Best of our wild blogs: 9 Nov 15

Stop painting the tree blue
Choo Meng Foo

30 Nov (Mon): Volunteer to make a difference for Ubin!
wild shores of singapore

First public dive at the Marine Park!
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Spiral Melongena (Volegalea cochlidium) @ Cyrene Reef
Monday Morgue

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SEC to start certifying palm oil products from Feb

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Nov 15;

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) is expected to start certifying palm oil-based products in February next year.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, SEC executive director Edwin Seah said it is working with professional services firm Ernst & Young to develop a new product category for products that have palm oil, under its Singapore Green Labelling Scheme (SGLS).

The non-governmental group has awarded its green label to over 3,000 products here but currently does not certify palm oil-based products, which include chocolates, hand soaps and detergents.

The new category will also be developed with input from palm oil certification body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). "The key challenge is the supply chain trail but we are assured that this will be verified by RSPO, and we will require RSPO certification when a company submits its product for SGLS certification," said Mr Seah.

Manufacturers that wish to apply for the certification may do so from February, and applications are expected to take about two weeks to process once all documents are in.

Mr Stephano Savi, RSPO's global outreach and engagement director, has said that as much as 80 per cent of global palm oil is uncertified.

The complex supply chain and lack of transparency make it difficult for palm oil products to be certified. For instance, there could be mixing of palm oil from different sources at multiple stages in the supply chain, making it tough to trace a product back to one source.

The demand for greater transparency and sustainably sourced products came under the spotlight after Singapore suffered one of its most prolonged periods of haze.

While the haze this year may not have been as bad as the 1997 episode, it has surpassed the 2013 one in magnitude and duration, said Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.

During the 2013 episode, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index hit a high of 401. That episode was very intense, said Dr Velasco, but it lasted only a week. This year, it has lasted three months so far.

As of last Friday, 131 firms have signed the SEC declaration saying they procure their wood, paper and/or pulp materials from sustainable sources. SEC's move had sparked a chain reaction, with retailers like NTUC FairPrice pulling paper products linked to the haze.

When asked, Dr Seck Tan, a research fellow from the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, acknowledged that while consumer pressure is one way of tackling the haze issue, not all end-consumers would be able to make informed choices as palm oil is often labelled as vegetable oil.

"The responsibility falls on companies to ensure consumers are well informed with their product purchases. Hence, these companies, as corporate consumers, should stipulate accountable and sustainable farming from oil palm producers," said Dr Tan.

Major palm oil players such as Wilmar and Cargill said they have initiatives in place to ensure a traceable supply chain.

Mr Graham Usher, who studies habitat change and forest loss in northern Sumatra at conservation group PanEco Foundation, said that one way in which the haze problem can be more effectively tackled is by better regulating smaller-scale oil palm plantations.

"That does not mean that large companies are blameless and should not be scrutinised, but I do believe that a lot of destruction is driven by smaller-scale land-grabbing," he said.

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Blue skies for now, but haze might return

Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE may have been seeing less of the haze recently with increased rainfall, but that does not guarantee blue skies ahead for the rest of the year.

"There is no guarantee of such a thing. With the onset of pre-monsoon period before the north-east monsoon, the winds are changing direction and, hence, are helping us by keeping the smoke away from Singapore," said senior research scientist Santo Salinas at the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing at the National University of Singapore.

Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, added that while the heavy rain in Kalimantan and Sumatra has considerably reduced the number of fires since Oct 26, dry conditions may occur again later this year or earlier next year.

"If any meteorological anomaly switches the wind direction a little bit, we may experience haze of moderate intensity. The haze threat won't finish until the fires stop completely," added Dr Velasco.

The recent rise in rainfall has brought a much needed reprieve for Singapore, which has suffered one of its worst bouts of haze with the El Nino weather phenomenon making fires harder to put out.

The National Environment Agency said last Monday that the inter-monsoon season is expected to last for the rest of this month before gradually giving way to north-east monsoon conditions early next month.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore, the early north-east monsoon sees showers and moderate to heavy rains. Its later phase, which usually takes place from late January to early March, typically sees windy and relatively dry weather.

Annually, drier conditions occur in February and March in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Coupled with the likelihood that El Nino may extend into May next year, experts said the drier conditions could make it easier for fires to start.

Dr Salinas said that a prolonged El Nino causes more dryness and a delayed rainy season. "This could mean that forests and peatlands can still burn and wind patterns can be more unpredictable."

- See more at:

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Singapore's first Dive Trail opens at Sisters’ Islands

Comprising two trails of about 100 metres in length each, they were developed to showcase and encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore's marine biodiversity.
Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia
Channel NewsAsia 8 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: The Sisters’ Islands Marine Park Dive Trail opened to the public on Sunday (Nov 8). Comprising two trails of about 100 metres in length each, they were developed to showcase and encourage a deeper appreciation for Singapore's marine biodiversity.

It takes 20 minutes by boat to get to the site, which is located at Pulau Subar Laut, or the Big Sister's Island.

Dr Karenne Tun, Deputy Director (Coastal and Marine) at National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Generally, because of the location of the islands itself, currents can be very, very strong. So what we have done is select the site that has the most suitable windows for diving. So in a month, we'd probably have the best opportunity to dive at this site."

Each diver will also be given a booklet that can be brought underwater. It is filled with activities divers can do along the two trails, which are marked by signboards to explain the types of marine life in the area.

The shallow trail is about five to six metres deep. Divers can get up close to the soft coral reef, sea urchins, and underwater worms. The shallow trail leads into the deep trail, which can go as deep as 15 metres.

A diver, who manoeuvred through the trails on Sunday, said: "It was a positive and interesting dive experience. I didn't expect this in Singapore waters."

To protect the marine biodiversity, only experienced divers are allowed on the trails. In addition, only dive operators that meet all the criteria set by the National Parks Board can organise dive trips here.

Divers and operators must adhere to certain guidelines, which were set to safeguard the reef. Dr Tun added: "That includes, for example, no touching of animals. Take a photo if you want, but don't touch them.

“Divers need to have at least an advanced level of certification or above so that they are more comfortable diving in an environment that might have slightly stronger currents and low visibility. They also need to have good buoyancy control."

Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs that will bring their attention to the variety of marine biodiversity and reef features present in Singapore’s waters.

Registration opened on Sunday for the next dive window on Nov 22.

- CNA/xk

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Twin earthquakes rattle Indonesia's Sumatra: USGS

Two powerful quakes struck Indonesia's Sumatra on Sunday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Nov 15;

PADANG: Two powerful quakes struck Indonesia's Sumatra on Sunday (Nov 8), US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

An initial 6.1-magnitude undersea tremor struck at a depth of 75 kilometres in the afternoon, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said. It was followed around seven hours later by a strong 6.4-magnitude quake, also at sea, at a depth of 7.7 kilometres, USGS reported.

The first quake struck 111 kilometres south of the city of Sibolga, in North Sumatra province, while the epicentre of the second was a similar distance from Sabang, an islet off the northernmost tip of Sumatra. Smaller tremors were recorded throughout the afternoon and evening.

Mochammad Riyadi, a senior official from Indonesia's meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, said the first quake was felt strongly for 15 seconds in Mandailing Natal district, which is around 85 kilometres from the quake's epicentre.

"Moderate tremors" were also felt in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, he said. "We have no reports of damage or casualty so far. No tsunami alert was issued," he added.

An AFP correspondent in Padang said "the earth swayed back and forth for around 10 seconds", but the majority of residents remained calm.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

- AFP/al/de

Tsunamis may be generated after large earthquake strikes Indonesia: NEA
AsiaOne 8 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - An earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale has been detected on the western side of Sumatra, Indonesia on Sunday (Nov 8) at 5.34pm, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a push alert notification.

Describing the earthquake as 'large', NEA said that the epicentre is located 559km west from Singapore, and warned that tsunamis may be generated near the epicentre.

No tremors were reported. "Singapore is unlikely to be affected," NEA added.

Padang, the capital of west Sumatra, is the nearest major city to the earthquake epicentre which lies 231km away.

The United Stated Geological Survey said that the quake was 75.1km deep.

6.0-magnitude quake rocks North Sumatra`s Mandaling Natal
Antara 8 Nov 15;

Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - An earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale rocked Mandailing Natal district, North Sumatra, on Sunday evening.

The epicenter of the earthquake which struck at 04.34 p.m. local time was located 85 km southwest of Mandailing Natal at a depth of 86 km, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) office in Medan, capital of North Sumatra province.

The earthquake was strongly felt in the district, prompting local residents to stay outdoors to avoid undesired things, spokesman for the Mandailing Natal District Disaster Mitigation Board (BPBD) Supardi Lubis said.

There is no immediate report of casualties and material damage.

Reported by Irwan Arfa

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How runaway sea level rise could one day swamp the world's biggest cities

Tom Arup, The Age Sydney Morning Herald 9 Nov 15;

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are living in places that could eventually be submerged by rising sea levels triggered by unchecked climate change, new global maps suggest.

An estimated 627 million people live in these places, including about 1.9 million in Australia and many more in the world's great metropolises such as Tokyo, New York and Shanghai.

The rising seas won't happen overnight, nor in anybody's current lifetime. The global mapping project, carried out by the US group Climate Central, is based on huge sea-level rises that would not emerge for another 200 to 2000 years.

But a report that accompanies the maps, released on Monday, says this future would be locked in if global warming reached four degrees by 2100 - considered likely if the current level of emissions continued unabated.

The project is based on a scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in October. That analysis - carried out by researchers at Climate Central - found that four degrees of warming could lock-in 8.9 metres of long-term sea level rise in the centuries to follow.

If warming was held to two degrees by strong emissions cuts - the goal of a new global climate agreement countries are negotiating through the United Nations - then the rise would be more like 4.7 metres. About 280 million people live in areas below that watermark.

Across Australia, the analysis finds there are about 1.9 million people living in areas that would be submerged if there was an 8.9 metre rise in sea level. At 4.7 metres, it is 668,000 people.

In central Melbourne, the maps based on what is locked in with four degrees of warming suggests significant inundation of prized bayside suburbs and throughout Docklands.

The actual number of people who would be affected is fairly speculative given the very long timeframes at play. These numbers do not factor in preventative measures cities might take in the meantime to counteract rising seas. Nor does it consider how populations will move and grow.

Sea level rise as a result of global warming comes from the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers. But the biggest potential rises depend on the long-term response of massive ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, for which there is significant scientific uncertainty.

For that reason scientists have been largely conservative in their projections. In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in its last major assessment a projected sea-level rise of at worst 0.82 metres out to 2100 with unchecked emissions.

But more recently a number of studies have begun to explore what might happen after the end of this century. One recent example is an Australian-led study that found if ice shelves protecting the Antarctic sheets from the ocean were lost, then it would unlock thousands of years of unstoppable contributions to sea level rise.

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