Best of our wild blogs: 29-30 Aug 15

Nature & Art dialogue – Cantik lah, Singapore! – Sept 19 to 27

Living Lagoon of Seringat-Kias
wild shores of singapore

NParks Butterfly Count 2015
Butterflies of Singapore

Night Walk At Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (28 Aug 2015)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Study of a Large-tailed Nightjar Carcass
Bird Ecology Study Group

Macro Photography Outings – July 2015
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

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Rain helps lessen impact of haze from Sumatra fires

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE - Rain in the past few days helped to ease hazy conditions in Singapore, with the air quality in the moderate range as of 7pm yesterday.

Despite the haze that blanketed South Sumatra's provincial capital of Palembang on Wednesday, the rain has helped maintain air quality here, said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

"The winds have been blowing from the south-south-east direction. If the winds switch a little bit to the west and the fires continue in Sumatra, we could expect a more intense smoke-haze.

"Fortunately, we have experienced some rain that has helped to maintain the air quality at moderate levels," he said.

As at 7pm yesterday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was in the moderate range, hovering between 64 and 70. Under such conditions, normal activities can be carried out.

Two hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday, said NEA, with smoke plumes and haze visible in the southern half of the Indonesian island.

For today, the weather agency expects thundery showers in the late morning and early afternoon. But occasional slight haze from Sumatra might be on the cards this afternoon, if the winds shift briefly to blow from the south, it added. Overall, air quality for the next 24 hours is expected to be in the moderate range.

Dr Velasco said the frequent rain last week had lessened the impact of the fires in Indonesia.

"Two weeks ago, a massive number of hot spots were detected in Kalimantan, but the PSI rose only to moderate levels."

Noting that weather forecasts for Riau, Indonesia, showed "weak possibilities of rain", he said: "We should cross our fingers for rain in the whole region - in Singapore and Malaysia, to attenuate the smoke-haze impact, and in Indonesia, to stop the fires."

The severe smoke-haze that Singapore experienced in 2013 was triggered by two months of dry weather in the region.

The PSI had then reached hazardous levels.

But associate professor Richard Webster from Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences warned that if the levels of fires and wind conditions are similar to 2013, PSI readings could be just as bad for short periods.

"Because this year is an El Nino year, some have predicted that the haze could be particularly bad due to warmer temperatures, although this appears not to have occurred so far," he said.

When is the haze dangerous (and other important haze facts)
The Straits Times AsiaOne 29 Aug 15;

Singapore may not have autumn, winter, summer or spring but people now joke that we have our own four seasons; hot, wet, flood and haze.

While the flood is localised to certain parts of the island, there's no escaping the haze for any of us when it hits.

The haze situation in Singapore is caused by winds bringing in smoke from the forest fires in Sumatra, usually during the period of May to October.

Authorities in the South-East Asia region are working with their Indonesian counterparts to combat this haze problem, but for the time being, it looks like the haze will remain an annual event for the foreseeable future.

We've grown so used to the haze that it's quickly become the butt of jokes.

However, the air we end up breathing may contain particulate matter, carbon monoxide, dirt and other pollutants that affect our health.

Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, who runs his own practice, The Cliniq, cautions, "The main potential danger of the haze is respiratory illness although it can also affect the eyes and skin. Asthmatics are definitely at a higher risk but I have also been seeing many children and babies who are down with breathing problems. These are the susceptible groups, along with the elderly."

When Is The Haze Considered Unhealthy?

The National Environment Agency (NEA) measures air pollution levels through a system called the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). A PSI value in the range of 0 to 50 is considered 'Good' while a PSI value in the range of 101 to 200 is considered 'Unhealthy'. Anything above 300 is considered 'Hazardous'.

When the air quality reaches 'Unhealthy' levels, it is more likely to trigger mild aggravation of respiratory illness symptoms among those suffering from chronic lung or heart ailments. For others, it may affect you by triggering coughs, eye irritation and sneezing. The NEA has summarised the air quality categories as based on PSI and how they affect your general health.

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Singapore 'most at risk of facing high water stress'

Reuters AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

WASHINGTON - The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades against the backdrop of climate change and a rapidly growing population.

Thirty-three countries, including Singapore, have been singled out as those likely to face extremely high water stress in 2040 in a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think-tank in Washington.

Singapore was ranked first among the countries at the highest risk of high water stress in 2040, alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Territories, according to the report, which evaluated 167 nations.

The ranking was based on an index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2020 to 2040. Singapore was ranked as one of the highest risk countries in each decade.

"The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources," said Ms Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses innovative methods to manage water resources.

Singapore relies heavily on imports from neighbouring Malaysia, but has well-founded plans for enhancing future supply and self-sufficiency. Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas and the recently built US$226 million (S$317 million) Marine Barrage is among the highlights of the nation's water management plan.

In the WRI rankings, the Middle East was identified as the least water-secure region in the world, with limited surface water and high demand. It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces "exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future", the WRI report said.

One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away," Ms Otto said.

Singapore has a system in place for water recycling as part of its Newater programme.

Some Middle Eastern countries already rely on desalination, a technique to remove salt from sea and groundwater. These and other highly water-stressed nations may also need to move away from producing their own food because agriculture gobbles water, Ms Otto noted.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has said its people will depend entirely on grain imports by next year.

Large economies such as the US, China and India face risks of their own, with water stress projected to remain roughly constant through 2040. However, parts of the countries - such as the south-western US and China's Ningxia province - could see water stress increase by 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

The report also highlighted water resources as a potential source of conflict, citing Syria as an example.

"With regional violence and political turmoil commanding global attention, water may seem tangential. However, drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country's 2011 civil war.

"Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria's general destabilisation," the report said.

"The problem extends to other countries. Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel," it added.

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Rise in air pollutants during Hungry Ghost period: Study

The National Environment Agency advises devotees to clean up after making their offerings and use containers and burning pits.
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

You are not imagining it - air quality in Singapore gets worse during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, and local scientists have found that the concentration of certain pollutants goes up by as much as 60 per cent during the festival.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) scientists have discovered that concentrations of small pollutant particles known as PM2.5 increase during the festival, which runs from Aug 14 to Sept 12 this year. The particles include metallic elements such as lead and tin, and have been linked to health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

An analysis of air and rainwater samples between 2009 and last year showed that concentrations of individual PM2.5 elements rose by 18 to 60 per cent during festival months, compared with yearly mean concentrations.

In particular, nine metals considered hazardous air pollutants - chromium, manganese, nickel, cobalt, arsenic, cadmium, tin, antimony and lead - all showed average increases of 18 to 50 per cent during the festival. These are not considered hazardous for short-term exposure, although researchers noted that these were measured at the NTU sampling site, away from the sites of burning.

"People who are situated very close to the fires will inevitably breathe in higher amounts, although data is not available from these higher-risk sites," said NTU associate professor Richard Webster, who led the study.

If it's of some comfort, some town councils have been testing burners that produce less smoke and ash and the Taoist Federation has called for sensible burning of offerings like joss sticks and paper, which are burnt as a mark of respect to ancestors.

Despite the elevated elemental concentrations during the festival, these are still "significantly" less than the levels during high haze periods, when the Pollutant Standards Index readings cross into the unhealthy range (PSI>100).

All the elements detected in joss paper and incense, which include the nine hazardous substances, were among the PM2.5 elements that showed greater concentration levels during the festival months. The study appeared in last month's Environmental Science: Processes And Impacts journal.

Mr Tan Thiam Lye, the chairman of the Taoist Federation, said it held a meeting last month to get devotees to burn offerings responsibly. "We told them to moderate the amount of paper burnt - it is not a case of 'the more the merrier', it's sincerity that counts."

The National Environment Agency also advises devotees to clean up after they make their offerings and use containers and burning pits provided by town councils.

Some town councils, such as Nee Soon Town Council, are also trying out stainless steel burners that produce half the smoke and just 3 per cent of the ash, compared with the traditional red metal burners.

The NTU research hopes to shed light on the pollution caused by joss paper and incense - items known to generate large quantities of particulates, said senior research fellow Bahareh Khezri, one of the authors of the paper.

The next step is to collect data on organic compounds released during burning, which could be more toxic, said Dr Khezri."Burning joss paper and incense has been part of religious customs for thousands of years, but taking measures such as burning the items in a closed furnace, or using eco-friendly materials to produce the offerings, could help control air and water pollution. This could also reduce detrimental health effects."

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Vertical farming invention wins global award

Design acclaim for 9m-tall system which beats more than 1,000 entries from 72 countries
Jessica Lim Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Aug 15;

A home-grown vertical farming device has bagged a prestigious international design award. It can grow 10 times as many vegetables as traditional farming methods over the same area.

The invention by local firm Sky Urban Solutions - a 9m-tall system with tiers of planting troughs which rotate around an aluminium frame - clinched the biennial INDEX: Award in Denmark on Thursday night.

Winners in the categories - Body, Home, Work, Play & Learning, and Community - each won €100,000 (S$158,000) and were selected based on a wide range of criteria for coming up with solutions to some of the world's major challenges.

Sky Urban Solutions' innovation was among 1,123 nominations from 72 countries.

Contenders for the award, organised by Danish non-profit organisation INDEX: Design to Improve Life, included a cooling cap that protects chemotherapy patients from hair loss, flying drone ambulances, man-made leaves that generate oxygen, and a revolutionary suit that protects Ebola workers.

This is the first time that a Singaporean design has won the award.

The water-pulley system uses rainwater collected in underground reservoirs to rotate the troughs so that the plants get a uniform amount of sunlight. The same rainwater is used to irrigate the crops.

The first system was developed in 2010 with the help of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Sky Urban Solutions has come a long way since then. Its farm in Lim Chu Kang now houses 1,000 vertical farming towers and produces 800kg of greens - including Chinese cabbage, nai bai and xiao bai cai - daily. Its vegetables, sold under the brand Sky Greens, are more expensive than other versions.

However, they are thought to be fresher. It takes up to four hours for the daily harvest to hit the shelves. Imported vegetables take three days to three weeks.

Sky Greens vegetables are available at selected FairPrice supermarkets. A 200g packet of Sky Greens xiao bai cai costs $1.25, while a 250g bag of Pasar brand xiao bai cai from a traditional farm in Singapore costs 80 cents.

The prize money, said founder Jack Ng, 52, will be used for research and development, and also go towards farm expansion.

The father of two added that the firm is exploring the production of organic produce and aims to increase the yield of its Lim Chu Kang farm to at least five tonnes daily in two years' time.

The vertical farming structures are gaining popularity overseas, and "this award means more people will know about us and our system. It helps build credibility, especially when meeting with overseas partners", said Mr Ng, who had Secondary 4 education and started his own engineering company at age 21. His focus was on building homes.

Asked what prompted him to develop the system, he said: "When I planned for retirement, I wanted to become a farmer. But I saw how farmers led such a tough life here, so I thought I should improve the farming process."

When contacted, AVA said: "Given Singapore's limited land resources with its various competing needs, it is important for the Republic to intensify agriculture land use, and to raise the productivity and capability of our farms."

It encouraged more farmers to leverage on technology to improve productivity.

Last year, Singapore produced about 10,900 tonnes of leafy vegetables, representing about 12 per cent of total consumption.

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Indonesia: Haze plagues Sumatra, fires destroy forests in Central Java

Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 29 Aug 15;

Haze that has been covering most parts of West Sumatra and Jambi is worsening, while fires are continuing to burn forested areas in the mountains of Central Java.

In Padang, West Sumatra, haze has reduced visibility at Minangkabau International Airport to between 2,000 and 3,000 meters.

“Previously, the lowest visibility caused by haze was 5000 meters,” the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) Padang office spokesman, Budi Samiaji, said on Friday, adding that the haze was now the worst it had been in weeks.

The haze, Budi said, was almost certainly a result of forest and land fires in southern Sumatra, where many hot spots have been found.

In Jambi, fires have burned 9,149 hectares of peat land in East Tanjungjabung and Muarojambi regencies so far this year, causing losses of Rp 716 billion (US$51 million), according to the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI) Warsi.

The community’s manager, Rudi Syaf, expressed regret that no solution had been found to the annual fires and resultant haze.

In Riau, the provincial disaster mitigation agency (BPBD) has urged the provincial administrations of Jambi and South Sumatra to be proactive in dealing with forest and land fires in their respective regions.

“Although the fires occur in those two provinces, the impacts are also felt in neighboring provinces, including Riau,” Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said on Friday.

Haze has been blamed for deteriorating air quality in Riau, with local authorities in Siak and Pelalawan regencies forced to send students home over health concerns.

Edwar suggested that both provincial administrations declare an emergency status for forest and land fires to encourage the central government to assist in solving the problem.

Acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman has decided to extend the emergency status for haze and fires in the province beyond the original Aug. 31 cut-off point, citing forecasts that the El Nino weather phenomenon will last until October.

“Based on the results of the evaluation meeting, the emergency status will be extended from Sept. 1 to Sept. 31, 2015,” the governor said.

In Karanganyar, Central Java, a fire in Mt. Lawu forest had yet to be fully extinguished as of Friday, with efforts hampered by tricky access to the location.

“The field is indeed difficult. Volunteers have to walk for three to four hours from Cetho Temple to reach the location,” said district military command (Kodim) commander 0727/Karanganyar Lt. Col. Inf. Mathen Pasunda.

Separately, the head of the Karanganyar BPBD, Nugroho, said that ditches would be dug to contain the fire, explaining that the ditches would be filled with water from pipelines normally used to channel clean water to houses.

Volunteers calling themselves the Children of Mount Lawu (AGL) and local police and military personnel have meanwhile established joint posts to help douse the fires.

The main post was erected near Cetho Temple in Jenawi district, while three supporting posts were established around the climbing posts in Cemara Kandang and Cetho Temple.

Besides Mt. Lawu, forested areas on the slopes of Mt. Sindoro in Wonosobo regency, also in Central Java, were similarly ravaged by fire on Friday.

Rizal Harahap in Pekanbaru and Ganug Nugroho Adi in Karanganyar also contributed to this story.

Indonesia: Haze covers Minangkabau airport, visibility 2,000 meters 28 Aug 15;

The forest and land fires in and around West Sumatra have filled the province’s air with haze causing visibility to decline to only 2,000 to 3,000 meters and affecting the activity of Minangkabau airport in the provincial capital of Padang.

The ideal visibility for airports to operate with is 10,000 meters.

“Reports from a number of regencies suggest that the haze has become thicker,” said Budi Samiadji from the Padang Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) as quoted by on Friday.

He expressed hope that visibility in the area would soon get back to normal as the potential for rain in the province is high in the coming days.

Albert, a staff member at the BMKG’s Global Atmosphere Watch (IGAW) in Bukit Kototabang, said that the air quality was declining, not only due to the fires in West Sumatra but also those in Jambi and South Sumatra.

“We anticipate a possible further drop in air quality, but there is chance of rain in West Sumatra. Hopefully, the rain might clear the haze,” he added. (bbn)

Islands in focus: Riau students get days off due to thick haze
The Jakarta Post 28 Aug 15;

The Siak regional administration in Riau has instructed students in the regency not to attend schools from Thursday to Saturday due to the declining quality of air in the region that has been brought about by thick haze from land and forest fires in province.

Siak Education Agency head Kadri Yafis said the policy had been taken to minimize the health impact of the haze on students.

“All schools, from pre-school to senior high school, will be closed temporarily for three days, but teachers must still be at school as usual,” he said on Thursday.

Kadri said the local administration might also extend the policy should the air quality in the region remain at unhealthy levels by Aug. 31.

“Hopefully, the haze will quickly disappear. If not, we will decide further,” he said.

Kadri also urged students not to go outdoors during the forced leave.“Don’t go outdoors and inhale haze that could be hazardous to health,” he said.

Parents, meanwhile, welcomed the policy although some of them complained that they had not been properly informed about the policy by school management.

“There’s no official announcement [about the policy] and no one knows that today is an off day. This morning every parent sent their children to school but the children were asked to return home by teachers,” said Salman, a local resident and father of one.

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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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