Best of our wild blogs: 17 Sep 15

10 October (Sat) morning: Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

From Mandai to Bukit Panjang
Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Grey-rumped Treeswift at Bishan Park: 2. Brooding to Fledging
Bird Ecology Study Group

History Channel – 10 Things You Don’t Know About Singapore by Very!
Neo Mei Lin

Video by Raffles Girls’ School on the cruelty behind kopi luwak
Project LUWAK SG

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Cloud seeding rumours are 'false, malicious': MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan

The National Environment Agency does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: Rumours that cloud seeding is taking place to induce rain ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix are false, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said.

Addressing a WhatsApp message that has been making the rounds in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook on Thursday (Sep 17): “The National Environment Agency does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so. Singapore is so small that even if anybody tried to do it, the rain would almost certainly fall outside Singapore.”

He added: “Singaporeans should beware of malicious people spreading false rumours during a period when anxieties are heightened.”

The original WhatsApp message called for people to be wary of what it claimed were “chemically-induced rain showers”, purportedly meant to reduce haze levels in light of the coming Formula 1 race, which will be held on roads in Singapore’s Civic District from Sep 18 to 20.

Singapore has been blanketed by haze caused by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia. The 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit two-year highs earlier in September, with readings crossing 200. They have dipped below 100 in the past two days.


In an advisory released on Thursday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said that hazy conditions in Singapore have eased further as prevailing winds continue to blow from the southeast. As at 1pm, the 24-hour PSI was 76 to 96, in the Moderate range.

For the next 12 hours, the 24-hour PSI is expected to be in the high end of the Moderate range, but may enter the low end of the Unhealthy range if unfavourable winds blow in haze from Sumatra, the agency added.

NEA reiterated that the health impact of the haze is dependent on a person's health status, the PSI level, and the length and intensity of outdoor activity.

"Reducing outdoor activities and physical exertion can help limit the ill effects from haze exposure," said the NEA. "Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy persons should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion."

"The elderly, pregnant women and children should minimise prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion, while those with chronic lung or heart disease should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion," NEA added.

- CNA/av

NEA does not engage in cloud seeding: Vivian Balakrishnan
Today Online 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The National Environment Agency (NEA) does not engage in cloud seeding and has no plans to do so, said Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (Sept 17), refuting rumours that cloud seeding is being carried out by the Government.

“Singapore is so small that even if anybody tried to do it, the rain would almost certainly fall outside Singapore,” he said in a Facebook post.

The post included a screenshot of a Whatsapp message that claimed the Government was conducting cloud seeding to alleviate the haze due to the upcoming Formula 1 race, which starts this Friday. The message, which claimed to be from a “friend working in NEA”, urged people to stay away from “chemically induced rain showers”.

“You may have seen this making the rounds,” said Dr Balakrishan, referring to the Whatsapp message. “It is untrue.”

He stated: “Singaporeans should beware of malicious people spreading false rumours during a period when anxieties are heightened.”

The NEA also addressed the rumour on its website, saying the claims are untrue.

Cloud seeding attempts to artificially induce rain by implanting clouds with suitable particles. In Singapore, the NEA said,there are no reliable means to validate the effectiveness of cloud seeding.

"Cloud seeding also requires existing clouds as it cannot generate rain out of thin and dry air. During dry seasons, cloud seeding is less effective due to the lack of suitable clouds for seeding," said the NEA.

Singapore has been choked in haze recently due to smoke from forest fires in Indonesia, with the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) breaching the 200-mark on several occasions. Over the last few days, the 24-hour PSI showed air quality in the unhealthy range (101-200).

Hazy conditions eased today with the 24-hr PSI at 76-96, in the moderate range (51-100), at 1pm.

According to the NEA’s 1pm update, the 24-hour PSI for the next 12 hours is expected to be in the high end of the moderate range but may enter the low end of the unhealthy range if unfavourable winds blow in haze from Sumatra.

NEA scotches rumour of cloud seeding for F1 weekend
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 18 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — Debunking a rumour that the authorities are doing cloud seeding to reduce the impact of the haze on the Formula One race this weekend, the National Environment Agency has said no cloud seeding by the Singapore Government has been done, nor are there plans to carry it out.

The rumour is untrue, said the NEA and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan. “Singapore is so small that even if anybody tried to do it, the rain would almost certainly fall outside Singapore. Singaporeans should beware of malicious people spreading false rumours during a period when anxieties are heightened,” wrote Dr Balakrishnan on Facebook today (Sept 17) as the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) shifted into the moderate range.

At 11pm today, the 24-hour PSI was 69 to 79 and the PM2.5 level was 36 to 47 microgrammes per cubic metre, an improvement over previous days when air quality hovered largely in the unhealthy range. The improvement was due to prevailing winds blowing from the south-east.

The NEA said in an update at 6pm today that the haze has been reduced over central and southern Sumatra, but some haze from Kalimantan has spread westward to the South China Sea east of Singapore.

The 24-hour PSI for tomorrow is likely to be moderate to unhealthy. The prevailing winds today are expected to blow from the east or south-east and occasional hazy conditions can be expected if there is unfavourable wind, said the agency.

Earlier this week, haze from Sumatra was blown in by winds from the south and south-west because of a tropical storm in the South China Sea that shifted wind direction.

On its website, the NEA said there is no reliable way to assess if cloud seeding — which requires the existence of suitable clouds for seeding — is effective for Singapore. “The small size of Singapore and the variability of winds also mean that the induced rain, if any, may not fall directly over our island,” it said.

The NEA also tackled an observation by some members of the public that the PSI does not reflect low visibility and a burning smell during certain periods of time. The measurements of six pollutants — particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide — determine the PSI, it said. When there is a burnt smell in the air, the six pollutants may not be the cause, said the NEA, which also monitors other parameters that affect air quality. At a media briefing on Tuesday, the authorities said visibility could be affected by humidity.

Read more!

Subsidies for haze-related conditions kick in

Re-activated on Wednesday, the subsidies are part of a Government scheme first launched in 2013 to provide affordable healthcare for needy Singaporeans during the haze season then.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: From Wednesday (Sep 16), eligible Singaporeans can enjoy subsidies when they see a doctor for haze-related conditions.

It is part of a Government scheme which was first launched in 2013 to provide affordable healthcare for needy Singaporeans during the haze season then. The scheme has now been re-activated due to the worsening haze situation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 10 patients have already enjoyed the subsidies at Medlife Clinic & Surgery.

"Some patients knew about the scheme already but some still did not know about this scheme, so ... the staff informed the patients about this Haze Subsidy Scheme, that they can use it, especially those needy patients or patients who are eligible," said Dr Joel Foo, a family physician at the clinic.

The clinic has put up print-outs with information on the scheme and will also put up posters.

Patients can receive the subsidies at all polyclinics, as well as clinics under the Public Health Preparedness Clinics scheme, which aims to help patients get treatment even in times of emergency. Clinic staff also undergo training and will receive support from the Ministry of Health during such public health emergencies, including supplies such as medication and vaccines.

Conditions covered include asthma, bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections. Public Assistance cardholders are also fully subsidised and do not have to pay. Pioneers will pay no more than S$5, while other eligible Singaporeans will pay no more than S$10. The Ministry of Health will subsidise the remaining costs.

Those eligible include children and youths aged 18 and below, as well as seniors aged 65 and above. Also eligible are those earning a monthly income of $1,800 and below, based on self-declaration using an official form.

The scheme will also benefit Singaporeans on Government schemes such as the Community Health Assist Scheme.


Many have welcomed the news. Ms Nancy Loh, a retiree, said it "helps to cut down on our medical costs".

"In a family, because of the haze, some of them may fall sick, which also involves a lot of money," she said.

Ms Rachel Ng, a medical representative, noted: "Most grandparents are very thrifty, they don't really want to spend a lot of money. So if they know that it's just S$5, they will - if let's say it's just a slight irritation in their eye - just go down to the nearest GP and get it treated."

Danish Ashraff, a student, commented: "If I get affected by the haze, I can go down to the doctor alone without my parents and can pay with my own pocket money."

While Ms Fioe Chia, a sales manager in the medical industry, said: "I have three young children. So with this haze subsidy, I definitely will not procrastinate, I will take them immediately (to the doctor) if they do come down with any illness."

For more information on the scheme, the public can visit the Health Ministry's website.

- CNA/ek

Haze management plans in place during national exams: MOE
All schools have enclosed spaces for candidates to take their papers in and air purifiers will also be provided so that the examinations will not need to be disrupted, should haze conditions worsen drastically says the Education Ministry.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: With the GCE 'N' levels ongoing and GCE 'O' levels coming up later this month, the Ministry of Education said schools are prepared in terms of dealing with the haze.

In response to media queries, MOE on Wednesday (Sep 16) said the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB)'s haze management measures for national examinations are aligned with MOE's plans for schools, and that schools have already been briefed.

"For national examinations, all schools have enclosed spaces for all candidates to take their papers in. Air purifiers will also be provided so that the examinations will not need to be disrupted, should haze conditions worsen drastically during the period of the examination," said a spokesperson for MOE.

The Education Ministry added that there are already processes in place for candidates who are ill during the national examinations. The same procedure will be activated for students who are unable to take examinations due to haze-related illnesses, MOE said.

MOE said should it announce school closure for all primary and secondary schools - if the forecast air quality for the next day indicates that it would be at a Hazardous level (above 300 in the Pollutants Standard Index) - national examinations, including written papers, oral and listening comprehension examinations, will be rescheduled and examination periods possibly extended.

The announcement on rescheduling of examinations would be made together with any announcement by MOE on school closures. School candidates will be informed through their schools, while private candidates will be informed by SEAB, MOE said.

It added: "The well-being of all students is our key priority. Every primary and secondary school has in place a set of haze management plans and is ready to take the appropriate management measures as required As part of MOE’s haze management measures, all schools are already equipped with air purifiers and sufficient enclosed spaces to cater to all students."

- CNA/dl

Haze supplies: 30,000 households to get WeCare PAcks, 29,000 masks for needy elderly
Launching the initiatives, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong guided senior citizens in Teck Ghee on the correct way to wear the masks.
Xabryna Kek and Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: As air quality in Singapore continues to deteriorate, 30,000 vulnerable households in all will receive haze packages containing items like eyedrops and canned food.

The initiative, spearheaded by the People’s Association, was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sep 16) who distributed the packs to elderly residents in Teck Ghee.

WeCare PAcks, as they are called, contain food and essential items like eyedrops, vitamin C tablets, biscuits, instant noodles and canned food.

The campaign was first launched in 2013 after the haze reached hazardous levels in Singapore. “Based on our last experience in 2013, elderly residents who live alone, or needy residents with respiratory conditions found it difficult to go out to buy essential items during haze. We have to help them out,” said Ms Noelene De Foe, chairperson of Teck Ghee Community Centre Management Committee.

The items were donated by local businesses and the FairPrice Foundation, which will be donating about S$500,000 worth of food and items thorough this initiative, according to FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng.

Prime Minister Lee also kicked off distribution of AIR+ Smart Masks to 29,000 elderly residents, aged 60 and above living in rental flats. The mask can be attached to a microventilator that will be available at 60 senior activity centres islandwide. All this is courtesy of a S$300,000 initiative by Temasek Cares and ST Engineering.

Mr Lee gave out masks to 100 seniors living in Ang Mo Kio at the COMNET@ Teck Ghee Senior Activity Centre and even showed the residents how to put the masks on properly.

Said Chairman of Temasek Cares, Richard Magnus: "The impact of the haze is unhealthy and we don't want our senior citizens to be impacted by the haze so much so that they don't do everyday things, daily things and especially missing out their medical appointments."

This initiative is part of the Temasek Cares "Stay Prepared" initiative to enhance the readiness of the Singapore community to cope with emergencies.

The People's Association will also be designating some air-conditioned areas in CCs and RCs as haze shelters. This will be done whenever the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) readings hit 151 and above for a prolonged period.

The shelters' opening hours correspond to the operating hours of the CCs and RCs. PA says hours will be extended if the haze reaches the Hazardous stage, above 300 in PSI.

- CNA/xk

Face masks, supplies given to the vulnerable to cope with haze
Distribution expected to be completed within a week, with most vulnerable households receiving them by this weekend
AMANDA LEE Today Online 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — The distribution of 30,000 WeCare packs to help the vulnerable prepare for the haze began in earnest today (Sept 16) with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicking things off in his Teck Ghee ward.

An initiative by the People’s Association (PA), the WeCare pack comprises an N95 mask and other food and medical supplies, such as instant noodles, biscuits, instant beverages, canned food, Vitamin C tablets and eyedrops. The distribution is expected to be completed within a week, with the majority of vulnerable households receiving them by this weekend, said PA chief executive director Ang Hak Seng today. These vulnerable households include elderly who live alone, immobile residents and seniors with medical conditions.

Aside from the WeCare packs, Temasek Cares and ST Engineering are handing out 87,000 AIR+ Smart Masks — created by an ST Engineering subsidiary — to vulnerable elderly to protect them from the haze.

Under the S$300,000 initiative, a total of 29,000 elderly who are at least 60 years old and are living in an HDB rental flat will be eligible to receive a set of three AIR+ Smart Masks each.

A total of 110 WeCare packs were distributed today at Comnet @ Teck Ghee Senior Activity Centre in Ang Mo Kio, with PM Lee, who is Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, helping some of the elderly try the N95 masks on. He also visited two households personally to distribute the WeCare packs.

Sixty-year-old Mr Abbas Zainal, who lives with his younger sister, was one of those who received the pack from PM Lee. Saying he was thankful for the gesture, Mr Abbas added that he wears a mask whenever he heads out of his house to protect himself from the haze.

The AIR+ Smart Masks, meanwhile, will also be given out to 60 senior activity centres islandwide by this weekend. Aside from the masks, which are locally designed and come in sizes also suitable for children, Temasek Cares and ST Engineering are also giving out 6,000 Micro Ventilators. These detachable and rechargeable devices can be attached to the mask to help aid breathing. They will be available for loan from the senior activity centres.

Mr Richard Magnus, the chairman of Temasek Cares, which is the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings, said these masks and ventilators will help the seniors citizens who are “especially vulnerable” as the haze is at unhealthy levels.

ST Engineering deputy CEO (Corporate Development) Vincent Chong said: “In designing the AIR+ Smart Mask, we focused our efforts on a new generation mask that provides better seal protection for all ages (while improving) breathing comfort.”

Help for households, seniors to cope with haze
Audrey Tan, Priscilla Goy, Seow Bei Yi, Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

Nearly 60,000 households and senior citizens will get equipment to cope with the haze, as air quality remained in the unhealthy range for most of yesterday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off two nationwide distribution exercises that will provide items such as N95 masks and eyedrops to those who need them to combat the haze.

First, he distributed special N95 masks to about 100 seniors at a senior activity centre in Ang Mo Kio, as part of a $300,000 initiative by Temasek Cares - the non-profit, philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings - and home-grown engineering firm ST Engineering.

The AIR+ Smart Masks are N95 masks that come in three sizes, designed by ST Engineering subsidiary Innosparks.

They can also be fitted with a detachable and rechargeable ventilator that improves air flow through the mask and makes them more comfortable.

About 29,000 masks and 6,000 micro ventilators will be distributed to the 60 senior activity centres across Singapore by the weekend.

Mr Lee also launched the distribution of the People's Association (PA) WeCare PAcks, which will go to 30,000 vulnerable households, mainly seniors and residents with medical conditions who live alone.

Each pack comes with items, such as N95 masks and instant noodles, donated by FairPrice Foundation and the local business community.

PA chief executive director Ang Hak Seng said that after Singapore experienced its worst haze two years ago, the PA updated its database to make sure vulnerable residents would receive the help they need.

The packs will be distributed within a week.

Air quality in Singapore was slightly better yesterday than it has been for much of the week, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hovering in the low end of the unhealthy range.

The National Environment Agency has said wind direction could change tomorrow, which would ease the haze.

Non-governmental groups and individuals are also playing a part.

Environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore, working with volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze and the non-government Singapore Institute of International Affairs, has started a campaign to raise awareness of the haze.

Volunteers were in places such as Orchard Road to distribute masks, and encourage people to switch to brands that use sustainable palm oil, grown without hurting wildlife or cutting primary and high-conservation-value forests.

Another group, Stand Up For Our Singapore, started a crowdfunding drive on Monday night to raise funds to buy air filters and air purifiers for the low-income elderly in North Bridge Road.

Over $4,000 was raised within the first 24 hours.

Read more!

No panic despite hazy skies

Hariz Baharudin, The New Paper AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

When the haze was at its worst in 2013, she took no chances and rushed to buy face masks, collecting more than 200 of them for her family and friends.

This time, however, piano teacher Ng Siew In, 65, is not rushing to get them any more. She still has about 100 masks at home.

Said Madam Ng: "I'm glad that the haze is not as bad as the last time. But it is still unhealthy, and I am still not taking any chances."

Since 2013 when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) peaked at the "hazardous" level of 401, many Singaporeans like Madam Ng have made early preparations.

Polytechnic student Daryl Kiang Jun, 19, whose family also has stock of unused masks, said they were not worried, although he has a history of asthma

Mr Kiang said: "The haze makes it harder to breathe because my airway will constrict a bit, but it won't trigger my asthma unless I'm already coughing. I am not too worried but I try to avoid going outdoors."

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the three-hour PSI at 9pm yesterday reached a two-year high of 249.

The NEA haze microsite was even down for about half an hour from 8.15pm, due to "heavy traffic" as Singaporeans went online to check the PSI.

An NEA spokesman apologised for the inconvenience.

Face mask distributors told The New Paper that demand is not as high as in 2013 when the N95 masks were sold out in mid-June before retailers got new stocks.

Gin Huat Industrial Suppliers and QSS Safety Products told TNP they still have stocks of the 3M brand of N95 masks.

QSS customer service officer Susan Hong said: "We have stockpiled since the shortage two years ago."

This has kept the cost of the masks stable as well. QSS is selling masks at $28 for a box of 20. In 2013, the same box was sold for as high as $42.

Retailers also said that they had ample stocks. Pharmacist John Leow said: "People have stocked up and there is less panic."

But experts said this does not mean that the haze is to be taken lightly.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that while people have got used to the haze, it could still be a problem.

He added: "Beyond a certain threshold, people may become worried again, especially if the haze directly affects the people around them."

The haze has also caused an uptick in flu cases.

General practitioner at MW Medical Centre Dr Madeline Chew said that she has been seeing an increase in patients with flu or flu-like symptoms over the past few weeks.

She said: "The haze is a contributory reason but the flu virus is also rather prevalent this year. A combination of the two results in a rise in the number of flu cases".

Madam Ng said she and her family will continue to wear the face masks.

She said: "Back then (in 2013) it was really horrible. The haze caused me to be depressed because I could not even go out."

- Additional reporting by Melanie Heng, Seow Yun Rong and Siti Nur Aisha Omar

Organiser of F1 race keeping close watch on haze

The organiser of the Formula One's Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix has stressed that it is ready to deal with the haze.

A spokesman told media that it has been closely monitoring the situation in case it worsens as race day looms.

The Singapore Grand Prix is scheduled to be held from Friday to Sunday.

A spokesman told The Straits Times: "In the event that the haze causes visibility, public health or operational issues, Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event."

The night race at the Singapore Grand Prix is the 13th race of the 2015 season.

World champion Lewis Hamilton is currently holding a comfortable 53-point lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers' standings.

Tourists make the best of visit to Singapore despite haze
MARISSA YEO Today Online 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE — They came to Singapore expecting clear blue skies and tropical sunshine, but were greeted instead by a gloomy grey landscape and the smell of smoke in the air.

Mr Jason Officer, 42, who came from Las Vegas to Singapore with his wife to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, was disheartened by the haze that has plagued Singapore for over a week now, and the couple has adjusted some of their holiday plans. Instead of sightseeing outdoors, they are turning to indoor attractions.

“We were expecting a feast for our eyes, but the weather turned out to be gloomy. We really wanted to go to the beach to suntan and dine at the top of Marina Bay Sands, but I guess we have to skip it cause of the haze,” Mr Officer said while walking along the Fullerton Bay area. The couple expects to enjoy the Formula 1 race as planned, but Mr Officer added: “We are more concerned for the drivers’ safety as it is very important during the race.”

With the hazy conditions, tourists in Singapore are gamely making the best of their time here while staving off the occasional eye, throat and nose irritations — common haze-induced conditions.

Mr Keith Dasmarinas, 35, from the Philippines, who was at Orchard Road, said the haze has caused some irritation to his eyes, and he may stay indoors or purchase masks if the haze worsens. However, he felt the situation was relatively tolerable compared to air quality in his hometown. “I am quite immune to this as the Philippines is also experiencing air pollution from vehicles,” he said.

Another tourist, Ms Ada Dyke, 23, from Nigeria, who was at the Fullerton Bay area with her husband and two-year-old son, said she has experienced difficulties breathing and has caught the flu. However, compared to Kuala Lumpur — the family’s stop before Singapore — she felt the conditions here were an improvement. “We came from Malaysia and the air here is so much better. In Malaysia, it was really painful to take in the air or even swallow. But, if the haze worsens, I may be staying indoors as I have a child with me,” she said.

Others were happy to carry on with their plans despite the discomfort brought on by the haze. Ms Caroline Hutterer, 21, a tourist from Germany travelling with her family, said they would visit Singapore’s outdoor offerings as planned. “The haze doesn’t affect us (for now). We will still have our (fair share) of exploring indoor and outdoor attractions such as Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay.”

An Australian tourist, Mr Ricky Charylo, 64, who was at Orchard Road, said he was only spending three days here. Noting that the haze has been an annual problem, he added: “It is horrible needing to think of it and knowing that nothing much is done in Indonesia to put a stop to it every year.”

Read more!

South China Sea tropical storm 'blowing haze to Singapore'

Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

A tropical storm brewing over the South China Sea has been blamed for blowing the current haze towards Singapore.

The storm acts like a "magnet", which pulls the wind in a direction different to that of the south-southeasterly winds usually expected during this period, said Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) geography department.

He was responding yesterday to a weather and haze situation briefing by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Tuesday.

During the briefing, the NEA said the presence of the tropical storm in the South China Sea has brought about a shift in winds to blow from the south-south-west direction. As a result, haze was blown in from Sumatra, Indonesia, causing air quality in Singapore to deteriorate.

The Republic is in the midst of the south-west monsoon season, during which winds are expected to blow from the south and south- east.

But the tropical storm "very subtly alters the monsoonal pattern", said Prof Chow. "It shifts the wind direction in Singapore from mostly the south or south-east to south- west instead."

However, the NEA also gave good news during Tuesday's briefing. It said that the wind direction could change for the better tomorrow, when the storm reaches land and prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south-east.

Prof Chow said tropical storms are usually fuelled by the evaporation of sea water in the open sea. But when they reach land, their source of fuel is cut, and they start to dissipate.

Yesterday, air quality in Singapore improved slightly. The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hovered in the low end of the unhealthy range for most of yesterday, compared with earlier this week. On Monday, the 24-hour PSI was in the range of 146-173 at 3am.

Air quality is considered unhealthy when 24-hour PSI readings are in the range of 101-200, and very unhealthy when 24-hour PSI readings are between 201 and 300. When they cross 300, air quality is deemed hazardous.

The NEA attributed the improvement to "a shift in the prevailing winds to blow from the south-east".

Yesterday afternoon's showers also brought a temporary respite from the haze, the NEA said.

"Rainfall removes particles from the air, leading to a temporary reduction," said Assistant Professor Jason Cohen from the NUS civil and environmental engineering department. "But if the fires are still burning, the fresh particles will continue to move in after the rain clears."

Moderate to dense haze is still persisting in central and southern Sumatra.

The NEA said that hazy conditions are expected to persist, and thundery showers are forecast over some areas of Singapore in the late morning and early afternoon today.

The 24-hour PSI for today is expected to be in the low end of the unhealthy range, and could cross the mid-section of the unhealthy range "if denser haze from Sumatra is blown in by unfavourable winds".

Why the haze looks denser at night
The sun and the Earth's atmosphere height are the factors that cause haze to look denser in the evening, according to Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 17 Sep 15;

SINGAPORE: The sun and the Earth's atmosphere height are the factors that cause haze to look denser in the evening, according to Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

Before the sun rises, the height of the atmosphere over the city is at around 50m to 100m. This means that particles from pollution sources like vehicles, and now the haze, are all concentrated in a shallow layer.

As the day progresses, the atmosphere height gradually increases to about a height of 2km as the sun gives off heat, which hits surfaces like roads and buildings.

That energy generates turbulence in the air, which results in the higher atmosphere height. It also promotes the formation of new particles. And because there is more room, these particles are more dispersed and diluted.

After sunset, however, the atmosphere height collapses, compressing all the pollutants back into a shallow layer. The air is also usually more polluted during this time, thus causing the haze to be denser at night.

The best way to measure this, said Dr Velasco, is through PM2.5 - particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres. The reading gives real time measurement of air quality, unlike the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI)

"The Pollutant Standards Index is a good parameter to understand the air quality conditions in the city. However, this index tells us about the average conditions during the last 24 hours or during the last 3 hours. It does not tell us anything about the real conditions. Maybe 5 hours ago, the air was very clean. But this index is not reporting the real condition. It's taking the average,” said Dr Velasco.

Dr Velasco added that these fine particles are harmful for health.

"They are not retained by our nose or our throat. They will go directly to our lungs. And once in the lungs, they can trespass through our bloodstream, and from there they can distribute through our body and even to our brains. That's the concern with the PM2.5 particles,” he said.

“On a normal day, during daytime, the levels of these particles go from 20-40 microns per cubic metres. That's typical in Singapore. During hazy winds, during the last two weeks, the levels have been around 70-100 microns, and even the maximum have passed 200 microns per cubic metres. On Monday night, the concentration went up to 340 microns per cubic meter. Just to give you an idea, international guidelines recommend concentrations no larger than 25 microns per cubic metre.”

Dr Velasco recommended that the public stay indoors during this period. This is in line with the advisory issued by the National Environment Agency, which has also warned that hazy conditions are expected to persist.

- CNA/dl

Read more!

Southeast Asia's haze: what's behind the annual outbreaks?

AFP AsiaOne 17 Sep 15;

JAKARTA - Southeast Asia has been enveloped in choking haze from agricultural fires in Indonesia over the past fortnight, prompting flight cancellations, closing schools and raising fears this weekend's glitzy Formula One night race in Singapore could be affected.

The haze is a regular occurrence, with the region wheezing through outbreaks every year during the dry season. Here are some questions and answers about what causes the outbreaks and why they keep happening.

Why do the outbreaks happen and when did they start?

The main cause is illegal fires started in peatland and forest on Indonesia's Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo to quickly and cheaply clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations. They increased in number as plantations expanded, in particular due to rising global demand for palm oil, a key ingredient in everyday goods such as shampoo and biscuits.

The outbreaks started in 1997, with what is still regarded as the most serious haze on record. It followed rapid expansion of plantations in the preceding years, and coincided with an El Nino weather system that made conditions drier than usual in Indonesia.

Who is affected by the haze?

The haze has a devastating impact on daily life every year on Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo. This year, air quality has hit hazardous levels, tens of thousands have contracted respiratory illnesses, many flights have been cancelled and schools closed.

From Indonesia, the smog is blown over Southeast Asia, and fouls the air in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Schools were closed in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and neighbouring states on Tuesday, while dense clouds have shrouded the skyline of financial hub Singapore.

How bad is it this year?

More than 2,000 fire "hotspots" - either areas already on fire or very hot and likely to soon go up in flames - were detected by satellites on Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo Tuesday, with the situation exacerbated by an El Nino weather system that has made conditions tinder-dry.

But the crisis eased in the past two days, and the haze has been much worse in the past. The most serious recent outbreak was in 2013, when air quality deteriorated to the worst level for years in Singapore and Malaysia.

Will the Singapore Grand Prix really be cancelled?

It's unlikely. Organisers of Formula One's only night race have acknowledged the situation is volatile but so far insist the event, which is coupled with pop concerts, will go on.

Still, Lewis Hamilton may find himself battling through smog in reduced visibility on his way to a third world title, as mask-wearing spectators watch him race along the narrow street circuit which snakes past iconic landmarks.

What is Indonesia doing to stop it?

Water-bombing helicopters and planes have been deployed to fight the fires, and aircraft are also "cloud-seeding", which involves using chemicals to induce rain.

About 3,000 extra military and police personnel have been sent to Sumatra to help fight the fires and catch those responsible. The national police say that 133 people and seven companies are being investigated over the illegal blazes. However, environmentalists note that few convictions have resulted from such probes in the past.

But why is it still happening after all these years?

Although starting fires to clear land is punishable by long jail terms and hefty fines in Indonesia, law enforcement is weak and corruption rife.

Major companies have "zero burn" policies, meaning they have vowed not to clear land using fires. But activists are sceptical that all firms are sticking to their pledges, and small landowners have also been blamed for starting fires to clear land.

Indonesia's neighbours -- in particular Singapore -- have been calling for years for more to be done to stop the outbreaks. Jakarta agreed this week to share information with the city-state on companies accused of starting fires, which could lead to prosecutions there.

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KL-Jakarta talks to include MoU on transboundary haze

SHARON LING AND YU JI The Star 17 Sep 15;

KUCHING: Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar will meet his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta next week to discuss measures to tackle transboundary haze.

He said the meeting would include talks on a memorandum of understanding by Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand on action to be taken during the occurrence of haze.

“I will discuss what sort of collaboration we can have during the meeting on Sept 25. One area is how we can help Indonesia to put out fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

“We realise there are certain obstacles in Indonesia regarding our ability to give assistance. Under Indonesia’s federalism, a province has to declare an emergency before the central government can step in to help. Only then can other countries give help, because our agreement is with the central government,” he told reporters here yesterday.

As such, he said he would discuss the matter of reducing red tape between the central government and provinces so that other countries could provide aid quickly.

“We have the capability and expertise to help through the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART) and the Fire and Rescue Department,” he said.

Dr Wan Junaidi also hoped that Indonesia would take steps to prevent forest fires from occurring, such as by installing tube wells in peat soil areas as Malaysia had done.

“The tube wells will be activated in the dry season to moisten peat soil so that it is less flammable. When peat soil is dry, it becomes very flammable and the fire is difficult to put out,” he said.

More than half of Sarawak was blanketed in thick haze yesterday, with six areas experiencing unhealthy air quality.

At 3pm, the air pollutant index (API) was 151 in Kuching, 150 in Samarahan and 157 in Sri Aman in southern Sarawak. In the central region it was 139 in Sarikei, 131 in Sibu and 120 in Kapit.

Compared with the same time a day ago, almost all the 10 monitoring stations in the state recorded worsening air quality.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre said many areas in Kalimantan were still affected by widespread smoke haze and persistent land fires.

In Pontianak, the closest city to Kuching, the API was reportedly 806 at 1pm.

Satellite images from the Singapore-based centre showed there could still be hundreds of hotspots in Kalimantan.

On Tuesday, the NOAA-18 satellite detected 231 hotspots while the AQUA satellite picked up 518 hotspots.

Both Kalimantan and Sumatra have been at alert level three, which is the most severe, since the start of the month.

According to the Meteorological Depart­ment, the dry weather is expected to persist.

In its seasonal report, it forecast 20% to 40% less rain this month in Sarawak compared with the long-term average.

“The moderate El Nino currently experienced is expected to intensify and it may continue until early 2016 with a probability of over 90%,” said a weather outlook until February 2016.

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Malaysian company among those investigated over haze - Indonesian minister

Reuters 16 Sep 15;

A Malaysian company is among more than 20 firms under investigation by Indonesian authorities in connection with forest fires that have caused a haze to engulf large parts of Southeast Asia, an Indonesian minister said on Wednesday.

The worsening smog across northern Indonesia, neighbouring Singapore and parts of Malaysia forced some schools to close and airlines to delay flights this week, while Indonesia ordered a crackdown on lighting fires to clear forested land.

"There is one (company) from Malaysia that is among those being investigated," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya told reporters, without elaborating. "We are still checking if there are any from Singapore."

Police in Riau, at the heart of the haze, said an official overseeing operations at Indonesian palm oil company Langgam Inti Hibrido had been named a suspect for starting fires on the company's land. It was not possible to reach the company outside of business hours.

Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.

The fires have been exacerbated this year by the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, as a prolonged dry season in Indonesia has parched the top soil, fuelling the flames.

This year's haze had already caused trillions of rupiah in losses to the Indonesian economy, with further losses now expected, added Nurbaya.

Authorities have so far declined to name any other suspected perpetrators but are set to announce this week the names of three or four companies that are due to face sanctions including possibly having their land permits revoked.

President Joko Widodo instructed security forces late on Monday to accelerate efforts to extinguish the fires and revoke land permits from companies found responsible.

Nearly 3,000 military and police personnel, 17 helicopters and four cloud-seeding aircraft have been deployed to fight the fires, according to the country's disaster management agency.

(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Michael Taylor; Editing by Alison Williams)

Indonesia arrests seven company executives for illegal forest fires
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times/Asia News Network Jakarta Post 17 Sep 15;
Jakarta pledges to step up enforcement and expand cloud-seeding efforts

Indonesian police nabbed seven corporate executives on Wednesday in connection with illegal forest fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan, as part of a wide-ranging effort to arrest the haze crisis.

Suspects from the latest bust included a senior executive from Bumi Mekar Hijau, a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which is also Indonesia's largest pulp and paper producer.

The national impetus, revealed on Wednesday, includes deploying more police to help with firefighting and handling probes against culprits, and increasing cloud-seeding sorties to douse the blazes, especially those burning on dry peatlands.

These carbon-rich peatlands produce the thick haze that has blanketed many parts of Indonesia, as well as neighbors Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks, bringing the air quality down to unhealthy and sometimes hazardous levels.

The government's pledge to step up enforcement and expand cloud- seeding operations, as air pollutant levels improved owing to the rain yesterday, raises hope among millions affected by the haze.

Several parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan have been ravaged by forest fires in recent weeks because of the dry season, which was exacerbated by the El Nino effect.

A weather phenomenon, El Nino reduces rainfall in Southeast Asia, resulting in hot and dry weather, which causes forests to burn more easily. But Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) said sporadic rain in recent days may offer respite while the presence of clouds facilitates cloud-seeding.

"We understand the El Nino will last until late November, but a weather anomaly has developed - we had rain north of the equator line," said Mr Willem Rampangilei.

The BNPB chief was speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday after a meeting on the forest fire and haze crisis with President Joko Widodo.

"Cloud-seeding is not effective if there are no clouds at all, but we expect the clouds to increase in the coming days," he added.

National police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters yesterday that he has deployed 682 officers, including 68 investigators, to affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, to reinforce firefighters and soldiers already on the ground.

The Straits Times understands that the national police have identified firms such as Bumi Mekar Hijau for environmental crimes.

A senior executive from the South Sumatra-based firm, identified by his initials JLT, was arrested yesterday morning and is currently being interrogated.

An APP spokesman, responding to queries from The Straits Times, said last night it was "not aware of any new formal police charges against any of our suppliers at this time". She maintained that APP has operated a "zero burning" policy in its supply chain since 1996.

Senior members from six other companies accused of similar offences were also picked up yesterday for questioning, General Badrodin added. Bumi Mekar Hijau, which has pulpwood concessions in Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, is still facing trial for a separate civil case in the Palembang.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry had previously demanded that Bumi Mekar Hijau pay 7.8 trillion rupiah (US$540 million) to the state for damages from burning land. If found guilty again this time, the company's management could be jailed for up to 10 years.

This year, provincial police units in the six areas affected by the haze have been investigating 24 companies and 126 individuals for breaching environmental laws.

According to figures from Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, estimates show 52,000ha of land in Sumatra were ravaged by fire, while 138,000ha in Kalimantan were scorched. However, the number of hot spots recorded thus far this year remains fewer than that recorded last year, said the BNPB. (k)(++++)

Police target offending firms
Haeril Halim/Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

The National Police announced on Tuesday that it had named one company a suspect and launched separate probes into two other corporations deemed responsible for the rampaging land and forest fires in Sumatra, which have blanketed the island as well as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

The suspected company was identified as PT Bumi Mekar Hijau or BMH, while the two other companies under investigation were PT TPR and PT WAI, which, according to the police, were on the verge of being named suspects in the case

The National Police’s director for specific crimes Brig. Gen. Yazid Fanani said that the police were currently working to confirm evidence in the case before taking follow-up actions against the two comanies.

“The suspect, BMH, is a South Sumatra-based company, while the other two also operate in the same region,” Yazid said.

Bumi Mekar is a unit of Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper. The company is currently facing a Rp 7.8 trillion lawsuit filed by the government allegedly for causing fires in South Sumatra last year.

Yazid said that the police would allow other institutions tasked with dealing with the haze crisis to launch separate investigations to find out whether the companies could also be slapped with civil cases and administrative charges.

“We don’t want a partial handling of this crisis, but a holistic approach that involves other relevant institutions, as we sense that there is a tendency of recurrent offending in these cases,” Yazid added.

The police charged the companies with Article 99 of Law No. 32/2009 on environmental crimes. “If we later find that their offenses were intentional, they could face a maximum five years behind bars,” Yazid said.

As of today the police were investigating a total of 130 cases with regard to the devastating fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan as well as other areas where hot spots have been detected.

Meanwhile, the National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Agus Rianto said that in addition to the three companies, the police had earlier named a total 126 individuals and 24 corporations suspects in several regions in Indonesia.

“We have dispatched a total of 70 investigators to a number of regions to help local police officers investigate cases related to the haze. We hope that such a move can speed up the investigation of potential violators,” Agus said.

Meanwhile, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan urged the governors whose provinces had suffered from the haze crisis to cooperate in mitigating the disaster that has intensified over the past few days.

According to Luhut, the haze is a serious disaster, that requires a coordinated and serious mitigation effort, as it affects not only Indonesia, but also neighboring countries.

“This is a serious matter and we don’t want to be blamed by neighboring countries for not taking action,” Luhut said on Tuesday during his presentation at a Jakarta meeting attended by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and the governors of various provinces.

During the meeting, governors from Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan reported on their mitigation efforts and the current haze condition in their provinces.

Among the Sumatran provinces affected by the haze, Jambi has zero fire hot spots, but that has not stopped it from being blanketed with smoke.

“According to our observations over two days, the number of hot spots has already dropped to zero, but we still have smoke,” Jambi Governor Hasan Basri Agus said, adding that wind was blowing in smoke coming from other regions.

Meanwhile, South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin said that the number of hot spots in his province had decreased from 750 to 51.

“It’s the result of our significant efforts to mitigate the haze,” Alex said, adding that he and his team had set a target of one week to eliminate all the hot spots.

Indonesia arrests seven over haze crisis
Indonesian police have detained seven people whose companies are allegedly connected with illegal agricultural fires.
Channel NewsAsia 17 Sep 15;

JAKARTA: Indonesian police have detained seven people whose companies are allegedly connected with illegal agricultural fires that have cloaked Southeast Asia in haze, in rare arrests over the annual smog outbreaks.

They were arrested on Wednesday on Indonesia's Sumatra island, where authorities have been battling smog-belching blazes which were started to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, national police chief Badrodin Haiti said.

Police said some of those arrested were executives, but did not give details about all the company employees detained. Officials did not reveal their identities or say which firms they worked for.

They could face up to 15 years in jail and heavy fines if found guilty of breaking Indonesian laws that ban starting forest fires.

Tens of thousands have fallen ill in parts of Indonesia as the haze thickened over the past fortnight, and the smog has led to unhealthy air quality and reduced visibility in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.

"The president's instruction is clear -- law enforcement must be firm so that this will not happen again next year," Haiti told reporters late Wednesday, announcing the arrests.

President Joko Widodo pledged this week to crack down on companies and individuals behind the fires, and hundreds of extra police and investigators have been sent to haze-hit areas to hunt for those responsible.

They joined military personnel and water-bombing aircraft sent to tackle the fires.

In addition to the seven arrested, 133 people have been named suspects, Haiti said. This is a legal step in Indonesia that means investigators have enough evidence to consider filing charges against someone.

Indonesia has come under pressure from its neighbours to halt the smog outbreaks, an annual problem in Southeast Asia during the dry season.

The situation has been made worse this year by an El Nino weather system, which produces tinder-dry conditions in Indonesia and increases the risk of fires.

There were also fears that the haze could affect this weekend's glitzy Formula One night race in Singapore, but organisers have insisted the event will go ahead.

- AFP/jb

Read more!

Malaysia: Water level of Johor dam goes up

Mohd Farhaan Shah, The Star/ANN AsiaOne 17 Sep 15; The Star

PASIR GUDANG - Heavy rain has helped raise the water level at the critically low Sungai Layang dam.

Syarikat Air Johor Holdings (SAJ) network and distribution department chief Anuar Abdul Ghani said that following downpours lasting for several hours in the past few days, the water level at the dam had risen to 18.87m.

"It is good news to us. We hope more rain will fall in the next few days and help boost the water level further," he said.

Before the rain, the level at the dam stood at 12.9m, way below the critical threshold of 23.5m.

Anuar said the phenomenon was due to global climate change, which also saw decreasing water level during the same period last year.

"We have been seeing a slight change in the amount of rainfall over the last two years. The prolonged hot spell this time around caused a significant drop in the dam level," he added.

SAJ has come up with a short-term measure to manage the pro­blem by channelling water from Sungai Tiram into Sungai Layang. About 20 million litres will be pumped into the dam each day.

"This project is expected to take place over the next two months," he said during a visit to the Sungai Layang dam near Kong Kong here yesterday.

The normal level at the dam is about 27.3m, with a daily output of 318 million litres to 580,000 ac­­counts, including schools, hospitals and industrial operators here and in several parts of Johor Baru.

Anuar said the dam's critical level had caused output to drop to 230 million litres a day, which was why SAJ introduced rationing to ensure the dam did not run dry.

Of the volume, about 100 million litres are channelled to factories in the area with the balance going to the public.

Read more!

Malaysia: Worst of the haze may be over

RAZAK AHMAD The Star 17 Sep 15;

PETALING JAYA: Air quality in most parts of the country saw a big improvement, with the weather authority predicting that the worst of the haze may finally be over.

The number of areas with unhealthy air fell from 34 on Tuesday to 11 as at 5pm yesterday.

Klang Valley residents enjoyed clear skies for the first time in more than a week as all air pollutant index (API) readings in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor fell from unhealthy levels to moderate.

Kuala Selangor had the best air quality with an API of 69, followed by Batu Muda in Kuala Lumpur (73), Putrajaya (76), Cheras (81), Petaling Jaya (81), Banting (83), Port Klang (90) and Shah Alam (92).

An API reading of between 100-200 indicates an unhealthy air quality, 201-300 is very unhealthy while anything above 300 is hazardous.

An API of below 50 denotes good air quality while a reading of between 51 and 100 is considered moderate.

In a statement, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry said it expected a reduction in the haze with the onset of the inter-monsoon season that will last until early November.

“During this period, there will be more rain nationwide, especially in the west coast of peninsular Malaysia and western Sabah, and the wind direction will also change,” the ministry said.

Despite the overall improvement, several states still had unhealthy air: Sarawak and Malacca, as well as parts of Terengganu, Sabah and Pahang.

Smog from land and forest fires in central and south Sumatra as well as west, central and east Kalimantan caused the thick haze blanketing much of Malaysia for the past two weeks.

The ministry in its statement said cloud seeding by the Meteorological Department that began on Tuesday would continue until today to induce rain in south Perak, west Pahang, the Klang Valley and Negri Sembilan.

“We have so far managed to induce rain at the Pahang-Selangor border, south Perak and several parts of the Klang Valley.”

Haze In Kuching: Two Flights Cancelled, Six Flights Delayed
Bernama 17 Sep 15;

KUCHING, Sept 17 (Bernama) -- Two flights at the Kuching International Airport (LTAB Kuching) had been cancelled up to 10am today due to the haze.

The airport's manager, Mohd Nadzim Hashim said one was a flight arrival and the other, departure, involving the Kuching-Tanjung Manis and Tanjung Manis-Kuching sectors.

"MASwings flights using the Twin Otter aircraft from Kuching-Tanjung Manis and Tanjung Manis-Kuching have been cancelled due to the haze. The cancellations involve seven passengers," he said when contacted today.

Mohd Nadzim said the hazy conditions had also caused delays to three flight departures at LTAB Kuching and to three flight arrivals.

"The two airlines affected are AirAsia and Malindo Air, causing flight arrival delay to 430 passengers and flight departure delay to another 431 passengers," he added.

Mohd Nadzim advised all passengers flying via LTAB Kuching to check their flight schedules with the airlines they are flying with before going to the airport.

As at 11am today, the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading in Kuching was at 209, indicating very unhealthy air quality.


Haze: Kuching, Samarahan schools ordered close
SHARON LING The Star 17 Sep 15;

KUCHING: While schools in haze-hit states in the peninsular have reopened, those in Kuching and Samarahan divisions in Sarawak have been told to close on Thursday as the air quality hovers near the very unhealthy level.

"Effective this morning, schools in Kuching, Samarahan, Padawan, Lundu and Bau are advised to close because the API reading is nearly 200 - the very unhealthy level," the state Education Department said in a statement Thursday.

It added that the schools were being contacted to inform parents to bring their children home.

The Air Pollutant Index (API) for Samarahan showed 195 as at 7am.

In Kuching it was 196, Kapit 138, Sarikei 117, Sri Aman 127 and Sibu 110.

An API of 100 to 200 is considered unhealthy.

Schools in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Negri Sembilan and Malacca, which were told to close on Tuesday, reopened on Thursday after API readings fall to the lower end of the unhealthy zone.

Haze: Cloud seeding brings rain in affected areas
The Star 17 Sep 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Cloud seeding operations in northern Selangor, southern Perak and west Pahang have successfully generated rainfall in the areas.

Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) Minister Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau said it brought rainfall to several areas near the Selangor and Perak border, northern border of Selangor and Pahang and southern Perak and the Pahang border.

"As for Sarawak, cloud seeding was conducted around Tebekang in Samarahan division and the areas of Balai Ringindan Pantu in Sri Aman but it was not successful," he said in a statement.

Tangau said the operation failed due to the dry and stable atmospheric condition which could not promote the growth of clouds during the cloud seeding operation.

Slight increase in respiratory-related cases
OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 17 Sep 15

TUARAN: There are only slight increase number of respiratory cases related to haze in the country, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S.Subramaniam.

"There are cases received at out-patient clinics in Selangor, Malacca and Seremban, but it is not a drastic increase.

"By now, the people of Malaysia know how to take care of themselves," he said in a press conference after launching new district hospital this morning.

Public are advised to reduce outdoor activities when the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings hit above 150 or wear mask when going outdoor.

He asded face mask supply was still enough for the people.

Meanwhile, Science, Technology and Innovation minister cum Tuaran MP Datuk Madius Tangau said cloud seeding would be conducted when the API reaading persist above 150 for 72 hours.

"Cloud seeding had been conducted in several places yesterday but only suceeded in Putrajaya."

Read more!

Indonesia: BMKG says El Niño worsening, inching toward 1997 level

The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Tuesday that the El Niño weather phenomenon had become stronger this month and would likely intensify at the end of this year.

El Niño is the warm phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, causing a significant reduction in Indonesian rainfall.

According to BMKG meteorology deputy chairman Yunus Subagyo Swarinoto the current ENSO index has already hit 2.30, up 0.28 points from 2.02 last week.

However, according to BMKG data, that index is still below the peak in 1997, which was 2.59.

“We can see that El Niño tends to become stronger day by day,” Yunus said during his presentation at a meeting attended by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and governors of South Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The meeting was to discuss actions taken by the governors to mitigate the intensified haze that has blanketed Sumatra and Kalimantan over the past few days.

The BMKG said that the current ENSO index had almost reached earlier predictions. In August 2015, the BMKG predicted that the ENSO index would increase to 2.4 by the end of the year.

Yunus said the worsening El Niño had left some regions in Indonesia without rain for more than 60 days.

“Java, West and East Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi will not get rain until November of this year,” he added.

However, the northern part of Sumatra has received light rain over the last five days.

Responding to the report, Luhut ordered the BMKG to share its climate change and rainfall data with all governors in the country.

“The data will tell the governors what they should do to mitigate disaster,” Luhut said, adding that the country’s climate would enter a crisis phase in the next two months.

He pointed out that even though the BMKG data showed that some regions had received light rain, the potential for prolonged drought remained, especially in South Kalimantan, Java and South Sulawesi.

“Let’s meet again if next week the rainfall in Sumatra shows good potential,” Luhut said.

In 1997 and 1998, Indonesia experienced a prolonged drought induced by the strongest-ever recorded El Niño, which triggered widespread fires.

The greatest damage caused by forest and land fires in Indonesia occurred in 1997, when fires wiped out millions of hectares of forest and plantation areas and caused losses estimated at US$2.45 billion.

Recently, many climate watchers have said that this year’s weather phenomenon, with rapid warming in the central and eastern Pacific, had all the ingredients to create another monster El Niño, like the one in 1997 that led to a spike in global temperatures.

BMKG chief Andi Eka Sakya also said there were indications that this year’s El Niño could be as severe as in 1997. “The trend of the 2015 El Niño strengthening is shown by the tendency of the pool of warm water to drift east and keep widening toward the same form as in September 1997,” he told The Jakarta Post. (ind)

Extreme weather hits farms, ruins harvests
Slamet Susanto and Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

The current extreme weather has aborted harvests on hundreds of destroyed of farmland in Yogyakarta and Central Sulawesi, causing farmers in the two provinces billions of rupiah in losses.

“The [current] weather and climate are extraordinary, unpredictable. For years, August until October has been the best time for planting onions,” said Sumarwanto, a farmer from Srigading village, Bantul, Yogyakarta.

The 47-year-old said temperatures could be cool, reaching 18 to 20 degrees Celsius on one day, then suddenly increase to above 35oC.

Because of the extreme weather, Sumarwanto said he could not harvest the commodity on his hectare of land as the onion plants, which were aged between 30 to 40 days, dried up in just two days.

“To plant the onions, I spent about Rp 20 million [US$1,390],” said the father of one.

About 80 percent of 400 hectares of farmland in Sanden district, Bantul, which had been planted with onions, were reportedly suffering harvest failure. Similarly, about 170 hectares of onions in Parangtritis, Kretek district, in the same regency, were facing the same fate.

Bantul Agriculture Agency head Partogi Pakpahan said his agency did not yet know why the leaves of the onions had become yellow and dry.

“This morning, we are sending a team to the fields to investigate,” Partogi told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He said the harvest failures occurred on farmland located within a 4-kilometer radius of the beach, while land located far from the coast was not experiencing the issue.

Meanwhile, many farmers in Bolupontu Jaya transmigration village, Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi, have reportedly moved into construction and mining work due to the prolonged dry season.

One of the farmers, Abbas Daeng Malewa, said he and his friends worked in construction for government projects in Sigi since there was no agricultural work in their village.

“We worked on a bridge development for two months in Kalukubula village, Sigi,” Abbas told the Post recently.

After the bridge was completed, Abbas said he and his friends began working in traditional gold mining in Palu. “We have been working here for 11 days.”

However, Abbas said they could not stand working in construction or mining for long as their skills were in farming.

“We don’t know when the dry season will end,” he said.

Abbas’ village is known as a center for agricultural products, such as onions, chilies, tomatoes, mustard, cucumbers, eggplants, long beans and melons, which are sold to other areas in the province and East Kalimantan.

Similarly, farmers in the highlands of Napu, Poso regency, have suffered losses because of the prolonged dry season.

Ruben, a farmer of Maholo village, North Lore district, Poso, said many farmland areas were not currently productive. “My plants died due to drought.”

He said the highlands used to produce vegetables such as cabbages, beans and read beans, as well as fruits such as oranges, papaya and melons.

Another farmer, Arman from Watumaeta village, said he suffered failures of his cabbage and tomato crops due to the drought, which has affected the area for three months.

“This time, farmers are suffering big losses,” he said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Residents abandon homes in search of fresh air

Rizal Harahap, Apriadi Gunawan and Jon Afrizal, The Jakarta Post 16 Sep 15;

After spending weeks battling with the impact of the thick haze that has blanketed their home city, many Pekanbaru residents have finally decided to give up, leaving the Riau provincial capital in a desperate search for a healthier environment.

Pekanbaru resident Zahara Hanafi, 37, recently left her house at the Green Tiara residential complex for Medan, North Sumatra, to avoid the haze.

“I have been living in Pekanbaru for years and have experienced haze disasters from time to time. I, however, feel that this year’s haze is the most severe and longest of all,” the mother of three told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

“That’s why I finally decided to evacuate my family to my sister’s house in Medan.”

Zahara said she would return to Pekanbaru only when the haze had completely disappeared from the city.

Riau, the country’s top oil-producing region, along with Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan, are the provinces hardest hit by the air pollution originating from fires in peatland and plantation areas.

Apart from creating health problems and disrupting the operation of local airports, the fires have also caused air quality in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia to deteriorate to alarming levels.

On Monday, acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman even issued a gubernatorial decree declaring an emergency status regarding air pollution in the province.

In response to public pressure, the Riau provincial administration announced on Tuesday the opening of Pekanbaru’s Tribuana Sports Hall as a temporary evacuation center for locals affected by the haze.

Separately, Pekanbaru Mayor Firdaus admitted that the city was no longer livable as the pollutant standard index (PSI) in the city had surpassed 300, which indicates a “dangerous” level, over the past few days.

Firdaus acknowledged that many Pekanbaru residents had moved their families to other cities if they had the financial ability to do so.

“Haze does not only fill the air but also peoples’ houses. Pekanbaru should have been emptied, but the problem is where these people should go when many [neighboring] regions are also hazy,” Firdaus said.

To curb the impacts of the haze on residents’ health, the city administration, according to Firdaus, has allowed pregnant civil servants and those prone to haze-related diseases to take time off until the air quality in the city returns to normal.

“We are also hoping private companies in Pekanbaru will show similar lenience for their pregnant employees, as the haze will affect fetal brain development,” he said.

The Riau Health Agency announced on Monday that more than 25,000 people in the province’s 12 regions had suffered from haze-related diseases recently, with the majority related to acute respiratory infections (ISPA).

In Jambi municipality, the local health agency reported that the intensifying haze in the city had increased the number of ISPA patients by almost 10 times, from 2,849 patients in August to 20,741 patients during the first two weeks of September.

Last week, a 2-year-old infant and a 15-year-old girl from the city died after experiencing acute respiratory problems.

Meanwhile in Batam, Riau Islands, the management of Hang Nadim International Airport reported that 38 flights from and to the airport had been canceled on Tuesday on haze-related safety concerns.

“Airline companies have been forced to cancel their flights as [visibility] at destination airports is not favorable,” the airport’s general affairs head, Suwarso, told Antara news agency.

Police investigate perpetrators involved in land, forest fires
Antara 16 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian police are committed to thoroughly investigating all those companies which burned the forests, causing the haze that has affected various regions in the country.

"The police are committed to investigating the perpetrators. This investigation will not be partial, rather it will be a thorough one," the director of special crimes at the National Polices Crime Investigation Department, Brigadier General Yazid Fanani, said at the National Police Headquarters here on Wednesday.

He said he hoped that the investigation would result in the ministries or the concerned state institutions either imposing administrative sanctions against companies found guilty or revoking their permits.

He explained that as of now, sanctions could only be imposed after obtaining a court ruling. "An administrative sanction, in this case the revocation of permit, may only happen after a court ruling."

He said the police are now handling 131 cases of alleged burning of forest and land in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Of the total, 28 are still under preliminary probe, 79 under investigation while 24 cases have been confirmed.

The cases are related to fires in Riau (Sumatra), South Sumatra, Jambi (Sumatra) and West and South Kalimantan.

He said 126 people have been named as suspects in connection with the cases, while a company called PT Bumi Mekar Hijau has also been named as a suspect in the case of a fire in South Sumatra.

Two other companies -- PT Tempirai Palm Resources and PT Waimusi Agro Indah -- which operate in South Sumatra, are under investigation.

The chief of the West Kalimantan Regional Police Command, Brigadier General Arief Sulistyanto, personally led efforts to extinguish fires that ravaged a hundred hectares of rubber plantations belonging to farmers in the village of Teluk Empening in the district of Kubu Raya on Wednesday.

"We have deployed 100 personnel of the Mobile Brigade to help people put out fires that have raging for the past two days," the chief of the Forest and Land Fire Extinguishing Task Force, Senior Commissioner Suhadi SW, said.

He said along with the Brimob personnel, firefighters from the Manggala Agni group and community members were also participating in the efforts.

"Initially it was alleged that the fires were caused by people burning forests to turn these into agricultural land," he said.

He said Bumi Perkasa Gemilang also helped with heavy equipment to dig canals to bring in water for fighting the fires.

Brigadier General Arief Sulistyanto said he had deployed 1,000 Brimob personnel to fight the fires spreading in several districts in the province.

Due to the raging fires, a number of schools in the province have been closed.(*)

Police name 126 people as suspects in land fire cases
Antara 15 Sep 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The National Police of Indonesia has named 126 people as suspects in cases of land fires in Sumatera and Kalimantan.

"Each one of them is a suspect," the spokesperson of the National Police, Brigadier General Agus Rianto, said here on Tuesday.

Rianto explained that further investigation is on to determine their motives and whether they were hired to burn these lands or set fire to their own land.

The National Police, Rianto added, is processing 131 cases of land and forest fires that occurred in Riau, South Sumatera, Jambi, West Kalimantan, and South Kalimantan.

Of these, 28 cases are in the pre-investigation phase while in 79 cases, the investigation is currently underway. Twenty-four cases are already in the P21 dossier stage.

Rianto said the National Police Headquarters would despatch some investigators from the regional police to the affected areas in order to assist the investigation process.

"We will send 70 investigators to some regions and will coordinate their work with the regional police department and the National Polices Criminal Agency," he noted.(*)

Indonesia dispatches four aircraft from Palembang to fight forest fires
Indonesia deployed on Wednesday four more aircraft, each carrying 3,000 litres of water mixed with a flame retardant chemical, to fight forest fires.
Sujadi Siswo, Channel NewsAsia 16 Sep 15;

PALEMBANG, Indonesia: Indonesia dispatched Wednesday (Sep 16) four aircraft from Palembang in south Sumatra to extinguish forest fires causing haze in parts of Southeast Asia.

The aircraft include three helicopters for water-bombing and an Air Tractor imported from Australia last week, a fire-fighting plane that can carry up to 3,000 litres of water. One more Air Tractor was expected to arrive later on Wednesday.

Due to poor visibility of less than 500 metres, the aircraft did not leave a Palembang airbase until 10am local time.

For the first time in Indonesia, the water was mixed with a fire retardant, a chemical substance used to reduce flammability and delay combustion.

Besides the four aircraft, a military plane is also on standby at the airbase. Once activated, it will be used for cloud-seeding.


Although the number of hotspots has declined in parts of the country, the situation in Kalimantan continues to worsen.

A state of emergency has been declared in Central Kalimantan provinces after the air quality index hit "dangerous" levels, rising to as high as 984 PSI, officials said, and hazy conditions are expected to persist in Southeast Asia for the next three days at least.

So far, nearly 3,000 military and police personnel have been deployed to fight the fires.

Indonesia vowed to clamp down on those responsible for the forest fires, saying any company found to have cause the haze will have its license revoked and its permits frozen.

According to police, 127 individuals have been arrested in connection with the forest fires. Ten of them have links with overseas companies.


In Malaysia, about 2,000 schools remained closed until further notice, after the Air Pollutant Index hit 190 Tuesday night.

The closed schools were located in the worst hit areas of Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

Authorities were also closely monitoring the states of Perak, Pahang and Terengganu, where the air quality hovered in the unhealthy range.

To ease the situation, cloud seeding operations, which began Tuesday, were to continue over the next few days.

In neighbouring Singapore, PSI readings were expected to stay in the unhealthy range on Wednesday. According to authorities, the air quality may deteriorate further before entering the very unhealthy range.

At 12pm, the 24-hour PSI ranged between 96 and 121, while the three-hour PSI was 92.

“We have to be psychologically prepared that things can fluctuate. We have to take sensible, rational precautions,” said Singapore Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

“The plans are in place, the stockpiles are in place, if everybody cooperates and works on a whole of Singapore basis, we'll get through this.”

- CNA/pp

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Ocean fish numbers on 'brink of collapse': WWF

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 17 Sep 15;

The amount of fish in the oceans has halved since 1970, in a plunge to the "brink of collapse" caused by over-fishing and other threats, the WWF conservation group said on Wednesday.

Populations of some commercial fish stocks, such as a group including tuna, mackerel and bonito, had fallen by almost 75 percent, according to a study by the WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, told Reuters mismanagement was pushing "the ocean to the brink of collapse".

"There is a massive, massive decrease in species which are critical", both for the ocean ecosystem and food security for billions of people, he said. "The ocean is resilient but there is a limit."

The report said populations of fish, marine mammals, birds and reptiles had fallen 49 percent between 1970 and 2012. For fish alone, the decline was 50 percent.

The analysis said it tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species, such as seals, turtles and dolphins and sharks. It said the ZSL data sets were almost twice as large as past studies.

"This report suggests that billions of animals have been lost from the world's oceans in my lifetime alone," Ken Norris, director of science at the ZSL, said in a statement. "This is a terrible and dangerous legacy to leave to our grandchildren."

Damage to coral reefs and mangroves, which are nurseries for many fish, add to problems led by over-fishing. Other threats include coastal development, pollution and climate change, which is raising temperatures and making waters more acidic.

The study said the world's fishing fleets were too big and supported by subsidies totaling $14-35 billion a year.

Later this month, governments are due to adopt new U.N. sustainable development goals, including ending over-fishing and destructive fishing practices by 2020 and restoring stocks "in the shortest time feasible".

Closing fishing grounds and cracking down on illegal fishing gives stocks a chance to recover, Lambertini said. Some grounds, such as those off Fiji, have been revived by stronger protection.

World marine fish catches dipped to 79.7 million tonnes in 2012 from 82.6 million in 2011, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. Safeguarding the oceans can help economic growth, curb poverty and raise food security, it says.

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Andrew Roche)

Marine life slashed by half since 1970: WWF
Nina Larson, Marlowe Hood AFP Yahoo News 16 Sep 15;

Geneva (AFP) - Pollution, industrial fishing and climate change have killed off half of marine life in the last four decades, according to a WWF report released on Wednesday.

Species essential to global food supply -- especially in poorer nations where fish provide essential dietary protein -- were among the hardest hit, the conservation group's Living Blue Planet Report said.

The family of fish that includes tuna and mackerel, for example, has declined by three quarters since 1970.

"In the space of a single generation, human activity has severely damaged the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce," Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International, said in a statement.

"Profound changes are needed to ensure abundant ocean life for future generations."

Fish are not the only marine organisms in steep decline, the report found. Large swathes of coral reef, mangroves and sea grasses have died off or been hacked away.

This loss has decimated fish populations and, in turn, imperilled some 850 million people who depend directly on these ecosystems for their livelihoods.

Half of all coral has already disappeared, and the rest will vanish by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise at current rates, previous research has shown.

"Coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the ocean surface, but they harbour a third of ocean species," said French biologist Gilles Boeuf, commenting on the report.

Doubling previous samplings, the joint WWF and Zoological Society of London analysis tracked 5,829 populations of 1,234 species for an updated, "more troubling" picture of ocean health.

At the same time that the volume of marine life is diminishing, so too is the number of species, both in the ocean and on land, other research has shown.

Indeed, scientists believe Earth has entered a sixth "mass extinction event", with species disappearing 100 times more quickly than only a century or two ago.

There have been five such episodes over the last half-billion years, the most recent wiping out all non-avian dinosaurs and most other forms of life some 65 million years ago.

- Reversing the damage -

A quarter of shark and ray species face extinction, largely due to overfishing, the WWF report said.

"In the Mediterranean there are four shark species we have not spotted in thirty years," said Philippe Cury, a scientist at the Research Institute for Development in Marseille.

Fifty percent is a critical threshold for loss of marine life, Cury said of the findings.

"When you go below 50 percent, ecosystems begin to malfunction," he said.

WWF called on world leaders to prioritise ocean recovery when the United Nations' 15-year Sustainable Development Goals are approved later this month.

"We must take this opportunity to support the ocean and reverse the damage while we still can," Lambertini said.

The WWF stressed that marine life can be restored if the human population starts to live within sustainable limits.

The report said protected global ocean area -- currently about 3.4 percent -- should be tripled by 2020. It also called on consumers and fish retailers to source from companies that follow certified "best practice" standards.

"If we had not intervened to protect the bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, there probably wouldn't be any," Boeuf said by way of example.

The WWF likewise suggested that a levy on fishing industry profits could be earmarked to restore marine life.

"These changes are happening in our lifetime," Lambertini said. "We can and we must correct course now."

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Air pollution could kill 6.6 million people a year by 2050

Kate Kelland PlanetArk 17 Sep 15;

Air contaminated with pollutants such as ozone and tiny particles could cause the premature death of about 6.6 million people a year by 2050 if nothing is done to improve air quality, scientists warned on Wednesday.

In a study published in the journal Nature, they found that outdoor air pollution already kills about 3.3 million people a year worldwide. The majority of those deaths are in Asia where residential energy emissions, such as those from heating and cooking, have a major impact.

And that toll could double over the next 35 years, the researchers warned, unless clean-up measures are taken.

"This is an astounding number," said Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, who led the research. "In some counties air pollution is actually a leading cause of death, and in many countries it is a major issue."

Air pollution deaths are most commonly from heart disease, strokes or a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is also linked to deaths from lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

Calculating the health and mortality effects of outdoor air pollution on a global scale is not easy, partly because air quality is not monitored in every region and the toxicity of particles varies depending on their source.

So for this study, Lelieveld's team combined a global atmospheric chemistry model with population data and health statistics to estimate the relative contribution of different kinds of outdoor air pollution, mainly from so-called fine particulate matter, to premature deaths.

Their results show that in India and China, for example, emissions from heating and cooking, have the largest death toll, while in much of the United States and a few other countries, emissions from traffic and power generation are crucial.

In the eastern United States and in Europe, Russia and East Asia, agricultural emissions are the biggest source of the kind of fine particulate matter that gets into people's lungs, causing illness, disability and death.

Oliver Wild, an atmospheric scientist at Britain's Lancaster University, said the study "really brings home the need for air quality controls", particularly in heavily populated parts of Asia.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Phillipines: El Niño causing coral bleaching on Tubbataha Reefs

Ellalyn De Vera Manila Bulletin 16 Sep 15;

Rising sea temperatures triggered by the current El Niño is causing coral bleaching on Tubbataha Reefs. And with scientists predicting a major El Niño that may last until mid-2016, coral reefs in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) are braced for more trouble.

In an exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin, Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) research assistant Jeric Decujos said the coral bleaching was first reported by the Tubbataha marine park rangers in July on dive sites Amos Rock, South Park, and in areas around the Bird Islet in the North Atoll.

Bleaching was also observed in dive sites Black Rock and Delsan Wreck in the South Atoll, and the Jessie Beazley Reef in the northernmost part of TRNP.

“Bleaching could be attributed to a number of factors, such as sedimentation, changing pH (acidity/alkalinity), pollution, pathogens, and increasing/decreasing water temperature,” Dejucos said.

“Because of the evident and contemporaneous El Niño phenomenon, and similar documented cases in other parts of the Pacific, we are pinning this bleaching in Tubbataha to rising seawater temperatures, hence this is an El Niño-induced bleaching,” he pointed out.


Dejucos said most corals live in a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, which lives inside their tissue. These algae are the ones that give corals their color since coral tissues are almost transparent, he added.

“As animals, corals need organic materials and oxygen to respire and continue living. These materials are supplied to them by the zooxanthellae as byproducts of photosynthesis that is why corals need sunlight to live even if they are not plants. In return, corals supply carbon dioxide and water to its algae symbiont, which are used to carry out photosynthesis for the nourishment of its own,” he said.

“When there is an abnormal increase/decrease in temperature and light intensity, these zooxanthellae somehow become inefficient and begin to produce harmful reactive oxygen that damages the cellular structure of its coral symbiont. This is what compels corals to expel the algae. When the algae is gone, their source of nourishment will decrease but not completely gone because like us, they store lipids and they can filter out plankton in the water as another source of food and they will turn back to their ‘true’ color, white,” he explained.

However, Dejucos said “bleached” corals do not die immediately, “but the loss of their symbiont algae makes them susceptible to diseases and drives them to starvation, which in the long run, could spell death.”

“Corals can bounce back. They can repopulate the algae inside them when conditions go back to a bearable and tolerable state,” he pointed out.

But Dejucos noted that what makes the situation “alarming” is the consensus among climatologists and meteorologists that the present El Niño will continue to perpetrate until the first half of 2016. “This means that the breathing room for corals for them to be able to bounce back, is nowhere near,” he stressed.

Based on TMO’s scientific researches conducted in March and April, before the bleaching occurred, TRNP is on an “outstanding condition.”

The TMO researcher cited that fish biomass are estimated to be at 343 metric tons per square kilometer (mt/sqkm). “In the Philippine setting, 40 mt/sqkm is already considered a very good/healthy reef. You cannot produce numbers like 343 mt/sqkm if your corals are not in a good, if not best condition,” he said.

“If present conditions persist and worsen, in the long run, it will take its toll on the fishing industry of Palawan and to those places whose fishing industries are highly dependent on Palawan,” he also said.

Based on an ocular inspection conducted by marine experts last September 5, the bleaching has affected 0.006 to 0.009 percent of every 25 square meters or 5 by 5 meters of the 97,030-hectare TRNP.

“For now, there is no exact figure to quantify how big/how small the affected areas are,” Dejucos said.


He noted that the bleaching we are experiencing is attributed to El Niño, which is a worldwide and large-scale event, thus “controlling” the effects is almost impossible.

“What we do, as we always do with or without bleaching, is continue to protect the park from illegal activities and pollution which could add up to the agony that the corals are currently experiencing. It is like when you are suffering from an allergy and you don’t have an antihistamine at hand at the moment, the first thing to do is step away from the allergy triggers,” Dejucos said.

“If there is a healthy and clean ecosystem, corals will build their resilience around that. We are planning to conduct an assessment using Reef Check methods this October to have a better vision of what is going on,” he added.

TRNP also suffered bleaching in El Niño years 1998 and 2010. “However, El Niño was more frequently recorded in the Philippines than those mentioned periods, meaning that coral reefs of TRNP has built resilience to resist bleaching during other times of El Niño. Because of its resilience, corals were able to recover from the said bleaching events,” he said.

Tubbataha was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1993. It was recognized as one of the country’s oldest ecosystems, containing excellent examples of pristine reefs and a high diversity of marine life. It is also an important habitat for internationally threatened and endangered marine species.

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