Best of our wild blogs: 5 Aug 15

Sentosa Tanjung Rimau still alive!
wild shores of singapore

Majority Of Consumers Are Concerned About Food Waste From F&B Companies In Singapore
Zero Waste Singapore

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Inspiring Asean youth on climate change

Young people may be the most powerful force yet to be mobilised in the international climate movement
Jessica Cheam Straits Times 4 Aug 15;

Two hundred young people from 10 Asean countries met to discuss campaigns for climate change action last month. The first meeting of the "Asean Power Shift" took place at United World College of South East Asia in Tampines.

It was organised by a group of young people from 350 Singapore, the local chapter of a global youth-led non-profit organisation called

The name has its origins in the United States, where the first so-called Power Shift was held in 2007 and gathered 6,000 youth for climate change activism. A Global Power Shift took place in 2013 in Turkey and, from there, 86 national Power Shifts have been held across the world. These meetings bring together millennials (also known as Gen Y) to discuss climate change issues and equip them with skills to organise similar campaigns in their home countries.

The idea is to empower them to lead local climate action groups which will, in turn, help educate the people in their countries on the realities of and solutions to climate change, multiplying the effect.

The movement views climate change as an ethical issue involving equality, human rights, collective rights and historical responsibility. It recognises the fact that those who are least responsible for climate change generally bear the brunt of its impact.

Given the grassroots, ground-up nature of the event, I was surprised that the first Asean Power Shift was entirely led by a group of young people from Singapore - where the country's historical wariness of civil society and advocacy efforts has meant that activists are few and far between.

In many ways, the meeting - supported by Young NTUC and environmental NGO Eco Singapore - reflects recent, growing civic activism among Singaporeans, especially the young, and the growing appeal of climate change advocacy for this particular generation. A survey of 8,000 young adults from 20 countries in 2011, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, found that young people increasingly want to be a force for change in creating a more sustainable planet.

The young adults surveyed, aged 18 to 35, consider poverty and environmental degradation to be the world's two biggest challenges, and they want more information on what they can do to be part of the solution.

Speaking to many of the region's youth at the event, I was struck by their energy and sharp questions.

Mr Vannchai Rot, 23, a social worker from Cambodia, volunteers for a youth non-governmental organisation called the Youth Resource Development Programme (YRDP).

He said that in developing Asean countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, climate change awareness is still very low. People can see its effects. They feel it is getting hotter and crop yields in these heavily agricultural countries have become erratic, due to increased incidents of droughts and floods. But people still generally do not understand climate change, its cause, or how to respond to it.

YRDP, which is part of the Cambodia Climate Change Network, seeks to address this by training and educating young people in the country, equipping them with the understanding and skills to, in turn, educate their friends and family. It organises a youth forum on climate change annually and conducts dialogues with the Cambodian government on how to address climate issues.

The progress is slow, however, said Mr Vannchai, because of a lack of resources.

Then there is Ms Pui Cuifen, a 33-year-old environmental scientist who represented Singapore at the event. She faces a different set of challenges. Her interest in climate issues was triggered by a university course she attended some five years ago and she has since been participating in and volunteering at climate change-related events.

In Singapore, awareness of climate change issues is generally high, she said, but this does not mean that people are doing something about it.

"Many say they feel powerless, or that the problem is too big for them, so this meeting - the Asean Power Shift - reinforces the idea that we can make things happen," she said. She feels the connection between climate change and how it impacts the daily lives of citizens in Singapore is missing at the moment. Climate change effects, such as higher temperatures, rising sea levels, increased risk of drought and floods, and extreme weather events, might be well reported, but for the man in the street to care about these issues, a personal connection has to be made.

This could involve something as simple as, say, driving home the message that the local dishes Singaporeans love - such as a bowl of fishball noodles, or a plate of chicken rice - could be very expensive or unavailable in the coming years as food production declines because of more droughts or floods.

Very often, it comes down to small, personal actions, said Ms Pui, who started a community garden a couple of years ago in Choa Chu Kang with her neighbours to grow their own food. This is her way of "doing things that are sustainable and bringing people together".

She is part of a group of young people from the 10 participating nations at the Asean Power Shift tasked to write a position paper outlining the perspective of Asean youth on climate change issues, and what they expect from the UN climate change negotiations.

Due to take place in Paris in December, the meeting is when governments are meant to ink a legally binding deal to address climate change and its impact.

Mr Wilson Ang, founder of Eco Singapore, who mentored the young people running the event, said that Asean youth are under-represented at the UN negotiations, and the document formally gives them a voice. Their views will be submitted to both the Asean secretariat and the French presidency for consideration in the lead-up to the Paris meeting.

Mr Ang hopes the Asean Power Shift will do three things. First, increase capacity building in the region to help young people at the grassroots level be passionate about climate change. Second, help Asean youth attend the climate change meetings by providing financial support via sponsors. And third, consolidate regional efforts on climate change activism so that impact is maximised.

He added that some sponsors have committed to providing US$1,000 (S$1,370) grants to the youth for selected local initiatives as a way of extending the event's impact. Better still, the Asean secretariat could also consider formally giving such support to the local projects.

Mr Ang said that the Asean Power Shift will now be held annually, driven entirely by youth volunteers. This effort is timely, given young people's growing interest in social and environmental issues.

Climate change potentially represents a major threat to the health and socio-economic stability of youth - particularly in developing countries, where 80 per cent of young people live.

As a group, they hold tremendous voting and purchasing power that could pressure governments and businesses to make the right decisions. They could be the most potent force for the international climate movement, yet to be unleashed.

They are also right to be concerned, for they will be the ones who will be around in 2050 and beyond, when scientists predict climate change effects will significantly worsen if no global action is taken.

This was aptly summed up by Dr AKP Mochtan, Deputy Secretary-General of Asean for Community and Corporate Affairs, who spoke at the event.

He said: "The youth have much at stake, because the youth have much future to live."

• This is a fortnightly column by Jessica Cheam, the editor of Eco-Business, an Asia-Pacific sustainable business online publication. She was formerly a political and environment correspondent at The Straits Times.

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Otter trio spotted at Kallang River

AsiaOne 4 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE - Reports of wild otter sightings in Singapore have become a lot more common ever since a pair of otters were spotted at a breakwater along East Coast Park.

Recently, a female otter and her pups were filmed in Kallang River enjoying a meal of freshly caught catfish.

Facebook user, Fast Snail, uploaded a video of the otter pups coming out of their hiding space in a drain to meet their mother as she brings back her catch. The video was apparently filmed in May this year.

The threatened marine mammals have become more common around Singapore in the past decade. In 2000, only four sightings were reported.

By 2011, the number of sightings had increased to 39, according to a Straits Times report two years ago.

In 2014, a pair of otters, one male and one female were seen at Gardens by the Bay. They were bold enough to enter the park's Supertree grove during the day and fed on fish in its lakes.

See also: Otter mum and babies gambol at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

An otter family consisting of two adults and three babies were seen at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Their presence there was made public by the National Parks Board on their Facebook page in April this year.

Other otter sightings were reported at Botanic Gardens and Pasir Ris.

But not all recent otter sightings were welcome.

The wild creatures were thought to be responsible for hunting ornamental koi in multi-million dollar bungalows, and even a hotel on Sentosa.

80 of the 200 koi kept by the hotel were preyed on by a pair of otters, with losses estimated to be $20,000 suffered by the hotel.

Another Sentosa resident was similarly affected and estimated her losses to be $64,000.

Experts said the animals typically thrive around mangroves, river mouths and natural shorelines, but they may appear more frequently as they are adapting to the urban environment here.

The public are also advised to keep their distance.

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Cleanliness a top bugbear for residents

KELLY NG Today Online 5 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — Cleanliness — or the lack thereof — is the biggest bugbear of residents here, based on feedback received by the Municipal Services Office’s (MSO) OneService smartphone application in the first seven months of the year.

The app, which was launched in January, handles feedback on municipal problems. As of the end of last month, cleanliness-related matters made up the bulk (about 35 per cent) of almost 12,000 instances of feedback received. Coming close are issues concerning maintenance of roads and footpaths (28 per cent), followed by pests (13 per cent).

Set up in October last year, MSO works with 11 government agencies in maintaining estates and upgrading facilities and infrastructure.

The OneService app, which has about 27,000 registered users, automatically routes each piece of feedback to the relevant agency so that more timely service can be provided. Apart from addressing residents’ feedback, MSO has also assisted agencies and in some cases, it initiated discussions among several agencies to better manage certain municipal issues.

In one of the instances, for example, a resident in February used the app to provide feedback on fallen dried leaves and litter along a drain in Serangoon. The app automatically referred the case to the National Environment Agency (NEA), and the issue was addressed within a day, an MSO spokesperson said.

While straightforward cleanliness issues could be quickly addressed by a single agency, more complex matters would involve several agencies.

One such example was where residents near Buangkok MRT station individually put up multiple requests to the Housing and Development Board (HDB), and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to build a footpath from the MRT station to the nearby Palm View Primary School and Esparina Residences condominium. As the proposed footpath lies on a plot of state land earmarked for future development, several agencies including the HDB, the LTA, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and People’s Association were involved. The MSO then helped to facilitate discussions, and a decision was made to build a footpath by early next year. Speaking to TODAY, resident Siti Saodah, 19, said a footpath is much needed. “Whenever it rains, or right after, the field becomes very muddy and difficult to walk in without our shoes getting soaked,” she said. Another resident, Mr Jason Low, added: “It will be more convenient to get across and residents don’t have to walk one big round via the sheltered walkway.”

In another incident, a resident reported in January a self-sown tree in the back lane behind Emerald Hill, which was causing inconvenience to residents. The MSO noted that in the past, such an issue might have taken a long time to resolve “as the tree, being self-sown at a back lane, with no vehicular access, might straddle across lands of multiple agencies”.

But in this case, the National Parks Board (NParks) stepped in to assess the tree on its health and condition. It removed the tree and followed up with the LTA and the SLA to address site erosion problems. “Since then, MSO, together with the agencies, have started discussions to see how to better facilitate the management of greenery-related issues in back lanes,” the MSO spokesperson said.

On average, response time for cases involving multiple government agencies is 6.5 days, down from 8 days.

Apart from residents, agencies have also approached the MSO for assistance. Tampines Town Council, for example, shared its concerns about maintaining a long row of trees and thick undergrowth planted by NParks near Tampines Expressway (TPE). The MSO served as a mediator by advising NParks to level the land beneath the trees to allow for easier maintenance.

While the MSO has made good progress in delivering better services to the public, some older residents whom TODAY spoke to still preferred approaching their town councils — via walk-ins or telephone — with municipal complaints.

A 60-year-old Jurong resident wanting only to be known as Mr Ng said: “Calling (the town council) is much faster. You dial the number and there will be someone attending to your call.” Mr Ng said he regularly shares feedback on issues related to cleanliness, illegal car parking and spoilt lights in lifts. The town council would act on the issues on the same day, he said.

Kaki Bukit resident Adeline Lee, 54, said she preferred to approach the town council or her Member of Parliament. “It is troublesome to download the app, I prefer to have someone listen to me right away,” she said.

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Shanmugam discusses “issue relating to water” with Malaysian counterpart

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam says Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman listened and understood Singapore’s position on the issue.
Channel NewsAsia 4 Aug 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has met his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman to discuss an issue relating to water, he revealed to reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Minister's Meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday (Aug 4).

"I had some months ago raised with him an issue relating to water which is of importance to us and Prime Minister had also raised it with the Malaysian Prime Minister at the last retreat and I followed up today because it's quite important and he listened and he understood our position," said Mr Shanmugam.

He declined to go into details, but when asked if their discussion had anything to do with the price of water tariffs, he said: "It has something to do with that".

"It's not quite a breakthrough, but we had to say what our position was and we are hoping for certain actions," Mr Shanmugam stated.

His comments come a day after Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan visited the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor, an important source of water for Singapore. During the visit, Dr Balakrishnan warned that water levels at Linggiu Reservoir are at "unprecedented" low levels.

Singapore currently imports water from Johor, under the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement which expires in 2061. This agreement is guaranteed by both Governments in the 1965 Separation Agreement, which was registered with the United Nations. Both countries have to honour the Water Agreement and the guarantee in the Separation Agreement. Any breach of the Water Agreement would also be a breach of the Separation Agreement and of international law. The Water Agreement provided the two countries with the right to jointly review the price of water after 25 years, in 1987.

However, Malaysia consciously chose not to review the price. Malaysia benefits greatly from the current pricing arrangement. Johor buys 16 million gallons per day of treated water back from Singapore at 50 sen per 1000 gallons. This is a fraction of the true cost to Singa¬pore of treating the water, which includes building and maintaining the water purification plants.

In March last year, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that Malaysia has lost the right to review the price of water that it supplies to Singapore under the terms of the 1962 Water Agreement. Media reports then suggested that Johor officials wished to raise the price of raw water supplied to Singapore.

- CNA/ly

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Malaysia: Remove shark’s fin from menus, urges WWF

The Star 5 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Eateries serving shark’s fin have been urged to remove the dish from their menus in view of the depleting number of the species.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia senior sustainable seafood officer Chitra Devi G said sharks were particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation because they were slow growing, mature at a late age, and had a relatively low reproductive rate.

“We urge eateries to stop serving shark’s fin in menus as their population is slow to recover once over-fished,” she said at a Sustainable Seafood Business seminar in conjunction with the Sustainable Seafood Festival 2015.

Restaurants, retailers and hotels should adopt a dining policy that did not include shark’s fin on the menu or substitute shark’s fin with an alternative ingredient, Chitra said.

She added that based on Traffic, a non-governmental organisation which aims to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to conservation of nature, Malaysia was one of the top 20 shark catchers in the world.

“According to Traffic’s statistics, Malaysia is also the seventh highest in terms of fin exports at 384 tonnes per year amounting to 2.9% of glo­bal trade.

“On top of that, Malaysia ranks as the second highest country in fin imports with 2,183 tonnes per year which makes up 13.5% of global trade.

“This is a major concern as many species of sharks are top predators and play an important role in ba­­lancing the marine ecosystems,” she added.

Chitra said the seminar was a great opportunity for better understanding of the “No Shark Fin” movement and in establishing a network among key players in the culinary industry, as well as opening doors for potential shark’s fin-free food business in Sabah.

Guest speakers included representatives from the Fisheries De­part­ment, Sabah Sharks Alliance, and Shangri-La Hotel that shared ideas on promoting “No Shark Fins” alternatives.

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Malaysia: Killed over wild claims

CHRISTINE CHEAH The Star 5 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: The products range from antelope antlers to extract of porcupine to pills containing snake or bear gall bladder.

Much of the wildlife being killed for their parts are on the endangered species list or protected animals but many traditional Chinese medicine shops nationwide are stocking the products.

A check by The Star shows that the sale of such illegal products is rampant although very few shops actually display them.

Most keep them out of sight, until asked for by customers who believe that these medications can cure ailments from cancer to dengue.

All the 11 shops that were checked out in Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, George Town, Kuantan and Kuching sell saiga antlers, sourced from Russia. This antelope is a critically endangered species.

Most of the shops in the peninsula also sell porcupine bezoar in its raw form of stones or as powder.

And they didn’t come cheap – 0.375gm of bezoar costs RM450 to RM900 depending on the grade.

To get the bezoar, the animal is slaughtered.

Although not all species of porcupine in Malaysia are protected, the origin of the bezoars sold in these shops is not made known to the buyers, who may or may not even care about that.

Then there are the pills and capsules with snake or bear gall bladder, which are brought in from Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland, and illegal in this country.

Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia secretary-general Steven Kow said it was encouraging the shop owners to find alternatives to the wildlife products.

“There needs to be an awareness programme and more research to see if herbs can be a substitute,” he said.

The association has warned its 4,000-plus members not to stock illegal items, adding that they faced severe criminal penalties if they were caught.

Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, reported earlier this year that these medications continue to be popular and the shops selling them are thriving.

One medicine shop owner in Kuala Lumpur claimed that bezoars could remove toxins from the body while the antlers help reduce “heatiness”.

In Kuching, the products for sale include dried snake and lizard, as well as deer tendon, used to make medicinal wines.

Most of the shop owners admit that it is illegal to sell the products but said that they had to make a living.

“My customers want them. If I don’t sell, others will,” said a shop owner in Kuching.

There is concern among wildlife protectors that the illegal sale of these products will lead to species going extinct, even those that are not on the endangered list.

Take porcupines in Malaysia, for example. Only one species is protected, but that does not make it all right to sell porcupine bezoars.

Traffic South-East Asia senior communications officer Elizabeth John warned that porcupines could end up like the tokay gecko, which was at one time believed to be a cure for AIDS.

She said that there were no statistics to show that Malaysia’s porcupine numbers were dwindling, “but it might escalate to become a se­­rious problem”.

According to her, there has been a ban on the hunting of saiga since 2001, so unless the shops are selling antlers collected previously or by special circumstances, these would be illegal.

Medicine shops claim wildlife products a ‘cure-all’
The Star 5 Aug 15;

PETALING JAYA: Many Chinese medicine shop owners are claiming that their wildlife products can cure any sort of ailment.

“It really works, you might not believe it but my clients have been coming back for more,” said one who identified himself only as Chow.

He has a full-time job as an insu­rance agent but started selling porcupine bezoars six years ago.

“It is good money but it is not an easy job. I have to go into the jungle to get it from the orang asli,” said the 45-year-old.

Thinking that the price of bezoars could soar with increasing demand, Chow has stocked enough to last him the next few years.

“There’s no expiry date for this stuff,” he said.

Many medicine shop owners said their bezoar stocks came from Borneo and Indonesia.

Sellers like Chow buy the bezoar stones in bulk and grind it into po­wder form to sell to customers. A bezoar stone can cost upwards of RM50,000, depending on its size.

Most of the shop owners say it is legal to sell porcupine bezoars but never display it openly.

“Customers have to ask and then we bring it out. It’s expensive stuff,” said a shop owner in Petaling Jaya.

Another, who wanted to be known only as Ng, claimed that porcupines were bred in Sabah and the bezoars from these animals were cheaper.

“The most expensive ones are from porcupines in the wild, that is another grade,” he said.

It takes a professional to be able to tell if a bezoar stone is real or fake, according to Ng who has a shop in Subang.

He said some people had tried to sell him fakes.

Tan, another seller who wanted anonymity, said bezoar stones were formed when injured porcupines eat herbs to heal themselves.

“That’s why there are different grades and sizes,” he explained.

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Toxic algae blooming in warm water from California to Alaska

Toxic algae blooms in a warmer Pacific, endangering marine life and forcing seafood bans
Phuong Le, Associated Press Yahoo News 5 Aug 15;

SEATTLE (AP) -- A vast bloom of toxic algae off the West Coast is denser, more widespread and deeper than scientists feared even weeks ago, according to surveyors aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel.

This coastal ribbon of microscopic algae, up to 40 miles wide and 650 feet deep in places, is flourishing amid unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures. It now stretches from at least California to Alaska and has shut down lucrative fisheries. Shellfish managers on Tuesday doubled the area off Washington's coast that is closed to Dungeness crab fishing, after finding elevated levels of marine toxins in tested crab meat.

So-called "red tides" are cyclical and have happened many times before, but ocean researchers say this one is much larger and persisting much longer, with higher levels of neurotoxins bringing severe consequences for the Pacific seafood industry, coastal tourism and marine ecosystems.

Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the area now closed to crab fishing includes more than half the state's 157-mile-long coast, and likely will bring a premature end to this year's crab season.

"We think it's just sitting and lingering out there," said Anthony Odell, a University of Washington research analyst who is part of a NOAA-led team surveying the harmful algae bloom, which was first detected in May. "It's farther offshore, but it's still there."

The survey data should provide a clearer picture of what is causing the bloom which is brownish in color, unlike the blue and green algae found in polluted freshwater lakes. Marine detectives already have a suspect: a large patch of water running as much as 3 degrees centigrade warmer than normal in the northeast Pacific Ocean, nicknamed "the blob."

"The question on everyone's mind is whether this is related to global climate change. The simple answer is that it could be, but at this point it's hard to separate the variations in these cycles," said Donald Boesch, professor of marine science at the University of Maryland who is not involved in the survey. "Maybe the cycles are more extreme in the changing climate."

"There's no question that we're seeing more algal blooms more often, in more places, when they do occur, they're lasting longer and often over greater geographical areas. We're seeing more events than documented decades ago," said Pat Glibert, professor at Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Odell recently completed the first leg of the survey, mostly in California waters. On Wednesday, researchers plan to continue monitoring the sea between Newport, Oregon, and Seattle. The vessel will then go to Vancouver Island, wrapping up in early September. Another research ship is taking samples off Alaska.

The brownish bloom was particularly thick off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and Odell said it was unusually dominated by one type of algae called Pseudo-nitzschia, which can produce the neurotoxin domoic acid.

"It's an indication of an imbalance," said Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "Too much of any one thing is not healthy for anybody to eat."

Trainer said this bloom is the worst she's seen in 20 years of studying them. Harmful algal blooms have usually been limited to one area of the ocean or another, and have disappeared after a few weeks. This one has grown for months, waxing and waning but never going away.

"It's been incredibly thick, almost all the same organism. Looks like a layer of hay," said Raphael Kudela, a professor of ocean sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz.

The current bloom also involves some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid yet observed in Monterey Bay and other areas of the West Coast.

"It's really working its way into the food web and we're definitely seeing the impacts of that," Kudela said, noting that sea lions are getting sick and pelicans are being exposed. And now that the Pacific is experiencing its periodic ocean warming known as El Nino, it may come back even stronger next year, he said.

Domoic acid is harmful to people, fish and marine life. It accumulates in anchovies, sardines and other small fish as well as shellfish that eat the algae. Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can cause permanent loss of short-term memory in severe cases.

State health officials stress that seafood bought in stores is still safe to eat because it is regularly tested. While there have been no reports of human illnesses linked to this year's bloom, authorities aren't taking chances in fisheries with dangerous toxin levels.

California public health officials have warned against eating recreationally harvested mussels and claims, or any anchovy, sardines or crabs caught in waters off Monterey, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara counties. Other shellfish harvests are shut down along Oregon's coast.

The most recent samples showed the highest-ever recorded concentrations of domoic acid in the internal organs of Dungeness crab, Ayres said.

"This is really unprecedented territory for us," said Ayres.

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