Best of our wild blogs: 10 Jun 15

Mark Your Calendar for Ubin Day and Festival of Biodiversity

Adult Crimson-rumped Waxbill feeding fledglings
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Singapore's seachange on show in Venice

Charles Lim's massive project on Singapore's reclamation was like a race on the high seas
AKSHITA NANDA Straits Times 9 Jun 15;

Buoy oh buoy - the massive maritime-themed installation at the Singapore Pavilion of the Venice Biennale was a challenge from start to finish for creator Charles Lim.

The award-winning film-maker, artist and former national sailor channelled a lifelong fascination with the sea into Sea State, which looks at the impact of reclamation and expansion works in Singapore. Curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and on display in Venice until Nov 22, the work includes maps, charts and video installations grouped around a 5m-tall aluminium buoy encrusted with barnacles.

The idea is to show how the seas around Singapore have changed over the years, with islands absorbed into the mainland via reclamation works.

So Lim, 42, chose as his centrepiece a navigational marker similar to that which once marked an island off the coast of Singapore, Pulau Sajahat. It disappeared from maps in 2002, thanks to reclamation.

Getting the company which created the original buoy to make a replica was relatively easy compared with the task of turning the shiny new buoy into something approximating the barnacle- encrusted original.

"We wanted to submerge it for a year but it's illegal to submerge a buoy," Lim says. Eventually, he found a sponsor willing to let him keep the buoy in offshore waters for four weeks.

Then came the challenges of transporting the buoy while ensuring that the barnacles and sea-life encrustations did not drop off in transit.

When the buoy finally reached Venice's historic military shipyard, the Arsenale, one of two main locations for the ongoing Biennale, it was discovered that it was too big to fit through the 16th-century windows on the 250 sq m first-floor space that Singapore has signed a 20-year lease on.

Luckily, Turkey, which has the space next door, allowed the Singapore contingent to use its staircase and corridor to bring in the buoy.

The story of the buoy gives only a slight indication of the mammoth work that is Sea State, a culmination of more than 10 years of Lim observing, filming and recording Singapore's relationship with water, reclaimed land and history.

Part of the inspiration was the artist's own story: He grew up in the Mata Ikan kampung which no longer exists in Simei, and his paternal grandmother searched the shore for seashells which were then ground to make acidic limewater for painting house walls.

He remembers seeing her scars from the work, while his father, a self-taught sailor who later had his own pest control business, explored the sea on a homemade bamboo raft as a boy.

"Actually, I hated sailing at first," laughs Lim, who represented Singapore in sailing at the 1996 Olympics. "My father bought a boat and raced it on weekends so I began to associate sailing with him."

Lim was educated in boarding school in England, returned to Singapore for national service and then studied in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design before completing his bachelor's of fine arts from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design.

He began experimenting with film, thanks to his wife, arthouse film director Wee Li Lin, who also acts as his manager and producer.

Various iterations of the Sea State project have been exhibited at Manifesta 7, the 2008 European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Trentino, Italy; the Shanghai Biennale in 2008; and at the 2011 Singapore Biennale.

In the 2008 short film titled "it's not that i forgot, but rather i chose not to mention", a man swims laps across a leaf-choked abandoned swimming pool in Singapore.

Three years later, a surreal excursion through the drains and canals of Singapore, All The Lines Flow Out, received a special mention at the 2011 Venice Film Festival as well two awards in 2012 - best experimental short at the Nashville Film Festival and a Silver Award at the 17th Hong Kong Independent Film and Video Awards.

Lim's working relationship with curator Mustafa began with In Search Of Raffles Light, an archival project and exhibition about the Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu, one of several islands south of Singapore. It was exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum in 2013.

Forgotten histories, including the disappearance of Pulau Sajahat as well as the relocation of Singaporeans from the offshore islands, are shown through maps and topographical installations at Sea Stage at the Venice Biennale.

Equally memorable is another surreal journey above and below the seascape of Singapore through two linked video installations.

One titled Capsize shows Lim riding the waves and when his vessel apparently sinks beneath the waves, the eye is drawn to the opposing screen. Here, in the film titled Phase 1, workers carry an Optimist sailboat through the Jurong Rock Caverns, the 130m-deep, 61ha area excavated below Jurong Island and used for chemical storage.

"These are new ways of looking at the sea. You have saltwater raining down but you don't get the feeling of being under the sea," says Lim, who originally planned to have someone else film this part of the project. He had to take it on when the cameraman hired refused to go in.

"This is how I think we as Singaporeans feel sometimes, very unstable on reclaimed land.

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Singapore tops list of important maritime capitals

Jacqueline Woo The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE has retained its top spot as the most important maritime capital.

It emerged first among 15 cities that were benchmarked in five categories: shipping centres, finance and law, technology, ports and logistics, and attractiveness and competitiveness.

Hamburg was ranked second in the report by Norwegian consulting firm Menon, followed by Oslo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

"With its business-friendly policies and being strategically located on the trade route between Europe and Asia, Singapore has gained a position in the global economy few would have predicted 40 years ago," said the report, which comprised of responses from 196 maritime professionals from 33 countries.

It added: "As recently as 10 years ago, Singapore lacked maritime research and education, and the lines between foreign and domestic companies were weak.

"Today, the city plays a key role in all aspects of the maritime industry."

The inaugural Menon report three years ago also ranked Singapore in first place.

According to this year's report, which came out last week, Singapore led the way in port services and logistics, beating Hong Kong, Rotterdam and Shanghai.

It was also named the most attractive and competitive city for the maritime industry, given the ease of doing business here and the complete maritime cluster.

Singapore was second as a shipping centre after Athens, which has "an impressively large and strong shipowning community".

But it was ranked fifth in maritime technology, behind Oslo, Hamburg, Tokyo and Busan.

"The city's weaknesses are a limited base of human capital and the increasing costs of hiring local and foreign expertise," said the report.

Singapore was listed fourth for law-related maritime services and insurance, a category where London took first place, followed by Oslo and New York.

The report said Singapore is expected to keep its position as the global leader even in five years.

It also noted that Shanghai is poised to "increase its importance and become the second most important maritime city", in line with the growing influence of the Chinese economy.

The report added: "The fact that the two cities that are expected to become the most important centres for the industry are located in Asia says something about the changing centre of gravity in both the world economy and the maritime industry."

Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore chief executive Andrew Tan told The Straits Times in a statement that with more countries investing in their port infrastructure and related services, the global maritime sector is "poised for future growth, even as it weathers the current cyclical downturn".

"With its strategic location and pro-business environment, Singapore is well placed to take advantage of the growth in Asia's maritime trade. The opportunities are immense," added Mr Tan.

"We want to be part of that narrative by planning for the long term, providing certainty and investing in future capabilities."

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Butterfly garden is thriving next to golf course

Carolyn Khew The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Jun 15;

WHEN Mr Foo Jit Leang started a butterfly garden two years ago, he wanted to show that wildlife can thrive next to a golf course.

Today, the butterfly garden at Seletar Country Club, where the 65-year-old is a member, is home to over 90 species of butterflies, 58 species of moths and other fauna such as birds and dragonflies.

Some butterfly species spotted in the garden include the Painted Jezebel, which can be found in both urban and forested areas, and the Common Rose, which has red spots on its hindwings.

The Common Rose was named Singapore's national butterfly in a recent contest held by Nature Society (Singapore).

"Golf courses are scenic green spaces but they are notorious for being environmentally unfriendly. We (started with) butterflies as they are probably the most beautiful creatures," said Mr Foo.

Tours are conducted at the garden for students and teachers to learn more about butterflies and biodiversity.

The idea to set up a garden was first mooted by the club's chairman in 2012 after sightings of otters and masked lapwing birds at the club, which sits atop a hill and overlooks Lower Seletar Reservoir and the Strait of Johor.

He then asked Mr Foo to look into setting up pockets of native areas within the club's premises, which spans a 6,364m-long golf course. Mr Foo read up on butterflies and sought advice from nature experts about the right kinds of host plants to be planted.

Today, the garden, about half the size of a football field, has about 30 host plants, including the Aristolochia acuminata. More commonly known as the Dutchman's Pipe, the plant attracts the Common Rose butterfly.

Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai said: "Having a butterfly garden is an opportunity for the club to show it can have a golf course and also share the space with wildlife."

Nature Society president Shawn Lum said mobile creatures such as butterflies are limited by the number of liveable habitats available and the distance of these pockets of habitat from one another. "As the amount of habitat available determines the population size of butterflies, the creation of new butterfly gardens serves to extend pockets of good butterfly habitat into new areas," he said.

Mr Foo said his love for nature sprung from his childhood days spent in a kampung. "We reared our own chickens and grew vegetables... Even when I was studying at a university in Canada, I spent many long weekends enjoying the wilderness in the four seasons."

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Calls for collaboration on sustainable city development projects

Two calls for collaboration were announced on Tuesday (Jun 9) morning for leaders in the government sector to take part in projects on the sustainable development of cities.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 10 Jun 15;

NEW YORK: Two calls for collaboration were announced on Wednesday morning (Jun 10) for leaders in the government sector to take part in projects on the sustainable development of cities.

At the opening of the World Cities Summit Young Leaders Symposium, Singapore's Second Permanent Secretary for National Development Chew Hock Yong said the first is for a research project to explore innovative and viable business and financing models for cities.

The call was made by the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore and a young leader, Joris van Etten, from the Cities Development Initiative for Asia.

The second call for collaboration seeks to identify good urban planning practices that integrate social protection and labour policies. It was from Ulrich Hoerning, a young leader from The World Bank.

Mr Chew said he looks forward to these projects being showcased at World Cities Summit 2016 in Singapore.

The symposium, which is into its second edition, brought together about 50 young leaders to discuss and launch initiatives to tackle urban challenges. It is organised by the Centre for Liveable Cities and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in Singapore.

In the afternoon, the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum will see about 70 mayors and leaders discussing topics on sustainable development, such as providing affordable housing and a strong transportation network.

Now into its sixth edition, the forum will be chaired by Singapore's Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

The city was selected as the venue as it received the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate in 2012 for its transformation from one at risk in the post-Sep 11 period, to a vibrant and sustainable urban community.

On the last day of the event , the mayors and leaders will commit to a declaration for sustainable living - the first time they're doing so in the history of the forum.


The event had kicked off on Monday (Jun 8) with visits to various sites in the city so delegates can get first-hand perspectives on how policies were implemented successfully.

Officials from URA and the Centre for Liveable Cities visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard industrial park. They were given a tour of the historical site - one of the first naval shipyards in the United States when it was established in 1801.

Following its closure in the late 1960s, it was converted into an industrial park, so it could continue to provide jobs for its citizens. Now, it houses more than 330 tenants, from manufacturers to seafood importers. The tenants employ more than 6,400 people, up from 3,600 in 2001.

The officials also visited a rooftop vegetable farm in the industrial park. Together with his partners, 34-year-old Ben Flanner opened Brooklyn Grange in 2010, out of a "passion for vegetables".

The farm supplies produce to restaurants and grocers, and runs a subscription service where customers can get a regular supply of produce for a weekly fee.

Centre for Liveable Cities Executive Director Khoo Teng Chye said this presents "lots of opportunities" for Singapore as the country has "lots of rooftops".

He thinks the advantages go beyond food production. "It's the idea that you bring communities together. There is a lot of community bonding when you do this urban farming."

Mr Khoo added: "It looks very simple, but actually you're applying a lot of knowledge, a lot of technology, to try to successfully cultivate, as they say, high-yield, high-density farming ... You cultivate all these specials, (for) salads and they say it's high-value stuff that you sell to the top restaurants."

The Singapore delegation, led by Mr Desmond Lee, also visited the High Line, a public park built on a historic freight rail line on west Manhattan. Mr Khoo said it has a close parallel with Singapore's Rail Corridor and offers lessons to be learnt.


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Singapore, UN agency sign milestone deal to tackle food security issues

This is the first agreement signed between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Singapore since the latter joined in 2013.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Singapore on Tuesday (Jun 9) inked a deal to improve food and nutrition security in Southeast Asia, with a special focus on food safety and fisheries.

The collaboration would look at improving the health and safety of food, including street foods, and combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the FAO press release said. Other areas include cutting food losses and waste, making trade and agriculture more sustainable, and building resilience to animal and plant-related threats.

The agreement is the first for both parties since Singapore joined the FAO in 2013, it added.

The agreement foresees knowledge exchanges, technical consultations and other forms of cooperation, including the deployment of experts across the region, as well as trainings, study visits, joint seminars and workshops.

In addition to exchanging and deploying professionals in the field, FAO and Singapore will also work together on developing food policies, creating agricultural research programmes and training material, and disseminating new technologies, the press release said.

"We look forward to strengthening cooperation with FAO on food security, as well as in related areas such as food safety, and animal and plant health," said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman.

"This is part of our continuing effort to boost Singapore's food security, and demonstrates our commitment to contribute advance food security globally - particularly through research and development and technology development," he added.

- CNA/kk

Dr Maliki speaks about Singapore's agricultural landscape in Rome
AsiaOne 9 Jun 15;

SINGAPORE - Minister of State for National Development and Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman has shared Singapore's experience in managing an evolving agricultural landscape at the 39th Session of the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Conference in Rome.

He joins other world leaders in the discussion of FAO's programme and budget for the next two years.

At the conference, Dr Maliki said that local agriculture remains an important pillar of our food security. Hence, the Government would continue to support the industry through a range of assistance and development schemes.

While in Rome, Dr Maliki also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Director-General of the FAO, Dr Jose Graziano da Silva, on technical co-operation with the FAO on behalf of Singapore.

The MOU will enable more opportunities for collaboration between the both parties in areas such as food security and nutrition, food safety, street food management, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, sustainable forestry, and animal and plant health.

Dr Maliki said: "We look forward to strengthening co-operation with FAO on food security as well as in related areas such as food safety, and animal and plant health. This is part of our continuing effort to boost Singapore's food security, and demonstrates our commitment to contribute advance food security globally, particularly through R&D and technology development."

The FAO leads international efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security. Singapore has been a member of the FAO since June 2013.

FAO's Director-General, Dr Jose Graziano da Silva said: "I am confident that this agreement will further strengthen regional and global exchanges in the realm of food and agriculture, and it represents a major step for Singapore and FAO in the global development arena. We look forward to a growing partnership."

Dr Maliki is accompanied by officials from the Ministry of National Development and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

Singapore and FAO to collaborate on food safety, illegal fishing
Parties sign first agreement since country joined FAO in 2013
FAO 8 Jun 15;

8 June 2015, Rome - Singapore and FAO will work together to improve food and nutrition security in Southeast Asia, with a special focus on food safety and fisheries, according to a new agreement signed today - the first since the city-state joined the Organization in 2013.

Improving the health and safety of food, including street foods, and combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are key areas in a larger collaboration that will also look at cutting food losses and waste, making trade and agriculture more sustainable, and building resilience to animal and plant-related threats.

"During my first official visit to Singapore last year, I was impressed by its innovative efforts to ensure food security and food safety," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva during today's signing ceremony. "I see the value of sharing its good practices with other countries," he added.

"We look forward to strengthening cooperation with FAO on food security, as well as in related areas such as food safety, and animal and plant health," said Singapore's Minister of State Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman. "This is part of our continuing effort to boost Singapore's food security, and demonstrates our commitment to contribute advance food security globally - particularly through Research and Development and technology development," he added.

The agreement foresees knowledge exchanges, technical consultations and other forms of cooperation, including the deployment of experts across the region, as well as trainings, study visits, joint seminars and workshops.

In addition to exchanging and deploying professionals in the field, FAO and Singapore will also work together on developing food policies, creating agricultural research programmes and training material, and disseminating new technologies.

Strong opportunities

Singapore, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has developed from a small port city into a major commercial and financial hub.

Since joining the Organization in 2013, the Government of Singapore has been engaging in dialogues with FAO regarding opportunities to advance food security and food safety in the country and across Southeast Asia, resulting in this first cooperation agreement.

The country's strong research and development capabilities offer many opportunities for feeding into FAO's work and exchanging knowledge with other countries.

Singapore is also a front runner in urban agriculture innovation, with vertical farms and rooftop gardens contributing to food security and quality of life in the city-state of over 5 million people.

"I am confident that this agreement will further strengthen regional and global exchanges in the realm of food and agriculture, and it represents a major step for Singapore and FAO in the global development arena," FAO's Director-General said. "We look forward to a growing partnership."

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Vietnam: New species discovered in Mekong during 2014 studies

Vietnam News Service 9 Jun 15;

HCM CITY (VNS) — A bat with nightmarish fangs (Hypsugo dolichodon), the world's second longest insect (Phryganistria heusii yentuensis) and a colour-changing thorny frog (Graciaxal lumarius) were among the 70 new species found in Viet Nam in 2014, according to a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The 70 species represent more than half of the 139 species found in the Greater Mekong region.

In total, 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, nine fish, and one mammal were discovered in the Greater Mekong and detailed in the annual report, Magical Mekong, issued by WWF-Viet Nam on Thursday to celebrate its 20 anniversary in Viet Nam.

They include a crocodile newt (Tylototriton shanorum) in Myanmar whose breeding habitat is under threat, a "soul-sucking" dementor wasp (Sirindhornia chaipattana) from Thailand, a stealthy wolf snake (Lycodon zoosvictoriae) from Cambodia and the world's 10,000th reptile (Cyrtodactylus vilaphong) discovered in Laos.

This brings the total new species discovered in the Greater Mekong, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, to 2,216 between 1997 and 2014 – an average of three new species a week.

"We are excited to be able to say that Viet Nam is rich in biodiversity and home to a diverse array of species, some of which are unique to Viet Nam – with many still to be discovered," said Dr. Van Ngoc Thinh, country director for WWF-Viet Nam.

"Viet Nam's rich and globally important ecosystems are truly the gift that keeps on giving. We should, therefore, protect them together for the next generations," he said.

The world's second-largest insect, a stick insect that measures 54 cm, was found less than one kilometre away from a village in northern Viet Nam.

"We've only skimmed the surface of new discoveries in the Greater Mekong," said Carlos Drews, WWF Director Global Species Programme. "However, while species are being discovered, intense pressures are taking a terrible toll on the region's species. One wonders how many species have disappeared before they were even discovered."

Such pressures include a proposed new border crossing and road in Cambodia's Mondulkiri Protected Forest, two unsustainable dams in Laos, rising deforestation rates, and continued illegal poaching.

A commitment to protecting key wildlife habitat is also crucial, with countries cooperating across borders to make sustainable decisions on issues such as where to construct large infrastructure, like roads and dams.

"In our next five-year strategy, WWF-Viet Nam will work to ensure effective conservation, sustainable management and climate change resilience in the country. We will aim to expand our work to provide key environmental strategies and contribute to conservation and sustainable development," Thinh said. — VNS

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Yellow-breasted buntings 'being eaten to extinction by China'

Birds once abundant in Europe and Asia could share the same fate as passenger pigeon as they are killed in millions for food
Agence France-Presse The Guardian 9 Jun 15;

A bird that was once one of the most abundant in Europe and Asia is being hunted to near extinction because of Chinese eating habits, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The population of the yellow-breasted bunting (Emberiza aureola) has plunged by 90% since 1980, all but disappearing from eastern Europe, Japan and large parts of Russia, said the study, published in the Conservation Biology journal.

Following initial population declines, China in 1997 banned the hunting of the species, known in the country as the “rice bird”.

However, millions of these birds, along with other songbirds, were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013, said the study.

It said consumption of these birds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in east Asia, with an estimate in 2001 claiming 1m buntings were consumed in China’s southern Guangdong province alone.

The birds breed north of the Himalayas and spend their winters in warmer southeast Asia, passing through eastern China where they have been hunted for more than 2,000 years, according to the conservation group BirdLife International.

At their wintering grounds, they gather in huge flocks at night-time roosts, making them easy prey for trappers using nets, the group said.

The songbird, which nests on the ground in open scrubs, is distinctive for its yellow underparts.

The paper in Conservation Biology drew parallels between the migratory bird and the North American passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914 due to industrial-scale hunting.

“The magnitude and speed of the decline is unprecedented among birds distributed over such a large area, with the exception of the passenger pigeon,” the paper’s lead author, Dr Johannes Kamp from the University of Munster, said in a statement released by BirdLife International.

“High levels of hunting also appear to be responsible for the declines we are seeing in yellow-breasted bunting.”

Yellow-breasted buntings have since 2013 been classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as an “endangered” species due to rapid population decline from trapping outside their breeding grounds.

“To reverse these declines we need to better educate people of the consequences of eating wildlife. We also need a better and more efficient reporting system for law enforcement,” said BirdLife International’s senior conservation officer Simba Chan.

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Women to power Sri Lanka's mangrove conservation plan

Amantha Perera PlanetArk 9 Jun 15;

Sri Lanka's new mangrove protection scheme, the world's first country-wide initiative, is relying on women like Michel Priyadarshani, head of a fisherwomen's group in eastern Ambantotam village.

Priyadarshani and her colleagues did not understand the importance of mangroves for the ecosystem, including the fish population, until they benefited from a program offering microcredit in return for looking after the coastal forests.

"Now we know - and from us, our husbands and our community also have become aware," Priyadarshani said.

Since 1997, Sudeesa, a national organization that works to protect coastal ecosystems, has given women living near mangrove forests financial assistance - mainly loans of $50 to $2,000 each - incentivizing them to care for the delicate trees.

Now the program is about to go island-wide. Sudeesa, together with the Sri Lankan government and U.S.-based environmental conservation group Seacology, recently launched a five-year, $3.4 million mangrove preservation initiative.

Sri Lanka is the first nation to promise to protect all its mangroves, experts said.

Mangrove trees grow in saltwater, forming a vital part of the natural cycle in coastal lagoons. Fish and other marine creatures like prawns use the deep roots as breeding areas.

The forests protect coastal communities from abrupt tidal shifts and storms, while slowing shore erosion.

"People who live near mangroves tell us the trees act as a buffer against the wind and heavy rains, breaking their intensity just before they make landfall," said Douglas Thisera, director for coastal conservation at Sudeesa, formerly known as the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka.

Mangrove swamps also store carbon, sequestering it in the top few meters of underwater soil and keeping it there longer than other trees.


K D Wijitha, who runs a group bringing together women from 23 villages in the northwestern Kalapitiya area, said they had learned to look after the mangrove forests.

"We make sure that they are safe," she said.

Thanks to the Sudeesa program, Kristina Jospin from Samadigama village in northwestern Puttalam District received training and financial aid to operate a small bakery, which allows her to support her sick husband and four children.

Sudeesa credit officer Suvinetha de Silva said the program usually targets the poorest women, who are unable to seek credit from banks.

The new national scheme aims to set up 1,500 community groups around Sri Lanka's 48 lagoons, which will offer alternative job training and micro-loans to 15,000 people. The groups will be responsible for the upkeep of designated mangrove forests.

Pilot projects showed a high success rate, said Duane Silverstein, executive director of Seacology. Almost 2,000 loans were made to women, with a repayment rate of over 96 percent.

"With very small loans of around $100, several of the women were so successful that they already employed additional women," he said.

Half of loan recipients under the new program will be widows, while the rest will be male and female school dropouts.

Seacology and Sudeesa officials said each community group will be responsible for around 21 acres (8.5 hectares) of mangrove forest. The government has agreed to provide rangers to patrol the forests.

The program also plans to replant 9,600 acres (3,885 hectares) of mangroves.

The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena has brought the island's 21,782 acres (8,815 hectares) of mangroves under the Forest Ordinance Act, making it illegal for anyone to exploit them for commercial purposes.

"It is an extremely vital decision because now all mangroves around the island can be protected with the active participation of the Forestry Department," said Sudeesa chairman Anuradha Wickramasinghe.


Some three decades ago, Sri Lanka had at least 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of mangroves, Thisera said. But the bulk has been destroyed due to commercial exploitation and firewood use.

"The biggest threats to mangroves in Sri Lanka include prawn farms, which have been greatly curtailed in recent years, collateral damage from the civil war, and impoverished people cutting down mangroves to use or sell as charcoal," Seacology's Silverstein said.

The worst damage occurred in the northwest of the island nation, where commercial prawn farms took off in the 1990s. But most of these farms have been abandoned in the last few years due to the spread of disease.

The new mangrove protection scheme plans to introduce other trees that can provide an alternative fuel source, such as coconut husks.

Silverstein said the government's enthusiasm for protecting the mangrove forests could push other countries in the region to follow suit.

Defense Secretary B.M.U.D. Basnayake told Silverstein the national armed forces could help with replanting efforts.

Sudeesa's Wickramasinghe said the program's success would depend on how far local communities buy into it.

"We have to make them understand the mangroves are a boost to their lives and their incomes," he added.

(Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Active cities 'boost bottom lines'

Mark Kinver BBC News 9 Jun 15;

Providing cycling friendly infrastructure would encourage more people to get on their bikes, research suggests
Cities that actively promote physical activities enjoy an economic advantage, research has suggested.

It says areas designed for physical activities have increased retail activity and revenue, and lower healthcare and crime costs.

The report's authors describe active cities as urban areas with easy access via cycling or walking to parks, schools and workplaces.

The details have been presented at an Active Cities Summit in Bristol, UK.

The findings - compiled by a team from the University of California, San Diego - identified five "settings" in an urban environment that encouraged physical activity:

Open spaces and parks: ensuring residents lived near a green space; accessible and safe fitness trails

Urban design: mixed-used communities; streets designed for safe and enjoyable cycling and walking

Transportation: infrastructure to support cycling an walking; access to safe and reliable public transport

Schools: located near students' homes; recreational and exercise facilities

Buildings and workplaces: encourage physical activity, eg visible stairs etc

It added that studies that assessed the economic benefits of walking and cycling interventions provided an average return of £13 for every £1 invested. In the UK, the return was shown to be as high as £19.

'Eye opening'

Providing safe streets is one of the key ways to encourage people to become more active

Visible sporting events also positively affected residents' perception of the city in which they lived, the authors observed. They quoted a US study that found that nine out of 10 people said that cycling events made them view their home city in a more positive light.

The report, commissioned by UK charity Sustrans and global sports brand Nike, based its results on more than 500 findings from studies in 17 nations.

"We hope this research will open the eyes of government leaders to the many important benefits of designing cities to support active living," said co-author Chad Spoon from Active Living Research at the University of California.

"This includes economic benefits of increased home value, greater retail activity, reduced healthcare costs and improved productivity.
"A city's ability to compete depends on an active population," he added.

"The research on this is clear - it shows how an active city can be a low-cost, high-return investment."

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