Best of our wild blogs: 19-20 Jul 15

Bleaching at Pulau Semakau North
wild shores of singapore

1 Aug (Sat): Air Your Views – An Outdoor Forum

Magnificent explosion on Pulau Semakau East
wild shores of singapore

Fantastic day out at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

A Short Outing to Lornie Trail
Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Pig-nosed Turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) @ Tampines Quarry
Monday Morgue

Read more!

Land crab sighted after seven decades

Carolyn Khew THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 19 Jul 15;

A female specimen was found in a drain on St John’s Island by a Tropical Marine Science Institute scientist. Photo: Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey

Return of brown land crab last seen in 1938 linked to efforts to protect the environment

After an absence of over 70 years, the brown land crab has clawed its way back onto our shores.

A female specimen - about 10cm from pincer to pincer - was spotted earlier this month sitting on a mound of leaf litter in a small drain on St John's Island.

The last time this crab was seen here was in 1938, in Paya Lebar, said crab expert Peter Ng.

"It has never been seen since, and is regarded as locally extinct," said Professor Ng, chief of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS). "So to see the crab again on St John's Island is wonderful. The crab has either been hiding there for decades, or has returned to Singapore after a long hiatus! The important thing is, it is no longer extinct."

Also known by its scientific name Discoplax hirtipes, the crab has a wide distribution in South-east Asia and the western Pacific. It comes from the same family as the Christmas Island red crab.

Prof Ng said the brown land crab lives in coastal habitats, digging burrows under rocks and vegetation, but can sometimes be found many kilometres inland. However, he added, they reproduce by releasing larvae into the open sea. This is different from freshwater crabs, which have large eggs and hatch into miniature versions of the adult.

Assistant Professor Darren Yeo from the NUS department of biological sciences said that as the species frequents coastal areas and needs to return to the sea to spawn, its appearance after more than 70 years shows that efforts to protect coastal and marine environments are worthwhile.

"This also reminds us that species thought to be locally extinct but still occurring in the surrounding region may possibly have a chance to make a return," he said.

As the crab was an "incidental find", the first thing to do would be to see if this was a one-off record or if there are more on St John's Island, or other parts of Singapore, he said. "We should probably also consider if this 're-discovery' could be attributed to increased sampling effort or increased general awareness of our local fauna and of unusual sightings, and missing it previously was because the persisting or surviving population was very small and in isolated areas."

Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) senior research fellow Tan Koh Siang, who made the find, said the crab had attracted the curiosity of many TMSI staff, who had taken photos of it. "We collected the crab by coaxing it into a paper bag and sent (Prof Ng) a photograph on e-mail," said Dr Tan.

He added: "I did what any zoologist would have done on seeing something out of the blue!"

The crab was featured recently at the opening of the new Sisters' Islands Marine Park Public Gallery, and has since been returned to the museum.

TMSI deputy director Serena Teo said: "This is an important taxonomic record. Prof Ng and his team may also want to examine it more closely and take DNA samples to check."

Read more!

Jurong Island's chemical romance

Jacqueline Woo THE STRAITS TIMES AsiaOne 19 Jul 15;

The reclaimed 3,000ha Jurong Island – an amalgamation of seven offshore isles – was formed in 2009. It is home to more than 100 companies – including leading industry players BASF, ExxonMobil, Mitsui Chemicals, Shell and Sumitomo Chemicals – with investments amounting to over $47 billion. Photo: EDB

Jurong Island - the cornerstone of Singapore's petrochemicals industry - is looking to the speciality chemicals field to keep it ahead of its global competitors.

The Government is behind the push, with the Economic Development Board (EDB) setting its sights on significantly growing the sector, said Mr Eugene Leong, its director of energy and chemicals.

Speciality chemicals refer to niche chemicals and polymers which are usually higher up in the value chain as they have unique functions that enhance a product's performance. They include automotive-related chemicals, which can be used to produce fuel-efficient cars, and agro- chemicals to raise farm efficiency.

"If you're just a factory making things, you're not going to go very far," Mr Leong told The Straits Times in a recent interview. "We need to go beyond just manufacturing... and become relevant for the future."

He noted that the speciality chemicals sector, which thrives on intellectual property and intensive know-how, will come with higher margins. It is also "much more resilient to commoditisation".

"With a growing middle class in Asia and consumerism on the rise, we need to make sure we are plugged into the future of the economy," said Mr Leong.

The number of speciality chemicals investments on the island has grown rapidly in recent years.

German firm Evonik Industries announced in May its plan to expand its oil additives plant there as part of its €5.5 billion (S$8 billion) investment programme.

Earlier this month, Belgium- based Solvay opened a $50 million speciality surfactants plant on Jurong Island- its largest in Asia.

The EDB said one-third of the $6 billion fixed asset investments secured for the industry over the past two years came from the speciality chemicals sector.

As the sector moves deeper into creating knowledge, Mr Leong noted that investments in Jurong Island are likely to become smaller compared with the large-scale projects previously. But they will "create a lot of value".

"It's operationally very challenging because these speciality chemicals are not easy to make," he said.

"But we have the expertise after being in the industry for more than a decade. This is what will make us relevant and robust as a sector."

Indeed, Singapore's position as a global chemicals hub has grown significantly alongside the extensive development of Jurong Island over the past decade.

The reclaimed 3,000ha island - an amalgamation of seven offshore isles - was formed in 2009.

"We started with essentially just an idea," said Mr Leong.

"Then we had to move into really delivering the goods, convincing investors to make investments here even though we don't have any feedstock or a clear idea of where the market was."

Jurong Island today is home to more than 100 companies - including leading industry players BASF, ExxonMobil, Mitsui Chemicals, Shell and Sumitomo Chemicals - with investments amounting to more than $47 billion.

The energy and chemicals sector, which employs 26,000 people, is the largest contributor to Singapore's manufacturing output.

Output from the chemicals cluster has nearly doubled, rising from $53 billion to $103 billion over the past 10 years.

The evolution of Jurong Island helped open up opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises as well.

Local firm Rotary Engineering, for instance, was contracted by several companies in the 1990s to carry out maintenance work for facilities on the island.

Turnover for its maintenance division, which was only around $2 million then, has since grown more than 20 times, said founder, chairman and managing director Chia Kim Piow, who added: "As Jurong Island continues to grow, Rotary will grow with it."

Keeping its place among the top global petrochemical locations, however, is easier said than done.

Mr Leong acknowledged that the industry today faces headwinds from various directions, especially as current market conditions are "not so rosy".

The shale revolution in the United States, for one thing, has led to cheaper feedstock, giving American producers an edge over local players in terms of cost, he noted.

This was little helped by the plunge in global oil prices since June last year, which has squeezed margins for companies in the refining and petrochemicals industries.

Also, just last month, Tokyo-listed chemical and pharmaceutical company Teijin said it will shutter its polycarbonate resin plant on the island by the end of this year, owing to high costs.

Singapore's key markets in Asia are also growing at a slower rate amid an increase in global chemicals production over the past few years, said Mr Leong.

Still, he remains hopeful about the future.

This is because South-east Asia's demand for chemical products is among the highest-growing globally and Singapore is "smack in the middle of it".

"If you look at the longer-term prospects, we're still in a region where they will need products," said Mr Leong.

"We still have a good future. Over time - and it's just a matter of when - we will have to think about adding capacity when demand returns."

He added that the EDB will continue to develop infrastructure and logistics on the island - such as the new barging terminal and Jurong Rock Caverns underground storage facility - while driving integration among companies there.

"Every time a company decides to pull out, we can find ways to make them stay, or we can keep transforming to keep getting new, good investments.

"Our strategy is to look for additional opportunities to make such investments so that companies which are here will say that Jurong Island continues to provide something special."

For oil giant Shell, Singapore's vision to be a leading petrochemicals hub has helped it maintain its competitive edge.

"It's a winning model of how co-location of related chemical industries and services in a single site can bring synergies for companies," said a Shell spokesman.

The group's largest petrochemical production and export centre in the Asia-Pacific region is on Jurong Island, where it is also building new petrochemicals production units.

The projects, added the spokesman, are "progressing well".

- See more at:

Read more!

Sunny future for solar panel research in Singapore

More solar companies are operating in Singapore in recent years, buoyed by Government investments into new technologies.
Channel NewsAsia 18 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: More people are tapping into energy from the sun, and the number of solar panel installations is set to increase. The industry is also warming up, with more solar companies operating in Singapore in recent years, buoyed by Government investments into new technologies.

Solar panels, usually seen on rooftops, could soon be a fixture on ponds and reservoirs too. A test at Bishan Park, which took place from March 2013 to December 2014, aims to make that a reality.

Mr Christophe Inglin, managing director of Phoenix Solar Singapore, said: "We wanted to see what additional requirements are there in terms of operation and maintenance. Water and electricity don't exactly mix, so extra precautions there. Would the pond life - pond weed, turtles, frogs - would they have an impact on the system?"

Each month, the panels generate enough electricity for the needs of a five-room HDB flat. The solar modules are manufactured in Singapore and donated by REC Modules.


In another study, the panels were tested in a harsher environment. Engineers wanted to find out if the panels would be affected by saltwater.

Mr Steve O’Neil, CEO of REC Modules, said: "We studied things like the operating temperature of the solar panels, because the cooler the solar panel, the more energy you get out of it. So on water, with the cooling effect of the water, we actually get higher yields than you'll get on a rooftop or a land-based system."

The two companies will scale up their projects in a test bed at Tengeh Reservoir. The S$11 million venture is led by the Economic Development Board and national water agency PUB, and managed by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore.

In the first phase, six consortia of companies will implement seven floating solar systems by 2016. By taking part in the project, the companies also benefit.

Mr Andre Nobre, the head of PV System Technology Group, Solar Energy Systems Cluster, Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, said: "Most of the companies participating in the phase one test bed are local companies. They form consortia with foreign companies just to get some insights into the floating elements or the anchoring.

"They already have a lot of expertise deploying solar systems on rooftops across Singapore. They just needed that extra know-how on the floating elements."

In the next phase, two consortia will be selected to work on systems with larger capacities.


The project is one of several initiatives by the Government to boost the industry.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, Executive Director, Clean Technology and Cities at the Economic Development Board, said: “Singapore is a convenient place for companies to develop, to pilot, and to commercialise innovative urban solutions in a real life setting, very often in collaboration with our Government agencies.”

“With that living lab strategy, we want to avail piloting sites in Singapore to solar and energy management-related companies. (The) floating PV pilot therefore is one of our key piloting sites, where companies can hone their capabilities, and very importantly build their track records,” he added.

In 2007, there were fewer than 10 solar companies operating in Singapore. Now, there are close to 50.

The number of solar panel installations has also grown. By the end of 2014, 30 megawatt-peak of solar capacity had been installed.

In 2015, projects with a scope of about 100 megawatts are expected to be finalised. This would contribute towards the country's goal, which is to raise the adoption of solar power to 350 megawatt-peak, by 2020. That would be about five per cent of peak electricity demand then.

- CNA/dl

Read more!

Malaysia: Langkawi business community says it can help save geopark

The Star 20 Jul 15;

PETALING JAYA: The business community in Langkawi is calling for authorities to impose a speed limit on tourist boats, which they say are responsible for destroying nearly a third of the mangroves there with the waves they churn up.

According to Langkawi Business Association deputy director Datuk Alexander Isaac, about 30% of mangroves have been lost in recent years, especially due to speeding boats and other fast-moving vessels.

“It is time for the authorities in Langkawi to step up enforcement and limit the speed for these boats to 5kph.

“Otherwise, Langkawi risks losing its Unesco Geopark status following the United Nations’ scheduled review next month,” he added.

Alexander said the banning of personal water craft from carrying out tours in the area could also help to stop further damage to the mangroves.

“The situation is bad. The whole problem here is because of the uncontrolled speeds which cause a significant amount of erosion of river banks.”

Langkawi is one of 100 geoparks in the world and in 2007, became the first in South-East Asia to be recognised by Unesco.

Unesco assessors will visit Malaysia next month to revalidate the status granted to Langkawi for the third consecutive four-year term soon.

On Saturday, Bernama reported Langkawi Development Authority chief executive officer Tan Sri Khalid Ramli voicing out his concern over the effects of fast-moving boats on the beaches and mangroves of Langkawi.

He said that LDA was serious about keeping its Unesco geopark status.

“Despite replanting mangroves in this area, all efforts would go to waste if there is no stringent enforcement,” said Alexander, who is also the owner of cruise services provider Tropical Charters Sdn Bhd.

He said awareness and education could also play a major role for future mangrove protection.

Tourism Malaysia chairman Wee Choo Keong said the authorities must not waste time to get cracking.

“The state authorities should pass laws to keep speeding boats up to 3km away from mangrove areas, or maintain a distance which is deemed sufficient to preserve the natural habitat.”

Read more!