Best of our wild blogs: 16 Oct 15

Marine Park Public Talks 2015
The Leafmonkey Workshop

Tanimbar Corella and the Beach Barringtonia fruit
Bird Ecology Study Group

Carbon emissions from Indonesia’s peat fires exceed emissions from entire U.S. economy
Mongabay Environmental News

Aircraft fight Sumatran fires as Indonesian minister looks to counter no-deforestation pledges
Mongabay Environmental News

Read more!

Why wealthy Singapore resists tough domestic climate action

Coco Liu ClimateWire 15 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE -- This is a rich island nation, and despite pressures to help combat climate change, it fully intends to stay that way.

Standing on the peak of Jurong Hill, looking out across a man-made isle off the mainland bearing the same name, it’s easy to see why. Manufacturing facilities crowd the artificial land mass. Silver-colored storage tanks and giant chimneys painted in red and white indicate its status as one of the top three oil refining centers in the world.

Home to oil giants like BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp., Jurong Island's refineries contribute heavily to Singapore's greenhouse gas emissions profile. But they also make this tiny nation one of the richest per capita in the world, and its leaders have signaled no plans to restrict the country's economic engine.

"The energy and chemicals industry is a major carbon emitter worldwide. It is the nature of the industry," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained in a speech at the opening of Exxon Mobil's new facility last year.

"We must reduce our emissions, both of greenhouse gases as well as other more local pollutants," Lee said. "But at the same time, I want to assure all the energy and petrochemicals companies here that the Singapore government stands fully behind them and will continue to help them to succeed."

Under the United Nations' 20-year-old climate change agreement, Singapore is considered a developing country exempt from the emissions cuts that are mandatory for a handful of industrialized nations. But as governments prepare to sign a new accord in Paris in December, those old divisions are fading away.

Countries like Singapore -- where the economy has more than tripled and whose emissions have jumped by 61 percent since the dividing lines between "rich" and "poor" nations were drawn -- face new demands for climate action. But observers say the domestic pressure to resist measures that could threaten the country's prosperity is equally strong.

"Like every country, Singapore is interested in protecting its national interests while advancing the global efforts. So they have ... favored approaches that can achieve that," said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

Singapore has long straddled the line between developed and developing nations in the U.N. talks. That's why, Diringer said, the government was an early supporter of a flexible Paris deal that might avoid those strict divisions. That appears to be how the agreement is taking shape, with countries defining their own plans for carbon cuts based on "national capabilities" instead of old categories.

"I think that its position is shaped by resource constraints, as well as its economic position regionally. It is a very vibrant economy but has many rising competitors in the region," Diringer said. "Competitiveness is an issue for all the countries. I think Singapore would like to maintain a level playing ground so that it is not put at a competitive disadvantage."

Climate targets rated 'inadequate'

Experts outside and in Singapore say concerns over economic development, allied with resource constraints, have prevented it from pursuing ambitious climate change mitigation.

In 2009, ahead of key U.N. talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, the government vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 to 11 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2020. That is expected to generate a reduction of emissions up to 8.5 million tons over a decade, a result that critics say is far too small for such a wealthy country.

Singapore, with a land size smaller than New York City and a population of more than 5 million people, has the third-highest per capita economic output in the world.

Recently, the government has pledged to push further. But the target submitted as part of a pending U.N. deal in Paris in December -- to reduce emissions 36 percent per unit of economic output by 2030 compared with 2005 levels as well as peak emissions around 2030 -- has not stemmed the criticism.

Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis produced by four European research organizations to assess countries' pledges, described Singapore's as insufficient and warned they aren't even plausible under the country's current policies.

"We rate this target 'Inadequate,' meaning it is not in line with any interpretations of a 'fair' approach to hold warming below 2ºC," the research group explained in a statement. "If most other countries followed Singapore's approach, global warming would exceed 3-4ºC."

Yet others say Singapore is probably not in the best position to be a climate change fighter. The country's flat landscape makes it difficult to produce hydroelectricity. Sheltered by Malaysia and Indonesia, there is little potential for Singapore to tap into wind power. Nuclear energy is not an option, either, due to its limited spaces.

As an official jokingly put it: "If we have to evacuate, the whole Singapore probably will have to go to somewhere else."

Consumption skyrockets even as efficiency improves

To clean up its power sector, Singapore has switched from burning oil for electricity to burning natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuels. Currently, natural gas makes up more than 90 percent of the country's power generation. Beyond that, Singapore has been taking preliminary steps to improve energy efficiency.

The government here has established a multimillion-dollar fund to help factories replace outdated equipment with energy-efficient ones. Subsidized training course on energy management and grants for technology innovation have also been made available.

Other energy-saving efforts include introducing minimum energy performance standards to major household appliances such as refrigerators and clothes dryers. By 2030, according to the government's plan, four out of five buildings in Singapore will have a BCA Green Mark, a local green building certification in which a building's energy efficiency is taken into account.

Orchids, ferns and other types of vegetation grow along the road of Singapore and expand their territories to include walls. Visitors are reminded of rainforests while wandering around Southeast Asia's banking capital. At the same time, the green walls serve as natural "air conditioners" to keep the city-state cool.

Officials say these measures have helped Singapore scale down its energy footprint. Yet government statistics also show the country's total electricity consumption more than tripled between 1990 and 2012.

The similar trend also appears in Singapore's emissions profile. Although the country ranks among the top 20 percent most efficient in the world in terms of emissions intensity by the intergovernmental organization International Energy Agency, its total greenhouse gas emissions jumped by 74 percent from 1990 to 2012, according to the estimates of D.C.-based think tank World Resources Institute.

A growing desire for modern comforts has also contributed to the increase. Like people around the globe, Singaporeans, who have worked hard for decades to lift the country out of poverty, now want to enjoy their fortune. The country's narrow streets are crowded with stalls selling the spiky, smelly durian fruit, as well as deluxe shopping malls. The real estate construction seems never-ending. It's not unusual to see a Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce drive by.

On top of that, the country's dependence on the oil refining sector has worsened the problem.

Wealth built on oil refineries

Oil refining has been the cornerstone of Singapore's success since its very early days. According to Ng Weng Hoong, a local reporter and author of "Singapore, the Energy Economy," the country's gross domestic product per capita was $1,360 in 1960 in Singaporean dollar terms. That level more than quadrupled in 1974, thanks to the operation of three oil refineries as well as skyrocketing oil prices in the 1970s.

Ng noted that Singapore's maritime trade and port traffic also grew under the influence of the oil refineries. Meanwhile, the refining industry helped attract substantial investments for key supporting sectors such as banking, trading and engineering services.

"In contrast, Singapore's electronics industry started off in the 1960s as a small TV assembly operation, while shipbuilding began as an experimental venture between Japanese and Singaporean interests. Neither these nor other industries could match oil refining in terms of investment size, value-add, export earnings or value of manufacturing output," Ng said.

Fast-forwarding into the 21st century, oil refining and its downstream business still play a crucial role in Singapore's economy. In 2013, oil refineries -- together with petrochemical producers -- seized annual investment commitments of $1.8 billion, the second highest in the nation. The refining and chemical industries also contributed to around a third of Singapore's manufacturing output by value.

Although there is no official breakdown available in greenhouse gas emissions of each industrial sector in Singapore, the oil refining industry has long earned the reputation of being carbon-intensive. Fossil fuel combustion for powering heaters and boilers releases large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, as does the production process of oil refining. Methane emissions from a typical petroleum refinery arise from process equipment leaks and crude oil storage tanks. Flaring off waste gas also contributes to the overall greenhouse gas emissions at the refinery.

In the eyes of climate activists, that has become a major obstacle in the country's journey to cut emissions.

"To get the country to totally go out of it [oil refining], the first question every government should address is whether the country has any other alternative. Which Singapore doesn't," said Wilson Ang, president of the Environmental Challenge Organization in Singapore.

"Nonetheless, since Copenhagen [climate change summit], Singapore has available funds in to encourage clean-tech startups and attract such companies to come to Singapore. However, it has not grown massively enough yet," he added.

'What is their national interest?'

There is also an issue of fairness. Because most of Singapore's petroleum products are not consumed domestically, greenhouse gas emissions generated by the oil refining industry should not be simply counted as Singapore's responsibilities, said Edwin Khew, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore.

Khew and others say Singapore's highly efficient oil refining industry could help the world meet its demand for petroleum at a lower environmental cost than elsewhere. Government officials also argue that even if Singapore stops building oil refineries, it would not make a big difference in combating global warming because the country accounts for only 0.11 percent of global emissions.

But not everyone agrees.

"The point is that if you aggregate every country's contribution, it spells a difference," said Zelda Soriano, political adviser at Greenpeace Southeast Asia in the Philippines.

"If you just take the possible contribution of Singapore, as a small island state, you will realize that it is such a small contribution to reduce emissions in general," Soriano said. "But every possible effort, every feasible level form of contribution from whatever source -- small, medium, big countries -- we would need all of them because what really matters is to aggregate all these efforts."

Moreover, as Singapore has long been viewed as a development model by many Asian nations, its policy has a strong influence in the region, and climate policy is not an exception, said Bernise Ang, a co-founder of nonprofit organization Syinc in Singapore.

"If we are progressive, others will be encouraged," Ang said. "But the stakes are actually higher in the negative. If Singapore adopts less progressive policies at further cost to our environment, it becomes complicit to forming the kind of norms that give permissions to other countries in the region to do the same."

While no country in history has achieved its economic growth without causing environmental damage, expectations for Singapore's mitigation ambition are particularly high because it is a leading figure in facilitating a global climate change treaty.

With its unique position as a developing country under the United Nations and as one of the more advanced economies in the world, climate activists say, Singapore in recent years has become a bridge between the developing and developed world in the international negotiations.

"I assume they have a much bigger say than they would claim," said a former negotiator who attended the U.N. climate change conference last year in Lima, Peru, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely without seeking higher approval.

"I think they have the greatest capability of any diplomats in small island states. They have the capability to try to play a role that is at the best to their national interest. The question is, what is their national interest?" the negotiator said.

Reply to the Scientific American when they carried this article

Dear Scientific American,

The article by Ms Coco Liu does not accurately reflect Singapore's position on climate change, and actions to tackle it.

Singapore is a tiny low-lying island with a dense population and no natural resources. It has therefore long emphasised sustainable development based on energy efficiency and avoiding pollution, even before climate change entered the international spotlight.

Singapore lacks alternative energy options and is almost totally dependent on fossil fuels. But Singapore chose the cleanest form of fossil fuel for our national energy supply. Today, natural gas accounts for over 95% of our power generation, even though it costs far more than coal and fuel oil. Energy in Singapore is not subsidised, unlike in many countries, which promotes judicious consumption.

We have some of the highest taxes in the world for private vehicles. Many government policies target car usage and emissions, including quotas for new cars, significant fuel taxes and a carbon emissions based vehicle fee-bate scheme. We introduced road pricing in the 1970s, ahead of many other cities. We invest heavily in public transport, and aim for 75% of all peak hour journeys to use public transport by 2030.

These are onerous, costly measures to support sustainable development. In 2014 the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy ranked Singapore 4th in its Environmental Performance Index, the only Asian country in the top 20.

Oil and chemical companies, like all companies operating in Singapore, pay unsubsidised energy prices and face stringent environmental requirements. The companies aim for a smaller environmental footprint than comparable operations elsewhere. At a global level, Singapore contributes 2.2% of world trade but accounts for only 0.11% of global emissions.

Because of our early actions to reduce emissions, our emissions intensity (i.e. emissions per unit of GDP) is now among the lowest 20% internationally, according to the International Energy Agency. Ahead of the climate agreement in Paris, we pledged to reduce our emissions intensity by 36% from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030. This is an ambitious pledge given our lack of alternative energy options. Indeed, such unique national circumstances are recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The article also recognises the bridging role which Singapore plays at the climate negotiations. We are strong proponents of a stable and effective multilateral system which guarantees a level playing field for all countries, including vulnerable island states such as Singapore.

Yuen Sai Kuan
Director (Corporate Affairs)
National Climate Change Secretariat

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Indonesian Religious Groups Take United Stand Against Forest Fires

Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 15 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Indonesian religious leaders have denounced the setting of fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that have razed vast tracts of rainforest and generated choking haze that has spread as far as Singapore and Malaysia.

“We must crush all parties who burn our forests,” I Nyoman Udayana Sangging, a member of the Indonesia Hindu Dharma Association (PHDI), said at a discussion in Jakarta on Thursday.

“Protecting the Earth is our responsibility,” he added. “It’s a sin if we don’t care about the environment.”

The fires, lit to clear farmland for monoculture crops such as oil palms, are an annual problem, but have been particularly dire this year, thanks to a combination of an unusually severe dry season and the onset of the El Niño weather phenomenon.

At Thursday’s gathering, representatives of eight major religious organizations – including the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), the Supreme Council for the Confucian Religion in Indonesia (Matakin), and Nahdlatul Ulama – took a united stand against the slash-and-burn clearing of forests and its attendant problems, in particular the haze.

Police have charged 217 people in connection with setting the fires, which so far this year have destroyed 1.38 million hectares of forest – an area 20 times the size of Singapore.

Nadjamuddin Ramly, an official from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s highest Islamic clerical body, condemned the suspects for “being greedy by continuously expanding their concession areas while abandoning the ecological impacts.”

“Many big companies want to profit immensely from their businesses by practicing low-cost actions like burning forests,” he said.

Among the suspects are officials from 10 plantation companies, including subsidiaries of some of Indonesia’s biggest conglomerates, such as the Sinarmas Group.

The MUI previously issued a fatwa, or edict, with the then-Forestry Ministry (now the Environment and Forestry Ministry) prohibiting the destruction of endangered wildlife habitat.

Suhadi Sendjaja, a deputy chairman of the Indonesian Buddhist Council (Walubi), warned that “bad karma” would befall those who intentionally harmed the environment.

“Nature will provide protection for us if we in turn protect it,” he said.

Abdul Mu’ti, the secretary general of Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organizations, said protecting the Earth from destructive practices was a means of worshiping God.

“Saving the Earth means saving our lives, and that’s everybody’s task,” he said.

More than 35,000 people in six provinces – Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan – have been treated for respiratory complaints as a result of the the toxic smog as officials declare a state of emergency in affected areas.

The government has deployed nearly 30,000 soldiers, policemen and firefighting personnel to try to put out the fires, while Singapore and Australia have offered their help in aerial water bombardments.

Dousing the wildfires is expected to cost Indonesia at least Rp 1 trillion ($74 million); President Joko Widodo has demanded that all the hot spots be put out before the end of this month.

Haze crisis, extended dry season leave farmers on the brink
Syamsul Huda M. Suhari and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, The Jakarta Post 15 Oct 15;

The absence of rain in many parts of the country over the past several months has disrupted rice production, leading to low harvest yields.

In Gorontalo, farmers in Bone Bolango regency have been struggling to provide proper irrigation to their fields, as the region has received no rain for four months.

Abdullah Ali, a farmer from North Toto subdistrict, said the water crisis had cost him dearly.

“My 2,500-square-meter rice field usually produces around 250 kilograms of rice every harvest time. Earlier this month, however, we could only harvest less than 100 kg of rice from the field because of a lack of irrigation,” he said on Wednesday.

Abdullah, who inherited the field from his late parents, said he had to share the yield with his four siblings. Bringing home only 20 kg of rice, Abdullah said the stock would last his family less than a month.

“It’s utterly ironic. We own a rice field but will end up buying rice from other people,” he said.

Daud Usman, another farmer from the provincial capital of Gorontalo, said this year’s extended dry season had forced him to postpone his plan to replant his fields after the recent harvest season.

“I have no option,” he said. “I have to wait until rain falls [before replanting], as there is not enough water for irrigation,” Daud said.

The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has warned that the dry season this year could last longer than in previous years because of the El Niño weather phenomenon, which affects temperatures and rainfall patterns.

The BMKG predicts that the El Niño effect will extend Indonesia’s dry season, which normally takes place between April and September, until the end of the year.

The prolonged dry season has also affected rice production, with the country expected to miss its rice production target of 45 million tons for the year.

Last month, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) was planning to purchase around 1.5 million tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam on concerns that rising prices of the country’s main staple food could cause social unrest. The statement, however, was immediately contradicted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who said that the country’s current rice reserve, which amounted to 1.7 million tons, was still enough to meet demand.

Bulog’s Gorontalo chief F. Sjamsuddin meanwhile confirmed that the extended dry season had hampered efforts to maintain sufficient rice stocks. In September, Sjamsuddin said, his office had been able to buy only 4,000 tons of rice from local farmers, far from the 11,000 tons targeted for the whole month.

This year’s extended dry season has also hampered the government’s efforts to extinguish extensive land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, which have produced thick haze that has severely degraded air quality in many regions over the past several weeks.

In Solok regency, West Sumatra, local coffee farmers reported that they had been struggling to process their harvested coffee beans, as haze has blocked the sunlight needed to dry the beans.

“Our coffee beans cannot be properly sun-dried. Many of them have even been infested with fungus,” said Syafrizal, a farmer from Lembah Gumanti district.

Haze Blamed for Deadly Accident in Central Kalimantan
Barthel B Usi Jakarta Globe 15 Oct 15;

Palangka Raya. Thick haze has been blamed for causing a deadly accident in Central Kalimantan Thursday morning, killing one and injuring seven.

The accident on Babugus Road, Pulang Pisau district, involved a Pajero multipurpose vehicle carrying two people, including the driver, and a shuttle service carrying eight passengers.

According to witnesses, drivers of both vehicles appeared to be avoiding flames from burning plantations on the side of the road.

All victims were taken to Palangka Raya Public Hospital, including one passenger who had been killed instantly.

Worsening haze decreases visibility in North Barito 15 Oct 15;

The haze blanketing North Barito regency in Central Kalimantan reportedly worsened on Thursday morning with visibility down to only 100 meters.

"The haze got thicker this morning, which resulted in very limited visibility and left us short of breath," said a resident of Muara Teweh district in North Barito, Rahman Hidayat, on Thursday as quoted by Antara news agency.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Muara Teweh's spokesperson Sunardi, the region's horizontal visibility on Thursday morning was only 100 meters and its vertical visibility down to 150 feet. Horizontal visibility was still around 200 meters yesterday.

"The weather is hazy with a yellowish color this morning," said Sunardi.

According to the Manggala Agni Muara Teweh firefighting unit spokesperson Aswaludin, hot spots were no longer detected in North Barito by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 18 and the Terra and Aqua satellites as of Wednesday night.

"The haze probably came from other regions. There are still 15 hot spots in South Barito according to the Terra satellite and two others have been discovered in East Barito," said Aswaludin. (ags/kes)

Australia deploys aerial response team to Sumatra
Antara 15 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - An aerial response firefighting team departed Australia on Tuesday 13th October to assist Indonesia in its efforts to combat forest fires in South Sumatra.

Two aircraft, a L100 Lockheed C130 Water Tanker (Thor) supported by a Turbo Commander 690B lead plane, have now arrived in Sumatra and commenced operations on Wednesday.

An advance assessment team from Australia arrived in Palembang, Sumatra on Sunday 11 October and is coordinating arrangements on the ground with Indonesian authorities.

The aerial response team will be based out of Palembang.

"I reiterate my gratitude to the NSW Rural Fire Service for its rapid response to Indonesias request for assistance and acknowledge the contribution of Victorian Government personnel to this operation," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was quoted by the Australian Embassy here as saying on it official website on Wednesday.

Tough battle for Singapore team fighting fires in Sumatra
Francis Chan Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Oct 15

A 40-strong team from Singapore helping Indonesia battle the raging forest fires in South Sumatra has achieved some success in reducing the number of hot spots.

Pollutant Standards Index levels, however, continued to fluctuate between hazardous and unhealthy in the province for much of yesterday.

Air pollution levels in Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra, peaked at a PSI of 530, before falling to 212 later in the evening.

It was worse in Central Kalimantan, the other region badly hit by the haze. The PSI in its capital Palangkaraya rose to 1,200 at 8am, and while this fell to 600 at about 6pm yesterday, it is still way above the hazardous level of 350.

Three aircraft and 34 men from the Singapore Armed Forces were deployed to South Sumatra - one of the worst-hit areas during the ongoing haze crisis - last Saturday.

They were accompanied by a six-man Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

The combined force often encountered high levels of air pollution and low visibility.

This makes the firefighting operations all the more challenging, said mission commander Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Tan, 45.

"The very obvious challenge is the haze itself," he told Cyberpioneer in a report out on Wednesday.

"There are two aspects to it: One is the visibility that affects largely the people who are flying the heli-bucket operations.

"The second aspect is the pollutants in the air that have adverse effects on our people - not just the guys who are flying but on the ground as well."

Their efforts, however, helped reduce the number of hot spots in Sumatra earlier in the week.

On Monday and Tuesday, satellites detected just 156 fires - down from a recent peak of more than 725.

This was attributed to a combination of rain over the region as well as the multilateral firefighting operation in South Sumatra, which is being led by the Indonesians and also involves a team from Malaysia.

Team morale in the Singapore team remains high despite the harsh conditions, said LTC Tan.

"We see the purpose in coming here to help our neighbours.

"The team members are all very well-trained and prepared to undertake the missions that are expected. I'm confident that we will do a good job and, at the end of the operation, return to our families safely."

Lieutenant Samuel Ten, the aerial cargo rigger responsible for securing a 5,000-litre heli-bucket - used by the SCDF to douse fires from the air - to the Chinook helicopter before take-off, said his team is working very well with the Home Team officers.

"In fact, we just completed a good mission today, finding more water sources and landing sites for the helicopter," said the platoon commander of the Air Terminal Company from the 3rd Transport Battalion.

The multilateral water-bombing operation continues this week.

On Wednesday, South Sumatra governor Alex Noerdin visited the combined SAF-SCDF assistance team to thank them for their assistance in resolving the crisis.

In Singapore, Law Minister K. Shanmugam also acknowledged the efforts of the Singaporeans on Facebook.

"Conditions are challenging, with poor visibility and dense haze," said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Home Affairs.

"The firefighting is taking place in difficult conditions. Our thoughts are with our officers."

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Train stalled? It may be balloon's fault

Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times AsiaOne 16 Oct 15;

Did you know that your shiny, metallic helium balloons could disrupt MRT train services?

It is no laughing matter if your Minion or Minnie Mouse balloon flies up and away, and posters have recently been put up at stations on the North East Line (NEL) to remind commuters to hold on tightly to their balloons.

In the poster, train operator SBS Transit explains: "If (the balloons) get caught in the overhead power lines, they can cause a power trip and bring train services to a halt."

SBS Transit told The Straits Times that it decided to put up the posters two months ago after a train disruption happened on April 6 last year.
In that incident, train services on the NEL were disrupted for close to an hour in both directions between Farrer Park and Boon Keng stations due to a power trip.

Investigations by the Land Transport Authority showed that a passenger had accidentally released an aluminium foil helium balloon, which slipped into the tunnel at Boon Keng Station when the platform screen doors were opened.

The balloon then came into contact with an electrical insulator of the overhead catenary system - the power supply system installed on the ceiling of the train tunnel - and caused an electrical fault.

Said Professor Liew Ah Choy from the National University of Singapore's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department: "The aluminium foil is an electrical conductor and when it comes into contact with the live overhead wires a short circuit occurs. This would trigger the circuit breakers to trip, to prevent further damage to the electrical equipment."

Meanwhile, SBS Transit's senior vice-president of corporate communications, Ms Tammy Tan, told The Straits Times: "There has not been a recurrence of last year's April incident, but prevention is better than cure and the posters have been put up as a precautionary measure."

The 16-station NEL is the only MRT line here powered by overhead catenary systems instead of a power-supplying rail on the ground, so the posters are put up only in NEL stations.

But the posters can be hard to spot, as several stations have just two or three posters put up along the platform. A few commuters who frequent the Clarke Quay Station told The Straits Times they saw the posters only in recent weeks.

While incidents of balloons causing power trips are rare here, they happen more often in cities like Hong Kong, where there are signs telling people not to take balloons into train stations.

According to a Hong Kong magazine, the ban was started in 1996, when a Minnie Mouse balloon floated into a tunnel at rush hour. The resulting short circuit halted all trains between Admiralty and Quarry Bay - both interchange stations - for 1½ hours and affected 100,000 commuters.

How do balloons cause MRT train faults?
Teo Kai Xiang Yahoo Newsroom 16 Oct 15;

“Hold them Tightly — Do you know that BALLOONS, especially the metallic shiny ones, can STOP a train?” is a warning that is appearing in some MRT stations along the North East Line (NEL).

Posters warning commuters about the dangers of releasing balloons inside MRT stations began appearing in MRT Stations on the NEL two months ago, and commuters reacted with disbelief online.

In a discussion thread on HardwareZone, netizens questioned whether balloons really had such destructive potential.

According to the Land Transport Authority, last year’s train disruption on 6 April was traced to a balloon which had slipped into the tunnel at Boon Keng station, reported the Straits Times. When the balloon came into contact with the electrical insulator of the overhead power supply system on the ceiling of the tunnel, it triggered an electrical fault.

“But how can the balloons enter the tunnel?” asked user Morgan23 on the forum thread. Another user questioned how frequently balloons caused such faults. “As if there are many balloons?” wrote user stillgottheblues.

Yahoo Singapore has reached out to SBS Transit to find out how it is possible for balloons to enter the MRT tunnel, and the number of train faults caused by balloons since the disruption on 6 April last year.

The warning posters only appear along the stations on the NEL because only it is the only line using the overhead power supply system.

Many in the same discussion thread said they had not seen the posters at all. Some netizens questioned why balloons were singled out for this warning, when other objects such as earrings have also been the cause of door faults which can slow down an MRT.

Read more!

Why 5 S’poreans went to haze central in Indonesia to distribute N95 masks

Today Online 16 Oct 15;

There has been no shortage of views with regards to the haze afflicting Singapore and the region of late. In particular, there have been strong reactions to the Indonesian government’s apparent flip-flop over foreign help and especially on Vice-President Jusuf Kalla’s now infamous remarks on Singapore’s apparent lack of gratitude. We have these views because we have been affected by the haze.

However, nowhere does the haze affect people more than in Sumatra and, more so, in Kalimantan where PSI levels have gone to as high as 2,600. This is what led local non-governmental organisation (NGO) (RSG) to organise a mission to collect — in collaboration with mask collection initiative Let’s Help Kalimantan — and distribute N95 masks to the people of the Central Kalimantan city of Palangkaraya.

Each one of us wanted to bring relief to the people of Kalimantan and help them cope with the haze. However, none of us ever felt that N95 masks alone would solve the problem. Photographer Edwin Koo, who was part of the team, puts it best with this Facebook post: “The distinction here we need to make is between the real culprits and the people of Kalimantan who are suffering like us. Actually it’s worse for them. PSI 1,500 is no joke. And even in these circumstances, the authorities are not making N95 available. Perhaps it’s better not to? Giving the N95 acknowledges the severity of the problem. Plus it is 3-4 times more expensive than a surgical mask, which is commonly used but completely cosmetic.

“We know we cannot supply masks forever. We know N95 is not a solution for forest fires. But do we let the common people languish in the smoke, or do we help them cope and live to fight a bigger battle? Go figure. Imagine if in Singapore, our shops didn’t have N95 masks and the authorities don’t release PSI readings. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a minute.”

And so we did. We arrived late on Oct 5 and the first thing that struck us as we moved 86 boxes of 25,000 masks onto pick-up trucks was how the air smelt of burning wood.

Besides distributing masks to people, we also spent significant time conducting train-the-trainers sessions to show local volunteers and health professionals the importance and correct use of N95 masks. We did not want to just give masks out, but also explain why people really needed to wear them, and wear them correctly.

Along the way, we met many people, including fire-fighters and members of the Indonesian army who were busy digging canals to keep the peatlands wet and lower its chances of burning — an initiative of President Joko Widodo. During a stopover at a nature reserve, we even chanced upon a small peatland fire and saw how hard it was for the fire-fighters to put it out.

One thing that stuck with us most was how stoic the people of Kalimantan were in putting up with the choking air. Most were not wearing masks and those who were used only surgical masks. Children were running around in schoolyards “unmasked” and teens were exerting themselves playing basketball despite the PSI being 1,500.

People were seeking normalcy amid what a friend had described as scenes from the horror video game Silent Hill.

However, behind the stoic defiance was a sense of resignation. This is perhaps borne out of an acceptance that the haze was an annual affair, sparked off by the dry season.

Although the man-in-the-street knows that the haze is bad for his health, he also believes that he is powerless to do anything about it. Many of the locals cannot afford the N95s. A fresh graduate who just started working told us that there was not much left from his S$180 monthly salary to get N95 protection for his family.


But the bigger problem is a lack of information. There is no regular publicly available information on the PSI. The only PSI display, in the middle of town, was not working. Most people can tell if the haze is better or worse at a given time, but few knew that the PSI has been more than 500 for the past few weeks.

In fact, it hovered between 900 and 1,500 during the three days we were there. The only source of PSI information is the local meteorological station. But it does not release the information publicly. And its measurements are up to only PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size) levels.

Without knowing that the air quality has long surpassed hazardous levels, people do not feel alarmed. There is also little or no awareness — even among healthcare professionals — of the dangers of PM2.5 particles, which may remain at hazardous levels even when the air seems clearer.

There is also a lot of misinformation going around. Some have been told that wearing surgical masks would suffice, especially ones that have been dampened by water. The very few who have N95-type of masks wear them wrongly. There are even opportunists marketing small cans of pure oxygen as respite against the haze.

It was clear to us that the unusually long haze season was wearing people down. Everyone we spoke to, including an elderly firefighter who had lived through the 1997-98 and 2006 haze episodes felt that this was the worst in his living memory. Our local NGO partners tell of a spike in cases of the elderly, very young and those with infirmities passing on prematurely from respiratory illnesses. They also tell us that the poor visibility caused by thick haze has claimed more lives in traffic accidents. People are starting to get angry.

We left Palangkaraya with a better appreciation of what the people of Central Kalimantan have to put up with. We admire their strength, understand their plight and want to show them that most Singaporeans are with them.

The haze is a complex multi-faceted problem that requires people to come together. More importantly, no solution is going to work without the Indonesian people, especially the man-in-the-street trying to go about his daily life struggling with only a handkerchief amid the thick yellowish haze.

On the ground, our Indonesian NGO counterparts and us continue to work hard to inform the people in Palangkaraya of the hazards of the haze and how the correct use of N95 masks can help them cope. We want to let our Indonesian neighbours know that they are not alone.

More importantly, we hope that each mask that we give out can rally people at ground zero into calling on his or her government to do more. That is the true value of the N95 masks we give out.


Walter Chia is a member of the advisory committee and has volunteered for several of its missions. RSG volunteers are planning more N95 mask-distribution missions to Central Kalimantan and even planning to extend one to Sumatra. The organisation will also be sharing its recent experience in Central Kalimantan with the public at 2pm on Saturday at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs’ public exhibition ‘Haze: Know It. Stop it.’ at the nex shopping mall at Serangoon Central.

Singapore volunteer group returns to haze-stricken Kalimantan with 16,000 masks
Let's Help Kalimantan is returning to Palangka Raya - where API levels are above 1,000 - with about 16,000 masks that were donated over a span of two weeks.
Wendy Wong and Kane Cunico Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Volunteer relief group, Let's Help Kalimantan (LHK), is headed back into the haze of Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, for a second time on Friday (Oct 16) with a shipment of 15,774 N95 masks for at-risk residents.

"We are going again because I want to make sure these masks gets into the right hands," said Ms Hafizhah Jamel, co-founder of the Singapore-based LHK.

"I see pictures of children dying and as a mother I just cannot see that. I cannot just look on Facebook screen and just click ‘like’ on all the pictures, I feel like I have to get up and do something," said Ms Hafizhah. "The basic thing they need now is the N95 mask and they don’t even have that compared to us, who complain about PSI 300 here, and at the same time we have the protection that we need."

On Oct 9, LHK began asking for cash donations on their Facebook page. Ms Hafizhah said the group was touched by the “generous contributions” of those who reached out to them.

The group raised close to S$7,000 – more than twice of what they raised for their first trip – and used the donations to purchase 12,000 masks. They also brought with them about 3,000 masks which they had not used for the first trip.

Members of the public also donated masks, with some making a personal trip to the Ms Hafizhah's house in Bishan.

“The donors come from all walks of life - without them we cannot go through with this. I’m very touched by this lady who took an hour off from work and she works very far from my place, just to pass me the masks," said Ms Hafizhah. "There was also a group of Indonesians who live in another part of Bishan, and they didn’t have transport so they walked all the way with 3,000 masks, and passed me so many boxes."

The volunteers also bought a drone for firefighters there to identify hotspots, as well as 10 half face-piece respirators. The money was raised by marketing agency Big Red Button, which is supporting LHK.

Indonesian carrier Lion Air, who waived their air freight cost for LHK's first trip, will also be waiving the cost again.

LHK returned from Palangka Raya earlier this month after they and another volunteer group,, successfully shipped more than 25,000 N95 masks to children, the elderly and the sick.

The two groups worked with youth volunteers and non-governmental groups in Palangka Raya who coordinated the distribution of the masks in areas where the Air Pollution Index (API) levels reached more than 1,000 during their time there.

API levels of more than 350 are hazardous, according to the Indonesia's meteorology, climatology and geo-physics department. On Oct, 16, API levels in Palangka Raya rose to a high of 1,889.

Ms Hafizhah said that for their second trip, she and three other volunteers would focus on training teachers and healthcare workers how to wear the masks, and the difference between N95 and surgical masks, and PM2.5 and PM10.

“What we want to do is to create a flow so that when after we train the volunteers, they can go to the villages and pass down the knowledge to the villagers,” said Ms Hafizhah. “We’d also like to correct the way they wear the masks, because if you don’t wear it properly it’s as good as not wearing anything.”

LHK, founded by Hafizhah Jamel and sisters Cheryl and Charlene Lie, banded together in September after reading news reports coming out of Channel NewsAsia's Get Real documentary, Heart Of The Haze, which showed children and firefighters living without masks in API levels close to 2,000. will also be heading to Sumatra on Sunday (Oct 18), to deliver more than a hundred heavy duty masks to firefighters.

- CNA/dl

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Historic floods show true cost of Vietnam's cheap coal

Vietnam’s coal industry was hit by one of its worst environmental disasters this year after torrential rain flooded its coal hub in the northeast Quang Ninh province, causing landslides and toxic coal ash spills.
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 15 Oct 15;

MONG DUONG: Months after the flood, housewife Dao Thi Tuyet’s neighbourhood in northeast Vietnam is unrecognisable. The muddy stream running past her front door used to be the main road.

Record rains lashed the mining town of Mong Duong in July, causing a landslide of coal ash that swept through Tuyet’s community of 100 households.

“We told each other: ‘Just run! How to save anything when the sludge and rocks are falling down?’ I’ve never felt terror like that before,” said Tuyet.

The deluge came from the mountain of coal waste right next to the neighbourhood, and questions remain over the cause of the spill. Residents say the dump site did not have a visible dam or retaining wall.

Mong Duong is one of the many towns across Vietnam’s vast Quang Ninh province where coal is at the heart of the local economy.

Every resident Channel NewsAsia spoke to in the area has a father, son, wife, or mother working in the coal sector. The recent coal ash spill has destroyed their homes, but the question is what can a town like Mong Duong do if it does not mine its greatest, if not only, asset.

“Mong Duong isn’t a place that can rely on tourism or other industries,” said Pham Ngoc Lu, deputy chairman of the Mong Duong People’s Committee. “The coal sector’s labour force is what drives production and consumption here.”

According to a government forecast, Vietnam’s need for energy will jump from the current 35 gigawatts to 120 gigawatts of total capacity by 2030, and energy authorities plan to dramatically expand coal power generation to meet that demand.

Greenpeace says this will produce 30 million tonnes of toxic coal ash a year, threatening public health and putting Vietnam at risk of more environmental disasters.

Activists call for a switch to renewable energy like wind and solar, but energy experts say there are no easy answers to Vietnam's exponential need for electricity.

“Wind generation only works when the wind is blowing and solar only when the sun is shining. If that’s not happening, you still need to meet demand,” said Franz Gerner, energy coordinator of Wold Bank Vietnam.

“You need to have back-up generation, so you still need your conventional thermal plants to provide power if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Providing that back-up generation is costly.”

Experts say coal is only cheaper because its environmental harm is not accounted for in government budgets.

“We don’t internalise the cost of damage to people’s health, we haven’t internalised the cost of air pollution - increasingly a serious issue in large urban areas in Vietnam,” said Andrew Spezowka, a specialist on green growth and sustainable development at the United Nations Development Programme.

“We don’t have the right economics around the issue. Until we deal with that, renewable energy will simply not be competitive.”

July’s devastating rains in the northeast of the country are said to occur once every 40 years. “It may happen again, maybe another bigger one. We cannot prevent it,” said GreenID executive director Nguy Thi Kanh.

Tuyet is still picking up the pieces of the last disaster; it is uncertain if families like hers can survive the next big storm.

- CNA/ec

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Singaporeans regularly waste food, survey finds

DON MENDOZA Today Online 15 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — Ahead of World Food Day tomorrow (Oct 16), a recent report has found that 77 per cent of Singaporeans regularly waste food at home.

The survey, commissioned by household appliance company Electrolux, also found that only 32 per cent of those surveyed prepare meals according to the number of diners, resulting in excessive food being prepared.

Compounding the problem is the fact that only 35 per cent of the respondents reuse leftovers, while a staggering 92 per cent leave leftovers in the fridge in the hope that family members will consume them, only to later discard them. It doesn’t help that 29 per cent do not like eating leftovers, while almost half (48 per cent) simply forget about leftovers or expired food because these are often out of sight at the back of the fridge.

Results might explain how last year, 788,600 tonnes of food — equivalent to the weight of 108 full load double-decker buses — was wasted in Singapore, according to statistics from the National Environment Agency.

The survey sought to highlight the contribution households make to the Republic’s food waste. It comprised a questionnaire of multiple-choice questions about food preparation, cooking and dining habits. Respondents were representative of the Singapore population aged 18-65 years old.

Other survey results include the finding that 69 per cent of respondents claimed to be passionate foodies, but 41 per cent of this group only think about food waste occasionally.

The Electrolux Food Waste At Home Survey was also commissioned to the launch the company’s six-week community initiative #happyplatesg, aimed at encouraging people to commit to clearing their plates at mealtime and reduce food waste.

“While kitchen confidence is on the rise, with more than 62 per cent are now making a concerted effort to eat at home more, the volume of the nation’s food waste each month is also growing,” said Mr Kenneth Ng, Electrolux’s head of major appliances, Asia Pacific. “It’s easy to forget when we are emptying our kitchen bins that we are all contributing to a much larger food waste issue.

“We are excited to kick-start this regional initiative in Singapore as we all have a responsibility to be more food waste aware and to commit to making changes at home to do our part.”

A dedicated microsite ( has been set up to provide the public with recipe inspiration, cooking tips, real-time campaign updates and advice on how to get involved.

Organised as part of the campaign, Electrolux also intends to help more than 1,000 families in need through the campaign’s beneficiary The Food Bank Singapore.

From now until Nov 22, the public is encouraged to post pictures of their emptied plates via Instagram with the hahstag #happyplatesg. Every three hashtags will be converted into an Electrolux Happy Food bundle, which means a total of 3,000 hashtags are required to create 1,000 food bundles.

Said Ms Nichol Ng, founder of The Food Bank Singapore: “Like us, Electrolux wants to increase awareness of food waste locally, but it is taking this to the next level by empowering Singaporeans to make a positive, long-term change in behaviour through kitchen education.”

2 companies win bid to operate food waste recycling machines in hawker centres
Awarded by the National Environment Agency, the bid is worth about S$257,000 and requires that the companies install and maintain the machines, as well as train cleaners and stallholders for a smooth operation.
Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 16 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Two hawkers centres - one in Ang Mo Kio and one in Tiong Bahru - could reduce their food waste by up to 95 per cent by early December, now that two companies have won a tender to install and maintain food waste recycling machines there.

VRM Operations will maintain the machine at Tiong Bahru Market, while Eco-Wiz will operate another at the Ang Mo Kio Block 628 Market, after earning the tender worth about S$257,000 from the National Environment Agency (NEA). The tender is part of a two-year pilot.

The machine has microbes to decompose food waste into reusable water within 24 hours. With little to no food waste, there will be less rubbish and that means less fuel is needed to transport the trash to incineration plants.

NEA announced the pilot in March this year. The tender was called on May 18 and closed on Jun 4 with five bids. Successful bidders have to install and maintain the food waste recycling machines, as well as train cleaners and stall holders.

In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, NEA said the two companies were chosen after evaluating their "price competitiveness" and the quality of their proposals. The agency added that the hawker centres were selected based on the number and mix of their stalls.

Ang Mo Kio hawker centre has almost 220 stalls, and the stall owners Channel NewsAsia spoke to were in favour of the pilot programme. However, they said that there are issues that need to be ironed out. For example, the cleaners are mostly elderly and may require coaxing to sort food from trash. Another issue has to do with the size of the stalls.

"We have one bin inside for our own rubbish," said Mr Kamsan Alias, co-founder of a Malay food stall at Ang Mo Kio Market. "Another one we've placed outside for the cleaner to put plates into. If they provide another two, where will we put it?"

Eco-Wiz, which will manage the machine at the market said that it will approach each stall owner to see how much and what type of waste it generates. Based on that, it will provide stall owners with bigger or smaller bins to collect food waste.

It will also conduct a separate study of waste collected from 10 different stalls, towards informing authorities what kind of waste is being generated by stalls, whether it is food, cartons or plastics.

The company has installed more than 30 machines around Singapore and one of them is at the Kopitiam in Changi Airport's Terminal 3. It took about two months for the company to train cleaners and for operations to run smoothly.

"At first I was not used to it," said Ms Tan Lee Ai, a cleaner at Kopitiam. " It was a bit troublesome to pour here and there. Slowly it's getting better and I'm used to it."

On top of training cleaners at the Ang Mo Kio Market, Eco-Wiz said it is also about getting the infrastructure right.

"For Changi Airport, the food is being collected at tray return stations," said Mr Michael Lee, a sales manager at the company. "For Ang Mo Kio Market, it's being collected by trolleys. So we will give them additional bins for them to do segregation on the trolleys. Cleaners will segregate the waste onto separate bins and transport the bins into the digesting system."

Eco-Wiz said it expects to take about three months for operations to run smoothly. It added that it will also have staff on standby to assist cleaners and stall owners for that period.

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: PM seeks advice from experts at Apec to tackle smog in the country

RAZAK AHMAD The Star 16 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak created a stir when he walked back to the podium after giving a speech at an event here and announced that he had forgotten to mention something “very important”.

The Prime Minister had just finished his address to open the Third Meeting of the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Chief Science Advisers and Equivalents at a hotel here when he turned back.

It turned out that the Prime Minister had a request to make to the scientists attending the meeting. He wanted to tap into their expertise for advice on the choking haze that had blanketed Malaysia for the past two months.

Saying that he had forgotten to mention something very important in his speech, Najib said: “Malaysia has been suffering from the haze problem for the past 18 years and I hope that the science advisers can also discuss this during their meeting.”

“Please advise countries concerned how to cope with this and how to prevent the slash-and-burn techniques used to clear land for agriculture,” he said to the applause of the audience, who realised how dear the subject was to him.

Rapt attention: Najib listening to Philippine Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary Rowena Christina L. Guevara at the Apec meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Rapt attention: Najib listening to Philippine Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary Rowena Christina L. Guevara at the Apec meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
He was then earlier presented with a token of appreciation in the form of framed photographs and was about to leave the venue when he stopped, turned around and walked back to the microphone, leaving the other dignitaries on stage as well as his audience stunned.

The Prime Minister expressed his hope that the scientists could also deliberate during their meeting on how to prevent fires on peat soil, be they deliberate or due to climate change.

“I will be very interested to know your findings and look forward to your advice, which I can raise during the upcoming Apec Summit and Asean Summit,” said Najib, referring to the two meetings which will be held next month.

He said the country also required scientific advice following floods in the east coast of peninsular Malaysia last year as well as the Sabah earthquakes which resulted in a number of fatalities.

Under Malaysia’s National Science to Action initiative, Najib said, he has instructed his Science Adviser to form a task force to look into the Scientific and Technological response to large flooding events and other natural disasters.

Najib said the task force has so far identified immediate, medium and long-term measures to address flood risk reduction.

The two-day meeting which ends today is an informal gathering of scientists from 11 countries including Malaysia.

The meeting is co-chaired by the Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia Prof Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid and the Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand Sir Peter Gluckman.

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Indonesia: 2 Sumatran elephants found dead in Aceh

Associated Press Jakarta Post 15 Oct 15;

Two endangered Sumatran elephants have been found dead in Aceh province and are believed to have been poisoned.

The head of the local Conservation and Natural Resources Agency, Genman Suhefti Hasibuan, says Thursday the carcasses were discovered by locals in a forest about 7 kilometers from their village in Aceh's Jaya district.

The two females, 2 years and 15 years of age, were estimated to have died two or three days before they were found on Wednesday, Hasibuan said. He added that there were no indications of violence or gunshot wounds on the carcasses.

The agency will investigate the deaths in cooperation with the police.

At least five Sumatran elephants have been found dead this year in Aceh, after 11 deaths last year.

Poisoning Suspected in Deaths of Two Sumatran Elephants
Jakarta Globe 16 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Wildlife conservation officials in Indonesia’s Aceh province have launched an investigation into the deaths of two Sumatran elephants whose bodies were found near a residential area in Aceh Jaya district on Wednesday.

“We suspect they died from poisoning,” Genman Suhefti, the head of the provincial conservation agency, or BKSDA, said on Thursday as quoted by Tempo.

Officials have taken tissue samples from the elephants, believed to be aged two and 15 years. Genman said there were no gunshot wounds or other physical lacerations that would indicate they were beaten to death, making poisoning the likeliest cause of death.

This method is commonly used in Aceh to kill elephants, seen by farmers as pests and targeted by poachers for their tusks.

The latest deaths add to the mounting list of elephant killings in Sumatra, and in particular in Aceh province, in recent years.

In September, a popular bull elephant named Yongki was found dead with his tusks hacked off inside the ostensibly protected Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, which straddles the southern Sumatran provinces of Lampung, Bengkulu and South Sumatra.

The 34-year-old animal was recognizable for his unusually large tusks, and was often used by park rangers in their anti-poaching patrols, joining other elephants herded together for the task.

There are believed to be fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants left in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as critically endangered, or just a step away from extinction.

Authorities on alert after 2 elephants found dead in Aceh
The Jakarta Post 17 Oct 15;

Local authorities and law enforcers are investigating the recent death of two Sumatran elephants in Aceh Jaya regency, Aceh, after their preliminary investigation suggested that the endangered animals died from poisoning.

Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) head Genman Suhefti Hasibuan said the agency’s examination team had found blood flowing from the mouth and anus of the two female elephants, which were found dead on Wednesday by residents in Panggong subdistrict, Krueng Sabee district.

“These are strong indications that the elephants have died because of poisoning,” Genman said on Thursday as quoted by

The agency’s team, which consists of a veterinarian, mahouts and forest rangers, has also collected samples from the animals’ organs.

“The samples will be sent to the National Police’s forensic laboratory for follow-up examinations and legal purposes,” Genman said, adding that the team had not found any wounds on the elephants.

The bodies of the two elephants, which were 15 and 2 years of age, were lying some 10 meters apart from one another.

With the discovery of these latest two cases, the agency has recorded five deaths this year of Sumatran elephants that died in suspicious circumstances.

The agency, Genman added, had reported the case to local police for further investigation.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia recently revealed that the elephant population in Sumatra continued to decrease over the past decade, mainly because of illegal hunting, particularly in Riau, Aceh and North Sumatra.

WCS said the population of Sumatran elephants was currently no larger than 1,000 animals, or 69 percent lower than 25 years ago.

The decrease in the population of Sumatran elephants has caused the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list the species as endangered.

Last month, law enforcers in Lampung launched an investigation into the killing of Yongki, a tame Sumatran elephant that was found dead at the South Bukit Barisan National Park (TNBBS).

The 35-year-old male elephant had been found with severe wounds at the base of his missing two tusks.

TNBBS head Timbul Batubara said Yongki’s body had been discovered just 300 meters behind his patrol camp in Pemerihan, West Pesisir regency, which is situated some 120 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital of Bandar Lampung.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Lampung Police special criminal investigation directorate head Sr. Comr. Dicky Patria Negara said the police had so far interrogated 20 witnesses in the case.

The police, he said, believed that Yongki’s tusks had been shipped out of the province to the illegal market overseas.

“Our focus now is on looking for the suspects. It is clear that there are more than two people [involved in the murder],” he was quoted as saying by Antara news agency.

Apart from the struggle to survive illegal poaching, Sumatran elephants have seen their continued survival at risk, with many babies dying over the past three years from Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

The North Sumatra-based Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC), for example, reported that the EEHV virus had killed five young elephants in Way Kambas, Lampung, in 2012 and four others between October last year and February. Another calf died in Aceh in February.

“While adult elephants can survive EEHV attacks, many calves have died [because of EEHV]. The virus is threatening their population,” Muhammad Wahyu of VESSWIC recently said.

EEHV-infected elephants, according to Wahyu, suffer from lower immunity, swollen faces and blue tongues.

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Australia: Report finds Barrier Reef seagrass health remains poor but recovery continuing

David Chen ABC News 15 Oct 15;

Researchers says seagrass in the Great Barrier Reef remains vulnerable, despite continued recovery.

The latest report has found seagrass meadows remain in a poor state, since they were devastated by Cyclone Yasi in 2011, but could return to a good condition within two years if the weather remained favourable.

The Burdekin recorded some of the best improvements in the health of seagrass.

James Cook University's Len McKenzie said this year's El Nino conditions could be a mixed blessing for seagrass.

"So anything that reduces light will have a detrimental impact on seagrass," he said.

"So if we have things like less run-off events, less rain, that's possibly a good thing for seagrass.

"Alternatively though, if you have a lot of winds, it can actually re-suspend sediments, particularly along our coastal areas, which could be detrimental."

He said there were encouraging signs seagrass was continuing to recover.

"Since this report's come out, we've been continually surveying," he said.

"So we did surveys late last year, which showed further recovery has been happening across the majority of areas and we're currently doing assessments as we speak.

"So we have teams out today and tomorrow who are accessing right across the Great Barrier Reef, looking at how that state is improving."

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India: Action plan for conservation of sea turtle, dugong ready

D.J. WALTER SCOTT The Hindu 15 Oct 15;
Sea grass mapping, aerial survey completed to conserve dugong

Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park has drawn up an action plan for conservation of sea turtles and dugong in the Gulf of Mannar region and is all set to distribute ‘Turtle excluder devices’ (TED) to fishermen, Deepak S. Belgi, Wildlife Warden of the park, has said.

Elaborating on the action plan, he said that the conservation programme would be implemented under Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Conservation and Greening Project with demonstration of the efficacy of the TED, a specialised device that allowed sea turtles to escape when caught in fishing nets used for bottom trawling during November-December.

“We want to create awareness of the device and the need to conserve and preserve sea turtles which helped to increase fish population,” Mr. Belgi told The Hindu here on Wednesday.

Installation of the TED in fishing nets would result in two to three per cent catch loss, but would greatly help in maintaining ecological balance, he said.

Sea turtles fed on jelly fish which, in turn, fed mainly on fish eggs and hatchlings and affected fish population growth in the sea, he said, adding turtles played a positive role in fishermen’s livelihood. There were five species of sea turtles – Olive, Green, Loggerheads, Leatherhead and Hawksbill – in the Gulf of Mannar region, he noted.

The fishermen had been educated to let the captured turtles back into the sea but by the time they returned to shore after fishing, the turtles which needed to come to the surface every 40 minutes would be dead. The TEDs would be distributed to the fishermen after demonstration of their acceptability, he added.

Dugong conservation

As part of the dugong conservation project, the park had completed sea grass mapping work from Rameswaram to Adhiramapattinam near Point Calimere in the Palk Bay. A boat survey was also done to assess dugong population from Rameswaram to Thondi, but no dugong could be sighted.

“However, we found traces of dugong feeding on sea grass,” he said.

An aerial survey had also been completed and the action plan was being readied. The park proposed to educate the fishing population on the need to conserve dugong and provide them compensation for the rescue and rehabilitation of dugong, he added.

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East Hawaii coral bleaching ‘unprecedented’

TOM CALLIS Hawaii Tribune-Herald 15 Oct 15;

High water temperatures fueled by El Niño are wreaking havoc on East Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Misaki Takabayashi, an associate professor of marine science at University of Hawaii at Hilo, said parts of the reef in Keaukaha and Waiopae are turning ghostly white as coral bleaching takes hold, threatening the area’s marine ecosystem.

Bleaching occurs when ocean water temperatures rise, causing the coral to lose key nutrients.

Takabayashi said bleaching is affecting almost every coral type to some degree, with one hard-hit species at Waiopae seeing bleaching rates higher than 80 percent. While the full impact isn’t yet known, she estimated as much as 30 to 40 percent of the colony in these areas could be lost.

“This is definitely unprecedented,” Takabayashi said.

“Last year was the first time we, Hawaii, as an archipelago experienced any significant levels of bleaching — and this year is a lot worse,” she said.

The impacts will be noticeable.

“Either they will lose parts of the colony or whatever is going to survive is seen in smaller portions,” Takabayashi said.

“They (snorkelers and divers) will see less coral next year for sure.”

Water temperatures remain about 1 to 2 degrees above normal, a trend that should continue through winter as El Niño conditions persist, said Matt Foster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Coral bleaching is a worldwide problem this year, triggered by global warming and El Niño conditions.

The spread of sickly white started more than a year ago in Guam, then devastated Hawaii, infected the rest of the tropical Pacific and the Indian oceans and now infested Florida and the Caribbean. On Oct. 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and international reef scientists pronounced it a global coral bleaching event, only the third in recorded history, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Poor water quality exacerbates the problem, Takabayashi said, who noted Waiopae is seeing the worst of it.

“I would say in fact all of the coral species at Waiopae are bleaching to some extent,” she said, adding poor water circulation is a factor.

In the short term, reducing the impact of cesspools, agriculture and other human activities on water quality can help keep coral healthy and more resilient to climate change, Takabayashi said.

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Upcoming El Niño May Be As Wild As 1997 Event

Wet (But Warm) Winter: Strong El Niño to Usher in Lots of Rain
Jeanna Bryner, Yahoo News 15 Oct 15;

Sea-surface height is an indicator of water temperature because warm water expands.

El Niño is expected to be more beast than "little boy" this year — a forecast about the weather pattern that becomes clear in newly released maps of the waters around the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

The two maps show the sea-surface heights in the Pacific in October 1997 and 2015, revealing that conditions this year are looking a lot like they did during the strong El Niño event of 1997 to 1998. Water expands as temperatures rise, and so sea-surface height is an indicator of warming in the upper layer of the ocean.

"Whether El Niño gets slightly stronger or a little weaker is not statistically significant now. This baby is too big to fail," Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told NASA's Earth Observatory.

During an El Niño — which translates as "The Little Boy" in Spanish — an ocean-atmosphere interaction leads to the warming of surface waters in the central and east-central Pacific around the equator. The cyclical phenomenon can affect wind and rainfall patterns worldwide. [How El Niño Causes Wild Weather All Over the Globe (Infographic)]

"Over North America, this winter will definitely not be normal. However, the climatic events of the past decade make 'normal' difficult to define," Patzert told the Earth Observatory.

Measurements of sea-surface heights in the newly released maps came from altimeters onboard the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite (1997) and the Jason-2 satellite (2015). The warmest waters, which are represented by sea-surface heights above normal sea level, can be seen (in red) moving into the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, while the colder-than-normal — or below-normal sea-surface heights — show up in blue in the western tropical Pacific Ocean.

Experts with the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecast last month that this year's El Niño could be among the strongest on record, dating back to 1950. In August, sea-surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean were near or greater than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the 1981 to 2010 average, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

The climate pattern is linked with snowy winters in the Northwestern United States and wet winters in the Southwest; drought in Southeast Asia and Australia typically accompany El Niño.

U.S. winter weather to see El Nino's influence: report
Letitia Stein PlanetArk 16 Oct 15;

Much of the U.S. South can expect a cooler and wetter winter, while warmer than usual temperatures are likely across many northern and western states, as a strong El Niño weather pattern shaped a government weather outlook issued on Thursday.

More rain and snow are likely across the nation's southern regions, extending from central California to Texas and Florida and up the East Coast to southern New England, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Its outlook did not forecast the intensity or frequency of storms.

While potentially good news for drought-stricken California, a single winter is unlikely to erase the state's four dry years, the outlook noted.

"California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that's unlikely," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, in a statement.

The 2015-2016 winter may be colder than usual from Georgia through New Mexico, while northern-tier states and the West Coast will see warmer than normal temperatures, the report noted.

The outlook reflects the influence of one of the strongest El Niño weather patterns on record, forecasters said.

El Niño is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific that occurs every few years, with global weather implications.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Vast Alpine glacier could almost vanish by 2100 due to warming

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 16 Oct 15;

One of Europe's biggest glaciers, the Great Aletsch, coils 23 km (14 miles) through the Swiss Alps - and yet this mighty river of ice could almost vanish in the lifetimes of people born today because of climate change.

The glacier, 900 meters (2,950 feet) thick at one point, has retreated about 3 km (1.9 miles) since 1870 and that pace is quickening, as with many other glaciers around the globe.

That is feeding more water into the oceans and raising world sea levels.

It was only after I got down onto the ice, with spikes on my boots for grip and often roped to my guide for safety, that I appreciated the full scale of the glacier, on the south side of the Jungfraujoch railway station.

We could walk for an hour and not seem to advance across the vast field of ice, which snakes its way downhill striped by debris and rocks, scarred by crevasses and hemmed in by towering mountain peaks.

And yet even the Great Aletsch glacier, the biggest in the Alps and visible from space, is under threat from the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from factories, power plants and cars that are blamed for global warming.

Andreas Vieli, a professor who heads the University of Zurich's group of glaciology experts, said the Aletsch may lose 90 percent of its ice volume by 2100, with the lower reaches melting away.

"My kids are going to see a very different scenery in the Alps," he said.

And on the ice, Aletsch guide Richard Bortis said, "if I stay on the glacier for several days ... I can even see the changes myself."

The glacier is a vast water reserve, important for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

In mid-summer, the main sounds are of the occasional rockfall and of small planes buzzing overhead, taking tourists over the ice. The only sign of life is a few insects living in small melt water pools on the ice.

For glaciers around the globe, from the Andes to Alaska, rising temperatures mean that the volume lost from the summer melt exceeds snows that replenish the glaciers' ice in winter. The Aletsch flows downhill at about 180 meters (590 feet) a year.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service says "the rates of early 21st-century mass loss are without precedent on a global scale" at least since measurements began around 1850.

Representatives from almost 200 governments will meet in Paris from Nov. 30-Dec. 11 to try to agree ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations' panel of climate scientists says sea levels are set to rise by between 26 and 82 cm (10 and 31 inches) by the late 21st century, after a gain of about 20 cm (8 inches) since 1900, partly fed by water from melting glaciers. Rising oceans are a threat to places from San Francisco to Shanghai, to low-lying Pacific atolls and large parts of Bangladesh.

Christian Pletscher, a 60-year-old Aletsch guide, has seen many changes over the years. Pletscher and his 19-year-old daughter recently stopped off at a refreshment hut near the Col de la Forclaz, a mountain pass close to the French border.

"When I was her age, the Trient Glacier was about 500 meters from the hut," he said. "Now the glacier is a long, long way away."

"When I look at the glaciers I think of my children," Pletscher said. "That scares me."

(Editing by Frances Kerry)

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