Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 15

Summering Oriental Honey Buzzards in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

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Prof Wong Poh Poh on climate change and Singapore's coastal vulnerability

Nurturing a love for nature
Prof Wong Poh Poh says that to properly guard against climate change, Singapore needs to share more of its information on coastal vulnerability with its citizens.
Grace Chua Straits Times 28 Aug 15;

A new SG50 book to be launched tomorrow, Singapore's Scientific Pioneers, honours 25 of the Republic's science trailblazers. Here are some of its highlights.

Who: Dr Wong Poh Poh, retired associate professor of geography, National University of Singapore.

Notable achievement: Co-ordinating lead author on the global team that worked on the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

Professor Wong Poh Poh emerges from around a corner in the garden of his Hougang home holding a potted plant - Avicennia marina - a robust, common species that, belying its name, thrives even inland.

Prof Wong admires the versatility of the grey mangrove, as it is more commonly known.

It provides animals with food, humans with burning fuel, and coastlines with shelter from high-energy waves.

"(If) you want some mangroves in your garden, you just come and collect them," the 70-year-old retired professor says.

"The day I'm no longer around, these seedlings will be my standing testimony that mangroves can grow in my garden."

Like the grey mangrove, he has thrived across a range of roles. He is most noted for being a coordinating lead author of the seminal work by the IPCC, the international body of scientists that reviews and reports on the latest climate change data for policymakers.

In 2007, IPCC and former US vice-president Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize for disseminating knowledge on man-made climate change.

For Prof Wong, it was the highlight of a four-decade career studying coasts - specifically, how human activities like tourism reshape the coastline, and how the coastline in turn influences human activities.

Coastal geomorphology is a field that chose Prof Wong.

As a student at the then University of Singapore, he did so well in geography and so enjoyed the subject that the department, short of Singaporean lecturers, sent him to McGill University in Canada for a PhD.

But what would he study?

'Beach bum' turning the tide on climate change

"Singapore has no big rivers, no forests, no deserts, no glaciers, and no mountains," Prof Wong says with a laugh. "The only thing left was beaches."

But by the 1970s, when he returned, most of Singapore's natural beaches had vanished beneath reclamation, so Prof Wong looked to other field sites, for example, studying how monsoons affected beaches on Malaysia's east coast.

Shortly afterwards, he was inspired to apply his hard science skills to coastal tourism. The Association of American Geographers had just published a path-breaking paper on the geography of tourism.

"Tourism used to be at the fringe of serious studies. Nobody studied it except in business school."

His interest was in the interplay between resorts and coasts - how the geomorphology of a coast affects the layout, nature and management of a resort; and how resort development affects the coast.

As one of the first geographers to carve out a niche in coastal tourism, Prof Wong surveyed resorts around Asia, including those on rocky shores that had hauled sand in to create artificial beaches; resorts which had installed their own corals; and those with man-made freshwater and marine swimming pools.

In 1992, he wrote a research article on the impact of the sea-level rise on coasts.

In 1997, the Singapore Government asked him to review IPCC's Regional Impacts of Climate Change special report. He was invited to be a lead author for IPCC's third assessment report in 2001, and for the fourth report in 2007 - which ultimately won the Nobel - he was a coordinating lead author.

He reprised his role as a coordinating lead author for the fifth report published last year.

Singapore became a fascinating case study in coastal development. From 1965 till today, its land area has grown by 25 per cent - from 580 sq km to 720 sq km. The country has only a few remaining natural coasts, such as on Pulau Ubin and a rocky shore at Labrador Park.

What is more important is to make sure the reclamation does not have adverse impacts, he believes.

For example, he says, sediment moves through Singapore waters roughly from east to west; a large reclamation project in Changi, such as for the airport terminals, blocks the natural movement of sediment and results in erosion at East Coast.

To properly guard against climate change, Singapore needs to share more of its coastal-vulnerability information with citizens. "In other countries, they share information openly," he says.

"Coastal-vulnerability studies are paid for by the taxpayer and should not be restricted to press releases or announcements in Parliament."

Such information would be useful to insurance firms, developers and, most importantly, ordinary people who live near the sea.

Singapore needs to prepare for climate change, and not just by raising land reclamation levels and building seawalls. It will have to decide what space should be given over to coastal ecosystems as sea levels rise and they retreat further inland.

It also needs laws to govern so-called "managed retreat", he adds. "There's a lot of interest from lawyers. If you have a piece of land which is under water in 10 or 20 years, what are your property rights - are they on land or in the sea? Who will compensate you?"

Prof Wong, of course, knows a thing or two about nature's ferocity. In 1969, as a graduate student, he spent a few months at a field site called Santa Rosa Island, a sandy island with dunes off the Florida coast. When Hurricane Camille hurtled through the US state at more than 200kmh, he and his colleagues hunkered down in a local hotel.

"You could see pebbles being blown horizontally," he says. "In the hotel, we had to tape down the glass doors with sticky tape to make sure that they wouldn't shatter into small pieces if they broke."

Unfortunately, he points out, most young Singaporeans do not share his familiarity with nature.

His three sons are lucky enough to have grown up in a house with a large garden with hibiscus plants, a chiku tree and many banana trees, but most young people are not and, in the process, an intrinsic geographic identity has seeped away.

To resuscitate our island consciousness and nature awareness, he has many suggestions. These include maintaining Pulau Ubin's rural environment, introducing compulsory gardening and gardens in schools, and extending gardening schemes in housing precincts.

For his part, he recently introduced mangrove planting to local schools. He also initiated a project to set up mangrove restoration sites in South-east Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

These sites would serve as fish nurseries and storm surge buffers, and help stem coastal erosion. They would also become a source of livelihood for villagers, who could manufacture mangrove-planting modules and benefit from eco-tourism.

The self-described "professional beach bum" has made a career out of going to the beach. Now, it is time to give back: "The more satisfying thing is contributing something back to the coastal community."

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Consequences of land tax on PUB's Johor Waterworks could be 'quite serious': K Shanmugam

"In a normal legal case, if you don’t pay tax, somebody goes and tries to take over the property," says Singapore's Foreign Minister, reiterating that the PUB is not required to pay the tax under the 1962 water agreement.
Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: The consequences of a demand that Singapore’s PUB pay a land assessment tax imposed by Johor’s Kota Tinggi District Council could be “quite serious”, said Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Aug 27).

The tax is being levied on the PUB-owned Johor River Waterworks, which draws and treats water from the Johor River. But Singapore’s stand is that under the 1962 Water Agreement, the PUB is not required to pay the land assessment tax.

“They have created a special (tax) category for PUB, and they’ve issued us further notice saying we are late in payment,” said Mr Shanmugam, speaking at a forum organised by the Singapore Press Club.

“You can work out what the consequences are. In a normal legal case, if you don’t pay tax, somebody goes and … tries to take over the property. We’ll have to see whether they want to treat this as a normal case of non-payment. And then we’ll have to say what our response will be. It’s quite serious.”

Mr Shanmugam had first touched on the issue in Parliament on Aug 18. In late-2014, the Kota Tinggi District Council sought to double the rate of land assessment tax for the PUB’s waterworks, and the revised rate was more than double that of the next highest rate in the entire district. The assessed property value was also increased.

Said Mr Shanmugam on Thursday: “Of course, we objected. I spoke with the Malaysian Foreign Minister twice, PM spoke with PM Najib. The water agreement doesn’t allow for these sorts of treatments. If I keep quiet about doubling it, tomorrow they might quadruple it.”

He also referred to recent “powerful rhetoric” from an opposition Johor assemblyman over the fact that Singapore continued to draw raw water from Johor while water rationing was going on in Johor. The state has been severely affected by dry weather.

If such rhetoric takes hold, said Mr Shanmugam: “Then you will expect the Barisan Nasional government to have to react to it. How will they react? We don’t know.”

But Singapore's position is that both countries have to comply with the 1962 water agreement, which was guaranteed by the Malaysian Federal Government in the Separation Agreement of 1965.

The 1962 agreement gave Singapore the right to draw water from the Johor River up to a maximum of 250 million gallons per day, and in return, Johor was entitled to a daily supply of treated water from Singapore up to 2 per cent of the raw water it supplied.

Nevertheless, since Aug 14, the PUB has been supplying additional potable water to Johor - up to a total of 22 million gallons per day. This was in response to a request for assistance from Johor’s water regulatory body, Singapore’s national water body had said earlier.


Turning to more fundamental changes in Malaysian society, Mr Shanmugam said the growing trend of Islamisation had “gone past the tipping point now”. And his could “percolate up eventually into policy”.

“Politicians use the Islamic call to try and win votes and project themselves as more Malay and more Muslim than the next person,” he said. “An honest politician, an upright politician, will find it very difficult to talk about a united, cohesive Malaysia that is more integrated. The political dynamics is such that he will have to play to the Malay ground. And that is the only way that many people will see as a possibility of offsetting the decline in support for UMNO.”

In the case of the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), when it held its central committee elections in June, the professional-class faction was practically “wiped out” by the cleric faction - which had used the soundbite “Islamic law means more Islamic”, he observed.

He cited other examples such as Kelantan state, which has banned female hairstylists from cutting men’s hair; and Selangor and Penang, where non-Muslim women in knee-length skirts have been barred from entering government buildings.

In one poll conducted in January, respondents were asked what was the most important trait a Malaysian Prime Minister should have. The top response: Islamic credentials, over other criteria such as economic and management skills. “Even more significant is that 71 per cent of all Malays in Peninsula Malaysia support Islamic law. It’s only a question of time before the politics follow popular opinion,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He added: “(The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew) foresaw these things, which is why he kept talking about such issues. And, each time he talked about those issues, every generation which was not his generation tended to be dismissive. ‘Here goes old man again trying to scare us.’”


“Now, what is the impact of all of this on us? For a start, we are a completely investment-dependent economy. If you are sitting in Houston and deciding whether to put a five-billion-dollar investment to tiny Singapore, 700 square kilometres, you are going to look at the northern neighbour, 105,000 square kilometres, and 30 million population. That is going to factor into your economic calculus,” said Mr Shanmugam.

And in a more direct way, Malaysia’s current economic woes would have an impact on Singapore.

“Three ringgit to the Singapore dollar - Singaporeans see this as a good thing when they go shopping, on holidays. But in reality, when your neighbour’s economy is in such a state and your neighbour is your second-largest trading partner, and you are your neighbour’s second-largest trading partner, you have billions of investments both ways. It doesn’t benefit us,” he said.

Malaysia’s medium to long-term challenge will be how to bring its economy to the next level and get out of the “middle-income trap”, by moving up the value chain from extractive industries, said the Minister.

- CNA/yv

Republic won't pay tax on its Johor waterworks
Singapore is not obliged to pay tax on PUB's Johor waterworks under the 1962 Water Agreement, which is valid till 2061 and is guaranteed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.
Charissa Yong, Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Aug 15;

Singapore will not pay the raised land assessment tax on its Johor waterworks as a matter of principle, said Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam yesterday.

The authorities of Kota Tinggi district had sought late last year to double the tax on the Johor River Waterworks, which is owned by national water agency PUB.

The revised rate was more than double that of the next highest rate in the entire Kota Tinggi district, and this new rate was applied to a tax category created solely for the PUB.

At a dialogue yesterday, Mr Shanmugam explained why he chose to lay out Singapore's stance on the issue in Parliament last week, a decision he had thought hard about.

"The water agreement doesn't allow for these sorts of treatments. If I keep quiet about doubling it, tomorrow they might quadruple it," he told media professionals at the event organised by the Singapore Press Club.

In Parliament, he had said PUB is not obliged to pay the tax under the 1962 Water Agreement, which governs the PUB's operations in Johor.The agreement gives Singapore the right to draw water from Johor River up to 250 million gallons daily, or 1.14 million cubic m a day, with Johor entitled to a daily supply of treated water in return.

Underscoring the gravity of the issue, Mr Shanmugam said: "They've issued us further notice saying we are late in payment. If one is bloody-minded about it, I suppose they can seek to levy execution on our waterworks, and then things will get really interesting."

He said: "In a normal legal case, if you don't pay tax, somebody goes and attaches and tries to take over the property. We'll have to see whether they want to treat this as a normal case of non-payment and then we'll have to say what our response will be."

The agreement is valid till 2061 and is guaranteed by the governments of Singapore and Malaysia in the 1965 Separation Agreement.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted how vulnerable newly independent Singapore had been, with nearly all its water coming from Johor back then.

Mr Lee said at the National Day Rally: "Every now and again, when an issue arose with Malaysia, some crazy politicians would threaten to turn off the tap, to get us in line."

In fact, said Mr Shanmugam, Malaysian opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat's deputy chairman in Johor, Mr Jimmy Puah, had criticised the water agreement just last week.

Mr Puah had said Singapore continues to draw 250 million gallons of raw water a day from Johor despite water rationing in the state, Mr Shanmugam said.

"The implication of his statement is obvious... It's powerful rhetoric. They don't care whether we suffer," he added.

The PUB said in a statement last week that it has been supplying an extra five to six million gallons of potable water a day to Johor during its dry spell, since Aug 14.

But should Mr Puah's rhetoric and criticism of the Malaysian government take hold, Mr Shanmugam said, "then you will expect the Barisan Nasional government to have to react to it". "How will they react? We don't know."

He reiterated Singapore's position that both countries have to comply with the treaty, but added: "Treaties are only useful to the extent that you can make them work."

- See more at:

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Spotted doves, sugar gliders found hidden in car at Tuas Checkpoint

The 20-year-old Singaporean driver and his 44-year-old passenger are under investigation, while the animals have been seized.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Two Singaporean men are under investigation for the illegal import of animals after live spotted doves and sugar gliders were found hidden in their car, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) on Thursday (Aug 27).

The animals were discovered in a Singapore-registered car during inspection at Tuas Checkpoint on Tuesday evening. ICA officers found two bird cages, each containing a spotted dove, hidden between the rear bumper and car boot. They also uncovered a black pouch containing three sugar gliders behind the glove compartment.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is investigating the 20-year-old driver and his 44-year-old passenger. AVA also seized the animals.

Offenders found guilty of importing live animals without an AVA permit face a fine of up to S$10,000 and/or up to one year in jail.

- CNA/xq

Spotted doves, sugar gliders seized at Tuas Checkpoint
Today Online 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE — Two live spotted doves and three live sugar gliders were found hidden in a car on Tuesday (Aug 25) at Tuas Checkpoint.

The 20-year-old Singaporean man driving the Singapore-registered car and his companion, a 44-year-old Singaporean man, are now under investigation by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) for the illegal import of animals. The animals were also seized by the AVA.

The animals were found when the car was referred for further checks upon arrival at Tuas Checkpoint at about 10.40pm. Two spotted doves were each found in a bird cage hidden in the gap between the rear bumper and the car boot, while the three suger gliders were found hidden behind the glove compartment, said the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in a news release today.

It is an offence to import any animals or live birds without an AVA permit. Offenders can be charged in court and fined up to S$10,000 and/or jailed up to one year.

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Cobra and python spotted 'fighting' on NTU campus

Witnesses saw the python constricting itself around the head of the cobra around noon on Thursday (Aug 27). The python was taken away by pest control, but the cobra was only caught hours later.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Two snakes, believed to be a reticulated python and a king cobra, were seen "fighting" each other on the street near Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Research Techno Plaza (RTP) at noon on Thursday (Aug 27).

PhD student Abhishek Ambede shared pictures of the incident and told Channel NewsAsia the snakes were wrestling on the road beside a forested area. "Some of us working at RTP can see the site from our office. When we spotted the incident, I went down and noticed that the python had constricted around the cobra's head.

The tussle, witnessed by a large crowd, lasted for about 30 minutes before the snakes separated. "The cobra escaped to the bushes, leaving the python moving slowly on its own along the road."

Mr Abhishek said he and other bystanders alerted NTU's pest control, as well as the Animal Concerns Research and Society (ACRES). Pest control officers removed the python, but were unable to locate the cobra.

After 4pm, the cobra reappeared briefly. "It was about that time that ACRES appeared but by the time they arrived, the snake had disappeared again into one of the drainage holes," Mr Abhishek said.

"ACRES told us they could not catch the snake if they could not see it. All we know is that there is no immediate danger. The only worry is that if it reappears on the road, there is a chance it might get run over," he added.

Mr Satish Digen, a technical officer at NTU, said pest control officers put sulfur powder down the drains in an attempt to draw it out. The reptile eventually emerged from its hiding place at about 10pm on Thursday and was taken away in a bag by the pest control team.

The NTU Graduate Student Council earlier urged those on campus to be on alert for the cobra. "Please be careful when you take the sidewalk near to bushes. Night researchers and night runners, please be extra vigilant," it said in a post on Facebook.

- CNA/hs

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Indonesia: Palembang shrouded in worst haze so far this year

Haze so thick it obscures views of towers, with visibility dwindling to just 300m
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja and David Fogarty Straits Times 28 Aug 15;

Haze that blanketed the South Sumatra provincial capital of Palembang during yesterday morning's rush hour was so thick it obscured the tops of tall cellphone towers and there is no relief in sight, weather forecasters said.

Emanating from forest and land fires in Jambi, as well as South Sumatra, the smothering shroud expanded north to neighbouring Riau, just one province removed from Singapore.

In Palembang, visibility dwindled to about 300m as residents endured a second straight day of the worst bout of haze so far this year, and the acrid smell of burnt peat hung heavily in the air.

On the Musi river, which flows through the city of 1.5 million people, the haze made navigation difficult. The Ampera Bridge, a major city landmark built during Sukarno's rule and opened in 1964, could barely be seen.

"The haze this morning was the worst so far this year," said speedboat driver Iwan, 35. "The haze is really making navigating much tougher," he added.

Hotel worker Yassir Abdullah, 25, said he was worried about coughing and respiratory problems, and feared the haze was going to get worse.

Indeed, there is little chance of rain in southern Sumatra in the coming months, according to Jambi's meteorology, climatology and geophysics office. "We cannot rely on nature to help douse the fire. Human efforts are needed," Mr Okta Irawan, a weather forecaster there, told The Straits Times.

With visibility dropping to as low as 500m in the mornings yesterday and Wednesday, flights to airports in Jambi and South Sumatra provinces were delayed.

South Sumatra provincial administration has started distributing 15,000 masks to its residents, after the number of hot spots rose to 125 on Wednesday (the latest available data), up from 44 the previous day.

The Jakarta Post reported that schools in Siak regency, Riau province, had sent home students because the haze had reached dangerous levels. Schools there will remain closed until tomorrow.

Prevailing winds were also carrying the haze to Singapore and parts of Malaysia.

Yesterday, the Singapore National Environment Agency's website showed a slight improvement in the haze situation. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the moderate range as of 5pm yesterday, and is expected to remain at about the same level today.

Manjung in Perak had the unhealthiest air in Malaysia. Its Air Pollutant Index (API) spiked to 103 in the morning, according to The Star.

The API reading in Port Klang in Selangor reached 102.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Malaysia had written to Indonesia asking Jakarta to put out open burning fires as quickly as possible.

•With additional reporting by Linette Lai in Singapore

Indonesia: Haze disrupts Palembang airport, stops Garuda from landing 27 Aug 15;

A thick haze filling the air of South Sumatra provincial capital Palembang and its surrounding areas has disrupted flights to and from the city’s Sutan Mahmud Baharuddin II Airport.

The public relations manager of state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, Achmad Syarir, said on Thursday that two planes had been unable to land at the airport due to limited visibility.

“We have not closed the airport yet, but there have been planes that could not land,” Achmad said as quoted by According to Achmad, a Garuda Indonesia flight arriving from Jakarta returned to Jakarta, while Garuda’s Bandung-Palembang route was redirected to Jakarta.

Meanwhile, airport authorities were not allowing any planes to take off from the airport.

Achmad said that he could not make any predictions regarding when the airport’s activity would back to normal. “It depends on conditions in the air. “The regulator will issue a statement on whether the airport will be closed or not,” he added.

Forest fires burning in Sumatra and Kalimantan have become an annual disaster, disrupting flights and causing health problems, particularly for local people. In previous years, the haze from the forest fires has also affected Singapore and Malaysia.

The government has not found a way to stop the wild fires. (bbn)

Indonesia: Thousands suffer respiratory infections as fires spread widely
Jon Afrizal and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 27 Aug 15;

Thousands of people in Jambi have been suffering from acute respiratory infections (ISPA) caused by worsening haze from widespread land and forest fires in the province.

“ISPA cases are found in all of the regencies and cities across Jambi. The cases are mostly found in Jambi city, where from June to July this year the number of ISPA cases reached 3,910, followed by East Tanjungjabung regency with 2,390 cases and Muarojambi regency with 1,690 cases,” said the Jambi Health Office’s Disease Control and Environmental Health Affairs head Kaswendi on Wednesday.

He added that those most susceptible to the disease are children, especially toddlers.

In regards to the matter, Jambi City Health Office head Ida Yuliati said her office had provided 200 masks to each community health clinic (Puskesmas) in the city as part of an effort to prevent an increase in the number of patients.

“We also provided 1,000 masks to the Education Office to be distributed to schools because children are exposed to cough and cold,” said Ida.

Separately, the West Sumatra Forestry Office is making strenuous efforts to prevent land and forest fires from escalating during the long drought.

Early this week, two land and forest fires reportedly broke out in Tanah Datar and Lima Puluh Kota regencies and razed dozens of hectares of forest.

The biggest fire took place in Pangian village, Lintau Buo district, Tanah Datar as about 30 hectares of production forest and rubber plantation were destroyed in two days. The fire started on Monday, but was extinguished on Wednesday.

“This is the third fire this year. The two earlier fires took place in other places and razed areas of less than five hectares,” said the head of the Tanah Datar Agriculture, Forestry and Plantation Office, Refriasel.

Two fires took place in Limapuluh Kota, one in Sarilamak village and the other in Taram village, both in Harau district. The fires, which were extinguished on Tuesday, destroyed more than five hectares of agricultural land and shrubs.

In Banyumas regency, Central Java, a fire destroyed a forest on Mount Slamet, at an elevation of around 2,900 meters, on Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was still flaring at a height of around 8 meters and had scorched around 50 hectares of forest.

That fire was the second on Mount Slamet in the past week. Earlier, a forested area in Tegal regency part of the mountain was also razed, simultaneously with a forest fire on Mount Merbabu. The first fire on Mount Slamet was put out after three days. The fire gutted a total area of 15 hectares.

“Based on our observations since Tuesday evening, around 25 fires razed the forest in Banyumas. So far, seven of the fires have been doused,” said East Banyumas Integrated Forest Management (KPH) unit spokesman Taufik Didiet.

He added his office, the Indonesian Military (TNI), police, the local Perhutani state forestry enterprise, Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and Search and Rescue coordinated to extinguish the fire.

The joint firefighting team claimed they faced difficulty in putting out the fire as its location was far up the slopes near the mountain peak.

“The firefighters had to walk for around eight hours from the Kalipagu post in Ketenger village, Baturraden district, which is the last village bordering directly with the forest,” said Taufik.

As from on Mt. Slamet, fires are currently burning areas on Mount Lawu and are reportedly approaching residential areas in Jenawi and Ngargoyoso districts, Karanganyar regency, Central Java.

“Teams of volunteers [who will help douse the fires] have not yet reached the locations since it’s very dangerous,” Karanganyar BPBD head Nugroho admitted.

The fires have also threatened a historic Cetho Temple complex built during the Majapahit Kingdom in the 15th century on the slope of the mountain, as well as Mount Lawu National Park.

— Ganug Nugroho Adi from Surakarta and Agus Maryono from Banyumas also contributed to the story

Schools sends home students as haze reaches dangerous level
Rizal Harahap, 27 Aug 15;

Schools in Siak regency, Riau province, have sent home students as haze reached levels dangerous to human health. The schools are scheduled to remain closed until Saturday.

“All schools from early age to senior high are temporary closed. The teachers are expected to remain at school,” said head of Siak Education Agency Kadri Yafis on Thursday, adding that school is expected to start again on Monday. “Hopefully, the haze will disappear. But if it does not, we will make a decision later.”

He advised parents to keep their children indoors due to the hazardous haze. Some parents welcomed the decision although it was made only on Thursday after many children were already in school.

“We have reached the schools, but the teachers sent the students home. They received a circular from the education agency about the temporary closures,” said Salman, one of the parents of an elementary school student in Biak.

Meanwhile, the Rokan Hulu Disaster Management head Aceng Herdiana said that 16 districts in the regency were also badly affected by the haze and smoke on Thursday, affecting flights to and from Tuanku Tambusai Pasirpangaraian airport in the regency. “A Wings Air’s plane was forced to delay its departure for 90 minutes due to low visibility,” Aceng said.

Meanwhile, head of Pekanbaru’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said that the haze that is covering several regencies in Riau province came from forest fires in other provinces in Sumatra.

According to Terra and Aqua satellite, there are 178 hotspots across Sumatra, five of which are in Riau. South Sumatra with 80 hotspots is the worst province, followed by Jambi with 69 hotspots, Bangka Belitung with 10 hotspots, Lampung with six hotspots, West Sumatra and Bengkulu both with three and Aceh with two.

Meanwhile, Riau acting Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has planned to prolong the haze emergency status in his province that has been in effect since April and was to expire on Aug. 31. “The forest fires in Riau have declined significantly, but haze is still covering Riau due to smoke from other provinces. The emergency status may be prolonged until Sept. 30,” he added. (bbn)

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Slight haze expected on Friday despite rain forecast: NEA

The air quality on Friday (Aug 28) is expected to be in the Moderate range, with showers forecast in the afternoon, says the National Environment Agency.
Channel NewsAsia 27 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: “Occasional slightly hazy conditions” may be expected on Friday (Aug 28) afternoon, with air quality forecast to be in the Moderate range, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In an advisory, NEA added that showers are forecast in Singapore on Friday afternoon, and that prevailing winds are expected to continue blowing from the southeast.

NEA noted that there was an improvement in the haze situation on Thursday, attributing it to “a slight shift in the direction of the prevailing winds". The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) at 6pm on Friday was 71, and the 24-hour PSI was 60-71, which is in the Moderate range. The three-hour PSI was 99 at 7pm on Tuesday, and the 24-hour PSI at the same time was 80-89.

Just 13 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Thursday, down from 29 on Wednesday. However, NEA attributed the low hotspot count to "cloud cover". Smoke haze was also observed in the southern parts of Sumatra, said NEA.

“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, everyone can continue with normal activities,” said NEA.

- CNA/xq/dl

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Malaysia: Air quality over Malaysia improves

The Star 27 Aug 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: The air quality over Malaysia as of 11 am today has improved.

The Environment Department in its website stated that the air pollutant index (API) reading was moderate for Langkawi (77), Alor Setar and Nilai (74), Sungai Petani (73), Seri Manjung, Perak (70), Larkin Lama (63), and Muar (61).

Moderate API readings were also recorded for Pasir Gudang (59), Bakar Arang (74), SMK Tanjung Chat, Kota Baru (52), Bandaraya Malacca (64), Bukit Ramba (65), Port Dickson (69), Seremban (62), and Balok Baru, Kuantan (55).

It was moderate as well for Jerantut, Jalan Tasek, Ipoh, Kampung Air Putih, Taiping and Kangar, where the API readings were 68 respectively, and Perai (66), Seberang Jaya 2 (73), USM P (72), Keningau, Sabah (54), Kuching Sarawak (69), Samarahan (75), Sarikei (55), and Sri Aman (71).

Other 'moderate' areas were Kuala Selangor (72), Port Klang (86), Petaling Jaya (68), Shah Alam (76), Kuala Terengganu (60), Paka (60), Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur (69), Cheras (62) and Putrajaya (69).

Meanwhile, areas that recorded a 'good' API reading were Kota Tinggi, Johor (39), Tanah Merah, Kelantan (41), Tanjung Malim, Perak (43), Sandakan, Sabah (32), Tawau (40), Bintulu, Sarawak (47), Miri (47), Kapit (37), Limbang (36), Sibu (49) and Labuan (46).

An API reading of between 0-50 is good; 51-100, moderate; 101-200, unhealthy; 201-300, very unhealthy; and more than 301, hazardous.

The public can obtain updates from the department's website at - Bernama

Avoid physical outdoor activities to avoid respiratory illnesses due to haze
Straits Times 27 Aug 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: People living in areas affected by the haze are advised to stay indoors, avoid outdoor physical activities and use face mask.

Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the precaution was to avoid respiratory illnesses due to the haze.
“Ensure air quality inside the house and buildings is clean by reducing sources of smoke emission like smoking, using inner air circulation in cars when driving and drink a lot of water,” he said in a statement, today.

Dr Noor Hisham also advised everyone to wash their hands with soap and clean water after any form of activities outside and if affordable, use air conditioning when at home.

He said the Health Ministry through the State Health Departments was monitoring haze related illnesses like respiratory problems, shortness of breath, asthma, eye infection at health clinics.

As of 5pm today, the air quality in Muar and Melaka showed a marked improvement but many areas remained at the moderate level. – BERNAMA

Negri Sembilan record improvement in API readings
TEOH PEI YING New Straits Times 27 Aug 15;

SEREMBAN: The air quality showed a slight improvement at three monitoring stations in Negri Sembilan compared to Wednesday.

At 2pm today, the air pollutant index (API) readings in Seremban are recorded at 61, Nilai (75) and Port Dickson (66).

At 3pm yesterday, the API is Seremban was at 78, Nilai (79) and Port Dickson (72).

The air pollution level is categorised as — good (zero to 50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy (101 to 200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301 and more).

It is believed that the perennial haze returned to Malaysia due to open burning fires in Indonesia. As of Tuesday, the satellites have detected 152 hot spots in Sumatra and 74 in Kalimantan.

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Malaysia: More turtles landing in Terengganu to lay eggs

The Star 28 Aug 15;

KEMAMAN: Efforts to boost the turtle population are bearing fruit after 120 new female turtles were recorded landing on the beaches of Terengganu to lay eggs.

State Fisheries Department director Abdul Khalil Abdul Karim said about 400 to 600 female turtles had landed during the egg-laying season from March to July each year since 2001.

“Our efforts to conserve turtles by hatching their eggs and releasing them into the sea since 15 years ago are succeeding. The turtles have matured and are landing to lay eggs,” he said here yesterday.

Abdul Khalil said an increase in the adult female turtle population showed the effectiveness of the turtle conservation programme by the department with non-governmental organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund.

He said the department would intensify conservation efforts by hatching eggs and releasing hatchlings into the sea daily to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

“We collected 366,941 eggs from 2,342 green turtle nests from January to July this year. All the eggs were incubated and between 200,000 to 300,000 hatchlings were released yearly,” he said. — Bernama

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Extreme Arctic sea ice melt forces thousands of walruses ashore in Alaska

Survival of walruses threatened as they wash ashore on a remote barrier island just before Obama is due to visit region to draw attention to climate change
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 27 Aug 15;

The extreme loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is forcing thousands of walruses to crowd ashore on a remote barrier island off Alaska, and threatening their survival.

Barack Obama will be the first US president to visit the Alaskan Arctic on 31 August on a three-day tour to draw attention to the drastic consequences of climate change for the Arctic, such as warming winters and the rapid retreat of sea ice.

The first reported sighting of animals forced to come ashore in the Chukchi Sea was by a photographer on 23 August, and confirmed by villagers in the remote hamlet of Point Lay late on Thursday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Such landings, forced by the absence of sea ice on which to rest and feed, put the animals at risk of stampede in the limited space of the barrier island.

The animals are easily spooked by aircraft or onlookers, government scientists warned. Trampling deaths are one of the biggest natural risks.

Sea ice cover in the winter months fell to a new low this year because of climate change and abnormal weather patterns.

Some scientists believe the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer months by the 2030s – with profound effects for local indigenous communities that rely on the ice, as well as wildlife that depend on extreme conditions.

Since 2000, the forced migration of walruses and their young to barrier islands such as Point Lay – known as a “haul out” – has become an increasingly regular occurrence, according to US government scientists.

“Many walruses seem to prefer the barrier islands just north of the native village of Point Lay to haul out,” Jim MacCracken, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the fish and wildlife service, said.

Last year, as many as 40,000 animals, mainly females and their young, were forced ashore. It was the biggest known haul-out of its kind in the US Arctic, according to government scientists. The Federal Aviation Authority re-routed flights and bush pilots were told to keep their distance to avoid a stampede.

Agency scientists said about 60 young walruses were killed because of crowding and stampedes.

“Walruses often flee haulouts in response to the sight, sound, or odor of humans or machines. Walruses are particularly sensitive to changes in engine noise and are more likely to stampede off beaches when planes turn or fly low overhead,” Andrea Medeiros, a spokeswoman for the fish and wildlife service, said in an email.

The villagers have been dreading the prospect of a repeat record haul-out – and earlier this month appealed to outsiders to keep away from the area.

“We do not believe that these sorts of visits are in the best interest of the walruses and they do not align with the haul out protection role we have developed and measures we set in place to prevent disturbances,” Leo Ferreira III, the Point Lay tribal president said in a statement distributed by US government agencies.

Gary Braasch, an environmental photographer, said he first spotted the walruses coming ashore on the southern end of the barrier island, about two miles from the hamlet of Point Lay, on the evening of 23 August.

Braasch has spent about a decade photographing evidence of climate change in Alaska, and had been tracking the movement of tagged walruses through the US Geological Survey mapping projects.

“What they looked like by eye was three brown smudges along the beach. They were not visible as individual animals,” he said. But he said the blown-up images revealed large numbers of animals. “Certainly they were in the low thousands at that point.”

Fish and Wildlife Service officials accused Braasch of violating flight safeguards and putting the animals at risk – a charge he rejected. “Several of our biologists looked at the images and noted that it appeared that many animals were on shore and appeared to be agitated and fleeing the area,” Medeiros said. “Harassing walrus is against the law. Operating an aircraft in a manner which results in harassing or disturbing walruses is prohibited by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Braasch said the pilot did not overfly the barrier island, and intentionally flew several hundred feet beyond the Fish and Wildlife flight guidelines to avoid the risk of stampede. He said he took his photograph from more than a mile away. “We were not even close to the limits they set.”

He confirmed the government agency had been in contact about flight concerns.

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