Best of our wild blogs: 15 Jul 15

Launch of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery
wild shores of singapore

Job Opportunity: Specialist Associate
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Asian Koel and the papaya fruits
Bird Ecology Study Group

Zero Waste SG is Singapore’s Latest Environmental NGO
Zero Waste Singapore

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Wild times

Straits Times 15 Jul 15;

Wild elephants being rounded up by a Malaysian wildlife team on Pulau Tekong. First sighted there by NSmen in May 1990, they had apparently swum across from Johor. They were later relocated to the Endau Rompin National Park in Malaysia.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ZOO

Jungle giants revealed a hidden aspect of Singapore

The creatures seemed to have materialised from nowhere, on Pulau Tekong, an island used by the Singapore Armed Forces for training. They were clearly not denizens of the sea: Trampled grass showed large footprints, coconut trees lay uprooted and big droppings had been left behind. A group of national servicemen first spotted the jungle giants around the end of May 1990 and reported the sighting to incredulous officers. Officials from the Defence Ministry and the Singapore Zoo made several trips to the island, but saw nothing.

The Zoo analysed the dung and confirmed it had come from elephants - which, it emerged, had swum the 1.5km expanse from Johor. The three wild elephants had probably been driven away by forest-clearing and logging in Johor, the officials surmised.

For the Singapore Armed Forces, these animals in their training ground were a jumbo-sized problem. But Singaporeans could not get enough of the unexpected visitors. The solution, in the end, was a new home in a Malaysian forest reserve. After a brief stay here, from late May to June 10, the bull elephants were captured with the help of Malaysian wildlife experts and taken by lorry to Endau Rompin National Park on the border of Johor and Pahang, where they were released.

The visitors left, but revealed a hitherto hidden aspect of Singapore. "Singaporeans do care - some even passionately - about conservation of wildlife even though they live in a highly urbanised country," The Straits Times observed in a report on June 18.

A soft spot for the Republic's diverse flora and fauna has often motivated Singaporeans to launch conservation campaigns, such as the one in 1986 to save the bird haven of Sungei Buloh, home to more than 200 avian species, as well as a few saltwater crocodiles. In another instance, passionate nature lovers worked with the authorities to preserve Chek Jawa in 2001, an oasis on Pulau Ubin so untouched that it offers a glimpse of what Singapore's shores might have looked like before the 1950s.

Meticulous planning as well as research, public education, reforestation and clean-up projects have also led to a few success stories for local wildlife.

The oriental pied hornbill, for example, had disappeared at one time. But it was taken from captivity to help strengthen numbers of Singapore's native creatures and is now a fairly common sight in parks here.

In recent years, families of the critically endangered, smooth-coated otter have begun charming visitors with their antics in mangroves, coastal areas and even urban parks and drains. But perhaps the honour of being the most frequently mentioned animal in The Straits Times should go to the tiger. Singapore's first zoo, established on the grounds of the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1875, housed a tiger. On May 18, 1896, a reader wrote in to The Straits Times to complain of animal cruelty. But he did not mean the tiger - he was distressed about a live dog being put in the cage to feed it. "Can you not break a lance in your much-read paper for our faithful quadruped friends?" the writer asked.

More often, however, stories in The Straits Times were about tigers of the uncaged variety.

"Excursionists to Changhie may, if so inclined, have a tiger hunt," began an article on April 3, 1875. It was a short report, unusually so given its grave content, about the appearance of the "Pulo Obin man-eater", who had already killed a man. The animal had been seen by a policeman as he went about "trimming the lamp". In days when there was no electricity, this meant trimming the wick of street lamps, to keep the flame burning clean and bright.

An escape & a sit-in
Straits Times 15 Jul 15;


Sightings were not uncommon at the time.

"We have had reports of a tiger being seen about Singapore; first he was seen on two or three occasions near Changhie; then he was heard of at Siglap; and then there were signs of him near the Botanical Gardens, and there seemed ground for hope, that H.R.H would exhibit himself, if not among the animals at the Gardens, at least as a mark for some of our sportsmen," said a report on Nov 6, 1875. "We now hear of him at Seletar."

On March 24, 1935, the king of the jungle earned prime billing: a banner headline across Page 1 that screamed: TRACKER FINDS SINGAPORE TIGER. A small blurb assured The Sunday Times readers that it was NOT A MAN-EATER.

A "beat" was organised to hunt down Mr Stripes, as The Straits Times had dubbed him.

In the early 20th century, a tiger reportedly visited the iconic Raffles Hotel for tea. The wild feline hid beneath a billiard table, and was shot square between the eyes by the school principal of Raffles Institution, The Straits Times reported on Aug 13, 1902.

Not as majestic as the tiger, but feared nonetheless, were crocodiles and sharks. In February 1904, a column titled Singapore's Excitements highlighted a macabre haul. "There are few cities for instance which can boast like Singapore of having had two crocodiles captured and a tiger killed within the limits of one week."

In 1965, a sword-nosed shark weighing more than half a tonne was caught off Pasir Panjang. Two years later came the grisly discovery of a man's limbs inside a shark's stomach, along with part of his torso. The shark had been bought by an Ellenborough Market fishmonger at a fish auction in Boat Quay. It had reportedly been caught at a kelong off Pasir Panjang. The police concluded that the victim was not Singaporean and had probably hailed from a neighbouring island.

In 1969, the police issued a "missing" report with a difference. The description read: Height 4ft, 6 in. Has a dark brown head, black beak, blue neck, double red wattles, brown legs and black feathers.

The description was of a rare cassowary bird that had been stolen - along with two peacocks and a pair of storks - from the Jurong Bird Park. It eventually turned up at a Chua Chu Kang farm.

Another great escape took place four years later when the Singapore Zoo's black panther, Twiggy, made a bid for freedom in March 1973. It remained at large until the following February, and was eventually cornered and killed in a monsoon drain.

Then there was the time that Singapore's much-loved star orang utan was on a film shoot at MacRitchie Reservoir in 1982. The plan was to shoot Ah Meng half-way up a tree.

But the Zoo's poster girl had other ideas. Ah Meng climbed to the top, and stayed there for three days before falling off and breaking an arm.

"Ah Meng stages sit-in" was the paper's front page headline on March 30, 1982.

The last wild tiger here is believed to have been shot in Choa Chu Kang in the 1930s.

But in the late 1990s, the big cat made a fleeting appearance in The Straits Times, although perhaps not in Singapore. On April 29, 1997, the paper reported the police advising people to stay away from Pulau Ubin after a grandmother hunting for clams claimed to have seen a tiger.

Exhaustive searches yielded nothing.

When the newspaper visited the island at the year end, the story was being described as the tallest "tail" of the year. "The only tiger here is Tiger beer," joked one visitor. • ST

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Inside Singapore's impressive new natural history museum

Nicholas Walton, for CNN 15 Jul 15;

Singapore (CNN)Prince, Apollonia and Twinky roamed our planet 150 million years ago.

Nowadays, the skeletons of these three long-necked diplodocus dinosaurs are the star attraction of Singapore's new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Everyone knows that dinosaurs were big, but these three almost complete sauropod fossils are a reminder of just how enormous these lizards were.

Discovered at a Wyoming quarry in the United States in the last decade, "Prince" is 25 meters long from tip to toe. The largest of the trio, he arrived in 27 huge customized crates that were shipped from Utah.

Apollonia is three meters shorter and Twinky -- a mere baby -- is 11 meters long, rearing up on its hind legs as though munching on something delicious in a tree.

Awe-inspiring exterior

In a city accustomed to world-class museums and ground-breaking architecture, this $35 million museum is very much the new luminary of Singapore's cultural scene.

Designed by Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei, the building itself looks nothing like your stereotypical natural history museum.

Shunning all things old fashioned, this contemporary monolith partly looks like a giant seven-story block of solid granite.

One corner of the block appears to have been hacked off, revealing a succession of terracotta colored balconies -- all dripping with native Singaporean plants.

Creepy crawlies and one massive croc
Inside, the spectacular sights are not just focused on the distant past.

The museum also aims to build an appreciation for Southeast Asia's wildlife.

Some of it is flourishing. Some of it is under threat and could very well go the way of the diplodocus.

Visitors can come face-to-face with an estuarine crocodile -- the largest in the world and a creature that has returned to the waters around Singapore.

Other displays include orangutans, pangolins (otherwise known as scaly anteaters), tigers and wild boars.

There are smaller animals too, including enough spiders to make anybody's skin crawl.

Dozens of the butterfly species that flutter around this tropical corner of Asia are also on display, as well as the gargantuan Atlas moth.

The museum also showcases an astonishing variety of crabs -- from the Japanese spider crab (almost four yards long from claw to claw) to the coral spider crab (less than a tenth of an inch in size).

There's even a reminder not to be seduced by the beautiful colors of the mosaic reef crab -- its mottled pink shell seems innocent enough but contains enough poison to kill 40,000 mice.

Answers to all your quirky questions

At the core of all that flash, the Singapore Natural History Museum makes a point of educating its visitors.

There are displays that look at how different animals adapt to glide or fly between trees.

Ever wonder how an elephant's legs can support its enormous weight? They've got that answer, too.

One of the more curious exhibits features an elegant spiral tusk from a narwhal, an Arctic whale species that's commonly called the "unicorn of the sea."

This particular three-meter-long tusk was presented to a Singaporean businessman called "Whampoa" by the Russian government in the 1860s.

His family hid it during WWII and entrusted it to the museum just last year.

There are some 2,000 creatures on display in the museum.

But in total, the museum houses one million plant and animal specimens, the vast majority carefully labeled and tucked away in drawers or floating in jars on the building's upper floors.

Selfie sticks are strictly banned. The museum says it wants its visitors to have a "serene experience, much like taking a walk in a lush forest."

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. 2 Conservatory Drive, Singapore; +65 6601 3333; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; entrance fee $21($16 for Singaporean residents), concessions $13 ($9), children under 3 Free.

Patrons are encouraged to buy tickets in advance through the Sistic ticketing site. At busy times tickets are valid for 90 minutes only.

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Sisters’ Island Park Public Gallery opens


SINGAPORE — Nature lovers who want a glimpse of Singapore's over 250 species of hard corals and over 100 species of reef fish will now get a chance to do so, with the opening of the Sisters' Island Park Public Gallery today (July 15).

The public will learn more of Singapore's marine biodiversity through informational panels and a 3D exhibition for non-divers of the two new dive trails at Sisters' Island slated to open later this year.

Viewing pools to observe marine organisms such as giant clams and fishes up close, a controlled mangrove ecosystem and guided public walks on St John's Island through inter-tidal and mangrove habitats will also be ready by the end of next year.

The gallery, opened by the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI), is located at the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre on St John's Island, housed together with the TMSI marine laboratory.

"The new gallery and centre will offer more opportunities for the public to gain a deeper appreciation of Singapore's marine biodiversity," said President Tony Tan at the opening. "As Singapore continues to develop and urbanise, it is important to involve the various segments of our society in conserving Singapore's natural heritage for future generations of Singaporeans."

The gallery is open daily from 10am to 2.30pm on weekdays, 10am to 3.30pm on Saturdays and 10am to 5.30pm on Sundays and public holidays.

Admission is free but members of the public will have to pay for ferry services, which run regularly to St John's Island from Marina South Pier.

President opens marine park gallery
Ariel Lim Straits Times 16 Jul 15;

The Neptune's cup sponge was thought to be extinct for over a century until it was rediscovered off Singapore's coast in 2011.

It is one of the species visitors can learn about in the new Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John's Island, which was opened by President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

The 30 sq m gallery showcases the biodiversity in Singapore waters, particularly its first marine park. It features a diorama of the marine life that visitors can expect to encounter on the two dive trails there which will open in September, including rare sponges as well as other species such as sea stars and nudibranchs.

Part showcase and part education, the gallery will also inform visitors of efforts by the National Parks Board (NParks) to protect marine biodiversity in the park, such as its work with the Tropical Marine Science Institute of the National University of Singapore to boost the population of endangered giant clams.

Guests will also soon get to see the real thing.

Viewing pools containing species that inhabit the park will be set up by the end of next year.

Another 30 sq m or so will be set aside for a controlled mangrove ecosystem which Dr Karenne Tun, deputy director of the coastal and marine branch of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said could be used for research projects.

The marine park comprises 40ha of sea around Sisters' Islands and along the western reefs of St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

The two dive trails were planned as part of NParks' Marine Conservation Action Plan, Singapore's first official plan to protect its marine heritage. That scheme followed the Singapore Blue Plan 2009, a proposal by academics and civil society groups that called for a marine survey and marine nature reserves.

President Tan viewed two presentations by students from the School of Science and Technology and Ang Mo Kio Secondary School.

He said: "We have a very rich national habitat, solid range of biodiversity. This is a treasure which we have to preserve, conserve and grow, not only for present generations of Singaporeans but also for many more generations of Singaporeans to come."

The gallery is open daily.

5 things about the Sisters' Islands, Singapore's first marine park
Fabian Koh Straits Times 15 Jul 15;

Singapore's southern Sisters' Islands, together with its surrounding waters, has been designated as the first ever marine park in the nation's history.

A new Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery, on St John's Island, was opened by President Tony Tan Keng Yam on July 15, 2015.

The 30 sq m gallery showcases the biodiversity in Singapore waters, particularly its first marine park. It features a diorama of the marine life that visitors can expect to encounter on the two dive trails there which will open in September 2015, including rare sponges as well as other species such as sea stars and nudibranchs.

Here are some things you might be curious to know about Sister's Islands:

1. The Legend

A very long time ago, there were two sisters named Minah and Lina, who were inseparable.

One day, a pirate came along and sought younger sister Lina's hand in marriage, but she rejected him as she did not want to be away from Minah. The pirate then kidnapped Lina and brought her onto his boat.

In a desperate attempt to save her younger sister, Minah jumped into the water and swam after the boat, but soon started drowning. Upon seeing this, Lina freed herself from the pirate and jumped into the water to save her sister. But a large wave engulfed them and everyone died.

When the storm subsided, the sisters were gone, but two islands emerged at the spot they had perished.

Big Sister's Island, also known as Pulau Subar Laut (3.9ha), and Little Sister's Island, otherwise known as Pulau Subar Darat (1.7ha), are now collectively called the Sisters' Islands.

It is said that every year on the day the islands were formed, there would be heavy rain and thunderstorms.

2. The marine park

The 40ha park, the size of about 50 football fields, will include the western reefs and seashore areas of nearby Pulau Tekukor, a former ammunition dump, and St John’s Island, currently home to research and recreational facilities.

The intertidal area at the marine park is most suitable for visitors during low tides of 0.4 metres and below. That is when you will be able to see all the marine life which are otherwise underwater and out of sight.

Guided walks are conducted free of charge. Each session had been capped at a maximum of 15 people, but raised to 45 upon high demand.

These trips are opened for public registration in phases at Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park will protect Singapore’s coral reefs, which support an ecosystem consisting of rare species of seahorses, clams and other marine life.

Notably, over 250 species of hard corals can be found in Singapore’s waters, 32 per cent of the global total.

NParks will conduct studies to work out how many people currently visit the islands, how many the area can handle, and which areas are safest to walk in. It will also install stepping-stones or boardwalks to give public access while protecting delicate areas.

3. Getting there

For those who signed up with the NParks tours, transport to and from the islands will be provided.

For others, Singapore Island Cruise provides a private charter service from Marina South Pier to the Sisters' Islands.

A two-way trip would cost $400 for a boat that can sit up to 12 people, for one day. An average boat ride to the island takes 40 minutes.

Once there, you can swim and snorkel around the lagoons and reefs.

Camping is also possible, but do remember to apply for a permit.

While having a picnic at the Sisters’ Islands, do not share your food with the local long-tailed macaques. These monkeys can be aggressive. Do not leave food unattended, and clear all rubbish properly into the monkey-proof bins provided.

4. A safe haven

Located close to one of the world’s busiest ports, the marine park will provide a refuge for the vast marine wildlife around the Sisters' Islands and its surrounding waters.

One of the research projects planned at the new park is the reintroduction of giant clams, which are endangered in Singapore.

On Tuesday, Dr Neo Mei Lin, 28, a research fellow at the Tropical Marine Science Institute, planted a lab-grown giant clam underwater off Big Sister's Island.

The area has all along been rich in marine life.

In 2011, for instance, the Neptune’s Cup sponge, long thought to be extinct, was rediscovered off St John’s Island.

5. Success of the Blue Plan

In 2009, civil society groups had presented a Blue Plan. It was the most comprehensive proposal yet to save Singapore’s coral reefs, and called for the Government to formally designate high-biodiversity areas. Among them were Sisters' Islands and the southern islands.

The marine conservation Blue Plan, over a year in the making, was compiled by a team of academics, environmental organisations and civil society groups.

Calls to save Singapore’s reefs date back to the 1980s and 1990s, and the Blue Plan was one in a long line of proposals.

Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery to have seminar room, teaching lab
AsiaOne 15 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE - The newly opened Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John's Island will include a seminar room and teaching lab to facilitate talks and activities for schools visitors.

According to a media release by the National Parks Board (NParks), the public will be able to observe marine organisms on display in viewing pools and a mangrove ecosystem.

There will also be guided public walks at the various habitats on St John's Island.

President Tony Tan who officiated the opening of the gallery said: "The new Gallery and Centre will offer more opportunities for the public to gain a deeper appreciation of Singapore's marine biodiversity. As Singapore continues to develop and urbanise, it is important to involve the various segments of our society in conserving Singapore's natural heritage for future generations of Singaporeans."

Meanwhile, come end September, dive enthusiasts will be able to explore the new dive trails off Big Sister's Island by registering with approved dive operators.

The gallery is open daily from 10am to 2.30pm on weekdays, 10am to 3.30pm on Saturdays and 10am to 5.30pm on Sundays and Public Holidays to coincide with the timings of the regular ferry services.

It is a 10-minute walk from the jetty and regular ferry services to St John's Island from Marina South Pier are available twice on weekdays and up to five times on weekends and public holidays.

President Tony Tan opens the Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery
New gallery provides more opportunities to learn about Singapore’s marine biodiversity
NParks press release 15 Jul 15;

President Tony Tan Keng Yam today opened the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery on St John’s Island. This Gallery will feature the rich marine biodiversity in Singapore's waters and provide an overview of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, including a 3D diorama of its dive trails. A seminar room and teaching lab are also provided as extensions to the Gallery. This will facilitate talks, seminars and teaching activities for school and community groups.

By end 2016, the public will also be able to observe marine organisms on display in viewing pools and a mangrove ecosystem, which is an area where mangroves can be planted under controlled conditions to facilitate experiments for research projects. A wider range of outreach programmes will also be rolled out to encourage greater appreciation of our natural heritage. This includes guided public walks at the various habitats on St John’s Island.

President Tony Tan said, “The new Gallery and Centre will offer more opportunities for the public to gain a deeper appreciation of Singapore’s marine biodiversity. As Singapore continues to develop and urbanise, it is important to involve the various segments of our society in conserving Singapore’s natural heritage for future generations of Singaporeans.”

This new public gallery serves to complement the outreach programmes at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park was announced on 12th July 2014 and serves as a platform for outreach, educational, conservation and research activities related to our native marine biodiversity. Singapore’s first Marine Park spans about 40 hectares, encompassing Sisters’ Islands and the western reefs of both St John’s Island and Pulau Tekukor. Since August 2014, volunteers have led monthly public guided walks on Big Sister’s Island to showcase the marine biodiversity found on our shores. From end September 2015, dive enthusiasts will be able to explore the new dive trails off Big Sister’s Island by registering with approved dive operators. The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Dive Trails will operate with underwater signboards which serve both as station markers and underwater educational resources. Divers will also be encouraged to contribute towards the upkeep of the dive trails, for example, by helping to keep the station signboards clean using brushes provided.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery is open daily from 10am to 2.30pm on weekdays, 10am to 3.30pm on Saturdays and 10am to 5.30pm on Sundays and Public Holidays to coincide with the timings of the regular ferry services. The public gallery is a 10 minute walk from the jetty. Regular ferry services to St John’s Island from Marina South Pier are available twice on weekdays and up to five times on weekends and public holidays.

The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Public Gallery will form a part of the Marine Park Outreach and Education Centre, which is a partnership between the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) of the National University of Singapore.

NParks has been working closely with researchers from TMSI on marine research programmes as part of ongoing conservation efforts. Collaborative projects between both organisations include the giant clam mariculture and species recovery projects, in which these and other endangered species are grown and nurtured in the laboratory before being reintroduced back into the waters of the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park. With the new Centre, closer proximity between both research teams will enable more opportunities to share relevant knowledge and expertise.

Marine eco-toxicity biomonitoring programme

Other marine-related educational programmes include the marine eco-toxicity biomonitoring programme. Six schools have signed up for the 2015 run of the three-year programme, adding on to the previous ten schools which signed up in the programme’s first year. Some 130 secondary school and JC students have participated in the marine eco-toxicity biomonitoring programme since it was initiated in May 2014. The programme has been carried out at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Punggol Jetty and may subsequently include locations along the southern coast like West Coast Park and East Coast Park.

Marine fauna subjected to pollution often become stressed and suffer from impaired body functioning. The impact of pollution on these fauna may then affect the entire ecosystem, a condition known as eco-toxicity. Filter feeders such as mussels accumulate such pollutants and toxins from the environment, which make them ideal indicators of environmental contamination. Assessing the extent of the pollutants’ impact on individual organisms thus provides an indication of the quality of their physical environment and how affected the entire ecosystem is. By carrying out physiological, behavioural and DNA tests on green mussels (Perna viridis) and other coastal organisms, students would be able to assess the health of waters in our coastal areas.

The marine eco-toxicity biomonitoring programme is part of NParks’ suite of national citizen science programmes which aim to encourage the public to learn more about our natural heritage. These programmes also provide an avenue for the public to play an active role in contributing to organised research efforts through the collection of large quantities of data. The information collected will in turn guide the development of long term conservation management strategies for various habitats.

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Temperatures in Singapore may soar by 4.6°C by end of the century: Balakrishnan

Phase 1 of the Second National Climate Change Study found that without mitigation, mean temperatures in Singapore could increase to 32°C, says Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Channel NewsAsia 15 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: Mean temperatures across the Republic are projected to rise by between 1.4°C and 4.6°C by the end of the century, depending on the level of future greenhouse gas emissions, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday (Jul 14).

In a written answer to a Parliamentary question from MP Christopher de Souza, Dr Balakrishnan cited results from Phase 1 of the Second National Climate Change Study, which concluded in early 2015. The study found that without mitigation actions, mean temperatures in Singapore could increase to 32°C, he said.

“The actual extent to which these temperature increases are realised in Singapore will depend on how successful global mitigation actions to reduce greenhouse gas emission are,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

“A global challenge such as climate change is best addressed on a multilateral basis. We therefore strongly support the multilateral negotiations taking place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where a new global agreement on climate change is set to be adopted at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP-21) in December 2015 in Paris,” he added.

Singapore is participating actively in the preparatory conferences and related events of the COP-21, Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that the Republic has also submitted its mitigation pledge, known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), on Jul 3.

“We hope that our submission will encourage more countries, especially those in our region, to come forward with their pledges too. This is important because these pledges, taken over successive cycles, will form the centre piece of global mitigation efforts under the agreement.

“No single country can solve climate change alone. All countries have a part to play,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

- CNA/cy

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Indonesia: Rain puts out land, forest fires in Riau

Rizal Harahap and Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post 15 Jul 15;

Rain that flushed down on most parts of Riau on Monday has finally managed to extinguish land and forest fires that had overwhelmed residents in the province over the past few weeks.

According to data gathered from the Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru from the Terra and Aqua satellites, the number of hotspots in the province had significantly dropped from 200 to only two on Tuesday morning.

“Based on our analysis, none of the hotspots can be categorized as fire spots. It is unlikely that they would cause another land and forest fire,” BMKG Pekanbaru analyst Sanya Gautami told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, adding that the two hotspots had been found in Pelalawan regency.

Riau authorities have been struggling to put out massive land and forest fires that emerged over the past few weeks due to this year’s prolonged dry season.

On Monday, hundreds of local government officials in Pekanbaru, the province’s capital city, for example, performed istisqa (prayers to ask for rain) in an effort to deal with the matter.

Sanya said that rain that fell for several hours on Monday in most parts of Riau had helped to douse land and forest fires in the province, which is also known as the country’s largest oil producer.

“Based on information derived from our observation posts, rain with light to medium intensity has fallen in Pekanbaru, Rengat, Pelalawan, Meranti Islands, Tembilahan and Batang Cenaku,” she said.

By Tuesday, Riau no longer recorded the most number of hotspots in Sumatra.

“Bangka Belitung province currently has the most number of hotspots with six,” Sanya said.

The dry season normally occurs between April and September. The BMKG, however, recently warned that the dry season could last longer this year as a result of the El NiƱo weather phenomenon, the effect of which will last until November.

Separately, Central Java Water Resources Management Agency reported on Tuesday that five out of 39 reservoirs in the province had recently dried up due to the prolonged dry season.

Agency head Prasetyo Budhi Yuwono said that farmers in several regions, including Pati and Demak, had recently asked the regional administration to help provide water supplies for their crops.

“The dried dams are regarded as small, while the province’s eight major dams, including Kedungombo, Gajahmungkur and Wadas Lintang, are still holding an adequate amount of water to irrigate nearby farmland,” he said.

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Thailand approves $1.8 billion in loans for farmers hit by drought

Kitiphong Thaicharoen PlanetArk 14 Jul 15;

Thailand has approved loans of up to 60 billion baht ($1.77 billion) to support farmers affected by drought, the finance minister said on Monday.

The wet season is under way, but Thailand is contending with drought conditions in seven out of 67 provinces, the National Disaster Warning Center said, and water rationing is taking place in almost a third of the country.

Thailand's state-owned Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) has approved loans for 1 million farmers, following a meeting chaired by Finance Minister Sommai Phasee.

The loans will range from short-term funds for emergencies to drought rehabilitation, to long-term assistance to increase farm productivity, with repayment periods from one to ten years.

Farmers unable to immediately repay existing debt, because of the drought, can also extend their debt periods, but by no more than a year.

"Famers affected by drought will now receive help to alleviate debt and will have money to spend for households in case of emergencies," Sommai told reporters.

The loans will help farmers recover from drought, support jobs, and develop production, he added.

Sommai reaffirmed an earlier statement that drought could cut GDP growth by 0.5 percentage point although Thailand's economy is expected to grow 3 percent in 2015 despite it.

"This year, if we can grow 3 percent that would not be too bad," he said. "If we can get 3 percent we wouldn't be worse off than other countries."

The economy grew only 0.9 percent last year, with the political crisis bringing it to the brink of recession in the first half. The central bank recently cut its 2015 economic growth forecast to 3.0 percent from 3.8 percent.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha led a military coup in May last year, ending months of sometimes violent street protests in Bangkok and ousting the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's first woman prime minister.

(Writing by Viparat Jantraprap and Pairat Temphairojana; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Clarence Fernandez)

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Renewables outpace nuclear in economies making up 45 percent of world population: report

Aaron Sheldrick PlanetArk 15 Jul 15;

Solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy besides hydro-electric dams now supply more electricity than nuclear in Japan, China, India and five other major economies accounting for about half the world's population, an atomic industry report shows.

While nuclear stations on average produce about twice as much electricity as renewables annually for every kilowatt installed, the high growth of solar, wind and other renewables means atomic power is fast being eclipsed as nations turn away from the energy source after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

This is one of the main observations of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015, a draft copy of which was given to Reuters before the release of the document at 0900 GMT in the House of Commons in London.

Nuclear power generation increased by 2.2 percent globally in 2014, even with the first extended shutdown of Japan's atomic industry for 45 years, but with solar power increasing 38 percent and wind power up by a tenth, energy from the sun, wind and other renewable sources is outpacing that from the atom.

Rising costs, construction delays, public opposition and aging fleets of reactors are hurting the chances of nuclear while falling costs, greater efficiency and better management of fluctuating renewable supplies, along with improved storage, are changing the face of energy production globally.

"The impressively resilient hopes that many people still have of a global nuclear renaissance are being trumped by a real?time revolution in efficiency?plus?renewables?plus?storage, delivering more and more solutions on the ground every year," Jonathon Porritt, co-founder and trustee of the Forum for the Future, wrote in a foreword to the report.

Almost half of all added electricity generating capacity in 2014 was from renewables, excluding large hydro-dams, the report said.

In output terms, China, Japan and India, which are three of the world's four largest economies, along with Brazil, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and Spain now generate more electricity from non-hydro renewables than nuclear, it said.

In Britain, output from renewables, including hydro, surpassed atomic generation "for the first time in decades", while in the United States the share of renewables was 13 percent, up from 8.5 percent in 2007.

Discounting Japan's moribund industry due to its long-term outage, the report said the world's operating units numbered 391 in 2014, up three from a year earlier, and 47 less than a 2002 peak.

The report's lead authors are industry analysts Mycle Schneider, based in Paris, and London-based Antony Froggatt. Both have advised European government bodies on energy and nuclear policy.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Treat climate change as seriously as national security: report

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 14 Jul 15;

Governments should treat climate change as seriously as threats to national security or public health, partly by focusing more on the worst scenarios of rising temperatures, an international report said on Monday.

Crop failures, extreme heat waves or high rates of sea level rise could be so harmful that governments should examine even small chances of the most severe impacts, according to the study by about 60 experts from 11 nations.

"The risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security or public health," according to the experts from countries that included Britain, the United States, China, Russia and India.

"When we think about keeping our country safe, we always consider the worst case scenarios," British Foreign Office Minister Joyce Anelay, whose government was among the report's sponsors, said in a statement.

"That is what guides our policies on nuclear non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and conflict prevention. We have to think about climate change the same way," she said.

Too often, risks of climate change are viewed more narrowly, "as if it were a long-term weather forecast", she said.

Almost 200 governments will meet in Paris in December to try to work out a global deal to slow climate change.

The study said U.N. reports about climate change focused mainly on moderate warming and rarely mentioned the impacts of five degrees Celsius (9 Fahrenheit) or more, which are far less likely but would be far more damaging.

The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic ecosystems and tropical coral reefs are systems vulnerable to big rises in temperatures.

Governments have long been at odds about how to present the risks of climate change, partly because some voters doubt scientific findings that warming is man-made. Spending on national security or health is less controversial.

The report said the world was not on track to limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures within a U.N. goal of two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times.

"It is very likely that the world will continue to follow a medium to high emissions pathway for the next few decades," the authors wrote.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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