpleasant odours, said the HDB.

Blocks 209 to 240 at Jurong Street 21 are scheduled to be retrofitted with the system by the third quarter of this year. The underground pipe network that is being installed spans an estimated 4.6km and is a major part of the Greenprint project to transform Yuhua into a more sustainable neighbourhood.

The HDB has done small-scale tests of the new waste system in precincts such as Choa Chu Kang, Kim Keat and Clementi, but never an entire neighbourhood as with Yuhua, said HDB deputy director of technology research, Mr Tan Check Sim.

He called Yuhua the test bed, with future Greenprint projects relying on its success and residents’ receptiveness. “As Yuhua is a live-in environment, the HDB took great care to minimise the inconvenience to the residents,” added Mr Tan.

One resident, Mrs Jeanie Eng, said the construction process was smooth and that the inconveniences were well-managed and minimal. “They’re building something for our own good, so we don’t mind if we have to suffer a bit,” she added.

The upcoming HDB precincts of Punggol Northshore, Bidadari and Tampines North will also be equipped with the pneumatic waste collection system, as a way to “bring better living to HDB towns”, said HDB chief executive officer Cheong Koon Hean.

Waste vacuum system offers Yuhua a breath of fresh air
Yeo Sam Jo My Paper AsiaOne 2 Jun 15;

FOUL-SMELLING rubbish chutes will soon be a whiff of the past at Jurong's Yuhua estate, as blocks there get retrofitted with high-tech waste collection infrastructure.

Since early last month, six blocks in Yuhua have been using the pneumatic waste conveyance system. It uses vacuum-type underground pipes to automatically gather household garbage, doing away with the usual manual method of collection, and the accompanying pests and smell.

For residents, they simply throw their waste down the chute as normal, but underground, it is sucked away to a central bin centre. A total of 38 blocks in the estate, or about 3,200 households, will have it by the third quarter of this year, as part of the Housing Board's Greenprint programme.

If deemed feasible, the stem will be rolled out to other housing estates.

As waste collectors need to retrieve garbage from only one point and less frequently, this system is estimated to reduce manpower needs by about 70 per cent, said HDB's deputy director of technology research Tan Chek Sim.

He added that this method gives residents a cleaner and greener environment.

Said Mr Tan: "The entire time, rubbish is not exposed. There is no spillage so there is less smell."

Residents in blocks which have piloted the system agreed.

"We don't have to worry so much about pests like cockroaches now," said housewife Helen Leong, 45.

Retiree Kwek Han Tiang, 67, added: "It's great that we have new technology like this. Singapore is a First World country after all."

HDB cautioned that bulky items such as bamboo poles and pillows might choke the pipes, which are 50cm in diameter and span about 4.6km.

But if this happens, the suction power will be automatically increased to unclog the blockage, said Mr Tan. There are also manholes which allow for manual access to the pipes if needed.

While this system has been test-bedded at some HDB blocks in Kim Keat, Choa Chu Kang and Clementi, Yuhua is its largest implementation in Singapore. Upcoming housing projects at Tampines North, Bidadari and Punggol Northshore will also come with it.

The Greenprint scheme for Yuhua, which started in 2012 and will end this year, aims to transform the estate into Singapore's first green neighbourhood. It is estimated to cost about $23 million.

Other green initiatives include rooftop solar panels and double-tier bicycle racks.

The pneumatic waste collection system is expected to take up more than half the cost, given its large scale and extensive network of underground pipes, said HDB.

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New climate stress index model challenges doomsday forecasts for world's coral reefs

Complex model performs better than common temperature threshold predictions
Wildlife Conservation Society EurekAlert 1 Jun 15;

Recent forecasts on the impacts of climate change on the world's coral reefs--especially ones generated from oceanic surface temperature data gathered by satellites--paint a grim picture for the future of the "rainforests of the sea."

A newer and more complex model incorporating data from both environmental factors and field observations of coral responses to stress provides a better forecasting tool than the more widely used models and a more positive future for coral reefs, according to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups.

The study authors point out that, according to the climate stress index model first developed in 2008, coral reefs are responding to more factors than temperature and therefore more resilient to rising temperatures. They conclude that global climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reefs but the future of these ecosystems is more varied than predictions from the more widely used "temperature threshold" models.

The paper titled "Regional coral responses to climate disturbances and warming is predicted by multivariate stress model and not temperature threshold metrics" appears in the online edition of Climatic Change. The authors are: Timothy R. McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Joseph Maina of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions; and Mebrahtu Ateweberhan of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Warwick.

"Our new multivariate stress model suggests that the future of coral reefs is considerably more nuanced and spatially complex than predictions arising from the threshold models," said Dr. Tim McClanahan, WCS's Senior Conservation scientist and a co-author on the study. "According to our findings in the Western Indian Ocean, some places will do well and others will not. The key to accurate predictions is using all available environmental data and complementing it with on-the-ground observations on reef cover, coral communities, and other environmental variables that are key to understanding how corals respond to the interaction between all these variables."

In the study, the authors compared the abilities of three common thermal threshold indices against a stress model that includes temperature but also light and water quality and movement variables and used the models to predict coral cover and susceptibility to bleaching during a past large stress event: specifically the 1997-98 coral bleaching event in the Western Indian Ocean. The field information used in the test included a compilation of 10 years of coral community data before the bleaching event, two years after the bleaching event, and data during the period of coral recovery between 2001-2005.

While the three temperature threshold models (sea surface temperature, cumulative thermal stress, and annual thermal stress) were highly variable with little agreement to field data after the 1998 rise in temperature and coral mortality, the multivariate model based on 11environmental variables combined using a fuzzy logic systems revealed a more accurate fit with the recorded coral cover and susceptibility in the recovery period that followed.

"This latest research suggests a more optimistic future for the world's coral reefs," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Executive Director of WCS's Marine Program. "The ability of certain coral communities to resist and recover from climatic factors provides hope for the future of the oceans. Our imperative is now to seek out and protect those locations that are refuges from climate change, and reduce other human stresses such as fisheries to ensure the long term survival of coral reefs."

To access the article, go to:

This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, and the World Bank Targeted Research Group on Coral Bleaching.

To access the article, go to:

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Seas face biodiversity shakeup even under 2 C warming

AFP Yahoo News 1 Jun 15;

Severe warming -- on current trends, Earth is on track for up to 4.8 C this century alone -- would cause the biggest ocean species change in the last three million years (AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad)

Paris (AFP) - The oceans will undergo a dramatic turnover in biodiversity even if the UN meets its goal of limiting of global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), scientists said Monday.

Species that need cooler waters will migrate or become extinct, to be replaced by ones that can survive in warmer seas -- with major consequences for fisheries.

"If climate change is not tackled quickly, it will lead to a massive reorganisation of marine biodiversity on a planet-wide scale," said France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), whose scientists took part in the investigation.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, first examined biodiversity changes in three eras of Earth's history.

The first was the mid-Pliocene, a warm period which ended about three million years ago.

The second was a much colder time -- the peak of the last Ice Age, also called the Last Glacial Maximum, from about 26,500 to 20,000 years ago.

The third was from 1960 to 2013, when man-made global warming cranked into high gear.

The scientists then compared these patterns to warming projections for 2100, which vary according to greenhouse gas emission levels.

Under the most optimistic forecast, assuming average warming of about 1 C, there would be only minor changes in biodiversity by 2100, the team found.

Severe warming -- on current trends, Earth is on track for up to 4.8 C this century alone -- would cause the biggest ocean species change in the last three million years.

Worryingly, even if UN members meet the 2 C goal, biodiversity shift by 2100 would be triple that of the last half-century, the team said.

The study, headed by Gregory Beaugrand of the University of Science and Technology in Lille, northern France, focused on species in the upper 200 metres (650 feet) of the ocean, the most valuable part of the ecosystem for humans.

Part of the work is based on theorised species change, as actual knowledge of ocean biodiversity and species behaviour is in many cases limited.

In addition, there are many gaps in understanding how warming will affect a vast, complex body like the ocean.

Even so, the results leave no doubt that the bigger the warming, the greater the biodiversity shift, the scientists said.

The change will be greater in waters that today are cold or temperate -- new species will expand into these regions but "this will not compensate global species extinction," the study warned.

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U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal

Alister Doyle and Bruce Wallace Reuters Yahoo News 1 Jun 15;

BONN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.N.'s Paris climate conference, designed to reach a plan for curbing global warming, may instead become the graveyard for its defining goal: to stop temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Achieving the 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) target has been the driving force for climate negotiators and scientists, who say it is the limit beyond which the world will suffer ever worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas.

But six months before world leaders convene in Paris, prospects are fading for a deal that would keep average temperatures below the ceiling. Greenhouse gas emissions have reached record highs in recent years.

And proposed cuts in carbon emissions from 2020 and promises to deepen them in subsequent reviews - offered by governments wary of the economic cost of shifting from fossil fuels - are unlikely to be enough for the 2C goal.

"Paris will be a funeral without a corpse," said David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, who predicts the 2C goal will slip away despite insistence by many governments that is still alive.

"It's just not feasible," said Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "Two degrees is a focal point for the climate debate but it doesn't seem to be a focal point for political action."

But as officials meet in the German city of Bonn from June 1-11 to lay more groundwork for the Paris summit, the United Nations says 2C is still within reach.

Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s top climate change official, acknowledges that national plans for emissions curbs - the building blocks for the Paris accord - won't be enough for 2C.

But she says new mechanisms for future rounds of pledges, perhaps in 2025 and 2030, can hit the 2C mark. "You don't run a marathon with one step," said Figueres.

She says governments need to change their attitudes towards a low-carbon economy, based on clean energies such as wind or solar power, that can boost economic growth, cut pollution and create jobs.


The 2C cap has its roots in an Earth Summit in 1992, which pledged to avoid undefined "dangerous" human interference with the climate system.

Over time 2C became a totemic goal. It was first adopted by the European Union in 1996, U.S. President Barack Obama accepted 2C in 2009 and it was formally declared as the organizing principle of climate talks at a U.N. meeting in Mexico in 2010.

It is an ambitious cap. Temperatures have already risen by 0.85C since 1880, when industrialization became widespread. U.N. studies say that may already be causing irreversible changes, from a meltdown of Greenland's ice to collapse of coral reefs.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined scenarios last year to stay below 2C that could require cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions lasting decades, at rates of three or even six percent a year.

Such cuts would be unprecedented in modern history: neither the 2009 international recession nor the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union cut economic activity enough to drive emissions down so fast, the International Energy Agency says.

Cuts of that magnitude may require yet-to-be developed technologies that could, for example, extract carbon dioxide from the air.

"It will not be a piece of cake," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who encouraged the EU to adopt the 2C goal and says it is still achievable.

"It would be perhaps comparable to what the United States did in the Second World War - they changed their economy to producing tanks rather than automobiles," he said.

On the other hand, blowing past 2C warming could shift the debate to whether humanity can adapt to 3 or 4 degrees of warming - the current trend for 2100.

Those advocating adaptation to a much hotter planet raise the prospect of designing new drought- or flood-resistant crops, building ever higher sea walls, or even encouraging migrations from lands that can no longer support their populations.

Developing nations reject that talk. "Any increase beyond 2 degrees is a death warrant for our countries," said Tony de Brum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. He says rising seas could wipe low-lying states off the map.

He said small island states could block a deal if Paris sets the world on track for high levels of warming. About 100 developing nations want an even more ambitious 1.5C ceiling.


Some experts want alternatives to 2C. New ways of measuring success could be concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or progress towards zero carbon emissions by 2050 or 2100.

Alternatively, the word "overshoot" - describing the long-taboo idea that temperatures can exceed 2C and then fall again - may seep ever more into the debate.

Still, there are reasons for optimism that the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Paris summit will agree a global deal, succeeding the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that set emissions cuts only for rich nations and avoiding the embarrassing failure of a 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen.

They note that this time, China and the United States, the top emitters, are cooperating for an accord. Corporations have joined in the search for solutions, prices of solar and wind energy have tumbled, and more development aid is on offer.

Political leaders, meanwhile, want to avoid any perceptions of failure in Paris. "There is a Copenhagen syndrome," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week. "No world leaders want to (go through) that again."

(Additional reporting by John Irish and Emmanuel Jarry in Paris; editing by David Stamp)

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