Best of our wild blogs: 15 Aug 15

Singapore Bird Report July 2015
Singapore Bird Group

Peacock Pansy visits Bougainvillea
Bird Ecology Study Group

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How Singapore can charm a new generation of travellers

See Kit Tang CNBC AsiaOne 14 Aug 15;

With its Botanic Gardens declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its spot at the top of Lonely Planet's Best Travel Destination 2015 list, Singapore has tourism sorted, right? Maybe not, say experts, who told CNBC this was a perfect time for the city-state to reinvent itself yet again.

"For Singapore to remain competitive and relevant in the future, the key is to reinvent," Yu Xian Lim, research analyst at Euromonitor, told CNBC by email. "Home to a collage of museums and heritage sites with rich local histories, Singapore can consider carving a niche in cultural tourism, especially after the recent UNESCO win."

Last year Singapore posted its first decline in visitor numbers since 2009, down 3 per cent on-year to 15.1 million, due mainly to a fall in Chinese holidaymakers to the region amid political unrest in Thailand, the Malaysia Airlines' twin tragedies and tighter regulations on tour packages in the mainland.

The downtrend has continued this year despite the Lonely Planet accolade, with the number of tourists decreasing 4.1 per cent through May.

To give the sector a boost, the Singapore Tourism Board launched a 20 million Singapore dollar-campaign in June in conjunction with the nation's Golden Jubilee celebrations this year. However, Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam said such "piggyback strategies" may not be enough to rejuvenate the industry from a long-term perspective.
And while World Heritage status for the 156-year-old Botanic Gardens is expected boost visitor numbers to the 74-hectare park by as much as 20 per cent, according to National Parks Board, industry watchers who spoke to CNBC were less bullish about the garden's boost on overall tourist arrivals.

Instead, experts say Singapore, best known for its shopping and gastronomic opportunities, as well as an array of man-made marvels such as Marina Bay Sands, needs to cater to the rise of so-called free and independent tourists (FITS) who want alternative ways to explore a country.

"While many tourists came on tour groups in the past, we have more FITs nowadays who plan their own itinerary, like to do what the locals do and are looking for new, authentic experiences," Chiam said. "In recent years, our focus has been on adding new attractions and new events like the Singapore Grand Prix, it may be a good idea to start promoting our own culture and heritage."

According to analysts, Singapore offers a colorful picture of contrasting elements - from a modern metropolis to heritage quarters and pockets of greenery - in one compact location.

"Nobody travels to another country to see more of their own," Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, told CNBC.

"They want to experience the local culture and savour the flavours of the land … Singapore has gone through the various stages of tourism development. First, it was 'me too' where I have what you have; second, it was 'me only' where only I have it and finally, I believe we are entering the phase of 'this is me', having the unique Singapore way of life as our tourism positioning."

And even as Singapore celebrates its 50 years of independence, experts say the island should not forget that its history and heritage started well before 1965, pointing out that local war-remembrance sites such as the Kranji War Memorial fare well in comparison to better-known overseas sites.

According to local tour operator Star Holiday Mart, there is definitely rising demand for "less trendy" experiences that are quintessentially Singapore.

"Some of our tours have moved into the heartlands like Toa Payoh … which is an old estate and where the HDB Hub is located. Apart from showing them development plans of our housing estates, tourists can experience the Singaporean life away from glamorous shopping malls and skyscrapers," managing director Dominic Ong said.

Travellers have also put up special requests to visit Pulau Ubin - Singapore's second-largest offshore island, with a charm lies in its quiet rural surroundings with kampung houses and forest paths - and the eastern suburb of Katong, where quaint shophouses offer a glimpse into the Peranakan culture, Ong noted.

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Indonesia nabs ship believed to carry slave-caught fish

MARGIE MASON Associated Press Yahoo News 14 Aug 15;

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A massive refrigerated cargo ship believed to be loaded with slave-caught fish was seized by Indonesia's navy and brought to shore Thursday, after The Associated Press informed authorities it had entered the country's waters.

The Thai-owned Silver Sea 2 was located late Wednesday and escorted about 80 miles (130 kilometers) to a naval base in Sabang on the Indonesian archipelago's northwestern tip, said Col. Sujatmiko, the local naval chief.

The AP used a satellite beacon signal to trace its path from Papua New Guinea waters, where it was also being sought, into neighboring Indonesia. The navy then spent a week trying to catch it. The ship was close to leaving Indonesian waters by the time it was finally seized.

"I'm so overwhelmed with happiness," said Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, adding it was difficult to find because the boat's signal had a delay. "It was almost impossible, but we did it."

The Silver Sea 2 is the same 2,285-ton vessel captured in a high-resolution satellite photo last month in Papua New Guinea showing its hold open and two fishing trawlers tethered to each side, loading fish. Analysts identified the smaller trawlers as among those that fled the remote Indonesian island village of Benjina earlier this year, crewed by enslaved men from poor Southeast Asian countries who are routinely beaten and forced to work nearly nonstop with little or no pay.

An AP investigation revealed their catch reached the supply chains of major U.S. food sellers, such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and American pet food companies, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The businesses have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and vowed to take steps to prevent it.

Indonesia freed hundreds of men earlier this year after the AP exposed they were trapped — including some locked in a cage — on Benjina. But 34 boats loaded with slaves escaped before authorities arrived. They remain missing. Seven arrests have been made in Indonesia and two in Thailand related to the case.

Panya Luangsomboon, owner of Silver Sea Reefer Co., which owns several refrigerated cargo ships in Thailand, said Friday that the company has done nothing illegal and has asked Thai officials for help in getting the Silver Sea 2 back.

"We have received numerous calls from Thai agencies ... asking about this and basically we said we have never done anything like it," company manager Venus Pornpasert said Thursday of allegations of human trafficking and illegal fishing. Venus added that all of the ships' crews are Thai nationals and certified by the International Maritime Organization.

However, enslaved workers who recently returned home from Papua New Guinea to Myanmar said they had regularly loaded fish onto Silver Sea cargo ships, which ferried the catch back to Thailand. Burmese slaves rescued from Benjina, among hundreds interviewed by the AP in person or in writing, also said they had been trafficked in Thailand and brought to fish in Indonesia aboard the Silver Sea 2. And late last year, AP journalists saw slave-caught fish in Benjina being loaded onto another reefer owned by Silver Sea.

The Indonesian navy has so far declined to comment on the crew found aboard the captured vessel.

Pudjiastuti, who put a moratorium on all foreign boats last year to crack down on rampant poaching, said the Silver Sea 2 captain will be questioned, and an investigation will be launched into suspected human trafficking, transport of illegally caught fish and transshipment, which involves offloading fish at sea. It allows fishermen to work for months without returning to port, making it easier for their captains to exploit them.

"Indonesia's action here is significant as it demonstrates a commitment to enforcing the actions of vessels within their waters, regardless of whether they are fishing illegally or trafficking labor," said Tobias Aguirre, executive director of California-based nonprofit Fishwise, which advocates for sustainable, slave-free seafood.

Authorities in Papua New Guinea had also been searching for the boat. They instead seized another Thai-owned fish cargo ship, the Blissful Reefer, two weeks ago. Two trafficked Burmese and six Cambodians were found on board.

Indonesian police also are investigating trafficking claims involving 45 Burmese fishermen who were rescued from a Jakarta hotel last week. Arie Dharmanto, who heads the anti-human trafficking unit of the National Police, said the men had fake documents identifying themselves as Thai, and that officials from two Indonesian companies have been questioned about their role.

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, and Nattasuda Anusonadisai in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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Indonesia: 'Embung' and rain suggested to save water

Arya Dipa and Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post 15 Aug 15;

Agencies and experts have recommended methods to preserve water to deal with the prolonged drought and cope with the impacts of it in the long run.

West Java Water Resource Management Agency head Edi Nasution said that his office would build a number of artificial lakes, locally called embung, to store water reserves.

Other measures included dredging Padawaras embung in southern Tasikmalaya, which covered 80 hectares.

“We have to carry out dredging because it is experiencing silting. We need some Rp 7 billion (US$538,461) to do so,” Edi said on Thursday.

He said that the embung could supply water to 1,800 hectares of paddy out of its total capacity of irrigating 2,500 hectares of paddy.

In Yogyakarta, micro-hydro expert Agus Maryono proposed a way to “harvest” rain during the rainy season to help restore ground water.

Agus said the method, in which unused rainwater was channeled to infiltration wells, made use of the abundant supply of water during the rainy season in reservoirs and prevented flooding.

Agus said that the method had been applied in a number of developed countries, including Germany.

Drought during the dry season, according to Agus, occurred because ground water dries up on account of damage to water catchment areas, namely forests.

“That’s why we need to make water catchment areas, in this case infiltration wells,” Agus said.

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Indonesia: Lake Limboto haven for migrating birds 14 Aug 15;

Lake Limboto in Gorontalo in North Sulawesi is still a haven for migrating birds from various places around the globe, despite concerns that it is gradually getting shallower.

The phenomenon has attracted many, including environmentalists, researchers and photographers.

“September to November is the high season for migrating birds from Australia, Asia and Europe to stop by in several places in Gorontalo, especially around Lake Limboto,” said Gorontalo Photography Society (MFG) chairman Idham Ali on Friday as quoted by

Indeed, Limboto seems to have its own attraction for the flying creatures. Whatever their origins are, in extreme seasons the birds would stop to forage and create nests around the lake.

To celebrate Indonesia's diverse species of birds, MFG is holding various events at the lake, including a bird photo hunt, bird sketching, bird watching and discussions about migrating birds.

During a bird photo hunt held last week, around 13 species of migrating birds were identified in Lake Limboto.

According to Hanom Basri from the non-profit bird conservation organization Burung Indonesia, which is one of the event's collaborators, up to 34 species of migrating birds were listed by the organization, including the red-necked stint, the white-headed stint and the common greenshank.

Amsurya Amsa, program coordinator with Burung Indonesia Gorontalo, said he is hopeful that the government will acknowledge the tourism potential of Lake Limboto and develop it to become the pride of Gorontalo.

According to the province's environmental and regional research agency, Fadli Alamri, the local government is continuously mapping the lake's potential and submitting the data to the Lake Limboto management working group. (nov/kes)(+++)

Limboto attracts migrating birds from around the world
Syamsul Huda M.Suhari, The Jakarta Post 15 Aug 15;

Despite its dismal condition, it appears Lake Limboto in Gorontalo is still able to attract migrating birds that have flown thousands of kilometers from various parts of the globe.

Nature photographer Idham Ali, who has been taking pictures of birds over the past three years, listed at least 40 bird species that have stopped briefly at the biggest fresh-water lake in the province, which is now badly silted.

“Among the dozens of bird species I’ve listed, 14 of them are migrating birds from various countries in Europe, Russia, Alaska and Siberia. They stop over at Lake Limboto to rest before resuming their journey to various destinations,” Idham said recently.

Idham and dozens of environmentalists from different backgrounds observed various species of migrating birds in an area along the shore of Lake Limboto in Hutada’a village in Gorontalo regency on Monday.

“It’s amazing, especially given the fact the peak of bird migration usually occurs between September and October,” said Idham.

But Idham said he was quite saddened by rampant bird poaching around the lake.

“The poachers have even formed communities,” he added.

Bird observer from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Iwan Hunowu said the migrating birds, which were of the water and coastal bird species, had flown distances of up to 18,000 km from their countries of origin.

“Similar to humans who wish to travel long distances, the birds also make various preparations before migrating, such as increasing their body weight over a duration of four months prior to commencing the long trip,” said Iwan.

He added that various bird species generally migrate for survival. “In the northern hemisphere, the weather is known to be extreme during summer and winter, so they migrate to a tropical region like Indonesia,” said Iwan.

He cited the example of the brown and long-beaked little curlew, locally known as gajahan kecil, that avoids winter by migrating to the Philippines, Indonesia and the northern part of Australia.

“It has many names, such as zwerbrachvogel in Germany, chiurlo minore in Italy and zarapito chico in Spain,” he said.

Meanwhile Portuguese bird painter Paulo Alves, who also joined the bird watch at Lake Limboto, said the migrating bird phenomenon could be developed into a potential tourist attraction in Gorontalo, similar to those found in other regions.

“The migrating birds can bring benefits and blessings for the local community around Lake Limboto, provided the government and stakeholders work together to develop the local ecotourism infrastructure,” said Alves.

Local bird activist Amsurya Warman Amsa said that during this year’s Indonesia Bird Variety Day, which is commemorated every July 15, his group had used the theme “Welcome Birds” to usher in various migrating bird species arriving in the country.

“The migrating bird phenomenon signifies that every corner of the Earth is connected and reliant on the other,” said Amsurya.

“This momentum can also serve to remind us of the importance of restoring and preserving the condition of Lake Limboto as it used to be,” he added.

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Indonesia: Coal power plants threaten lives

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 14 Aug 15;

Increasing the number of coal-fired power plants (PLTU) from 42 to 159 will increase the risk of death from air pollutants in Indonesia from 6,500 a year in 2015 to 15,700 in 2024.

The government plans to add some 117 PLTUs in the next decade to meet the demand for more power.

A study conducted by Harvard University revealed that air pollutants from the burning of coal at 42 existing power plants resulted in at least 6,500 deaths per year from strokes, heart and lung cancers and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

The number will increase to 15,700 once the 117 new plants are constructed. The 117 new plants do not include other plants that the current government plans to install in its ambition to produce another 20,000 megawatts of energy. The ambitious project includes the construction of the controversial plant in Batang, Central Java, which continues to face protests from locals in he area.

“Emissions from coal-fired power plants form particulate matter and ozone. Both of these things are detrimental to human health,” Shannon Koplitz, a Harvard researcher from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said during a presentation of the research earlier this week.

Koplitz said that coal burning is the number one source of mercury pollution in the world. Besides mercury, other dangerous substances include a fine particle called PM2.5, comprising dust, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, toxic metals such as timbale, arsenic, chromium, nickel and cadmium and ozone.

The dangerous particles were transmitted by the wind from the power plant sites to nearby areas. Based on wind speeds, the research showed that PLTU Jati B in Jepara, Central Java, for example, generated air pollution in Jepara, Pecangaan, Kembang, Karangsari, southern Semarang, Rembang, and eastern Rembang.

Air pollutants from PLTU Jati B, contributed to at least 1,020 deaths from the yearly total of 6,500. It is considered one of the biggest power plants that in the country.

The study also analyzed the impact of the controversial PLTU Batang in Central Java.

The Batang power plant is estimated to put at risk roughly 780 lives per year and could impact Pekalongan, Tegal, Semarang and Cirebon by 2020.

Harvard University and Greenpeace Indonesia conducted the study from 2014 to 2015. The methodology used in the survey compared the World Health Organization’s data of diseases caused by emissions in the country to characteristics of pollutants from the coal burning of 42 existing power plants to reach an approximate number of deaths stemming primarily from the emissions of coal-based power plants.

The 42 power plants include six on Sumatra Island, four on the Bangka Belitung Islands, 18 in Java, four on the Nusa Tenggara Islands, five in Kalimantan and five in Sulawesi.

Based on the study, Greenpeace recommended that Indonesia start shifting toward renewable energy sources to generate power. Currently, renewable energy, such as geothermal, solar, mini and micro hydro only contribute 1.25 gigawatts of power for the country.

“We can optimally use renewable energy 10 years from now only if the government provides supporting policies and implements stricter emissions controls,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia Head of Climates Arif Fiyanto said.

Separately, state-owned electricity firm PLN said that every coal-fired power plant project required an environmental assessment (Amdal) to get a green light. Therefore if a power plant was environmentally destructive, it would not pass the assessment.

“And they have to be approved by the government,” PLN corporate secretary Adi Supriono told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “As for the report from the Harvard University, I don’t know about that so I cannot give any comment.” (rbk)

Coal-Related Death Toll to Climb, Warns Greenpeace
Erin Cook Jakarta Globe 14 Aug 15;

Indonesia's coal mining industry is set to generate cheap energy for millions — but with a very large human cost. (Reuters Photo/Dwi Oblo)

Jakarta. The international environmental NGO Greenpeace this week released a report slamming the effects of Indonesia’s coal power plants, offering a dire warning for the health of communities and environment around the plants and calling on the country to move toward more sustainable methods of generating power.

The “Human Cost of Coal Power” report used research provided by Harvard University combining both known levels of emissions from the country’s existing power plants and projections for the more than 100 plants currently in planning or construction stages.

“Air pollution is responsible for over 3 million premature deaths globally every year,” the report said. Of this figure, 6,500 deaths are in Indonesia.

Greenpeace predicts that each new 1,000-megawatt power plant will directly cause an additional 600 Indonesian deaths each year — resulting in a figure of 28,300 deaths across the archipelago annually.

The research found pollution emitted from these plants can contain toxic particles “including mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium,” causing “increased risks of lung cancer, stroke, heart diseases and respiratory diseases” for communities in plant-impacted areas. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are most at risk of sustaining life-threatening illness and disease.

The report cites President Joko Widodo’s announcement, made shortly after he was elected last year, to expand Indonesia’s energy generation with a strong focus on coal power. Heralded by the business community as a boon for greater foreign investment, Greenpeace has condemned the move.

“[It] will clearly dramatically increase the existing estimate of mortality and mobility resulting from power generation,” the report said.

In addition to causing hundreds of “avoidable” deaths, the current energy policy puts Indonesia at odds with much of the rest of the world, which is moving toward sustainable, and ultimately more lucrative, methods of energy generation.

“The current plans to increase reliance on coal power in Indonesia directly contradict the global trend of recognizing the problems with fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy.”

Greenpeace disputes government policy which argues that, for the millions of Indonesians living without ready access to electricity, coal-generated power is the best option to quickly and efficiently fill the gap.

Of the Joko-endorsed power plants, which are slated to generate an additional 35,000 MW by 2019, “over 65 percent will be built in Java and Bali” — areas in which “the electrification ratio reaches almost 100 percent.”

The NGO goes so far as to suggest the reliance on coal is in fact “unconstitutional,” quoting Article 28H(1) of the Constitution which “protects the right to a healthy environment.” By failing to provide robust clean air and pollution regulations the government has failed to meet its responsibilities to Indonesians, Greenpeace argues.

The report offers a number of recommendations to the energy sector, including stronger monitoring of emissions and violations of environmental standards and the shutting down of plants which fail to meet these standards.

Referring to its own estimates of increased deaths, Greenpeace calls on the government to pivot away from “dirty” methods of energy generation and focus instead on “renewable energy and the latest cutting-edge, energy-efficient solutions [which] enable us to keep the lights on without coals.

“Indonesia must cancel its plan to build more power plants.”

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